Gone Girl Review – Till Death…


Director: David Fincher

Writer: Gillian Flynn (screenplay & novel)

Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry


Release date: October 3rd, 2014 

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 149 minutes


5/5

Best part: Fincher’s direction.

Worst part: Minor book-to-film translation issues.

Movies and relationships – despite the major differences between fantasy and reality – share one vital similarity. Oddly enough, these two ‘necessities’ rely on first impressions. A good first impression can make for blissful rewards, while a bad one can turn smiles into frowns. Tinseltown’s latest smash hit crime-thriller/marriage deterrent Gone Girl makes it mark within its first few moments. In its second scene, one of our two lead characters, standing next to a wheelie bin, looks around the neighbourhood before skulking back into his/her house.

Ben Affleck as struggling journo/murder suspect Nick Dunne.

Analysing this one uneventful moment, Gone Girl‘s audience could piece a million ideas together to create a billion different interpretations. In a year of shlocky actioners and dodgy biopics, the movie pick critics and film-goers up off the ground. We can all rest easy, thanks to this pulsating crime-thriller. We can now look forward to a potentially ingenious Oscar season. Obviously, I fell in love with this movie and might never let go. Thanks to its commendable cast and crew, this is 2014’s best movie. So, what is it about? Well, that is certainly an interesting question. The aforementioned lead is Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a disgruntled writer dangling on the thinnest moral tightrope imaginable. The bin scene delivers only a minuscule look into his existence. Kicking off in the present, the narrative scours through his hit-and-miss past. Early on, we witness a younger, more confident Nick introducing himself to alluring femme fatale Amy (Rosamund Pike). Hitting it off immediately, our cute characters ignite the ultimate topsy-turvy relationship. At first, our lovebirds float through life in each other’s arms. Bolstered by kinky sex and likeable personalities, their coupling seems perfect. However, soon after Nick and Amy’s wedding, life swings the one-two punch of a recession and mass lay-offs. Following Nick’s twin sister Margo(Carrie Coon)’s advice, our leads move from New York to his hometown of North Carthage, Missouri. On their fifth anniversary, Nick comes home to find a crime scene. Amy has been kidnapped, and detectives Boney (Kim Dickens) and Gulpin (Patrick Fugit) are on the case.

Rosamund Pike as mousey housewife/victim Amy Elliot Dunne.

From here, I promise to stick to my specific criticisms about the final product. In doing so, I will be avoiding Gone Girl‘s jaw-dropping twists and turns. Based on tabloid journalist turned novelist Gillian Flynn’s best-selling beach-read, the movie elegantly tackles several genre tropes and thrilling ideas. Faithful to said momentous page-turner, Gone Girl hands screenplay duties over to Flynn. Gracefully, Flynn develops a straight-to-the-point translation of her own material. The novel – telling a slinky and cynical story about marriage’s ups, downs, and left turns – tip-toes between plot-points and chapters. This adaptation, though aided by Flynn’s succinct screenplay, is bolstered by mega-successful psychological-thriller filmmaker David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven). Along with the aforementioned modern classics, Fincher’s no-nonsense direction has delivered such gut-wrenchers as The Game, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake. Like his Stieg Larsson adaptation, his take on Flynn’s novel amplifies the emotional resonance and stakes. Examining the text’s denotations and connotations with microscope-like focus, his style aptly suits the narrative. Amy – the missing gorgeous, white woman – sends the world into a tailspin. Meanwhile, Nick, a handsome journalist sulking inside their McMansion, becomes the prime suspect. The first half, setting up its story and character threads, omits the fat and lovingly nurtures its more-important concepts. Thanks to Fincher’s non-linear style, aided by chapter-defining fade-ins/outs, the narrative peels back story-lines with fingernail-like sharpness and intensity. Relishing in Amy’s oppressive diary entries, Fincher and Flynn craft an alarming tale of regret, temptation, monogamy, and gender politics. Adding to the overbearing cynicism, the story even pits Amy against her mother’s notorious literature creation ‘Amazing Amy’. Slithering around one another, these people are despicable, desperate, and just plain fascinating!

“I will practice believing my husband loves me. But I could be wrong.” (Amy Elliot Dunne (Rosamund Pike), Gone Girl).

Tyler Perry as top-shelf attorney Tanner Bolt.

