Much Ado About Nothing Review – Shakin’ Up Shakespeare


Director: Joss Whedon

Writer: Joss Whedon (screenplay), William Shakespeare (play)

Stars: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion


Release date: June 21st, 2013

Distributors: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The dynamic cast. 

Worst part: The awkward first five minutes.

“What’s the matter, smart ass? Don’t know any f#cking Shakespeare?”. Mark Wahlberg’s line from The Departed, to me at least, sums up William Shakespeare’s overwhelming effect on pop culture. The Bard, whether he’s infatuated with a sprightly, Gwyneth Paltrow-looking woman (Shakespeare in Love) or brashly labeled a fraud (Anonymous), is always depicted as a knowledgeable and enigmatic individual. In addition, big-budget renditions of his seminal works – including Ten Things I Hate About YouThrone of Blood, and Romeo + Juliet – amicably reach wide audiences. Along comes geek heartthrob Joss Whedon. Whedon, arguably Hollywood’s hardest working writer/director, offers up a loving tribute to history’s greatest poet. Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing depicts a funky, sexy, and witty insight into the Hollywood hills. Whedon’s rendition, receiving extraordinary exposure, is a unique and faithful ode to an ever-lasting hero.

Alexis Denisof & Amy Acker.

His version, touching upon an engaging story and vital themes, is an insatiably strong adaptation. Sticking to the source material, Much Ado About Nothing defines Whedon as an all-knowing and gracious filmmaker. Describing the plot, despite overlaying valuable information, doesn’t ‘spoil’ the final product. With work this treasurable and refined, everyone should seek out Shakespeare’s material (in fact, why are you still reading this review? Go find it!). The narrative unfolds with the scornful yet vibrant Beatrice (Amy Acker) lamenting her cloying existence. Her cynical ideologies and actions – cheerfully matched by zany, confident, and desirable bachelor Benedick (Alexis Denisof) – almost push her to breaking point. Thanks to Leonato (Clark Gregg) and Don Petro(Reed Diamond)’s agreement, Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) will achieve marriage and eternal happiness. This event, marked by lavish celebrations and free-flowing alcohol, is marred by Claudio’s deceitful brother Don John (Sean Maher). Along the way, our courageous and optimistic characters come across masked well-wishers, snivelling evildoers, and luscious settings. Hot on the evildoers’ trails, Agents Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and Verges (Tom Lenk), and their spritely associates, watch over proceedings. However, their good efforts are threatened by Don John’s helpers, Conrade (Riki Lindhome) and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark). Over the course of a few days, allegiances, best-laid plans, and the idea of love itself will be greatly tested. In this I-Pod, smart phone, and gossip induced world, our heroes and villains will face off in the midst of kind greetings, parties, weddings, interrogations, and funerals. Despite the pace wavering with each abrupt transition and additional plot-strand, this adaptation develops a comforting and engaging tone. With characters, twists, and sexual awakenings seamlessly intertwining, Whedon subtly controls every necessary strand and titbit. His overwhelming affection for Shakespeare pours over his charming and hilarious adaptation.

Nathan Fillion & Tom Lenk.

Before I go on, I’ll admit my affection for Whedon and Shakespeare may potentially cloud my judgement. Having read and viewed their all-important works, its difficult not to proclaim Much Ado About Nothing as entertainment history’s greatest ‘collaboration’. Both critically-and-commercially-lauded artists – bringing heart, soul, and laughs to every creation – have crafted influential and popular efforts defining certain generations. In praising Whedon’s adaptation on its own merits, Much Ado About Nothing, as famed film production schedules go, is a jaw-dropping and clever achievement. Mashing the original material with a contemporary setting pays off. Whedon’s behind-the-scenes ingenuity boosts the small scale and quirky visuals. With a 12-day shooting schedule, Whedon took time off from working on The Avengers to work on this concept. With planning, production, and post production taking place in Whedon’s Santa Monica Mansion, his style and the narrative’s intimate nature go hand in hand. Passionate about Shakespeare’s comedic touches, Whedon’s writing style derives from the Bard’s seminal efforts. His adaptation highlights the most punctual and relevant aspects of Shakespeare’s work. Relaying Shakespeare’s every word, the opening few scenes are jarring. With kitsch direction applied to poetic material, viewers may, sadly, throw up their hands by the thirty-second mark. However, criticising the movie’s core would insult Shakespeare’s material. With each metaphor, anecdote, and soliloquy, I hurriedly connected to intricate details and overtones. Despite several plot-points, including feuds between royal ties and Claudio’s paranoia over Hero’s virginity, not connecting to the movie’s time period, certain strands relate to relevant themes. Despite the hurried marriages, articulate prose, and pontifications, Much Ado About Nothing places Whedon’s popularity in the spotlight. Like his previous efforts, multi-layered characters, deception, honour, and societal order rule the day. Obsessed with familial ties and small scale conflicts, Whedon deliberates on our media-obsessed world’s love of power, sex, love, loss, regret, inspiration, and fame. Featuring attractive heroes, scheming, black-haired villains and vicious conflicts, Much Ado About Nothing and The Avengers aren’t too dissimilar.

