Only God Forgives Review – Bow Thai

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writers: Nicolas Winding Refn

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Tom Burke

Release date: July 19th, 2013

Distributors: RADiUS-TWC, Lionsgate, Le Pacte, Wild Side Films

Countries: Denmark, Thailand, France, USA

Running time: 90 minutes



Best part: Kristin Scott Thomas.

Worst part: The wafer-thin story.

You can always tell the quality of a movie by the reaction it receives at the Cannes Film Festival. Treated to simultaneous cheers and boos during its world premiere, Only God Forgives is one of many movies to be treated to the festival-related wave of critics and film aficionados alike. Having seen the mixed to negative reviews since then, and now the movie, I can only summate that the aforementioned polarised crowd was simply trying to warn everyone. The movie reaches for success, but can’t overcome its own overblown hubris.

Ryan Gosling.

Only God Forgives is, undoubtedly, the most ambitious yet discomforting movie I’ve seen so far this year (though that’s not saying much). A mix of different styles and messages ties this movie into a knot that can’t be undone. Set in Bangkok, the story, such as it is, follows Julian (Ryan Gosling). His business, a massive drug smuggling operation hidden by a Muay Thai boxing club, is about to take a serious blow (no pun intended). Julian’s brother and business partner Billy (Tom Burke) goes out one night, and ends up raping and killing a 16 year old prostitute. Billy’s death, at the hands of the prostitute’s father and Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), is about to make Julian’s life a living hell. Julian and Billy’s abrasive mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) travels to Bangkok to seek vengeance for her eldest son’s death. Believing Julian to be unworthy of avenging Billy’s death, Crystal sends goons after everyone who may be involved in this horrific crime. Julian and his prostitute-girlfriend Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) will soon be tested by Bangkok’s seedy underbelly.

Kristin Scott Thomas.

Fittingly, Julian, Crystal, and Lt. Chang, from Billy’s murder onward, go on an explorative journey of heartache, lust, redemption, and philosophical awakenings. At least that’s what I deciphered from this solemn and relentlessly pulsating crime thriller. Suffering a serious bout of pretentiousness, Only God Forgives lumbers around like a wounded beast. Its ‘style over substance’ execution is unfortunate given the cast and writer/director at the helm of the movie’s intriguing premise. Nicolas Winding Refn (Primer, Bronson) is, normally, a focused and affirming crime-drama filmmaker. His hyper-violence-based style has, over time, transformed some of his critically-praised dramas into modern cult classics. This follow-up to Refn’s surprise hit Drive, unfortunately, lacks the convincing character-based drama and thematic depth of the aforementioned 2011 movie. Only God Forgives is a skin-deep look at the depraved nature of man and the violent sides of two opposing cultures. These aspects are appealing and potent when they are brought up, rather obviously, throughout the narrative. However, Refn looks too deeply in places he shouldn’t. In too many scenes, we are treated to the characters thinking and talking about doing something instead of actually doing it. Refn’s plodding direction, featuring many unending shots of blank-faced characters looking off into the distance, makes his 90-minute ode to Alejandro Jodorowsky and Asian crime-action cinema feel like an eternity.

Thomas & Vithaya Pansringarm.

I thoroughly enjoyed 49% of this oppressive drama-thriller, but found the other 51% insultingly abhorrent. This surreal movie may be an experiment, but it proves that a commendable final product is far more interesting than watching someone meticulously undertaking an analysis. It’s difficult to put my finger on this movie’s biggest flaw, because it feels like a half-completed production. It seemed like there was a lot more Refn could and should of expressed, but was restrained by everything around him. Here, his ambitiousness and self-indulgence have helped churn out a sprawling mass of visually stimulating flourishes and influences. This strange concoction of The Killer and Blue Velvet contains many familiar intricacies placed together in an intriguing way. This slow, shallow visual feast is also a thorough examination of film noir and foreign cinema’s importance. Despite the surface-level writing and direction, Only God Forgives is strengthened by its hyper-kinetic visual style. Refn’s pulpy, visceral, and slick visuals bolster the movie’s discussion of masculinity, honour, and family ties. For those who love gore, sweat, and the colour red, Only God Forgives is the movie for you! Despite the repetitiveness of each vital scene, Larry Smith’s cinematography is simply breathtaking. The hallway shots, for example, emphasise Refn’s eye for intricate imagery/settings. The lack of dialogue and intelligence may grate on many people’s nerves. However, having the over-cooked dialogue drowned out by Cliff Martinez’ thundering score is a major positive.

“You can’t see what is good for you. So it’s better you don’t see.” (Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), Only God Forgives).

“Want to fight?”

