Friday, 24 May 2013

Podcast: Cinematic Dramatic 5x01 - Pubcast Melee

The Dramatics begin life after Episode 100 in a pub talking Iron Man, The Place Beyond The Pines, Evil Dead and Star Trek Into Darkness. Here goes...

via GeekPlanetOnline: Cinematic Dramatic Unfortunately, you will have to copy and paste the link to listen or use the handy links on the side!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Review: The Great Gatsby

Year: 2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton

Synopsis is here

The Great Gatsby gracelessly bounds into screens hoping to bowl you over with its brash, over egged delivery. It's loud, proud and happily declares itself in every scene. Much like the other works of director Baz Luhrmann, Gatsby takes a headstrong, music video approach to its material. Lavish long curtains bellow in the air, cameras swoop and swoon as mass parties Charleston away to modern hip hop and RnB. 

Despite its jazz age setting, The Great Gatsby reminds me more of a 90's hip hop video more than anything. To situate F Scott Fitzgerald's classic take of the deterioration of the American dream with more modern sensibilities is understandable and considering Luhrmann's previous works, near justified. Unfortunately 2013 Gatsby; despite the modern parallels it could lean on, is less about the damnation of decadence and all about the melodrama. Much of Luhrmann's techniques do much to heighten the romantic triangle that lies within the film. However the metaphor that lies within Fitzgerald's work is quickly lost in favour of the director's own excess.

Instead of a slow intoxication of the era, we are slapped across the face with hectic hip hop editing, over arching performances and mishandled music choices. I would be the first to defend the likes of Jay-Z in a modernisation of the material. The rappers lyrics and lifestyle do a certain amount of overlapping with the jazz age wildness. However the choices placed, often jar with the party scenes we witness. Unlike previous jukebox collages put together by Luhrmann, the mixture does little to gel. 

The film is so busy submerging us with information overload (remixed modern music, crowded visuals, over exposition at every turn) that we often lose track of the characters of the piece. From Gatsby to Carraway every character is painted in broad gloss, when it's clear the more could and should be brought from them. Such motives were fine when we were given the star crossed ciphers that occupied Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet, as the sources were suited. Gatsby keeps hinting that more could be done, yet Luhrmann seems more attracted to the richness of riches than anything else. 

We gain little from wide eyed straight man Tobey Magurie who delivers everything with little nuance. Mulligan fairs better, bringing a deceptive sweetness to Daisy while DiCaprio and Edgerton wrestle well with Luhrmann's outrageousness and attack it with gumption. Yet despite all its fancy posing and posturing, there's little satirical eye to the events. The film quickly descends to a simple romance that was explored stronger within Luhrmann's earlier works. The film is so busy visually that it gleefully slaps the words of the novel on the screen for no other reason than constant re-alliteration (and perhaps because it looks fancy in 3D). 

One has to look hard for moments of wry sharpness through all its grand gesturing. But witness a party scene in which Nick Carraway is introduced to the infamous Gatsby and gazes admirably at him while everyone is too busy glaring up at the fireworks. Gershwin plays in the background in what almost appears as a keen reference to Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979), a film with its own bittersweet (yet not as tragic) love triangle. It's a brief moment of intoxication. One that Gatsby could do a lot more with. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Review: Star Trek into Darkness

Year: 2013
Director: JJ Abrams
Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman.
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Weller, Alice Eve

Synopsis is here

At least one film academic or critic is bound to be a little perturbed by the opening of JJ Abrams’ space rock opera in which an action sequence involving a tribe of "native" aliens begin to hail praise and worship on the enterprise with its corn fed, all American boy captain. Things only become odder when we delve deeper into this second summer package of the revamped star fleet. Particularly as much of the film relies on concepts of this group of explorers becoming more heavily armed to combat what looks for be an impending war. It's obvious that the filmmakers are not making any profound commentary such moments. Thinking about the 2009 entry, I'm reminded at how well race was displayed. But believe me when I say this, someone will say something.

That aside, I was far too happy to see what would happen to these next to care too much about such moments. Star Trek displayed enough love for the original series that it did not feel like a smash and grab number. It did so with a jazzed up, youthful but well picked cast that really held everything in place. The banter put in place along with the timing of the cast were of course half the fun of such a film. This new Star Trek was less about diplomacy as it was for trying to put a zing in mainstream summer blockbuster viewing. So here comes the difficult second album. Star Trek set the bar quite high as a piece of fluffy fun and now, its sequel "into Darkness" now has the job of either levelling for exceeding expectations.

For me, I found there to be something underwhelming about this recent venture. Something not sitting right as   I sat stuffing popcorn into my face (could be the reason). Four years ago, Star Trek was a shiny and glossy thrill ride. However; while Abrams hasn't changed too much to the proceedings, he doesn't make the evolutionary jump I had expected. The small lull I felt in the first film has expanded here. After a beguiling start which looks set to match the leap into chaos we found with The Dark Knight, I found myself more than a little distracted with the films second act. If it wasn't bogging you down with plot (not all of it feels needed) then it's slapping you around the face with another frustrating to follow action sequence.

