Monday, 11 August 2014

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes [2011]

I grew up with a variety of sci-fi based television programmes compiling the ambient background noise of the early evening, post school-day twilight. One of which was The Planet Of The Apes; hirsute men and hour-glass women parading about under the watchful eyes of more men and women hidden behind rigid, expressionless 'ape masks'. An undiscovered world, ruled by a curious species, able to communicate efficiently, albeit with great hostility. The ever present, but slightly adapted theme throughout all of its modern reincarnations.

Planet Of The Apes could not divert my child-minded focus from Star Trek and The Simpsons (regular after school and tea-time television offerings); so when Tim Burton re-booted the story with 'Marky-Mark', it failed to peak my matured interest. Come 2014 and the newest release, complete with improved motion capture technology and a more aggressive strive for 'epic-ness', I gratefully snatched an opportunity to catch up on what I had previously ignored in "Rise Of..." to equip myself for an anticipated cinema visit.

Upon viewing a 2011 release almost 3 entire years down the line, I did find myself admittedly underwhelmed by the spectacle. With any special-effects equipped movie, a certain degree of superficial judgement comes as standard and this sitting was no different. I found it difficult to allow the computer generated imagery to go unnoticed in its inability to completely blend itself seamlessly with the environment and actors it engaged with. It is always a matter of depth; of lighting; of texture. There forever appears a general flatness to CGI elements when the entire film screen is not treated with heavy falsification of hue, saturation and shadow. To incorporate such visuals amongst the sunny, brightly lit lab interiors or 'San Fran' skyline was always going to be a difficult task. That being said, as nit-picky and 'snobby' as I am being, this detail by no means prevented my overall enjoyment of the film.

It is credit to the director and writers (Rupert Wyatt, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Pierre Boulle) that reliance upon visual effects was not the path taken, instead (and quite rightly in my opinion) it was a tool in which to support the telling of a story deeper in layered narrative than surface sheen. From very early on, the focus of plot development is with relationships. A seemingly crazed ape in the testing lab, reacts violently to handlers causing all to be put down, only for it to soon be realised that her behaviour stemmed from a protective instinct towards her offspring (a fact that had apparently gone unnoticed by a building full of scientists!). Juxtaposing this natural trait is the will to nurture and cure a sick and dying father; similar in so many ways to the mother protecting her young, yet opposite while portraying the young protecting its parent. This human relationship sets up a sense of greater complexity of emotional interaction between character elements, building towards the central union of scientist, Will Rodman (James Franco) and growing ape, Caesar (Andy Serkis).

It is the consistent underlying emotional bonds throughout that keep you glued to the action and rooting for the animals to triumph over their captive adversity. Both animals and humans display moments of conflict within their species, focussing your attention and support on the central union all the while revolutionary action takes place.

[SPOILER ALERT] With the apes unifying and overthrowing their captors (with no great complaint from the viewer), releasing a seemingly deadly virus in the process, you are left feeling indifferent and yet with a mild sense of satisfaction. Having grown to sympathise with the apes plight and relating to their initial child-like innocence, one would struggle to feel any opposition to the non-fatally aggressive fight for freedom (I say non-fatally as it is largely the will of Caesar for "ape no kill human", although some humans may meet their peril).

On any other occasion, a film that left me feeling indifferent would probably also leave me feeling dissatisfied. In almost all narratives, especially those hinged upon conflict, there requires a black and white perspective; a good vs evil paradigm promoting your support for the triumph or appetite for the failure. ROTPOTA (as I would like to hence-forth refer to it) could arguably promote one side over the other. It could also arguably promote one side more than the other at different moments in the plot. It is fair to say that a clear sense of one or the other is subjective and entirely related to the individual's perspective when viewing. But it is my perspective that neither good nor evil (whichever way around you feel the need to attribute it (maybe even good/evil vs evil/good?)) are victors. And in that I found myself indifferent to the success or failure of good or evil; and still rather entertained.

ROTPOTA does not do much for 'strong female characters'. Neither in ape nor human form. Freida Pinto plays a role so insignificant, it almost goes forgotten upon recollecting events. Her most notable moment: an act of distraction whilst on the bridge amidst the chaos of marauding apes and a stand off with law enforcers. A moment that freed James Franco giving him a chance to confront his friend Caesar and understand the motive behind the madness. It is a shame for the movie that all female figures play such a small role. Perhaps it should not be thought of as a negative point; but in our day and age, there is inescapable focus on the equal roles of men and women. A focus this film does not share. It could be highlighted that (and potentially quite rightly) that firstly, amongst a considered primitive social group, the male protagonists will dominate and females will play a lesser or invisible role; and secondly that female roles within ROTPOTA are significant even if not as loud and evident as the male leads.

