Hercules Review – Hack ‘n’ Slash


Director: Brett Ratner

Writers: Ryan J. Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos (screenplay), Steve Moore, Admira Wijaya (graphic novel)

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane

Hercules


Release date: July 25th, 2014

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: Johnson’s casting.

Worst part: The topsy-turvy narrative.

In Hollywood, one man towers over all others whilst giving back to everyone within eye shot. He went from football to wrestling, all while honouring his Samoan-American heritage. Over the years, his kind smile has changed the game and set off a billion box-office tills. I’m, of course, taking about legendary manly-man Dwayne Johnson. Formerly labeled ‘The Rock’, this hard-as-nails badass is a stone-carved testament to the WWE.

Dwayne Johnson IS Hercules!

Dwayne Johnson IS Hercules!

Transitioning into a successful leading man, his latest, Hercules, will determine whether or not he’ll stay on top or fall from grace. Sadly, despite being one of Hollywood’s most unique and charismatic screen warriors, the studios don’t know what to do with him. Passing him off as ‘yet another’ tough guy, the big-wigs are yet to give him a franchise to carry by himself. Lord knows, he can carry anything! Sadly, Hercules is far from the fuel needed to keep his burgeoning acting career going. In a twist on the legend,  we are ‘treated’ to a Hercules of unconscionable modesty and honour…sort of. Here, Demi-god/war-lord Hercules (Johnson) is a mercenary on the verge of redemption. Thanks to his nephew/PR assistant Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), Hercules’ reputation has migrated across Ancient Greece for all to relish in. Talking of Hercules’ completion of the Twelve Labors, the surrounding districts seek out this particular anti-hero to do their dirty work. However, despite his reputation, Hercules is boosted by a merry band of warriors. Rounded out by loyal thief Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), rabid warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and Amazonian archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), Hercules’ notorious squad bolsters his considerable prowess.

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John Hurt – King of Paycheques!

Hercules’ story – thanks to several movie and TV iterations – has been flipped and switched countless times. At first, Hercules presents itself as a balls-to-the-wall slice of pure escapism. We expect to see, judging by everything the alluring marketing campaign promised, a refreshing take on Herculean feats of wonder and awe. Oh, how we were wrong to expect anything from this bland and uninspired sword-and-sandal flick! Sadly, everything we were promised has been left on the cutting room floor or out of the script entirely. Sadly, notorious hack director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour series, X-Men: The Last Stand) only cares about his expansive action sequences. Ripping off Gladiator and 300, Ratner’s work bares little resemblance to anything of style or gravitas. Within the first five minutes, this reboot/prequel/sequel abomination delivers everything we expect in a Hercules flick. Thanks to awkward narration and choppy editing, the prologue delivers a brushed-over account of the Twelve Labors and Hera’s Betrayal. From the prologue onward, Hercules scraps its interest factor to deliver a by-the-numbers military-action narrative. Depicting a simplistic account of Greek Mythology, the movie seems entirely uninterested in the original story. Instead, in true micro-blockbuster fashion, political debates and laughable moments hinder this mindless affair. Tasked with aiding King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes) and Tharacian leader Lord Cotys (John Hurt), Hercules‘ story divulges into unhinged backstories and convoluted exposition.

“I am Hercules!” (Hercules (Dwayne Johnson), Hercules).

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An even-more-badass Ian McShane.

Alarmingly, Hercules tries and fails to manufacture any sense of tension or tragedy. Hercules’ past, involving the death of his wife and three children, is sporadically picked up and dropped. It’s one thing to reinvigorate a character’s origin story to make a profit. However, it’s another thing entirely to throw the positive elements away. The premise, despite its more intriguing concepts, besmirches Hercules’ good name. By reinventing the legend, Ratner and co.’s efforts yield few rewarding payoffs or impactful moments. By presenting him as an advantageous tough-guy, the Son of Zeus becomes the movie’s least interesting character. Bizarrely, the movie strives to say something about our blockbuster-driven realm. Oddly enough, with ancient warriors talking like time-travellers from 2014, the movie is nowhere near as intelligent or witty as it thinks it is. Pointing out holes in Hercules’ legend, certain comedic moments highlight the movie’s own obviousness. Despite the flaws, Johnson uses his immense physicality and charm to power through this underwhelming action-adventure. In addition, Hercules‘ visuals and action sequences deliver a handful of enjoyable parts. Breezing through plot-points, cliches, and montages, CGI-heavy battles bolster this action extravaganza. The first fight, in which Tharacian forces fight green-skinned rebels, is worth the admission cost. However, despite shining throughout these sequences, the supporting  characters are sorely underdeveloped.

In all honesty, I would watch Johnson read the phonebook if it meant giving him more screen time. Flashing his muscular frame and likeable personality across every frame, Johnson’s Hercules is certainly an intriguing creation. Sadly, in this iteration, everything surrounding its lead is more rotten than a decapitated corpse. Thanks to Ratner’s bland direction, this version will be little more than a distant memory come next month.

Verdict: A D-grade sword-and-sandal adventure. 

Lucy Review – Running on Empty


Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Choi Min-sik

Lucy_(2014_film)_poster


Release date: July 25th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 89 minutes


 

 

 

3/5

Best part: Johansson’s touching performance.

Worst part: The overblown final third.

French cinematic endeavours, to the common moviegoer, illicit significant emotional and psychological responses whenever they come to light. For most people, this movement sits on a certain pedestal. With that said, one writer/director/producer extraordinaire has spent the past decade turning these stereotypes inside out. With sci-fi extravaganza Lucy, Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional) aims to bolster his wavering reputation.

ScarJo training for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Relying on past successes to green-light future projects, Besson’s career now resembles a dying animal. Compared to his more substantial efforts, this cinema icon’s recent career turns are pitiful and tiresome. However, with Lucy, Besson is taking appropriate steps toward celluloid salvation. Tackling everything around him, this filmmaker is now embracing his darkest thoughts and pseudo-radical beliefs. Lucy, carrying a tried-and-true premise, tries to be more than the sum of its parts. The narrative takes hold as our lead character brightens up her first frame. As a struggling student, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is feeling the pinch of inner-city living. Pushed around by a sketchy boyfriend and overbearing responsibilities, she finds herself drifting off mid-conversation. However, with her will-power lower than her IQ, she becomes the unfortunate Guinea Pig of a bizarre and potentially- revolutionary drug trafficking scheme. Forcing Lucy into the drug-mule game, the local mob, headed-up by Kang (Choi Min-sik), push our lead’s resolve to breaking point. After a daring escape, Lucy forms a bond with determined French Policeman Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked). Fortunately, this information covers only a tiny part of Lucy‘s intricate and intensifying narrative. Exposed to a mind-bending new drug, Lucy is transformed into a gun-toting, super-powered badass with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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Morgan Freeman as ‘The Voice’.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of modern cinema’s most overused and undercooked concepts. Everyone knows we use only 10% of our brains, so why does this fact appeal to big-name filmmakers? Well, according to Besson, accessing a higher percentage of brain power will cause worlds to collapse. Admittedly, it’s difficult not to compliment Besson for thinking outside the box. Unlike similar psychological thriller Limitless, Lucy reaches for weightier ideas and motifs. With that said, Lucy is still one of this decade’s most perplexing and laughable action flicks (and that’s saying something). Mixing existential sci-fi drama and mindless action-thriller tropes, Besson’s screenplay comes off like the result of an extended Red Bull marathon. Fusing unique concepts together, the first-two thirds deliver solid emotional moments and fun set pieces. Explaining itself, Lucy‘s narrative discusses the universe’s most valuable puzzle (or so Besson would have you believe). With Lucy Forming an alliance with Professor Samuel Morton (Morgan Freeman), this gripping thriller becomes the year’s most intriguing woman-on-a-mission flick. Sadly, the first-two thirds are undone by a woeful climax and nonsensical resolution. Resembling this year’s sci-fi dud Transcendence, the final half-hour spoils everything that came before it. As is Besson’s tendency, the writer/director’s popcorn-chomping-action side takes over.