“Why, he is the Prince’s jester: a very dull fool; Only his gift is in devising impossible slanders.” (Beatrice (Amy Acker), Much Ado About Nothing).

Fran Kranz.

Whedon’s unique pet project, born from a shared understanding of the source material, brings family and friends together. His mansion becomes a labyrinthine castle for conflicted characters to swiftly travel through. Emphasising each hallway and empty space, characters efficiently peer around corners, fall down stairs, and glance through wide windows. In addition, several camera tricks illustrate Whedon’s methodical conveyance of small details and symbols. Aiding the confronting material, the black-and-white cinematography also takes time getting used to. Emphasising  each conflict and relationship’s rawness, this choice elevates Whedon’s succinct and powerful style. Keeping it in the family, Jed Whedon (brother) and Maurissa Tancharoen (sister in law) contribute with a hip, jazzy score. Firmly stamped into the enthralling narrative, their tunes elevate each intriguing set-piece. This anachronistic journey – featuring an entertaining masked ball, scintillating romantic moments, and a discomforting memorial sequence – is a wondrous miasma of fashion, fun, and fiery feuds. Like Shakespeare and Whedon’s previous efforts, the characters contain a knowing sense of humour. Understanding each debilitating situation’s gravity and urgency, these people appropriately speak the truth. Making for several hysterically awkward moments, these blunt yet alluring characters solidify this intriguing dramedy. Using dry wit, guile, vaudeville slapstick, and heart, Whedon touches up Shakespeare’s creations. Boosting each enigmatic characterisation, the movie’s dynamic ensemble conquers the cloying material. As Whedon’s ‘regulars’, the TV-centric cast convincingly delivers Shakespeare’s tongue-twisting dialogue. Standout performers Fillion, Gregg, Denisof, and Diamond become comedic geniuses in vital roles. Meanwhile, Acker brings gravitas and poignancy to her promiscuous and cynical character.

Combining two brilliant minds for one rendition, Much Ado About Nothing is a humorous, reflexive, and thrilling dramedy. Despite having stated my overwhelming affection, it’s still worth mentioning – Whedon is a cinematic genius! This movie, aptly accessing the play’s most intriguing elements, is certainly worth a look.

Verdict: A witty, clever, and enlightening dramedy.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review – Game On!


Director: Francis Lawrence

Writers: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel)

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland


Release date: November 22nd, 2013

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 146 minutes


 

 

Best part: Jennifer Lawrence.

Worst part: The familiar structure.

Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Verdict: An engaging, moody, and impactful sequel for the holidays.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa – Golden Oldies


Director: Jeff Tremaine

Writers: Jeff Tremaine, Johnny Knoxville

Stars: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Greg Harris, Georgina Cates


Release date: October 25th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Knoxville and Nicoll’s chemistry.

Worst part: The bodily function jokes.     

Normally, the most successful movies find an amicable balance of entertainment value and intelligence. With Oscar season approaching, we seek out particular movies to inspire and enlighten. However, this season also yields a crop of laugh-out-loud comedies. Sure, these two ‘genres’ clash over viewer interest. However, they each have their overwhelming benefits. This year, MTV’s Jackass crew has returned. Whether their return excites or frightens audiences, its fair to say they’ve had a significant impact on pop culture. Specifically, the stunt crew launched careers and buried livelihoods. This series, appreciated and aped by adolescents throughout the mid 2000s, set records and defied logic. So where to next for this advantageous gold mine?

Johnny Knoxville & Jackson Nicoll.