The movie finishes on a 'cliff hanger' (or something related to branch hanging...?), ready and prepared for the follow up. Of course, at the time of writing this, I am already well aware of (and in fact have seen) the preceding instalment, so such a finish was entirely expected. With the apes now wild and free and a debilitating virus sweeping the globe (spreading directly via the airport courtesy of the grumpiest of neighbours who got sneezed on) the tone and indeed direction is set for what is to come. All hail Caesar, ruler of the trees just the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge...

Friday, 23 May 2014

X-men: First Class [2011]

X-men; the mutant super heroes, revered and feared in equal measure, fighting a never ending battle with prejudice and ultimately, themselves. First Class takes us back, following on in the ever present need for a franchise prequel. A young Charles Xavier befriends an equally youthful Erik Lensherr embarking on a quest to locate and educate the undiscovered mutants of Earth. In addition, they collectively launch a curiously, highly developed and steadfast defence of the potentially warring US and Soviets, whom have been ignited into action via the
actions of Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Shaw), so often the appropriate face of the designated 'bad-guy'. With the many superhero movies on the 'big' and 'small/large' screens, it is very easy to get swamped with details, knit picking at characters, the way they look, their age (so often a wonder given that they are played by actors, older during the prequel than the original movies; Hugh Jackman for example), the director's interpretation of events and costume...the list goes on. And in exploring these facets one could inevitably whip comic-book fan-boys (and girls) into a frenzy of critique-critique. Nobody knows a comic book character and overall narrative better than they. There is an answer and opinion for everything, based on years of research, knowledge and passion; and quite right. With that in mind, I will on this occasion, refrain from any plot analysis, referring entirely to the parts I 'liked'.

Though not entirely entertained by this X-men outing, there was plenty for me to enjoy; the twenty-something emphatic film-watcher that finds enjoyment in almost (I say almost, knowing there will likely be exceptions) every movie he watches. With X-men: First Class there were a few stand out moments.

1/ Hugh Jackman - plays almost no part whatsoever in a pre-Wolverine X-men, but included perhaps to keep everyone happy and provide pub quizzes across the UK with a decent film/entertainment question for years to come. It is hard to believe, but has Hugh featured in every single X-men movie released since the modern day re-imaginings in the year 2000?! Taking up the role that has made him a Hollywood superstar and forced him into being in the best physical shape of his life, here he contributes a big fat: "Go fuck yourself." I mentioned in previous Marvel commentary that there appears this all-to-apparent shininess which ironically takes the glint away from these movies for a viewer such as myself. This brash, almost real piece of potty mouth script goes a long way towards dirtying the surface and thus (in my opinion) making this moving picture more appealing.

2/ Michael Fassbender - has had an interesting career to date and is someone I frequently enjoy watching on screen. There is something about the look he can give down the lens of a camera that is captivating and confusing at the same time; yet almost always appropriate for the character portrayed. Here he deftly contorts his chiselled features just enough to cut a mentally scarred and painfully angry boy in a powerful mutant-man's body. Most impressive still (as highlighted in Tarantino's: Inglorious Basterds) we see his ability to turn a phrase in another tongue. His German appears impeccable (though with a surname such as his, you would be forgiven to expect it), French-believable, English more than convincing; and when 'super-angry' (see the last 10 minutes) out comes his Irish accent, almost as though a freshly poured, ice cool Guinness has spilt and the battleships of men are solely to blame.

3/ Raven/Mystique - if Raven was masculine, a Greek statue of a being, parading around in a skin hugging, blue, textured body-suit, would he be as easy on the eye to the female onlookers as Rebecca Romijn and Jennifer Lawrence have proven for men? There continues to be little left to the imagination with this lapis lazuli, scaly skinned young woman, two nipples and a pubis short of total nudity. Strangely alluring, she works to hold attention and provide that little hint of sex expected in any big-budget blockbuster (perhaps more subtly dealt with than soft core efforts by the likes of Transformers).  

 Generally this film was fun and passed the time swiftly. It must be said that I think my better half (the one who usually likes films less than I) enjoyed the spectacle more, partly as it was a 'snoozy' Saturday night curled up on the sofa together, partly a continuing discovery of new interests with heightened appreciation for such delights as comic book narrative and heritage (she has just finished a book named 'The Amazing Adventures Of Cavalier And Clay', apparently on the very topic). For me, the special effects were somewhat below par, occasionally a minor distraction, while moments when acting styles and attempts to convey a particular sense visually caused a deep breathed, inner sigh of exasperation (see James two-fingers-to-the-temple McAvoy or the I'm-probably-going-to-wink-right-down-the-lens-of-the-camera, frat-boy swagger of some of the younger mutants).

