Monday 31 December 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Year: 2012
Director: Rupert Sanders
Screenplay: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth

Synopsis is here

Snow White and the Huntsman is one of the films in which every element surrounding the film itself seems to align with the moon and the agreement of the gods. Epic Fantasy is still in, so are re imaginings, things being made "dark and gritty" and Kristin Stewart. A Grimm tale for the twilight crowd was possibly mentioned in a production meeting somewhere over the Hollywood hills.

Yet, somewhere along the way the makers of this film, decided that the best thing to do with a film like this is make it eye glaringly po-faced. In the same way many can't stand the brooding nature of the recent Batman trilogy, Rupert Sanders and co have decided that a darker take on Snow White should take every moment of itself seriously. I reminded myself of the tender dance sequence within Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1). Credit is due that a series, which got as heavy as that, managed to counter balance itself with a moment of lightness. It's one almost fleeting moment, but it carries itself so well, we see just how far the films have come. Nothing in Snow White and the Huntsman approaches the nature of that moment.

The film comes off as if someone had wished to create a child friendly version of a Bergman feature. The starkness of its visuals nearly bleeds into every orifice of the film. Stewart's Snow White may be the fairest of them all, but unfortunately she's been hanging around Bella Swan a little too much. And while there's less moping, there's an awful amount off grimness about the character. Stewart's disaffected performance feels similar to Keria Knightley's dreary Guinevere from the drab 2004 film, King Arthur. While both avoid the damsel in distress template that Hollywood loves to set up them, their characters are blander than bread on a brunt tongue. Nothing they say stands out, none of their actions widen the eye, and both lack any charisma to make them appealing.

This is not to say that Sanders doesn't try. The scandal of the affair between the star and director that preceded the film shows up in the visuals. The camera stares about Stewart lavishly in close ups, and yet there's a strange belief that simply lobbing a scimitar and armour at her, is all you need to make a female character more appealing.

During a discussion about comic book movies, a friend make the comment that a hero is only as good as their villain, which is possibly where I felt there was an imbalance. Charlize Theron's portrayal of an aging evil queen captures very real fears that inhabit certain areas of feminine discussion: being usurped by age. Her performance literally drips of not only evil, but desperation. She engages the material with an energy that Stewart could only dream of. With the use of flashback and Theron's performance, we connect with why Queen Ravenna has become who she is. The film doesn't seem to have the time (despite it's slow, uneven pacing), nor Stewart the acting chops, to make it's lead character as interesting. 

But this may not have been an issue if the film had been so dogged with it's tone. Snow White takes itself so seriously that it becomes an annoyance than a highlight. Everything is spoken with such grave seriousness and hushed tones that even what little comic relief the film has feels strained. The film is also as overlong as it is overwrought, doing it's best to make Chris Hemsworth's huntsman a nobility that feels as forced as his Scottish accent.

The appeal of making twisted dark fantasies is not totally lost on me. I do not need happy endings on everything, and when one of your favourite directors is David Lynch, you’re usually fine with how deep the rabbit hole is willing to go. However, Snow White and the huntsman, seems far too preoccupied with its doom and gloom it misses what it was doing quite well. It glances on feminine issues with a fair amount of intelligence (craftily invoking Joan of Arc and Cleopatra) and does so with a certain visual flair. But I wonder what it could have been if it took a step back and took a breath of fresh air.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Review: Sightseers

Year: 2012
Director: Ben Wheatley
Screenplay: Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, Amy Jump
Starring: Steve Oram, Alice Lowe

Synopsis is here:

In 1996; school disco halls everywhere were loud with the sounds of awkward shuffling and the heartfelt warbling of Gary Barlow and co. Before disbanding in 1996 (and reuniting in 2006), Take That released their cover of the Bee Gee's hit ballad "How deep is your love". The couple we follow within Ben Wheatley's Sightseers would have been around 16 at that point. I'm sure that you can imagine either of the two, sitting alone, mouthing the words. All the while, their friends (if any) were victims of cheeky gropes and similar tomfoolery.

Upon watching the film; I found myself asking: "Is anyone surprised that two people like this would find each other?" I certainly wasn't. Nor was I surprised. Due Tina and Chris being in such a young, developing relationship, their passion is what you call...intense.

Said intensity is key for a director like Wheatley, and perfect for a movie like Sighterseers, a film which, like Four Lions, revels in thorny issues for its comedy. It's Natural Born Killers (1996) by way of Dear Deirdre; gleefully wrapping it's lovers on the lam narrative around Fargo-style eccentricities. The film even inverts the impotency issues that Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967) delved into. It's not like neither character can articulate their lustful thoughts (just take a glimpse Tina's knitted, crotch-less panties), but there's a drollness in that while Clyde excelled in looting paper, Steve can barely place his thoughts down on any. Beatty's Clyde may not have been able to get it up, but you sense he may have had enough charm to write a book.

Literacy issues aside, Steve (a quietly sinister Oram) is a messy quagmire of lust, rage and loneliness, desperate to introduce Tina into his world of caravanning, local sights and premeditated murder over trivial incidents. Tina (a superbly comic Lowe), a withdrawn young woman, living in the palm of her controlling mother (a callback to Wheatley's 2009 film Down Terrace), seems to become more besotted by Steve due to his method madness. Is she intoxicated by the violence she's encountered? Or did the darkness just need to be awakened? At one point, Tina is insulted in a way that seems exaggerated at one point, but feels on point later on. We're never really sure about the two, other than their passion. Clues are laid, like Kill List (2011), Wheatley suggests things, but he never runs for an easy answer.

The holiday is often the test of the relationship and it is no different here. The relationship slowly degrades as their unstable personalities clash and circumstances close in. But Wheatley has coated the situation with such rich British idiosyncrasy that he manages to unlock mirth within the macabre. He toys with British politeness and tolerance in a way that reminds me of Serial Mom (1996), John Water's camp subversion of the suburban American Household. Sightseers's is angrier than that, and has more to comment on. The films cinematography is quick to highlight just how entrancing The Lake District can be, and yet it's is completely lost on these murderous characters. It is lost on us as well, as we're too busy indulging in their darkness. But there's the joke. We watch the observational comedy, smirk at the all so true moments with passersby and secretly delight at the couple’s murder spree and we forget how their intentions seemed good. 

What I love about Sightseers is just how passionate Chris and Tina are about themselves and what they do, even if it's completely immoral. The observations found in the script are not only infinitely quotable but often endearing, although; you would probably be a little more pensive with a Daily Mail reader. The film’s title, holds a certain irony to it, as the films climax suggests that the Chris and Tina themselves are "nice enough" to visit but not the type of people to stay with. They're the type of couple that is considered "just a bit off". The final decision made by the couple is sweet, humorous and yet haunting. It asks the question that Gary, Robbie and the rest of them were banging on about, back when we only had two lonely singleton teens. How deep is your love?

Monday 17 December 2012

Cinematic Dramatic 4x18 - Sightseers

It's a very lovely day to go on a caravan holiday with The Dramatics. But things are about to get bloody with Sightseers.... spoilsports.

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

Saturday 15 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay:  Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Richard Armitage

Synopsis is here

Sorry folks, I call them as I see them. The Hobbit may have a ton of hype and looks set to make more cash than even Smaug could handle. However the film, for me, was merely passable. My words will do nothing for the fan base (some of which have made up their minds before even seeing the film) and that's fine. I fact I commend them, as I would love to idly glaze over any issues I had with the film. Unfortunately I found myself becoming more and more restless.

My biggest problem with the film came from the story itself. The Hobbit struggles to try and match the same scale that was given to Lord of the Rings n terms of plot. It becomes very evident that the films narrative cannot keep up. For all the bemoaning of Return of the King's many endings and the like, at least it was due to its build of characters and sub plots. The Hobbit is so linear in its quest that much of it is merely padding. Once again, I'm sure fans will find this the greatest thing ever. Others will wonder why Jackson wasn't more ruthless in the cutting room.

The films length becomes a sticking point as The Hobbit's characters are quite flat in comparison to what we've had before. We spend ages with this gang of dwarves before any questing begins, and yet none stand out. Even Martin Freeman's Bilbo is too passive, only coming really coming alive during the encounter with Gollum (The ever excellent Andy Serkis). 

The Gollum Confrontation occurs in the second, more entertaining half of the film, which helps remind you just why you loved this world in the first place. Once the quest gets fully under way, it's hard not to be reminded of the strengths of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit may not have the character dynamics or conflicts of the larger trilogy, but it's set pieces still bring forth a certain amount of scale that is only matched by few films. However, one's feelings of such sequences will depend on their feeling of the people caught within them. It may also depend on how they feel about deus ex machinas, lots of exposition and protagonists who fade into the background. 

