Les Miserables Review – A Sombre Sililoquy


Director: Tom Hooper

Writer: William Nicholson (screenplay), Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil (musical), Victor Hugo (novel)

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried


Release date: December 25th, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: UK

Running time: 158 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Oscar-worthy performances from Jackman and Hathaway.

Worst part: The love triangle.

A young girl’s visage is draped across the screen, her voice whistling in the wind as she drags her suitcase cross a bitterly snow-covered French landscape. This devastating image is part of what makes 2012’s Les Miserables such a profound piece of theatrical storytelling. This story now has a cinematic opus worthy of its esteemed emotional core and harsh re-telling of the French Revolution. Les Miserables is a moody and eclectic adaptation of this epic story of rebellion in the heart of 19th century Paris.

Hugh Jackman.

Les Miserables captures the visceral qualities of this historically significant tale. Based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel, the stage musical has been adapted countlessly on stage and screen. This adaptation begins with Jean Valjean(Hugh Jackman)’s release after a 19 year imprisonment. Locked up for stealing a loaf of bread, his courage and tenacity have led to an exiled existence. Cast out into the cold by both the law and the lower class, Valjean’s religious awakening leads to a life in hiding. 8 years later and Valjean, having broken his parole laws, is the target of Parisian prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean seeks a peaceful life in France as a factory owner. Despite Valjean’s efforts to keep women in his factory and out of the cold, the ill-fortunes of single mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) go tragically unnoticed. Valjean swears to protect her daughter Cosette, feeling he has wronged Fantine in horrific ways. Years later, the ‘June Rebellion’ affects both Valjean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), as Cosette falls in love and Valjean’s time on the run may soon be at an end.

Russell Crowe.

Les Miserables is much more of a sweeping epic than a dull period piece. The film captures one of Europe’s darkest times through a haunting visual style. Each filthy, claustrophobic setting becomes a dark labyrinth. This is a story where good people are made to suffer and wallow in filth while people who can help stand over them. For example, the first scene is one of astounding beauty and severe consequence for our hero. A ship is pulled into the docks by an army of prisoners. Their chant is a battle cry of hatred and despair, while Javert looks down upon them with an unmistakeable sense of disgust. ‘Look Down’ is one of the film’s greatest musical numbers and a perfect way to introduce the increasingly sombre tone. Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) once again proves to be an Oscar-worthy visionary. His take on a beloved classic is an emotionally powerful stance against crime and corruption. Hooper has created an uplifting modern musical and a stirringly cinematic Spartacus/A Tale of Two Cities style epic. Atrocities in 21 century France, Egypt and Libya make this harrowing story of teenage rebellion as relevant today as it was during the acclaimed novel’s creation. The ‘June Rebellion’ is one of the film’s most powerful sequences.

Anne Hathaway.

Guns and ideologies clash as political uprising rears its ugly head. ‘Red and Black’ is harmoniously voiced in unison; becoming a rousing musical number with moral and social importance. Despite this story’s stance on civil upheaval, this is an operatic tale of loss and redemption from Valjean’s perspective. Valjean is a man convinced that religion and humanity have shown him the way to a better life. He is a strong protagonist in this cat-and-mouse tale as he constantly searches for a way to enlighten his tragic existence. Fantine, however, becomes brutally disfigured by loss and heartache. Her sacrifices were made so that Cosette could live a peaceful life. But Fantine tragically falls into the depths of tuberculosis and prostitution. Javert, on the other hand, is a vague character. His obsession with catching Valjean remains sorely enigmatic and understated. This bombastic affair is tempered by Hooper’s choice to have his actors sing live. Instead of the over-dubbing process used in most screen musicals, this unique process allows the vocals to intertwine seamlessly with the soundtrack. Each sputter, tear and torment comes across in each note, aiding the darkness of this adaptation. Hooper’s hand-held camera-work also adds to the film’s gritty edge. Focusing on the wavering emotions embedded in each character, the camera tracks across each scene and illuminates the endless emotional current.

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” (Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), Les Miserables).

Amanda Seyfried & Eddie Redmayne.

Amanda Seyfried & Eddie Redmayne.

