Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Review: The Last Stand

Year: 2013
Director: KimJi-Woon
Screenplay:  Andrew Knauer
Starring: Arnold Schwarzengger, Peter Stomare, Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Luis Guzman, Zach Gilford, Jaimie Alexander

Synopsis is here

The parley box office reception of The Last Stand speaks volumes to someone like myself. TheExpendables' opening box office was almost the same amount as the entire budget of this feature ($34 million). Meanwhile; Arnie's return feature limped home to a sickly 9th place standing and $6.3 million take. Since then, Arnie's big feature has made more money and will probably when it reaches the small screen, if not before then. However, the fact that Arnies big comeback has struggled to find an audience doesn't surprise me. To have Schwarzengger, Stallone and Willis in a film together was the wet dream come true for many of a certain age. It was easy to see the draw. Arnold alone, however, is a different story.

Before heading to office as Governor of California, Arnie's audience was already on the wane with a string of weak entries before heading back to the Terminator well (2003's Rise of the Machines) to prop himself up again. Now, with his political terms over and cinema audiences moving on while he was away (even before), it's hard not to see Arnold struggling a little. Throw in the fact that The Last Stand is the directional début of an acclaimed Korean director (translation: A nobody to Joe Six Films) and things get hazier. 

Now would be the time to be bold. To hit back with a film that would show people what they're missing. Kim Ji-Woon had already turned heads with the likes of I Saw the Devil and A Tale of Two Sisters, so perhaps his U.S début (in itself riffing on the western genre) should make a splash by kicking ass and taking names.Unfortunately, this is not so and we are welcomed instead by a nuts and bolt action flick which does little to step out of the box. The Last Stand isn't a bad film for what it is, it clearly gets a small kick out of playing around inthe b-movie sandbox. However, it's so unremarkable that it's a little upsetting. This is standard direct to video fare hits the marks that you'd expect and says little else otherwise. All objectivity aside, I expected a lot more. 

The Last Stand struggles to find the right tone to carry the premise. Its humour is hampered by its clunky script and dialogue, while it's performances do little to steady the boat. No one goes to a Schwarzenegger movie for Shakespeare or Hemingway, but I'm sure a few go for at least a couple of decent zingers. The same goes for the performances, which are not top drawer (again not expected) but almost feel as if they've been ripped from three different places. I'm not sure about yourselves, but I'd be a little nervous if one felt Johnny Knoxville is hitting the mark here (note: The posters lie about the amount of his involvement).

Kim Ji-woon directs The Last Stand with competently, but also with a certain complacency to proceedings. The film lacks the boldness and style that came with the director's other features. The stunts and action lands heavily enough, but nothing veers out of the comfort zone. Possibly due to Arnie just not being Arnie anymore. Looking less like the Austrian Oak of yesteryear,Schwarzengger has less of the presence that hid his stiff acting. The film compensates for some of the more physical aspects; however, there seems to be something missing in translation between director and actor. 

That said, there's nothing within the screenplay that pushes either star or director. Even the idea of Schwarzengger as a retired city cop cum small time sheriff seems protracted. The town of Sommertown neatly suits Schwarzengger's Republican leanings. It's a place in which even the elders have a gun in case of "trespassers", while the entire plot is all about retaining order by stopping exotic drug dealers. Once again, not a problem, just a bit typical. 

I don't expect The Last Stand to put off any of the lingering Arnie fans who bothered to give this a swirl. I just can't see many of them saying too much about it afterwards. 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Cinematic Dramatic 4x20 - Django Unchained

The Dramatics saddle up their horses and ride in the name of giving verdict on Django Unchained. But first they have to venture into the meranding world of Gangster Squad.

via GeekPlanetOnline: Cinematic Dramatic http://www.geekplanetonline.com/hosting/originals/dramatic/?p=episode&name=2013-01-28_cinematic_dramatic_4x20__django_unchained.mp3 Unfortunately, you will have to copy and paste the link to listen or use the handy links on the side!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Review: Django Unchained

Year: 2013
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L Jackson 

Synopsis is here

Thank goodness Django made all its money in the U.S already. As the cold snap bites down on the U.K, it’s clear that it’s opening box office will be affected. I however, braved the bitter winter to reach my local cinema and get better acquainted with a tall dark stranger named Django.  Snow was never going to stop me from participating in the opening weekend of Quentin Tarantino’s latest entry to his eccentric canon. The controversy behind it only sweetens the deal.

Tarantino’s spaghetti “southern”; set during America’s slave era, already had Spike Lee’s back up before the film was even released. Lee stated in a Vibe interview that the film was disrespectful to his ancestors.Lee’s remarks are reminiscent of his earlier words on Tarantino's use on the word  nigger. The film's screenplay (leaked over two years ago) not only features the word over 100 times, it also features graphic violence and racism towards African Americans due to the era it is set in. It’s easy to see why a director such as Lee would be against the film.