Much of the film feels more about its loud bangs than its large characters. If not for the forcefulness of the films villain,  the film could have really lost its way. It's hard not to enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch as he expertly demoralises his foes with the utterance of one word. However, he is nearly lost amidst all the pulling of the strings the script and Abrams must do. An example is Alice Eve, who seems to be rivalling Rebecca Hall as most unfortunate bright young actress in a big blockbuster with little to do. When the film resets its focus upon the couples and groupings which made the 2009 entry what it was, the sparkle comes back.

As I've said before, I'm no TV Star Trek fan so this no fanboy rant or retort. However, it does feel that Abrams has missed a trick slightly, giving us a villain that really ups the stakes but nearly forgetting some of the essence that makes John Harrison such an interesting prospect. There's still some fun stuff here, with Abrams and Co still having fun poking in and around Star Trek lore and the final act having a decent emotional payoff. But all in all, the film feels more than a little overblown. Here's hoping that Abrams regains a bit of composure for the third entry. 

Friday, 10 May 2013

Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

Year: 2012 (U.K Release)
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood

Synopsis is here

The Place Beyond the Pines (TPBTP from now on) is a messy film, in a way that many American films try not to be any more. It's ragged around the edges and doesn't appear to answer every question it puts forth. I thank the film's writer/director Derek Cianfrance for that. There's a clear wish to elevate the material beyond what current audiences often register with. It's novelistic structure felt reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds although the stern dramatic material on display couldn't be further from Tarantino's more pulpy offerings. It's commentary of the "sins of the father" made me think back to one of my favourite films of the year What Richard Did (2012), although it doesn't strike it's message as hard.

Ambition is high here and it shows. Cianfrance takes a small microcosm of New York state American life, and expands it into a sprawling tale in which the lives of those involved are fractured by coincidence and infringement. While the film doesn't have the same earnestness that other works may hold, it is a piece in which its tone seeps in slowly from its corners and penetrates receptive viewers who are willing to put in the time. Its opening sequence is a significant one, in which we follow Luke Glanton (Gosling) from a changing room through a funfair towards his bike stunt job. As he walks we quickly absorb his way of life before we even see his face. The stunt he preforms is the perfect examination point to the jagged edges of the character.

Later on we see another character being asked to stand next to a relative at a grand event. We gain one small close up of the character and see them smile. Is the smile given a force one, based on the situation we've witnessed? Have they realised the complicated issues and decisions that someone has made to bring them to this moment? Like with What Richard Did, I asked myself if this character has now understood his luck. The film is speckled with small telling and intimate moments, which seem to be emphasised by the films large time frame.

Much of the films good work stems from the heavily lifting done from Bradley Cooper. From what I've seen; it is his best work. As the focus swings towards his story he deftly swipes the film away from most of the other performances. As we watch him stand up against the likes of Bruce Greenwood and Ray Liotta, you notice just how much of a controlled and effective performer he can be. The same could be said for Ryan Gosling; an actor who I've cooled on after the likes of Gangster Squad, who also does well here. His portrayal of Luke harks back to his quietly confident work from Drive. Gosling feels more interesting when he's given roles that speak less and we as a audience have to figure out what emotions are simmering beneath the surface. The same goes for Eva Mendes who comes out of her shell in roles such as the one she plays here.

In spite of all this, I had to ask myself; does this film stay with you? For me it doesn't. It clearly doesn't want to be the sort of entertainment that I often mindlessly chew on. Yet, there something about how the film strives so stamp its importance, that lingers over everything else that appears within it. Cianfrance for the most part; pulls off a difficult and quietly absorbing piece but the film still placed a firm amount of distance between me as a viewer and these characters. The Place Beyond the Pines is a messy film, but when these people stumble and fall, I want to be close enough to catch or fall with them.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Review: Dead Man Down

Year: 2013
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Screenplay: J.H. Wyman
Starring: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper

Synopsis is here

"You were expecting art" I was told by my podcast cast co-host after this shambolic viewing of Dead Man Down. A statement not even worth a response in my view. If I'm going into a film with a title such as this, with the knowledge that the film is produced by World Wrestling Entertainment Films, I know I'm not getting "art". When comments such as the aforementioned a thrown around, it's often used as an excuse not to engage with any of a films flaws. No, I was not expecting something that would inspire revolution. I was expecting B movie thrills. Unfortunately I was awestruck by the dullness that inhabited Dead Man Down, I found it hard to find any spark of enjoyment.

Dead Man Down is one of those movies in which is rooted down with such silliness, you realise that the film itself comes to a standstill if you were to try and rip out its problems. Characters must continue with their stupidity in order for the film to function. Characters act dumb while the audience are near yelling at the obvious. To think that a crime boss, who rose up the ranks and is now being elaborately threatened, can act so blind around those around him, cries foul. But to suggest this; means the film no longer ceases to be.

I may be looking at this the wrong way, but I don't think so. Right from the start we have the drop on the characters ahead of time. We have no suspense or tension. There's no anticipation because we're clear steps ahead of the game. We are waiting for a cast who is fair to good for the material to finish the puzzle you completed yesterday. And we are doing this at a snail’s pace. 