This hyper-violent and lurid mishmash of Stanley Kubrick, Wong Kar Wai, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese’s directorial ticks is, thankfully, aided by the dynamic cast. Here, Gosling continues his run of stoic and scummy anti-heroes after Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines. Known for his enviable physique and bug-eyed performances, Gosling is a naturally charismatic screen presence. Unfortunately, his character’s quiet reserve and expressionless veneer become increasingly frustrating. Unlike Gosling’s damaged character from Drive, Julian has little reason to be this submissive, peculiar, and antisocial. Unfortunately, Gosling’s Steve McQueen-esque nature has become a trait he should stray from to achieve a greater level of acclaim. Thomas is scarily affecting as Julian and Billy’s greasy, white trash mother. Transforming herself, Thomas brings vitality and dimension to this otherwise irritating figure. Watching Julian and Mai intently, Crystal is a foul-mouthed and incestuous force of nature. Constantly reminding Julian of how Billy was the ‘bigger’ man of the two, her harsh personality and cougar-like behaviour push everyone around her to breaking point. Thai actor Pansringarm delivers an awe-inspiring performance as the vile yet well-meaning Chang. As a fan of karaoke and severing limbs (for some reason), Chang’s enrapturing characteristics define him as the ‘Angel of Vengeance’.

With the sex appeal of a dirty Thai hooker and subtlety of a Heineken commercial, Only God Forgives has none of the smoothness, scintillating story/character aspects, or emotional impact of similar Refn-directed crime-thrillers. This movie, about mothers, brothers, gods, and monsters, has some haunting and perplexingly beautiful images and concepts. However, to paraphrase every motherly figure in existence: if you have nothing interesting or original to say, say nothing at all.

Verdict: A confused, frustrating yet gorgeous crime-thriller. 


The Wolverine Review – Claws-out Chaos

Director: James Mangold

Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback, Scott Frank (screenplay), Chris Claremont, Frank Miller (graphic novel)

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto

Release date: July 26th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Countries: USA, UK 

Running time: 126 minutes



Best part: Hugh Jackman.

Worst part: The cheesy dream sequences.

Every so often, a role comes along that a certain actor was seemingly born to play. When they embody the character’s physical and psychological traits, audiences, critics, and studio executives rejoice. Like Robert Downey jr. with Tony Stark/Iron Man and Johnny Depp with Captain Jack Sparrow, Hugh Jackman continually fits his most influential role like a glove. His portrayal of Logan/Wolverine represents this century’s Superhero film renaissance; illustrating how comic book characters can become cinematic/pop-culture icons. Judging by his new film’s title, The Wolverine, everything is resting on his broad shoulders.

Hugh Jackman.

After the atrocious prequel/cash-grab X-men Origins: Wolverine, Jackman needed to prove that he and Logan/Wolverine can still be deemed fit to rule the big screen. In his sixth outing as the character (with the seventh, X-men: Days of Future Past, hitting our screens next year), Jackman becomes this series’ greatest facet. Tonally separated from the previous X-men movies, The Wolverine begins by showing us just how powerful the titular character can be. Witnessing WWII’s Nagasaki atomic bombing, a Japanese military officer, Yashida, panics as his superiors are performing ‘Harakiri’ (ritual suicide) and the surrounding soldiers/released prisoners are running for their lives. The remaining prisoner, Logan/Wolverine (Jackman), realises that Yashida doesn’t want to die. The film then cuts to the present day, and Logan is a wanderer living in the Canadian wilderness. With a ferocious grizzly bear keeping him company (metaphor!), his recurring nightmares, featuring Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), are destroying his mental and spiritual stability. He is then summoned by a mousey assassin, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), to say goodbye to a dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi). Having created a multi-billion dollar company, Yashida has the power to transfer Logan’s healing abilities from Logan to him; giving Logan the gift of mortality. Logan’s hasty refusal is followed by dangerous encounters with familial feuds, gangland warfare, cunning yet silly villainous figures, and Yashida’s gorgeous granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).

Rila Fukushima.

Remember Logan/Wolverine’s mansion massacre in X-men 2? The Wolverine takes that awe-inspiring set-piece, and stretches it to fit the 2 hour run-time. The Wolverine may, arguably, be the best superhero movie of 2013 (so far, we still have Kick-Ass 2 and Thor: The Dark World to come). Unlike Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel, it isn’t created specifically to follow on from or set up other movies. In fact, this standalone movie is a major step away from what most franchises would do with a sixth instalment. Based on the acclaimed 1982 four-issue Wolverine miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the film makes a remarkable effort in detailing what makes this particular mutant tick. Despite the obvious cliches, this self-contained, intimate narrative allows for certain plot points and characters to become nuanced and compelling. Unlike X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine sheds light specifically on Logan. This story, depicting Logan’s internal struggle, bases itself on ancient and modern Japanese culture. Suffering the ‘Giri/Ninjo’ conflict (loss of balance between duty to himself and to others), Logan’s conflicting emotions, distorted code of honour, and brushes with mortality are heart-thumping and potent aspects. Thankfully, the movie touches on Samurai tradition without leaning heavily on corny comparisons between Samurais and mutants. Similarly to a ‘Ronin’ (Samurai without a master), Logan’s perilous journey unleashes his animalistic side in a fascinating and terrifying fashion. Also, the movie relishes in Logan’s past, present, and future. A tension-filled stand-off in a Canadian bar is reminiscent of the cage match/bar scenes from the original X-Men flick.

Jackman & Svetlana Khodchenkova.