To keep the phenomenon fresh and vibrant, Johnny Knoxville and the gang needed to take it in a new direction. Despite Knoxville’s character Bad Grandpa already being a fan favourite, the latest cinematic Jackass instalment focuses on this golden oldie throughout its 90 min run-time. This premise is certainly a shaky one. Spending an entire Jackass movie with one character could’ve run this series into the ground. Fortunately, like its main character, Bad Grandpa maintains its high-spirits and enthusiasm. Despite the glorious humour, this instalment starts out on a low note (in a sense). Irving Zisman (Knoxville) sits in a waiting room to hear news of his wife’s health. Creepily studying the suggestive pictures in a waiting room magazine, he is thrilled to hear of his wife(an unrecognisable Catherine Keener)’s passing. With his wife leaving him blue-balled since the 1990s, Zisman is eager to share his love with everyone in existence. This disgusting old-timer, however, is stuck with an irritating dilemma. Thanks to his daughter’s up-coming jail-time, he’s forced to look after his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll). Labelling him a “cock-block”, Zisman must support his grandson’s endeavours and needs. Striking a deal with Billy’s shady redneck dad Chuck (Greg Harris) to obtain custody, Zisman drives Billy across America to drop him off. Along the way, Zisman and Billy encounter several colourful characters and destructive tendencies. Despite the uncomfortable familial situation (one of many difficult moments here), Zisman and Billy form a surreal and destructive bond.

The big, bad finale.

Part of the mid-00’s surge of mockumentary-comedies, Jackass is a bonafide success. Along with the long-running TV series, the movies quickly reached critical and commercial success. Despite its 13 year existence, the masses turn out each time to witness these concerning individuals and sycophantic experiments. With Ryan Dunn’s tragic death in 2011, Steve-O’s comedy career in full swing, and Bam Margera prominently writing, directing, and skateboarding, the Jackass series was seemingly passed its prime. However, out of the ashes, Knoxville and co. have developed an interesting twist on the Jackass ‘legend’. Believe it or not, a Jackass movie with discernible plot-points and multi-dimensional characters actually exists now! This courageous effort, marked by several baffling stunts and bold performances, may bring this series back into full swing. Despite the societal preconceptions and sickening toilet humour, this series commendably sticks to its guns. Sure to have many bored housewives up in arms (“Won’t somebody please think of the children!?”), Bad Grandpa delivers yet another assault on the senses and brain cells. Despite its disturbing jokes and stereotypes, there is more to this gross-out comedy than meets the eye. Like Sacha Baron Cohen’s material (Borat, in particular), Bad Grandpa aims to ruffle feathers, churn stomachs, and shorten fuses. Despite lacking a satirical edge, the movie explores society’s tolerance levels. Despite social media’s crippling cultural stranglehold, this beer drinking 8-year-old and perverted old-timer aptly test our behaviour toward these two contrasting age groups. Bad Grandpa also touches upon a bizarre and stupefying legacy. Dealing with physical, mental, and emotional turmoil, Bad Grandpa stresses Knoxville’s distorted life perspective. Despite voiding the previous three movies’ major stunts, Knoxville’s optimistic outlook and maturity levels are placed in the spotlight here. The story, mixing zany stunts, a road trip, and a kooky buddy team-up, is filled with been-there-done-that concepts. Despite the predictability, the story soon becomes filler for this instalment’s many elaborate set-pieces. Despite this, certain scenes are surprisingly touching (but not in a creepy way!). Funnily enough, a protective and well-meaning bikie gang provides this movie with some much-needed sincerity and heart.

“Nope! If I was fixing it you’d see me fixing it but, did you notice how I wasn’t fixing it?” (Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville), Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa).

Grandpa & grandson.

Despite the humanistic moments and zippy characters, the humour is strangely hit and miss. Bad Grandpa, going up against Jackass 2‘s terrorist prank and Jackass 3D‘s portaloo flinging sequence, can’t raise the stakes. With significantly fewer pranksters, Knoxville restricts himself to sustainable yet clever set-pieces. Here, Zisman preys upon class, gender, and race, and serves them up on a silver platter. His disastrous antics push boundaries and cause several heated debates. His behaviour, defined by outrageous gross-out humour, places Zisman on a pedestal whilst comparing him to the stunned faces and concerned citizens surrounding him. With Zisman penetrating a vending machine, shoplifting, and tricking people into carrying his wife’s corpse, Bad Grandpa hurriedly launches into awkward moments and kinetic slapstick humour. One scene, involving a dingy strip club, will scar and debilitate viewers. Unfortunately, Bad Grandpa cuts several jokes short before they can reach their potential. In addition, the movie’s marketing spoils several potentially intriguing gags. The Little Miss Sunshine-esque beauty pageant sequence (capping off this instalment) and kiddie ride stunt sorely lack punchiness and nuance. Courageously, Knoxville puts 110% into this slimy yet engaging character. Offering a “serving of Irving” to every black woman within his personal space, Zisman’s inappropriateness and guile help deliver the movie’s standout moments. Move over Bad Santa, Bad News Bears, and even Bad Boys, Irving Zisman now owns that word! Thankfully, Nicoll also provides a charismatic performance. Searching each city for a father figure (one of the movie’s best gags), Billy proves to be a significant foil. Billy’s wit-fuelled and questionable antics provide suitable relief from Zisman’s saggy body-parts and curmudgeonly attitude. The lead characters’ chemistry lifts Bad Grandpa above expectations.