It takes something truly awful for me to come away feeling perturbed and X-men: First Class managed to avoid frustrating me where X-men: Last Stand succeeded. Still, nothing in the franchise has matched the promise of the 2000 X-men offering (in my humble opinion, of course), but some good performances, plenty of laughs and loads of engaging action sequences to keep one interested. And Mystique of course.


Friday, 25 April 2014

Locke [2014]

Like many a movie, I try and do a bit of prior research to validate my excitement and justify the minimal yet significant outlay of currency involved in movie theatre outings. As a fan of Tom Hardy (whom I first noticed in Sky One drama The Take) I was already sold, but through fear of the moment when I see a favoured actor in a substandard project (Johnny Depp is a prime example of this), identifying a bit more can never have hurt. As always, there is a decent indicator in the writing/direction and with Steven Knight (previously of Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises and Hummingbird) it seemed a safe bet it wouldn't trip, stumble and eventually fall, bloodying up its nose and hindering sight in one eye.

[SPOILER ALERT] If you haven't seen it yet, go away and come back in a bit.

Locke follows one man's car journey from work in Birmingham (I stand corrected if I missed the exact location) to a hospital in London playing telephone tennis with a collection of protagonists that go some way to creating layer upon layer of tension and conflict along the way. Tom Hardy, equipped with moustache-heavy-beardage, plays a solo role, in the driving seat of his BMW, controlling only his vehicle. His Welsh construction manager has made a big decision in an attempt to clean up a mess of his making at the expense of his career and family life.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the idea of a movie following one man on a middle England motorway might not be all that exciting. It is even very easy at the beginning to believe you are watching an artier, feature length episode of Top Gear, presented by someone infinitely more macho than its usual trio. It is swiftly obvious that neither is true. There is tension, discomfort and drama in spades; much as one might anticipate in a one man theatre performance, in a confined and highly intimate arena (which this kind of is).

The themes are universal; highly identifiable, especially to those of us for whom long journeys on Britain's 'm' roads pose an unwelcome addition to the schedule. As the walls of his life (and ultimately sanity) begin to crack and crumble in the passenger seats around him, his forced calmness becomes increasingly strained with the inevitable, wild outbursts. Who amongst us has not felt compelled to scream expletives while testing the durability of a vehicular interior as well as ones patience and selfless endeavour?

With a 'one drunken night' mistress having his baby on this very night, Ivan Locke journeys the 90 long minutes to 'do the right thing' by the tiny life he has co-created. In the process he has to let down his two sons, with whom he has arranged to watch a particular football match. Coupled with this is his need to confess his sin to his doting wife, breaking her heart and shattering his family unit. On the eve of the biggest build of his career, he decides to leave his post to manage domestic issues, handling business on the move at the cost of his job. A night upon which the stars align (or perhaps comets collide) putting his resilience firmly to the test.

As a being from Mars, I found it very easy to put myself hypothetically in Ivan's shoes. Not necessarily dealing with the exact circumstances, but there are times in life when a series of events will happen at the same time, calling upon management skills and potentially damage limitation. I found myself deliberating: 'What would I do?' If you ask yourself this question, you are successfully immersed. At various times, it would seem all too easy to pull the rip cord. The ground rushing toward you, do you trust in your decision and hope for a survivable landing? Or bail out at the next best opportunity? Ivan's decision is made for him. The invisible presence of his estranged and deceased father, the spark he needs to drive on. He will be there for his new child because his father was not there for him.

It is at times difficult to watch if you have any moral fibre or sensitive disposition. The brilliantly portrayed wife (Katrina) captured the essence of what it would mean to be sucker punched by infidelity. Her deafening silences, disbelief and breathlessness was so convincing it drove my cinema buddy (the better half) to grab for my hand and squeeze. As the narrative plays out, the in-car phone ringing and monotone 'call-waiting' notification begins to grate, contributing to the growing sense of frustration, perhaps more so to the viewer than to Locke himself. Though the family sized BMW is empty, you are in the car too; you are a part of the ride and the voices on the other end of the line join you, weathering Locke's 'thick skin'. Hardy's accent library is called upon and works to good effect, only occasionally distracting (a couple of times I thought he slipped into South African, once or twice reminded me, rather alarmingly, of Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal).

This is a very strong and gripping film that is at points difficult to watch. If you are an amorous male with little self control, perhaps don't go and watch this with your current wife/girlfriend; certainly not if you are the type of person that can't innocently pass through customs without looking guilty. It may touch a nerve. But generally this is great, very different to the norm and bit of a performance showcase from the Tom Hardy portfolio.


