Tuesday, 31 December 2013

All is Lost Review

As a result of the critical success of The Artist, we have seen some daring and spectacular projects of scripts with limited dialogue. Ang Lee's Life of Pi was basically a boy on a boat talking to a tiger with little verbal sparring after their ship capsizes. Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity has two characters drifting alone in space with limited conversational communication. Both films proved to be both a critical and commercial success and The Artist Effect may have paved their way to box office glory.

So, All is Lost. One man in a boat - no back story, no people, (virtually) no dialogue and no unnecessary exposition - just one man against the elements and what a gripping story it is. 

Robert Redford plays an unnamed yachtsman deep in a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean when he is hit by catastrophe. Why he is there is not explained but that is not important. What follows is an epic struggle for survival between man and the elements. Fans of Robert Redford will be shocked by his aging good looks and this is accentuated by the sheer physicality of the role, which makes you wonder whether he is too old for the part, but Redford carries it off with aplomb. You'll be blowing hard with him as he lifts, climbs, carries, pushes and pulls his way around the boat. For a man three years shy of his 80th birthday, Redford shows that he is still supremely fit. 

This film is 106 minutes long with no dialogue, no backstory and one person. How did it hold the attention of me and the entire cinema? The real answer is Robert Redford. At age 77, his screen presence is remarkable. Having never been a "showy" actor, his performance and this movie depend on facial expressions, his body language, and mostly his ability to connect with an audience immediately. Technically, the movie is exceptional, especially in sound design and in creating a terrifying and believable situation. If the academy doesn't come knocking with a nomination I will be very surprised. 

The director, J.C. Chandor, is fast developing a reputation for lean, mean electrifying storytelling and like his first film, Margin Call, another fat free but thrilling examination of the demise of Wall St, All is Lost wastes no time in telling a simple story with skill, verve and edge-of-your-seat tension. What Jaws did for sharks this film will do for sailing. The underwater shots reminds you of the best cinematography of the BBC's finest wildlife documentaries and the camera work of the boat beset by storms are nothing short of miraculous and astonishingly, seemingly free from CGI effects. It really is a phenomenal piece of work. JC Chandor isn't just a director, he's an artist - and an artist of the top level.

The script, also penned by Chandor, stays away from many of the usual clichés and easy jump scares or moments of awe that would be easily picked from the Stereotype Tree by a less confident director. The story is not fed to its audience with narration or a man talking to himself to education the audience on his thought process. Instead, All is Lost trusts that the audience will be able to understand the decisions and actions of the protagonist and in this venture the film succeeds admirably.

With both Gravity and Life of Pi both garnering critical acclaim and money at the box-office, the fact that All is Lost not only deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as them - but also betters them - is astounding considering the budget for this is $9,000,000 compared to Gravity's $100,000,000 and Life of Pi's $120,000,000 respectively. 

This is an instance of successful storytelling in its most stripped down form; put the protagonist up a tree (or in an ocean) and throw things at him. And the fact that Chandor strips away every unnecessary detail about this man (we don't even get his name) All Is Lost becomes a story about pure survival for survivals sake. And isn't that the ultimate form of raising the stakes?


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Review

Sometimes the lines between reality and fantasy is blurred. In the moment, daydreams can feel like real life. Such is the existence of Walter Mitty, the milquetoast main character of James Thurber's 1939 "New Yorker" short story. 

Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, the fat dude from Two and a Half Men (when it got shit) and Adam Scott. On the surface, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty looks like a comedy. However, if you go deeper in, it's far from it. It's a drama with some funny moments. Sometimes it's funny, most of the time it's not. However, most of the time it nails the drama. It's poignant, sincere and sentimental. 

The film is about a day-dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. This is where the first problem arises. Firstly, it fills like filler. It's actually getting in the way of the story. I was desperate to get along with the story and by the first couple of 'fantasies' it just gets boring. One, for example, goes on for about five minutes and it's almost exactly the same as Peter Griffin fighting the chicken in Family Guy. It was dull. Also, the film is just too ambiguous. I didn't have a clue if what I was seeing on screen was a Walter fantasy or not. 

The film would have been much better if they toned it down a little OR ramped it up and made them interesting. After all, it's a good trick and could have worked really well. It just didn't do enough to make them interesting and halfway through they dropped them like a bad habit. Unfortunately, it wedged itself between the two and didn't really work. 

Steve Conrad's script is a jumbled farce, misfiring on comedic executions and inserting beats that have no real relevance to the story. A "Benjamin Button" joke, though funny to watch, provides no purpose to our tale. I'm also tired of watching the "nerdy office guy" transform himself into the cool and collected man by film's end. Note to filmmakers, just because your main character is in a shirt and tie at the beginning of the movie, you can't just let them grow a beard, put on a sweater and jeans, and suddenly the audience is supposed to believe he's this "new person."

Despite this, I actually vaguely enjoyed it. Sure it had flaws, but to the right person, this movie is life-changing, life-affirming, and truly beautiful. No, the narrative isn't perfect. The script isn't perfect. There are narrative flaws and stretches of the imagination, but this movie is about stretching the imagination. 

Ben Stiller is perfect as Walter Mitty. His performance was exactly what I wanted. His performance was so engaging, a nice break from his usual slapstick roles (which I also love). If you are hoping to see him doing one of his usual humorous roles, you will be disappointed. If you want to see him capturing the emotions of a man that has a hard time expressing himself, you will love this movie.

The entire camera work by Stuart Dryburgh, most notable for his work on Jane Campion's The Piano twenty years ago, is smoothly appealing with stunning shots for the audience to sink their teeth into. As the film travels throughout different parts of the world including Iceland and Greenland, two places that haven't been explored that much in film are stunning. We have to give credit to director Stiller who knows how to frame his films exceedingly well. There are elements where he takes his cues from films like Stranger than Fiction and Garden State. At the press conference he mentioned watching The Apartment with the cast in order to get a feel for what he wanted this sprawling epic to feel like.