Yet, The Hobbit still manages to fascinate. Middle Earth didn't strike me as it did in 2001 but's it's design, look and visual scale is still an eye opener. I may not have been too bothered about the characters, but the performances are solid enough. I also have to admit, when the film harked back (forward?) to Lord of the Rings, it was then I was most engaged. For instance, the final moments between Gollum and Bilbo, give a knowing depth to proceedings, particularly if you are someone who comes to this series fresh. My only quest now with this first hobbit segment is to watch it in the infamous 48 high frame rate and see how I feel afterwards. It will also be a good chance to give the issues I had a reassessment.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Cinematic Dramatic 4x17EX - Cineworld Buys Picturehouse

Just before setting off to watch Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen, Byron decides to chat to Iain about the recent purchase of Picturehouse by Cineworld. What's in store for the indie chain now?

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 3 December 2012

Review: End of Watch

Year: 2012
Director: David Ayer
Screenplay: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Frak Grillo, America Ferrera

Synopsis is here

I was quite bowled over with End of Watch. Its combination of the mundane and the visceral really appealed to me. My girlfriend was less impressed, frustrated by the film's running time. I was less bothered by this. The film is in no way as economical as it could be, with the films length allowing some of its narrative aspects to almost trip it up. However the film is less about its narrative and more about its characters. For me, the film is effective when we gain the sense of just how haunted these police members are as they battle against the grimness of their eco-system.

There is visual inventiveness within the film too. End of Watch's cinematographer Geoffrey Jackobsson, confines these two officers within their police car. Note that the ironic and unfortunate district number is often caught as we cut around the vehicle with abstract Micheal Mann like shots. It's within this car we get to know these men personally. We see them at peace, see them at their sanctuary. This ideal only intensifies as we witness the danger the officers’ face each time they pick up a call and exit the vehicle. 

Much has been said about the films "found footage" aspect; often a bane of contention with many, here, I found aesthetic to be one of the film’s best touches. It's easy to feel that such an element is a gimmick thanks to the consistent use of the tactic by horror films, however, in the same way a director like Martin Scorsese uses 16mm to capture a feel of nostalgia and history, Director David Ayer uses the "handy cam" footage to accurately convey a certain sense of relevance of our current culture. Its opening sequence, a car chase with downtown LA, doesn't have the pace that we often see in a crime thriller (such is the beauty of good editors), but it does have the realism. Take away Gyllenhaal and Pena and this could be any video lifted from youtube. Not all of it works. Like so many films which dabble in "user generated" footage; one may find it hard to believe that, say, hardened gangster would be filming some of their exploits in such a way. But while there's a feeling of the improbable, it's never impossible, and the film using the method as a part of the aesthetic and not the whole, allows an intimacy and immediacy that works well with the narrative and the genre. 

David Ayer (writer of Training Day) captures the distress of the situations so well it shows on the characters faces. Part of the film’s success with me is that; despite its somewhat generic plot, its grimness is boiled down to such a concentrated level you can feel it on everybody's skin. My girlfriend's aforementioned issue with the length of the film is an interesting one, mostly because I loved how the film happily spends much of its time with its main relationship, getting under the skin of these guys, seeing what makes them tick. We gain such a sense of these characters that when they are affronted with what they see, we can feel it in their bones as much as they can. We understand why they're so hardened, and we can fear and/or pity them accordingly. They remind me of coroners, having to place a shield between them and their subject to deal with their day to day harshness. It's compelling when the darkness breaks through.

You need a good cast for this, and End of Watch picks a strong bunch of talent and plays to all of their strengths.  Gynllenhaal is always at his best as a jaded, young recruit be it of the Army or Giant Time Travelling Bunnies and the choice of him being the main thrust of the narrative is a solid one. Pena is superb as Gynllenhaal's foil. While Gynllenhaal's Brian Taylor deals with the worrying conundrums of it all, Pena's Mike Zavala is the heart of the film. All emotions and hot blood, Zavala is the most instinctive and reactive out of the two. Pena's performance takes something that could feel stale and typical and injects new energy to it. The chemistry between the two is so engaging that one could easily just watch them shoot the shit. It's worth mentioning a sweet performance from Anna Kendrick as well as a nice turn from Frank Grillo, who places the perfect amount of weight to a small but important scene.

End of Watch doesn't do too much in way of fresh storytelling, but the films technique and performances bring forth a bold and riveting piece about two men trying to do good in a corrosive environment.  

Cinematic Dramatic 4x17 - End Of Watch

The Dramatics hit the streets and roll around in their Dramatic squad car to see if End Of Watch is something new for the cop drama or is a found footage film? We can't decide.

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

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Review: Sound of my Voice

Year: 2012
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Screenplay: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Starring: Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius

Synopsis is here:

There is a certain something that peaked and kept my interest about Sound of my Voice. I think much of it stemmed from Brit Marling's unnerving performance as a leader of a pseudo-scientific basement cult. Her role as Maggie is a charismatic one in a similar way to John Hawkes' role in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Their soft spoken voices are laced with a sensuality that makes it very easy to understand why young intelligent people, fall deeply under their charms. The waif like Marling isn't some drop dead stunning starlet, but there is a temping allure in her voice that attracts you to her. You want to tell her secrets. When one character exclaims that their partner gets an emotional orgasm when speaking to her, it doesn't sound as absurd as when written on paper. The reason why cults are so scary is that they seduce the mind. The body falls quickly afterwards.

Oh, if only all of the movie was as enthralling as this. Sound of my voice gets you going with a teasing prospect and then leaves you by the way side. Part of the problem is that compared to other recent movies about cults, it doesn't have the energy. Compare this to the aforementioned Martha Marcy May Marlene, and you realise that the performances of the protagonists just aren't up to scratch. Place it side by side next to The Master, and you see that no scene matches the same kind of intensity or foreboding. Some scenes ignite interest, some drag, but at least the film gets points for reaching. I didn't find myself as distanced as I did in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Maybe because it didn't feel as much as an exercise.

Unlike the Manson folk edge of Martha Marcy May Marlene, and the Scientology leanings of The Master,   Sound of my Voice seems to take a more direct sci-fi route, which may remind some the Heaven's Gate cult.   Our protagonists infiltrate the group in order to try and make a feature film exposing it. The leader; Maggie, claims that she is a sickly time traveller, who is preparing them for an upcoming "event" that will reshape the earth radically. The group meet up repeatedly and prepare with cleansing rituals, purging "intellectual bullshit" metaphorically through spewing up apples and other oddball exercises which remind me slightly of the episode of Peep Show where Mark joins the Rainbow Rhythms dance class to try and pull Sophie. There's a more than a small amount of silliness about one or two of the exercises, however, they do help show just how deep these people are involved and how willing. A scene in which our male lead, Peter, is subtlety broken down by Maggie is a pivotal and telling one. Maggie's ability to say just the right things to stimulate him is quietly troubling.

Unfortunately, it's not surprising, as the route in which our leads go, is telegraphed quite quickly. The scenes between them do little to elevate the story emotionally, mostly because while these characters are vulnerable, they're not particularly interesting. The film lacks the forcefulness that comes into play in other cult movies. Because of this, it imbalances the films climax, I didn't actually mind but yearned for more punch. If only everything was as compelling as Marling. A co-writer of the film, it feels a little like she wrote the best parts for herself.

Monday 19 November 2012

Cinematic Dramatic 4x16 - The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson returns after a long break to finally give cinema audiences The Master. Are The Dramatics brainwashed by it or has Transformers 4 burnt their souls....

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

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Review: The Master

Year: 2012
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Laura Dern

Synopsis is here:

To many, The Master is a difficult film to love or even like. The characters we meet are not ones we would want to be cornered by at a dinner party. We observe within the film, more than enough scenes of these people gatherings just to be sure. And yet, the film, even at its most obtuse and surreal, remains utterly compelling. If one thing is for sure, it shows again that Anderson is obsessed with trying to charm us with charlatans and fallen angels.

In The Master we are given Freddie Quell (A career best Phoenix), a man who would have been completely swallowed up by his surroundings, if not for his violent and drunken outbursts against them. The film's beginning, we find Freddie; simulate sex on a sand woman made on the beach. One could say he's literally fucking Mother Nature. Of course the question is why would you do that, if you weren't quite right?