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Avengers Assemble [2012]

In light of the new Captain America movie, the second instalment of Marvel's ensemble and a Batman Vs Superman flick all arriving at our big screens in the coming months (or year), I thought it high time I got round to ticking off the first of the Avengers pictures from my proverbial list.

The superhero franchises have very much become the back bone of the western world's summer blockbuster box office battles (love a good alliteration). But with so many of them being re-made, re-booted, 'sequalled' and now merged, it has become increasingly more difficult to keep up with affairs and know which ones are worth spending my hard earned pocket money on. As a non-comic book fan growing up, I was still keenly aware of the heroes and heroines we all wished we could emulate and have never failed to feel the tingling adolescent excitement when one goes into overdrive and saves the world (or New York city as is often the case one way or another). I still remember the excitement when Tim Burton's Batman re-imagining swooped awkwardly about to defeat Jack Nicholson and Danny Devito. I remember too the awe filled hours watching Christopher Reeve remove his thick-rimmed spectacles and plank in suspended animation in front of early special effects green-screens (even reversing the direction of the Earth to turn back time!). Then, of course came the addition of digital special effects, bringing a whole new look and realm of visual possibility.

Without going through my own history of superhero films in any detail, there have been some hits and many more misses, leading to a state of utter indifference as to the build up, hype and anticipation of any new release. I did not enjoy Elektra. Nor did I enjoy Daredevil. I have a vague recollection of Billy Zane in purple spandex too, equally un-enjoyable. But I like to remain positive where possible. The development and introduction of the Marvel super-people has been handled quite well. Though some of the individual outings of the Avengers ensemble have been just above average, none have killed the interest, contributing to an intriguing coming together and a financial winner for those backing it.

Enough of the introductory blurb and onto the film itself. I did not enjoy the beginning. It was a necessary opening, laying the foundation for the story to unfold in a logical and cohesive manner. My problem with it was that it was too quickly hiding behind special effects and not nearly dark and sinister enough to enhance the intrigue and impact of the wrong-doings of the nemesis. Several agents of S.H.I.E.L.D were killed in an opening sequence that saw Loki (adopted brother of Thor) pass through a portal in order to steal a sparkly, electric blue cube; all of which happened quickly and sharply in a prologue to his master plan of ruling the Earth. Little seemed to be made of these multiple deaths. They happened in a flash; in a puff of smoke and crack of lightning and precious little more is made of it (aside from a mention in later dialogue).

For me, this whole event could have benefited from being darker. And perhaps this could be said of events throughout the movie; though my preference for a Christopher Nolan trilogy may have a great deal of influence on my point of view. It may be fair to say that this film achieving a 12 certificate (allowing it greater market appeal and further box office potential) affects the level of attention paid to its 'fantasy violence'. What I personally crave in a 'good Vs evil' movie, are polar opposites; a jarring violence and disregard for others versus absolute morality and the quest to oppose all that is wrong (something touched upon during The Dark Knight series). This is what I toil with each and every time I come to view such a movie.

In fairness, not all comic book inspired movies want to go down the darker path and I am by no means claiming it to be the wrong choice. Marvel in particular, seem to have opted for the special-effects-heavy route; sharp, clean, hyper-real settings upon which larger than life enemies clumsily stomp like an age-impaired, small version of a human being traversing from point A to point B through a pile of crispy brown fallen leaves on a park pathway. Shiny (but later scratched up) heroes who lead with charisma and finish with party pieces, saving the day, saving the people; but never without leaving muddy footprints embedded in the white carpet post thwarting of bad-guy wrong-doing.

Tom Hiddleston's Loki is a bit hit and miss for me. On the one hand he has a caramel covered voice perfectly juxtaposed with his mischievous plans, paired with the ideal psychotic glare-under-the-brow needed for any convincing foe. He is a typical Hollywood choice for such a role, geographically evil much in the same way as Jeremy Irons, Anthony Hopkins and Alan Rickman. On the other hand, the character himself doesn't carry the same sort of threat as other villains, despite his Godly status, big magic wand and horned head-piece like some kind of Western world, 'techy' tribal leader. A bad-guy from London's silicon roundabout playing dress-up. Loki comes across somewhat feeble in the circumstances. Unable to physically impose himself upon any of the Avengers. Captain America is not phased by him and he is, as we know from a previous film, absolutely no match for Thor. The reliance is heavily upon his crafty manipulation of egos and their reluctance to trust.