 Meanwhile, Tarantinofound himself; once again, being asked the questions of violence in the mediathat have plagued him since his 1992 debut Reservoir Dogs. In a Channel 4 news interview, a tetchy Tarantino clashes Krishnan Guru-Murthy over the questions being asked. The interview is a bizarre one, in which Tarantino, not only tells Guru-Murthy that he’s “shutting his butt down” but also claims that the point of the interview (for a news show) is only to sell his movie and to gain ratings for the program.

What’s interesting is that while Lee’s comments became an easy digestible sound bite (as did his twitter comments afterwards) Quentin’s shutdown of answers, along with his countless amount of times he’s had to answer this seemed to have given him a certain amount of wiggle room. The aforementioned snow will do more to put people off. All the while Lee is getting vilified by many well known black commenters.

The controversy surrounding the Django Unchained is just as murky as the film itself. Neither Lee or Tarantino right or wrong for what they've said, and Django equally places itself inside a strange and unique position. Opening up a dialogue on racism, which will possibly connect itself better to a younger generation than the likes of Spielberg’s Lincoln, but blurring its irrelevance with its combination of history, cartoonish violence and our own audience viewpoints. This is a mainstream film with a black hero and romance at its heart, but it needed Tarantino’s clout to do this. The use of the word nigger must be used to give allow the historic context to ring true. Yet, even despite being a massive fan of rap music, I questioned if the word was used to merely push the bar as far as it can go (not so much excessive, more uninspiring, strangely). That Django can push the buttons it does and still remain an entertaining affair, without getting too bogged down with such issues, is a tribute to Tarantino as a filmmaker. Django is as much an important film about race as it is an irreverent, over the top western.

The film starts with the sort of style that one would expect from Tarantino. Its opening, gestures wildly to Sergio Corbucci original Django(1966) feature with its theme song and opening shot. The original Django enters the scene seemingly out of nowhere with death on his back (signified by the coffin he drags). This modern Django carries slashes. Both are referring to the burden that has been placed on them. When the theme song references Django by name, we get the name credit of Jamie Foxx, or a shot of Foxx himself. Tarantino primes the scene perfectly; with the 1966 theme song leading the audience into what they should expect (listen to the lyrics). From this start I felt that the film wasn't going to miss a beat.

For the most part, it doesn't. The tale of Django is told with the same kind of exuberance that you’d expect from its creator.  Tarantino understands that the original film was what it was due to how it shunned sand and romantic western nostalgia for violence and mud.  Unchained goes over the same areas, with more gusto. The film has its characters trudging through sludge in the same way Franco Nero did nearly 50 years ago. Just the very fact that the mud that many of these characters trudge through in the early stages are as dirty as the themes the narrative bring up.

Sequences are wonderfully staged, with the film’s first act being particularly smart and well formed (the fainting women is a great touch).When the chambers flash, the film is nothing short of dazzling, with Tarantinoshow just how much he’s evolved in staging and using space when it comes to action. The violence itself is provocative. We see horrible savage violence on African Americans which is depicted as brutally as you would expect. Tarantino’s use of reaction shots says everything we need to know about its nastiness. The violence in retaliation is boarder, more comic and in a strange way, more cathartic. It’s hard to say I didn’t enjoy Django getting his own back. However, I was more entertained by Django’s independence. Watching him grow as a character (much of it down to Foxx’s performance) was compelling.      

But then Tarantino’s characters here are amongst some of his most engaging, with Waltz and Foxx invoke that same winning chemistry that made Jules and Vincent the poster boys of 90’s students.  Samuel L Jackson’s Steven is an embodiment of evil that comes from a very real place. Much has been said about LeonardoDiCaprio’s scenery chewing racist Calvin Candie (and he is a great pantomime villain for a piece like this), but it’s the role of Stephen that is the most troubling, a character who has self loathing for his own race. Despite the films over the top way, there is a disturbing truthfulness that comes from Stephen’s contentment that there is a racial hierarchy. The dynamic between Foxx’s Django and Jackson’s Stephen was worth my ticket price alone, an eye opening insight into the racial divide that ironically reminded me of Jackson’s role in Spike Lee’s School Daze.

