Wednesday 16 September 2015

EPISODE 34 - Legend, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials - 16.9.15

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Tony Black hosts once again and this week is joined by Leslie Byron Pitt and, making his podcast and Black Hole Cinema debut, Kane Richards. They chow down on the latest NEWS, including Sam Smith belting out the latest Bond theme, the new Hardcore trailer & the upcoming King Kong vs Godzilla recently announced, before getting into the films of the day... LEGEND, the new Tom Hardy starring biopic of the Kray brothers, which Les & Kane get into... We take a joint look at both the UK *and* US Box Office, to see how they compare... Then we move on to MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS, the latest young adult adaptation sequel, and Tony explains why it fails to match the first... Before we take a more in depth look at Tom Hardy's career in our ACTOR SPOTLIGHT section, discussing his highs and lows... Hope that you join us for the ride!

from Black Hole Cinema

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Review: Legend

Year: 2015
Director: Brian Helgeland
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Duffy, Christopher Ecclestone, Chazz Palminteri

Synopsis is here

Emily Browning has recently spoken out about the discrepancy in women's roles in comparison to Mens. The actress rightly questions why we see so many flat female characters who don't "act like human beings" and has called for female roles with greater autonomy and there's many out there who would wholeheartedly agree. However, in watching Browning's one note portrayal of Frances Shea; tragic wife of Reggie Kray, in Legend, one may have to search elsewhere for the thorough portrayals that the actress yearns for.

It's easy to slight Browning's performance. From the dubious cockney accent to the horridly dry narration that flutters in and out of the film, but it's not the actress's fault, although she has been better. There's a feeling that the material has left her out to dry somewhat. Browning may be riling against the vapid "hot babe" model that we witness constantly in films, but her performance has Frances never really shifts a gear. She looks glamourous when she has to be, and distressed when she doesn't have to look good. Browning narrates the film in order for the audience to see it from her point of view. However the screenplay by writer/director Brian Helgeland is a rather sour piece that's more interested in informing us rather than feeling anything. Constantly the film will joylessly tell us what's on screen rather than allowing the audience to infer for themselves via the camera or performances. It jars with the films already bumpy rhythms. Instead of seeing Browning emote fully, the voice over is quick to tell us how to feel. 

Browning, as well as much of the top quality cast, is pushed to the edges by a dominating Tom Hardy, who holds dual roles as both the infamous Kray twins, Reggie and Ronnie. This is a showcase for the charismatic actor who takes what could have been a cheap gimmick (it uses some Social Network style image trickery) and puts forth two remarkable displays. Reggie has the cocksure swagger, while Ronnie is clouded by intense paranoia. The beauty of Hardy's performances are in the small details and differences. Even the poise and murmurs from either brother is vastly different. In terms of performance it always feels like you're watching two different people. 

Mentioning Tom Hardy's superlative displays, only makes the rest of the film pale even more in comparison. Minus Hardy, and Legend is a rather listless affair. Much like how the brothers hid their brutal crimes around a veneer of celebrity, the film does a great job of hiding a lot of the nastiness that ensued. Legend enjoys claiming that it's coming from the eyes of those who knew the brothers, but the film often seems so preoccupied with infusing a Goodfellas-lite charm to the brothers, that it forgets just how well the best gangster films balance the ugliness with the romance. Helgeland clearly has certain cinematic influences on his mind in his visualisation of this, and the film holds enough humour and brutality that may appease casual gangster fans. However, for the most part, Legend is over egged, overlong and lacks the kind of energy that would make it stand out in a line up.   

Review: Inside Out

Review: Inside Out
Year: 2015
Director: Peter Docter
Screenplay: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

Synopsis is here:

It’s easy to say that Inside Out is a return to form for Pixar, who have “struggled” with their recent output. Yet even the studio’s weaker efforts are of a higher standard than regular mainstream Hollywood output. Despite the amount of distain critics gave the likes of Brave (2012), it’s still a film with stronger storytelling and jokes than say, Let’s be Cops (2014). It’s more mature too.
However, this latest entry into the Pixar chronicles, certainly deserves to be in the upper echelons of their hall of fame. It’s a movie that shows that once again, when Pixar land upon the right concept that fits their own particular brand of emotional storytelling, they really hit the mark.

