Sunday 31 March 2013

Review: Trance

Year: 2013
Director: Danny Boyle 
Screenplay: Joe Ahearne and John Hodge
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel

Synopsis is here

For some reason, it has been decided that March is the perfect time for psychological thrillers. Stoker and Side Effects had both Park Chan-wook and Steven Soderbergh embrace the pulpy mechanics of the genre respectively. Now fresh off his Olympic duties, Danny Boyle has decided to entrance viewers with a contorted tale which properly had writers wondering if they can use the term "Hitchcockian" again. 

While Trance's plot is preposterous in a way that may have Brian De Palma question it's third act mechanics,  the energy and pace Boyle infuses with the film allows one to bypass some of the more questionable areas of the narrative. However, considering the film is based around the questionable matter of hypnosis. Trance's screenplay is quite detailed on the matter, noting aspects that many hypnotists take to heart. Like so many of Boyle's films, Trance rolls at such a speed that you can take much of it at face value. Probably best. 

McAvoy finds himself in more formidable territory than I last saw him (Welcome to the Punch) nailing many scenes with the right balance of charm for his character. Cassel picks up a role that he could do with both hands tied around his back, but it's good to see a Euro antagonist done well (Die Hard 5, I'm looking at you). Rosario Dawson brings up the rear with a sexy but telling performance. She's more believable as a hypnotherapist than Catherine Zeta Jones being a psychiatrist, however from the moment Dawson enters the fray, we know what position she'll be in at the end of the film.

Still the film doesn't slip too much and Boyle has fun with the film visually. At one point we see orange lit motorways mimicking synapses of the brain while the bold colour scheme of the film does well to show up the look of recent British fare. 

Like most thrillers of its ilk, Trance pretends it's about one thing before revealing it's actually about something else. Some of the film’s final revelations manage to strangely uplifting considering the events that take place with the characters involved. Much like Side Effects, the film is not at all scared to play with our loyalties and alliances to characters. After further thought, Trance didn't turn my head as much as Trainspotting or Sunshine did, but it shows itself to be a fun little exercise for everyone involved. 

Monday 25 March 2013

Cinematic Dramatic 4x24 - Side Pub Effects

The Dramatics are united in the pub for another episode as they take the cinematic medication of Side Effects, Brit thriller Welcome To The Punch and Disney's Oz The Great And Powerful. This might not end well medically speaking.

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

Friday 22 March 2013

Review: Oz: The Great and Powerful

Year: 2013
Director: Sam Rami
Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire, Mitchell Kapner
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zack Braff

Synopsis is here:

I love those moments of spectacle in a film which give off that feeling of wonder. There's nothing I like more than being carried away by a movie moment. An instant when I can forget about the how and the why and I'm just there with the character. The magic takes me and I'm no longer "just watching a movie". Pretentious? Perhaps, but that's just me. Like music, I enjoy being whipped up in the emotion of it all.
Here are two examples of such moments for me:
• When Peter Parker learns how to Web Sling in Sam Rami's Spider-Man (2002)

• When Dorothy finds herself in the Land of Oz in the 1939 film; The Wizard of Oz

I'll happily spew hyperbole about the joy of watching those moments. All big film fans have them and these are just two of mine. Moments that capture a certain "magic".

In an event of serendipity these two scenes are now bizarrely bound together, with Rami now directing Oz: The Great and Powerful, a prequel to the aforementioned Wizard of Oz based on the characters and situations from the introductory book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

We all know of the old adage if it's not broke, don't fix it. Such a quote applies heavily to a film like Oz: The Great and Powerful, for a matter of reasons. It should surprise no one that Disney is the studio behind the film and that the producers are the same guys who undertook Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010). So it also shouldn't shock you that the film has no surprises.