I can appreciate the respect and passion that Stiller has for the source material and more times than not, the film is entertaining. Mass audiences will probably fall for it in a big way especially around the holidays. One does wonder whether the audience will be impressed, however. I don't think this is the film mass audiences will be expected. 

From the looks of it, the film is going to be incredibly divisive. Some will love it, others will be disappointed. I unfortunately fall right down the middle. I can both agree with both sides of table.

Enjoyable enough.  


Sunday, 8 December 2013

Nebraska Review

Time is a peculiar yet universally felt concept whose effects can be seen in its numerous consequences either through the obvious traits of aging or the far more subtle and subjectively felt intangibles such as regret. In the heart of the Midwest there are depressingly poetic examples of this thoroughly felt concept of time how the vast stretches of what appears to be infinite plains of nothing are filled with monuments of ruin either in the ghost town cities or the deserted farmland all of which are consequences of economic hardship and familial anchors.

Nebraska clearly resembles previous films that have captured the distinct American spirit and eccentric characters of the parched Midwest, including Peter Bogdonovich's The Last Picture Show and David Lynch's oddly accessible The Straight Story, but remains uniquely an Alexander Payne film containing his penchant for mixing whimsically dry humor with poignant humanity. To me, however, this film heavily reminded me of the work of the Coen Brothers, particularly Fargo - no bad thing at all.

That precise quality of Nebraska is why I was so drawn in (along with the excellent black and white photography); its lack of milking its story for emotions. It has the very ingredients to make a person cry from the senile father who never really was one to his children, the broken family, and the unremarkable rural life that seemingly offers no hope outside of a desolate landscape. However, just like Woody, the film looks on the brighter side of life, optimistic about the peculiar instances and finding solace in a practical adventure. It doesn't have time to waste on sappy musical cues and actors phoning in emotion; it's much too concerned for articulating the characters and the adventure at hand.  

This is a very funny movie with some poignant statements to make about aging, familial relationships, and the past's influence on the present. In that way, Nebraska is just like director Payne's other road-trip movies. But Nebraska is its own story with an entirely different take on these topics.

The central relationship between Dern's stubbornly gullible dad and Forte's passively irritated son gradually deepens as the movie makes its way through middle America. What makes the film such a delight to watch are the individuality of its characters. Each one is fun to watch in their own right; the father's relentless determination, the mother's humorous outbursts, and the son's sympathy and desire to bond with his father. Nebraska reaches an emotional conclusion that echoes of About Schmidt and The Descendants with an underlying sense of lives largely squandered, but handled with grace and finesse that feels innately genuine.

Bruce Dern gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a lifelong alcoholic who has escaped inside himself, a man out of touch and seemingly untouched by any events around him. As the outspoken Kate, June Squibb is absolutely hilarious - always yelling at Woody, threatening to put him in a home, complaining about him, but just don't let anybody take advantage of him, or you'll have to deal with her.

Nebraska is an engaging, humorous, and sweet amalgamation of Payne's previous works where the road trip element of Sideways meets the intimate family dynamic of The Descendants it's definitely a transition film for the quirky storyteller as it embraces a far more poetic and humanist side to the director's incredibly heartfelt style of filmmaking. It's difficult to say where exactly Nebraska will fall in Payne's established film canon but as it stands on its own it's a deeply lyrical reflection on the loss of time and a credible affirmation on the long enduring existence of hope.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

Saving Mr Banks Review

Nostalgia. It's the reason I loved Super 8 despite many flaws, and the reason I HATED Spiderman 3 (for good reason). 

Beautifully ambitious and eagerly constructed, the success of Walt Disney Studios' homage to its heritage is anchored magnificently by the crowning work of Emma Thompson's career. John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks is a tenderly affectionate tale featuring one of the year's finest ensembles. Following a classic three act structure, when the film begins, it undoubtedly lifts off and hooks you almost immediately. There's no denying the glamour, chemistry, and witchery that the film sets on you. Saving Mr. Banks is feverishly delightful.

In 1961, Walt Disney invited P.L Travers, the author of "Mary Poppins", to his California studios to discuss the possibility of acquiring the rights to her book - a discussion that Mr. Disney had initially sparked twenty years prior. For those two decades, the proud author refused to depart with her precious work in fear of Hollywood's mutilation of it and repeatedly told Mr. Persistent to go 'fly a kite… up to the highest heights'. However, when sales of her book begin to dwindle and with a rough economic climate ahead, Travers reluctantly agreed to travel across the Atlantic to hear what the impresario had to say. This untold backstory of how Travers' classic work of literature made it to the big screen provides the substance for John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks

Here, we have an American icon that plays an American icon. Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks delivers extraordinary sense of character as he renders Mr. Walt Disney with expert attention to detail. "There's a lot of voice work, the way he walks, the body positions, the way he holds his hands, the way he touches his moustache. How he phrases things and lets sentences roll off the end", Hancock remarks - and so Tom Hanks becomes the public face for Walt Disney and we learn of the man behind the mask (with two fluffy ears).

As good as Hanks is, however, he's just a bit too nice. Come on, we all know that Walt Disney was an arsehole, but here he's portrayed as a loveable sap who's just doing this for his children. I wanted just a bit more manipulation and, most importantly, I wanted him to chain smoke and drink every scene he's in. That pretty much is what makes Disney, Disney. It's very cynical from Disney and very conglomerate to hide the facts about their man. I felt a bit cheated. 

As an unbridled, even at times downright vicious P.L. Travers, Thompson hasn't pursued and thrived in a character of such complexities since James Ivory directed her to an Oscar in Howard's End over twenty years ago. Travers' mannerisms and moral guidelines are captured charmingly by the creative team. Thompson and director Hancock clearly worked closely together to nail the nuance of the central character's focus. She buries herself in the time, and that of designer Daniel Orlandi's stunning costume work, to be the perfect entity of a fruitful tale. Playing the young Travers, Annie Rose Buckley is cute as a button and has some real juicy moments to sink her teeth into.

Marcel and Smith's script is pure gold. There is such a dynamic and balance of charming and witty comedy tied in with heart wrenching and polarizing drama. Their assembling of the movie era, capturing subtle inequities of the business, and painting a magical story, will likely stand as one of the screenplays of the year. There is a heavy yet almost invisible component of layered despondency that the two writers choose to include that make the film truly sing.