The Wolverine excels during its first two acts. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) delivers a pulsating and kinetic narrative whilst placing many enthralling and visceral intricacies into each scene. From the aforementioned WWII sequence onward, the cinematography, CGI, and practical effects portray shades of the Adamantium-laced man that previous X-Men movies avoided. The bombing sequence is a tight, tense few seconds of celluloid. Logan’s remarkable actions say much more than the scene’s dialogue. After the flames have passed, and Logan has thrown Yashida down a hole, we see, literally, everything underneath Logan’s tough, hairy exterior. Becoming a charred, godly figure standing over Yashida, Logan’s enrapturing aesthetic qualities, and the accompanying ‘sword offering’ sequence, intricately and efficiently sum up the overall narrative. Fortunately, Mangold’s idea of masculinity (seen also in Copland) is a significant part of The Wolverine. This movie steps into uncharted territory (for this franchise) thanks to its earnestness and influences. Delivering a Clint Eastwood western-esque character study filled with mutants, ninjas, Yakuza, and neon-lit settings, Mangold incorporates such influences as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Chinatown, The Fugitive, and Akira Kurosawa’s film noir/samurai movies (Yojimbo, in particular). Also, the movie’s structure is reminiscent of the Sean Connery-era Bond films (specifically You Only Live Twice). Despite its organic thematic roots, this superhero flick is bolstered by its kinetic set-pieces and distinct visuals. Many sword-fights and hand-to-hand fisticuffs are affecting and tightly composed – becoming Bourne fights with dashes of fantasy violence. Despite the third act’s overt silliness (a robotic samurai suit, really?!), the nail-biting bullet train set-piece more than makes up for the film’s minor flaws.

“Your grandfather called me a ronin, a samurai without a master. He said I was destined to live forever, with no reason to live.” (Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), The Wolverine).

One of many ninja battles.

Despite the action set-pieces and emotionally affecting story, the spotlight is placed firmly on Jackman. He and his character are what draw many cinema-goers to this franchise. The ‘legend’ of Logan/Wolverine is held in high regard here. Labelled a ‘Gaijin’ (non-Japanese), his ineptness, when faced with a vastly different culture, develops the character’s soft side whilst creating several zippy comedic moments. His gruff tone and ferocity deliver the Logan/Wolverine audiences have longed for. Walking like the T1000 and talking like the Man with No Name, Logan/Wolverine is a powerful, and berserker rage-fuelled, force to be reckoned with. His powers are also handled in an intriguing and authentic fashion – illustrated by Logan turning his claws on himself in one intense scene. Fresh off his Oscar-worthy performance in Les Miserables, Jackman is at his magnetic and charismatic best here. With his inhumanly muscular frame and affecting screen presence, Jackman’s performance is startlingly moody and convincing. Yelling at the top of his lungs throughout the movie, Jackman’s commitment to this notorious comic book figure is jaw-dropping. The ethnically diverse cast is also commendable. Fukushima, a model turned actress, is a charming presence as the slinky Yukio. Her powerful fighting skills and expressiveness convey a kick-ass female character. Hiroyuki Sanada, one of Japan’s best actors, is solid as the physically-adept Shingen. Unfortunately, Will Yun Lee’s Harada and Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper seem out of place compared to the movie’s sombre tone.

With its zany action set-pieces and an intriguingly personal narrative, The Wolverine is a comic book movie that, thankfully, doesn’t seem forcibly controlled by producers/studio executives. Delivering a gritty performance and defining characteristics, Jackman’s portrayal of Logan/Wolverine illustrates why he is one of Hollywood’s most successful actors.

Verdict: A pulsating, kinetic, and enjoyable superhero movie.

This is the End Review – The A-hole Apocalypse

Directors: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Stars: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Danny McBride

Release date: June 12th, 2013

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes



Best part: The A-List cast.

Worst part: The gross-out humour.

In the Hollywood Hills resides a bunch of actors who owe everything to writer/director/creator Judd Apatow. This group has spawned numerous big-budget comedies over the past few years – gaining fame and wealth in the process. However, according to horror-comedy and pet project This is the End, these A-list actors are just like us. Their new film is an ambitious yet messy disaster flick that isn’t afraid to place its actors in front of a mirror, and make them face up to what they have become.

Seth Rogen, James Franco & Jay Baruchel.

I’m, of course, talking about such comedic actors as Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel etc. These actors have worked tirelessly together since their hit TV series Freaks and Geeks. They’ve jumped from one project to another – delivering refreshing humour and enjoyable performances. However, they recently have become repetitive and tiresome. In This is the End, these actors/writers/producers/ directors/entrepreneurs admit to their mistakes and defend their greatest works. The movie begins with Jay Baruchel meeting up with his old buddy Seth Rogen. In this movie’s universe, People are so obsessed with Rogen they become hesitant to interact with Baruchel and leave him in the dust (I take it in this timeline no one saw The Sorcerer’s Apprentice either). Baruchel opposes the ridiculous ‘Hollywood’ lifestyle and Rogen’s audacious celebrity friends. To get Baruchel accustomed to Rogen’s larger than life buddies, Rogen brings him to a raging party at James Franco’s enviable new house. Soon after Baruchel becomes bored with the party, earthquakes obliterate streets, a sinkhole opens up in front of Franco’s house, and fires gloriously light up the Hollywood Hills. Stuck in Franco’s house, Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride must wait out the apocalypse.

