Friday 28 June 2013

Review: Before Midnight

Year: 2013
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Synopsis is here:

In other films they are Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. With Richard Linklater, they are Jesse and Celine. It’s hard to envelop characters so well that the actors literally become them. Here in this third entry into Linklater’s long running romantic saga, Hawke and Delpy once again slip into these characters as well known as the shoes on their feet.

The audience knows this couple as well as the actors do. Many have grown with them from film to film, and to know them is to love them.  It’s difficult to enter the scene now, three films in. I've spoke with some who have tried and found it odd. Of course, it’s like interrupting an intense debate unannounced, just to try and attempt to start the conversation once more. Ever watched Harry Potter/Twilight in the middle of the series, with no prior knowledge? It’s that sense of confusion.

But to those in the know, we've had another nine years pass and we catch up with Jesse and Celine at a new turning point for them. Now approaching forty, the starry eyed views and dreams of the two have dulled slightly, yet their passions have remained.  Their hopes and fears have changed and matured and we now see the couple at the most distressed and at points, their most emotional.

Richard Linklater has never been known for visual flights of fancy, but once again, like previous works, he and the cast; show off the beauty of words with an elegance that many romances never seem to achieve. Before Midnight only really adds up to around 6 scenes (give or take), but the sharpness of the dialogue reveals an unbelievable amount of depth. The headstrong nature of Celine and the laid back American goofiness of Jesse have not left their personalities. Instead their traits have helped pushed their relationship into new pitfalls with the actions of their intimacy effecting who they are and who they may still come to be in the future.

Linklater has always been a director who understands the elegance of conversation and it once again shows here. The camera leisurely strolls around the characters, taking in the beautiful Greek sun as the couple once again delve into what they relationship means to them. We never really move away from a mid-shot (the trademark shot of the series) but we never need to, so absorbing are the performances.

There is a small break from structure that we've not seen in the previous films, with new secondary characters gaining more screen time. Yet even then, this only benefits the emotional resonance that takes place. One of the most interesting elements of Before Midnight is that now older and wiser; more people enter and influence the lives of these people. The beauty of the film is that no matter who enters their orbit, it is always Jesse and Celine doing what they do best.  Even now; with many considering this to be the end of the journey, Linklater’s film leaves us with a shot of ambiguity. Leaving the couple, and us wondering what lies in store for the years ahead. 

Sunday 23 June 2013

Review: Man of Steel

Year: 2013
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: David S Goyer
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne

Synopsis is here:

NOTE: This review begins with a small description of a scene that may feel like a slight spoiler to some. You’ve been warned. 

Clark Kent is sitting in school. He cannot concentrate on the teacher’s voice. The fact is; he hears more than just the teacher’s voice, he also hears the voices of the other children. But they are not talking. He is hearing their thoughts. He can’t focus on the teacher, as when he looks at her he sees her biological workings. He sees her insides.

The child, confused at this sensory overload, dashes out of class and locks himself in a nearby closest, trying to shut out the voices and gain sense of just what is happening to him.  He doesn't leave until his mother arrives sometime later.

Clark Kent: “The World’s too big, Mom.”

Martha Kent: “Then make it small.”

It’s a tiny moment of a very large and lengthy film, but to me it’s one of the most important.  A short scene in which we witness the Kyptonian’s powers first-hand but also notice how far these powers may reach. Call him Clark, call him The Man of Steel, Moments like this only help remind us of the largest allegory people often attach to Superman; Jesus. The film Man of Steel, much like Superman, much like The Lord and savoir, must be all things to all men. However scenes like the one mentioned are few and far between in Snyder’s loud and proud “Epic”. The world of Superman is huge. I often had issues with Man of Steel as Snyder struggles to make it small.

Not to say that I disliked Man of Steel outright. The film’s main objective to me is to create a Superman for a generation.  That generation may not be for those who reach for Christopher Reeve’s portrayal, or certain versions of comic book. It's earnest in some of its intentions and tries hard. Looking back, this new, more anxiety ridden Superman almost reminds me of the trapped young characters of Snyder’s own Sucker Punch. While Sucker Punch is the weaker film and although both are visually different, both have their young characters seemingly escape into fractured mind sets of themselves. Sucker Punch’s Babydoll steps into an alternate dream world to protect herself, while we observe the view point of Clark Kent through flashback as he tries to make sense of the man he will soon become.