As a pulpy, trashy, and intriguing mystery-thriller, Gone Girl makes airport novels, Hollywood cinema, and Affleck look so damn irresistible. Affleck, coming off an Oscar win and a major career resurgence, makes the most of this experience. Shedding his polarising persona, the A-lister succumbs to the character. However, credit belongs to Pike for perfecting her indelible role. Delivering multiple turns within one performance, the British character actress deserves the Oscar win. In addition, the stunt casting works wonders. Neil Patrick Harris goes full ‘One Hour Photo‘ in his disturbing role. Tyler Perry delivers a charismatic turn as ego-driven attorney Tanner Bolt. Boosting everyone’s careers, Fincher is the all-seeing, all-knowing God of big-budget filmmaking. Dissecting Nick and Amy’s marriage like a water-logged body, the movie delivers several arresting surprises and hurl-inducing moments. Certain scenes, testing each viewer’s tolerance levels, lodge themselves in the consciousness. Throughout the second half, in which character psyches are repeatedly broken and remoulded, the narrative delves into its own unabashed insanity. In fusing 1940s film noir, 1980/90s Brian de Palma/Paul Verhoeven fare, and modern kidnap-thrillers, this mystery-thriller crafts an unconscionable swagger. As the cameras and Nancy Grace-like newscasters obliterate Nick’s life, Fincher – like with previous efforts – beheads 24-hour news media, police ignorance, and studio-driven dross. In fact, the movie points out its own quirks; calling attention to everything meta, symbolic, and cliched. Matching Flynn’s sarcasm, Fincher’s blackly comedic humour is worth the admission cost. Gone Girl‘s technical precision stands out above almost anything else in 2014. Jeff Cronenweth’s handsome cinematography, highlighting Fincher’s signature style, lends pathos to this gruelling experience. In addition, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score boosts their already impressive oeuvre.

Despite the wheelie-bin scene’s infinite importance, the scene before it sums up Gone Girl‘s insatiable   prowess. Nick, looking at the back of his wife’s head, discusses his overwhelming desire to break her skull and learn her many saucy secrets. The following two hours does this with style, gusto, and chills. Thanks to Flynn’s taut screenplay and Fincher’s vigorous direction, this adaptation succeeds where similar efforts fail. Like Fincher’s previous efforts, Gone Girl takes the genre, eviscerates it, reshapes it, and dares others to do better. It’s a worthwhile experience…just don’t watch it with your significant other!

Verdict: A pulpy and confronting mystery-thriller.

Magic in the Moonlight Review – A Cruel Trick


Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Stars: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden

magic-in-the-moonlight-pstr02


Release date: September 19th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The charming performances.

Worst part: The heavy-handed subtext.

Certainly, veteran actor/writer/director Woody Allen has lived an awe-inspiring, unpredictable, and thought-provoking life. The 78-year-old Tinseltown icon has spent several decades breaking the mould. With game-changing successes in multiple disciplines, his aura, for the better part of a century, has shone brighter than Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square combined. This starry-eyed filmmaker has delivered some of cinema history’s greatest moments. In front of and behind the camera, the tick-laden auteur has given industry hopefuls and impressionists plenty to smile about.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone's peculiar coupling.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone’s peculiar coupling.

Allen, despite being cinema’s most prolific hit-and-miss filmmaker, shouldn’t be insulted for his work. However, despite his merits, his latest effort, Magic in the Moonlight, won’t convert any average film-goers into raging fans. This jaunty romantic comedy, if anything, proves that Allen should take more vacations. Possibly, he should go to some of the many picturesque locations he’s captured over his illustrious career. For now, he’s stuck making witless and confused rom-coms. In typical Allen fashion, the allure of classier times fuels the otherwise bland and uninspired narrative. The story, inexplicably wafer-thin, relies on several key players to push it into overdrive. We start off in 1920s Berlin, with a world-famous illusionist performing his signature act for a packed house. Wei Ling Soo, playing to wealthy audiences, earns his fortune by making elephants disappear from boxes and slicing gorgeous stage hands in half. However, the real illusion is revealed once Soo is back-stage. Revealed to be a snide British man, Stanley (Colin Firth), Soo regularly berates production crew members, journalists, and fans. Debunking fraudulent magicians and mediums in his spare time, Stanley’s narrow-minded worldview attracts business but deters everything else. Given a new assignment by long-time friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley heads to the Cote d’Azur  to mingle with the ultra-wealthy Catledge family  – Grace (Jacki Weaver), Brice (Hamish Linklater), Caroline (Erica Leershen), and her husband George (Jeremy Shamos) – and uncover houseguest/clairvoyant Sophie(Emma Stone) and her mother(Marcia Gey Harden)’s misgivings.

The sublime sights of a Woody Allen picture.

The sublime sights of a Woody Allen picture.

Crafting a star-studded feature every one-or-two years, Allen’s work-horse routine is now cracking under pressure. Sporting a career marred by controversy, the notorious filmmaker should be trying harder to win us over. Sadly, this lifeless and misguided rom-com is a significant step backwards. Sitting well-below recent efforts including Blue Jasmine and Match Point, Magic in the Moonlight calls Allen’s attentiveness, relevance, and tolerance levels into question. Unlike previous efforts, this movie lacks anything resembling subtlety, gravitas, originality, or charm. His signature storytelling tropes, bolstered by real-life events, overcook the movie’s tiresome screenplay. Throughout its brief run-time, as Stanley becomes bewitched by Sophie’s charms, the cliche-meter ticks over. Crafting a whimsical mystery/love story, this nostalgic rom-com shifts awkwardly between each conversation, montage, and revelation. Pulling Stanley and Sophie together with witless conversations and wide-eyed stares, Allen’s latest delivers several discomforting and interminable scenarios. In addition, the narrative makes the unwarranted leap from meet-cute-driven comedy to sweeping romance. One scene, in which Stanley and Sophie’s car breaks down in front of an observatory, almost sinks this light-hearted romp. Throwing in plot-threads, characters, and twists sporadically, Allen’s 96-minute magic trick lands with a whimper instead of a bang.