“Ignorance brings chaos, not knowledge.” (Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), Lucy).

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Amr Waked as France’s least idiotic cop.

With our heroes going up against Asian gangsters and French police, the climactic action sequence lends little depth or personality to the final product. Despite this, I should give credit where it’s due. Unlike his preceding effort The Family, Besson’s latest dares to explore otherworldly realms. Looking past its conventional premise, Lucy’s overbearing message responds to everything effecting our world. Explaining Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Besson uses stock footage to explain the smallest details. Overdosing on visual metaphors, Lucy comes off like a stoned philosophy major shoving his/her theories in our faces. Matching gripping sequences with dodgy CGI, Lucy is certainly a mixed bag. However, certain highlights save it from critical and commercial lashings. The action and torture sequences, though over-emphasised, deliver enjoyable moments whilst bolstering its tight pace. The Parisian car chase injects adrenaline into Lucy‘s veins. However, eclipsing the whiz-bang set pieces, Johansson elevates this sci-fi flick above similar fare. With just a handful of expressions, Johansson’s searing performance lends a solid core to her inconsistent character. Unfortunately, Freeman and Min-sik are stranded in thankless roles.

From the opening scene – depicting Earth’s first primate/human inhabitant – onward, its clear that Lucy is not for the strictly religious or simple minded. Despite the big-budget spectacle and A-list stars, Besson’s latest forces us to revel in his warped mindset. However, like with similarly surreal The Fifth Element, his ideas don’t gel like they should. Like our lead character, Lucy is an inconsistent yet alluring creation.

Verdict: Like Lucy herself – slick but insecure.

Sex Tape Review – A Limp Effort


Director: Jake Kasdan

Writers: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper

Sex_Tape_(film)


Release date: July 18th, 2014

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 94 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: Diaz and Segel’s chemistry.

Worst part: The awkward gross-out gags.

Nowadays, romantic comedies follow the most tried-and-true formula in the history of…pretty much, everything ever. From day one, rom-com productions follow a pattern as predictable as death and taxes. Fortunately, these two things are excluded from most laugh-riots. However, unsurprisingly, Sex Tape‘s poster beats the trailer to the punch. By looking at these wall-strung ads, you can predict how this unfunny and tedious farce will play out.

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Jason Segel & Cameron Diaz.

So, with all that said, does Sex Tape live up to my  ‘expectations’? Short answer: absolutely! Spoiling the plot and funny moments within its heinous marketing campaign, this production shot itself in the foot before the controversy-stricken premieres commenced. With Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel lashing out against adoring fans, it seems even the movie’s A-list leads are hell-bent on eradicating this uninspired rom-com from Hollywood’s consciousness. Pathetically so, the movie itself does the job for them. The story, such as it is, latches onto one so-normal-it’s-boring marriage. Meeting in college, Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) spend their study hours gyrating on top of one another. Enjoying passionate sex for hours on end, these youngsters revel in each other’s company. However, with marriage and kids on the horizon, their sex life comes to a slow and painful halt. The movie jumps forward several years, and our once-freakish characters refuse to even glance at one another’s naked bodies. Controlled by momentous responsibilities, Annie and Jay begin to question their marriage’s future. Bafflingly so, this plot is copied and pasted from several well-known comedies. In fact, Sex Tape can’t even inspire fever dreams about similar efforts.

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Rob Lowe brings the funny…occasionally.

Sticking by its tepid premise, Sex Tape jumps into bed with vigour and gusto. Struggling for ideas, Annie and Jay make a sex tape filled with positions from best-seller The Joy of Sex. Wackily so, after the video syncs up with their friends’ new iPads (adding to the movie’s partnership with Apple and YouPorn), Annie and Jay decide to track them down and destroy them before the video hits the web. Like The Five Year Engagement and Get Him to the Greek, Sex Tape dares to look into a Magic 8-Ball. Despite the A-list cast and kooky gags, these comedies attempt to examine love’s trials and tribulations. With marriage driving the First World, these movies garner exhaustive profits and adorable reviews. However, from any angle, these movies glisten like Cubic Zirconias – pretty yet phoney. Disarmingly, movies like Sex Tape make condescending comments about us ‘lesser’ folk. This gross-out flick is, by the length of Judd Apatow’s run-times, the most transparent and uninteresting one to date. Sporting a by-the-numbers screenplay, the narrative takes every tried-and-tested turns imaginable. Wallowing in its own filth, Sex Tape‘s disgraceful sense of humour, leaps in logic, and conventional narrative don’t stand up to criticism. Questions form around the movie’s sporadic choices, transitioning from dull rom-com to wacky sitcom. Good for only one How I Met Your Mother episode, the outlandish premise doesn’t match the 94-minute run-time. In fact, the movie wears out its welcome before even the 1-hour mark.

“Nobody Understands the Cloud. It’s A f*cking mystery!” (Jay (Jason Segel), Sex Tape).

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Rob Corddry & Ellie Kemper’s big-screen hijinks.

Despite the production’s unadulterated swagger, Sex Tape climaxes way too early. Filling the first third with ‘sexy’ shenanigans, director/co-writer Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher, Orange County) delivers yet another predictable and shallow improv-fest. Lacking a strong screenplay, this comedy never escapes 22 Jump Street and Bad Neighbours‘ shadows. Like Kasdan’s previous efforts, Sex Tape is raunch for raunch’s sake. Lacking flair or charm, this is a sleazy and dull rom-com lacking the courage to justify itself. In fact, this comes off like a horny simpleton late to the orgy. Wearing the gross-out genre out, Kasdan’s style reeks of desperation and mimicry. Borrowing from Apatow’s grounded perspective, Sex Tape‘s message awkwardly grinds against the unrealistic hijinks. Much of this stems from the cast’s inexplicable lust for expletives and crude one-liners. Throwing in meaningless sub-plots, Sex Tape‘s trajectory is thrown off course whenever its characters open their mouths. Our performers, known for their spritely comedic chops, extend certain scenes just so…the story can happen. One set piece, in which Diaz and Rob Lowe snort coke and leer at bizarre artworks, is more repulsive and bland than the tape itself. Borrowing from previous roles, Diaz and Segel hamper this already grating romp. In peak physical condition, Diaz tries and fails to re-ignite her career here. Meanwhile, sporting a strange physique, a little of Segel’s ‘comedy’ goes a long way. Thankfully, Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper are exceedingly likeable in small roles.

