Tuesday 26 February 2013

Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

Year: 2013
Director: John Moore
Screenplay: Skip Woods
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney 

Synopsis is Pointless

Certain friends of mine will know of my abnormal anger towards The Omen 666 (2006), in which I labelled at the time: "the worst film I've ever seen". I was so incensed that I launched into a torrid tirade of abuse about the film, it's sleepwalking characters, subpar scares and lack of any drama before storming out of the cinema fit of rage. Looking back, I overreacted for dramatic effect and looked like a bellend. If I had acted now as I did then, I reckon some clever dick would have filmed it on their phone, and I could have gone viral.   

Seven years have passed, and I've become older, wiser and slightly mellower (Although my podcast co-host may say otherwise). Over these years of further film viewing and reflection, I released that while John Moore's version of The Omen may not be the worst film in the entirety of cinema, that screening marked a point in where Hollywood's crass, cynical view on us as "consumers of product" hit a peak within me. I had seen through the looking glass and found a film with absolutely no heart behind it's conception. This was my Alien 3. A film only made because of a date (released on the 6th of June 2006), rather out of any shed of artistic value or integrity. There are many that will not agree with my opinion on the film, while there are others that will be quick to inform me of other such contemptuous cinematic products before or since. That's fine, but I'm sure every film viewer has their "moments" and this was one of mine. 

Such an act of competent yet soulless filmmaking has forever marred my view of the movies director. I have avoided John Moore movies for the simple fact that much like how many see the Len Wiseman's and Brett Ratners of the world, I see Moore as simply a "jobber" director. A man who can handle a crew, set and cast well enough to bring in whatever script is shoved in front of him. So what you get is an action film with Bruce Willis as lead and Die Hard in the title, but not a Die Hard film. 

You see, time is of the essence and the studio need something with Die Hard in the title to make money over the Valentine's Day weekend. Valentines Day? For Die Hard? Yes, for you see it looks clear to me that one or two people didn't have as much faith in this fifth entry as the original, which was of course a summer blockbuster. Like The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head, it seems that the golden oldies may not rake in what they used to when compared to the superhero kings of the present box office. If I'm correct, then it's very easy to see why this Die Hard film has been release in the cold harsh dead zone of February as opposed to challenging for the title of king of summer.

A Good Day to Die Hard is a mess of an action movie. A barrage of near pointless, unintelligible set-pieces melded together with little more of a dental floss thin amount of plot holding it together. Skip Wood's mangled screenplay has little to no care as to what makes it's lead character so appealing in the first place. We remember not only the action beats of the original film, but the affability of John McClane himself. A workaday cop in the wrong place at the wrong time, his intimate chats with fellow cop Al, and his strained but affectionate relationship with his wife displayed his vulnerability. The original film further highlighted this with its simple moment of having McClane walk barefooted on cracked glass. Much like Spielberg and Lucas' Indy, this man was just like us, we wanted him to get through this. That wasn't just "80's sensibilities" or the like; it was just decent building of character.

Now we have a John McClane who is more like a high street bank than your average Joe. This guy is simply too big fail. Watching Willis going through the motions, with no emotion, surviving everything like a bald Terminator is heartbreaking. There's little risk and the stakes are incredibly low this time round as the screenplay pathetically tries to tie everything together in a gabbled plot that cares just as much about it's ludicrous (and blatantly obvious) double crosses and dullard villains than making John McClane the unfortunate hero his once was.

So we come back to Moore, a hired gun who directs to do a job. In football terms he is a utility player of film maker. Here he works with the sketchy template give to him and does little to inject the same verve found in other action films let alone Die Hard movies. We are quickly shoved into a incomprehensible car chase sequence and the film never lets up. The crashes and bangs rapidly begin to bore because neither the film’s director nor screenplay care about any nuance towards its story or character, it merely wants us to see Willis survive near death experiences repeatedly while referencing unearned homage’s to not only Die Hard films, but other films in Willis body of work. 