“When the heart rules the head, disaster follows.” (Stanley (Colin Firth), Magic in the Moonlight).

Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver now part of Woody Allen's collective.

Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver now part of Woody Allen’s collective.

Obsessed with slight-of-hand story-telling ticks, Allen’s hubris hurriedly takes over here. Sugar-coating each plot-strand and character arc, Magic in the Moonlight discards intriguing concepts in favour of stylistic flourishes and heavy-handed dialogue. Beyond the inflated narrative, the movie never says anything relevant or thought-provoking. Pitting Stanley’s nihilism against Sophie’s air-tight optimism, the movie continually dives into a suffocating science vs. religion debate. Relying on mismatched leads and one-note support, the characters exists simply to echo Allen’s viewpoints. Meddling with infidelity and age differences in relationships yet again, Allen’s personal touch amp-ups the creep factor. However, known to show off the world’s most picturesque locations, Allen’s direction bolsters this archaic and forgettable effort. Aided by Darius Khondji’s pristine cinematography, the movie’s infatuation with France is almost worth the admission cost. Drowning us in his high-society existence, his version of the Mediterranean sports the world’s most appealing vineyards, Great Gatsby-style parties, mansions, and scenic vistas. Allen should also be credited for pulling this remarkable cast together. Bolstering his exhaustive dialogue, certain scenes bow down to these immaculate thespians. Firth, despite his irritating character, admirably sells each line. Thanks to his pithy delivery and effortless charisma, the British icon elevates several sequences. Stone, however, is the movie’s best asset. Her show-stopping looks and raw energy make for an invigorating love interest. Eileen Atkins almost steals the show as Stanley’s wise and advantageous aunt, Vanessa.

Whenever Allen invites a journalist into his home, he always shows off the most important part of the property. He opens a drawer, then pulls out a stack of screenplay ideas from which his features originate. This method, despite the infatuation with cinema, now seems like an act of desperation. Surely, Magic in the Moonlight won’t age well. Thanks to a ridiculous screenplay, wafer-thin characters, and overbearing subtext, this fluffy rom-com highlights the veteran filmmaker’s flaws. Wearing his style thin, the movie makes for a significant misstep within a momentous career.

Verdict: The master filmmaker’s latest fumble.

Only Lovers Left Alive Review – Nasty Bites


Director: Jim Jarmusch 

Writer: Jim Jarmusch 

Stars: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt

Only-Lovers-Left-Alive-Australian-Poster-copy


 Release date: April 17th, 2014

Distributors: Sony Pictures Classics, Soda Pictures, Pandora Film Verleih

Countries: UK, Germany

Running time: 123 minutes


 

 

 

4/5

Best part: The eclectic performances.

Worst part: The wavering pace.

Here’s the thing about vampires: they suck! Admittedly, labelling a fictional entity like this is bashful and condescending. However, over the past few years, Hollywood has chewed up and spat out this bloodsucking creature. Though Twilight, Being Human, The Originals etc. don’t reach my demographic, they must be named and shamed for downplaying the vampire’s more dangerous and intelligent aspects. So who possibly can salvage the fanged beast? Thankfully, writer/director Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man, Ghost Dog) has taken the vampire lore back to its sickeningly dark beginnings. His latest feature, Only Lovers Left Alive, crafts an insightful and purposeful tale of two vampires on the edge of expiration.

Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston.

In no way intended for the common target demographic, Only Lovers Left Alive  reinterprets vampiric mythology and human existence. Here, Jarmusch subjects fans and newcomers to a nightmarish and transcendent ordeal. Those who label themselves “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” won’t, most likely, ever label themselves “Team Jarmusch”. Thankfully, the movie elevates itself beyond those dismal heights. In fact, Jarmusch, in any context, would hate for his efforts to be compared to anything related to pop-culture or escapism. Only Lovers Left Alive throws the severity of everything, including its threatening title, into question. From the opening frame, we are introduced to a twisted and delicious love story. Living a minimalist lifestyle in Tangier, vampiric temptress Eve (Tilda Swinton) exists in a lonely and pervasive society. Collecting blood samples from fellow bloodsucker Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), Eve longs for a more distinctive and ambitious lifestyle. In the other side of the globe – Detroit, to be exact – Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a lonely and sullen rock ‘n’ roll icon. Hiding in his dilapidated two-story abode, Adam’s long-term notoriety hurls him into cult-icon territory. Ordering charismatic servant Ian (Anton Yelchin) to do his bidding, Adam’s suicidal tendencies throw his ideologies into chaos. His life, distorted by Eve’s arrival, is further tested by Eve’s promiscuous and enthusiastic sister-in-law Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

Mia Wasikowska & Anton Yelchin.