The likes of Wall-E (2008) took their characters into the far reaches of outer space. Now we approach inner space as we navigate the universe of the human body. Not just any human body, but that of an 11 year old girl. Inside Out is set in the mind of Riley, who has just been informed by her parents that they will be moving from the Midwest to San Francisco. Her emotions - Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear - who control and shape Riley soon find themselves in an inner conflict as they try re-examine and manoeuvre around the new and dramatic changes that are occurring around them.

What makes this premier Pixar is the sharpness of execution. The concepts that the film are placing forth are deceptively complex when we place them in consideration, yet Pete Docter’s film delicately implements the profundity of human emotions and not only makes the idea digestible to the young, but palatable to adults in a way that is never condescending, and always relatable. It does this during an era in which larger studio films seem to be petrified to even attempt at what Inside Out is trying to do. The film’s main message, which debates and succeeds in explaining why emotion is needed, is not only thoughtful, but suddenly necessary when we consider how our cinematic culture is troublingly stumbling around the human condition. Negative reactions towards Inside Out have stated that the film is depressing, as if only half of the film's message has been taken on board.

Amusingly to complain that the film isn’t as overly optimistic as some would like, only details how this era of cinematic universes, alternate timelines and forced happy endings with non-subtle hints of continuation, have effected audiences. That Inside Out raises the notion of sadness being one of the things we need in order to grow, puts a lot of the current franchises to shame. Mostly as their arrested development and commercial duties. Refrain from the idea of anything negative really happening to the protagonists, even if they have to save the world.

The honesty which lies in Inside Out points the film out as one of the most mature mainstream films of the year. This is not to say that mainstream cinema hasn’t been enjoyable, it certainly has been. However, it’s feeling like fewer have really asked the audience to consider themselves in the same way as Pixar’s does. The films smartness is subtle. Observe the moments when we leap into the minds of other characters and see who leads the charge in each. Joy is the head honcho in Riley’s head. We move across to her father’s head and we see that it’s Anger that rules the roost. A factor the quietly coincides with the outer framing of the film (the house move has not been smooth). Notice the sophistication that takes place when the emotions fight over controls and curation of “core memories” and how the outcome of Joy and Sadness’ adventure alters them.

The amount of the thought that’s placed into sight gags is equally as striking. A blink and you miss it joke about thoughts and opinions jumbled becoming jumbled, isn’t just a quick witted moment of jest, but a frank commentary on our times, when we notice how the media now works. The idea of an irritating earworm is amusing on the surface, yet it reaches a deeper level when you notice that one particular emotion ALWAYS triggers the process. That’s no accident. Neither is the observing the shift of dynamics when Joy and Sadness are no longer in control. It’s a film tackling how different emotions alter perception, all under the guise of family fun.

This is what Pixar does best. Within such a hefty concept they never forget to construct relationships and emotions in a way that other filmmakers seem uninterested in pursuing. Whether the power of commerce may refrain others from really letting loose, I do not know. But it says a lot that it’s a Disney Pixar movie I’ll need to go to in order to watch a film happily reference Avant grade art in a realm of abstract thought.

The animation isn’t the most rousing of Pixar’s work, while Amy Poehler’s spunky and sprightly performance will only truly feel like inspired casting for those who know nothing of her past works, yet Inside Out still provides deeply absorbing, high quality entertainment from start to finish. Whether your favourite moment involves the wonderfully cast Phyllis Smith as the films MVP; Sadness, Anger’s (Lewis Black) hilarious outbursts or even saying goodbye to the youthful parts of your imagination, Pixar once again flex their muscles and distil the intricate and poignant into delightful mainstream enjoyment. That they do so with seemingly such ease makes you wonder just what the guys making so-called adult films are doing.