As the cinematic equivalent of a mid-afternoon dry hump , Sex Tape goes limp before it can even say: ” I’m sorry, that’s never happened to me before!”. Sadly, sticking to the big-budget comedy code, this genre shows no signs of slowing down. Pleasuring only itself and its multi-millionaire leads, the movie’s improv-lead humour and plot-hole-driven narrative signify the importance of quality over quantity (learn it well, kids). I applaud Diaz and Segel’s chemistry, but mixing business with pleasure like this has delivered a…flop.

 Verdict: Raunch without joy or thrills. 

The Purge: Anarchy Review – Dial ‘P’ for Purge


Director: James DeMonaco

Writer: James DeMonaco

Stars: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez

the-purge-anarchy-2014


Release date: July 18th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Grillo’s hard-edged performance. 

Worst part: The idiotic supporting characters.

Occasionally, and I’m saying very occasionally, a big-budget franchise will listen to, and take notes from, its eager-to-please fans. They, overcoming their own bloated egos, turn to the average Joe for advice on saving their most precious creations. One such example involves a newly gestating horror series and its invigorating premise. The Purge series, pushing its characters through hell and back, has boosted its shaky reputation on our dime.

Frank Grillo.

Before continuing on, I should explain what I am taking about. Whilst walking out of the original Purge feature, many folks pleaded for this series to start embracing its more outlandish ideas. Ignoring its premise in favour of a generic home-invasion plot, the original bewildered and underwhelmed horror aficionados and common filmgoers everywhere. Creating an opposing side for this blood-stained coin, the sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, takes its arresting ideas and runs with them into the night. Gloriously, this instalment begins by erasing and re-writing its own dodgy rulebook. Within the inter-titles, the premise is whole-heartedly established as a force for good within our dying world. Every year, for one night only, America’s citizens are given the freedom to do whatever they want. Labelled ‘The Purge’ by the New Founding Fathers of America, this 12-hour event allows the public to commit heinous and disgraceful acts without police, fire department, or emergency service interference. Rape, murder, arson, looting etc. are all on the table here, as the nation invests in war instead of peace. Seems farfetched? Oh, you have no idea! This movie chronicles the Purge of 2023, as the world starts to uncover the cracks this event has caused overtime. First off, we meet Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo). Out for revenge over the harrowing hit-and-run death of his son, Barnes is determined to bring the irresponsible driver to justice.

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Kiele Sanchez & Zach Gilford.

I’ll stop right there, because I just described this silly yet entertaining instalment’s most interesting plot-strand. By continuing on, I’ll only be ruining audience expectations. Make no mistake; The Purge: Anarchy is significantly better than the bland and boring original. As a tiresome retread of Panic Room, the original spends too much time alluding to intriguing concepts whilst delivering stupid characters and a stack of horror clichés. This instalment, though not without its flaws, comes out swinging by sticking to its implausible premise. Stranding itself in Downtown Los Angeles, a crime-ridden metropolitan labyrinth in itself, this instalment answers to our suggestions whilst delivering a more interesting narrative. In addition to Barnes’ tale, we’re introduced to a young couple, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), on the verge of separation. Targeted by mask-donning warriors, the couple’s car breaks down, in LA’s business district, shortly before the annual slash-fest begins. Meanwhile, an African-American woman, Eva (Carmen Ejogo), and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), are targeted by a Black Ops-like unit tasked with abducting lower class people and delivering them to one-percenters. The narrative, despite getting off on the right foot, throws in far too many contrivances, dumb characters, and plot holes. How do our leads all meet up in the same place at the same time? I don’t know, seeming as how the movie shrugs it off like a bullet wound. Beyond the glowing positives, the predictable twists and turns nullify the final product.

“People like us, we don’t survive tonight!” (Liz (Kiele Sanchez), The Purge: Anarchy).

The ultimate nightmare!

Fit for a late-night run-time on cable TV, this pulpy action-horror flick cheapens itself with laughable dialogue, distracting sub-plots, and a sappy denouement. Despite the issues, which may eventually hinder this series’ continuing existence, the movie earns points back by delivering on everything it promises. Looking past the trite narrative and inconsistent character motivations, writer/director James DeMonaco successfully ups the ante with this $9 million franchise buffer. Aiming for a pulpy Escape From New York vibe, DeMonaco’s fetishistic visual style delivers several thrilling moments and memorable images. One scene, in which our revenge-toting lead straps on Kevlar and guns, closely resembles the Punisher comic-book series. DeMonaco, aware that comic-book flicks and post-apocalyptic actioners are all the rage now, sticks to what he does best. His action, despite the odd shaky-cam disturbance, heightens the thrill-ride factor. Thanks to Barnes’ badass military skills, several shootouts and fistfights deliver on what this wild premise promises. Thankfully, Grillo has enough charisma and physical prowess to boost this generic role. Bolstered by Warrior and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Grillo is certainly an actor to watch out for. However, the supporting characters, and the actors playing them, are nothing but two-dimensional distractions. With attitudes and intensity levels flying, these people all become irritating and unnecessary.

Certainly, if the Purge existed in real life, it wouldn’t have the desired effect. In fact, with The Purge: Anarchy sprouting viewpoints about everything from gun violence to population control, this series comes close to resembling a Republican wet dream. However, despite the premise’s sheer implausibility, it’s worth standing up and cheering whenever a gruesome murder or ‘fu*k yeah!’ moment occurs. Nowadays, considering the state of modern horror, we should be protecting the ambitious movies whilst eradicating the inept ones. Let the games begin, Hollywood!

Verdict: An intriguing yet silly sequel. 

Boyhood Review – Live Long & Prosper


Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Richard Linklater

Stars: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke

boyhood


Release date: July 11, 2014

Distributor: IFC Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 165 minutes


 

5/5

Best part: Coltrane’s naturalistic performance.

Worst part: The antagonistic husband characters.

The film production process takes a helluva lot out of the directors, writers, actors etc. involved. Usually, these important people plan and execute a major Hollywood feature within roughly 7-13 months. Following this, the stars sit in chairs for extended periods as film journos ask them the same questions over and over again. However, in the case of coming-of-age experiment Boyhood, the process went a little differently. This dramedy sports one of cinema history’s most fascinating and exhaustive production schedules.

Ellar Coltrane & Lorelei Linklater.