Written and directed by Jarmusch, this established auteur’s latest effort is a kitsch, listless, and tempered examination of its peculiar characters. These vampiric characters exist in a nonsensical and churlish version of the 21st century. Looking through the hourglass, Jarmusch and his creations lurch artistically toward the impactful finale. Today, rushed pacing and established tonal shifts infect genre cinema. Fortunately, this poetic filmmaker goes above and beyond the norm. Dextrously, the devil (or Dracula, in this case) is in the details. The narrative comes together via a labyrinthine structure of idiosyncrasies, existential moments, and visceral flourishes. Adam and Eve – commenting on humanity’s desire for conflict, wealth, and power – look down upon the surrounding “zombies”. Limiting our race to this derogatory title, Jarmusch and his characters seemingly share the same consciousness. Despite its aimless structure, several gem-like surprises reside within witty lines, shocking twists, and gloriously thrilling montages. Delivering a momentous series of set pieces, the narrative places us in the same room as these terrifying nightwalkers. Waxing philosophical about history, mythology, literature, cantankerous human tendencies, and emotions, Adam and Eve’s journey becomes a saucy and concentrated concoction to be slowly sipped on like a Bloody Mary (a drink downed more than once by our protagonists).

“I just feel like all the sand is at the bottom of the hour glass or something.” (Adam (Tom Hiddleston), Only Lovers Left Alive).

John Hurt.

Delivering an Ann-Rice-like tinge, Jarmusch and his favourable cast relish in this genre’s more chilling and impressionistic conceits. Illuminating its characters’ stranglehold on pop-culture, Only Lovers Left Alive becomes as desirable and ambitious as Adam and Eve themselves. Throughout this tumultuous romantic-drama, these immortal beings deliberate on even their own artistic merits. However, delivering overbearing viewpoints on intrinsic topics, Jarmusch’s seminal words and ideas almost overpower his magnetic direction. His agenda, commenting on psychological and societal degradation, undermines this otherwise subtle and heart-wrenching character study. Fortunately, the talented and vivacious cast awaken these gritty, soulless figures. Swinton, once again, steps gracefully through this filmmaker’s universe. Her performance, defined by purposeful mannerisms and a silky-smooth voice, delves fang-first into the material. In addition, Hiddleston and Wasikowska deliver electrifying turns as the story’s more polarising characters. Graciously, Jarmusch’s visual style turns even the most dialogue driven scenes into sensory feasts. Dousing each frame in a pulsating colour palette, Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography lends inspired tones and patterns to this all-encompassing and alarming journey. In addition, with our scarred lovers obsessed with revelatory artistic endeavours, the movie’s bright, bold soundtrack/score delivers pleasurable interludes that breathe life into this meticulous creation.

Drifting beyond its glacial pace and stoic narrative, Only Lovers Left Alive elevates its vampiric characters above those of recent cinematic iterations. Fuelled by existential angst, scintillating romantic interludes, and Jarmusch’s sensuous visuals, this movie examines our infatuation with nostalgia, gothic fiction, and the First World order. Jarmusch, as valuable to the narrative as Hiddleston’s skinny physique, examines yet another genre and delivers an idiosyncratic, intensifying, and indulgent work of art. As expected, this indie darling becomes a vampiric love story with…bite.

Verdict: A moody and electrifying romantic-drama. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel Review – Wild, Wild Wes-tern


Director: Wes Anderson

Writer: Wes Anderson

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe

 


Release date: March 21st, 2014

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Anderson’s direction.

Worst part: The unnecessary bookends.

Words like “hipster” and “pretentious” are thrown around far too often nowadays. Intended as insults, these words are too often taken out of context and placed into judgemental analyses. Unfortunately, these words are often directed toward writer/director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom). Sure, his style stands out from every other big-name filmmaker out there. But why should we criticise him for being different? This year, Anderson has pursued a new and improved form of critical and commercial acclaim.

Ralph Fiennes & Tony Revolori.

Simultaneously lampooning and embracing his distinctive style, Anderson’s new feature The Grand Budapest Hotel reaches out to newcomers and long-time fans. Here, this near-rabid fandom is what Anderson strives for. In  this delectable dramedy, his bold visuals, deadpan performances, and relevant themes are dissected and meticulously placed back together. To introduce readers to Anderson’s universe, I’ll describe this labyrinthine plot. In one timeline, a girl places a key on a statue before diving into a novel named ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. We are then introduced to the novel’s narratorial force. The author (Tom Wilkinson) describes one significant event in his tumultuous life. From there, we meet the author’s younger self (Jude Law) residing in 1968. Meeting the hotel’s elderly owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the author enquires about Moustafa’s past. We then examine Moustafa’s younger self (Tony Revolori) whilst learning of the Hotel’s former glory back in 1932. This timeline, set in the fictional Eastern European country of Zubrowka, deals with countries and businesses during wartime. As a lobby boy, Moustafa becomes friends with the hotel’s favourable concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Over the years, Gustave courts several rich, elderly women whom come for the hotel’s reputation and stay for his “exceptional service”.

Adrian Brody & Willem Dafoe.