Where the film slightly missteps is in the way that John Lee Hancock chooses to execute throughout. "Banks" essentially tells two stories. One of the present time during the production of "Mary Poppins" and the other of P.L. Travers' childhood. Hancock chooses to tell these two stories simultaneously, awkwardly transitioning from one time period to the other, and ripping us away from the story we're desperately invested in. In many ways, his direction will be seen in the same reactionary split of Tom Hooper's Les Miserables. There will be some, likely many, that will have no problem with his bumbling alterations in certain scenes and there will be some, like myself, that sees that he's still has a long way to go. Not gunning him down as a complete disaster, he has about three instances where the potential and vision are clearly realized. Hancock knows how to tug at the heartstrings. 

When a scene works, it really, really works. Pretty much perfectly. He accomplishes it with the utmost confidence and brilliant demeanor. A tightly paced and pivotal scene involving the song "A British Bank" showcases Hancock's best varieties, and also that of co-star Colin Farrell, although his Australian accent was non-existent and he didn't seem to want to act until the middle of the film.  

For my money, everything connects and rises during the creation of "Let's Go and Fly a Kite." The cast comes together and unifies in such a harmonious fashion and Hancock chooses to utilize all the supporting players including that of the wonderful Bradley Whitford, the witty BJ Novak, and in his best turn yet, Jason Schwartzman. Hancock operates these three men in an ingenious method. Paul Giamatti is a compassionate force, especially in his exchanges with Thompson while Ruth Wilson makes me absolutely adore the ground in which she walks.

It made me laugh, it made me cry and it certainly brought back memories. I enjoyed it very much. It's a wonderfully charming film and, for me, it shows the pure brilliance of Mary Poppins. The cast is wonderful, the music is obviously incredible and the script is near perfect, but it's the themes that are nailed on tightly and breathtakingly.


Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Trailer: My Thoughts

Despite many thinking it was pointless, I genuinely liked The Amazing Spider-Man. I thought it did great things that the original trilogy did badly and it was a faithful interpretation of Spider-Man. The only thing that was holding it back was the fact it retold the origin story that EVERYONE already knows. Now that that's over with, I'm pretty excited for the sequel.

After the trailer, I'm still excited - if a bit skeptical.

The sequel introduces Dane DeHaan in the role of Harry Osborne, of course made famous by James Franco. No pressure, Dane. By the look of this trailer, he looks absolutely fantastic. We know he can do crazy and sadistic from his turn in Chronicle and that's exactly what it looks like we're getting. It's very, very welcome. AND THAT HAIR IS OUTSTANDINGLY BAD/GOOD. 

On the note of casting, I have to say I've been very impressed with the casting for both of these films. Chris Cooper looks like a welcome addition to play deathbed Norman Osborne. We know he can do evil and from that trailer he looks the part. Jamie Foxx also looks like he'll make a good Electro. As an admirer of Foxx's work for many years, I'm exciting that he's ventured into comic-book baddie.

I'm also quite excited that the film seems to be delving deeper into Peter's parents back story. It has so much potential. It's a clever way of linking Peter with Oscorp, but there's also a lot of different ways they could go with it. I'd love it if they went do the route of Peter's parents being accused of being Russian spy's. That'd be a really nice route.

However, it could easily be bad. It looks like it's trying to pack too much into it, once again. In this trailer alone we've seen Rhino, Green Goblin, Electro, Doc Ock's arms and Vulture's wings. Remember the last time you had so much going on Sony? That's right, Spiderman 3. Please don't do that again. PLEASE.

On that note, though, The Sinister Six would be amazing if done right, and it certainly looks like we're getting it. The little hint at Doc Ock and Vulture was nice, I just hope they're not in this film and it's just a hint for the sequels. The Sinister Six is an exciting arc to explore, does this mean we'll also see The Kingpin? I certainly hope so.

ELECTRO, RHINO, DOC OCK, VULTURE, GREEN GOBLIN: It had everything, but maybe a little too much? We'll have to wait and see... I, frankly, can't wait.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Mud Review

Engaging an audience in a truly captivating sense of wonder is a lost art form in the realm of cinema, or at least it has become so rare that we begin to forget how magical the silver screen experience can be.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols' latest atmospheric drama Mud continues his notable prestige for dramatic film making by creating a pure slice of Americana; an evocative and poignant coming of age tale that borrows the lyricism of Tennessee Williams works and mixes them with the harmonious sensitivity of a Sam Shepard play, who is ironically enough in a supporting role in the film, creating a witty and insightful modern day Mark Twain influenced adventure. 

The story narrows in on Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), two fourteen year old boys hungering for adventure, girls, and excitement in their lives. Ellis lives with his miserable father and his unsatisfied mother, while Neckbone resides with his womanizing uncle. They discover on an island located distally from their home that there is a large boat stuck in a tree, housing food and pornographic magazines showing signs that someone lives there. That man, they find, is Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a fugitive housing a checkered past and now making due with little in the middle of nowhere, attempting to reconnect with his love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). 

The setting for this film is the Mississippi River. It dominates this film as it dominates the lives of the main characters in this film. This is not a film about small-town America. There is a small town, in which everyone knows everyone, but most of the action takes place out of town, out on the river, and out in the uninhabited areas of the river's ecosystem. The two fourteen year old boys and their families, are river people, making a precarious living from the river. Life is hard but the people are hard-working, honest and resourceful. If Mark Twain was writing now, these are the people he would be writing about.

This film could have easily strayed into The Selfish Giant's territory of making us pity the boys because of their lives as 'river kids', but it doesn't do that and that's important. We support these kids and we want them to succeed, but we're never made to pity them, thankfully. 