Quell sticks out. Is he mentally ravaged by war? Has destroyed his faculties with those poisonous (made with paint thinner) brews of his? Did he spend too much time away from his sweetheart? We are never given solid grounding on his ailments and yet we are shown enough to show how damaged Quell has become since the war. A blanketed statement mentions early on that those returning from the war should be able to start small businesses and perform labour, in spite of what they may have seen. But what of those who have lost more than others? It's clear from Quell's posture alone that he is a misshapen man. The erratic episodes and outbursts we see only solidify our thoughts.

By chance, Quell meets the enigmatic Lancaster Todd, leader of "The Cause", a bizarre quasi religion based around a glut of peculiar principles and rituals that are never truly explained to us. Todd is a classic Anderson character; a father figure who promises atonement with words as sweet as syrup. No different from The Porn Mogul (Boogie Nights), or The Oil Man (There Will Be Blood), Todd is so wrapped up in his words, he believes he could sell brimstone to Satan. Todd decides to take Quell on board as a protégée, as clear testament, that the teachings and practices from his book can cure even the most distraught.

Hoffman plays Todd as smoke and mirrors personified. All darting eyes and false grins and much like Quell, he is quick to anger when tested. Although they meet by chance, there is a feeling of fatalism about the situation. We delve very little into his past and yet when he states that he's seen Freddie before, the empty spaces begin to fill in. It's interesting to observe how both Todd and his wife Peggy (an exemplary Amy Adams in full Lady Macbeth mode) look at alcohol. A small bathroom scene involving the Todds shows that despite the grand gestures, Lancaster is ruled by the same masters that rule many of us.

These are primal men ruled and controlled by their urges. While Todd tries to internalise and intellectualise his baser appetites, Quell spills his out on the floor like Freudian vomit. Together their fragments complete a damaged father-son relationship Anderson's films often feature. Quell seeks guidance, Todd wishes to be that superior leader that fathers may wishes to be, the raconteur at the family wedding, the all knowing and great auditor. And yet, the two of them being together, tugs at both of their frayed edges. Many scenes bind the stress in stifling close up. Mihai Malaimare's arresting cinematography and Jonny Greenwoods hypnotic score create a sense of unease that travels from scene to scene. Like a car crash, there's something so hauntingly beautiful about the ugliness of human behaviour is captured in the film, it's hard to turn away when the spinning tops clash.

Much has been said about the films references to Scientology, as well as how damning its statements are. While the film isn't a glistening expose of all things bad about the religion, I'm in no way shocked at the reaction of a certain practitioner of the faith. The Cause's processing appears very similar to auditing, while a tense sequence, involving Todd's son in law throwing Quell's personal problems (extracted from the process) back at him, illustrates the type of fears brought up by many when the mentioning of auditing arises. What makes these moments of the film so appealing to me is in how non-judgemental the film is towards the faith.  The film holds a mirror to the audiences’ thoughts of not only The Cause, but the self help/spiritual courses that The Cause picks from.

Does this all add up to a great film? To many, they will see nothing and the film is more basic that it leads on (certainly in its narrative form). The Master at times can appear as much of a muchness. Anderson's films of the past may have been more forceful in their eras and the film is so wrapped up with these people and their vulgarities, it feels sparse and at times distancing, while its main message doesn't feel as complex as suggested.

However in the opinion of this blogger, the film is a truly exciting work of craft. A character piece in which its mesmerizing visuals are punctuated by its blinding tension. The Master is a tale of damaged men searching for inner peace in all the wrong places. To wonder why it doesn't all "fit in" to a comfortable narrative space, almost mimics why the hunched and sick Quell does just "fit in" with all the rest of Middle America. The Master takes a while to state it's case, but Anderson's execution of material is absorbing throughout.

Monday 5 November 2012

Cinematic Dramatic 4x15 - Skyfall

The name's Dramatic, Cinematic Dramatic and hopefully that's the last Bond related pun you'll hear as The Dramatics watch Skyfall! Will they be shaken or stirred by the 23rd outing of the superspy?

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

Thursday 1 November 2012

Review: Damsels in Distress

Year: 2012
Director: Whit Stillman
Screenplay: Whit Stillman
Starring: Gretra Gerwig, Adam Brody

Synopsis is here

In the past year, I've found myself indulging in the pleasures of not only the lo-fi neurosis of the mumblecore movement, but also the stuffy, repressed, Allen-esque films of Whit Stillman. Both stables deal with the same conceit: middle class, privileged white 20 somethings whom have a hard time with dealing not only their career aspirations, but intimacy. Stillman's yuppie features (including the Oscar winning Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco) seem to be the precursor to the mumblecore movement. In fact it's hard to think of the likes of The OC, Dawsons Creek or mumblecore without looking back at Stillman.

So it is no surprise to me that Damsels in Distress not only features The OC's Adam Brody, but mumblecore startled Greta Gerwig. It is a shame however that Stillmans film doesn't supply them with a strong enough film. Damsels is a near story-less piece which feels more like a Stillman caricature than anything else. Before, I was happy to see such naive characters wrapped in the bubbles of 80's and 90's New York, or even the sunny sights of Barcelona. However here in this contemporary setting, everything feels flat.

Things start off well, with the idea that Gerwigs clan appearing to be what would happen if the plastics from Mean Girls grew up to be pretentious. Their empty headed babbling on fashion, scent and hippie self improvement are droll to say the least, with Gerwig riffing on Kate Beckingsales character from The
Last Days of Disco. This film is also wonderfully framed at times, bathing these girls in sunlight as they blather their own self importance. The irony is not missed as these girls talk naively about using dance to stop suicide subject, considering themselves angels at the same time. However this mixture of pompous air headedness is difficult to take as the film is trapped in its own bubble. No different from other Stillman film apart from one's setting.

While sparsely funny, much of Damsels comes off stilted and false, from the protracted way the characters speak, to the situation as a whole. The chemistry between the characters feels forced, as if Stillman was trying to shove all the elements from previous films into this contemporary setting. While the pomp conservatism that filled his previous films, matched the settings well, here they just don't ring true.

Damsels also lacks a decent plot to grab hold of. The vignette like structure, sways from mildly watchable to flat out dull. Yet it never steadies on something truly solid for investment. Some of these boys and girls need more to do, otherwise, why are we watching them and why do we care? Even the likes of Funny Ha Ha or Hannah takes the Stairs, give the female leads roles an earnestness to cling on to despite the vague plots that lie within their films. These Damsels lack such an aspect and it really shows.

Gerwig is fine in a role I feel that she could do in her sleep, while the supporting cast do their best with very little, however Damsels pales in front of the very shows and films that were seemingly inspired by Stillman's work. It feels that everyone has moved on while Whit is still trying to shoehorn certain ideals in. Ideals which still exist, but have mutated since the eighties

In my opinion, Damsels is the weakest Stillman yet and has little of flair and fun that littered previous films. Metropolis still stands out as his best work and it's easy to see why. The world as simply moved on.

Review: Seven Psychopaths

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenplay: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Christopher Walken.

Synopsis is here:

After taking my podcast co-host on a needless, round about trip of the London West End to find a bank, we took our seats for our final film of the London Film Festival: Seven Psychopaths, the second full length feature from Martin McDonagh.. The reason I had to find a bank was so I could pay for the tickets, the price of the tickets were...more than your usual cinema venture. But when it's the European Premiere and features a talk with the director, you have to consider you don't get such things with an illegal download.
This is not a statement of confession, more a painting of a scene. It's certainly worth paying more to sit with an excited audience and laugh, giggle and guffaw at McDonagh's latest feature. A violent and offbeat tale of writers block, dognapping and gangsters, Seven Psychopaths is Pulp Fiction by way of Adaptation and Barton Fink. McDonagh's himself stated that the only real influences were Peckinpah and Malick (?!) but it's hard not to think of Kaufman and the Coens (The movies is scored by Carter Burwell) as the film goes on.

Frantic and madcap in its telling, Seven Psychopaths slides from flashback to present day to imagination without a moment’s notice. A film about losing focus which is constantly trying to distract with its famous faces and near meta aspects of plot. It can't be too much of a coincidence that Farrell, known for his risqué past, is shown here, as a wannabe Hollywood writer lost amidst a haze of hard liqueur. A man who could do really turn out a good piece of work as long as he keeps focus. It feels like McDonagh isn't just picking him due to In Bruges.

Farrell's role of straight man is sometimes a little caught up in the craziness of it all, which could be part of the fun. However for all its anarchic glee; the tale does like to go off on tangents, feeling frayed at the end, and coming off like Adaptation's brattier cousin. Kuffman's sublime comedy about "the process" has a deft of touch and sympathy that Psychopaths doesn't. Not a deal breaker by any means, but it does make you notice that Psychopaths suffers from some slight overkill. The film is just a tad too into itself to have a boarder scope.