The camera-work matches each crescendo, using swift crane shots to transition from one scene to the next. The film’s stellar performances are likely to garner Oscar acclaim. Jackman has never been better. He is a captivating presence as every ballad is delivered with melodic force. ‘Valjean’s Soliloquy’ is performed with a devastating amount of pain and anger. Hathaway is a remarkable talent here as Fantine. Her portrayal is one of harrowing sorrow; providing the definitive version of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. Bravo! Russell Crowe is always an intense presence on-screen. He continues this here going scene for scene with Jackman. He is however unable to match Jackman’s stellar vocal range. His gruff tone hammers each ballad with a thud instead of a ring. The sickening tone is balanced by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as ludicrous thieving innkeepers, the Thenardiers. ‘Master of the House’ is a harmonious and whimsical number illustrating the depths they have sunken to. Seyfried brings a canary-like chirp to scenes of emotional dexterity. The love story however is underdeveloped. Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks are convincing yet shift the focus too far away from Jackman’s enthralling embodiment of Valjean.

Hooper’s adaptation of Les Miserables hits the high notes. Powerful performances and rousing musical numbers stand out in this cinematic extravaganza likely to compel audiences during Oscar season.

Verdict: A stirring and sumptuous screen musical. 

The Best & Worst Movies of 2012


This blog has been a rewarding experience. One that emptied my bank account and, much more importantly, opened my mind to the majesty of film. My top 10 is based on films that expanded and enlightened. My bottom 5 however is full of ‘WTF!’ moments. I’ve had a blast and I look forward to 2013.

p.s. Sorry if my English hasn’t been the best. I’m getting a lot better. Trust me.

Top 10 of 2012

10. Seven Psychopaths

9. My Brothers

8. Skyfall

7. Killing Them Softly

6. The Descendants

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

4. The Avengers

3. The Dark Knight Rises

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

1. Argo

Honourable Mentions:

The Cabin in the Woods, Midnight in Paris, The MasterHugo

Biggest surprises:

Dredd, Chronicle, 21 Jump Street, The Hunger Games

 

Bottom 5 of 2012

5. Battleship

4. Red Dawn

3. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

2. Alex Cross

Tyler Perry.

1. Resident Evil: Retribution

Dishonourable mentions:

Total Recall, Dark Shadows, Mirror Mirror, Savages

Biggest Disappointments:

The Bourne Legacy, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Taken 2, Safe House

Wreck-It Ralph Review – Arcade Aggressor


Director: Rich Moore

Writers: Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee 

Stars: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer


Release date: November 12th, 2012

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5 

Best part: The video game universe.

Worst part: The sugar-coated humour.

Video games are merely seen as a way of escaping reality. But the imaginative worlds created for every Halo, Call of Duty or Super Mario Bros. game may be small parts of something much greater. This is vaguely the premise of Disney’s new animated feature Wreck-It Ralph. The video game universe is given a new lease of life here. This behind-the-scenes look at our favourite pixelated heroes and villains is a testament to how far technology has come in the past 40 years. It’s a fun, vibrant and heart-warming journey through the 32-bit universe.

John C. Reilly.

Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is one of two main characters in the arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. (inspired by Donkey-Kong). His destructive ways have left him isolated from the game’s other characters, forced to watch them side with its titular hero Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer). After a disastrous support group meeting for disgruntled villains, Ralph comes back to his game having not been invited to its 30th anniversary party. Ralph’s existential crisis pushes him to strive for hero’s status. Hopping games inside the grid, Ralph will find his courage and humility in two games; Hero’s Duty and Sugar Rush. His illegal pursuit into the realm of Sugar Rush leads to his greatest challenge- friendship. This comes in form of young sugar-fuelled racer Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Vanellope and Ralph must bond to achieve their goals before the video game multiplex becomes obsolete.

Sarah Silverman.