At first I found myself at odds with the cinematic language utilised to inform us of how this new Superman would come to be. Hand held cinematography is rife, while the films screenplay does little to help out the films flashback structure with Individual scenes being quite effective while others pale in comparison. I didn't feel that Snyder’s overall direction was bad, but I kept feeling that some moments felt more at home than others. I know many enjoyed the films beginnings on the planet Kypton, and yet these scenes to be quite dull. Meanwhile; scenes in Smallville of a young Clark growing up, fared much better.

I found that despite the more clunker aspects of the script; Synder’s direction of the actors and their performances, kept my interest levels up, even if the very nature of the characters themselves sometimes went astray. Cavill gives us a Superman that isn't an aping of Christopher Reeves but does more than enough to show us that it shouldn't be. Michael Shannon’s tone as Zod is all fire and fury and yet he manages to capture a tragic aspect of the antagonist. Shannon, who said in interviews that he stay away from playing Zod as a villain, depicts a character who believes that what he’s doing is righteous in his own eyes. The crowning achievement goes to Costner, whose performance as Jonathan Kent, speaks volumes as an actor whose best roles were often ones of earnestness. Here he manages to take this even further, breaking hearts in the process. Even when questioning Jonathan’s motives, Costner nails the grey area that lies in all of us. Do we agree on his actions? Possibly not, however, not only does Costner sell his scenes (with limited screen time) but he also makes “Pa” Kent and more interesting character to get a handle on.

Unfortunately; in terms of the female’s roles, I was less impressed. Diane Lane was fine, but her turn didn't 
strike me as hard as it has others. Meanwhile, I found the usually brilliant Amy Adams to be one of the biggest chinks in the films amour. Gone is the ballsy, go getting portrayal laid by Margot Kidder, we are now given yet another entry into bland damsels in distress graduation year of 2013. A Lois Lane is one that "kicks ass" yet never feels organic while her romance with Cavil feels awkward and cold. Adams is not helped by a screenplay that doesn't seem that interested in her as a character.

Once the film finds its rhythm in the third act, set pieces become the real name of the game (as is name checking aspects of the DC universe). Snyder revels in the loud and proud destruction that takes place. Secondary characters; that are suddenly now more important than the film made out, are shoved into danger. The scale of carnage reaches Doomsday (the character) levels. I was impressed with just how overwhelming the scale was. You see where the money went and I can’t say I wasn't entertained.

Funnily enough, many have been disgruntled by the vast amount of collateral damage that is evident and how muted the response is considering the source. I found myself more annoyed at Iron Man 3 than here. Stark had hit the peak of his story arch at this point and I found his actions towards his antagonists problematic (due to certain story elements). I maybe wrong; but here we have a hero who is still learning who he is in the world and Snyder’s film still manages to execute a motion that helps address what we see.

Maybe Snyder and his crew will address some of this film’s frustrations with more clarity in the next instalment. Isn't that the way now? Just wait till the next one to answer your queries while supplying you with more? The scale and action is in the right place but other aspects are sloppy. Until Snyder can ground his story and characters as well as Richard Donner did with the first two films, then I feel we will once again have an uneven playing field. There was enough to keep me interested though. There’s room for improvement. It’s difficult trying to be perfect.

Friday 14 June 2013

Review: Behind the Candelabra

Year: 2013
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Matt Damon, Micheal Douglas

Synopsis is here

Steven Soderbergh couldn't get Hollywood studios to fund his biopic about outlandish musical entertainer Liberace as they deemed it “too gay”. Despite the popularity and acclaim of films like Milk (2008) and Brokeback Mountain (2005), the conservative stigma that can follow what could be construed as a “minority” picture still lingers large on certain movies. Such issues come to no surprise. Just look at the problems I love you Phillip Morris (2009) had just getting released in the U.S.

Soderbergh’s REAL final U.K. theatrical release (I mistakenly stated Side Effects in a previous review) takes him back to the dazzling bright lights of Vegas to capture the chaotic relationship of Scott Thorson and Mr Showmanship himself.