*Note: I wonder if the film at any point reminded anybody of the French/Japanesse Edutainment Cartoon; Once Upon a Time...Life? It was the first thing the sprang to mind when watching the film.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Review: Straight Outta Compton

Year: 2015
Director: F. Gary Gray
Screenplay: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
Starring:O'Shea Jackson, Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti

Synopsis is here:

Telegraph Film Critic Robbie Collins; amusingly tweeted the environment of the press screening of Straight Outta Compton in which critics were treated to Eggs Benedict (seriously). A later tweet hilariously likened the screening audience to Seinfield's apartment; very white bread. It’s easy to dread to think about what views were flying around. Often when heading to some screenings I gain a sense of faux progression. It’s hard to shake off the sneaking suspicion that everyone is going to clutch on to their valuables if I sit too close to them. I mean, let’s be fair, I'm usually wearing a hoodie.

Such things are of invested importance when watching a film like Straight Outta Compton, which, while holds a closer relationship with the glossy, Sean "Puffy" Coombes produced biopic Notorious (2009), actually holds underpinnings of John Singleton's Boyz in da Hood (1991). The Ice Cube and West Coast connection are certainly not the only elements that bind those films.

A muscular and accomplished piece of storytelling, F Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton explodes right out of the blocks with the kind of drug dealing sequence that wouldn't feel out of sorts if placed in the Hughes Brothers' debut Menace 2 Society (1993). What follows afterwards is a sprawling, textured history of one of the most influential bands of the genre of hip-hop; N.W.A. Compton follows the tropes of a typical rock biopic in terms of structure, but the weight and the relevant tone of its subjects elevate the film to a particular level. This cinematic rendering of one of rap's biggest super groups has been considered the "Black Avengers". This is a strange term which tries to mould the film within recent comic book adaptations. Such a description comes off more like a trendy term trying to attach a certain type of relevance, although the film often captures the fantastic aspects of the group's meteoric rise from underprivileged and oppressed youths to millionaire rap stars.

This is a rap version of the rock bio that plays out in board strokes with its producers (who are also the subjects of the film) are clearly mythologizing themselves in a light which draws them into a far more sensitive light. However, it's important to realise what the film's intentions are. Much has been said about the exclusion of the Dee Barnes' violent altercation with Dr Dre from the film, which was originally scripted. In fact the films entire reading of women is best described as "problematic".  In this film of young, flawed, disfranchised black male youths, the treatment of women within the frame is discouraging. Representation ranges from objectionable to confounding. Some sequences put the antics and debauchery of Entourage to shame. Meanwhile, long-term relationships with girlfriends/wives seemingly appear from nowhere, before being relegated to the background.

Yet while many of these criticisms should not be dismissed, the essence of the text must remain. While SOC depictions of women are insensitive, they could also be a strong observational representation of a group of angry, naive yet talented individuals. Condoning the actions is of course incorrect, but while it's reassessment of topical themes are important (we are looking at an 80's/90's story with 2015 eyes), the idea of reshaping elements to allow kinder gender politics may feel disingenuous here. Particularly to a rap group whose lyrics towards women were outwardly aggressive. That said, Compton does drop the ball somewhat by over smoothing the flaws of its protagonists to such a point that it lessens the complexities of the real life counterparts. Especially when we place Gray's position with the group during the time in which the NWA was active.  Easy E's promiscuous activities and Dr Dre's hostility towards women are only briefly glimpsed, if shown at all. Even in glossy biopics like Ray (2004) and Get on Up (2014) highlight the fractured relationships towards women that occurred, configuring their respective artists into tragic, flawed geniuses.

We must be reminded however that Straight Outta Compton is still a triumph of black male representation. This is an inversion of the brutal and fictionalised realities displayed by John Singleton and The Hughes Brothers. Updated with hopeful inflections and framed for audiences more interested in Hip-Hop than old style RnB/soul/funk. This is not only because the many subjects are still alive and still hold a level of relevancy and popularity, but also due to the film highlighting pathways that were only just hinted in the 90's and near dismissed within the universes displayed in the fictional urban movies of the past. Could we image poor, black L.A youths becoming billionaires? The fact is stranger than fiction, and the fiction needed to stay grounded.