I shouldn't be knocking too hard on the film which gives us the best Christopher Walken performance in years. Once again, Walken shows why he is rewarding in scenes of both menace and mirth, and does so with an ease that allows one to forget that they actually saw him in The Stepford Wives (or Balls of Fury for that matter).  It's difficult who steals the most scenes between himself and Sam Rockwell, whose balls to the wall performance climaxes a sequence of utter madness. Not to spoil things, but heads have not exploded that well since Scanners. Woody Harrelson sweeps things up as the films loopy antagonist.

For a film that is as all over the place such as this one (we go from dognapping to taking class A's in the desert with a lot of murder inbetween.) The film is never disengaging, like In Bruge, the films dialogue laddish, often ponderous dialogue sparkles, and the film keeps a certain amount of earnestly, despite it's know it all vibe. Like many festival films the film doesn't linger in the mind much, however, it's clear from the offset this isn't a film made to be heavy or filling. Like a grubby lads stag weekend in Magaluf, there's fun to be had, but you might have to be in with the crowd from the start to be comfortable with the injokes.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Review: Skyfall

Year: 2012
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: John Logan Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney

Synopsis is here:

NOTE: I do not give explicit spoilers, but this review may not be great for anyone who wants to know anything about the film (although nearly everyone has seen it by now)

Skyfall is the film which celebrates 50 years of the character, appearing in features. Starting from Dr No in 1962 to the present day, Bond has drank, shagged and shot his way through five decades and remained something of an institution of British culture despite a barrage of ever-changing constituents. Add to this that cinema itself is not even 150 years old itself, Bond's longevity is something to behold. Bond’s near rampant alcoholism and misogyny apparently meaning nothing to his stout love for country. Maybe it's just the franchise's incredible ability to make things blow up extraordinarily, that keeps many chomping at the bit.

The most recent interpretation of Bond, has held some of the most radical alterations to the character since its sixties incarnation. Daniel Craig's Bond is a subject of grief, pain and retrospect. Even the rushed, muddled shenanigans of Quantum of Solace (maybe the only person in the world who doesn't mind it) reminds us that the brash, blunt instrument is someone motivated by murky emotions. James may be "doing it for England" but it's clear that he is heavily motivated by his relationships and those that he has lost around him.

Film critic for The Independent; Anthony Quinn, doesn't have much of an affinity for this more affected, softer Bond that's been on display, and it's understandable. There's a strong feeling that the Bond of the old guard is slowly evaporating. The character's mystique ebbing away; due outside wishes to be a little bit more like the Bourne franchise. The mythos is a sacred one, just look what happened when Mutt was introduced to the Indy mold.

Yet, here with Skyfall, I found myself invested with the ideas and themes that are at play. Here we have a more traditional spy caught in an era of transparency and internal conflict. Skyfall is smart enough to move with the times and ground an iconic hero with a certain amount of "plausibility" (we'll use this term very loosely). But it also caters to other aspects of the character that has made him so durable. It doesn't all work. The lack of camp humour has made the jokes and jibes dryer than a Chardonnay in the Sahara. Also, Skyfall still has difficulty with how it wishes to place certain females in the frame, trading off a well written a solid performance of Dame Judy Dench's M, for what can almost be considered as almost Bond girls. I have no real problem with Naomie Harris or Bérénice Marlohe in terms of their acting. However, they happen to be two of the more forgettable elements of the feature. At no point are we given the same sizzling interplay that makes Eva Green's Vesper Lynd so beguiling.

Nevertheless, Skyfall, for me, is the strongest of the Craig Bond features.  Swift with its pace and high on its octane levels, the film rarely drops a gear, nor loses focus. As an action film, the film hits all the beats with a satisfying crunch. Unlike the haphazard Quantum of Solace, Sam Mendes dictates the film with an actual rhythm for the audience to follow. He also gives us set pieces that just feel right for the occasion. Commandeering a Caterpillar and taking out VW Beetles? A dazzling, silhouetted fist fight in a Shanghi high rise? Kicking ass in-front of Komodo Dragons? Moments like these fit Bond to a tee.

As many have said, the film's real star may not be the intense, brooding Craig, but actually, cinematographer Roger Deakins. Mendes and Deakins work together, not only to make Britain itself an exotic place of its own accord (with Bond travelling all over the world, the U.K should feel strange to him) but also shape Britain as a visual metaphor for Bond himself. If the damaged MI6 building in London is where James' heart lies, it's no surprise that Skyfall, located in the Scottish Highlands is where his head is at. Deakins' creates a perfect storm of murky gloom. Such ambivalence is needed in the aesthetic to help continue a through line created since the Casino Royale reboot, that this a Bond conflicted internally by hurt. Some may not want such an understanding of 007, but the idea that the ability to inflict so much damage comes from a certain form of affliction (orphans make the best spies) is a decent way to keep the character fresh.

Deakins works his magic in wondrous ways, producing one of the most memorable introductions to a Bond villain that I can remember. For all the Brit-centric elements of the film, the first appearance of Raoul Silva on his creepily deserted island makes a grand impression. As the rouge net nerd, Silva, he struts between rows of modems and servers.  We notice that his savvy for modern tech is the perfect contrast towards Bond's staunch, last Bastille of traditionalist Britain. Bardem hits the ground running, allowing his flamboyant performance to tie up with the scene. He is the antithesis of Bond. His ambiguous sexual advance towards Bond at one point only helps suggest that this new world of villainy doesn't adhere to the same straight edged rules, we've known from before.

Themes like these are what Skyfall is about at its heart. I'm fascinated with how certain roles of traditionalism play off in a world that is shedding many of those features. A good chunk of the film belongs to Dench as M, who herself is trying to figure out what place she as well as Bond has in a changing regime. A pivotal and tense court room set piece sums up her feelings eloquently.

Skyfall comes out of the box strong, delivering high impact thrills and now a fully updated Bond that many can get their teeth into. Grumblings about Connery being the best will never go, and those complaining about a Spanish agent spying in Hong Kong for the Brits during the handover, may possibly be looking a tad too deeply into things. For me, Skyfall was the type of solid summer popcorn film, which ironically, due to tradition, missed its season.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Review: John Dies at the End

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti

Synopsis is here:

I told the work colleague who put me on to the novel John Dies at the End, that the film would be way too bizarre for a large scale release of any kind. Not normally so optimistic (a Birmingham City football fan), my friend was as sure as he'd ever been that having Paul Giamatti on the cast list would do everything a film this kooky would need to get released.

It just so happens that watching this at the LFF was a stroke of luck, a short Q and A with the films director clarifies the films U.K distribution issues (unknown). Safe to say that those who got the chance to watch the film at the Hackney Picturehouse (along with the others who may have since it in other one off screenings) are lucky sons of bitches. Unless of course they didn't enjoy the (as quoted by the director himself) batshit antics of David Wong and John Cheese.

Those names should be familiar to those who enjoy cracked. The novel is a mass melding of pop culture and the supernatural, a twisted buddy adventure written in a snappy, quick witted prose that captures a similar anarchic feel that Kevin Smith slackers usually enjoy.

While light on solid plotting and true scares, John Dies at the end has the free-wheeling humour and nuttiness that makes the book such a fun distraction. Much of the films spirit is due to don casting the perfect duo to bring the spirit to life. Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes may be unknowns and their rough edges do show, but the assured chemistry that appears between them, drive the film. Paul Giamatti looks a little out of sorts with the whole thing, but then again so did some of the audience (we had two walkouts)

The film does as much as it can to keep hold of Wongs prose, but some of the more adventurous elements are missing due to budget restraints. The loss of them is unfortunate, as is some of the darker more twisted elements of the characters (David is a way more nihilistic character in the book) however the film manages to stay consistently funny throughout, while holding a claustrophobic visual style that reminiscent of  The Evil Dead. No bad thing, the film is one of the closet entries to that series, although I'm not sure the hardcore will agree or connect as strongly. It may be dependant on how much they dig juvenile web humour. Guess which camp I'm in.

Those who know Don Coscarelli from Phantasm may feel differently about the film in some of the content. However, this is pure Coscarelli territory in terms of theme. A buddy horror road movie that goes off kilter at a drop of a hat? You wouldn't be surprised if The tall man himself appeared (Angus Scrimm makes an appearance).

JDATE is a compromised vision, but an enjoyable one all the same. A web or TV series could have encompassed most of the craziness, but its cinematic journey never bores, it's far too drugged up on soy sauce to give a damn.