But this is the issue with film-makers who don't seem to regard history with any importance. Standing on the shoulders of giants with disregard to the foundation, frequent hark backs to wittier films is one thing, but it's annoyingly inane handing of Russia also shows that Americas old enemy deserves more than this, even in films. This even lacks the camp get up found in the likes of Salt and Hanna. Then again despite how one may feel of those films, Directors Phillip Noyce and Joe Wright respect us enough to try and tell a story. John Moore's Die Hard has been created merely to show up on time. It's Alien 3 and The Omen 666 all over again.  

I decided to watch this instead of watching my football team (Arsenal) lose yet again against formidable opponents (Bayern Munich). This could be consider sacrilege, but as a fan, you know when your beat. You also know when you need a utility player, an ugly piece of work to is only there to fill a hold and do a job. They don't belong in this franchise. Die Hard started off as a star striker. Relegation may beckon.

Monday 25 February 2013

Cinematic Dramatic 4x22 - Not A Good Day To Die Hard

The Dramatics are about to discover that a bad day can really make a bad movie in the case of the fifth Die Hard outing. It really isn't A Good Day to Die Hard. Maybe Warm Bodies can ease the pain....

via GeekPlanetOnline: Cinematic Dramatic http://www.geekplanetonline.com/hosting/originals/dramatic/?p=episode&name=2013-02-25_cinematic_dramatic_4x22__a_good_day_to_die_hard.mp3 Unfortunately, you will have to copy and paste the link to listen or use the handy links on the side!

Thursday 21 February 2013

Review: Warm Bodies

Year: 2013
Director: Jonathan Levine
Screenplay: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Nicolas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich

Synopsis is here

A recent episode of the MAMO podcast in a throwaway comment about the box office, placed a simple what if that really struck me until I found myself sat in the fourth row awaiting Warm Bodies to start. In reference to some studios knee jerk reactions to "underwhelming" box office, the hosts posed the simple question: What if the twilight series stopped after one?

The first entry (2008) entered the market and made a respectable chunk of box office change (Over $300 million). But it's the sequels that really opened eyes (and wallets) with the second film, New Moon, making enough money to clear a third world debt. Summit Entertainment had unlocked a box office "secret": teenage girls enjoy going to the movies too (also called the Titanic equation). Since the series ended, it's no surprise that the fantasy female teen market seems to be a big thing these days. It's no surprise that Hollywood harboured it's energies into the likes of The Hunger Games (2012). So when something like Warm Bodies hits the silver screens, it's quite clear that it's not aimed at me at all. Despite this; like the brains that lead Zombie 'R' (an industrious Nicolas Hoult) pleasingly snacks on, Warm Bodies is easily digestible fodder. For an outsider, the film is not as painful as one might think. 

For me, Warm Bodies is mostly due to the charm of Hoult, who throws himself into a role that is tougher than you think at first glance. Inspired by the physical acting of Jonny Depp's Edward Scissorhands, 'R' is a performance that garners expression from the expressionless. Combined with a dry and witty narration from Hoult, 'R' really carries the film, coming off as a undead Wall-E (check his hoarding skills), 'R' is a much more active protagonist than I ever expected, showing more passion than so many recent heroes. Hoult and the screenplay's often humorous observations, do well to paper over the films weaker points. As amusing as Warm Bodies is, it happily trundles along blissfully unaware that the films meet-cute overstays its welcome. So much so that you release that the film lacks not only a second act, but any real lasting conflict. Warm Bodies may not be Shakespeare however, when your film alludes to Romeo and Juliet, it's important to remember that conflict and strive is vital.

When Warm Bodies focuses on anything other than the musings of its main zombie, it beings to suffer. It's leading lady Julie (Teresa Palmer) turns from outgoing battle chick to thankless distressed maiden trophy extraordinary quickly, while the films last act is one brought on with very little build up or risk. Director Jonathan Levine has tread similar teen waters before, but with denser narratives and stronger themes. Due to the films target audience, Warm Bodies does much to sanitise the very fact that it's a romance about dead people. Anyone looking for any real depth in the subject (if you are a little bit odd) would be better off getting hold of the likes of Dellamorte Dellamore (AKA Cemetery Man) or otherwise. 