Our ‘heroes’ plotting their way into heaven.

This self-reflexive and amusing disaster flick is about as subversive as it gets. Having seen many of 2013’s generic Hollywood comedies (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Movie 43The Hangover Part 3), It’s refreshing to see a farcical, star-studded movie that’s strange, original, and actually…funny. This clever experiment aims to peel back Hollywood’s slick, glossy layers to reveal the horrific sliminess of the rich and famous. Writer/directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, The Green Hornet) have created an honest and Meta cinematic vision. They push so many boundaries here whilst delivering what audiences want most from them. With this type of project, you either end up with an enthralling and stylish flick (Ocean’s 11), or some ungodly creation that comes off like a Holiday video inexplicably released in theatres around the globe (Grown Ups). Despite avoiding the cynicism and laziness of the aforementioned Adam Sandler romp, This is the End still comes off as a series of improvisational dialogue sequences and wacky, broadly comedic sketches. Certain scenes are hilariously creative when viewed separately from one another and judged on their own terms. Unfortunately, these random, disgusting, and occasionally hysterical moments don’t come together to create a cohesive and interesting narrative. Beyond the first 20 minutes, many scenes go on too long and a lot of jokes fall flat; missing punch lines and/or charm. However, the dialogue/improvised lines are, for the most part, top notch. This easily quotable movie proves just how talented these actors/writers/directors can be.

Michael Cera.

For a first directorial effort, Rogen and Goldberg have done a commendable job. However, it seems that everyone involved had much more fun making this movie than I had watching it. This movie exists solely to tear down some of Hollywood’s most popular people and iconic elements. References to each other’s movies come thick and fast while the celebrity cameos make for some of the movie’s best moments (hats off to Michael Cera). This ‘parody of Hollywood parodying itself’ has none of the verve or intricacies of the similarly subversive Tropic Thunder. With the immense talent on display, and the exhaustive number of apocalypse-based movies released this year, Rogen and Goldberg cleverly dissect the importance of fame, friendship, and the end of days. One of the movie’s many surreal twists and turns involves a discussion of why religion should be commended/respected. It’s brave of these comedic talents to be tackling a topic of this magnitude. It’s in these slower moments that the characters and ‘story’ develop beyond the assortment of dick, fart, weed, and rape jokes. Despite the movie’s outlandish tone, references to The Exorcist and Titanic inexplicably become some of the movie’s most beguiling moments. This warped/stoner version of 12 Angry Men needed a sense of style to separate it from such comedies as Pineapple Express (referenced gleefully throughout this movie). Except for a couple of establishing shots, we see little of the apocalyptic events. Also, several bright flourishes/montages distract from the movie’s Big Brother/The Real World style.

“James Franco didn’t suck any dicks last night? Now I know ya’ll are trippin’.” (Danny McBride (Danny McBride), This is the End).

It’s the rapture!

Obviously, This is the End is bolstered by its expansive cast. Essentially ‘The Expendables’ of modern comedy, this talented array of actors clearly enjoys playing up the public’s perception of ‘celebrity’. The actors’ limited range deems this cast perfect for this premise. Despite always playing ‘himself’, Rogen has an engaging screen presence. The conflict between him and Baruchel may be a familiar and unnecessary plot point, but there’s a significant amount of chemistry between the lead actors. Unfortunately, the movie is told from Baruchel’s perspective. It’s not that he’s a bland performer; it’s that he’s easily overshadowed by the more involving actors around him. Franco and Hill (both of whom Oscar nominated) are the movie’s stand out performers. Franco, known for his crazy ambitions and confusing personality traits, is making fun of his pretentious and manic persona. With many jokes directed towards his homoerotic friendship with Rogen, and the questionable art lying around his swanky house, his smirk-filled, charismatic turn creates many big laughs. Hill does a great job making fun of his ‘high horse’ persona (“Dear God, it’s me, Jonah Hill…from Moneyball”). Featuring an earring and inflated ego, Hill is in scene-stealing mode as this excessive character. Trying to make peace with Baruchel, his phoney attempts at niceties continually garner a huge laugh. McBride and Robinson provide many fun moments while Emma Watson pops her head in at the right time.

Despite its obvious flaws, This is the End has enough alluring aspects to warrant a trip to the movies with your buddies. With its ‘outside the box’ concepts and funny, self-reflexive gags, this crowd-pleasing movie does something many recent parodies/satires have failed to do: it says what we’re all thinking.

Verdict: A messy, over-long yet hilarious frat-boy disaster-comedy.

Are the Women in Girls (TV series) Commendable?

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Are the Women in Girls (TV Series) Commendable?