Documentaries like the Up series develop time capsules marked by iconic moments and interesting subjects. Beyond Boyhood‘s behind-the-scenes allure, the movie itself suggests, then proves, that the journey is far more important than the destination. As per the Hollywood code, this dramedy is easy to understand so as to attract a larger audience. However, the movie’s development goes beyond the words of this or any other review. This is an experiment of monumental proportions. As you can tell from my manic hyperbole, I mark Boyhood as a game-changer for filmmaking, modern entertainment, and pop-culture. So, what is this movie about? Well, it’s difficult to explain within such a short space. Going beyond belief, the art of storytelling is flipped and switched here. The narrative chronicles the uneasy life and times of two youngsters. Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is a child fascinated by everything and everyone on Earth. As a child, his lifestyle revolves around causing trouble and discovering the world. On the other side of the coin, his sister Samantha strives to fit in with the pack. Their story hits several snags, as their mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is forced to shift and turn to suit everyone’s needs and desires. Living in a single-parent household, Mason Jr. and Samantha are forced to put up with a slew of drunken step-dads, empathetic step-children, and dramatic events. Despite the obstacles, they’re fuelled by their infatuation with Olivia and biological father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke).

Patricia Arquette.

Over this extensive timeline, the narrative points to, and fires at, everything the title suggests. The journey from childhood to adolescence, despite delivering a wondrous sense of freedom, is defined by major downsides and punishing conflicts. Surprisingly, for humans between 6 and 16, questions far outweigh answers. Boyhood extensively, and sensitively, examines this particular period. Director Richard Linklater (School of Rock, The Before trilogy) is America’s most invigorating indie-drama director. Covering the 1990s and 2000s, his succinct style and note-worthy agenda bolster everything he produces, writes, and directs. Putting his head and heart in the right place, this 12-year project is his most prescient and gripping creation. Intending to tell history’s most relatable narrative, Linklater’s latest effort marks specific moments and ideas. As the years collide, Linklater hurls us into this pacy and sumptuous 3-hour experience. Focusing on Coltrane and his own daughter, the acclaimed filmmaker’s style speaks wonders for the cinematic dreamscape and all its benefits. His goals and viewpoints, though unsubtle, elevate a potentially tedious story. With realism defeating fantasy here, Boyhood covers two people’s worlds and life’s tiniest details. Thanks to the poignant narrative, each character’s triumphs and tribulations hit home. Transitioning between milestones and significant others, our leads stay connected to one another despite the momentous hurdles.

“You don’t want the bumpers. Life doesn’t give you bumpers.” (Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke), Boyhood).

Ethan Hawke.

Of course, like with his previous efforts, Linklater’s agenda is pushed upon us unlike any other filmmaker’s. Set during and after the George W. Bush era, our democratic characters face off against a Republican-fuelled Middle America. Stepping into Mason Sr.’s shoes, several monologues are reserved for Linklater’s ultra-ambitious political beliefs to take flight. However, these viewpoints never become tiresome. Touching upon Barrack Obama’s pre-election promises, the movie even takes the time to point out the country’s most ecstatic and misjudged democrats. In addition, this family flick pays homage to Linklater’s immense, 12-year learning curve. Touching upon Dazed and Confused‘s subject matter in the third act, Boyhood chronicles this director’s ascension from indie sweetheart to determined professional. As the years go by, we see Linklater’s style adapt to its surroundings and improve immensely. From the School of Rock era to the Bernie period, the movie depicts his interests and pet peeves across an epic timeline. In addition, his idiosyncratic camerawork and pitch-perfect soundtrack choices develop a world of possibilities for the movie’s courageous narrative. Most importantly, Coltrane’s performance, by mimicking normalcy, soars above and beyond expectations. Tapping into his own identity, this effort examines this man’s mind, personality, and heart.

Most of the time, indie-dramas slip through the cracks to be left for elite cinephiles to lap up. With big-budget features casting a gigantic shadow over the industry, we’ve made a habit of complaining about these issues. However, every so often, breakout hits like Boyhood shine a light on the problem and bring people back to the theatre. These movies, delivering joyous surprises and winning stories, give us a warm, refreshing feeling every time. This achievement, blitzing filmmaking’s varying restraints, is the work of people in love with cinema.

Verdict: Linklater’s coming-of-age masterpiece. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review – Goin’ Apesh*t!


Director: Matt Reeves 

Writers: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Stars: Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell

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Release date: July 11th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes


4/5

Best part: Serkis’ fascinating performance.

Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.

1968, with new issues sprouting unexpectedly as the decade drew to a close, was certainly a revelatory and thought-provoking year for Hollywood cinema. Bolstering the decade’s taste in celluloid entertainment, sci-fi and action won out over the attention-hungry pack. 2001: A Space Odyssey proved Stanley Kubrick to be Hollywood’s greatest genre filmmaker, while Night of the Living Dead and Bullitt were dead-set box-office winners. However, one post-apocalyptic adventure flick dared to mix the zeitgeist with wild thrills. I’ll give you a hint: “You maniacs! You blew it up!”.

Jason Clarke, Kerri Russell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee

No, I’m not yelling at my readers. I’m, of course, talking about Planet of the Apes. Sadly, however, this type of blockbuster cinema has been left out in the forbidden zone to wallow in a slow, painful death. Nowadays, genres and styles are pushed and prodded to fit certain desires. Thanks to a hit-and-miss crop, 2014 was in line to become the touchstone for blockbuster fatigue. With this in mind, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes swings into our line of sight to save us all. Despite the lugubrious title, this sci-fi action thriller succeeds at being taut, relevant, and poignant at appropriate moments. Like the original, the outlandish premise is met with delicate minds. Following on from 2011 series jumpstart Rise of the Planet of the Apes, DOTPOTA begins by re-capping valuable information about this invigorating franchise. Using news reports and inventive graphics, the opening credits sequence charts man’s war against Simian Flu and complete anarchy. Our story then picks up 10 years later, as our favourite cinematic primates learn the ways of a once-thriving world. The ape’s leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis), runs an intricate, hunter-gatherer system within San Francisco’s Muir Woods. Despite an uneasy alliance with scarred compatriot Koba (Toby Kebbell), Caesar’s hyper-intelligence and reasonable motives make for the tribe’s best chance of survival.

Gary Oldman.

At the same time, a pocket of human survivors, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), move into downtown San Francisco. From there, our ape and human populations spark brutal confrontations. Here’s the thing about DOTPOTA – despite the noticeable flaws, the positives elevate it above most blockbusters of its type. The movie, moving out of the ’68 original’s shadow, lives up to our overwhelming expectations. With ROTPOTA  being 2011’s most surprising blockbuster, many fans and foes walked into this instalment with trepidatious movements. How do you reinvent an already reinvented franchise? Would it dilute the series the way Tim Burton’s ill-advised remake did? Thankfully, director Matt Reeves chose to take this silly franchise to blockbuster angst’s darkest possible depths. Despite the recent spate of apocalyptic popcorn-chomping extravaganzas, this sequel stands out from the pack whist sticking to a set list of reasonable goals. Like with Avatar, the narrative explores the inner-workings of a civilisation’s highest quarters and lowest troughs. Communicating through sign language and phonetic dialogue, the ape interactions deliver emotionally resonant peaks. In several instances, Caesar, his family, their allies, and Koba share moments that amplify Hollywood’s true potential. The opening sequence, in which our apes chase down deer and kill a Grizzly bear, is a masterclass in CGI storytelling. The first third, delivering key sequences designed to change to the narrative’s trajectory, lures us in before the gut-punches come flying. Sadly, the ape characters are far more intelligent and reasonable than their human counterparts.