But if you know of the previously mentioned title, you probably won't be too bothered with Warm Bodies, a film which is much more primed to give the Twilight crowd another supernatural fix of the zombie flavour. For me, I was relatively entertained by the undead antics of Hoult and co. Interestingly; I was told afterwards that the novel is not a humorous one. I must say thank goodness the film injected laughs; otherwise this review would have ended on a much more sour note. 

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Cinematic Dramatic 4x21 - Zero Dark Thirty

The Dramatics go on the greatest manhunt in history - no, not after Brett Ratner - for Zero Dark Thirty. Oscar favourite Lincoln is put in The Dramatic's House of Cinematic Congress and Arnie's The Last Stand may have lost it's charm for Byron.

via GeekPlanetOnline: Cinematic Dramatic http://www.geekplanetonline.com/hosting/originals/dramatic/?p=episode&name=2013-02-12_cinematic_dramatic_4x21__zero_dark_thirty.mp3 Unfortunately, you will have to copy and paste the link to listen or use the handy links on the side!

Saturday 9 February 2013

Review: Flight

Year: 2012 (U.K release 2013)
Director: Robert Zemeckis 
Screenplay: John Gatins
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman

Synopsis is here 

I managed to slot a viewing of Flight before attending my now weekly 5 a side football game. 

"It's good isn't it?" A work colleague remarked before I ran on as sub. 
"It's alright." I commented, somewhat derisively. 

The game went on and I really thought no more of the film. As I headed home, I tried to compile my thoughts into something more comprehensive and yet even then the same two words kept ringing in my years. Even giving myself a day to let things ruminate did little to help. I found the film simply passable.  

Passable is fine. It's ludicrous to expect the greatest movie ever, every time you plant your backside in an troublesome cinema seat. However, when watching Flight, my mind was taken back to just how much I was taken by Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945) and how even now, such a film makes more of a mark. Zemeckis' film (his first live action since 2000) pulls all the necessary strings to provide the audience a comfortable feature and I feel that may be the issue of the film. The film doesn't overreach or offend and with that it doesn't give any more than it should. Considering its subject matter, I'm a little disappointed that the film doesn't take more risk. 

The film starts well with Zemeckis utilising his effects know how to premium effect. Two moments punctuate the opening act, a drug overdose (with a great use of detailed CGI effects) and a terrifying plane crash which  strikes just as hard as when Zemeckis made Tom Hanks a cast away. The two scenes intersect with each other and provide a brilliant set up to the moral conundrum that appears afterwards. The life of Whip Whitaker (Washington), the pilot of the crash, takes a turn for the worst as the addictions which have plagued him through his life come to a head. Whip was drunk when he took his role that day, but his instinct and reactions kept the fatalities to a minimum. He is considered a hero to some, yet others know what they saw that day before the crash.

Denzel Washington, like Daniel Day Lewis is an actor whose control over their roles are so strong that they are frightening. Washington elevates the films trajectory, simply by being such a commanding performer. Witness the moments of the crash, his voice is almost abnormally calm, yet his face says so much more. Washington's abilities to grasp hold of so many different emotions within a glance are what make him a performer worth watching. He is an actor that doesn't need dialogue to convey the message; he understands the body language and nuances of the roles he plays so well, he embodies them. 

It's Washington's performance that makes Flight worth a watch, along aside the Zemeckis direction of the plane crash. Everything else unfortunately is a little too obvious for its own good. Some have taken Martin Scorsese to task for his love of the Rolling Stones (Gimmie Shelter in three different films), however, when we see John Goodman roll out of an elevator while Sympathy for the Devil plays, you don't have to be Barton Fink to see where his morals lie. 

The heavy handedness of the films symbolism and metaphors combined with the straight edged screenplay do little to enhance the heft displayed by Washington's performance. The messy issue of addiction is as neatly wrapped here as Wilder's then convention breaking movie back in 1945. One feels that more could be added to Flight, but it wouldn't land itself so safely in its comfort zone.