From a directional point of view, this is Gray's boldest film, working closely with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, and providing striking and kinetic imagery to the story. Visually, the sheer scope of this film is impressive. The infamous "Bye Felica" sequence, which details the wild touring antics of the NWA, while controversial at its heart, holds choreography rarely even considered for a biopic such as this, let alone conceived. Libatique's usage of the 2.35: 1 ratio not only enhances the sheer scale of the concerts and the groups influence, but also help display the magnitude of the Watts riots the infiltrates the films second half. While the riots themselves only come across as a surface level framework for the film, it highlights the ambition that Gray is trying to achieve. Whereas Notorious remains focused on the subject of Biggie Smalls, Straight Outta Compton tries hard to place the group within a larger context. With the film reaching to pinpoint the growing tensions that still remain and still polarize America.

Credit must go to Grey's eye for detail, stemming from Eazy E receiving his shoelaces back from the cops after being arrested, to the diegetic music changes which occur after 1993. The subtle shift across states, may mean nothing to those not interested in hip-hop, but remind fans of the changing tones which happened at the time. There's also textual richness in casting which is highly notable, with many of the cast (both leading and support) being exceptional in not only their looks, but their mannerisms. This is the first time that the three leads have been given a chance to head up a production and all three are allowed to let their charisma flourish. Jason Mitchell and O'Shea Jackson Jr are the two standouts. Mitchell provides a depth to Eazy E's persona which allows the character to be more than just a pair of sunglasses and a high pitched rap voice. O'Shea's look and demeanor are so much like his fathers (Ice Cube), it's uncanny. Corey Hawkins is the weakest of the trio, but this isn't down to talent, but down to character. Hawkins' Dre is the most passive of the protagonists, which once again speaks towards what may have been left on the cutting room floor or script stage.

As mentioned by Scott Mendleson, Straight Outta Compton is the most unsurprising surprise hit of the year. Take away the fact that this is a story of a platinum selling music group, whose members have diversified into other arenas. Forget about the influence of the genre of music. Compton uses the tropes of the musical biopic and uses them exceedingly well. The fact that it continued to remain in its number one spot at the box office after the opening weekend, proudly shows its strong of word of mouth. Compton doesn't just raise the bar for the Rap biopic; it highlights just how universal and populist hip-hop stories can be. Hopefully its success may help stick a pin in the "urban movies for urban people" myth. What makes Compton illuminating isn't just the energy of its soundtrack or the knowing cameos, it's that the film takes hold of its story and tells it as boldly as it can. Something that critics of middle England and hoodie wearing rap fans like myself, can all agree, needs to be done when it comes to the movies.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

SUMMER 2015 SPECIAL - Inside Out, Maggie, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Pixels, Fantastic Four, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Absolutely Anything, Trainwreck, Paper Towns, Hitman: Agent 47 - 9.9.15

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In our first podcast since July, Tony hosts and is joined by co-hosts Emma Platt & Dan Taylor to catch up on what we've missed over the summer blockbuster season.... We hash through successes such as Pixar's latest INSIDE OUT, the fifth impossible mission ROGUE NATION and slick spy fun THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E... ...while we also dissect the failures including controversial superhero flick FANTASTIC FOUR, misfire retro adventure PIXELS and video game reboot HITMAN: AGENT 47... we examine the middle ground, comedies such as ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING and the controversial TRAINWRECK (which gets Emma *very* angry), not to mention the less inspiring PAPER TOWNS. Also we discuss our favourite movies of the year so far, consider what we're looking forward to in the run up to the New Year, before taking a glance at the UK Box Office Top Ten after an expensive summer... Join us as we launch back into a packed, exciting Autumn of cinema...

from Black Hole Cinema