Interview with Two People Director Rob Livings


 

07-july-2017-two-people-interviewInterview with Two People Director Rob Livings

Arrival Review: Inner space


Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (short story)

Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

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Release date: November 10th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


4½/5

Best part: Adams’ compelling performance.

Worst part: Some dodgy CGI.

In Hollywood, aliens typically come in two forms. Sometimes, they are tentacled monsters hell-bent on obliterating humanity (Predator). Other times, they remind us about peace and love (ET: The Extra Terrestrial). The movies either resemble popcorn-fuelled blockbusters or more calming fare. Arrival undoubtedly falls into the latter category.

Arrival leaps away from stereotypical alien-invasion material. The movie, vying for critics’ recognition over box-office dollars, is worth the largest audience imaginable. It’s worth extended hours of discussion and contemplation. The plot follows university linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) stranded in the present. crushed by her daughter’s loss and ex-husband’s neglect, her cynicism reaches breaking point. However, on a seemingly normal day, twelve extraterrestrial spaceships hover over key sites around the world. Nicknamed ‘shells’ by the US military, the ships do little besides open their doors every eighteen hours. Their reasons for landing are wholly unclear. Louise is recruited by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to form a team to clarify the aliens’ intentions. Joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), the team studies a shell hovering in Montana.

Besides 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, viewers must travel back to the 1970s and 80s for a truly engaging and interesting invasion epic. Arrival resembles the type of cinematic masterpiece seldom replicated by filmmakers or seen by audiences today. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer grasp short story author Ted Chiang’s original material (Story of Your Life). The two deliver the year’s most thought-provoking blockbuster; a movie with enough to do and say simultaneously. Villeneuve and Heisserer’s shared vision immediately kicks into gear. The deliberate pacing and tone may deter wider audiences looking for shootouts and explosions. Here, conversation and action are equally important. The story explores the values of incisive decision-making and processing. Louise and Ian, continually entering the ship and contacting aliens ‘Abbott’ and ‘Costello’, craft a plan to understand the otherworldly language. Its professionals-doing-their-jobs narrative is utterly compelling.

Villeneuve’s atmospheric direction delivers some of 2016’s most compelling sequences. His version of time travel works wonders. Unlike similar fare (Interstellar), the leaps in time and space are never distracting. Louise, experiencing flashbacks to her daughter’s slow demise, sees a puzzle forming in her mind. By the third act, she compellingly connects the dots to find her way. The movie develops several well-rounded perspectives. Along with Louise and Ian’s glowing optimism, we see wise alien beings, careful military types (led by Weber and Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg)), fearful, right-wing soldiers and foreign military prowess. Like his previous works, Villeneuve draws phenomenal performances from Hollywood élite. Adams, with this and Nocturnal Animals, earns serious Oscar contention as the movie’s heart and soul. Renner and Whitaker deliver likeable turns in smaller roles.

Villeneuve and co.’s vivacious approach separates it from all other 2016 blockbusters. Arrival is a bleak yet optimistic dissection of humanity. Right now, like the movie’s events, the world is on the brink of anarchy and despair. If there was ever a need for intelligent discussion, it is now.

Verdict: A groundbreaking journey.

The Light Between Oceans Review: By the sea


Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Derek Cianfrance (screenplay), M. L. Stedman (novel)

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown

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Release date: November 2nd, 2016

Distributor: 132 minutes 

Countries: USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand

Running time: 132 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Fassbender and Vikander’s chemistry.

Worst part: The exhaustive run-time.

American writer-director Derek Cianfrance is one of Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic creative talents. His breakout hit, Blue Valentine, threw Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams into a nightmarish journey. His relentless style makes for limited repeat viewings. However, The Place Beyond the Pines is one of the past decade’s most underrated treasures.

Cianfrance turned said dark and gritty dramas into major talking points come Oscar time. Now, he returns with romantic-drama The Light Between Oceans. The plot fits with that of his earlier work. It follows introverted World War 1 veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) travelling to a foreign land after dischargement. Sherbourne is hired as a lightkeeper for an isolated lighthouse on Janus Rock, off Western Australia’s South West coast. His physical isolation makes life difficult. He and local girl Isabel (Alicia Vikander) form a budding relationship during his brief periods on the mainland. The two, after marrying several years later, look to start a family and everlasting life together on the island. Of course, what goes up must come down.