Wreck-It Ralph is a surprisingly inventive animated feature in the vein of Hoodwinked and Kung-Fu Panda. Disney has learnt from Pixar’s standard of breath-taking animated film-making. Disney animation has developed an epic, brightly-coloured and energetic version of Toy Story set in a multi-layered video game universe. Ralph’s journey towards both a hero’s medal and salvation is exhilarating whilst tugging the heartstrings at just the right moments. Ralph is ostensibly a nice guy in a bad guy’s intimidating exterior. Kids will enjoy this story of self-confidence and determination. Despite using the undying animated film theme of ‘always believe in yourself’, the film depicts a sensitive outlook on how our differences make us truly special. The main characters are all outsiders in their own games. They become the heroes they choose to be and never forget about each other along the way. Ralph and Vanellope’s instant chemistry works out the kinks in their contrasting personalities. Wreck-It Ralph‘s comedic moments however strictly serve the younger viewers. Vanellope’s goofy humour steadily becomes tedious. While Sugar Rush is a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-like plethora of candy related puns.

Jane Lynch.

Wreck-It Ralph smartly bases its characters on the actors portraying them. The characters exude the same interior and exterior traits that make these actors some of the most likeable in Hollywood today. Reilly embodies Wreck-It Ralph with his usual every-man persona. Known for playing likeable characters in dramas such as Magnolia and We Need to talk About Kevin, Reilly’s portrayal of this down-on-his-luck hero comes off as a loving representation of his own indelible on-screen attitude. Silverman energetically voices a fun-loving child. Vanellope’s optimistic attitude keeps Ralph on his toes, proving that persistence is the key to happiness. Her snarky jokes at points crackle, drawing a sense of heart from Ralph’s tough exterior. Glee‘s Jane Lynch is hysterical as the Ripley-esque bad-ass chick. Lynch’s tom-boyish silver haired warrior is in desperate need of a silver lining. While 30 Rock‘s McBrayer plays an enjoyably optimistic character willing to give Ralph a chance.

“When did video games become so violent and scary?” (Wreck-it Ralph (JohnC. Reilly), Wreck-it Ralph).

Jack McBrayer.

Jack McBrayer.

Director Rich Moore is clearly inspired by the great Disney animated features that made the company an overwhelming success. The universe that Moore and Disney have created rivals the luscious landscapes of Pixar’s greatest feature films. The fore and backgrounds are teeming with classic video game and film references. Modern entertainment owes Disney many debts of gratitude for changing cinema throughout the past 40 years. However, this film is Disney’s homage to other popular genres and movements in the entertainment industry. Both adults and kids will have fun pointing out multiple arcade and 3-D video game references. The support group for example includes Pacman’s ghost nemesis, Bowser and Street Fighter‘s Zangief. The grid is also a plethora of video game influences. Any video game junkie will love the realm filled with Halo-meets-Aliens-like first person shooters, Nintendo/Super Mario Kart inspired racing games and every classic arcade game character imaginable. Look out for Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat contestants and Q*Berg.

Disney’s latest animated feature is perfect for the holidays. Swerving away from Dreamworks’ generic pop-culture obsessed animated material, Wreck-It Ralph is a pacy mix of delectable set-pieces and likeable characters.

Verdict: A nostalgic and colour-saturated thrill ride.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review – A Walk to Remember


Director: Peter Jackson

Writers: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J. R. R. Tolkien (novel)

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis


Release date: December 12th, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: New Zealand, UK, USA

Running time: 169 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Bilbo and Gollum’s game of riddles.

Worst part: The excessive 2hr 50min length.

Peter Jackson’s much anticipated return to Middle Earth has been through its own unexpected journey. Economic and production issues led to Jackson’s reluctant return to the director’s chair. His first instalment of the Hobbit trilogy is still likely to delight fans and conquer box office records. This return to the world Jackson built a decade ago is an uneven yet still wildly enjoyable adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic 1937 novel. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey succeeds in certain places and falters in others, becoming a polarising continuation of a cinematic masterpiece.

Martin Freeman.

Bilbo Baggins, Ian Holm’s character from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, sits down to write a book of his great adventures. The film then travels back 60 years and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is a contented Hobbit living a peaceful existence in the Shire. His plans are rudely disrupted by the abrupt intrusion of twelve Dwarves from the once great city of Erebor. Driven out of their lands by the evil forces of Middle Earth, the Dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), hatch a dangerous plan to take back their home. This group of Dwarves is the work of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who persuades Bilbo to join them on their quest. Bilbo, reluctantly agreeing to leave the Shire, must find the courage to survive the obstacles in his path. While aiding the group on the road that lies ahead.

Ian McKellen & Cate Blanchett.

Ian McKellen & Cate Blanchett.

Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit has received criticism from critics and fans alike. Using 48 frames-per-second film production technology and extending the content of one novel between three films hinder what could have been a masterpiece of fantasy film-making. Despite being the first act of this expansive narrative, An Unexpected Journey is merely a visual splendour that may or may not distract from its structural flaws. Jackson’s work on the original LOTR trilogy was a staggering feat. He captured a world-wide audience of both film aficionados and eager-to-please LOTR fans. However, His work here has created an uneven and at points confusing journey. Jackson has pushed the beginning of his new trilogy into similar territory as The Fellowship of the Ring. All too familiar elements make An Unexpected Journey feel like an monotonous trip there and back again. The grouping of contrasting characters, endless shots of New Zealand’s mountainous scenery and Howard Shore’s influential score depict Jackson’s obsession with the mythology and structure of his original trilogy.

Hugo Weaving.

Hugo Weaving.

The film’s opening hour is an unending mess of slapstick gags, wacky characters and exposition. Two prologues, though helpful in bring the uninitiated viewer into this labyrinth, divert the real focus of this story. The narrative itself is bloated, illustrating the problem with stretching one novel across a multiple film franchise. Unessential comedic moments dilute the darkly sickening aura of this evolving quest. The Dwarves are defined by bodily functions, unintentional destruction and wacky facial features. Their comedic sequences distract from the story’s essential elements. While a goofy and unending troll sequence turns into extensively bumbling comedic material. Thankfully, the film’s second and third acts allow the awe-inspiring action sequences and CGI creations to crawl and crash through the screen. Middle Earth has expanded from the previous trilogy, creating a breath-taking and unique look at a world we’ve seen before. Jackson’s use of CGI however distracts from the multi-layered practical effects. The visceral quality of the LOTR trilogy has been replaced with several blatantly-green-screen sequences.

“I do believe the worst is behind us.” (Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).

Andy Serkis.

Andy Serkis.

Where the film manages to equal the original trilogy is through its many captivating  performances. Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo is charismatic and uplifting. Freeman, able to handle both dramatic and comedic material with BBC’s Sherlock and The Office, finds a balance between baffled and courageous. Bilbo creates an uneasy alliance between him and the rest of this bumbling fellowship. His vulnerabilities are what make him ‘human’, while his innate courage makes him a much more empathetic lead character than Frodo. Another stand out here is Andy Serkis as Gollum. Serkis brought motion capture performance into the spotlight with Gollum several years ago. His wriggling, schizophrenic creation has to be seen to be believed. Both Serkis and Freeman fight with wits instead of swords in their tension-inducing game of riddles. The light bounces off of Gollum’s enormous eyes, illuminating every splayed wrinkle and facial twitch.

Despite its inconsistencies, An Unexpected Journey is still a fitting example of cinematic fantasy. With The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug out next year, Jackson may have to focus on the narrative before taking another step toward box office success.

Verdict: A messy yet visually splendid return to Middle Earth.

Shadow Dancer Review – Irish Brew


Director: James Marsh 

Writer: Tom Bradby (screenplay & novel)

Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen


Release date: August 24th, 2012

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Countries: UK, Ireland

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Enthralling performances from Riseborough and Owen.

Worst part: The monotonous pace.

Throughout history, Ireland’s lower and middle classes have been embroiled in violent social upheaval. Political thriller Shadow Dancer is based on a novel from the film’s screen-writer Tom Bradby. His Journalistic work for ITV news in 1990’s Northern Ireland was paramount to the success of this authentic and haunting story. The film balances between gritty realism and poetic storytelling, creating a harsh, subtle yet emotionally powerful account of one of the world’s most appalling political conflicts.

Andrea Riseborough.

The film depicts the Irish Republican Army(IRA)’s atrocities from the insider’s perspective. Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) is a single mother and pawn in a political and familial struggle. Still reeling from her brother’s death decades earlier, her emotional restraints are broken when she fails to follow orders. Arrested after her role in a failed bomb plot on a London underground train, Colette is given a choice by MI5 agent Mac (Clive Owen). She can either aid the British police in capturing important IRA members or spend 25 years in prison. With her son and mother in mind, Colette reports IRA incidents to Mac. When an IRA assassination plot is foiled however, paranoia sets in and everyone becomes a target of republican revenge. Both Colette and Mac must soon face their own problems within separate organisations.