I like Tom Hiddleston and along with Robert Downey Jnr (Iron Man) they weld everything together. The character relationships do feel secondary to the impressive special effects, but Loki's threat loaded monologues and the macho banter between Iron Man and Thor are more than entertaining enough to fill the gaps in action sequences. Captain (as he is frequently referred) is a bit dreary, infrequently allowing his facial expression to veer far from 'cool but confused' with lips slightly parted (pilfered from Scarlett Johansson). Hawkeye and Black Widow feel largely on the periphery despite a fair collection of screen minutes for each, while Dr. Banner in his attempts to subdue his angry green monster, does far too well and is a bit too 'boy in the corner of the playground' amongst bigger personalities. It becomes clear he has good reason when it is evident he cannot control his bigger self; though inexplicably finds the ability to do so during the anticipated assemblage. Most confusing was that Spiderman had decided to take the day off from protecting the massive apple. Surely it did not escape his notice that a portal to another world was open above Tony Stark's phallic dwelling? Or perhaps he received a text on a subtly placed product stating that: "The Avengers have got this one bro".

It isn't a film a would hurry to watch again. No Batman. Plenty of entertainment, satisfying heroics and what can only be described as an all round romp. I can see why it has been popular.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014]

Aside from Fantastic Mr. Fox, this is probably the first time I ever have felt comfortable enough to voice my thoughts on a Wes Anderson movie. This is down to a number of reasons. Firstly, I have yet to see previous work such as Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums (also Bottle Rocket). Secondly, my impression of Wes Anderson films is that they are stalwarts amongst film-studies-fraternities. There seems such a technicality and all-encompassing creative approach, borrowing knowledge and theory from various artistic disciplines, that I contend with a distinct lack of resources from which to construct a satisfactory review. With Fantastic Mr. Fox I have childhood referencing on my side, drawn from a book I must have fingered through almost 20 years ago. With everything else Wes Anderson, I feel exposed. But here it goes none-the-less!

The early animated doll-house hotel sequence was typically delightful and set the tone for the whimsy and what I have come to identify as 'Wes-Anderson-ness' that followed. I was immediately reminded of Mr. Fox and his compatriots evading Bunce, Boggis and Bean; of Captain Zissou and the overview of activities on his vessel; a continuation of a now trademark, characteristic style. It works towards generating a hive of activity that we, the viewer, will shortly be placed into for absorption of the unfolding narrative.

On this narrative, I will avoid going into any depth regarding the technical details and requirements, politely communicated to projectionists; though it is notably admirable detail and equally admirably highlighted (in comparison to reported dictations from other 'Transforming' directors...). There was a pleasantly smooth transition through character reminiscence, journeying back to the story of Monsieur Gustave via the narration of the older and wiser Zero. And the tale being told was a charming and witty one.

Ralph Fiennes was utterly hilarious. Not necessarily renowned for his comic delivery, the deliberate and punchy repertoire, part script part execution, seemingly had him bagging a laugh through semi-dead-pan tone then darting off screen until he was pitched another opportunity for a home run. He duly accepts these chances and knits the movie together nicely in the process. Tony Revolori obliges as the appropriate side-kick and contributes to an endearing relationship between mentor and pupil. This touching 'bromance' and ever-increasing respect between the two is never more aptly evident than when Gustave stands to the defence of his compatriot on train journeys halted by bullish soldiers from the growing war stricken backdrop; his bloodied nose and dishevelled hair serving as a tidy visual simile for his affections.

The adversaries to Fiennes and Revolori (played by Adrienne Brody and Willem Dafoe) are introduced at a family funeral at the point in which we are to learn of the division of the deceased's estate. It is immediately evident (from their all-black attire to their snarling potty-mouthed outbursts) that these family members are utterly disagreeable and will make it their sole ambition to relieve Gustave of his unexpected inheritance (the priceless painting: 'Boy With Apple'). Like something from a Wachowski Brothers trilogy, they embark on a blackly-comic pursuit of the end goal, tying loose ends and 'offing' minor protagonists before cornering their targets back at the Grand Budapest.

At this stage I should point out that, due to a very long and physically exhausting day, and a late showing at my local 'world of Cine' (a term borrowed from the Wittertainers) I actually nodded off a bit. For much of the pursuit section in fact, waking to catch an entertaining snow chase (like an animated maquette of a popular 007 scene) and parts of a Shawshank prison break; piecing together what had elapsed in my absence before arriving at the thrilling conclusion. This cinematic nap (only previously experienced during the mid-section of Iron Man 2) should not be interpreted as a signifier of the quality of this film. It absolutely should be viewed as a product of my time of life and increasing inability to remain alert and engaged whilst slumped in a spongy, oversized seat in a dimly lit, warm room with a belly full of sugary snacks.