One questions the motive of the boys to continue to help Mud, even after discovering what horror he committed. Because Ellis's parents are enduring hellish circumstances and losing love in one another, his commitment to helping Mud find Juniper seems stronger than Neckbone's because he doesn't want to see a couple who should be together remain distant. This is one of the many lenses you can see Mud through. The film is such a visceral, multi-layered experience that each person has the ability to find something different or subtly unique that lies within the story's seemingly direct roots. I felt like I was going through the emotions with the two boys, as if I was there. It was an incredible feeling. I've never felt as close to a film as I have with Mud. 

However, Mud can also be seen as a rural coming-of-age story, not far off from the likes of Rob Reiner's impeccable Stand By Me, which, too, centered on young kids become more unified because of a dangerous adventure. But it also borrows liberally elements of neo-noir, Southern Gothic and melodrama while being filmed as if it was based on some great novel that was never written. There's nothing wrong with looking at Mud simplistically, as a drama centered around early-teenagers, because even when you do that, you still get a wonderful, more-than-complete package with performances that are enriching and an adventure that's unbelievable. Matthew McConaughey, again, gives an astonishingly capable performance after coming off of the likes of the beautifully quirky Bernie, the unfairly-ostracized Magic Mike, and the haunting, yet enigmatic Killer Joe. It's safe to say that McConaughey has made enough money so that he can shy away from the pathetic romantic-comedy or dull action hero in favor of riskier, more reclusive projects that test him as an actor. Teaming up with Jeff Nichols was certainly the right bet, as this is closest to the most perfect movie experiences I've had all year. It makes for a ripping good yarn that should please a wide audience thirsty for drama with a bit of heart and some sentimentality (without ever being sappy).

It was refreshing to watch and I was truly engrossed, and considering I watched this on a laptop screen I think that's pretty impressive. 


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Gravity Review

The 'surprise' hit of the season (for everyone but us Brits' who have had to wait what feels like an age for it) is Alfonso Cuaron's sci-fi spectacular Gravity.

But it's not Alfonso Cuaron who deserves the most credit. In fact it's his right hand man, Emmanuel Lubezki, who steals the show, the film and pretty much everything else. The man is a genius. We've all seen what he's accomplished in his Oscar-nominated works in Children of Men, in which he was teamed up with Cuarón, and Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, both of which resulted in unimaginable losses. Here, however, he brings something even better. A 13-minute opening shot shows his abilities to capture the essence of the now, the feelings that life offers. Real life doesn't cut, Cuarón and Lubezki understand this. The liberties where he chooses to take us, even when we step inside from the cold, lonely edge of space, manages to turn this very simple tale into a full-fledged meditation session with the sooth sounds of composer Steven Price.

And it is a very simple tale. I find it fascinating that this film was picked up by Warner Bros because essentially, at it's core, it's a B-movie. Gravity may look like a Hollywood blockbuster but it's far from it. The themes, characters and script are anything but mainstream. It's ninety minute running time is something to be desired too. It just goes to show that they've had a simple idea and they've just gone with it, which is why I love this film. The script is beyond simple, but it's tight and there's not an ounce that I'd change of it. There's not a single shred that's wasted. The script may be simple, but it's themes aren't. (Unlike Avatar).

Visual effects have never been put to better use than what you will witness in GravityOne of the few films I urge everyone to see on the biggest screen possible. The 3D is absolutely outstanding. I don't often like 3D, but this has to be seen in 3D. It adds to the story and the drama. An IMAX 3D screen - the largest you can find - with a sound system able to make your eardrums bleed. Those are the basic requirements. Do it for yourself as a film fan. It's a must. 

I haven't been in this much awe of a film's quality and optics since I saw Terminator 2: Judgment Day when I was six years old. Avatar and Life of Pi are great spectacles, but this will be revisited in years to come as the bench mark for modern day science fiction. It's this generation's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It's more Kubrick than Cameron, thankfully. It explores themes that are heartbreaking and it's characters are complex. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are incredible. The latter is especially stunning in a role that channels Alien's Ripley as if re-imagined by Tarkovsky. Natural, poised, and fully engulfed, Bullock is absolutely magnificent and in many ways, my favorite performance of the year so far. She rallies an emotional connection from the audience and demands things of herself that she hasn't done before. An Oscar-worthy work that should land her as a Best Actress nominee...and perhaps a winner.

Gravity was utterly spectacular. Beautiful, serene and peaceful moments juxtaposed by uncomfortable tense action. I just spent 90 minutes in space courtesy of Alfonso Cuaron and co. 

Simplistic but so refreshingly new. Visually, it will be studied for years to come, and thematically, will be revisited by the genre's most ardent enthusiasts. This is what was imagined by the Lumière brothers, it's truly breathtaking. 

The best film I've seen this year.


Friday, 1 November 2013

The Bling Ring Review

Award-winning, insightful director, Sofia Coppola, has once again made a film that is highly successful in portraying fame and celebrity ... only this time she has turned the cameras onto those who obsess over and covet the fame and celebrity others have.  Her latest film, The Bling Ring, gives us a vibrant portrait of a society - that culture is so lost it's hard to decide who you hate more; wannabes or celebrities.

The Bling Ring is a character study/meditation of a group of people -- based on real life individuals in SoCal -- with NO character whatsoever. They are all beautiful bling on the outside with no inner core of morality. They are shells of a mass emptiness who worship others for merely having stuff they want ... or being on their TVs. 

As Coppola herself said it's as if "your experiences don't count unless you have an audience watching them" and you can really feel that in this film. None of the characters really have any "moments" despite their attempts at proving it.

Coppola's story is based on real-life events of a group of five vacuous and insipid teenagers (one boy and four girls) who used the internet to track the whereabouts of their "celebrity" idols -- some were merely "reality stars" -- so that when the stars were out of town the five could play. The five would break into celeb houses and play with beautiful things that belonged to Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, Audrina Patridge or ... their ultimate idol, Lindsay Lohan. 

They had fun and bragged about their shenanigans at parties and on social media all the while believing that they had done nothing wrong. One even believes this happened in order for her to become more charitable -- her comment on "karma" must be heard to be believed. Coppola wisely lifted this line word-for-word as it is tragic comic gold. The script is expertly put together, everything is there for a reason - you've just got to work out why. 