Director Niels Arden Oplev may be riding on his credentials gained from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but that film thrives on the energy of its outlandish plot and the forcefulness of its female protagonist; Lisbeth Salander, played by Rapace. Here Oplev's muse is diluted from complex construct to damaged damsel with little to do other than look pretty and helpless. The scars placed on Rapace's face by the makeup artists do little to deter her sex appeal, or convince of any serious disfigurement, no matter what the neighbourhood kids say. 

Oplev had a fun mystery to pull apart with Dragon Tattoo. Here he only has a pensive Colin Farrell furrowing his brow so hard, you could plant potatoes in the lines. The tale of revenge that takes place here is formulaic and boring, and save for the film’s final set piece at its climax, there is little to take note of. 

Films like this need a certain amount of urgency. If not, bored viewers may tug at it its frayed edges and tear it apart. I had more fun trying to guess which wrestlers had bit parts as hired goons. I didn't expect "art" but the best B movies are entrenched in their genre enough to be subversive, outrageous or smart. Dead Man Down does none of these things. But the least it could have been is exciting.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Review: Iron Man 3

Year: 2013
Director: Shane Black
Screenplay: Shane Black, Drew Pearce
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley, Jon Favreau

Synopsis is here:

NOTE: The following review contains what could be considered explicit spoilers. The film may have raked in all the money, but one must believe that not everyone visiting has seen it. 

"Since New York, everything changed" states an anxious and perturbed Tony Stark. It is a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. The billion dollar blockbuster which was The Avengers showed us just how big Marvel and Disney want to make these comic book franchises. The Avengers may be mostly based within the state of New York, yet in terms of the stakes, you can sense just how high they have become.

The Avengers also brought about a straight headed frothiness often forgotten in this kind of venture; happily reminding us that these comic books can not only manage grandeur but can do so while being bright, breezy and colourful. Iron Man 3 feels rather wearily like two steps back. Now, we have "final" entry that is little too romanced by The Dark Knight than it needs to be. While the second film didn't much the scale of The Dark Knight, so much of Shane Black's screenplay has the tinge of Nolan's adaptation, that the film near loses its own identity. However, there was a good chance of that happening anyway, as Iron Man 3 also harbours an awkward mesh of Disney and ultra violence that comes close to undoing the work that the first two films happily put forth. Yes, that's an admission that I didn't hate the second film.

My main issue with Iron Man 3, stems from its jarring tonal shifts. The film looks set to delve into the more curious aspects of Tony Stark, who is now having nightmares and panic attacks due to the events in New York. Unfortunately, despite the large amount of time Stark spends out of the suit, the film does very little to look at his demons effectively.

In fact Stark and friends feel the best of curing what ails him is with ludicrous and abrasive violence. The kill count of the good guys is not only high, but doesn't feel wholly justified when put in consideration to the villains badly realised motives. We should be fine with Iron Man blasting away indiscriminately because he spends lots of time with some latchkey kid during the second act. Stark's Real Steel moments suffer from the same kind of clumsiness that affects Spielberg at his so called worst, and yet due to the "cool" factor that comes with Robert Downley jr, this seems to be bypassed. The jump from Fisher Price my first mechanic to blasting fools with little regard becomes a harsh discourse.

I began to find the whole thing reductive. As a Disney/Marvel franchise feature, going dark could be problematic, but hiring Shane Black makes a clear statement of intent. Black's traits are everywhere for all to see, but are shoved awkwardly into a third feature which had its character under a different arc. One where its character evolved from selfish arms dealer to all into someone who begin to understand the responsibility he held in his blood stained hands. IM3 decides to effectively blast that away for some kick ass action scenes. That said, sky-diving set piece aside, the films spectacle is only intermittently engaging.    

 Iron man is far happier dulling my expectations by messing around with its main villain, The Mandarin. It's understandable that some of the more controversial and prejudiced aspects of the character needed to be exercised, but why after to the blood and sweat are we left with yet another white collar industrialist as the man behind the curtain? The series has cumbersomely come full circle.

On the positive side, the cast are still finely tuned to everything thrown at them. Downley Jr and Paltrow bounce off that fantastic chemistry that makes them such a fun couple to watch. Black's screenplay does much to keep them separate, yet their moments together are still effective. Sir Ben's Kingsley guzzles scenery like toffee and I really can't fault anything Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle or Rebecca Hall have done recently, let alone here.

A lot of the dialogue is snappy and chucklesome and individual moments and scenes hit their mark as you'd expect from a writer of Black's calibre. Yet the entire feature doesn't settle well in the pit of my stomach. As murky as the politics were in Nolan's Dark Knight Rises, the film still managed to fit within its universe of necessary evils and chaos that its characters are meant to inhabit. At least Batman kept it all about the turmoil of Bruce Wayne, Iron Man 3 seems happy to dismiss Stark's relationship and anxiety as fussy, uninteresting and easily micro managed by an 11 year old. That may not bother the cool kids or bean counters, but it gave me food for thought.