Hollywood romantic-dramas range from sweet and playful to downright soggy. The Light Between Oceans, based on acclaimed author M. L. Stedman’s best-seller, provides its workhorse writer-director with plenty to chew on. Cianfrance’s screenplay develops two wholly fascinating lead characters. He paints a detailed portrait of Sherbourne’s physical and emotional torment. His narration reveals every major and minute shade. With each high and low, Cianfrance strands us by Sherbourne’s side. Sherbourne, planning to leave for another endeavour, is continually interrupted by fate. The audience and Sherbourne are immersed in windy nights, gorgeous sunsets and sadness. Fortunately, before becoming dour, the movie shifts focus to Tom and Isabel’s relationship. Like his other films, Cianfrance seamlessly combines fantasy and reality. Their journey feels wholly authentic. The discomfort reaches critical levels after Isabel’s second miscarriage in just three years.

Cianfrance delivers an old-fashioned story with world-class execution. Before the tone plummets even further, The Light Between Oceans takes several interesting turns. After multiple tragedies, Tom and Isabel discover a dead man and live baby floating off shore in a dinghy. Compassion pushes them to break legal and ethical boundaries. Morals are questioned after the dead man’s wife/baby’s real mother Hannah (Rachel Weisz) comes into frame. Like David Lean’s works, whole sequences explore character and scenery over plot and pacing. Cianfrance develops Tom and Isabel’s points of view. Whereas Tom sticks by honour and truth, Isabel sees the baby’s arrival as inspiration. Sadly, the movie’s 132-minute running time hinders everything. By the third act, the romantic interludes and mournful exchanges are overbearing. Nevertheless, Fassbender and Vikander’s connection, leading to a real-life romance, is palpable. More so, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw effortlessly captures the picturesque coastal setting.

The Light Between Oceans illustrates Cianfrance’s obsession with character, story and scenery. The cast and crew ride the material’s soaring highs and crushing lows. However, this tearjerker may strictly be for older audiences.

Verdict: A sweet romantic-drama.

Hacksaw Ridge Review: In good faith


Director: Mel Gibson

Writers: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer

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Release date: November 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment, Icon Film Distribution

Countries: USA, Australia

Running time: 131 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The battle sequences.

Worst part: The CGI vistas.

Over the past decade, actor, director and trainwreck Mel Gibson has had massive highs and lows. His homophobic/sexist/racist/anti-semitic comments and unapologetic attitude destroyed his reputation. However, to quote South Park: “Say what you want about Mel Gibson, the son of a bitch knows story structure”. The controversy magnet is back in the spotlight with war-drama Hacksaw Ridge.

The once-great leading man was the king of 1990s and 2000s action-drama. 1995 Best Picture winner Braveheart, adding to his preceding successes, paved the way for A-list actor/directors like Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Jodie Foster. His other directorial efforts, Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, were also major talking points. Hacksaw Ridge a necessary jolt of adrenaline for Gibson’s career. This war-drama covers a shocking true story. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), after a violent incident involving brother Hal years earlier, lives a peaceful life in Lynchburg, Virginia. Desmond and Hal’s father Tom (Hugo Weaving) is haunted by World War I. The boys’ religious Mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) bares Tom’s wrath. The boys, much to their parents’ disdain, enlist to fight in WWII. Desmond falls for local nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) before being shipped off for military service.

Hacksaw Ridge develops multiple unique and intriguing identities. Screenwriters Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan provide solid groundwork for Gibson and the cast. The narrative itself is split down the middle. The first half develops Desmond as both lover and fighter. Gibson depicts Des’s home life with short, heart-wrenching moments. Des, essentially, is middle America’s more content side. Whereas Hal jumps at the opportunity to leave, Des contemplates everything and everyone before making fateful choices. His relationship with Tom is utterly necessary. That all-important decision – whether to join up with his comrades or leave other young Americans to fight – defines their dynamic. Our hero (despite being your average white, religious young protagonist) is never cloying or irritating. He is a blank canvas for everyone to project their views onto. Unlike many Hollywood-ised war-dramas, Des and Dorothy’s budding romance never jars with the tone.

After the brisk first half, Hacksaw Ridge takes swift turns throughout the second. Gibson and co. keep the politically-and-socially-charged fires burning. Throughout basic training, Des’s religious, anti-violent beliefs – as a conscientious objector following the Sixth Commandment of the Old Testament – rustle many feathers. In particular, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Jack Glover (Sam Worthington) seek to eject him on psychiatric grounds. Gibson’s handling of tension and drama is sublime. He gives each party their due whilst fleshing out Des’s training and court proceedings effectively. Also, interactions between Desmond and fellow soldiers are tightly wound. The movie soars during its Battle of Okinawa recreations. Each set-piece is shockingly violent, throwing buckets of blood and guts in our faces. Within seconds, machine gun fire and grenades obliterate whole battalions. Gibson fills every frame with stunning practical effects and stunt work.

Overshadowing 2016’s slew of bland blockbusters, Hacksaw Ridge provides genuine chills and thrills. Gibson is let off the leash here. Thanks to his command, the drama, comedic moments and action never distort one another. Indeed, his cast and crew bring their A-game to every scene. This could win big come Oscar time.