Coppola's storytelling is absolutely fantastic, she shows her clear disgust of these girls through her cinematography. Coppola totally gets this generation and what's wrong with it and it's shown to perfection in this film. She understands the world of fame and she has proved she also understand the world of those who dream of it. This isn't a movie in which characters learn life lessons and change ... this is a depiction of people who believe they do no wrong (like never ever). It is eye-opening because these people walk among us. 

The films leaves you with a feeling of emptiness and while some may critic that, I actually believe it's quite clever, I think that's the point Coppola is making - you've just met the Bling Ring. They epitomise emptiness and nothingness. 



Thursday, 31 October 2013

What did the Thor: The Dark World mid-credits scene mean?

Ever since the first Iron Man movie had Samuel L. Jackson turn up to essentially promise an Avengers movie, Marvel's post-credits teasers have been as much of an event as the movies themselves, giving easter eggs to fans, teasing the events of future films and offering hints at where the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be going next.

So, what has Marvel promised now? Well, I think we could be getting an Infinity Gauntlet story down the line. 

Set shortly after the events of Thor: The Dark World, the mid-credits teaser shows Sif and Volstagg delivering the Aether to Taneleer Tevan - the alien known as the Collector - in the space-station museum/menagerie where he houses the artifacts he acquires.

The way Del Toro/The Collector describes  the Tesseract and the Aether is what's important. In the scene, they specifically refer to them both as "Infinity Stones". When Sif and Volstagg have departed, the Collector turns to his companion and states, simply: "One down, five to go."

In the comics, the Infinity Stones are a set of six different coloured gems which give the holder vast power over a specific domain: Reality, Time, Space, Soul, Mind and Power. Anyone holding all six has the power to reshape the entire universe to their will. It's safe to say they're pretty desirable, not least to power-mad alien warlords (SUCH AS THANOS WHO APPEARED AT THE END OF THE AVENGERS) Ahem. 

It seems that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is representing them in a slightly more practical manner than the comics. The Tesseract clearly represents the Space Stone, which gives the holder power to travel great distances and warp space. The Aether appears to be the Power Stone, which gives the holder access to unimaginable energy.

But where is this going?

If I had to speculate I'd have a guess at it all going down in The Avengers 3; a battle royale crossover bringing together the Avengers, the Guardians, and anyone else that Marvel Studios can scrape together, fighting Thanos for control of the Infinity Gauntlet. 

My thoughts, step by step: 

  • Six gems - time, space, soul, mind, reality and power. 
  • Time and Space are now a cosmic cube? 
  • Power has turned up in Thor 2 as the aether. 
  • Gem 3 is bound to be in Guardians of the Galaxy 
  • Gem 4 will be the soul gem, courtesy of the much anticipated Doctor Strange film
  • And gem 5 will be the gem that draws Thanos out in the third Avengers film. 
Jesus Christ, and I thought Marvel were thinking ahead in the post-credits for Iron-Man!

Marvel, always ten steps ahead of the competition! An Infinity Gauntlet adaptation will be a truly epic undertaking, having all the characters on screen and making sure all of them don't get short changed will be tough, but who better than Whedon?  

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Rise and Fall of Tim Burton

Tim Burton, also known as the Prince of Darkness, broke into the industry with unbelievably good luck - but it's his talent and originality that have kept him at the top of the Hollywood tree. His first film, Pee-wee's Big Adventure was released in 1985 and it was a surprise box office hit. He then introduced himself as one of Hollywood's most inventive directors with films such as Beetlejuice, Batman and Edward Scissorhands. However, as he became Hollywood's go to man for quirky and gothic films, his films became higher budget and more mainstream, but much less memorable and critically acclaimed. 

One of his bigger earlier films, Edward Scissorhand, really brought Tim Burton and his leading man, Johnny Depp to the top of the Hollywood tree.  The film is co-written by Burton (along with Caroline Thompson). The idea for the film came from a drawing by Burton when he was a child. Edward Scissorhands is a relatively low-budget film, that ended up grossing $56,362,3524 at the box-office. Burton had full creative control of the film and it was self- produced by Burton which the end product shows. The film has Burton’s visual style and panache and the characters are typically Burtonesque. Also, the film received critical acclaim, receiving Saturn, Hugo and BAFTA awards and garnering a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Peter Travers Rolling Stone magazine   If you compare this with the other films I'm going to look at, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland - which both had much bigger budgets and pressure from major studios - I think the results are clear to see.

So why is Edward Scissorhand so popular? Many critics loved it because it was a modern fairy-tale story, that was so visually stunning and original. Film4 said it was Visually, stylistically and emotionally stunning.” While The New York Times said “Mr. Burton invests awe-inspiring ingenuity into the process of reinventing something very small.” In conclusion, the film did well because it was a quirky, bold and gothic tale from a new and exciting director.

His form quickly changed. 

Charlie and  the Chocolate Factory is, in my opinion, where Tim Burton started to decline. As a man who defends Planet of the Apes, this says a lot. The film has no determined style. Where is the style that made Edward Scissorhands a modern classic? Also Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as you know, is a remake and it’s adapted from a children’s book. This is hardly the Tim Burton of the past who declined making a Batman sequel and Beetlejuice sequel because he wanted to make Edward Scissorhands. The difference in this film and Edward Scissorhands also shows in the reviews. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory received mediocre reviews. Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post criticized Depp's acting, saying: "The cumulative effect isn't pretty. Nor is it kooky, funny, eccentric or even mildly interesting.” Depp, in particular receieved poor reviews. Depp has worked with Tim Burton several times and I believe that when you work with someone you know and are friends with you're work begins to decline and I think that's the case witrh both Burton and Depp. However, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made a gross of over $470 million. Has Burton sold out?