Heartbroken over his lover Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis(Tilda Swinton)’s death, Gustave, after acquiring prized painting ‘Boy With Apple’, is pursued by her son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody), assassin J.G.Jopling (Willem Dafoe), Deputy Vilmos Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), and Inspector Henckels (Edward Norton). Honestly, it’s difficult fitting this expansive, starry-eyed cast into this synopsis. In true Anderson fashion, commendable lead and character actors fill each role. Here, Anderson’s auteur status ascends to a notch above transcendent. Embracing narrative tropes and visual flourishes, Anderson takes full responsibility for each detail. Conquering screenwriting and directorial duties, this masterful dramedy icon embellishes what others fear. Idealistically, fun concepts are explored in this sprawling tale about hope, love, age, loss, and survival. The Grand Budapest Hotel, escaping Anderson’s conventional familial-drama confines, delivers an investigation into an entire country’s peculiar inhabitants. Despite including one-too-many timelines, Anderson’s deft touch and focused direction delivers an honest and fruitful idea of humanity’s lighter and darker shades. The author’s timeline fuses with Moustafa’s in a tricky yet purposeful fashion. As a showcase for renowned performers, The Grand Budapest Hotel is chock-a-block with impactful moments and hearty surprises. In fact, around every corner, characters, laugh-out-loud gags, and clues reside to bolster this quirky tale. In addition, the movie throws gunfights, murders, and tension into this whimsical concoction. Thankfully, the movie never becomes quirky for quirky’s sake. Gustave’s journey never becomes corny or materialistic. Instead, this harsh yet intelligent narrative explores Anderson’s most enigmatic ideas. 

“Keep your hands off my lobby boy!” (M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), The Grand Budapest Hotel).

Jude Law & Jason Schwartzman

Of course, generating fans the world over, Anderson’s signature visual style eclipses this narratorial thrust and opinionated viewpoints. Beyond being the all-knowing creator of prescient dollhouse-like universes, the mis-en-scene, from the ground upward, builds glorious interiors and kitsch exteriors. As Gustave compliments people on their artistic merits, we can see Anderson applauding his own identity and style. Here, his universe becomes more wondrous, idiosyncratic, and gargantuan than anything a modern blockbuster can, and would, deliver. As blockbusters for the indie crowd, Anderson’s features exclaim more than expected each time. Overcoming obvious and ill-conceived preconceptions, his attention to detail almost becomes a cure for a conquering bout of Hollywood-itis. Overcoming the cynicism, his near-symmetrical compositions, clashing colours, stylistic experiments, and blank-faced characters develop near-wordless conversations. Here, his glorious style interacts with over-arching messages. Paying homage to everyone from Ernst Lubitsch to The Marx Brothers, Anderson uses hallways, elevators, cramped spaces, and lobbies to accentuate the story’s manic energy. Fitting its entire cast onto a bevy of key hangars, the poster reveals only a fraction of the movie’s content. Despite the vagueness, these performers, whether they be new to or accustomed to Anderson’s flourishes, admirably reinforce this tale’s enthusiasm, vision, and ideology. Fiennes breaks from tradition to embody this unhinged and comedically-charged role. Tapping into his slapstick chops, the iconic British actor jumps into each scene with charm, maliciousness, and reverence. Newcomer Revolori is also a standout as Gustave’s naive and witty number-two. Bolstering their already esteemed reputations, supporting players like Norton, Goldblum, Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, and Harvey Keitel stand above this immensely talented ensemble.

Eclipsing Anderson’s best efforts, including Rushmore and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an effervescent and efficient love letter. In addition, it outright refuses to become a sorrowful apology to Anderson’s detractors or even average filmgoers. Anderson, now reaching critical and commercial acclaim, holds his head up higher than even the most respectful hotel staff member. Ideally, it’s worth making reservations for, and checking-in to, this hysterical and dexterous dramedy.

Verdict: Anderson’s most gleeful and nuanced effort yet.

Machete Kills Review – A Bloody Mess


Director: Robert Rodriguez

Writer: Kyle Ward

Stars: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Mel Gibson, Carlos “Charlie Sheen” Estevez


Release date: October 11th, 2013

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minute


 

1½/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: Rodriguez’ direction.

Every so often, big-name directors churn out critically and commercially panned movies, and, because they are stuck in the spotlight, they become ridiculed beyond belief. It may not be fair, but it’s inevitable. It proves that even Hollywood’s greatest figures make mistakes. However, I wish to point out a much worse scenario – when an auteur all but gives up on their grand vision. Mexican director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk till Dawn) has fallen into this trap. Judging by his latest action flick, Machete Kills, this director should go back to the drawing board. It has it’s moments, but, sadly, that’s the highest praise I can give it. Unfortunately, this zany homage becomes a schizophrenic miasma of stereotypes, actors collecting pay-checks, and dull sub-plots.

Danny Trejo & Michelle Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’ abhorrent laziness and lack of subtlety stand out in Machete Kills. There are not enough words to describe how schlocky, bland, and convoluted this exploitation flick becomes during its exhaustive 108 minute run-time. Bafflingly, describing this uninspired action flick’s plot requires a lot of energy and patience. Left for dead after a drug bust gone horribly wrong, leading to Sartana Rivera(Jessica Alba)’s murder, Machete (Danny Trejo) must reel from his lover’s death whilst being threatened by Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler). Thankfully, during his execution, he is summoned by US President Rathcock (Carlos Estevez aka Charlie Sheen) to save the USA and Mexico. Teamed up with feisty beauty queen and informant Blanca Vasquez (Amber Heard) and one-eyed senorita Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), Machete tracks down wanted revolutionary Marcos Mendez (Demian Bichir) before he can obliterate Washington DC. However, Mendez’ abduction doesn’t bode well for Mexico’s future. Mendez hurriedly places a $10 million bounty on himself to be saved from his tough-as-nails captor. This sets off a chain reaction, as brothel owner Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), arms dealer Luther Voz (Mel Gibson), and infamous assassin El Camaleon (Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding jr., Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins) poke their heads out from the Mexican desert to track down the mysterious anti-hero and his personality-shifting captee. Machete, considered a legendary badass and skilled lover, could use his remarkable talents to decapitate pure evil itself!