Riseborough & Clive Owen.

Riseborough & Clive Owen.

Shadow Dancer meditatively becomes a heart wrenching slow-burn thriller in the vein of this year’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Following the film’s emotionally resonant first scene, the sombre tone of these horrific events establishes the core of this IRA thriller. This character study, documenting the separation between the law and anarchy, is defined by the similarities between Colette and Mac. Colette is morally driven and sensitive, determined to help the innocent people in her family by any means. From the nail-biting station sequence, her emotions illustrate the true despair of a broken home and divided country. The unique step this film takes is to develop Owen’s determined and sceptical detective character. Frustrated with his superiors, his paranoia pushes his illegitimate investigation of both Colette’s pressing situation and the practices of his own organisation. Riseborough and Owen are compelling in their chilling roles. Vastly different characters on the surface with similar shades of regret and redemption underneath, their disconcerting relationship brews intensely.

David Wilmot, Aiden Gillan & Domhnall Gleeson.

David Wilmot, Aiden Gillan & Domhnall Gleeson.

Capturing a nation’s identity through familial heartache and violence, Shadow Dancer creates a more contemplative view of crime than similar films such as 2010’s Animal Kingdom. Sharing many similarities with 2008 action-thriller Traitor, personalities and political conspiracies collide into a discomforting and powerfully relevant story. Director James Marsh (Man on WireProject Nim) smartly focuses on the emotional bonds created and then broken between people on both sides of the law. Unfortunately, the film provides a narrow focus on the IRA situation through Collette and Mac’s perspectives. Marsh seems intent on depicting one family’s influential role in the civil unrest; failing to convincingly develop this pressing social affliction. This choice sorely costs vital screen time for talented character actors including Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson and The Guard‘s David Wilmot as vital IRA members close to Colette. The handheld camera style creates a gritty and atmospheric presentation of certain events. The funeral scene stands out in this case, capturing a breathtaking account of the clash between authority and republican rights.

“Is it just because she has a pretty face?” (Kate Fletcher (Gillian Anderson), Shadow Dancer).

Gillian Anderson.

Gillian Anderson.

Marsh has combined his experience with documentary film-making with the ever advancing possibilities of fictional storytelling. A gritty sense of darkness is born here, as each character must begin to accept the depths they have fallen into along the way. The film becomes a claustrophobic aura of death and emotional despair, despite lacking the political intrigue of IRA drama The Crying Game. Belfast specifically becomes a symbol of Colette’s shattered mind. Decrepit and sombre, Marsh focuses on locations which illustrate the societal impact of a republican force fighting oppression from a first world order. Each interrogation is an enthralling and climactic dialogue sequence. A smoke-like haze covers these scenes creating a significant sense of dread. Each interrogation illustrates Colette’s increasing danger, forcing her to continually look over her shoulder in a cold sweat. The film’s sombre tone is fuelled by a washed out colour scheme. Even in the film’s happiest moments, dark clouds gather over Colette as her paranoia begins to take over.

Breathing new life back int0 Ireland’s film industry, Shadow Dancer depicts a much-maligned sector of the country’s history. Thanks to its refined cast and efficient direction, this stoic crime-thriller picks us up and shakes around throughout its taut run-time. It may even get people invested in this ongoing conflict.

Verdict: An intense and heart-breaking political thriller. 

Liberal Arts Review – Readers & Romances


Director: Josh Radnor

Writer: Josh Radnor 

Stars: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Alison Janney


Release date: September 14th, 2012

Distributor: IFC Films

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The witty Screenplay.

Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.

Building the foundations of a successful career and profound personal existence can have an effect on any college graduate. While looking back on the good old college days, thinking of the person you were could cause regret and heartache in the present. Liberal Arts discusses this issue with a witty and optimistic outlook. Josh Radnor’s new film defines him as both an auteur and a prolific director of fun yet painfully realistic dramedies.

Josh Radnor & Elizabeth Olsen.

