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.