From a narrative standpoint; Oz follows Burton's risible re-imagining almost beat for beat with little to no diversity and in this day and age, why not? If you have a movie that made over a billion dollars worldwide why muck around with the blue print? However, Rami, his screenwriters and cinematographer Peter Deming manage to infuse the feature with stronger humour, visual appeal and a tad more emotion. Despite being quite forgettable (it's only been a day and I'm struggling to remember the film), Oz manages to be sweet enough but not saccharine sickly.
Despite Rami seemingly being under orders to imitate another filmmaker (seriously check out the Danny Elfman score and Weisz's Helena Bonham Carter impression). The film is weighed down enough by an offbeat and amusingly smarmy turn from Johnny Dep...I mean James Franco. Meanwhile Michelle Williams is pleasant enough to drown out Mila Kunis. Kunis; usually a fun actress to watch is miscast in a role that may have needed someone with further range.
The main problem with Oz is quite simply nothing reaches the same dizzying peaks as the glorious sequences I mentioned and enjoyed before. Despite it's sweet nature, there's a distinct whiff of cynicism that wafts over many aspects of this venture of Oz. It's important to remember while the 1939 version of Oz and Rami's own Spider-Man were made to make money, they feature moments which break past that fact for someone like me. Oz the film is a little like Oz the man, an amusing aside, but a bit of a con.

Review: Side Effects

Year: 2013
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Scott Z Burns
Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta Jones

Synopsis is here

If the rumours are true (and the interviews point towards yes), it seems that Side Effects will be Steven Soderbergh's final theatrical feature. Threatened once before but now looking much more definite, the announcement is an intriguing one. At age 50; the chameleon-like director still looked like he had a lot more in him. This said, the film maker has stated he is tired of the format and would rather spend his time painting.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. A television interview on CBS with Quentin Tarantino had the motor mouth director mention his worry of becoming "out of touch" as he got older. Some could say that he may have a point. There's nothing wrong with going out on a high, and while others may draw attention to some elder statesmen who have placed some decent turns in their career "twilights". I doubt many would pick those later films over the likes of Taxi Driver, Manhattan, One Flew over the Cukoo's Nest, M.A.S.H and the list goes on.

So Soderbergh has decided to end the career here. Not with a bombastic, mega multi dollar showcase (imagine Ocean's 14), but with a tightly controlled psycho thriller which highlights not only the assured direction of the director, but the themes that have followed him throughout an industrious career. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who noticed that a few of the films revelations rely on sex, lies and videotape.

Sharply placed against the backdrop of big pharmacy and insider trading, Sodenbergh carefully blends topical issues to create near plausible horrors. Before the outrageous mechanics of the final third take hold, we are exposed a nightmare of dubious after effects, presumed wrong doings and shady double takes. Framed in a dreamy soft focused haze, nearly every shot in Side Effects (Sodenbergh lenses' the film under the name Peter Andrews) layers a tinge of self doubt within a viewer. You notice that much like a drug addled mind, the world around these characters are blurred and obscured. Sometimes only the character is in focus. Yet even so, their words bring no clarity. 

Soderbergh's tricky thriller does much to prime us correctly so even the films more lurid moments later on have a feeling of plausibility. This has much to do with the films two leads as well as its smart direction and scripting. Jude Law hasn't been this watchable for years, getting the subtle ruthlessness of his character down to a tee. Yes, he comes to the aid of an ill woman, but like a Coen's movie, notice just how quickly he's willing to snap at the dangling carrot. Rooney Mara is even better. Showing her display in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn't a fluke, she acing every scene with the ability to managing to be scared and scare at the same time.

Whether or not Soderbergh leaves the cinematic world, he has undoubtedly made a sizable dent in it. Side Effects shows the work of a craftsman: assured, accomplished and solidly built. He could be tired of the format; he could hold the same fears as Quentin. Either way his swan song makes sure he goes out flying. 

Sunday 17 March 2013

Review: Sleep Tight

Year: 2011 (U.K DVD release 2013)
Director: Jaume Balaguero
Screenplay: Alberto Marini 
Starring: Luis Tosar, Marta Etura

Synopsis is here

My girlfriend is quite weary about some of the "darker" films I end up watching. She is in no way a fan of being scared, frighten or creeped out in the slightest. Because of this, I have a mental list of movies that I remind myself that I shouldn't watch in her presence. Soon after finishing Jaume Balaguero's (REC) disturbing Spanish thriller; Sleep Tight, I quickly added the film to the top of an ever growing list. She doesn't need this in her life. 