I must admit I have an odd sense of frustration as to the Studios resistance to Candelabra. But I have to admit that much of it stems from what doesn't get blocked in any way. Consider the fact we've endured the dubious antics of The Wolfpack for two sequels, with their bickering bromance allowed the characters be as bigoted about sexuality as much as they please. Or remind ourselves of the constant barrage of weakly scripted rom-coms that have leads with little to no chemistry with each other. Behind the Candelabra is sharper, wittier and warmer than those films and yet the sexual orientation of the characters still caused enough drama to ensure that the film had a certain amount of production issues with the film not only have to look for funding but also “relegated” to television for its U.S release. No matter. These days, television is often where all the decent drama is at.

The silver screen however, allows us to see all the gaudy visuals in all their glory. I don’t want to upset the hardcore film fans as much as I usually do, but seeing Candelabra on digital projection was a delight. Lights and sequins sparkle and glare in the frame, while the amber glow that has cropped up in Soderbergh’s recent movies appears again, bathing characters in a shimmering artificial sunrise.  In this light, diamonds catch the light so bright that you could be blinded as badly as Liberace’s dog; Babyboy. Amusingly, it is Babyboy that is the catalyst which helps cause solidifies the connection between Damon’s Scott Thorson and Liberace (Douglas). It soon becomes a relationship which is starts out as caring but descends into one of dependency.

The film has a twinge of Sunset Boulevard (1950) about it, as Thorson absorbs himself deeper into Liberace’s peculiar universe. Medicine for blind dogs soon becomes a web of expensive gifts, plastic surgery and chauffeuring Liberace to his gigs. Liberace from the start; calls Thorson Babyboy. Wonder why that is.
The film takes on similar story beats to films like Boogie Nights (1997), The People Vs Larry Flint (1996) and Goodfellas (1990), showing the relationship at its peak at the 70’s before spiralling into chemically enhanced chaos. The film swings wildly from gleefully camp to startlingly toxic as Liberace digs his claws and ego further into Thorson’s personality. A plastic surgery assignment has Thorson losing his sense of identity as the Liberace continues to mould Scott in his own being. At least he doesn't look like Dr Jack Startz (A scene stealing Rob Lowe), who’s horrifically static, cleaved face gazes vacantly as he describes the procedures of surgery. Yet the emotionless visage of Startz hints at an unfortunate life Thorson may face.

Candelabra is a film of performances; with the whole cast delightfully showing off their talents. Damon balances naive and lost as easily now as he did in his younger days. Douglas is brilliantly nuanced as Liberace, with his downtime (due to cancer) allowing him to perfectly capture an absorbed and talented showman, lost in his own world. The supporting cast is a who’s who of solid character actors (the aforementioned Lowe, Dan Ackroyd, Scott Bakula) who take on the smaller roles with the same effectiveness as they would with their larger ones.

There’s a fabricated sense of family to proceedings, with characters being quick to love and quicker to drop. Parentage is a large aspect of the film with some of the films cruellest blows and emotional damage involving the mothers of both men. The way the maternal relationships between these characters play out, reveal much about why the couple treat each other the way they do. At one point Liberace’s mother wins big on one the slot machines own by her son. Nothing pays out, and Thorson has to go around anyone available to try and acquire some cash.   

Despite this, the main relationship that lies in the centre of the film manages to maintain a sweetness to it that slips in-between the cracks of the ego, drugs and tacky excess. There’s a connection between the two that they clearly didn't gain with anyone else. It is clear that the film is completely taken from Scott Thorson point of view but maintains a civility within such a turbulent relationship. Behind the Candelabra shares the same chintzy nature as Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013). What makes Soderbergh’s effort stand out, is the balance of tenderness with the toxicity. 

Thursday 13 June 2013

Review: The Purge

Year: 2013
Director:  James DeMonaco
Screenplay: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Rhys Wakefield, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge

Synopsis is here

When the cinematic year ends, The Purge will probably gain a mention as the little thriller that could. The $3 Million budgeted film grossed $36.4 million on its opening weekend.  The film also gleefully beat Vince Vaughan’s and Owen Wilson’s high profile comedy vehicle The Internship to the number one spot in the U.S box office. The amount of money made should not (and doesn't) reflect the quality of the film, but its success reminds us that when it comes to movies, a curious premise may be all we need to get our butt on the seat.

The hook is simple. In the near future, America has ordained an annual purge in which for one 12 hour period, all criminal activity is permitted and emergency services suspended. All anger and hate is consolidated for one day and forgotten for the rest of the year.  America has thrived since the introduction to the purge, crime and unemployment at an all time low.