Despite not necessarily being best informed to discuss The Grand Budapest Hotel beyond it's opening hour, I will persevere (or at least wax lyrical about those parts that stood out for me). The whole thing seemed to be the most 'Wes-Anderson' of Wes Anderson movies to date. All of the trademark features, the full ensemble of regular 'Anderson Faithfuls' and seemingly a whole lot of personality shining through. I consider it an enormous compliment to the writers/director that such a group of relatively iconic actors would agree to work on a project that features them in such minor roles with newcomers gifted the lion's share of screen time.

There is something about almost every frame in Wes Anderson's creations that leads one to imagine years of storyboarding sessions wherein all inches of a plethora canvasses are meticulously poured over by the most talented of mid-century draughtsmen, resulting in a series of American Modernist images, brought to life at the wave of a directorial 'Wes-wand'. This attention to composition and framing could well fracture a smoothness of narrative, with its hard edges, rigidity and precision; but this is a carefully honed craft and one in which each element works to compliment another. (For a fine example of this, check out: Wes Anderson // Centered)

The charm and warmth of 'TGBH' (an unfortunate abbreviation in the circumstances) supersedes much of what has been released thus far in 2014. I can definitively state that this will be a fine addition to my film collection, watched on multiples of occasions for its artistic qualities as well as its highly satisfying entertainment (and also because I will watch ANYTHING with Bill Murray and/or Jeff Goldblum in it!). I encourage you to watch it. Watch it now! Or soon (if your local cinema has stopped showing it). What I have just said about it does not do it nearly enough justice.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Only God Forgives [2013]

A visually gorgeous film; and no I don't mean because Mr Adolescent Goose stars as lead role (though we all know how he seems to get the gaggle swooning). Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of Drive (as mentioned in the poster above) presents this slowly unfurling Pantone advert, a 'must see' for any fan-boys (or girls) of expressive cinematography.

I acquired this on Blu-Ray over the Christmas period and took my time arriving at its menu screen. A lingering desire to view the follow up to Drive was obstructed by some slightly confused and disappointed reactions from my usual social circles. My aversion to 'hype' often affects my approach in such circumstances, causing a sense of affinity before I have even become acquainted; a preference for enjoying something others around me haven't. This can make it feel all the more an individual and unshared experience; something that can be equally as fulfilling as sharing undoubtedly is.

Despite reclining in comfort, bathed in early afternoon sunlight during a premature Spring-like day, prepared to like the forth-coming attraction, I can't ignore some of the curiosities that followed. First notable point would be regarding Ryan Gosling. He is known for his emotionally dysfunctional, brooding roles (aka a broken heart-throb), which in a strange sort of way he continues to play here, but I have not seen him quite so mute since Lars And The Real Girl (which I loved). Without the where-with-all to begin a Timex measurement I estimated that approximately half an hour had elapsed before a word was spoken by the face of the picture (this included moments in which conversation was directed toward him, met blankly). With Lars Lindstrom, it was very quickly obvious as to the reason for his reluctance of voice. As the surname-less Julian, a fight school owner/trainer/promoter/financier (not clearly defined in the beginning) there lies a certain mystery surrounding the voiceless, slowly moving, shade dwelling character.

Though this could be considered a criticism, it did add a character dimension that may have been lost in dialogue. Julian's silence spurred this thought: 'This guy seems deeply fucked up. Borderline psychotic (perhaps a bit like his role in Drive). Why is he so messed up? And why is he in Bangkok anyway?'. The plot does begin to reveal answers. Much in the same way I see old films (especially those B-movie/exploitation movie types), this piece on the face of things, maintains a very basic plot (basic in comparison to some of the complex, twisting plots we are used to in cinema and, more so now, in the box set series) and silently introduces sub plots through crystal clear, dream-like visual sequences, heavily exploiting the potential beauty and foreign lighting of inner city Thailand.

[SPOILER ALERT] I'm calling this a 'spoiler' because it does pretty much describe all you need to know about the theme and direction of this movie, but is quoted directly from IMDB as the plot synopsis:

"Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok's criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother's recent death."

There really isn't much more to add to the overall plot other than that there is an equally crazy, Bangkok detective who carries a short, sharp and swift pendulum of justice, equipped upon such time as he identifies the focus of his investigations. He is a man of seemingly inconspicuous disposition yet, from the moment of his intense karaoke rendition, it becomes clear as to his underplayed, creepiness.

Kristin Scott Thomas is transformed as Crystal, Julian's vile and evil mother. She is immediately detestable upon arrival at a hotel lobby where her demise will ultimately play out; at the same time being the very sort of desirable and sexy that I am slightly embarrassed to admit to noticing. Her introduction goes some way toward explaining the unusual traits displayed by Julian who begins to appear reminiscent of an adolescent in a black and white NSPCC advert.