With such disastrously unfunny comedies as Movie 43, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and Identity Thief released this year, Bad Grandpa is a breath of fresh air (somewhat). Refreshing, shocking, and heartening – the movie, saved by fun performances and clever gags, is a roller-coaster ride of bodily functions, sadistic pranks, expletives, and embarrassing pratfalls. Just avoid the trailers at all costs!

Verdict: A hilarious, surprising, and touching gross-out comedy.

The Fifth Estate Review – Secrets & Lies


Director: Bill Condon

Writer: Josh Singer (screenplay), Daniel Domscheit-Berg (book), David Leigh, Luke Harding (book)

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis, Laura Linney


Release date: October 18th, 2013

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Entertainment One

Countries: USA, India

Running time: 128 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Cumberbatch and Bruhl.

Worst part: The distracting visual style.

Patriot? Egotist? Revolutionary? Terrorist? It’s difficult to describe the most outlandish Australian outcast since Michael ‘Crocodile’ Dundee. He’s an intriguing and bizarre individual hell-bent on exposing the world’s darkest and greatest secrets. Bathroom antics and John Farnham parody videos aside, Julian Assange is, arguably, one of the world’s foremost minds. This controversial individual and his game-changing actions were bound to hit celluloid. Unfortunately, The Fifth Estate doesn’t seize its stellar opportunities, becoming a by-the-numbers docudrama unwilling to research and fact check. Sadly, this lurid and discomforting docudrama, despite the talented cast, never pushes past its immense stigma and cloying discourse.

Benedict Cumberbatch.

Despite Assange’s relevance and notice within international media, The Fifth Estate delivers a confusing and befuddled analysis of his wheelings and dealings. Those uninterested in or clueless about his societal, economic, and political impact will become lost in this uninspired yet advantageous narrative. Despite the news’ importance, the best docudramas can spark viewer interest in any subject. The Fifth Estate, despite relaying vital titbits and accounts, fails to connect to the average moviegoer. The movie kicks off with the New York Times, The Guardian, and major European newspapers reporting on one of the United States military’s most crippling atrocities in 2010. The story then jumps back to 2007, and IT genius Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl) is looking for his big break into the international media and technology scene. At a tech-wiz and computer hacker’s convention in Berlin, Daniel meets his hero. Communicating with Daniel before the event, Assange(Benedict Cumberbatch)’s passion for activism and online warfare lures Daniel into a false sense of security. Working together to build information hub Wikileaks into a powerful force, Assange and Daniel become buddies. Fighting for freedom, power, and justice, the two geniuses clash over political and moral differences. When major secrets come to light, the cracks begin to appear in their already frail partnership. In addition, the US Government’s brightest, represented by Sarah Shaw (Laura Linney) and James Boswell (Stanley Tucci), seek to rescue the few informants left alive. When Daniel’s steamy relationship with co-worker Anke (Alicia Vikander) is shattered, he seeks out Guardian journalist Nick Davies (David Thewlis) to talk sense into his stress-inducing confidant.

Daniel Bruhl.

Despite the engaging premise, this exposition-heavy drama may push moviegoers away. It’s difficult to determine the movie’s core target audience. Turning against nations, governments, and factions at random, The Fifth Estate‘s convoluted narrative could be protested against. With Assange’s outrage over the project, other, smaller scale, productions have already revealed Assange’s methodologies and motivations. With Australian mini-series Underground: The Julian Assange Story and documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks delving into this hot-button issue, The Fifth Estate presents its material in a more expansive and poetic manner. Unfortunately, this drama-thriller proves that this dense material is suited to the documentary format. Presenting specific events in a cinematic dreamscape, West Wing screenwriter Josh Singer’s diluted and dour script doesn’t delve into this issue’s most salient aspects. Throughout this over-long and debilitating docudrama, Singer delivers the ‘what’ and ‘who’ aspects of each pressing situation. The obvious details, presented as symbols in an ever-changing narrative, don’t provide the necessary ‘why’ and ‘how’ factors. Striving for the same universal acclaim and historical relevance as All the President’s Men and The Insider, The Fifth Estate recycles familiar plot-strands and messages in an underwhelming and pointless way. Despite the compelling real-life conflict, there is a significant lack of depth, drama, and development within this shallow Social Network-esque techno-thriller.

Our truth-driven vigilantes.