Genre fans should be salivating at the high concept. Like a decent idea on Dragon’s Den, you ask yourself why such a concept hasn't been made sooner. Writer/Director James DeMonaco only seems to sweeten the deal with subtexts and plot strands that hint at the toxic motives that would not only help put this in place but fuel such an institution. We’re told that United States is ruled by the New Founding Fathers of America while characters claim that the purge is a chance to be “cleansed” and “reborn”. The faux spiritual slant placed on such a corrupt moral landscape sends chills up the spine, as does the cheesy Uncle Sam advertising the crop up in a few scenes.

DeMonaco seems to settle his sights upon the class divide. Ethan Hawke’s James Sandin; a successful home security developer, finds himself and his family harbouring a homeless African American male (Hodge), who is being stalked by a gang of well, masked Caucasian Purgers.  Ideas and themes are left to dangle tantalisingly as the film sets up its pieces.

Unfortunately the films set up and often evocative imagery is marred by weak execution. DeMonaco pulls far too many punches for his own good, turning a nifty premise into a more generic home invasion piece. The film holds little of the tension that could be found in the likes of ills (2006) or The Strangers (2008) and holds none of the bite that could be found in Micheal Haneke’s Funny Games (1997 + 2008). Meanwhile the steady performances from Hawke, Headey and the strangely unsettling Wakefield are unbalanced by some convoluted plotting and some of the films weaker performers.

If there’s something to be gained from The Purge, it is that that Platinum Dunes, look to be a far more interesting production company when they’re not reformatting old slasher movies.  The Purge has been successful enough to garner a sequel which will hopefully delve deeper into this frightful vision of the future. I feel however, the second entry may need more than a shiny gimmick to make people want to go. 

Podcast: Cinematic Dramatic 5x02 - The Great Furious Byron Hangover Part 3

The Dramatics reunite in a pub on a lovely sunny's day to render verdicts on The Great Gatsby, Fast and Furious 6, The Hangover Part 3 and French comedy Populaire. Does any one of these films please Byron and Iain in the summer sun?

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 9 June 2013

Review: The Hangover: Part 3

Year: 2013
Director: Todd Phillips
Screenplay: Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong

Synopsis is here

There is one question a writer must ask before he puts pen to paper for his screenplay. It's something that the audience don't even ask themselves before they sit to watch. Never the less; it must be asked. The question is simply: why should I care about these people? Such a query must be asked and it definitely must be answered, even in the most basic of terms. The audience may not think they care, but subconsciously they need to know that if they're going to spend 90+ mins with these people, there must be reasoning to back them.

Hollywood right now is in a franchise fronted, risk free circle, that it may never wish to break, as long as the pay is good. Films are becoming more like soap operas with characters having to trip and stumble over the same hurdles again and again.

The Hangover worked on a guy like me because it was a decent one shot idea; four misfits thrown together into a wild circumstance. It was rude, crude and a little bit dumb, but there was something in there that kept me watching. The second film was more of the same but not in a good way. Fool me once shame on me, fool twice, I'm an idiot. The same goes for these guys as they hit the same beats of the first film but with more spitefulness and diminishing returns.

We are now lumped with a needless third film in which the hangover is no longer a literal one, but a metaphorical one in which the Wolfpack's previous antics have caught up have finally caught with them in the shape of Leslie Chow whose rampant criminal activity has sparked a rival gangster to take action. The Hangover Part 3 forgets about being an actual comedy and in turn becomes a crime film with comedic elements and uninspired reminders of the previous entries. It failed with me on all accounts.

The reason is down to the rambling I was mumbling about at the start of this review. Why should I care about characters who have outstayed their welcome? What were a bunch of amusing guys you could relate to, are now a miserable bunch of irritants. No longer do are the protagonists balanced. Once Alan became the "break out" character of the first film, more focus has been placed on him. He's obnoxious and belligerent but the film does nothing to balance this. Like the Phillips produced Project X (2012) we have a nasty character and his faults are celebrated to the extreme. Add to this that he's also mentally unstable and we have a potent mix. 

