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!