Alice in Wonderland, for me, highlights everything that is wrong with modern Tim Burton. Burton makes another multi-million pound production on another remake that’s been adapted from the book. The film stars everyone he's ever worked with whether they fit the role or not.  The film cost an estimate of $150-$200 million dollars and made a staggering amount of over one billion dollars. It was, once again, critically panned. Jason Best of Movie Talk said “Storytelling has never been Burton's strong suit and his weakness is here compounded by a desire to somehow squeeze Carroll's topsy-turvy, logical-illogical tales into a teen-friendly, Disney-approved, big-screen adventure.” This tells me that Tim Burton has changed his film making style just for a big pay check from Disney. A user reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes said: “A bland adventure fantasy, Alice in Wonderland may be pretty to look at, yet offers nothing more than Tim Burton's now generic and uninspired brand of filmmaking.” I couldn't have put it better myself. 

To conclude, I believe that Tim Burton is a talented and innovative director. However, he can only achieve this potential when he’s working on a smaller budget, is passionate about the project and has full creative control. If he’s working with big Hollywood producers, I think he loses his love of filmmaking and finds the process boring. When Burton is working under these producers, he has more money to play with, but they become formulaic and unoriginal. Also, when he’s working for a big producer, it’s clear to see, that his films are not as well received as they are when he’s working on a small film such as Edward Scissorhands – or Beetlejuice, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow. 

Tim Burton of old - please come back!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Behind the Candelabra Review

In 1989 Steven Soderbergh made his film debut with Sex, Lies and Videotape. The film was daring, unnervingly original and made on a budget of just over one million dollars. Its domestic gross of nearly twenty-five million dollars in return heralded a new wave of independent films throughout the 1990s. Twenty-four years later, Soderbergh will retire from filmmaking with Behind the Candelabra, a biopic of pianist Liberace, which, in ways, is the perfect film to go out on. 

It is, of course, well crafted by Steven Soderbergh, a veteran director who I would expect nothing less from. However, it is Soderbergh who takes a backseat to Ellen Mirojnick, whose flamboyant costumes really add to the film, and Howard Cummings, whose outrageous interiors take that film that much further. 

Two of Hollywood's big-name alpha males – Michael Douglas and Matt Damon – play the lead roles delivering strong and convincing performances. Liberace is played by Michael Douglas in one of the bravest roles of his career. It would have been easy to portray the over-the-top flamboyance of Liberace in high camp theatricality. But not here. Douglas is restrained, measured, and deliberate. His Liberace straddles both sides of the male persona. Douglas goes from being tender lover and father-protector to the excessive, power-hungry controlling tyrant driven to an addiction for acquisition: homes, jewelry, dogs, new lovers, and all things Louis Quinze. 

Matt Damon characterises Scott as an increasingly self-conscious and insecure young man, whose relationship with Liberace grows through two kinds of comfort: materialism and emotional cushioning. Liberace's mansion is an intimidating but irresistible prospect compared to the drab and shadowy form of Scott's adopted home. The mansion achieves its own Biblical connotations, stunningly realised through sparkling glassware and high contrast lighting. Liberace also manipulates Scott's loneliness, saying that he could adopt him. "Maybe I'm your real family," he teases. One of the few dramatic peaks in Richard LaGravenese's script is when comfort reveals itself to be personal possession. Liberace seeks to preserve his legacy, not simply by adopting Scott, but by convincing him to undergo surgery so that the two will look more alike.

There are problems, however. The otherwise excellent screenplay by Richard LaGravanese starts a bit rope and loses a little steam around two-thirds of the way through, but recovers to give a genuinely touching conclusion. I was also a little disappointed that Soderbergh decided to leave out most of the musical side of Liberace. The movie is bookended by his stage performances, but there's very little music or stage bravado in this movie. The director is happy to close the doors of Liberace's mansion and watch the man soak in a hot tub or lounge on the couch, but we miss the music, the garish and gaudy glitter-and-rhinestone stage show that made the man such a legend.

On stage – and in front of the candelabra – Liberace lived a life of champagne wishes and caviar dreams. But behind the glitz and the glamour, we glimpse the flawed, all-too-human and imperfect every man who is uncomfortable in his skin, seeking miracles from plastic surgery and sexual hedonism. He is not a hero or anti-hero; victim or victimizer; predator or prey. He is all and neither. Liberace's life is heroic because he was able to achieve much despite the odds. But his real life was lived in darkness cast by the shadow of the lights behind the candelabra.

A truly outstanding film. It's simply baffling that this film wasn't picked up by a major studio. 


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Chloe Grace-Moretz: An Appreciation

She's worked under Scorsese, Burton and Matthew Vaughn. She's worked with Johnny Depp, Julianne Moore, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jim Carrey. (A love for the letter J, perhaps?). And yet, Chloe Grace-Moretz is only sixteen.

Sometimes I think Chloe Grace-Moretz chooses films based on my likes and dislikes. Let's look at the films she's been in. 

  • Kick-Ass 1&2. She originally played Hit-Girl when she was only 11 and she stole the show. She stole the show alongside McLovin from Superbad, Nicolas Cage from every so bad it's good action film in the 90's and a guy who has played John Lennon on screen. Pretty impressive if you ask me - and I haven't even mentioned that Kick-Ass is my favourite modern action film.
  • (500) Days of Summer: (500) Days of Summer is my favourite rom-com. CGM only has a little part in it, but she still has some kick ass lines (no pun intented).
1) Rachel Hansen: Better that you find this out now before you come home and find her in bed with Lars from Norway. 
Tom: Who's Lars from Norway? 
Rachel Hansen: Just some guy she met at the gym with Brad Pitt's face and Jesus' abs.

2) Rachel Hansen: Quit being a pussy. 

3) Rachel Hansen: PMS? 
Tom: What do you know about PMS? 
Rachel Hansen: More than you, Tom. 

Enough said, really. 
  • Hugo. Her character epitomizes what Scorsese was going for her. She brings so much warmth and love to her character and plays off Asa Butterfield terrifically.  
She can go from playing a character like Hit-Girl to playing Darby from the Winnie the Pooh series. She can go from playing a vampire to playing Rachel Hansen in (500) Days of Summer

Not to mention that she has the remake of Carrie coming up, along with playing the lead in one of my favourite books as a child, If I Stay. 

She's been in 18 films and she's only sixteen. I'm seventeen and have been in none. 