The Newsroom: Season 1 Review – News Crunch

Creator: Aaron Sorkin

Channel: HBO

Stars: Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill, Sam Waterston

Genre: Political Drama

Premiere: June 24th, 2012

Country: USA



Best part: Sorkin’s dialogue

Worst part: Some mildly uninteresting/distracting sub-plots

In a time of Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, and everything shoddy and manipulative in between, there no longer seems to be a place for serious journalism. I may be a little biased, but I feel this concern is of grave importance to everyone on Earth. Thankfully, smart people still exist in L.A. and are trying to get this issue out to the masses. One of these rare few is Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin, Oscar-winning writer known for such TV shows/movies as The Social Network and The West Wing, is a bitingly harsh writer/creator and one of Hollywood’s most controversial people. Having covered political and social issues in other works, The Newsroom Season 1 is yet another Sorkin rant transformed into a polarising HBO series.

Jeff Daniels.

In the last few years, HBO has transformed itself from a friendly network into the hub of nail-biting and thought-provoking TV (confirmed with the shift from shows like Sex and The City to shows like Game of Thrones). This bold and unflinching network has stood its ground over the past four years to raise the quality of TV above film. On the same level of quality as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Girls, The Newsroom is an edgy and life affirming show that is unafraid to stand up for good ol’ fashioned values/principles/ethics. In true Sorkin fashion, it starts off with a hilarious, mean-spirited yet truthful rant.The first episode’s prologue depicts its lead character, self-confessed wildcard and popular Atlantic Cable News (ACN) anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), sitting in on a University seminar bored out of his skull. It’s at this point that Sorkin’s agenda becomes startlingly obvious, and McAvoy becomes his well-dressed avatar. After a sorority girl’s rather naive, and Independence Day-level jingoistic, question rings throughout the theatre, McAvoy snaps at the girl, the other panelists, and the people of America for turning the United States into a backward and lazy nation. This tirade may seem harsh, but the show, and the viewer’s understanding of it, is aided by McAvoy truthful words. His listing of embarrassing statistics, and advice for how the US can return to prosperity, is nothing short of awesome. After this stunt, McAvoy’s nemesis, Mckenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), is hired by ACN news division president and McAvoy’s best friend Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston). What follows, in the season’s 10 episodes, is a gruelling set of events stemming from returning McAvoy’s show ‘News Night’ to its glory days.

Emily Mortimer.

From the opening scene, you can tell that the show’s goals and messages are in good faith. By giving News Night some room to breathe, the hurriedly established team of journalists can find reasons for changing the show. Sorkin is a blunt and witty screenwriter. By taking the reins of this topical premise, Sorkin can throw his intelligent views into each episode. His views are relevant and relatable, but it can be a bit overbearing at times. His pro-liberal and anti-tea party movement agenda suggests that Sorkin is someone who is brashly subjective and condescending. Despite this, there are many intuitive morals that come out of each episode (“I’m a registered Republican, I only seem Liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.”) Generation Y is targeted and supported in The Newsroom. Despite Sorkin’s rough yet honest stance on tabloid media and law-breaking (News of the World’s actions, in particular), he gives the younger characters a chance to speak for themselves. Sorkin’s other media-based shows – Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – are very similar to The Newsroom. All three series’ strip away the fat and any sense of ‘Hollywood’ style to deliver one stirring and pacy episode after another. However, unlike the two aforementioned series’, The Newsroom stays on point and contains convincing situations/messages. The first episode ‘We Just Decided to’ is punchy and breezy right up until the final line. The episode follows McAvoy from one issue, whether they’re deeply personal or professional, to the next. Here, he’s described as a wavering spirit unable to control anything around him.

“…when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the f*uck you’re talking about! Yosemite?” (Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), The Newsroom).

Allison Pill.

Despite the second episode’s slight decline in quality and reverence, it still contains important issues that would be left well enough alone by any other writer/creator. Sorkin’s ‘coverage’ of factual news stories is engaging but slightly ham-fisted. His research and attention to detail is fulfilling, but he seems to be pulling a middle finger when it isn’t required. I’m sure journalists went to as much, if not more, trouble to cover the 2010 BP oil disaster than Sorkin claims. What does work, however, is the crackling dialogue. Despite using the 1930s rat-a-tat dialogue in everything he writes, there are many laugh-out-loud lines that some up every vital conflict occurring this season. His dialogue leaves no stone unturned as many lines tear down our reliance on social media and pop-culture (“Was she really not ashamed to say she had ‘Bieber fever’?”) McAvoy’s bafflement over the world’s love of reality TV is hysterical and references to Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa are top notch. However, Sorkin’s snazzy dialogue establishes every character as being a little too smart for their own good. The shouting matches are pacy and enjoyable, but are a tad unrealistic. The character actor driven cast does an amazing job with the many tongue tying lines and problem-filled characters. Daniels delivers an astonishing performance as the damaged and intelligent McAvoy. His rapport with Mortimer sends sparks, and occasionally inanimate objects, flying. Pill, Waterston, Dev Patel, and Olivia Munn are solid in supporting roles that hopefully will be developed to a much greater extent in season 2.

With a smart sense of humour and passionate characters, The Newsroom is an underrated and enthralling political-drama. Continuing HBO’s stellar run of earnest, well-crafted TV, it’s the only news-related show that isn’t afraid to say: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” (only fitting seeing as it’s similar to Network).

Verdict: Putting the ‘invest’ back into investigative journalism.