Verdict: A triumphant war-drama.

The Accountant Review: Crystal math


Director: Gavin O’Connor

Writer: Bill Dubuque

Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal

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Release date: November 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 128 minutes


3/5

Best part: Affleck’s subdued performance.

Worst part: The third-act plot-twists.

The Accountant is the latest in the never-ending line of middle-budget action flicks. It – Like John Wick, Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher – lives in bigger-budget movies(superhero flicks, space-operas etc.)’s shadows. At best, they deliver cheerful call-backs to 1980s/90s action-thrillers. At worst, they seem cheap and desperate. This year’s Bourne and Reacher franchise extenders resemble the latter.

The Accountant, unlike Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, is still a good movie. The marketing and movie itself revel in A-lister/talented filmmaker Ben Affleck’s renaissance. This is his second action-hero/intelligent savant role for 2016 after Bruce Wayne/Batman. Of course, despite the flaws, this is Citizen Kane next to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It follows highly functioning autistic and small-town accountant Christian Wolff (Affleck). Head of strip-mall firm ZZZ Accounting, he lives a secluded existence in suburban Illinois by day. By night, he un-cooks the books for assassins, drug cartels, money launderers etc. His latest mission may be his most puzzling. Living Robotics’ accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) finds irregularities in the company’s finances. Wolff monitors executives Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), Rita (Jean Smart), and Ed (Andy Umberger).

The Accountant is the busiest and most complex of 2016’s action-thrillers. The central plot-thread is difficult to crack or even explain. Bill Dubuque(The Judge)’s screenplay throws together lists of names, dates and figures associated with said fictional company. In the second act, as the whodunit mystery unfolds, the scripts opts for confusing jargon over clear explanations. More so, the financial-decoding is never cinematically appealing. Even Dubuque loses interest, adding multiple plot-strands and characters around it. On top of said industrial espionage, the script includes a buddy-cop sub-plot led by Treasury Department director of financial crimes Raymond King(J. K. Simmons). His story-line – blackmailing analyst Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into tracking down Wolff – leads nowhere. Meanwhile, an assassin (Jon Bernthal) is hired to dispose of Wolff. The eight-movies-at-once feel hinders an otherwise engaging premise.

The Accountant, although not succumbing to blockbuster fatigue, still feels dated and formulaic. Along with said meandering subplots, director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Jane Got A Gun) wrestles with flashbacks to Wolff’s childhood and dealings with jailed accountant/fixer Francis Silverberg (Jeffrey Tambor). By the third act, O’Connor struggles to pull everything and everyone together. Plot-holes emerge as the set-pieces and revelations kick in. However, like with Warrior, O’Connor’s rustic, gritty aesthetic pays off. His peculiar camera angles and movements provide nuance, while the action sequences are fearsome. Thanks to Affleck’s committed performance, the autism spectrum disorder angle never feels forced. The character’s professional and personal lives are well fleshed out. The movie’s stacked cast give unique turns in generic roles. Bernthal, deliciously over the top here, is the breakout star.

The Accountant, like many of 2016’s blockbusters, delivers maximum potential and mixed execution. O’Connor and his cast enthusiastically grapple with the material. However, 128 minutes is simply too long for this story.

Verdict: A diverting action-drama.

Hell or High Water Review: High Plains Drifters


Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Stars: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham

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Release date: October 27th, 2016

Distributor: CBS Films, Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


4/5

Best part: Pine and Foster’s chemistry.

Worst part: The two-dimensional female characters.

The western has experienced several overwhelming highs and lows. In Hollywood, the genre thrived on manliness and simplicity. Later on, it turned to existentialism and revisionism to illustrate its points. More than any other genre, western fiction reflects fact. Hell or High Water is only one shade away from reality.

Hell or High Water is a rare gem: a 21st-century western. 2016 has delivered a couple to mixed success. The Magnificent Seven was a fun but flawed action extravaganza. However, Jane Got A Gun threw its prominent director and cast under a stagecoach. This movie’s promotional material seemed entirely samey. The independent-drama feel marked it as ‘yet another’ straight-to-Netflix project. Indeed, Chris Pine’s Star Trek Beyond paycheque is probably worth double the budget. It follows brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner(Ben Foster)’s pitiful existences in middle-of-nowhere Texas. Toby, a divorced dad, lived with their mother throughout her fatal illness. Tanner, fresh off a ten-year prison sentence, always finds trouble. With the house in reverse mortgage, the two must find cash before Texas Midlands Bank carries out foreclosure.