Carlos “Charlie Sheen” Estevez.

Honestly, despite researching this inferior sequel’s numerous arcs and twists, I can’t seem to recall anything about this movie. Rodriguez, convinced he is Mexico’s greatest visionary director, is now playing a one note banjo. This talented yet misguided filmmaker has underwhelmed since his debut feature El Mariachi took the low-budget film-making world by storm. That $7,000 gem placed one man in a frightening situation and pushed him to the edge. Machete Kills, with a budget probably 10 000x that of his first movie, should have relished in its opportunities to enthral filmgoers. Sadly, Rodriguez’ style and attention to detail have steadily declined in quality. Despite Sin City‘s understated success, movies like Spy Kids and Planet Terror failed to impress despite their overwhelming potential. Despite his Mexi-can-do attitude, Rodriguez’ talents are sorely wasted on Machete Kills. Though the original wasn’t exactly high art, it contained the grit and guts needed for this type of nostalgic romp. With Machete spawning from a fake trailer featured in 2007’s Grindhouse flop, Rodriguez’ senseless pride, bloated ego, and misguided optimism have proven costly. With its poor box-office receipts, the Machete series can assuredly be labelled the ‘headless chicken’ of franchises (not too dissimilar to the headless beings scattered throughout Rodriguez’ previous efforts). Surprisingly, Rodriguez had the audacity and guile to credit screenwriter Kyle Ward. Machete Kills, planting an array of exploitation-fantasy tropes into its confused narrative, lacks the punchy dialogue and unique characters Quentin Tarantino can craft from scratch. Jumping from Tex-Mex action flick to sci-fi extravaganza, Rodriguez’ ambitiousness flails as this ode to 70s exploitation cinema fizzles out before the half-way point. His purposefully derivative direction is, in itself, ageing dreadfully. With Rodriguez’s reach exceeding his grasp, Machete Kills proves that Rodriguez’ mid-life crisis is now becoming tiresome.

“I just gotta say that you are one genuine article, Genghis Khan, high-caliber, f*cker-people-upper.” (Voz (Mel Gibson), Machete Kills).

Sofia Vergara.

Rodriguez’ wink-and-nudge visual style, still as pulpy and outrageous as it was in the 90s, rages throughout Machete Kills. Stuck in Tarantino’s shadow, Rodriguez can’t help himself when it comes to filling every frame with gratuitous and wacky imagery. Kicking off Machete Kills with a goofy trailer for the threequel, Machete Kills Again…in Space, he douses the camera in elaborate costumes and unconvincing CGI. Despite the gag casting of Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio in the fake trailer, it proves the Machete character shouldn’t have left that 2-3 minute marketing realm. Replicating the kooky and laughable visuals reminiscent of direct-to-DVD and 60s sci-fi action flicks, Rodriguez’ kitsch aesthetic has become alarmingly discomforting. Here, the CGI backgrounds, blood splatters, and muzzle flashes overshadow the enjoyable and exhaustive action sequences. Despite consistently delivering his movies on time and under-budget (admittedly, a commendable feat), his style lacks the dynamic punch, satirical edge, and necessary thrills that could’ve made Machete Kills a bonafide hit. Here, tacky settings and cheap practical effects highlight Machete Kills‘ datedness. Fortunately, the bevy of B/C-list actors and Hollywood’s most deplorable celebrities lift the audience’s spirits. Clearly, these actors know more about B-movies than Rodriguez thinks he does. Trejo, a direct-to-DVD king himself, is a wondrous and engaging screen presence. Growling and slashing in every scene, he elevates several sorely unimaginative set-pieces. The titular legendary figure becomes a Mexican Roger-Moore-James-Bond-esque hero. Meanwhile, Vergara, Estevez, Gibson and Heard deliver sumptuous turns in underwhelming roles. Also, in Machete Kills‘ least interesting subplot, the El Camaleon becomes a breeding ground of unique celebrities and outrageous performances.

Unfortunately, Machete Kills‘ few shining moments become bursts of oxygen escaping a overwhelmingly toxic environment. Rodriguez’ penchant for making terrible movies on purpose has turned him into an obsessive and alienating director. Someone should tell Hollywood this ’emperor’ has no clothes.

Verdict: A clumsy and pointless hack-and-slash flick.

Trance Review – Boyle-ing Over


Director: Danny Boyle

Writers: John Hodge, Joe Ahearne

Stars: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani


Release date: March 27th, 2013

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Countries: UK, France

Running time: 101 minutes


4/5

Best part: Boyle’s direction.

Worst part: The multitude of plot-twists.