Sleep Tight plays out as if Balaguero invaded the head of my other half, scooped out a few of her primal fears (home invasion being a large one) and laid them out delicately for all to see. We wholeheartedly embrace the notion that we are safe when we are cuddled up under the covers of our comfy beds blissfully unaware of the world around us. Beleguero pounces on our nativity and drags us through the wringer with a film that takes absolute delight in its unsettling nature. 

Part of what brings the fear is the simplicity of the situation. We quickly take notice of the ease and access that Cesar (Tosar) has as the apartment concierge. He has to ability to enter any room with the apartment whenever he wishes. The glint of his eye as he lies under a bed is disconcerting. Those with a personally disorder often display superficial charm. Cesar pulls off politeness in a blink of an eye. No one seems to be aware of him being dishonest in any way. Sleep Tight makes you aware of tiny moments that don't sit right. What's scary is that in the same position, we'd be just as blissfully unaware as the happy go lucky Clara (Etura), the unfortunate target of Cesar's extreme behaviour. 

Balaguero delivers a compact and tightly wound project. While it doesn't hold the hectic nature of his earlier work; REC (2007), the film burns down at a swift pace, hitting all its disturbing beats with a satisfying thump. Negative reviews may wish to seek out a more solid rationale for Cesar's madness, but we shouldn’t forget just how much more troubling such habits can be when the reasoning behind it is so vague. If after watching Sleep Tight you second guess the politeness of a colleague or give the bed a quick check before going to bed, then the film has done its job. 

Friday 15 March 2013

Review: Welcome to the Punch

Year: 2013
Director: Eran Creevy
Screenplay: Eran Creevy
Starring: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Peter Mullan, Andrea Risborough

Synopsis is here

Welcome to the Punch is by no means perfect. The film lacks theintensity of Heat, although the blue tinted hues and murky cop and criminalbonds suggest Micheal Mann as an influence. While other elements such as JamesMcAvoy and his cock-a-ney accent also take a while to warm to. Yet despitethis, there is something tangible and provocative within its subjectmatter that provides interest. There's a clear ambition in its scope andvisuals that land it a cut above the usual Laandaan crime capers we are sooften used to.

The scale of thevisuals and well executed set pieces are needed to elevate admittedlyworkman like plotting. Fans of this type of genre will know from the off why soand so is doing such and such, before the characters themselves evenhave time to comprehend. The element of surprise is not a strongpoint in the storyline mechanics. Yet the film does contain bold strokes.The antagonists of the enterprise and their reasoning may not shock,but they do leave the right kind of nasty taste in the mouth. Creevy's filmmanages to shoe horn small topical moments (displaced soldiers shadyPR) that may have been explored before, yet are well presented andfor the most part, are solidly entertaining.

While the path iswell trodden and yet again I'm watching another film that feels the need tohang out at a cargo bay (Batman Begins, Hanna, The A Team, The Losers, Redand the rest), I felt the enthusiasm from from Creevy's set pieces and the wellknown group of character actors (including yet another thumbs up for MarkStrong and Andrea Riseborough) pulled this out of the lurches. There's enoughin Welcome to the Punch to the casual crime fan going.

Monday 11 March 2013

Cinematic Dramatic 4x23 - Cloud Atlas

The Dramatics are put in the universally expanding theory of Cloud Atlas. An expensive mistake? Bold filmmaking? Or something odd. If that's not enough, can Stoker help add any twisted beauty to the proceedings.

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 7 March 2013

Review: Cloud Atlas

Year: 2012 (Released 2013)
Directors: Tom Tykwer, The Wachowskis
Screenplay: Tom Tykwer, The Wachowskis
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Zhou Xun 

Synopsis is here

The moment I saw the trailer and read the blurb about Cloud Atlas, I knew what the film would become. If you were to find the date I saw the trailer last year, I stated that the film would polarise the audience, probably struggle to make what is considered a decent profit but become a much loved feature in its later life. Right now, it’s polarised audiences and just about gained back its 100 million pound budget. Now it's got a lifetime for people to look back and reflect on what it's trying to say.