Hell or High Water immediately launches into the action. Rather than building to it over the first act, writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) hurls us into their first bank robbery. His script is an ode to good ol’ Hollywood’s western/crime filmmaking style. Here, unlike with most heist set-pieces, everyone acts and reacts like real people. Hilariously, their first robbery is almost bungled by poor timing and preparation. Like classic western/gangster flicks, the movie evenly develops the cops and robbers. In reality, Toby and Tanner’s actions are despicable. Here, however, they are rebels with a cause. Toby, discovering the family’s land has struck oil, pushes to support his ex-wife and kids. Tanner, with nothing better to do, simply wants to help. Of course, Texas rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Brimingham) view the brothers’ antics as detrimental. Dutifully, Sheridan never makes us side with either party. His approach unveils both parties’ wants and needs throughout a tight cat-and-mouse game.

The movie’s fusion of western, crime-drama and heist-thriller elements flows. It handles several conventions (the ranger close to retirement, the partner with a target on their head, the criminals fighting against the system etc.) with slight twists. Playing with Sheridan’s sparkling dialogue, director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) could be Hollywood’s next talent goldmine. His style balances dark-and-gritty and enjoyably comedic. Thanks to the talented ensemble (in front of and behind the camera), each scene delivers intensifying moments. Whenever the brothers’ quarrels reach critical mass, Bridges comes along with a witty retort. However, its few female characters resemble nagging ex-wifes, one night stands, and sassy waitresses. Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens capture an unenviable plethora of one-horse towns and indian casinos. Furthermore, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score is nightmarish yet addictive.

Hell or High Water delivers more substance, thrills and laughs than most of 2016’s major releases combined. The marriage of cast and crew works wonders. Pine, Foster and Bridges showcase leading-man charisma and character-actor class simultaneously. This throwback proves some still make films the way Hollywood used to.

Verdict: A tight western-thriller.

The Girl on the Train Review: Pretty people problems


Director: Tate Taylor

Writers: Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Paula Hawkins (novel)

Stars: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux

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Release date: October 6th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Blunt’s miasmic performance.

Worst part: The predictable plot twists.

Beach-reads and airport novels are central to the literature business. The genre, packed with international best-sellers, cater to multiple audiences and basic desires. They are simply easy to indulge in – throwing in debauchery and plot twists willy-nilly. Romance, crime and drama have gotten the beach-read/airport novel treatment. Crime-thriller The Girl on the Train is…yet another one.

The Girl on the Train, written by Paula Hawkins, became an overnight sensation last year. The best-seller got movie-adaptation honours mere months after release. The book was revered and criticised for its twisty-turny narrative and gender politics. The movie version tries to reach those grand heights. It  chronicles divorced alcoholic Rachel (Emily Blunt). She spends every second in a booze-fuelled rage, taking the train from the suburbs to New York City and back. Whilst on the train, she peers into two particular homes. One belongs to her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). The other belongs to sexy married couple Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett). One day, Rachel flips out after seeing Megan having an affair with her psychologist Dr. Abdic (Edgar Ramirez).

The Girl on the Train resembles several much-talked-about erotic-thrillers. Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction and 2014 smash Gone Girl provide intriguing set-ups, unique characters and unsettling twists. Sadly, this novel adaptation lacks the finesse of said movies’ writing and direction. The movie lingers on Rachel’s misery in the first third. Her repetitive lifestyle is fascinating and sickening simultaneously. Her actions – bumbling in front of concerned train-goers, filling her water bottle with vodka etc. – fit standard full-time-drunk tropes. Her dynamic with frustrated roommate Cathy (Laura Prepon) gives the character added depth. However, the novelty eventually wears off. Of course, Megan becomes a missing persons case. As Rachel delves into the mystery, plot turns and red herrings keep popping up. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson makes every character creepy and decrepit. The ‘drama’ merely involves women crying while the men grunt and scowl.

Director Tate Taylor(The Help, Get On Up)’s po-faced adaptation makes conventional choices at every turn. Thanks to the limited number of characters, it becomes obvious who the culprit is. The character’s sinister entrance and peculiar behaviour make it all too clear. Pointless flashbacks and exposition further dilute the plot. Despite the predictable structure and lack of thrills, it delivers a fine commentary on alcoholism. Rachel’s plight is arresting. However, with a better script and director (David Fincher, maybe?), it could have been so much more. Blunt’s performance is the standout element; rocking gently between drunk mess and sincere being with aplomb. Ferguson and Bennett re-introduce themselves to modern audiences in underwritten roles. Character-actresses Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow provide valuable performances. Theroux and Evans are still completely lifeless!

The Girl on the Train lacks the keen-eyed direction and whip-smart writing of similar fare. Despite Blunt’s solid performance, the movie’s ultra-serious tone and bland performances distort an otherwise intriguing premise. The all-too-predictable narrative makes it yet another 2016 disappointment.

Verdict: A meandering, disappointing melodrama.