Lacking the wit and charm needed for this type of plot-heavy narrative, the ‘action’ is comprised of angry typing on keyboards, extensive research, and stupefying arguments. Despite computer hacking, investigative journalism, and whistleblowing’s value, important facts and figures aren’t divulged. Despite highlighting jargon and confusing intricacies throughout, discourses and titles aren’t explained. With the Bradley Manning saga and Assange’s rape allegations under-utilised, this overblown drama lacks balance. Leaning on Domscheit-Berg’s perspective, this distorted account doesn’t discuss the pros and cons of false identities and societal shifts. With the freedom of speech vs. citizen safety debate raging on, The Fifth Estate provides excessive metaphors. Hinting at greater conflicts, the movie looks down upon democracy, governments, and big-name publications. Its small scope and patronising tone, summed up by insignificant sub-plots, define The Fifth Estate as a manipulative and overblown docudrama. Computer hackers, defined in cinema as either saviours or super-villains, emphasise the internet’s impact on privacy, freedom, and technology. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s fantastical gleam overshadows this powerful story. Director Bill Condon (Kinsey, Dreamgirls)’s flashy and incomprehensible visual style overcompensates for the movie’s bland dramatic beats. Bombarding us with one trick after another, Condon has changed from biopic master to cynical storyteller (his Twilight instalments may be to blame). Afraid of its own topic and words, The Fifth Estate‘s aesthetic turns reality into a TV movie fantasy packed with pretentious dream sequences and overt symbolism.

“You can’t go far in this world by relying on people. People are loyal until it seems opportune not to be.” (Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), The Fifth Estate).

Laura Linney & Stanley Tucci.

On multiple occasions, Condon addresses his characters as the rock-stars of their perplexing universe. Characters walk down shiny hallways and neon-lit establishments – mixing computer jargon with hipster-like intricacies. Nightclub-esque media conventions, futuristic company buildings, and exaggerated newsroom designs highlight The Fifth Estate‘s self-consciousness and obtuseness. However, Condon doesn’t stop there. Developing a Bourne-like 21st century world, shaking camerawork, globetrotting adventures, aggressive characters, and archival news footage distract from the story’s cultural significance. Assange and Daniel’s journey, summed up by kinetic, energy-drink-consumption-fuelled montages and sporadic intertitles, isn’t developed. Despite its dull personality, The Fifth Estate is saved by two ground-breaking performances. Despite not delving into personal lives or backstories, the movie establishes pressing conflicts between these immaculate minds and fragile egos. A flawed yet ambitious character, Cumberbatch’s Assange is a charismatic and misanthropic celebrity. Capturing Assange’s peculiar mannerisms, Cumberbatch develops a note-worthy and intriguing impersonation. Bruhl provides another commendable performance after his impressive turn in Rush. As an empathetic yet spotlight-obsessed genius, Daniel becomes an engaging and likeable character. Unfortunately, character actors like Anthony Mackie, Dan Stevens, and Peter Capaldi are stranded in over-the-top roles.

Despite its engaging premise and unique intentions, The Fifth Estate‘s heavy-handedness, small scope, and lurid visuals overshadow its all-important purpose. Hollywood’s involvement – linking moviegoers to this controversial issue – certainly doesn’t help. This messy and disjointed docudrama states the facts, but refuses to explore this story’s most meaningful depths.

Verdict: An informative yet inconsistent docudrama.

The Counselor Review – Tex-Mex Gruel


Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Cormac McCarthy

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem


Release date: October 25th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Scott’s direction.

Worst part: The harsh overtones.

Rejected and underpaid by tinsel-town’s famous faces and studios, screenwriters deserve infinitely more credit. In this century, writers are pushed away because they seemingly lack enviable commercial traits. However, writers build the roots of every artistic project. Without their words, labour, and guidance, directors and actors would have nothing to work with. Occasionally, some writers, jumping between screenwriting and novel writing, are credited for breaking the immense and crippling Hollywood-screenwriter stigma. Novelist Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, The Road) launches into screenplay territory with his latest creation, fitting into his own disturbing and ground-breaking genre.

Michael Fassbender.