Review: Sleepers Wake

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Barry Berk
Screenplay: Barry Berk
Starring: Lionel Newton, Deon Lotz, Jay Anstey

Synopsis is here

Sleepers Wake is difficult to talk about as it does little to offend, but isn't strong enough to provoke. It's premise deals with a grief stricken man (Newton), who has recently lost his wife and daughter to a car crash, in which he may have been drunk at the wheel. While recuperating at his brother in laws hideaway cabin, he bonds with a rebellious seventeen year old girl, also recovering from loss. As they grow closer, they slowly become more aware of the troublesome elements surrounding them.

Sleepers Wake treads familiar territory. The idea of an older man being blindsided by such youth is one that has reverberated ever since Vladimir Nabokov penned Lolita. Here the character is terrified of the dangers but is slowly seduced by more primal urges. Lost in a waking dream, our protagonist's view is blurred by the recent events, illustrated by a liberal use of rack focusing, we view things like he does, fuzzy and unfocused. Only gaining a certain sense of clarity when Jackie (Anstey) pours into the frame.

Anstey's Jackie is the most pivotal role. A complex, full figured bundle of hormones, grief and youth. Lashing out at everything and everyone in equal measure, she is the films strongest performer. A daring performance that doesn't sit comfortably with the viewer throughout. A girl who has confused her needs of a father figure, confidant and lover due a tragic and complicated family dynamic.

It is Anstey that cements the central relationship, and we often feel the tension. However with this said, we do not feel it elsewhere. Many secondary characters and their revelations feel underwritten and the events that take place have a perfunctory feel to them. We garner what will happen very quickly and the directors visuals and storytelling leave little to the imagination.

The films performances do what they need to do, and when the film delves into primal metaphors, we gain the hint of something of a bit more more poignant. But Sleepers Wake in no way surprises or truly satisfies. It is film that fades away quickly with each passing moment.

Review: A Liar's Autobiography - The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Directors: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpsons, Ben Timlett
Screenplay: Graham Chapman, David Sherlock
Starring: Graham Chapman, Philip Bulcock, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Cameron Diaz

Synopsis is here 

Much like the abstract documentary such as Kurt Cobain: About a son, or the autobiographical American: The Bill Hicks Story, A Liars Autobiography plays old audio of its subject (Monty Pythons Graham Chapman) and sets it to new footage. In this case A Liar's Autobiography is similar to the Hicks documentary, with 17 animation teams have bounded together to create a different visual look for nearly each scene.

The outcome is rather idiosyncratic. The film irrelevantly glances over many aspects of Chapman's life; cheerfully documenting his schooling, the formation of the python name, the realisation that he was homosexual and his addiction to alcohol. The tone is light, breezy with just a touch of crassness about it, joyfully detailing Chapman's delight in indulging of the carnal pleasures. A playful hotel scene highlights Chapman's excess, as he takes a lift downstairs only to bump into a fan and stroll straight back up to have sex with them. Moments later, after heading down the lift again, he spies a younger fan (of age still) and engages with sex with them, with their mum on the telephone, seemingly none the wiser. It's hard not smirk, if not laugh out loud like I did.

The film should also be taken with a pinch of salt, as easily spotted by the title. Chapman himself declares early on that there is only a hint of truth in what he says, and it's clear that the films melding of both fact and fiction is also trying to lock down the man behind the enigma. Whether the film finds it is down to the viewer.

The films featherweight approach is welcoming but also a flaw. The moments of poignancy are quickly dealt with as not to bum the audience out and the films climax fizzles out, leaving us with nothing to gasp onto afterwards. This is clearly not an issue film, but it's final farewell to its subject lacks the emotional weight it could have had. I found myself left knowing as much about Chapman as I did in the beginning; intelligent, witty and fun loving. I could have watched Life of Brian and gained the same.

Review: Argo

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenplay: Chris Terrio
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin

Synopsis is here 

Ben Affleck's new crime thriller; Argo, has been racketing a large amount of positive buzz during the London Film Festival and it's more than understandable as to why. Affleck's period piece continues the solid directional work that took place in his Boston crime duo, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Argo is adult, absorbing and features moments so packed with tension it places other thrillers of its ilk to shame. The films latter set pieces are taut, well paced and excellently handled.

The film takes a short while to find its bearings giving us a first act that highlights America at its worst. The slickly executed opening (displayed through storyboards) sets the scene swiftly detailing the messy part the U.S government had with the Iranian revolution. What's that? The U.S government doing some meddling overseas and getting itself into trouble? Seems awful timely...

Parallels to weighty current affairs aside, Argo completely disarmed me with it's screenplay toting a large amount full of witticisms and one liners. Many of the funniest quips stem from one film producer Lester Siegel (an on form and ball busting Alan Arkin), but the film as a whole, is constantly capturing the absurdity of the entire situation and throws it back at the audience as if to say "you couldn't make this up!" To which you realise you couldn't. To a point. The film fictionalises a near preposterous true story. Smuggling hostages out out a hostile country under the pretence that they are working on a movie? There's a fine line between insanity and genius.

There's also a line between a film being an expertly crafted work of tension, and wrecked nerves and a movie falling in on itself. Argo clearly wishes not to take a tumble.  The strength lies in the films final rescue of the hostages. Passport checks suck air from the room and lungs, a "location scout " outing may leave nails embedded in seats. Argo does extremely well at making you feel the stakes. If you had a day to learn a new background and career for yourself, would you be able fool armed security? At nearly every point you feel that one mistake could cost a life. What was ludicrously funny before, suddenly evaporates as real fear sets in. This hair brained scheme must work. The worry is plastered all over the sobering face of Tony Mendez. Affleck's portrayal of Mendez is possibly his best performance. His direction of the narrative, bringing this fear home with so little effort, I believe is one of the best accomplishments of the year.

We can't have everything and while Argo's execution of scenes are at times exemplary, the screenplay has more than a little trouble taking on the vast array of characters. The hostages one are depicted as mere cyphers, while some of the other characters who are integral to their safety seem a little sidelined. As does the shoehorned scenes of Mendez's family. The film also drops much of its political intrigue as it becomes more focused on the job at hand, and we're left with a climax which is a overtly sentimental and a little too self congratulatory.

The hard work however, as already been done and Argo does it's job as tightly wound thriller that many feel America just don't make enough of anymore. It's wears its period well, with a great amount of detail and moves with a swift pace that helps the viewer forget just how streamlined the film becomes. By the time I got on the train back home, Agro started to fade a little from view, but for two hours Affleck manages to land you in those crawl spaces and government offices, and does so as if it wasn't his third film.

Review: Looper

Year: 2012
Director: Rian Johnson
Screenplay: Rian Johnson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels

Synopsis is here:

I've more than enjoyed the films of Rian Johnson in the past but always felt in the back of my mind, that he was a filmmaker who was very quick to show that he has smarts. Brick had its Filmore-equse high school noir plot and jargon, The Brothers Bloom was a breezy heist movie that almost felt too light on the con itself and that may have over done the quirk. To say his movies have limited appeal is incorrect, however, as much as I've taken pleasure from Johnson's movies, I've not been surprised that the fan base has been quite niche.

Looper is Johnson's most pleasurable film, and its interesting that it takes the twists and turns of sci-fi and time travel to supply his most emotionally satisfying tale. The film holds a clear understanding of genre, a well constructed world and a hearty grip of the mechanics.  Johnson toys with the dynamic, but not enough to distance, and not lightly enough to make it feel gimmicky. All the elements of the story are utilised and it's focus on character create a thrilling and surprisingly affecting update to La jetee and 12 monkeys. Those who want all the detailed minutia to play out can watch Primer. Looper is more likened to Source Code, in that everything is built well enough to wrap the viewer up into the pace and bluster of it all.

Johnson still keeps his brow raised slightly, using a constant ticking clock motif and cyclical nature of the sci-fi at hand to create an engrossing backdrop that contrasts the three main character motivations. We have a young buck preoccupied by only his future goals, a hardened old man, blinded by the pain of his past and a juvenile right at the tipping point of his life. Johnson strategically plays these characters against age old themes of sacrifice and the ideal that our actions may help a greater good in deeper ways that we even know. 

Bruce Willis is not at all new to what's playing out (see 12 Monkeys) and gives that that credible world weariness that we now know him for. Joseph Gordon Levitt has a more burdensome role, having to play a more intolarent version of the same character and as well as mimic Willis from a physical preceptive. He doesn't fully look the part but there're moments in which Levitt is doing more than an effective impression. Emily Blunt is the emotional anchor of the film and puts in a bankable performance, although elements of her relationship with Levitt could have been stronger on the screen. Piper Perabo, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels provide solid support.