Tarantino, always the hip hop director, samples a bit of all the things that influence him to create an outlandish pastiche full of flourishes of style. It’s the Peckinpah style shoot outs, the gorgeous scenery is mixed with the “badasscool of characters like Django and the headstrong rush into such a volatile subject matter. It’s unfortunate that Tarantino’s love for exploitation takes things too far for its own good.
It’s great to see a director (be it White, Black, Asian or other) to embrace another’s culture in such a way (the film is heavily influenced by Blaxploitation as well as the Italian Genre Westerns) and yet Quentin’s love of the homage overdoes itself as it did in Death Proof. Django betrays the origins of its grind house, exploitation fare its semi based in and lacks the economy that films like the 1966 Django had. It doesn’t help that the film doesn't hold the novelistic structure that featured in Inglourious Basterds (and the tension).  You could also can argue that Once upon a Time in the West has an equally lengthy running time, but as much as I love Tarantino, he is not Leone. The film is not nearly as operatic it could be and could do with a trim, while the screenplay doesn't hold the same amount of wit and rhythm as earlier works despite some of it being quite amusing. Another weakness is the film handling of Kerry Washington who is a much stronger actress than merely a trophy to be collected.   

But there are moments in which Django shows that it’s more than a sum of its parts. To me, it doesn't just embrace black culture, but it also gives us a black hero driven by love, given his own flaws and an arc that makes him complex. Even his main relationship in the film is fascinating, growing from uncertainty, to mutual respect and beyond. The film’s use of hip hop as a stylistic is choice goes beyond doing it because it’s cool. It metaphorically calls on the difficult relationship that genre has with many also whether Tarantino believes that or not.

For me, Django is far from Quentin’s best; and yet, features so many singular bombastic moments of entertainment that the difficult second viewing has to be performed as soon as possible.  It’s also important to remember that in its infancy, the film had Will Smith as a possible consideration as the lead. While the argument on if a film like this could be made by a black director still hangs in the air (IMO it could not, 1: they’re not Quentin, 2: the conservatism of Hollywood in general)   Foxx’s performance with its nuance and swagger and Tarantino’s clout, writing and flair have once again opened up the idea that a film with a black lead (not a biopic) could open well and people would not only watch it, but enjoy it. Let’s see what happens when the U.K snow clears. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Cinematic Dramatic 4x19 - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Pub Discussion

The Dramatics begin 2013 in the pub with a discussion of The Hobbit, Jack Reacher, Life of Pi and what to take away from 2012. This is a pub recording so don't expect masterpiece theatre. Be warned - audio quality isn't grand due to live recording.

via GeekPlanetOnline: Cinematic Dramatic http://www.geekplanetonline.com/hosting/originals/dramatic/?p=episode&name=2013-01-14_4x19__the_hobbit_an_unexpected_pub_discussion.mp3 Unfortunately, you will have to copy and paste the link to listen or use the handy links on the side!

Review: Gangster Squad

Year: 2012 (released 2013)
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Screenplay: Will Beall
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Micheal Pena, Antony Mackie

Synopsis is here

I found myself amused by a tweet that came my way, which statedthat the problem with modern movies is that film directors have stopped lookinglike film directors and the likes of Ruben Fleischer and Tom Hooper look morelike depressed estate agents than filmmakers. I'm tickled by the idea thatcreativity stems a little from unkempt, unshaven beards and lucky red caps.That such scruffiness of appearance equals a creative freedom ofsorts.

As amused as Iwas, by the idea I did retort back to the gentleman, that it's not that theydon't look that the part, it's more that they don't look AT other directorswith any real depth. As presumptuous as I've just been, it's hard for me tolook at a film like Gangster Squad and not feel that way. The film gives us along tracking shot of Slappy's bar starting from the outside and entering. Weare shown a singing act right at the end. What is the reason behind this shot?It's clear that the shot a riff on Goodfellas and yet itdoesn't realise why Scorsese takes us all the way through theCopacabana with Henry Hill. So while in Goodfellas we are being taken into thedepths and pleasures of Hill's world, in Gangster Squad, you feel that the shotis there because a long tracking shot has been done in a period gangster movie.And so we get nothing from the moment other than what it is, a complicated yetempty sequence. 

To many, I'm suresuch trivial matters won't matter to them. It certainly didn't bothermy girlfriend one iota. As she happily invested time to sit and watch RyanGosling and Emma Stone copulate in a movie again. I however, was far toofrustrated at Gangster Squad's stale execution, uneven tonal shifts andits pale imitation to better gangster films. The rich detail that isplaced within the likes of L.A Confidential and The Untouchables is missinghere as Ruben Fleischer flaps and flails to get a strong grasp atthe material. If the film feels like it's taking itself too seriously(which it does often), it will slip awkwardly into board comedy. Characterswill be introduced, but little will be done with them afterwards. The lukewarmrelationship between Stone's Gangster Moll and Ryan Gosling's police sergeantis hardly scintillating, let alone smoldering, with the relationship jumpingahead without us actually witnessing any actual affinitybetween the two. Every aspect of the film seems paper thin, and more interestedin slow mo than anything else. The whole affair is slick for slicks sake, alltalk with no weight behind it. 