The Counselor is a writhing and monstrous beast unable to stay still for extended periods. The movie’s impatience and moodiness stand above its flaws. However, the flaws prevent this crime-drama from being as brilliant and transcendent as McCarthy thinks it is. McCarthy’s first screenplay mixes every drug trafficking drama cliche and McCarthy-writing convention into one sprawling tale. The intricate plot is difficult to explain, but still has been covered in similar Tex-Mex thrillers. The movie’s plot is a convoluted miasma of colourful characters and bizarre plot strands. Keeping up with The Counselor‘s convoluted narrative is like trying to out run a cheetah. Although, funnily enough, the previous sentence is startlingly relevant. The movie starts out with several intriguing sequences. First off, a lawyer known only as ‘Counselor’ (Michael Fassbender) and Laura (Penelope Cruz) are in the throws of love. Enjoying the physical and emotional benefits of their scintillating romance, Counselor wants to seal the deal with a gargantuan wedding ring. The ring’s impressive diamond, sold to him by an esteemed dealer (Bruno Ganz) in Amsterdam, shreds his financial status. Unwilling to admit to his faults, he enlists a Mexican drug smuggling operation’s services to obtain a slice of the high life. Thanks to elaborate businessman Reiner (Javier Bardem) and his promiscuous girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz), Counselor follows orders whilst tracking a cocaine-filled sewage truck across the US/Mexico border. With middleman Westray(Brad Pitt)’s help, Counselor can impress his fiancee and confidants. However, like with other McCarthy stories, nothing goes according to plan.

Cameron Diaz & Penelope Cruz.

Despite its ambitiousness and array of talent, The Counselor has received disastrously negative hype. With Salon.com calling it the “worst movie ever made”, the hyperbolic reviews call the state of pop-culture and movie-going into question. Here, McCarthy’s intentions are obvious. Aiming to uniquely tell this cliched story, McCarthy fans will lap up this material. His script, whilst not fitting standard screenwriting rules, is chock-a-block with idiosyncrasies and standout moments. The poetic and potent narrative becomes a puzzle complete with strange and purposeful pieces. Intricate concepts are wedged together to emphasise certain sections of this heart-breaking story. However, despite the alluring narrative, this ambiguous tale leaves out vital details. Strangely, its many impressive concepts don’t congeal to develop a cohesive vision. McCarthy, convinced viewers will figure everything out for themselves, creates an elaborate landscape fuelled by excessiveness and mean-spiritedness. McCarthy’s cynical and degrading outlook on humanity, economics, and justice is injected into every intriguing frame. Accustomed to novel writing, his screenplay links insignificant details to important strands. Featuring several controversial yet unnecessary scenes, The Counselor won’t be hailed as his best work. Considering No Country for Old Men and The Road‘s grandioseness and poeticism, McCarthy needs a middleman to separate him from his acclaimed works’ adaptations. Here, the sprawling narrative, introducing cartel members, MacGuffins, and red herrings at random, becomes steadily frustrating up until its heart-wrenching climax. This saucy and sickening thriller delivers a behind-the-scenes look at the USA/Mexico drug trade. Despite the trade’s violence and illegality, McCarthy’s Shakespearean prose delves into this dangerous business’ philosophical aspects. Despite the inconsistencies, the organic dialogue elevates each exhaustive scene. The turns-of-phrase and witticisms become as enthralling as the inevitable gunfights and car chases.

Javier Bardem.

Despite its glowing positives, The Counselor is trashy, silly, misogynistic, and, at points, a bit of a mess. With each anecdote, one-liner, and metaphor filling many beguiling scenes, McCarthy’s tongue-twisting dialogue eventually becomes confusing and alienating. Forcing us to catch up with each meticulous line, this pulsating thriller continually relays its all-important messages. Throughout, symbols and sayings refer to such thought-provoking themes as greed, death, power, wealth, predatory instincts, submissiveness, and the soul’s darkest depths. Despite the commendable intentions and glorious words, McCarthy’s motifs and idiosyncrasies are glaringly discernible. The monologues about sex, femininity, sadism, decapitation, and religion, though well written, become steadily repetitive and repulsive. Surprisingly, The Counselor‘s joylessness doesn’t stem from McCarthy alone. Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Black Hawk Down) understandably mourns his brother Tony’s recent death. In fact, this atmospheric and pulsating drama borrows aesthetic and narrative traits from his late brother’s oeuvre. Scott, normally building expansive universes (Prometheus) and kinetic action set-pieces (Gladiator), applies an approachable and glorious touch to this harsh narrative. Resembling such Coen Brothers crime-dramas as Blood Simple and Fargo, Scott’s magnetic visual style lifts an otherwise dour experience. Scott’s crazier projects (Thelma and Louise, Matchstick Men) out live his more clinical efforts (HannibalBody of Lies). Thankfully, his gripping direction lodges The Counselor‘s heart-thumping set-pieces into the consciousness. The notorious ‘catfish’ sequence is bafflingly silly and miraculously entertaining. Like Scott’s previous efforts, The Counselor’s horrific violence is worth the admission cost. Presenting the US/Mexico border as a vicious wasteland, scenes like the razor-wire/motorbike sequence don’t disappoint.

“You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist that world you have created will also cease to exist.” (Jefe (Ruben Blades), The Counselor).

Brad Pitt.