Memory can be a powerful tool. We can relive our greatest moments and worst experiences in great detail. It’s a mechanism that can also be warped in miraculous or disastrous ways. Many films have focused on this powerful and engaging topic. Hollywood’s latest examination of the mind is Trance. It’s a convoluted yet profound experience. It’s, for lack of a better word, mind-boggling.

James McAvoy.

The film opens with the lead character, Simon (James McAvoy), explaining how an art auction should operate. His job is vital to the security and preservation of famous paintings from many countries and centuries. He also doubles as an insider for a dangerous band of French criminals. Led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), the criminals storm the auction house, take out the security system, and head for Francisco Goya’s Witches in the Air. However, Simon’s heroism draws him to the painting before Franck can reach it. Suffering a blow to the head from the butt of Franck’s gun, Simon’s concussion leads to amnesia. When torture fails to work, Franck hires seductive hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help them find the missing painting. Her experimental procedures put everyone involved in danger. Simon must find the painting and uncover his darkest secrets before it’s too late.

Vincent Cassel.

Trance is, for all intents and purposes, one of the best films of 2013 so far. It’s a rich, sprawling and stylish thriller with a heartening touch. This film is similar to Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Side Effects. Both films contain layers that are both alluring and secretive. You’ll need to be wide awake to engage with the film’s many surreal elements. The movie becomes exhausting well before the final revelation. However, it’s nice to see A-list directors tackling slick yet inventive stories. Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is essentially the British version of Soderbergh. Boyle’s body of work varies in tone and genre, but his trademark visuals remain. He has taken on dark sci-fi adventures (Sunshine), docudramas (127 Hours), zombie apocalypses (28 Days Later) and family flicks (Millions). It’s exciting to compare Trance to other films in Boyle’s impressive filmography. It may not be his best film, but it’s still an electric and satisfying psychological-thriller. It’s much slicker than many of his previous efforts. It appropriately and efficiently focuses on style more so than substance. Boyle still manages to meticulously craft every twist and turn inside this convoluted story. The collaboration between him and screenwriters John Hodge and Joe Ahearne has created a visceral example of escapist entertainment.

Rosario Dawson.

If you mixed Hitchcock’s most polarising thrillers, with 40s film noirs (e.g. Double Indemnity) and Boyle’s impressive oeuvre, then Trance would be the end result. Just like Inception, Memento, and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Trance led me up one path whilst distracting me from the paths it intersected with. Hypnosis, psychology and memory are dangerous tools in this cat-and-mouse game. Its heist-thriller sequences intersect with both psychological-drama and sexy romantic-thriller elements. It was the Les Diaboliques-like story and arresting character threads that thrilled me. As the film delves deeper into Simon’s shattered state, the violence and nudity increases. These elements may seem gratuitous, but they heartily push the story toward its shocking conclusion. The characters are found lurking inside each memory. It becomes increasingly difficult to decipher reality from fantasy. Boyle’s kinetic visuals also elevate what could’ve been a lacklustre Memento wannabe. His visuals have distracted me in the past. It seems that Boyle has learnt from such mistakes as Sunshine’s messy final third and The Beach’s overt silliness. Bright, contrasting colours flood every scene. Shots are defined by peculiar angles, images, and movements. Meanwhile, the film’s punchy editing style precisely folds everything together. It’s ironic that Boyle’s taste in trance music works to this film’s advantage. The pulsating score pushes Trance into overdrive.

“I was really good, but not good enough. And not good enough really isn’t very good.” (Simon (James McAvoy), Trance).

Part of Trance’s violent streak.

Boyle is honest about the type of film he has created. He has made a psychological thriller that creates its own demented sense of fun. When the line “no piece of art is ever worth a human life” is uttered, Boyle is clearly winking at the audience. The film benefits from its Hitchcockian characters. They quickly become lost inside this catastrophic situation. Simon is a common man disarmed by multiple forms of temptation. Addicted to gambling, his eventual downfall into criminality brings his dark side to the surface. His description of the auction heist is both poised and engaging. McAvoy has proven himself to be a phenomenal actor. Able to leap from one genre to another, McAvoy balances charm and a fierce screen presence. Cassel has proven his worth in both French and Hollywood cinema. Famous for stunning tough-guy performances in La Haine and Eastern Promises, he is able to bring both charisma and style to any role. In Trance, he convincingly churns out a menacing and vindictive character. Underrated actress Rosario Dawson, Boyle’s ex-girlfriend, goes all out for her role as the slinky hypnotherapist. Her character is the queen of experimental therapy. Her practices are so controversial they would make Sigmund Freud fall off his chair.

From the heart-thumping Heat-like heist sequence, to the film’s creative resolution, Trance is an old-school thriller with 21st century filmmaking sensibilities. Boyle may not be doing his best work here, but it’s still a startling achievement. Trance is an examination of the human condition that never forgets to have fun.

Verdict: A complex and visceral heist/psychological-thriller.

Side Effects Review – Addictive Formula


Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Stars: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones


Release date: February 8th, 2013

Distributor:  Open Road Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


4/5

Best part: Soderbergh’s direction.

Worst part: Cartoonish supporting characters.