I feel in ten years time, I will revisit Cloud Atlas to see if it speaks to me with more clarity. Right now, at the current moment, I feel its message gets lost. Cloud Atlas is heavily bogged down with its 21 Gram-style execution. While the latter film was more concentrated with its focus, the three directors of Cloud Atlas push the bar with its ambition, abandoning hand holding for blind faith in their conviction. If you've never heard of the book the film is based from and what it entails, you could find yourself just as lost as if you were to enter The Twilight Saga during its final entry.

Quite simply; Cloud Atlas doesn't suffer the ignorant lightly and demands you keep close watch at all times. The film cares not if you cannot stay with the pace. It's strange that such a film worries so little about its audience considering its central theme. It's idealistic (and naive) view that how love is the key to conquer all is something we've seen with simpler narratives, and Cloud Atlas acts as if all viewers read from the same hymn page. To say David Mitchell to the man off the street, will most likely get a conservation about Peep Show started, and yet Cloud Atlas plays as if the book is as well known as blue skies. This will not concern everyone, however, the film's disregard for simple entry points and hectic, mosaic like structure do frustrate. 

It's only once we get into the swing of all the narratives and arcs that we get used to the rhythms of the film. Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) beautifully composed score soon provides a solid motif to follow and as the film slowly pieces together we begin to bond and connect with a few of the many characters on display. Unfortunately, Cloud Atlas lacks the intimacy that can found in the likes Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, with the latter film saying more with its 20 minute creation of life (and perhaps morals) than Cloud Atlas can muster with its many multi-faceted stories and individuals. The fractured nature of Tree of Life also reminds us of our flaws and how those we love resonate within the memory. Cloud Atlas despite is huge scope, lacks the same kind of engagement.   

Cloud Atlas also has issues with of makeup and performances. I have little issue with the films "yellowface" claims, as the film's use of makeup do not debase or belittle. The prosthetics are key to the central themes of the piece and are clearly based in a similar realm to theatre. My problem is not all of it works. At times I was wowed at some of the work; other moments I was biting my lip to stop unintentional giggles. The same goes for the performances. I can't say that any of Cloud Atlas features Hugh Grant's best work. Same goes for Halle Berry who fluctuates from story to story and never keeps the same level of captivation. Hugo Weaving is also quite one note. Despite this, we must say thanks to Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw who either provide the strongest moments of humanity or humour within the film. 

But much depends on how you feel about the films pacing and time spent within the many plots. I felt like many bookworms who fret when their favourite literary works are adapted into film form. There's a feeling that the novel allows appropriately breathing space between certain arcs (of course you can put the book down), and allow other details to penetrate deeper. We need to get hold of these people and in essence to fall in love with them. Cloud Atlas did little to bring such a bond. As the pieces spiral closer together, with the films editing, visuals and soundtrack working hard to get the emotions to gel, there still feels like there was far too much leg work to be done within the opening segments. Such disorientation can make or break to a piece of work like this. But perhaps people like me just need a little more time.   

Sunday 3 March 2013

Review: Mama

Year: 2013
Director: Andres Muschietti
Screenplay: Andres Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti, Neil Cross 
Starring: Jesscia Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, 

Synopsis is here:

Mama is no reinvention of the horror wheel and I didn't expect it to be. To be honest I was happy enough to see this, along a few other titles, giving more attention to more "old school" tactics as opposed to the gore on the floor sightings of recent times. In fact, just the simple act of placing the economic crash of 2008 within the narrative, gives the film a framework, that similar films often wouldn't bother about. Even though such an event can date a film, Mama is at least interesting enough to claim that such occurrence would allow desperation to seep into households.

Such anguish sets the tone well for Mama, which like it's fellow stable mate Don't be Afraid of the Dark (Both hold Guillermo del Toro as Executive Producer), weaves a sad (yet patchy) fable of lost children at the hands of broken adults both past and present. An awkward info dump informs us that a ghost is an emotion, bent out of shape and doomed to repeat its mistakes again and again. The film's strength is that it knows what makes these ghost stories so appealing. If only more horror films tapped into their more human sides.