She truly is a great talent, and ridiculously hot too! 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Ben Affleck as Batman: My Thoughts

This morning Warner Bros announced that Ben Affleck would play Batman/Bruce Wayne in the upcoming Superman/Batman film to a massive uproar from fans. But, why? I can think of plenty of reasons why this could potentially be a good direction for Batman.

Firstly, Ben Affleck is not the first person to be cast in a Batman film that has caused a backlash from fans. I have two names that proves that you should give anyone a chance: Michael Keaton and Heath Ledger. Let's start with Keaton, shall we? When Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton as Batman in the 80's there was a huge uproar. Fans thought he was completely wrong for the role and even threatened to boycott the film, yet Keaton went on to play the role incredibly well and is actually my favourite to play the role (sorry Adam West!). Now onto Heath Ledger. Fans thought that he was "that pretty boy from 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale" and that he couldn't handle the sadistic side of The Joker....He went on to win an Oscar for his portrayal. Need I say more?

Secondly, Affleck has totally turned his career around since being in every bad Hollywood ever produced in the early 00's (little bit of exaggeration, perhaps). The Sum of All Fears, Hollywoodland, State of Play, The Town and The Company Men just to name a few prove that Affleck is a good actor. I've seen people moaning about the fact he was in a very bad Daredevil film. So? That film was awful - and it would have been awful without Affleck.

Thirdly, and most important in my opinion, Affleck is 41. Let's say Affleck goes on to play Batman for the next 10 years -there's plenty of potential for Warner Bros to use the awesome graphic novels that include an older Bruce Wayne/Batman. Let's not forget that The Dark Knight Returns, arguable the greatest Batman graphic novel, included a 55 year old Bruce Wayne.

I'm certainly not saying that Affleck is the best choice for the role, I can think of plenty actors who I would have preferred in the role (Wes Bentley, Karl Urban and Richard Armitage to name a few), I'm just saying people shouldn't write him off straight away. Just give him a chance.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Elysium Review

Neil Blomkamp surprised us all with his outstanding debut, District 9. What he managed to do on a small(ish) budget was astounding and he showed himself as one of the brightest sparks in sci-fi film making. His follow up, Elysium, sees him with an A-list cast and a much bigger budget. Does it live up to it's promise? 

Well yes and no. 

On one hand, yes: Neil Blomkamp has delivered another gritty, social-realistic science fiction film that has abundance of class and style. Visually the film is quite stunning and it has some great cinematography when it comes to the larger shots. The CGI effects are excellent and blend in well with the environment. The Earth of the film looks very gritty, believable and lived-in and the space station Elysium has this very sterile and futuristic look to it. You could really buy it that Earth could look like this with many decades of neglect and poverty. Everything's in disrepair and in decline. The action in this film is quite intense and it looks very impressive at times. The exoskeletons were fun and looked convincing.

Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley (who was also in District 9) is an absolutely fantastic character. He's sadistic, unhinged and one of the only interesting characters in the film. 

On the other hand, no: the other characters are one-dimensional. Matt Damon's Max is generic and ridiculously inconsistent. Sometimes he's the hero and other times he doesn't want to know. Disappointingly, the brilliant Jodie Foster has a smaller part than I thought she would and she's not at all fleshed out.

Secondly, I didn't feel like the themes of the film go as deep as they could have done.  Unlike District 9, which themes go way deeper with the Apartheid, the themes of Elysium only touch the surface. Questioning our handling with immigration, military power, our health care more carefully and precisely could have lifted this film to the levels of District 9, but alas it doesn't and it feels tacked-on. 

I actually really liked the ending to the film, as well. It was different and didn't fit with the usual 'summer blockbuster' mould. However, because of the generic characters it left me feeling a lot colder than I would have felt had I liked the characters I was supposed to. 

All in all, the film has decent action with absolutely gorgeous visuals and it moves along at a good pace. Sadly the writing, the plot and the characters aren't that interesting and it's hard to get emotionally invested in this film. It's watchable and probably quite entertaining if you're in the proper mood for it. 

This film also proves that Blomkamp has an outstanding touch for sci-fi and it's genuinely refreshing to watch an original science fiction film, with interesting ideas. Bring on Blomkamp's next film! 


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Super Review

Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson) gets left by his drug addict wife (Liv Tyler) for a douchebag drug dealer that no one would ever date (a wonderfully hammy Kevin Bacon). So for some reason D'Arbo decides to suit up and be a superhero to get her back. But then he spends most of the movie just fighting random crime that has nothing to do with his wife. It's cool though, he ends up trying to get her in the end. James Gunn wants to focus on throwing his particular brand of outlandish, grotesque humor at the audience, like he so wonderfully did in Slither and his PG Porno internet series, but then he tries to give the film heart and emotion. This is where it completely falters and the whole thing ends up feeling like a really cheap, unevenly toned mess.

No matter what you're expecting this movie to be like, you're wrong: every ten minutes, like clockwork, it changes gears unexpectedly and bucks the audience. It defies categorization, seeming to take delight in confusing its viewers. The similarities to Kick-Ass are there, with the nerdy DIY superhero learning the world's a pretty dirty place after dark, but Super also manages to be as gratuitously gory and continuously off color as a Troma film. Its awkward timing and confounding sense of humor, though, make comparisons to both styles less apt. By the climactic, explosion-filled finale, its transgressions from goofball comedy to creepy drama leave its viewers debating whether they want to laugh or cry. An intensely uncomfortable experience you'll either love or hate.

I didn't like it. 

I mean, don't get me wrong, there are some genuinely hilarious scenes and Ellen Page is an absolute delight in a role entirely different from anything she's done so far, but the whole thing just feels off. Rainn Wilson is likable enough on The Office, but the guy just can't carry an entire film by himself and the supporting cast feels like they belong in a whole separate movie. The entire thing feels like it has no focus and the motivations of characters jump all over the place, never letting the viewer immerse themselves at all. One second our main character is all about getting his wife back, then he's just fighting insignificant crime that means nothing to the actual story, then he completely switches focus back to his wife. Just like the film itself, the guy has no focus and, despite some hilarious moments, it never gives the audience a good idea of what it actually is. It feels like something a couple of college kids threw together in a week and put online.