However, to end on a positive note, it's great to see more of the beautiful Kelly Reilly who puts in some great work as a heroin addicted photographer. It's also interesting to see just how non-pulsed the film is about race in the frame. It is a film set in Atlanta that is not white washed and is full of black faces. This said, the film does not use race as a crutch in any form. The film feels truly colour blind in its relationships both work and personal. This may be just some lingering effects of a month of Lincoln and Django, but it's an observation I felt worth mentioning.  

Saturday 2 February 2013

Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Year: 2012 (UK Release 2013)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow 
Screenplay: Marc Boal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Chris Pratt, Edgar Ramirez, James Gandolfini, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong

Synopsis is here

NOTE: I do not explicitly mention the finer details of the films plot and it's conclusion, the review does talk about the latter moments of the film.

A lot about how I feel about Zero Dark Thirty evolves around how I took it's final moments. Far from being the sensationalized climax that many would think, Zero Dark Thirty's muted raid and aftermath and near anguished final shot do not claim any relief in my eyes. Quite the opposite when placed in consideration of the two hours that came before it. We see a release of sorts but little comfort. Many will argue this point, but the power of Bigelow's film lies with the viewer themselves. The film is so matter of fact, that it takes the form of whomever the viewer is. For me, the film captures something that many wish to forget, that the search for Bin Laden and so called the war on terror may become one of the darkest moments in American History.

A precise and upfront procedural, Kathryn Bigelow's film is the perfect foil for her previous war film The Hurt Locker (2008). Whereas the drug of choice for Jeremy Renner's character was disarming bombs and the danger it entailed, here we follow Maya (played with an unwavering intensity by Jessica Chastain); a no nonsense CIA agent whom is attracted to little more than the task at hand. When asked what else she has done for the CIA in the decade long search for Bin Laden, her response is that she has nothing. Like a Michael Mann film, the job is everything to Maya. She is the "man who does work". It's clear that the act of water-boarding repulses her, but this is the job and morals only seem to get in the way. 

This is not me condoning what I saw. It's also not the film stating that such torture gains results (it doesn't, in fact it only leads to more dead ends). But the films matter-of-fact tone is what makes the film such a difficult watch. The events are taken as is and never glorified. Characters leave the work they do, to do something "normal". What does that suggest? To me it suggests that what they are doing is not working. Such scenes only highlight the ugliness and desperation that is running through the compound. 

The film is a fractured one, both in narrative and moral compass. Along with torturing and wiretaps,  we witness scenes in which Arabs can be brought off with fast cars for information (as long as nothing comes back to them), while true legitimate leads can be turned (or double bluffing) with dangerous results. Nothing is clear except Maya's assertiveness which never wavers over the films ten year time frame. Bigelow and Boal's film eschew more typical plotting, deciding more upon viewing the search as a series of vignettes. Bigelow punctuates some of episodes with amazingly terse set pieces with the tension cranked up to the hilt. By the time we get to the films 18 minute climax (which held a similar tone to Mann's final sequence in Miami Vice), we're primed. I may know the ending, but I found myself riveted at how the incident would occur.  This is where the films muted, realistic approach to proceedings is at its most effective, displaying the finalisation of the search, not as a victory but as an uneasy closure. 

Bringing us back to the films lingering final moments, where it all comes to a head for this character. After all the time we've spent with Maya, the choices she's made, and the effect her decisiveness has had on this situation, it is only now everything "comes together". While The Hurt Locker dealt with the "warriors", here we deal with the "planners". It's telling that Bigelow has found a female protagonist for this role. While similar to many of her previous leads, the simple choice of gender creates another dynamic. We notice how she's positioned in rooms, her relationships with others (including other women) and areas of her life that have been given up for the task at hand. Like The Hurt Locker, we now notice what the drug of war takes away. Bigelow has spent her career taking pieces of her characters souls with varying degrees of success. Here in Zero Dark Thirty we see Kathryn Bigelow at her best, taking away a part of human essence in one of the most intellectually taxing American films of the last decade. Expect no catharsis.