Scott’s pulpy and bold direction will keep even the most irritable viewer engaged. Those uninterested in the abrupt tonal shifts or McCarthy’s discourse can admire the miasmic flourishes within each composition. Scott’s enjoyable visuals, colour-coding particular sequences, stress the characters’ social and economic status’. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski efficiently develops an alternate universe powered by deception, murder, and brashness. Illuminating each setting’s most compelling features, Wolski and Scott create a vibrant and distressing portal into the movie’s vile yet advantageous world. Wild parties, elaborate villas, and expansive cityscapes provide eye-candy for this gritty and blood-soaked drama. The Counselor‘s A-list cast also bolster its production values. These destructive characters, coming across like Bond villains, continually find avenues to manipulate one another. Counselor, trained to conquer every situation, is a brave and effervescent figure. Continually told to step away from threatening situations, Counselor’s desperation and curiosity reveal the terrifying layers hidden behind his charismatic personality. Despite the unconvincing Texan accent, Fassbender’s remarkable screen presence pushes him along. Bardem also impresses as a vital strand of the movie’s excessive and expansive web. Expertly delivering McCarthy’s pontifications, Bardem brings charm and menace to his peculiar role. Sporting yet another zany hairstyle, Bardem brings this sociopathic character to life. Reiner, despite convincing himself of being ‘on top’, is whipped by his disturbing gal-pal. With the characters going toe-to-toe with one another (in more ways than one), Diaz struggles to wrap her mouth around McCarthy’s throbbing prose. Uncomfortably adjusting to her captivating role, Diaz is wholly miscast. Pitt’s pithy turn establishes his phenomenal range and tenacity. Sadly, Cruz is given short shrift as the sweet and naive love interest. In only a handful of scenes, Cruz is overshadowed by such enthralling character actors as Rosie Perez, Dean Norris, Reuben Blades, and Toby Kebbell.

Despite its overwhelming flaws, The Counselor proves McCarthy and Scott can still deliver thought-provoking and engaging material. This intense and witty crime-thriller, bolstered by its mean streak, rests between Traffic and Savages. Unfortunately, all talk and no action makes The Counselor a polarising thriller. If anything, McCarthy and Scott both just need a hug.

Verdict: A confused yet confronting crime-drama.

Thor: The Dark World Review – Hammered Home


Director: Alan Taylor

Writer: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins


Release date: November 8th, 2013

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


Best part: Hemsworth and Hiddleston.

Worst part: The bland villain.

Review: Thor: The Dark World

Verdict: An enjoyably frantic and action-packed superhero sequel.

The Butler Review – Served Cold


Director: Lee Daniels

Writer: Danny Strong (screenplay), Wil Haygood (book)

Stars: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding, Jr.


Release date: August 16th, 2013

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Country: USA

Running time: 132 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The dynamic performances.

Worst part: Its over-sentimentality.

Over the past five years, writer/director Lee Daniels (Precious, The Paperboy) has garnered critical acclaim and scarily negative hype simultaneously. The bad-boy of Hollywood’s undercover existence bounced back from his disastrous antics to deliver polarising and increasingly bizarre dramas. Biting off more than he can chew each time, his efforts make critics and filmgoers squirm in their comfortable seats. Daniels’ latest feature, The Butler, is as outlandish, proud, and confident as he is. Unfortunately, this dense drama fails to live up to its unique reputation. Despite being as patriotic as baseball and apple pie, The Butler will be overshadowed by seemingly more engaging and informative dramas on the horizon.

Forest Whitaker.

With the monumental task of telling this harrowing and inspirational story within a two-hour limit, Daniels swings for the fences. Unfortunately, the final product’s failure overshadows the commendable technique. This conquering tale loosely chronicles long-standing White House butler and working-class hero Eugene Allen’s life. His name, despite being changed to ‘Cecil Gaines’ here, will undoubtedly live longer than this sappy drama. Cecil (Forest Whitaker), after Barack Obama’s historic inauguration, longingly reflects upon his momentous life and eight-Presidency stint in the White House. The story then travels back to a horrific time in African-American history. The Gaines family, trawling the cotton fields as instructed by nasty plantation owner Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer) and his gracious elderly relative Annabeth (Vanessa Redgrave), is shockingly torn apart. With his mother raped and father murdered in front of him, Cecil fights off his burgeoning anger. Stepping out into the world, the teenage Cecil refines his skills as a servant thanks to Maynard (Clarence Williams III). With wealthy white people looking down upon him, Cecil bravely holds his reserve. Called up to the White House during his adult years, Cecil, supported by his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and co-workers Carter Wilson (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and James Holloway (Lenny Kravitz), juggles his work-life and difficult husband-and-father duties. Cecil’s troublesome son Louis (David Oyelowo), convinced African-American citizens can forcefully obtain white peoples’ rights and privileges, lashes out at Cecil’s submissiveness. Cecil, refusing to turn his back on any family member or President (including John F. Kennedy (James Marsden) and Richard Nixon (John Cusack)), becomes a substantial link between the African-American community and US Government.