Thirty-five year old Jesse Fisher(Radnor)’s New York-based lifestyle is crumbling under his feet. A bad break up, stolen laundry, a boring job, a deep love of books and an innate desire to ignore everyone culminates into existential angst. Relief comes in the form of an invitation to his favourite college teacher’s retirement celebrations. Professor Peter Hoberg (Jenkins) finds Jesse to be a friend and protege, admiring his love of literature. Jesse’s attention however is drawn away from his mentor to the seductive beauty of nineteen year old Zibby (Olsen). Zibby and Jesse soon form a careless friendship, despite their 16 year age difference. Jesse is then forced to make the tough decisions Zibby has not yet been introduced to.

Richard Jenkins.

Richard Jenkins.

Radnor’s eye for imaginative yet occasionally brutal drama has formed the basis for his second independent feature. Known primarily for his role as Ted on hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother, both his first feature Happythankyoumoreplease and Liberal Arts have turned Radnor into someone to look out for. His script is a smart balance of snarky comic sensibilities and profound romantic-drama conventions. Now known for both comedic and dramatic talent, Radnor’s direction is reminiscent of Woody Allen’s early period of Annie Hall and Manhattan. Both Radnor and Allen succinctly and creatively depict New York, Intertwining relationships and the problems associated with life itself. Jesse’s perspective on art, politics and society is highlighted through the contrast between New York and his old college grounds. The film highlights problems concerning sudden change, human connection and infinite possibilities. Jesse’s once optimistic persona has turned into a cynical yet still hopeful shadow of its former self. He now revels in opinionated discussion and helping anyone he can to see the harsh realities of modern culture.

Allison Janney.

Allison Janney.

Jesse is at points likeable and at others hard to get close to. Spelled out as a ‘likeable’ guy at points, his emotions continually change when least expected. Arguments with the light-hearted Zibby may be snappy at points (especially in their heated debate over Twilight-related material), but his constant desire to have his own way becomes tiresome. having said that Radnor delivers a charismatic portrayal of someone down on his luck with his head held high. A bleakly honest, world weary soul with a thirst for knowledge, his heart is in the right place but his head is understandably elsewhere. He and Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) convey instant chemistry, becoming a believable couple in the face of realistic hurdles. An optimistic and opinionated individual, Olsen’s Zibby happily embodies unique principals. She illustrates that ‘yes’ is the best way to enjoy every day, giving Jesse’s outlook on life a whole new understanding. Jenkins (having a stellar year following Killing Them Softly and The Cabin in the Woods) continues his fine form as Jesse’s mentor. His frustration with retirement leads to a familiar fear of change, expressing a wide range of emotions in his intense performance.

“Grace, I realized, is neither time nor place dependent. All we need is the right soundtrack.” (Jesse Fisher (Josh Radnor), Liberal Arts). 

Radnor & Olsen.

The film’s love of art, culture and democracy is illustrated through Jesse’s shattered mentality. Going back to where he feels at home, the change between Iowa and New York defines the importance of tradition and a deeper meaning for life in a world dominated by popular culture. The film’s themes such as transition, age, politics, romance, culture and retirement all interweave into every conflict and witty dialogue sequence. Despite Radnor’s smart writing and profound outlook on society, Liberal Arts is conservative and awkwardly condescending simultaneously. The film’s light hearted tone leaves many important conflicts without significant development. Jesse’s broken psyche is relieved in one underused sub plot with a mentally unstable male student. While the romantic aspect is also touched on lightly, despite Jesse and Zibby’s instant connection. Their problems are quickly and easily resolved, lacking the depth of similar relationship-based films like (500) Days of Summer. The film however has a keen eye for literature, music and valuable ideals. Vivaldi and Beethoven interweave beautifully into every montage. While Jesse’s love of reading defines how both knowledge and analysis define the power of culture, opinion, and intellect.

Despite the cutesy messages, Liberal Arts is a fun, enlightening, and intriguing dramedy. Radnor, launching himself far away from HIMYM, the TV star has set his affairs in order and delivered an assured cinematic effort.

Verdict: A witty and engaging independent drama. 

The Man with the Iron Fists Review – Wu-Tang Warrior


Director: RZA

Writers: RZA, Eli Roth

Stars: RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu


Release date: November 2nd, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 96 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The hyper-kinetic visuals.

Worst part: The incomprehensible plot.