The trailer, when it was first leaked to social media and the world wide inter-webs, implied Julian was a resilient and physical guy, asking 'wanna fight?' and showing a clip of him dragging a blood-stained Thai man down a corridor by his upper jaw. All very macho and brutal. Amusingly and unexpectedly (even though another leaked poster showed a baby goose post altercation with a nasty fox) he really cannot fight. I found this refreshing. It would be all too easy for your A-list star to be a tough cookie as well as doughy-eyed, but I greatly appreciated his ineptly wild swinging before being pummelled in front of his expensive oriental beauty. Each time he stumbled forward, bravely, with the intent to out-wit his more composed and assured opponent; each time caught off balance and relegated to his own personal space to quietly taste his own DNA.

Only God Forgives reads like a Greek myth or a classical fable. Essentially it deals with the concerns of those seeking revenge, providing glimpses of how it scars an individual, fuels their acts and contributes to their denouement. The journey of revenge, fraught with opposition and consequence; played out like an artsy film noir only in 24-bit and lit to reflect a hidden depth of person.

I understand why those near and dear were despondent. You go to the cinema to see the follow up movie by the director of Drive and you get a picture that wouldn't be out of place in a display hall of Tate Modern. You could analyse it to death, searching for hidden meanings, translate visuals and still never fully appreciate the potential depth. But at the surface of this movie, and as I opened with, it is really beautiful; so watch it for that if not for the mere fact that Ryan 'Sexiest Man 2011' Gosling is in it.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Wolf Of Wall Street [2014]

Oh Wolfy, Wolfy, Wolfy. What to say about The Wolf Of Wall Street...

Well, no surprises when I say I enjoyed the movie, though it seemed a little long. As with my cinema experience watching The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, I did reach a point where I was visually rooting around for the remote to pause and run off for 'pee-pee'. But of course no such luck. And this is a fairly regularly raised criticism of this and other movies pushing the 3 hour mark; it is draining and does feel like a challenge to both comfort and concentration. However, I got through it and have been awaiting my medal.

As for the content, starting with the positives: Jonah Hill is great, developing his craft from just being goofy-funny to a slightly more mature-funny, though it has to be said, a long way from the vast repertoire of his co-star Dicaprio. It is clear Jonah Hill is moving things forward, trimmed down, sharpened up, a little more understated and now 'in' with some Hollywood heavyweights. Dicaprio is, and probably always will be, one of my favourite actors and there is never really a movie he features in that I don't enjoy (though I am yet to get around to watching Critters 3). Even in a role playing a man so incredibly immoral and impossible to like, the Leo-factor managed to bring something mildly endearing, or at least tolerable, to proceedings. How can this be, you ask? On reflection, it is entirely down to it being Leonardo Dicaprio, someone so famous and so far removed from the role (we hope) that you buy both sides of his adaptation. On the one hand I believed that Leo was Jordan Belfort, whilst on the other hand I knew it was just Leo 'pretending' (acting) and probably having a great time doing so.

I felt the film was visually quite impressive (particularly liked the scene outside a New York hotel where Jordan and his first wife come to blows over his adultery) and I was glued to the styling and wardrobe, something I consistently enjoy with TV and cinema.

What I did not enjoy, aside from the lengthy duration, was firstly watching alongside my girlfriend, whom I knew from the opening 5 minutes was not enjoying the on screen debauchery. I think Scorsese officially lost her at 'blowing coke up a hooker's ass'. I think he lost most women at that point. Though for many of the male audience members, this scene echoed with the 'clunk-click' of seat belts being fastened for a much anticipated joy-ride.

As someone who wrestles with their relationship with 'money', The Wolf Of Wall Street was very difficult to relate to. I can appreciate there are a great many people in society for whom striving to increase ones wealth, power and influence is of foremost priority. Money brings many benefits to life. A lot of benefits were highlighted or at least documented by this experienced cast. Dicaprio himself, discusses the nature of this project as shedding light on the wrong-doings and misguided decisions made by high powered, finance based suit sporters and the knock on affect this has on the wider society. Sadly for the wider society, they don't feature (save for one occasion in a penny-stocks sale. But even then, it is just a voice on the other end of the phone). Their lack of presence keeps the focus solidly on the crooks and swindlers, adding to the overall sense of loathing towards a group of detestable people.