The film stumbles in it's middle act. We have quite a few characters and suddenly lumped with more background to get through and this all effects the main charge of it all. However, the film get itself in gear for a very impactful climax, which balances the scale of the implications with what we've learnt from the character during the story. Johnson's film has a great time travel hook,and a solidly believable world to place it in (I love the eye drop drugs and solar car ideas) but what makes Looper such an enjoyable watch is that Johnson keeps an eye on the human element, something that good sci-fi should nearly always do.

Cinematic Dramatic 4x14 - London Film Festival 2012

The Dramatics head to London for the 56th London Film Festival where the world's best new movies come to town. Or do they?

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 22 October 2012

Review: ill Manors

Year: 2012
Director: Ben Drew
Screenplay: Ben Drew
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Ed Skrein and Natalie Press

Ben Drew A.K.A Plan B is a fascinating U.K creative talent. I first heard of him on a Hip Hop Connection (Defunct in print, now online magazine) mix CD with a storytelling rap song "mama was a crackhead". A decent hip hop track, a few years later, I picked up his first and second album. The latter had as young Drew changed from more underground hip hop to a more popular modern RnB Soul sound.

The album was a hit, but also came with its own problems. Drew's new mainstream sound comes at odds with the imagery observed in his lyrics and his own persona. It's no surprise that when ill Manors appeared on radars, I read  the sniping and sneering at the very notion that a Plan B film would be any good. At no point does it help the fact that ill manors comes at a time when Brits have been fed urban youth dramas ad nauseum. The cycle starting with the likes of Kidulthood.

Annoyingly, I get the feeling that due to Drew not being taken seriously as an film maker, many will easily dismiss a deeply ambitious début feature. The film is in no way perfect, however many scenes provide provocation, that lesser movies of its ilk could only wish for. Compare this to the deeply annoying Harry Brown (which also starred Drew) and this, to this blogger, is the stronger film.

For me, one of the reasons why this worked is that ill manors is not aiming for pure shock or middle class manipulation although the film often tries hard to provoke. The acts shown are despicable ill Manors clearly wishes to illustrate the same type of alienation that lies in the likes of La Haine (1995) or Taxi Driver (1976). The latter is referenced at least three times within the film.

Ill Manors shows its isolated characters in the same way as Kidulthood (2006). Any strong adult role models are replaced by near absent social workers, drug dealers and hotheaded gangsters. It's younger generation; are living and dying in a perpetual circle of violence and nihilism, suffering from the pain lived from their elders past. Fractured; much like Short Cuts (1993) or Pulp Fiction (1994), its narrative and character motivations are scattershot and unclear. Often a death knell for many movies, this only seems to stir the boiling pot for the movie. With morals and actions swivel on a sixpence.

Drew then bolsters the film visually with an array of different techniques. Home video appears to represent flashback, low-res mobile phone video to illustrate the immediacy of "happy slapping". Timelapsing rears it's head at night as transitions to pass long periods of time ultra fast. Drew pulls many rabbits out of hats. Often; such aspects are a sign of a young first timer doing too much too soon. However, the film is deceptively more assured than one would expect. Wearing it's influences and homages on its sleeve. In addition to this, the film is also part musical with the movies soundtrack narrating events and backstory as and when needed.

There's a lot to take in, and not all of it works. Its fragmented style lends us characters who are not as interesting as you may like, portrayed by little known actors who don't all nail their scenes. Such is the hopelessness of the world, that at over 2 hours of all this gets a little tiresome as the plot becomes more convoluted, searching for reasons for characters to intermingle. Drew does well to pull all of these strings but by the time some of the later characters enter the scene, it becomes to grim for it's own good. It doesn't help that Drew's work as a Rap artist becomes more prevalent within the feature itself. Often the music playing over a sequence paints a picture which is sometimes more vivid than what we are seeing.

This doesn't distract from the fact that ill Manor's is one of the most ambitious entries of films of it's ilk. With Drew showing hints that he is far more interested in the fact that the films despicable acts happen in the first place. The visual of firearms being thrown into the Thames in clear sight of the O2 arena is a challenging one. Released a month before the 2012 Olympic games and a year after the riots that shocked much of Britain. It reminds us just how ugly things can be under the surface.

Review: Dark Shadows

Year: 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Chole Moretz, Jackie Hearle Haley

Synopsis is here

I never warmed too much to Tim Burton's work before 2001. However, after his "re-imagining" of 2001's Planet of the Apes, my already below average stock of the director plummeted. My thoughts on the likes of Edward Scissorhands (1993) or Sleepy Hollow (1999) may go against the grain of popular conscious, however, while I've never been moved by any of his movies, I could always respect the flashes of creativity that were placed within them.

However, since the turn of the millennium, I've found little of his input  in any way satisfying. The much discussed (and hated) ending of Apes is the most lively aspect of that blockbuster. The drudging rehashes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland suffer from dubious characterisations and awkward turns from one Johnny Depp. The latter also happens to be one of the ugliest Burton movies of his canon. Something that most of his films can usually rely on.

Reliability also seems to be missing from his satirical soap opera Dark Shadows. The go to fundamentals that Burton usually reaches for, once again appear to be failing as we get yet another cursorily unfunny, uninviting Johnny Depp performance, up against a Gothic backdrop that seemingly looks mostly CGI. It doesn't suffer from the nasty, casino floored, colour palette that littered Alice in Wonderland but still has a detached feel that sorely distracts from the film. As a film that pokes fun at a creaky, gothic soap opera, is it just myself that feels cheated that Burton doesn't go the way of the original crossroads?

The tone of the movie is never found with the screenplay only going far enough with the filmsy soap opera structure. Dark Shadows goes all over the place, never establishing itself properly as a fish out of water comedy, a light take on the melodramatic nature of soaps or a gothic parody. It straddles over all these aspects and hurts it's privates by stretching too hard. The decent, more risqué jokes are too hard to come by. We don't spend the right amount of time with characters or their before we're subjected to silly revelation after revelation. It lacks the subversive nature of Twin Peaks and none of the scenes reach a decent peak. A shame, as the OTT Epilogue looked to be a solid starting point.

It's not as if the elements aren't all in place. The jaded, drunk doctor, the reluctant patriarch, the angsty pre-pubescent with a hormone imbalance. Everything is ripe for the plucking. Yet Burton never takes the bait. The film's comedy never reaches above sitcom level, only Eva Green and  Michelle Pfeiffer chew at the rich scenery and it's difficult not to think of other features that use the sum of its parts better. Even the likes of Death becomes Her drinks deeper from the forthy camp cup.

Dark Shadows feels very lazy in a post-twilight world. With the likes of True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and like all chomping at the supernatural soap bit. Dark Shadows does little to impress from either a melodramatic, Gothic or kitsch viewpoint. Burton does well to remind us that he created the likes Beetlejuice (Moretz = Ryder). However Dark Shadows is too clumsy in it's execution to provide any lingering effects. Much like Barnabas himself, the film is dead on arrival.

Review: American Reunion

Year: 2012
Director: Hayden Schlossberg, Jon Hurwitz
Screenplay: Hayden Schlossberg, Jon Hurwitz
Starring: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Sean William Scott, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddy Kay Thomas, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari

Synopsis is here

So after years of dubious direct to video sequels and poor casting choices, the original cast of American Pie are back. And depending on how you feel about the franchise, you could be gleefully lost in late nineties nostalgia, or have a deep feeling of despondence at the whole affair. To me a fan of the original film, I found this return all a little obvious.  Much of this stems from the American Pie franchise having never really escaping from the jaws of its DTV bretherin. While we are thankfully spared the zany, now-out-of-canon antics of Stifler's brother/cousins, the same flat, well trodden tone of sequels past remains.

Reuinon also has to contend with the fact that the series is no longer the grossest kid on the block. Things have changed since the Apatow clan cropped up, the class of 1999 no longer shock like it they used to. Not a terrible thing as one of the stronger elements that's often forgotten about American Pie is it's warm take of male comradeship. Much of this remains as Reunion focuses on misguided bravado, former past glories and the inevitably growing old. The chemistry between the cast is still solid enough to warrant laughs even though the set pieces never reach the heights of before. Some plaudits should also go Sean William Scott who carries one of the larger arcs extremely well.