“Apes! Together, strong!” (Caesar (Andy Serkis), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).

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Andy Serkis as Caesar!

Unfortunately, as the narrative reaches emotional peaks and enthralling set-pieces, cracks begin to occur in DOTPODA‘s stunning veneer. Throughout this simple tale of primates and humans going ape-sh*it, plot-holes and trite twists become unwarranted obstacles in this otherwise compelling story. Linking vital scenes to major action sequences and character beats, some moments are far more stimulating than others. Eclipsing these minor quibbles, this instalment examines, and delivers answers to, some of modern civilisation’s most confronting issues. With an arms race forming between our two stead-fast factions, Reeves and co. never succumb to corny speeches or obvious symbolism. In addition, with good and bad warriors on both sides, this post-war conflict exclaims profound viewpoints about man’s treatment of his fellow man. With peace coming second to firepower, the narrative clings onto Malcolm and Caesar’s quest for diplomacy. Fortunately, the visuals and attention to detail are the movie’s standout qualities. Thanks to Reeves’ atmospheric camerawork and stark tonal shifts, his unique direction keeps the audience on edge throughout the appropriate run-time. Extended takes, including a look at human/ape warfare from a tank’s perspective, deliver wondrous flourishes within an otherwise gloomy experience. Surprisingly, San Francisco’s breath-taking vistas are honoured with a post-apocalyptic aura. Of course, Caesar is this series’ most enlightening character. With Serkis at the helm, he and the SFX department deliver one of modern entertainment’s more meaningful creations.

Despite the hit-and-miss human characters and baffling conveniences, DOTPOTA is far-and-away one of 2014’s most intriguing blockbusters. With viewpoints and allegiances pushed to breaking point, the sombre tone and moral ambiguity hit hard during some of this year’s most heart-breaking scenes. With Serkis’ purposeful mannerisms and startling commitment shining through, his work may inspire others to revolt against Hollywood’s lack of respect for motion-capture performance.

Verdict: An entertaining and ambitious sequel.

2014 in Film: The Next Few Months


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Article:

2014 in Film: The Next Few Months

Begin Again Review – Music & Lyrics


Director: John Carney

Writer: John Carney

Stars: Kiera Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld

Begin-Again


Release date: June 27th, 2014

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


3/5

Best part: Knightley and Ruffalo’s chemistry.

Worst part: Levine’s bland performance.

Back in 2006, which now seems like a millennia ago, the world was introduced to a mass distribution of iconic indie-dramas. I know, this seems like a rough estimate of this phase’s beginnings. However, most importantly, the world’s core shook uncontrollably when it first heard the sweet, soothing sounds of Irish romantic-drama Once. To me, this kicked off the transcontinental mix of cinematic touchstones and life-altering tales that would continue to this day.

Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo.

Recently adapted into a major theatre production, this Oscar-winning indie darling tells a heartbreaking story about second chances, sticky situations, and songwriting. So, why am I talking about one of the past decade’s most ambitious cinematic experiments? Well, it’s a matter of principle. Here, Once‘s writer/director John Carney has turned his attention to Hollywood’s intricate systems and obvious appeal. His latest effort, Begin Again, certainly has the right amount of guile and charm. In fact, these traits might push this dramedy into many critics’ Top 10 lists. However, for those who have seen Once, the similarities between these movies come off as trite and convenient. For instance, the narrative takes several predictable and contrived turns toward its inevitably cheerful denouement. In the first scene, we are introduced to scornful singer/songwriter Greta (Kiera Knightley). Slouched into the corner of a popular New York nightspot, Greta is forced into the club’s fear-driven spotlight by Steve (James Corden). Despite failing to impress the hipster-centric crowd, one bizarre attendee stands up and cheers audibly for her sultry stylings. This crowd member, despite not looking the part, is a major record producer on the l0ok out for inspirational music. Dan (Mark Ruffalo), having been fired earlier that day by long-term business partner Saul (Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def), is one step away from packing it in.

Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine.

As you can tell, the narrative is a superfluous mix of conventional and ineffectual plot-treads. Pushed away by his estranged music-journalist wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener), and advantageous daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), Dan’s drunken antics eventually hurl him into Greta’s equally-treacherous path. So, with my complaints rising to the surface, why do I like it so much? After leaving the theatre, my enjoyment levels hurriedly elevated like Knightley’s transitions between notes. The narrative, divided into two definitive parts, becomes comfort food for the senses. Greta, having been dumped by deceitful rock-star boyfriend Dave Kohl (Adam Levine, delivering a nod to John Mayer), is the movie’s most scintillating ingredient. Pitted against Ruffalo’s husband-and-father storyline, her arc becomes infinitely more watchable. Aiming to distract his audience, Carney’s style comes off like a twee exterior covering up a near-rotten core. the first third, charting Dan and Greta’s meeting point, moves at an unnecessarily sluggish pace. Pinpointing a particular scene, the story follows a Nick Hornby-like structure toward the second-two acts. Carney, following a familiar pattern, sticks too close to his previous effort. With Hollywood success looming over him, his generic follow-up never takes shape. In fact, Begin Again feels like it’s missing a final third/quarter needed to wrap-up certain story-lines and round out certain viewpoints.

“Musicians, for the most part, are monosyllabic teenagers who really don’t have a whole lot to say.” (Dan (Mark Ruffalo), Begin Again).

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RnB icon CeeLo Green.

Despite the false notes, the movie’s endless magnetic streak, gleeful optimism, and array of Voice judges eclipse the aforementioned quibbles. Carney’s direction, pulling Once above the pack, dives head-long into the limbo-like area between realism and pure-and-unadulterated fantasy. Here, with style and substance performing a profound duet throughout the taut 104-minute run-time, Carney’s bigger-is-better shades come out swinging. With A-listers, a much more alluring city, and vastly different genres to play with, the story’s blissful pace and consistent tone create heart-wrenching moments to bounce off of. Creating an outdoor album with the tools at their disposal, Dan, Greta, Steve and co. take to Manhattan’s wondrous streets to escape their humdrum personal lives. These sequences, in which Greta’s songs covet the screen for elongated takes, display Carney’s knack for fusion and visual flourishes. His camerawork refuses to stay still for extended periods. Racing through even the most tedious of moments, there’s always something to pick out of Carney’s highly-stylised compositions. In addition, much more so than anything else, our attractive performers add ever-lasting gravitas to this otherwise harmless affair. Breaking out of her period-piece stigma, Knightley shines in this strong-willed role. Charting their swift rise-and-fall stories, Knightley and Ruffalo’s chemistry bolsters several corny and heavy-handed sequences. Sadly, Levine’s first acting gig yields transparent results.

Sitting comfortably between Inside Llewyn Davis and Jersey Boys, Begin Again delivers enough laughs and smile-worthy twists to skate by with minimal effort. Ruffalo, Knightley, and Steinfeld – leading this cute-and-kind-hearted cast – bolster this mostly repetitive and needless venture. With similar story and character beats to Once, Carney’s latest strums to an all-too-familiar tune. If anything, this will become a musical whose soundtrack eclipses everything around it.