The acting isequally as uneven as the tone of the film. Brolin's straight man seems moreboard than stoic. Gosling appears out of his depth, hamming up his display witha cornball accent, but lacking the nobility that the likes of Costneror Crowe had in other films. Goslings performance I had the most difficultlywith, as I was unsure whether or not it was his chops or thescript/direction that were the pinpoint of his weakness. Also dripped inhoney glaze is the cartoonish display by Sean Penn who feels like he's in acompletely different film. Many have likened his performance to Al Pacino's inDick Tracy, which would be fine if Gangster Squad knew what it would be aimingfor. Unfortunately everyone else is playing cops and robbers for real. The lesssaid about Stone, Mackie, Pena and Patrick the better, they are give no time orcharacter development to make any real impact.

Real critics havealready made Gangster Squad January's cinematic whipping boy, attacking it withfar more gusto than I have here. Will this be the worst film of this upcomingyear? I doubt it very much, as 2013 is very young. However it'sunderstandable how Gangster Squad's mimicking of better movies (the film liftsa lot of its structure off The Untouchables) could get someone’s back up. Thefilm's shallowness shines brightly though the clichés and holes of itsgeneric screenplay and no one does well enough to cover the weakness.Fleischer, who made a splash with the very amusing Zombieland, unfortunatelydisplays limitations, in his first semi serious piece. Hopefully thisis a mere blip on his CV.

Sunday, 6 January 2013


Looking back at my personal favourites of the year, if there's one thing that stands out, it's that ever slippery concept of time. I watched a fair amount of features at the cinema this year and yet, looking at my list, I can only think of the films I had wanted to see and yet had no time to watch them. No Holy Motors, no Tabu and No Once upon a time in Anatolia. My cinema viewing (and blogging) has always leaned to more typical multiplex viewing and I do not apologize for that. However there is always an Animal Kingdom or Dogtooth that creeps up and reminds me of just how much how vast the world of cinema is. My top ten favourite lists are never chocked filled with foreign imports, but this year I've been more aware of how little world or even independent cinema I've managed to catch. A lot of this can be boiled down to mood, as you have to be in the right frame of mind for the likes of something like Holy Motors.

That said, this year has really shown just how my geography has affected what I watch. Back when I lived in Buckinghamshire, My local Picture House cinema was a bus ride away, and a trip to London was ten pounds cheaper. Now, living in Peterborough has reminded me just how annoying distribution can be here in the UK. My local Multiplex has a decent amount of screens and yet still very limited choice at the best of times. At least London is still within touching distance. I can only pity the poor souls who live in areas who have even less possibilities.

The tide is turning however, through the power of the internet. Yes, we still have the kinks in the armour (product value, piracy, availability, et al), however, in spite of this, it's slowly becoming clear just how much of a resource the web has become in terms of watching features. From streaming services such as Curzon on Demand and Mubi, to podcasts such as Filmspotting SVU, the areas of both distributing and acquiring are starting to see benefits in web releasing. So much that in the upcoming year I will have to evolve and develop my outdated ways of viewing and stop relying on just one web outlet for my viewing desires. Our viewing possibilities are becoming as extensive as the amount of films released. 

So here’s my (belated) favourite of the year 2012, as always in no order. Due to that elusive beast called time, there is one film that appears here, that did not gain a review. This is subject to change in the future. Note as always that these are my on personal favourites and not the "best", so locating me in any form and complaining on why XYZ isn't on the list will only met with a dead eyed gaze.

New York's restless being is encapsulated by one man's unquenchable desire for lust in Steve McQueen's dark and disturbing second feature. 

   It polarised and pissed more people off than I had expected. However I fund Cabin to be a sneaky, deceptive and most importantly entertaining beast.

A good man is not measured by his work alone. Searching for Sugarman is a sensitive story of what lies 
behind a true artist. 

Rapping as a craft, expressed passionately by those who know it best. Ice-T's documentary may allow some glitz to get in the way, but it's humbleness of it's subject keeps it grounded.  

An aggressive and bold thriller about two good men who look for good in an corrosive environment.

Matthew McConaughey beats the rom-com monster that near consumed him and becomes just one of the highlights of this twisted Kentucky Fried Melodrama

Rian Johnson updates La Jetee and 12 Monkeys in this invigorating Time Travel Thriller.

The Imposter
A dark disturbing character essay, that quite literately needs to be seen to be believed. 

Ben Wheatley's blackly comic take on lovers on the lam. Think Badlands in the Lake District.

P.T Anderson's feature polarises as much as it compels. Mesmerizing and ferocious performances, gorgeous cinematography and a unrelenting feeling of dread. Anderson finds beauty in the films ugly characters.  

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Grey, Chronicle, The Dark Knight Rises, Argo, The Avengers