Upstream Color Review – Writhing Romance

Director: Shane Carruth

Writer: Shane Carruth

Stars: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins

Release date: April 5th, 2013

Distributor: ERBP

Country: USA

Running time: 96 minutes



Best part: The enigmatic performances.

Worst part: The wavering pace.

Every so often, an independent movie comes along that changes the face, and audience preconceptions, of American cinema. Travelling from SXSW to Sundance or Cannes, the movie may reach out to multiple generations and give us new reasons to watch indie features. I’m not one to support indie flicks over blockbusters, but I will say that indie films are more likely to tug the heartstrings than most big-budget productions. This year’s festival favourite, Upstream Color, is, despite its relatively minor issues, significantly more thought-provoking than anything currently playing at your local cineplex.

Amy Seimetz & Shane Carruth.

Upstream Color is a perplexing and mysterious trip into two subject’s psyches. It may be puzzling, but it has enough emotional and narrative resonance to be considered one of 2013’s greatest works. Like most sci-fi movies of this type, it slowly reigns in the audience before delving into something greater. It starts with a hurried leap into Carruth’s seemingly sinister world. There are many storied scenes indicating that the creation and use of a new experimental drug is in full effect. The drug’s latest victim is a struggling young woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz). After spotting her at a downtown club, one of the experiment’s creators, listed only as ‘Thief’ (Thiago Martins), targets and forces Kris to take the drug. The drug, as you will quickly find out, has qualities that separate it from anything we’ve seen before. After being released from this peculiar test, her life quickly begins to unravel. Strange occurrences and bank withdrawals suggest that the scientists were looking for much more than just a mindless test subject. She then meets a young man, Jeff (Shane Carruth), who has also been affected by the tests. We are also subjected to strains of a much larger story (including short stories involving entirely different people). Kris and Jeff form a surreal bond that may reshape the fabric of their shattered existences and the future.

Andrew Sensenig.

As you can tell, this movie requires the utmost attention throughout its 96 minute run-time. Despite not being as smart as it thinks it is, there are multiple elements that still make it enthralling. This is a story all about regret, hope and survival. Carruth (the movie’s director, writer, producer, composer, and lead actor) understands how sci-fi’s intricacies operate and fit together with one another. Carruth, known primarily for his previous indie hit Primer, creates sci-fi stories that don’t need aliens, action set-pieces or an epic scope. The result is a proudly earnest and existential look at the human condition. Beyond the movie’s slight aura of pretentiousness, it delivers a timeline that is intricate and enthralling. We see the drug being passed on from one life form to the next. Pigs, nematodes, and plant life are a large part of this dour narrative. This may seem weird, but this movie describes how every cell, DNA strand, and personality trait can affect everything and everyone around us. Unfortunately, the only people who might be exposed to, or interested in, this profound movie will most likely be undertaking a university-level screen arts course. Its strange and complex narrative harks back to the 80/90s sci-fi/drama films of Davids Lynch and Cronenberg. This story is original yet slightly familiar. Look closely for elements of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and Inception as they both strongly relate to Carruth’s work. However, unlike most psychological sci-fi features, Upstream Color‘s universe becomes increasingly claustrophobic (smaller) as time passes. Carruth also balances violence and philosophy – drawing comparisons between him and Darren Aronofsky (specifically The Fountain).

“There are two approaching armies: hunger and fatigue, but a great wall keeps them a bay. The wall extends to the sky and will stay up until I say otherwise.” (Thief (Thiago Martins), Upstream Color).

Seimetz taking control of the movie.

The film’s puzzle-like narrative may seem intelligent, but Carruth’s style distracts from the movie’s story and pathos. I wouldn’t mind his Steven Soderbergh/Terence Malick-esque cinematography and editing styles if they weren’t so repetitive and typical. Despite the beautiful sunshine-filled settings, many shots are hollow and unending. Carruth – intercutting the love story with footage of two pigs interacting with one another – relies too much on his complex understanding of physics and biology which quickly alienates viewers. Meanwhile, Carruth’s strict focus on angst and moodiness restricts his film to feeling like a 96 minute montage. With this style, the characters come off as self-centred and vaguely unlikeable. We are unable to see anything beyond their blank faces and romantic journey. Their romance, though convincing, is infinitely more interesting in movies such as Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. But this ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape meets The Adjustment Bureau tale is hauntingly intimate and delicate. The dour love story is crafted out of pain and misery. Thankfully, Carruth and Seimetz’ charming yet disturbing performances elevate this portion of the narrative. Overcoming the limited amount of dialogue, their characters’ wavering emotional and mental states soon become fascinating to watch.

Upstream Color is a cloying, atmospheric, and moody indie film that is unafraid to reach for the stars. Carruth’s auteur approach has delivered one of 2013’s most intricate and touching sci-fi dramas. Despite its minor flaws, Carruth and Seimetz’ performances help to develop the intriguing and angst-filled narrative.

Verdict: A complex and touching sci-fi drama/romance.

Pacific Rim Review – Rock ’em, Sock ’em, Love ’em

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writer: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro

Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day

Release date: July 12th, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 132 minutes


Best part: The Jaeger vs. Kaiju fights.

Worst part: The stereotypical Aussie accents.