However, having such a large ensemble cast means having to keep a certain amount of balance. Where Pie stood firm, Reunion falters. Many characters are smacked to the sidelines, why? Because there wasn't that much of a need for them afterwards. Everyone is shoehorned in awkwardly with actors who were mere bit parts, get expanded to to how their status grew since (Stand up John Cho) Such is the trouble with franchises, it becomes tough to trim the fat when you know some enjoy the chewy bits.

Reunion works intermittently, with more laughs than expected for a forth entry of a 13 year old franchise. However by the end, when everyone sprouts pronounced feelings based on quite small misunderstandings, it all feels like the late franchise entry it really is. Warmer than tepid, but you miss nothing if avoided.

Review: 2 Days in New York

Year: 2012
Director: Julie Deply
Screenplay: Julie Deply, Alexia Landeau
Starring: Julie Deply, Chris Rock, Albert Deply, Alexia Landeau, Alexandre Nahon, Dylan Baker

Synopsis is here

I wasn't surprised that my girlfriend could not get into Julie Deply's ditzy comedy. After half an hour, she gave up. It's a rom-com truly not for her tastes. A fan of the likes of Serendipity, I was not at all shocked that Deply's messy view on life, love and relationships got her. And not in a good way. Not a negative on my other half at all, but the romantic movies that she enjoys always lean towards the comfortable. Everything slotting into place, like a Disney feature. Deply, star of films such as Before Sunrise/Sunset has a far more disordered approach. All the better, says I. With so many comfortable romantic comedies languishing in the realm of diminishing returns, 2 Days in New York's disorganized yet light hearted resonance is a well needed shot in the arm.

Filmed in a very free wheeling, intimate style with its point of view is squarely set with it's bewildered lead, 2 Day's in New York has a zaniness that I did not expect. However, outlandish moments in the film that would sink other romantic comedies are invigorating here, purely because Delpy's Marion is a more in touch human being than the Heigl-types that have invested the romantic domain. Her oddball point of view is displayed in its purposely erratic editing, we connect to Marion as she tries to connect with everything else. Even when she fakes a brain tumour to try and stabilise an antagonistic encounter. We are with her because we can relate. Relationships of all kinds can be tricky.

The theme of relationships are cemented with the film main motif of art mirroring life. Marion; an artist, is selling her soul as part of an installation. Along side this, are photographs of Marion in past romantic relationships that have not worked in the past. From the start we see how her frustrations stem from making such thing try and work. What have her relationships done to her soul? Even if she doesn't believe in it enough, why is she selling it? Futhermore, who would want it?

The torment continues as Marion's father (Albert Deply) and sister (with boyfriend in tow) appear out of the blue and descend a truckload of dysfunction with them. Her sister, Rose (Landeau), brings with her a sibling rivalry that hasn't evolved since adolescence. Walking around scantly clad to warm the blood of the men around her and boil her sisters. Her father, is a kind but misplaced man, who doesn't fit well with the hectic city life he finds himself in. The less said about Rose's boyfriend (Nahon), the better.

The family's arrival, clash with relationship between Marion and her live in boyfriend, Mingus (Rock). The harmony is destroyed by a barrage of miscommunication through the language barrier, culture and New York's blurred lines of racial identity. Rose's boyfriend, Manu, with his Public Enemy t-shirts and chatter about Salt n Pepa, is bemused at Marion's ability to find the only "brother that doesn't smoke". Manu's observations are often key despite being politically incorrect. Reminding the audience of the typical established roles and traits that Afro Americans are often viewed by.

The film balances smart and insightful relationship issues, with a good humoured comedy of manners. Deply's desperate housewife tries to balance her sexuality, motherhood and bohemian lifestyle along side her quirky family, but it never talks down, or condescends, and much of its humour comes from a believable and grounded place. Such discipline continues with the casting of Chris Rock. Playing against type, Rock is a refreshing as an actual loving partner who doesn't fit into the mainstream, overtly masculine archetypes often portrayed by granite chinned mouth breathers.

The overall tone of the film; for lack of a better word, is playful. And while the final third descends into silliness with a infamous director cropping up and racking up hipster points, even then, it doesn't fully leave the general feel of the film. 2 Days in New York manages to be just as light as so many of its ilk and yet still happens to look at healthy interracial relationships with a keen eye, as well as the often troublesome role of family and how it ebbs and flows. One hopes that their girlfriend gives it another chance.

Monday 8 October 2012

Cinematic Dramatic 4x13 - Looper

The Dramatics travel back and forth through time as they inspect the sci-fi might of Looper. But they may just be talking about it in the present - since time travel can fry your brain.

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 24 September 2012

Cinematic Dramatic 4x12 - Dredd

The Dramatics - THEY ARE THE LAW! Apparently, this fact is true when it comes to looking at the new Judge Dredd film. There's also Lawless to contend with so what punishment will the films be charged with?

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

Sunday 16 September 2012

Review: Lawless

Year: 2012
Director: John Hillcoat
Screenplay: Nick Cave
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Jason Clarke

Synopsis is here

I went into Lawless completely forgetting that it was a John Hillcoat film. It doesn't take long for a fan to notice his fingerpirints however, as Lawless displays the most obvious of his themes and obsessions. Even the name of the film lays everything bear on the table. We're dealing with similar disorder within the likes of The Proposition or The Road. Once again arguing that the bond of family ties are strengthened during such times of tempestuous and desperate times.

Lawless has enough going for it to be recommended. It's attention to the period's detail in terms of look is authentic enough, with the pastel visuals only helping matters. We never reach the same heights as the likes of The Road, but the film gives a dignified nod to the westerns that Hillcoat loves. A silhouette homage to The Searchers near the end is a pleasurable example.

The struggles of the period are hinted at but never really placed in full focus. For instance; segregation, misogyny and poverty flitter around in the background. but we never gain any depth. We observe small scenes of the pain but never enough to provide insight. The segregated water fountains explain the situation, but a scene involving an African American funeral doesn't do enough to show how strong these brothers are needed within the community. It feels like an afterthought.

With such matters relegated to the background, Lawless often feels aimless and meandering. What's the main point that it's trying to pull across? That LaBeouf's Jack is a feckless coward that needs to grow some balls? This feels like the main thread and it's just not strong enough to be fully engaging. When paired with The Proposition, with it's tighter plot, leaner pacing and more purposeful intent, Lawless pales in comparison.

Lawless is also slightly wasteful with it's ingredients. The seems to be little point in having the likes of Gary Oldman and Jessica Chastain within the film other than to have their names on the posters. Their characters never really stand out or truly add much to the film. It's lucky that Guy Pearce is on hand to nash his teeth through the scenery like a wild dog, devouring all of the scripts best lines as if they were pork cutlets. Hardy's stoic older brother of little words has brooding to spare but is in no way the mans best work. As the lead LaBeouf seems to have perfected playing maddeningly annoying young twerps. The man has screen presence, he just happens to play characters I dislike. Mia Wasikowska, like Chastain, also needs more to do.

There isn't much more to say about Lawless other than it's a decent crime entry that does it's job for it's running time. It doesn't reach the heights of say Bonnie and Clyde, Public Enemies or The Untouchables, but it doesnt offend in any real way. Maybe that's the problem.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Review: Dredd

Year: 2012
Director: Pete Travis
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey

Synopsis is here:

I didn't expect to enjoy Dredd as much as I did. In fact I didn't expect me to as much delight out of it more than the new John Hillcoat film, Lawless, which I checked out the same day. But in terms of base sensory pleasure; Dredd's clear-cut, no nonsense vibe just brought more satisfaction to the palette. I'm not a Dredd fan by any real means (I could count the amount of 2000AD comics I'd read on two hands) but I always felt that a comic like Dredd needed the right kind of adaptation if it had to be a movie.

Danny Cannon's 1995 take on Dredd, reeks of the kind of studio changes that comic book fans despise. "Hey lets have Rob Schneider as a comedy sidekick!" "You know what Dredd needs? A Love interest!" "Why don't we ever see Dredd's face? Change it!" The result was a very uninspired blockbuster which doesn't illustrate the strengths of it's director (See 1993's The Young Americans or 1998's Phoenix) and isn't too far removed from Sylvester Stallone's 1993 hit Demolition Man in terms of tone.

The retread of Dredd (despite it's production issues), delightfully eschews that an anti-hero like Dredd should be given such a broad Hollywood treatment. The film seems to understand the dystopian world-view of the comics a hell of a lot more the last outing. Mega-City 1; we are told, is a meat grinder and the film expresses this within the environment perfectly. This is a world where life isn't worth the grit off the floor. The air reeks of disorder and the presence of the judges is almost meaningless due to the overcrowded population and rampant crime. The film begins with a high octane vehicle chase on a busy urban highway. When we first see Dredd, we get the feeling that this is merely just another day. We sense this, despite only seeing Karl Urban's wasp chewing mouth. Despite the dark and dingy tone, this is where the satire of the comic lies. When death is doled out so easily and casually, you need a radical right-wing judgement system to help thin out the numbers just a little more.  