Nathan Fillion and Linda Cardellini are wasted as their collective parts last about 3 or 4 minutes. They shine when either is on the screen. Kevin Bacon is fantastic and Liv Tyler does a nice job. I was happy to see Michael Rooker as well. It disappointed me that the writers appeared to have a thought toward giving his character some depth and then pulled the rug out from under him. I was able to assimilate Ellen Page's incredibly over the top portrayal of a wannabe sidekick even with her undesirable characteristics, until it got too "real." Overall, this movie's message is simply not strong enough and seems to only act as bookends for the movie as a whole. The plot and events in between do not communicate that message and so it doesn't really pay off. This viewer was left feeling embarrassed for laughing at some of the earlier parts in light of the last half hour. Not a superhero genre movie and not strong enough to be a social commentary.

I wanted to like this film because it was trying to be different and it had a good premise, but it went way too far. It tries to be too different, and it can't decide what it wants to be. 


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Kick-Ass 2 Review

Kick-Ass was a very special film, indeed. Part comedy, part action and all satirical; Matthew Vaughn managed wonders with a low budget and an excellent cast. The sequel, Kick-Ass 2, looks to build on that without Matthew Vaughn and instead with Jeff Wadlow as writer and director. I have to admit, I was a little worried when I heard this news, but I was wrong. His sequel is just as funny, just as gruesome and even more satirical.

Kick-Ass 2 is more of a character piece than it's predecessor. Hit-Girl, the brilliant pint-sized superhero played by the Chloe Grace Moretz; who that took everyone by surprised in the previous film, takes center stage in this film. We see Mindy adapting to life at school under her new guardian, Marcus Williams, while, at the same time, trying to stop the craving of once again becoming Hit-Girl. It's surprisingly compelling stuff and does a good job of making us care more about Mindy as well as Hit-Girl.

Meanwhile, Dave is still struggling along being Kick-Ass, but this time he's been trained by Hit-Girl and found a team known as Justice Forever. This is where most of the comedy comes from and it is genuinely funny. The characters who make up this team are brilliant and most importantly memorable. They're headed by Colonel Stars and Stripes played by the wonderful, Jim Carrey. Carrey puts in yet another brilliant comedic performance, yet brings something totally different to this character. He's a total nutcase.

What I loved about Kick-Ass 2, though, was it's tone. It never takes itself seriously, yet there are some genuinely serious moments which totally shock the audience. Because of the mix of genre, it puts in the audience into a state of relaxation so when a serious scene comes it really hits us right in the face and makes a bigger impact as a result, it's excellent film making. The juxtaposition between serious and slapstick is perfect. The film has some really cringey lines, yet in this, they're not cringey. I'm not sure how Wadlow has done it, but he's managed to make someone dressed up in S&M gear a genuine threat. He's managed to make an old couple superheroes without making me question why. The tone of the movie is just perfect, and I don't think it can ever be recreated by anyone.

The action isn't as good as the original's action, but that does have incredibly high standards. We still get Hit-Girl taking out at least 10 guys from on top of a moving van, we still get Mother Russia throwing a gas tanker into a police car and blowing it up and flying a lawnmower of the back of a police car into two policeman. It's excellent stuff and not bad for a 'comedy'. It's all excellently choreographed.

One fault I could give this film would be that it just retreads ground that was trodden in Kick-Ass, but who cares when it's this much fun? You could also say that the film suffers from the lack of a big villain. I was never that convinced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse - but maybe that's because he's usually a comedy actor and that the last film had Mark Strong, one of the best villainous actors in Hollywood (#Strong4Luthor).

Kick-Ass 2 isn't as good as the original, but it's pretty damn close. It's everything I could have wanted from this film.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Monsters University Review

Monsters Inc came out when I was 6. I remember seeing it at the cinema and I remember crying at the end (and if you didn't you're dead inside!). It had a massive affect on me as a child and I still love it to this day. It's an outstanding piece of cinema, which can be loved by both adults and children.

12 years later and the prequel, Monsters University, comes out. My 17 year old self is reunited with Mike, Sully and Randall in a prequel about how Mike and Sully first met at university and how they didn't particularly like each other in the beginning.

The nostalgic element of the film is perhaps the most well written.The films opening, an infant Mike going on a school trip to Monsters Incorporated, nails it completely. We see Mike's eye sparkle at the scare floor just as my six year old self did in Monsters Inc. We're finally back in the universe. Every twist and turn reveals a huge or tiny explanation to the events and habits of the characters that I previously saw in the first film. It's a very well written piece and answers pretty much everything that needs to be answered including  

Monsters University is classically Pixar. It's funny, it's heartwarming, it's written well and the animation is fantastic. However, I still felt somewhat underwhelmed after coming out of it. There was just something missing from it, but I can't quite put my finger on it. 

It's definitely not as good as Monsters Inc. Of course this is no bad thing. As I said, Monsters Inc is a masterpiece, but I just feel that MU is superfluous. Sure, it answers questions about how Mike and Sully's friendship came about, but do we really need to know? I think that's what my problem with this is - it doesn't add anything to Monsters Inc and it doesn't take anything away. It's pointless, in the nicest possible way. 

The fact that there's no real villain in the film, too, makes the balance of the film not quite right. Monsters Inc had Randall and everyone hated Randall, he was a great villain. This time round, Randall is a geeky and shy nerd and massively underused. Some would say that Dean Hardscrabble was the villain, but is a headteacher really a villain? The same goes for the jocks in the film, it's just cliche. 

The new characters of the film are also pretty weak. Pixar did wonders in Toy Story 3 by bringing in Pricklepants, Lotso, Big Baby etc but in this, none of them are memorable. 

But don't get me wrong, I don't hate this film. In fact, I quite enjoyed it, it's just not needed, which disappoints me. I think that if this had nothing to do with Monsters Inc I would have enjoyed this film much more, but it does and I felt underwhelmed. 

MU is charming, heartwarming, funny and has Pixar written all over it, but it's just not needed.