Comedy of cruelty is difficult, but brilliant if done correctly. Films such as Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1982) or Jody Hill's Observe and Report (2009) manage to blend the absurdity and pathetic qualities of their characters so well that you don't simply focus on their nastiness. Another example would be Mitchell Hurwitz's brilliant dense sitcom; Arrested Development (2003) which manages to add pathos to a group of characters you would walk across the street to avoid in real life. By the time the boorish creatures in The Hangover Part 3 reach their unearned emotional conclusion, I had my fill. 

For me; the film’s only saving grace was Ken Jeong, the only person who remembered that he was in a comedy. Jeong's nastily stereotypical Chinese character, has some of the best lines and the most energy in a film in which the listless looks on the leads faces are all too obvious. But think about that. The character that most people have a negative issue with is the only thing I found interesting within the film. Colour me backward, but I feel that says everything about The Hangover Part 3. A bloated, lazy comedy in which I had to focus on its most negative aspects in order to find a laugh.  

Saturday 8 June 2013

Review: Fast & Furious 6

Year: 2013
Director: Justin Lin
Screenplay: Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Sung Kang, Chris Bridges, Luke Evans, Gina Carano, John Ortiz.

Synopsis is here

We are currently in a climate which film critics are being attacked for their taste in comparison to populous opinion(despite it often falling in line); the first defence is how the critic’s opinion means nothing as the films profit margin is way more important. "All these people went to see it; therefore your thoughts are invalid". The second attack is one I call the Kevin Smith offensive. This is where the only people with an opinion are the ones with the ticket stubs.  

You have to laugh at the absurdity. You can only have a say about the film if you pay for it, and by paying for it, your payment is a statement that you enjoyed the movie. It is a warped sensibility, but one that appears more and more. We now have the unsettling occurrence in which keyboard warriors lie in wait for the first negative review of any popular film and unleash at whatever poor sap had a different opinion from their own. 

So when your franchise is six films in and the latest entry is close to making half a billion at the box office, it doesn't really matter what any blogger or critic thinks. Yet here we are writing about these movies, often trying to give cultural context to these episodes of pop culture, while the loyal servants lie in wait to explain how wrong you are by calling you a faggot. 

Fast & Furious 6 sole aim to fascinate and frustrate those who believe that their palette is too sophisticated for such "lower" nonsense. Many complain about the lack of original movies and while we may be standing at the films sixth entry to the franchise, Fast 6 not based on any previous material. True the franchise is completely derivative but, hey, at least it's doing it on its own account. The film still indulges in displaying gratuitous female flesh, and yet still utilises more female characters than both Iron Man 3 and Star Trek. Women in Fast 6 have more to do, say and truly feel part of the films terrible plot and storyline. Fast 6, much like 5 is also vastly multi-racial and uses it to its benefit. Aside from one or two poorly placed moments of dialogue, race is not a major issue in Fast 6, with its main theme of family extending across racial lines. 

Justin Lin (the veteran director of the franchise) doesn't lose stride with hi direction of the action. The late night London locale is effective and while Western editing has effectively maimed the beautiful art of choreography, Lin still manages to deliver simple, easy and enjoyable action to follow. I found it incredibly easy to find myself caught in the twisting of metal and cracking of bones, simply because Lin holds a shot for half a second longer than most. 

The film is still nonsense, keep up with the loop jumping plot and we're still watching a film in which the good criminals are planning to steal from bad thrives because screenplay. The film is incredibly happy with its strange discourse of bloodlessly murdering innocents without a care in the world. A nitpick but still bizarre when watching. The script is happily fuelled with dim witted dialogue, graceless wit and dubious platitudes and even at its worst the validity of the characters is flimsy. 

Yet, the sheer unpretentious of what's at play, drives Fast 6 through most of its obstacles. Unburdened with the geek weight of comic book adaptations, Fast 6 can happily laugh of any YouTube "everything that's wrong with" videos because it has nothing to live up to and yet succeeds somewhat with what it delivers. It's hard to call out a film which has its main catchphrase "ride or die" at its heart. 

Fast and Furious 6 isn't doing too bad critically. It is currently fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and riding high on the IMDB. It will not stop a small army of fans deride anyone who doesn't hold it with high praise. Despite this; what makes Fast and Furious 6 interesting, is not that it has a force big enough to provide ammunition if it were under attack. It's that the film and franchise is big and ugly enough not to give a fudge if anyone likes it or not.