With such a system in place, you expect a lot of gun play, and Dredd has more than enough to spare. The action isn't the best I've seen this year, that goes to the likes of the similarly structured The Raid, but the films set pieces are more than effective in relation to it pulpy story. Even the liberal use of slow motion comes off as more than just a gimmicky after thought, and shows itself as a properly realised idea to help bring the vision across. The film also deserves its 18 rating as the guts and gore flow freely.

But the visceral impact of the violence is bolstered by the films economical storytelling. What we see has more impact because the efficient use of it's story. As I mentioned before, the film has similar elements to The Raid. However, Dredd's more polished use of character and plot line gives us more grip on the world at play.

It also helps that Dredd's secret weapon, lies in one of it's secondary characters. Olivia Thirlby as psychic rookie Judge Anderson, provides the moral lifting of the film. Thirlby is the perfect compassionate foil for the black and white, down the line viewpoint of Urban's Dredd. Urban is also impressive, acting with only his chin for the most part, his Clint Eastwood impersonation is reminiscent of Dirty Harry, which is of course an influence on the original comic. Urban's lesser known profile also helps get around the problem the first film had, having to balance the fact it had a bonafide action superstar to contend with (See also The Expendables). Lena Headey brings up the rear, with a formidable villain in Ma-ma. A role that could have easily been filled by an OTT character actor display. Headey brings menace with a more subdued display. Managing to command hundreds with merely a nod or a glance.

Dredd retains the pulpy roots of it's comic books, and provides 95 minutes of competent, straight edged, B-movie thrills with little of the meandering and pandering that has hampered some of the larger action films of the year. It's what I got out of it; and hopefully, the fans get that to.

Friday 14 September 2012

Review: Total Recall

Year: 2012
Director: Len Wiseman
Screenplay: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Byran Cranston, Bill Nighy, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho

Synopsis is here:

After finishing The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex by Mark Kermode (light and witty), one of the main points that stayed with me was the chapter about Mainstream movies being better. Kermode believes that due to the fact that films no longer truly flop and merely "under perform", and that the studios that finance said production don't actually risk that much as they don't really lose money, should we be getting better quality movies? Now of course "better" and "good" are of course to the eye of the beholder, but as always I feel that the bequiffed one has an interesting point.

Kermode's words ring particularly true when it comes to the likes of something like Total Recall; an unbelievably, unremarkable and not at all daring Total Recall remake. However I would trade the word better with "stranger" for this particular entry. Reason being; if you're going to remake a Paul Verhoven adaptation of a Philip K Dick short story, you should make it stand out. Unfortunately, safe bets the talking in Hollywood, and they do it louder than middle aged bass playing critics, or live T.V producers who blog about movies for a hobby. Hence why Total Recall is a completely average footnote of the cinematic book of 2012.

The main issue is Total Recall has the used stench of other films hanging off it like burnt offal although it will smell like sweet pork to someone who may not be too bothered about their sci-fi or never got the fuss of the big dumb Arnie original. This film shows the generational gap between film-makers more than you think. We are now plunged fully into the directors who plunder and pilfer from other films and video games for no other reason than they remember it and it looks cool. Wiseman nabs all the artificial elements he can find from the likes of the original film, Blade Runner, Minority Report, I-robot and whatever Xbox games he had in the house at the time but does little else to the film to make our time with the mish mash world he's created fulfilling. This remake thinks it's a decent idea to discard the ambiguity that made Verhoeven feature such a stand out. Arnie is a naff actor, but Verhoeven is a learned director, with his original, wanting the viewer to second guess the intentions of it's lead and situation.  TR2012 cuts all this for the "simple" approach, as if the audience couldn't comprehend the identity crisis that featured in the original.

In fact, so much is hollowed out from the original film that the film becomes frustrating. For instance; Quaid's exotic relationship with Melina, the girl of his dreams/reality, was so different from his blonde haired, blue eyed wife it caused an entertaining dynamic. Melina 22 years ago wasn't just different in looks but in personality. A head strong rebellious latina, supported by a feisty performance from Rachel Ticotin. Fast forward to our remake and we get a bland portrayal by Jessica Biel whose only characteristic is to look slightly forlorn that Farrell's Quaid can't remember his own birthday. Such lazy reimagings crop up everywhere as Wiseman's film decides to take the road most travelled. Character actors such as Nighy and Cranston are wasted and the only person seeming to have any fun is Beckingsale's Lori. But then again that is the directors wife we're once again watching in tight clothing holding weaponry (see also Underworld) .

For all the arguments placed on Christopher Nolan's head for his two recent blockbusters (Inception and The Dark Knight Rises) and Ridleys Scott's hyped yet flawed return to sci-fi (Prometheous), Both directors can at least say that their far reaching influences allowed to bring more to proceeding than just the plain surface. Their films have brought months of argument and debate, but at least they have something in there to rouse such heated talk. They have the main source yet manage to bring more to the game.

Total Recall 2012 gives us nothing but gloss and sheen. Verhoeven knew the power of ultra violence and the general insanity of the whole thing. This retread however, is happy to contend with platform game pilfering and Blade Runner cloning. The film doesn't even seem to understand why it's taking certain aspects. Case in point, a three breasted cameo that find its way into the film early on. If you took away the original reason for said cameo to be there in the first place (Mars) why bother with the hark back? Nostalgia be damned, not even the slick action that takes place, can shift the annoyance.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Cinematic Dramatic 4x11 - Total Recall 2012

Get your ass Confused? We are too as The Dramatics see the remake of Total Recall and ask themselves the simple question of "Why?"

via GeekPlanetOnline: Cinematic Dramatic

Friday 24 August 2012

Cinematic Dramatic 4x10 - The Expendables 2

Lock and Load! The Dramatics are throwing themselves into fantasy with Brave, spy games with The Bourne Legacy and more explosions as Sly's Expendables are back for another adventure. Byron's thrilled.

via GeekPlanetOnline: Cinematic Dramatic

Sunday 19 August 2012

Review: The Bourne Legacy

Year: 2012
Director: Tony Gilroy
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton

Synopsis is here

My problem with The Bourne Legacy is that it's so interested in it's lofty themes, it completely forgets about getting the basics down. There's a kernel of a decent film which is lost amid a pool of lacklustre motivation, uninteresting characters and bland story. All that isn't supposed to matter because GUNFIGHTS AND CHASES. Unfortunately; we've seen all that before, with the first three Bourne films. Those films also had the decency to give you something tangible to hold on to while you rode the roller-coaster.

As I said before there are a few points of interest within The Bourne Legacy. One of them is the idea of soldiers being created with less remorse, making them more efficient killers in the field while losing the compassion that compasses their humanity. The film references this twice. Firstly; when a our new Jason Bourne, Alex Cross (Renner) meets another agent at a remote outpost, sent there because he "fell in love". Secondly in a admittedly impressive motorcycle chase sequence, an enemy agent grunt who is "tradestone with none of the inconsistency, appears and goes Terminator on our heroes. The idea that the genetic science that may have created Jason Bourne is now being used to zone out emotional capacities is something I would find fascinating in a movie, particularly in one like this in which does show some promise with dialogue that doesn't feel like it's been processed for teenagers. Placing a pharmaceutical company the way the film does as the antagonist also gives the film a 70's thriller vibe and maturity that you may not get with your vampire hunters or even Avengers.

Problems arises however, when you realise that Alex Cross is just not Jason Bourne and the so called legacy looms large over the entire project. We are told every early on by an uninterested Edward Norton, to forget about Jason Bourne. But Bourne's search for his identity (as well as his humanity) give him a clear purpose. Here; we're given a bland goal of having to get "chems" or else. This wouldn't be a problem if Cross was a character worth following. The same goes for the antagonists chasing him down. There seems to be little at stake for everyone involved. Whatever stake that is negated, doesn't feel worth bothering about.

The film doesn't make good on its terms, starting very slowly, almost to the point of tedium, before wandering aimlessly (the middle being punctuated with well structured but ultimately meaningless action set pieces) and finishing abruptly, with the main narrative being nowhere as interesting as the subtext the film mentioned. Renner and Weisz sell their roles well but I found myself constantly arguing the point of the whole thing with myself. When you do that, your not enjoying the movie.