This film does little for women. It is sexist, misogynistic and largely deals with females as commodities and service providers in much the same way that stocks and shares are treated. What we have before us is a group of men given the opportunity to indulge a fantasy lifestyle, unreal and unattainable to most of us. Rather than being totally entertained or having some kind of primal urges stimulated, a sense of depression took hold. Perhaps it is a reflection on myself and the time of life I have reached, but I felt sorry for the objectified and their need to partake to better their situation; an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness towards the main protagonists and their fruitless pursuit of material gain and misguided ideas of the meaning of existence; and the inevitable demise of everyone sucked into their world, from lowly employees to blind-sided clients. Really there were no winners (perhaps only bi-winners? A Charlie Sheen viral, auto-tune reference).

I left the cinema entertained and deflated. Casting the real Jordan Belfort at the end, introducing himself  (the Dicaprio version) at a sales conference post arrest and conviction, left a bitter taste. Any evidence of redemption lost in what looked to be another profitable move by someone who had just told their tale very openly and honestly. What is missed here is that sense of redemption. The candour translates as remorseless and possibly even a bit boastful. Naturally there are those out there that will see these 3 hours as a benchmark.

In all honesty, it was thoroughly entertaining. I will probably make this a Blu-Ray purchase when it is released. I will watch it again. There are details about this film that don't make it quite one of Scorsese-Dicaprio's best collaborations but in an awards season with such strong competition, perhaps it also suffers from being held up against movies more poignant and emotive. If you are a man working in banking/finance and below the age of 35, my guess is you will love it.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

American Hustle [2013]

Over the Christmas and New Year period, this was one of the movies I was most eagerly awaiting. Before mid-way through 2013, I wasn't particularly well versed in the directorial work of David O'Russell and following the Oscars hype (and general hoo-ha) surrounding Silver Linings Playbook, I was further removed (due to my innate aversion to 'hype', listening to Public Enemy and choosing to not believe in it). Having been strong-armed by a couple of good friends I finally succumbed and have been hooked ever since.

Of late, Mr. O'Russell has managed to write and/or direct films that are regular Oscar nominations and despite this piece not bagging the golden statuettes in the same way as Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, it still stands up against them (in my opinion, of course).

It has been said (by reviewers I hold in some esteem) that American Hustle is all surface and sheen and not very much more (unless you include the much discussed hair-do's sported in full by the cast). If you are not inclined to fully absorb yourself in every story, I can totally understand this stance. Whilst on the periphery it can be difficult to see past the carefully selected soundtrack (a complimentary blend of modern and era-specific tunes), the elaborate and intricate hair - make-up - costume combinations and twisting plot.

But beyond its shiny exterior lies a tale of characters fraught with weaknesses and vulnerabilities that begin to unfold as you peel your way through the curtain of charisma. From the outset it is clear that there is a great deal of humour to be enjoyed (Christian Bale elaborately and precisely constructing his comb-over for the opening scene) but before you realise it an overwhelming sense of sadness takes hold. Each of the main quartet is leading an existence directed towards bettering ones circumstances, by means of an 'easy option' which inevitably becomes complicated and exhausting (more importantly: hair dishevelling).

What I took from American Hustle (aside from a great looking movie, hair, make-up, costume) was loneliness, hopelessness and the chance that striving for closure may or may not result in a moment of contentedness, perhaps at the expense of someone else's attempt at the very same thing.

The performances are terrific. Christian Bale embodies (literally as well as figuratively) his beaten down, chronically out of shape con-man; Bradley Cooper convinces as a smitten, single-minded, success driven and overlooked cop; Amy Adams is sexy, seductive and barely convincing as British high society and Jennifer Lawrence continues her great form, not even needing all that much screen time for her presence and wisdom to reverberate throughout. Special mention should be made to her rousing, lip-syncing-in-marigolds moment that will remain for many as a stand-out moment in the movie, as much for its conviction of character submersion as for its down-to-earth hilarity. Also worth tipping the cap to Robert De Niro in his cameo as a mob-boss/mafia don (for which is is infinitely most experienced in handling) lending his skills to arguably the most tense scene in the film, even throwing in some lines in Arabic.

Its semi-trueness makes it intriguing. Without knowing anything of the 'real story', of the 'real hustle', it adds further depth as you wonder which elements, which character traits, which plot details ring true. For me, this period of contemplation turned up post viewing, providing me with ample opportunity to further analyse what had previously titillated. [SPOILER ALERT] The plot twisting in true Hollywood style towards the end, keeps one sufficiently on one's toes and provides satisfying closure. A pleasing way to round off the viewer investing so much time and energy in rooting (or not) for those involved.

For fans of O'Russell, Bale, Cooper, Lawrence and Adams, this is good work continuing in what seems to be a long running and successful marriage of actors and director and well worth adding to the watch list.