Pacific Rim‘s tagline ‘Go Big, Or Go Extinct’ can easily be applied to every blockbuster released in 2013. This year, Hollywood has laid waste to cities, countries, and the box office. People turn out in droves to see these horrific events and refuse to take these images seriously. Thankfully, they will always be allowed to. In recent months, Hollywood has gone apocalypse crazy. Movies like Oblivion, World War Z, and Pacific Rim are visually splendid films that deal with mass destruction and the end of time.

Charlie Hunnam & Rinko Kikuchi.

Unlike the other apocalyptic actioners released this year, Pacific Rim never falls into melodrama or overblown seriousness. It’s a fun, kooky, and occasionally laughable (intentionally and unintentionally) sci-fi movie. The plot may be filled with silly elements, but it’s still solid. In the not too distant future, according to this movie, a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean will open up and allow gigantic monsters, named ‘Kaiju’ (Japanese for ‘giant beast’ as described in the introduction), into our world. After decades of fighting a losing battle, the world’s governments and military forces pool their resources to create monsters of their own. Their creations, automatons called ‘Jaegers’ (German for ‘hunter’), match the Kaiju in speed and brute force. Jaeger pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) seeks a new life after his brother is killed in action before his eyes. Five years later, Raleigh’s former boss Marshall Stacker Pentecoast (Idris Elba) talks him into one last mission to save mankind. Joined by aspiring Jaeger pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and scientists Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), Raleigh will need to prove himself worthy of completing this terrifying assignment.

Idris Elba.

This film’s surprisingly high quality is due to its visionary director. Guillermo del Toro (Pans Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies) is one of the most prolific and unique filmmakers working today. Similarly to Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, del Toro creates movies that contain exciting blockbuster tropes and many elements of a signature style. Pacific Rim is a guilty pleasure that’s much better than it has any right to be (it’s also Cloverfield x1000!). Pleasantly, the first half contains dramatic weight and many cute interactions. We are gently introduced to this cartoonish world so the audience can adjust to its many intricacies. Del Toro gleefully lends a balance of drama, action, and kineticism to every one of his films. However, his direction is far superior to his screenwriting. Judging by the silly dialogue, it’s entirely obvious that English is del Toro’s second language (Pans Labyrinth is by far his best work). As you can tell from my plot synopsis, the story is very straightforward. In fact, the movie somehow contains more cliches than destroyed buildings. This is yet another del Toro movie to feature a lead character joining a secret organisation to fight fantastical enemies (Blade 2). Some plot points are telegraphed too far ahead of time and others are silly and completely unnecessary. I would normally feel disdain for the fact that these problems can still occur in a multi-million dollar production. However, the film vastly excels when and where it needs to.

Charlie Day & Ron Pearlman.

Del Toro is clearly in touch with his inner 10-year-old. His toy-box has been flung open and every elaborate toy is now flying onto the big screen. This may sound cool, but his zany ideas and ambitiousness have caused major production issues over the past few years e.g. dropping out of directing duties for the Hobbit trilogy. Like his previous movies, Pacific Rim is breathtaking from beginning to end. Del Toro’s wonderfully quirky style is applied in an effective and imaginative manner. Like in the Hellboy movies, the characters and story are eclipsed by everything on screen. Clearly influenced by classic Japanese Kaiju movies (1954’s Godzilla in particular) and the original King Kong, del Toro has provided a nostalgic romp and intelligent modern blockbuster. Del Toro knows how to deliver truly original visual effects. The production design has to be applauded. Every setting, costume, and contraption is elaborate, inventive yet slightly familiar. This sensory experience is heightened by del Toro’s visceral, tangible, and gooey creations (especially the Kaiju body parts). This cartoon/anime/blockbuster excels in the gigantic set pieces that surpass anything seen in the Transformers trilogy. Shot, edited, and choreographed with flawless technical precision, every action sequence, ironically, packs a punch! The camera is pulled back far enough to capture every stab, punch, and grapple inside these video game-esque smack-downs. The Jaegers and Kaiju even interact seamlessly with the waves and skyscrapers in their path. Thankfully, the cargo ship/baseball bat scene doesn’t disappoint.

“Today, we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them. Today, be are cancelling the apocalypse!” (Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), Pacific Rim).

Gipsy Danger.

Commendably, the film’s epic sense of scale allows other countries, cultures, and ethnicities to get in on the action. The film’s ethnically diverse cast is unique and indicates just how important del Toro is to Blockbuster cinema. Despite being overshadowed by the awe-inspiring visuals, the cast does an acceptable job bringing these broad characters to life. Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) is acceptable in the lead role but fails to distract from his character’s many generic traits. With his excellent fighting skills and swagger, Raleigh is little more than a typical action hero. However, Hunnam has a nice rapport with Kikuchi. Kikuchi delivers a sweet performance as the emotionally disturbed yet ambitious Mako (it’s refreshing to see an Asian actress in a Hollywood leading role). Her doe-eyed expressiveness brings levity to this damaged character. Hunnam and Kikuchi’s best scenes involve ‘The Drift’ (a system linking two minds so the Jaegers can be successfully operated). Mako’s flashbacks are hauntingly beautiful and terrifying. Day is a fun comic relief. Finding the link between humans and Kaiju, his character is much more interesting than the two attractive leads. Day’s chemistry with Ron Pearlman (playing a black market Kaiju organ dealer) makes his sub-plot exciting and pacy. Elba delivers Pacific Rim‘s best performance. His charismatic screen presence elevates his archetypal role.