The film has its head screwed within the first two thirds, drip feeding us simple yet satisfyingly creepy moments. A static shot of Annabel (Chastain) doing the chores completely unaware of the disturbing occurrence inches away is a delight. As always, the less we see, the more perturbed we are about the whole experience and as we slowly learn more, we also chip away at the lead characters tough exterior. It's easy to see where the arc of this rebel rocker chick is going (it's a film call Mama and we see her reluctant for babies from the get-go) but Chastain is so balanced in the role she makes it engaging, even when you (or the jealous paranormal entity) wish to throttle her.

However, as is the case with all many of this type of affair, once the film lays all its cards on the table, we realise that the hand wasn't as strong as we first expected. Sub-plots fizzle out and the final reveal of Mama herself is less fearful than desired. Annoyingly Mama's final third is frustrating and loses much of the films good will from before. That said Mama should be a decent enough one watch for first dates so they can snuggle up together and see some extreme problems when it comes to child rearing. 

Saturday 2 March 2013

Review: Stoker

Year: 2013
Director: Chan-wook Park
Screenplay: Wentworth Miller
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver 

Synopsis is here

In my opinion, Stoker makes Kim Jee-woon's mediocre actioner, The Last Stand even more of a bust than I had previously considered. The bullish and assured direction that is shown scene after scene in Stoker, tells me that nothing was lost in translation with this piece of work. Everything that needed to be placed on screen is there for all to see. No transgression is diluted, no scratch left to itch, just a grubby psychosexual thriller that seeps under the skin.

For me, a lot of the unease I felt comes from the heady brew of vulnerability, hormones and identity crisis I felt for the lead character of India; a young girl who loses her father (and best friend) in a tragic turn of events (on her 18th birthday). Her closest male bond broken, we see her fragile nature come to the fore. Symbolised with a simple egg cracking scene, we quickly see the damage take it's toll. There's no help from the mothers side (an on form Kidman), she's too far gone. It seems a void needs to filled.

Once again, we're thrown back into the Southern Gothic (see also Beautiful Creatures, Killer Joe, Beasts of the Southern Wild) where the landscape is melodramatic and senses and emotions are heightened. The humid haze of the south appears to be the perfect sandbox for the likes of Park, whose production is drenched with rich, scrumptious detail and a near unbearable foreboding tone.

The fashion in which Charlie trickles into the lives of both mother and daughter is intoxicating. Manipulating with an emotional wrought mother with drives and cooking is one thing. But the intellectual seduction of India is laced with such terse sense of danger. To have such incestuous intimacy is taboo enough, however, the grave stench of necrosis that Charlie brings with him only ramps up the tension. Particularly as India, a girl now becoming aware of her own sexuality seems she may have a penchant for the dark. A piano sequence delights in it's deviousness.  

Some have detailed how much of Stoker feels derivative, particularly as it's writer Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) borrowed liberally from sources such as Dracula (see the title) and Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt for the screenplay. Clearly I see their point, and yet there's something so forceful about the how the images are display that I bypassed such things. Elsewhere; Mia Wasikowska hits the right balance of angst, while Matthew Goode brings the similar sense of menace that Robert Mitchum held in The Night of the Hunter (1955). Kidman's portrayal of damaged goods is a sly reminder of how good she can be with the right material. Watching the mind games unravel may not be surprising to some, but I found them consistently engaging.  

With the so called summer films begin to seek out other months to grab hold of the all mighty dollar, I thank goodness for the likes of Stoker still being allowed to be made and brought to theatres. With so much cinema focused on the pockets of teenage boys (things that go boom), I am still fascinated in the many movies that invest in adolescent girls even when they are not the audience. They have been recently the focal point of the likes of Winter's Bone (2010), Whip It (2011), Hanna (2011) and Excision (2012). Please don't mistake my shock as debasement in anyway. I just find a certain depiction of the teenage girl to be an exceptionally defining image within the movies I watch. The brew of vulnerability, sense of identity, guts and hormones nearly always bring involving and entertaining stories. I add Stoker to the pile.