Trence Howard & Oprah Winfrey.

Undoubtedly, Allen’s story is poignant, powerful, and relevant. Anyone who has picked up a textbook or turned on a TV would know at least one titbit about white peoples’ treatment of minorities throughout history. History cannot be erased or ignored. Civil Rights era stories, like Allen’s, illustrated the contrast between those who scrounged for survival and those who did as they pleased. The Butler, despite its good intentions, struggles to tap into this story’s irreverence and potency. Daniels, despite having the spiritual and political motivation to tell this confronting story, struggles to capture it’s raw and conquering potential. Unfortunately, Daniels presents this intricate narrative in a cliched, TV movie fashion. He fails to capture the scope, historical importance, and defining traits of this bleak time. Instead, he emphasises the material’s saccharine and manipulative aspects – turning what should’ve been a thought-provoking character study into heavy-handed Oscar bait. Aiming for the heartstrings, this simplistic drama refuses to relish in its opportunities. The narrative, though interesting, struggles to delve deep enough into its all-important themes and intriguing characters. As, essentially, the neglected love child of Forrest Gump and Driving Miss Daisy, The Butler quickly becomes as inconsistent and emotionally distant as The Help. However, like The Help, The Butler directly throws the audience into this horrifying era of American history. The stench of bigotry, cynicism, and discrimination is ever present throughout this beguiling drama.

James Marsden & Minka Kelly.

Despite its flaws, important moments are highlighted and lodged in the memory banks. Presenting several recognisable faces and historical events throughout its exhaustive run-time, the Ku Klux Klan attack on Freedom Writers in Alabama, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Black Panther Party’s rise are sparingly touched upon. Daniels, hurriedly skipping from one important incident and person to another, refuses to reflect upon these meaningful historical moments. The movie’s repetitive structure and uninspired plotting, emphasised by Cecil’s heart-to-heart chats with several influential Presidents, sugarcoat the link between the African-American community and Leader of the Free World. Hokey cliches, uninspired twists, and an inappropriate score hamper what should’ve been a captivating drama. Despite the narrative’s glaring flaws, Daniels immaculately crafts every setting. Each scene is gloriously lit by his hazy cinematography. Scenes set in the Gaines’ living room become the movie’s most entertaining and naturalistic moments. Daniels’ grand vision, featuring shocking violence and his commendable attention to detail, brings this monumental era to life. The Butler‘s verisimilitude captures the evolving styles and ideologies of each passing decade. Hurriedly transitioning from one influential time period to another, Daniels mixes and matches bold colours, costumes, tunes, and settings to re-create crucial historical moments and communities.

“Everything you are and everything you have, is because of that butler.” Gloria Gaines (Oprah Winfrey), The Butler).

Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Each group, given due diligence in this manipulative drama, is defined by obvious and imperative traits. Here, the characters are charged with changing every facet of America. The Butler bizarrely suggests that Cecil and Louis’ uneasy relationship heavily influenced the Civil Rights Movement. The conservative worker vs. conscientious idealist sub-plot lends this movie some much-needed gravitas. Unfortunately, montages kick into overdrive before the audience can find any emotional investment. Thankfully, the insightful characters and hard-hitting performances become consolations. Despite the predictable arcs, the characters are intrinsically rooted into this cloying drama. Cecil, in particular, is a fascinating man. Similarly to Forrest Gump, Cecil’s reserve and persona prove one person really can make a difference within a sustainable nation. Graciously, Whitaker delivers a remarkable performance as this valued figure. Meanwhile, Winfrey, at least, earns a Best Supporting Actress nod for her tender portrayal of the butler’s first lady. Gloria’s familial issues, emphasised by her sketchy friendship with sleazy neighbour Howard (Terrence Howard), provide the emotional punch sorely lacking elsewhere. With stunt casting including Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, and Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, The Butler‘s impressive A-listers are hampered by Saturday Night Live-esque prosthetics.

Despite the commendable intentions and alluring visual style, Daniels’ efforts dampen this intriguing and inspirational story. Given his peculiar filmography, Daniels has thrown himself into the ‘style over substance’ filmmaking realm. This drama, if anything, suggests that directors should be judged based on ability, and not race, class, or gender. Ironically, that’s all The Butler can serve up.

Verdict: A conventional and manipulative drama.