Verdict: A soulful and eclectic dramedy. 

Deliver Us From Evil Review – Bumps in the Night


Director: Scott Derrickson 

Writers: Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris Boardman (screenplay), Ralph Sarchie (book)

Stars: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale

deliver-us-evil-poster


 Release date: July 2nd, 2014

Distributor: Screen Gems

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The electrifying performances.

Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.

Which two genres draw in major crowds no matter what? Give up? Ok, I’ll give you a hint – they both rely on cliches, dumb characters, and opening weekend grosses. Ok, fine! The two genres are horror and romantic-comedy. Opening on the July 4th weekend, Deliver Us From Evil is Hollywood’s latest horror/smash-and-crash extravaganza. Yes, the title is as predictable as the ending to a slasher remake (spoiler: the nicest hottie lives!). However, this one belongs to a particular sub-genre currently making the rounds. Deliver Us From Evil, drawing comparisons to the director’s previous work and recent horror flicks of its type, is an exorcism-thriller trying and failing to become a whole other monster in itself.

Eric Bana.

Abusing Hollywood tropes and audience attendance patterns like a child in Freddy Kruger’s rape dungeon, Deliver Us From Evil comes off like a pitiful effort dumped into an unforgiving release date. In fact, the premise will cause plot-hole critics everywhere to prick up their ears and tap on their keyboards with an unholy amount of glee. However, for those of us willing to suspend pure and unadulterated disbelief, this horror-thriller makes for a quaint outing with mates. Teaming up with an overpriced bucket of popcorn and noisy viewers yelling: “Don’t go in there!”, this B-movie delivers, at most, an enjoyably goofy cinema experience. The story, such as it is, is as tried, tested, and true as an Apple product. Of course, with the Devil being the biggest villain of all, the movie first touches on his/her origins. The plot kicks off in 2010 Iraq, with three soldiers murdering several Taliban soldiers before discovering the story’s most intriguing and terrifying device. Cut to 2013 New York, and grizzled street cop Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is upset with his chaotic profession’s darker shades. After watching a baby die in his arms, Sarchie’s goodwill unravels within one night. With his partner Butler (Joel McHale) pushing him through, Sarchie’s latest case may alter his understanding of good and evil. Teamed up with roguish priest Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), Sarchie may be forced to find his faith before taking down Santino (Sean Harris).

Edgar Ramirez.

From the opening frame, Deliver Us From Evil, despite labelling itself as being “based on actual events”, shuffles through and picks out every horror, familial drama, and cop-thriller trope in the book. In fact, this derivative horror flick comes just short of pulling out a cursed book and reading from it. This bizarre crime-thriller, the latest sceptics-and-believers tale from polarising writer/director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister), is nowhere near as interesting as his more profound features. Working from his own derivative and ethically unsound screenplay, co-written by frequent collaborator Paul Harris Boardman, Derrickson’s work harks back to a much more meaningful time in horror cinema. As the autistic lovechild of The Exorcist and Seven, Deliver Us From Evil checks off everything said features had already given us. Derrickson, presenting this an inventive and potent genre mash-up, proves that a writer/director can grow too close to their own material. Like the possessed characters running through this concoction, Derrickson has been taken over and manipulated by artistic integrity’s greatest threats – studio executives and teenagers. Catering to certain demands, his latest is a significant step down from the creepy and thought-provoking Sinister. However, it’s still better than his biggest adventure, thus far (the Day the Earth Stood Still remake). Recently hired for Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strangelove, this auteur may further succumb to this particular affliction.

“I’ve seen some horrible things, nothing that can’t be explained by human nature.” (Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), Deliver Us From Evil).

Newcomer Sean Harris.

Without examining the fact vs. faith argument, Derrickson and co. assume we know everything about this issue before going in. With Sarchie’s “radar” referred to as a spiritual gift, the movie’s flawed logic and stereotypical  overtones keeps us at arm’s length throughout. However, Derrickson’s atmospheric direction salvages an otherwise forgettable exorcism-thriller. With horror tropes plastered across each frame, the jump-scares come thick and fast. In addition, his unique camerawork and sound design ticks amp-up the movie’s overbearing intensity levels. Pumping The Doors at opportune moments, certain musical interludes breath life into several nail-biting sequences. Aptly, Derrickson saves his best directorial flourishes for the final third’s extended exorcism set-piece. Bizarrely, with an unnatural reliance on animals, tattooed villains, toys, crucifixes, and flickering lights, the movie’s bump-in-the-night moments are punctuated with near-laughable jaunts. With McHale’s inclusion, I was half-expecting a satirical jab against cats in scary situations. However, despite his bet efforts, the comedic moments jar with the story’s dour, omnipresent tone. It’s not his fault. In fact, for the most part, he draws  convincing turns out of his cast. Bana and Ramirez elevate their polar-opposite roles with innate charisma. Meanwhile, Harris, McHale, and Olivia Munn keep up with their pseudo-valuable supporting characters.

With the Paranormal Activity series and The Last Exorcism dominating cinematic horror of late, this mega-successful genre has all but used up its share of exorcism/crisis-of-faith concepts. With these debates raging on, this particular sub-genre puts everything the most simplistic of terms. Deliver Us From Evil, despite Derrickson’s commendable intentions, can’t help but communicate tried-and-tested information. Obliterating its fine performances and alluring direction, this exorcism-thriller becomes little more than an extended episode of Supernatural. The power of Hollywood compels you? eh, not this time.

Verdict: A mindless yet efficient mish-mash. 

Transformers: Age of Extinction Review – Broken Parts


Director: Michael Bay 

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz


Release Date: June 27th, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 165 minutes


 

 

 

1/5

Best part: The CGI-fuelled slo-mo shots.

Worst part: The egregious run-time.

Throughout Hollywood’s latest bowel movement, Transformers: Age of Extinction, we are subjected to idiotic characters who know more about pop-culture and filmmaking than anyone involved with the production itself. At one point, a senile retiree complains about Hollywood’s infatuation with sequels and remakes. At another point, the comic relief pokes fun at this franchise’s infamous foibles. Afterwards, another character defines a ‘flaw’ as a “serious failure”.

Mark Wahlberg.

Obviously, this would mean something if this series had been placed in the right hands. Unfortunately, all we can do now is sit back and watch the collapse of blockbuster cinema under the terrifying reign of multi-billionaire hack Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbour). Marking itself as the defining point of ‘big-budget schlock fatigue’, Transformers: Age of Extinction relies on shrieking families and hormonal teenagers. Beating his audiences to a pulp, Bay knows that a single person conveys significantly more intelligence than a large group of people. Rushing into the cinema, said crowds have made this instalment the year’s most profitable movie. I used to defend this franchise for being “fun” and “exhilarating”. Nowadays, I look back on my younger self and laugh at his overwhelming stupidity. Of course, for my loyal readers, I should at least make an effort to describe this instalment’s underwritten and overcooked story. I know, words like ‘narrative’ and ‘subtext’ don’t belong anywhere near this series. However, to launch into my searing hatred of Bay’s latest cinematic slip-up, I should point out just how dumb everything is about it. First off, I’ll delve into the ‘human’ aspects of this horrific mess. On the modest side of this disastrous flop, we have farmer/roboticist/man-child Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Living by his stupid name, his immature antics threaten he and his daughter Tessa(Nicola Peltz)’s livelihoods. With eviction and embarrassment looming over them, Yeager’s aspirations clash with major obstacles.