Friday 1 February 2013

Review: Lincoln

Year: 2012 (UK Release 2013)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Tony Kushner
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon Levitt, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson and John Hawkes

Synopsis is here

With its 12 nominations hanging gracefully around its neck, I feel an unusual sense of entitlement to Lincoln, even if it's it's just my scatterbrained thoughts thinking it.  If Django Unchained; with its blaxploitation leanings and myth making fantasy  is the graphic novel of slavery, then Lincoln is the essay. Tarrantino may proclaim his filmmaking as non-political, but it's clear that he no fool. The sight of hip-hop's most enigmatic rebel, 2Pac (posthumously teaming up with James Brown no less) on the films soundtrack, and the near casting of one Will Smith may say different to a certain few. Lincoln on the other hand is not only about the 16th president of the United States but focuses on one of his biggest political achievements: The passing of the 13th amendment, and the abolishment of slavery.

Lee was quickly question about his view on the sandbox orgy of violence and revenge and yet no one appear to be as forthcoming to Lee's views on Spielberg's Lincoln. I feel it's safe to say that due to the two film-makers past, the desire for a heated reaction seems to be the purpose as opposed to any real conversation about the material at hand. Yet Spielberg has managed to place forth a film full of political posturing which asks for a certain amount of reverence about its subject and subtext with apparently little issue.

Django may not be a biting political critique on black slavery, but it's certainly more interested in race in the frame. Lincoln for all its congressional hearings and the like, spends what could be seen as a minimal time with black faces. Yes, the film is called Lincoln, and a powerful performance from Daniel Day-Lewis reminds us not only of the actor’s skill and talent, but the human touch that made the president the icon he became. Despite this we only gain three noteworthy moments of interaction with Afro-Americans. The first two are amongst the strongest scenes in the film, while the last (a climatic reveal) is awkward at best. The opening scene in which a young black solider ponders upon the future to Lincoln is a simple yet effective moment which boils down the very reason why the amendment should be passed. A later scene in which Lincoln and his now free house maid reflect on what lies ahead, also re-enforces such importance. These scenes; broad as they are hold the type of emotional weight that Spielberg is known for, making it a pity that through the more restrained eye of Lincoln such moments are few and far between.

That said, Spielberg does republican politics a better favour than Fox news, with many scenes deftly passing forth the massage that while democracy can be a dirty and difficult game, progression is not a dirty word. Lincoln is quick to alert that the tensions of old are not a thing of the past and the aggressive political standings seen right now, will only leave the country in more turmoil. Day-Lewis' performance drives home the human element that seems to be lacking with the politicians we see today. Others have been sniffy with Lincoln's grandfather-like meandering tales, yet without them the film would lose the humility we need to connect with him as a character. It also cuts through some of the pomp and bluster of some of the films dryer moments.

Daniel Day Lewis' performance is a striking one, yet it does little to elevate the weightless family side plot that runs alongside the politics. Supposed emotional scenes with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Sally Field are weak and do little to bring everything to the head. It's odd to see a Spielberg movie have such an awkward footing when it focuses on family aspects, yet this is a more restrained Spielberg feature which dances around some of his more typical sentiments with a certain shyness. Unlike many; I tend to warm to those moments usually due to the earnestness that they are approached with. In Lincoln however, it's just the facts with less of the blacks and of course the people have been quick to remark on the accuracy

Still; Spielberg (with Day Lewis in tow) manages to bring a board sense of decency and gravitas to many moments of the film.Also; while the film lacks a certain grace in it's closing segments (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter deals with the inevitable outcome with a little more subtly),  Spielberg still remains a man to go to for visual wit. The sight of James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson and John Hawkes blundering around the place like 18th century stooges is a winning one. As is Tommy Lee Jones who is bullish form. Such scenes do not outstay their welcome. 

Said moments however are diamonds in the rough of a film, that weaves in and out of important and impotence. Turgid family sequences clash with intriguing political discourse. Stand out displays, slap against struggling performances. Racial politics are the mainstay of the movie, yet the people don't seem to matter as much as the reasoning. Lincoln will serve history teachers well in the long run with its calm and sensible depiction. Django on the other hand, gives us a outlandish superhero amidst the cinematic landscape of comic book adaptations. The restraint and awards may do a lot of favours for Lincoln, yet when it comes to race in the frame Django's hip hop stylings may build a stronger connection over similar material.