Since starting out in popular rap group The Wu-Tang Clan, RZA (pronounced ‘The Riza’) has steadily switched from rap music to film. Through a love of martial arts cinema, RZA has now starred in, co-written and directed a highly derivative and underwhelming homage to his favourite genre. The Man with the Iron Fists could however be a cult classic, seen as a silly yet occasionally awe-inspiring entry in the undying Wuxia (Kung-fu) cinema movement.

RZA.

The plot of RZA’s first feature is somehow both convoluted and overly simplistic. The story is told from the perspective of RZA’s blacksmith character. Set in ancient feudal China, the blacksmith’s home of Jungle Village is a scene of multiple murders, fights, crimes and gangs. Both him and his girlfriend Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) plan to leave the village due to its increasing amount of violence. Their plans are short lived however when his services are required by multiple factions. After hearing word of a gold shipment moving through the district, The Lion clan’s leader, The Gold Lion, is betrayed and killed by his own brothers. With his son Zen-Yi (Rick Yune) vowing revenge, and the town welcoming enigmatic emissary Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), the village’s brothel will soon play host to sex, violence and betrayal by dangerous gangs and deadly assassins.

Russell Crowe.

RZA has created an eclectic yet simplified example of East, West and South Central influences awkwardly interweaving. Continuing the current trend of ‘cheap’ exploitation flicks after Rodriguez/Tarantino’s Grindhouse, The Man with the Iron Fists is an underwhelming genre film. RZA clearly has a profound love of Kung-fu cinema, and shows it off in every seductive shot. Questioning RZA’s intentions with this film is difficult as his favourite films also suffered from directorial and technical issues. Whereas Rodriguez, Tarantino and Eli Roth (credited as co-writer here) succeed in re-interpreting their beloved childhood influences, RZA doesn’t have the same technical and artistic qualities. His film is a strange mix of some of Asia’s greatest cinematic creations. The Shaw brother’s films (specifically The 36th Chamber of Shaolin) and Bruce Lee’s Kung-fu flicks (Enter the Dragon) are the basis for the film’s blood and colour-stained aesthetic. The story is a collection of derivative and overused elements. It rushes by at a quick pace, depicting a convoluted execution of a simple narrative. Those expecting the fun yet violent thrills of the Kill Bill‘s will be disappointed by this depiction of old school Kung-fu cinema. RZA has previously scored several films and starred in small roles, giving him an understanding of the film production process. His film contains many similarities to Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django. Unlike that film, The Man with the Iron Fists never creates an energetic or intriguing story of good vs. evil vs. the rest. Montage and narration boil the story down to a shallow clash of warriors fighting over one valuable element. When the story slows down however, the contemplative sequences quickly become tedious.

“Power belongs to no one, until it is seized through sex or violence.” (Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu), The Man with the Iron Fists).

Lucy Liu.

RZA uses this simple story to display a love of formalist storytelling from his favourite era. His frantic use of slo-mo, quick cuts, screen wipes and brutally affective gore deliver a series of energetic action sequences but never create a satisfying whole. Similarly to Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, the absurdities of the film’s fantastical elements are easy to forgive. The stylish art direction, colourful landscapes and intricate action choreography illustrate RZA’s ingenuity. The rap/hip hop score also effectively achieves a sense of fun for every punch, wire-fu stunt and stab. However poor shot framing, hit and miss special effects and shaky panning techniques easily distract from what should be significant moments of tension. The film also suffers from underused characters, leaving major plot points without significant emotional impact. The characters themselves are depicted as earnest and silly simultaneously. Tonally off balance from one scene to the next, comedic moments fall painfully flat and RZA’s blacksmith becomes the least interesting character. His character is submissive and underused throughout the film’s first half, while the supporting clans and characters bring life to an otherwise dull and forgettable action flick. The brothel becomes a breeding ground for scummy, overly extravagant and entertaining characters. Russell Crowe (becoming friends with RZA on the set of American Gangster) chews up the scenery in his hammy and unapologetic turn. Sporting a British accent, bloated physique and commanding presence, he is able to convincingly deliver several appallingly silly lines. 

Obviously, RZA has an overwhelming infatuation with Asian cinema. In all fairness, It’s great seeing people honour that which has inspired them for years. However, his lack of experience shines throughout this sketchy production.

Verdict: Insanely stupid and only passably entertaining.