Stanley Tucci.

In a better world, this story-thread would’ve fit perfectly into this monstrous action flick. Sadly, with Bay at the helm, this sequel’s narrative sluggishly transitions from bad to worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love blockbusters of all shapes and sizes. I regularly review Summer tentpoles to gain an informed perspective on pop-culture and modern entertainment. However, I can’t possibly defend anything as hackneyed, pointless, and dumbfounding as Transformers: Age of Extinction. In fact, with my laundry list of criticisms in tow, it’s difficult pinpointing anything even remotely worthwhile here! From the opening frame, Ehren Kruger’s wafer-thin script becomes lost in a barrage of questionable concepts, trite character arcs, and hokey emotional beats. Within the first third, the familial drama turns this gargantuan extravaganza into a cheesy and stupefying miscalculation. In addition, along with the Marky Mark’s family woes, the movie throws several more plot-lines into this bloated and inconsistent concoction. An elite task force called Cemetery Wind – headed up by alien bounty hunter Lockdown, CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), and spec-ops ‘badass’ James Savoy (Titus Welliver) – has been assigned to kill the remaining Autobots and Decepticons. In addition, egomaniacal tech-head Joshua Joynes(Stanley Tucci)’s has developed a new element labelled, you guessed it, Transformium. Like the preceding Transformers sequels, these narrative threads are cumbersomely and nonsensically thrown together.

“I think we just found a Transformer!” (Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Transformers: Age of Extinction).

Optimus Prime doin’ his thing!

Used specifically to jump from one action sequence to another, this instalment’s bloated plot delivers more plot-holes and irritating moments than two M. Night Shyamalan disasters and Prometheus combined. Why are Tessa and her boyfriend bound by Romeo & Juliet laws? Why do Yeager and co. tag along with the Autobots? Why are US Government forces killing some robots whilst creating more powerful ones? Seriously, this review could just consist entirely of these questions! However, pathetically, people turn out see gigantic CG-driven creations smash into one another for interminable periods. At a whopping 165 minutes, the question must be asked – does a Transformers flick really need that much time to gestate? No, of course it doesn’t! Protecting our annoying lead characters, the Transformers themselves are given short shift. Pushed literally and figuratively into the background, our Autobot buddies are defined by phoney speeches, heavy-duty weapons, and dated stereotypes. Along with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee (both poorly represented here), the movie throws in a cigar-chomping truck (John Goodman), a Samurai/helicopter (Ken Watanabe), and a trench-coat/wing-donning Aussie-bot. Beyond the glaring flaws, including the hit-and-miss CGI, Bay still delivers a few inspired shots and set-pieces. Infatuated  with explosions and product placement, the coked-up buffoon is let off the leash in the final third. The China set-piece, set up specifically to attract an asian demographic, provides some relief for this otherwise damaging experience. Bafflingly so, however, the marketing-drenched Dinobots show up late to the party – given only 15-20 minutes of screen-time.

Can you believe $210 million went into this irritating and exhaustive schlock?! Nope? Well, neither do I. Sadly, beyond our control, the studios are throwing, and will continue to throw, money at Bay and his ongoing ‘vision’. Bay, with all his bigger-is-better gusto, has delivered the ultimate example of overcompensation. Destroying his already damaged reputation, Bay’s latest effort proves his worth as little more than an Independence Day fireworks show technician.

Verdict: Bay’s catastrophic descent into director hell. 

Snowpiercer Review – Do the Locomotion!


Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writers: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jaques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette (graphic novel)

Stars: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton

snowpiercer-poster


Release date: June 27th, 2014

Distributor: RADiUS-TWC 

Countries: South Korea, USA

Running time:  126 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The alluring visuals.

Worst part: The heavy-handed final minute.

More often than not, Hollywood refuses to make the right choice. The big-name studios, pushing us into theatre, hire major players to stand in front of, and behind, the camera. However, forced to follow a formula, these studios end up bullying these people beyond belief. Unfortunately, foreign directors suffer the worst of this atrocious behaviour. Despite the critical acclaim, Korean directors including Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon had to fight to keep their big-budget efforts alive.

Chris Evans & Jamie Bell.

Gracefully, without ruffling anyone’s feathers, one Korean export took it upon himself to make this year’s best action extravaganza. Bong Joon-ho (The Host) is yet another three-name filmmaker currently working under Tinseltown’s bright lights. His first Hollywood feature, Snowpiercer, looks like a tiresome and cliche-driven post-apocalyptic actioner. However, after entering the theatre, you’re taken on a revelatory journey unlike any other. This year, we’ve seen several blockbusters rise and fall quicker than expected. As Snowpiercer illustrates, the smallest projects are pulling people back into Hollywood’s firing line. Guided by stark visuals and touching moments, the narrative transitions instantly from obvious to transcendent. The premise, despite anchoring this enjoyable action-thriller, highlights its glaring agenda to an extraneous extent. Based on a French graphic novel, the story examines a desecrated Earth on the brink of oblivion. To combat global warming, the world’s governments banded together to release a specific chemical into the atmosphere. Sadly, because these forces ignored the signs, the chemical caused a destructive ice age. The world’s last-surviving citizens now live on a globetrotting train called, you guessed it, Snowpiercer. Developed by mysterious benefactor Wilfred (Ed Harris), the train divides its inhabitants to conserve the status quo.

Song Kang-ho & Go Ah-sung.

Ambitiously, Snowpiercer has several points to prove. With its angry side ever-so-slowly taking over, this daring and resonant sci-fi actioner utilises everything to its full potential. The narrative centres around a revolt, driven by the lower-class folks subjected to the train’s tail end. Covered in dirt and dour memories, leader Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), second-in-command Edgar (Jamie Bell), and age-old prophet Gilliam (John Hurt) empower their fellow “Freeloaders” with dignity and respect. The narrative, like the train itself, runs on the hopes and dreams of everyone involved. Following a hearty formula, Joon-ho’s most expansive effort yet is far more exhilarating and prescient than expected. Despite Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s controversial cuts, the movie flows naturally from one revelation and set-piece to another. Pointing at global warming, race relations, and social issues, Snowpiercer bolsters its agenda with profound motivations and charming surprises. Cleverly, its points are summed up by a witty speech about shoes and hats. As our crew shuffles through the train, the narrative conquers its momentous twists and turns before reaching the heartbreaking finale. From the opening frame, without derailing Joon-ho’s immaculate execution, the movie throws in clever intricacies designed to raise the stakes. Bullied by middle-class guards and arrogant socialites (led by Margaret Thatcher-esque ruler Mason (Tilda Swinton)), our lower-class warriors come off as empathetic more so than reckless. In fact, unlike most summer tentpoles, “F*ck yeah!” moments and emotional pay-offs come thick and fast throughout.