Despite the hammy dialogue, simplistic characters, and its slightly tedious length, Pacific Rim is an engaging and inventive sci-fi romp. Del Toro has applied his creative side to this ‘been there, done that’ premise. The result is a blockbuster that eclipses 2013’s other epic sci-fi action flicks.

Verdict: A big, broad, and creative sci-fi action flick. 

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction Review – A Profound Portrait

Director: Sophie Huber

Stars: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Sam Shepard, Kris Kristofferson 

Release date: June 16th, 2013

Distributor: Adopt Films

Country: USA

Running time: 77 minutes



Best part: The interviewees.

Worst part: The confused visual style.

Character actors are an important and tenacious bunch whom heartily focus on playing background roles. However, their presence may be so effective as to overshadow the lead actors. Actors like Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Melissa Leo have all made the leap to stardom after many years playing supporting roles. Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction paints a portrait of, arguably, one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors. Juggling singing, acting, and being the friendliest man in showbiz, Harry Dean Stanton is almost depicted here as a wandering spirit touching the hearts of those closest to him (much like his character in Paris, Texas).

Harry Dean Stanton.

With his alarming physical features and potent performances, Stanton sticks out in any film he wanders through. Partly Fiction honours his unique personality and dense career (spanning over 250 feature films). The documentary’s ambition is to take Stanton from being remembered as ‘that guy from…’, to being seen, deservedly, as a tinsel town icon. For the most part, it succeeds in developing this enigmatic persona into a hilarious and thought-provoking character. This portrait travels from childhood to the present – chronicling how a seemingly normal youngster travelled America and became a Hollywood star. This journey features interviews with Stanton and many of his famous friends including legendary director David Lynch and actor Kris Kristofferson. Director Sophie Huber explores one day in the life of one of Hollywood’s most mysterious figures. Despite his many cherished memories and friends, not to mention hit songs being written about his unusual persona, Stanton remains startlingly humble throughout the film. In particular, Stanton’s transition from supporting actor to leading man for Paris, Texas is discussed by director Wim Wenders – providing a passionate description of Stanton’s work ethic.

Kris Kristofferson.

I went into the screening unsure of what would come of it. Having seen Stanton in such movies as Alien, Cool Hand Luke, The Avengers, and Pretty in Pink, I already understood why he was lauded as an inspirational actor. Thankfully, Partly Fiction doesn’t shy away from showing us clips highlighting some of his many powerful performances and classic features. This choice could’ve been pandering, but, thankfully, each clip is short and concise (his death in Alien still gives me chills!). Huber chooses to stay away from expository documentary elements, allowing Stanton to speak for himself. If he wanted to talk about something he would happily spill the beans. However, there are some topics Stanton is uninterested in diving into. Any mention of his parents was treated with a slight grunt and short response. These moments may seem awkward, but make for some of the doco’s funniest moments. Looking back with fond memories, he lights up whenever he is with one of his closest friends. For example, the dynamic between him and Kristofferson proves that friendship is significantly more powerful than fame or wealth. Their anecdotes paint a disturbingly realistic picture of what big guns like Jack Nicholson and Johnny Cash were like in their heyday.

“They say when you’re truly at home, there’s no more suffering. No more leaf on the wind. No more crying, crying to get back to where you came from. “ (Harry Dean Stanton, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction).

An underrated Hollywood legend.

In fact, Stanton is presented as a hilariously modest and honest person. It’s easy to see why he has garnered the cult fan-base and high profile colleagues/friends he currently holds onto. This is no more apparent than in the bar scenes. The room and Stanton’s friends light up whenever he walks in. At one point, Stanton’s buddy, known simply as ‘Mouse’, reflects on how important his friendship with Stanton has been. This moment becomes touching and awkwardly hilarious due to Stanton’s bumbling reaction. However, the brightly lit bar scenes are distorted by frustrating camera and editing tricks (there should be a drinking game based on how many focus pulls occur in these scenes). Thankfully, the black and white aesthetic beautifully contrasts the brightly lit/coloured bar scenes. This style smartly depicts that Stanton brings multiple shades of grey to everything he does. Throughout the interview, Stanton’s renditions of notorious folk/blues hits tug the heartstrings. Every note rings like the howl of a lone wolf. His emotions and desires are encapsulated in these renditions. These renditions are so effective they lend the doco. a consistent tone and pace that sorely could’ve been absent.

Much like Stanton’s favourite tunes, this doco. contains a significant amount of soul. Stripping away assumptions, and obvious iconic elements synonymous with Stanton, the doco. creates a mesmerising and meticulous portrait of Stanton that would’ve been extremely difficult to pull off. Honouring his legacy, this is a fun love letter to his professional and personal lives.

Verdict: A touching and somewhat gritty portrait.