It’s ironic that acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh has made several movies about drugs, because his filmography is startlingly addictive. Soderbergh has made some of the best movies of the past two decades. His filmography features such hits as Out of Sight, Traffic, The Ocean’s trilogy, The Informant! and Erin Brockovich. Side Effects is his last feature film. Thankfully, his swan song may be one of the most intelligent films of his career.

Rooney Mara.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a sweet, young woman. She has waited four years for her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) to be released from prison. Unfortunately, she is struck down by her long-term bi-polar disorder. Her shaky mental state causes a failed suicide attempt. Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) is assigned to treat her on-going and dangerous condition. He prescribes Emily a new drug called Ablixa, recommended by Emily’s former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The drug seems to work wonders for Emily. That is until the side effects kick in. She begins to sleepwalk incessantly around the house. Her erratic behaviour suddenly, and violently, transforms Emily into a legal nightmare for Dr. Banks. His life soon begins to fall apart. Having lost everyone’s trust, he becomes obsessed with discovering the real cause of Emily’s condition.

Jude Law.

Jude Law.

Soderbergh has a very distinctive and experimental style. He can fleetingly go from a mainstream production with a huge ensemble cast, to an indie flick with porn star Sasha Grey in the lead role (The Girlfriend Experience). He creates temperate character studies instead of typical Hollywood fodder. He will cap off his screen career with Behind the Candelabra, a Liberace biopic for HBO starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. Afterwards, he will focus on painting and directing plays. He will be sorely missed. His latest film is an eclectic mix of influences and trademark flourishes. Soderbergh instantaneously flips the narrative; turning this sensitive character study into a Sex, lies and Videotape/Les Diaboliques-style drama, and then into a legal/journalistic thriller in the vein of Michael Clayton and Zodiac. Every twist and turn hits with a knock-out punch as egos and motivations are tested. However, some of the third act plot twists are a bit hokey. An adjective that is thrown around way too often is ‘Hitchcockian’ (thanks for nothing, Brian de Palma!) I will say, however, that the term fits Side Effects like a glove. From the opening shot of a bleak cityscape, you can pinpoint winks and nudges to such Hitchcock films as PsychoVertigo and Dial M for Murder. Soderbergh, much like Hitchcock, has a visual style that places him above other prominent directors. It’s very easy to identify his cool and moody style. He is a true A-list artist that is known to play with indie film-making sensibilities.

Channing Tatum.

Soderbergh, much like Hitchcock, has a visual style that places him above other prominent directors. It’s very easy to identify his cool and moody style. He is a true A-list artist that is known to play with indie film-making sensibilities. Nowadays, it’s hard to find directors with a taste for creating visual flourishes. His camera angles and movements, for example, are both unique and indelible. With just a few distinctive shots, he can make likeable characters seem peculiar. His use of depth of field is another important aspect of his direction. The camera comes in and out of focus at odd points, putting pressure on the viewer without using excessive force. His colour-coded scenes also paint an emotionally charged picture. His earthy and unsettling green and yellow tones (prevalent in many of his films) bring every scene and situation down to a real world level. His touch is not just in the visuals. The swift editing and pulsating jazz/electronica score help to create a cracking pace for this low key, atmospheric thriller. Soderbergh is certainly an opinionated director. Throughout his career, he has discussed many important issues (world-wide panic, economic crisis etc.). Traffic delved into the US/Mexico drug trade whilst Contagion, written by Side Effects writer Scott Z. Burns, depicted a world-wide epidemic. Side Effects, on the other hand, explores Soderbergh’s stance against prescription drugs and pharmaceutical companies.

“I won’t be able to tell the truth if I take anymore pills.” (Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), Side Effects).

Catherine Zeta-Jones.

In the first act, Soderbergh and Burns objectively and meticulously set up the conflict. Ever so slowly, however, the film turns into an all-out assault on America’s most profitable drug companies. It becomes an in-depth examination of pharmaceutical industry wheeling and dealing. Dr. Banks and his colleagues almost become drug dealers, dishing out meds for a quick and hefty profit. This film thrives on its winning performances and intensifying characters. Mara continues her scorching run after the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She conveys the full range of mental and emotional states, becoming a true Hitchcockian lead character. Her china doll look is in stark contrast to her failing mental and moral state. Law gives a passionate performance as a sympathetic man on the edge in more ways than one. Scarily determined to find the truth, Dr. Banks’ search for answers is a neo-noir-like race against time and injustice. Tatum, capping off his ‘Soderbergh hat-trick’ after Haywire and Magic Mike, impresses in a small yet dignified role. Unfortunately, Zeta-Jones delivers an unconvincing performance as a vindictive she-devil. Sporting more make-up than the Joker, she hams it up to a cartoonish extent. Many of the supporting characters are one note. Dr. Banks’ wife, for example, is nothing but a shrill obstacle. Their relationship is just too shaky to be believable.

Whether you like it or not, Soderbergh has closed the curtain on his film-making career. In my opinion, he couldn’t have done a better job. Warning: Side Effects may lead to multiple viewings and an addiction to Soderbergh’s previous works. With a stellar cast and dynamite narrative in tow, Side Effects varies between mesmerising and upsetting. Ironic, really.

Verdict: An intense and stylish drama-thriller.