“You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know babies taste the best.” (Curtis (Chris Evans), Snowpiercer).

Tilda Swinton.

Given free reign over everything, Joon-ho has taken several chances with this meaningful and touching post-apocalyptic bloodbath. Paying homage to his favourite directors and dystopian features, this foreign director delivers seminal references without catering to anyone else’s desires. Further more, this story swerves around several blockbuster cliches. Avoiding a massive scope, over-long set-pieces, and manipulative beats, Joon-ho’s style is of an entirely different species of filmmaking. Like the train’s never-fail, perpetual-motion engine, this auteur is a well-oiled machine keeping everything together. In particular, his visuals speak to critics, Korean film fans, and blockbuster nutcrackers. Within the first third, the grimy tail-end becomes a rage-fuelled character in itself. With small beds, tin cans, and gelatinous blobs coveting the screen, the opening scenes construct the vacuous hell-hole our heroes call home. Indelibly, it’s in the first act – after drug-addled engineer Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) and his psychic daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung) are recruited – that our characters discover the first-class passengers’ dastardly schemes. Righteously, our talented performers take control of this intensifying narrative. Handing the physical and dramatic aspects, Evans displays his polished skill-set throughout. In addition, Octavia Spencer, Bell, Harris, and Swinton anchor the film’s more impressionistic tangents in well-crafted roles.

Unsurprisingly, this project was met with questions from every studio executive it came across. The premise, attacking the first world’s obsession with celebrity and order, is as repulsive as the second act’s blood-stained axe-fights. However, resting on its writer/director’s strength and intelligence, the final product is more satisfying than most action flicks of its type. It  might even cause a revolt against the Transformers-hocking big-wigs in their ivory towers. Maybe. Hopefully.

Verdict: A sumptuous and potent post-apocalyptic thrill-ride.

Theatre Review – Skylight @ Wyndham’s Theatre


Director: Stephen Daldry

Playwright: David Hare

Stars: Carey Mulligan, Bill Nighy, Matthew Beard


Premiere date: 1995

Genre: Drama


 

 

4½/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: The supporting character’s involvement.

As overwhelming and trivial as it seems, there is a fine line between stardom and fatigue. Our biggest actors, musicians etc. are, more often than not, treated like otherworldly beings. Nowadays, we move on to the next big thing even before the current ‘it’ person has faded away. However, more often than you think, A-list actors step away from the spotlight to venture into more meaningful pursuits.

Carey Mulligan & Bill Nighy.

As it happens, many A-listers and noticeable character actors perfect their skills in stage productions. In this case, giving the West End a fiery boost, Carey Mulligan (Drive, The Great Gatsby) and Bill Nighy (Love Actually, the Pirates of the Caribbean series) put their best feet forward for one of theatre history’s most transcendent productions. In fact, Nighy, one of Britain’s most popular and energetic talents, tackled this material in the 1990s. Skylight, a 1995 play created by acclaimed playwright David Hare, picks up and shakes cultural, political, and social issues in front of baffled critics and theatre-goers. The play, developed specifically to address concerns about life, love, and living situations, is a touching and prescient examination of first-world issues. This may be a derogatory statement – but the play relies on its talking points being as flippant as possible. Here’s another first-world issue – this iteration has moved Skylight from its Royal National Theatre roots to Wyndham’s Theatre’s comforting abode. Ironically, separating the simpletons and socialites, the theatre hurriedly divides itself into multiple sectors. In fact, the Return Tickets line, stretching on for an eternity, signified the production’s searing critical and commercial aura.

Skylight’s shining stars.

The theatre, a maze-like structure shifting from one floor to another, turns from a romantic, impressionistic creation into a frustrating deathtrap. My search for the bar and toilet facilities bared resemblance to Jack Nicholson’s manic sprint through the Shining mansion. However, despite this, the Wyndham’s relaxed and vibrant atmosphere overcomes said problems peppered throughout its layout. Sitting down in a bright-red seat, I looked down nervously as the show slinked toward its commencement time. With celebrities including Oscar Isaac and Lupita Nyong’o waltzing into the venue, the show positioned itself as one of this year’s most alluring West End treasures. Fortunately, this version’s execution lives up to its immaculate reputation. The story, taking place over the course of 24 hours, takes the high road above most ‘bottle’ stories. Avoiding life-or-death situations, this quaint journey comes off like a breath of fresh air. We enter the life of lower-middle class school teacher Kyra Hollis (Mulligan), as her day transitions from okay, to bad, to horrific, to embarrassing. At the start of her day, rage-quitting youngster Edward (Matthew Beard) comes over to complain about his irrational father. As is the case, his father Tom (Nighy) is Kyra’s former lover and long-lost best friend. Shockingly, a few hours later, Tom interrupts her day to explain his three-year absence. Waiting until his wife’s death had healed over, Tom comes back to face the music. This award-winning play, touching on taboo subjects and satirical jabs, pokes fun at everything and everyone within a 15 kilometre radius.

“You care for them. You offer them an environment where they feel they can grow. But also you make bloody sure you challenge them.” (Kyra (Carey Mulligan), Skylight)

Matthew Beard & Mulligan.

Touching upon illustrious restaurateur and writer Terence Conran’s existence, Skylight is as glorious, resonant, and meaningful as a ray of sunshine. Taking down London’s high-horse attitude and major societal shifts, the comedy stems from well-known cultural titbits about Wimbledon, East Ham, and the neighbourhoods in between. Despite these lively jaunts, the narrative leaps from enjoyable to sickening, and vice-versa, within milliseconds. With betrayal, sex, and life’s pursuits getting in the way, the romantic angle takes several extraordinary twists and turns within this small space. As Kyra and Tom’s reunion reaches breaking point, the characters, and actors playing them, jump in and out of nail-biting moments. With the conversation interrupting their daily routines, Hare’s scintillating style pushes and prods up until the sweet denouement. If anything, this story becomes a note-worthy battle devoid of violence, scope, or chaotic moments. So, what separates this version from everything else? Cloud it be the intimate dramatic angles? The sincere and touching characters arcs? Or the big-name actors involved? Short answer: all of the above. Mulligan’s frightening turn is worth the admission cost. Wielding a large knife and idealistic viewpoints throughout several sequences, Mulligan’s style breaths life into her downtrodden character. As the voice of reason and hope, her character bounces off the walls. In addition, Nighy unleashes several never-before-seen shades in this heartfelt role. With his momentous presence leading the way, Nighy’s idiosyncrasies lend gravitas to an otherwise over-the-top role.

So, as the curtains fall and the actors take their bows, Skylight casts a wholly visceral shadow over each viewer’s soul. This socially adept production, saying what we’re all thinking, enlists the best minds to communicate intriguing ideas. Throwing utensils and secrets across the room, Mulligan and Nighy never lose their cool. In fact, with star power having such a pulsating effect, who’s to say they can’t attach themselves to the West End? In any case, I hope they think about doing so.

Verdict: A resonant and prescient endeavour.