Writers: Gregg Araki (screenplay), Laura Kasischke (novel)
Stars: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez
Release date: October 24th, 2014
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Running time: 91 minutes
Best part: Shailene Woodley.
Worst part: Shiloh Fernandez.
Hollywood, over the past few years, has waged war against optimism, relationships and marriage. In seeking to connect with modern/cynical audiences, big-budget cinema seemingly exists to criticize these well-intentioned, life-altering decisions. According to Tinseltown, life post-proposal is nothing but broken promises and empty souls longing for the “till death do us part” scenario to become reality. Following up Gone Girl and Men, Women & Children, White Bird in a Blizzard strives to put the final nail in the coffin.
Shailene Woodley & Shiloh Fernandez.
In all honesty, despite seeing the positives of marriage, this socially recognised union is not my thing. In fact, White Bird in a Blizzard could spark many wide-ranging viewpoints about marriage, adolescence, and life. The movie, though intent on forming its own analysis, longs for multiple discussions about its story, themes, and characters. Writer/director Gregg Araki (Doom Generation, Mysterious Skin) has studied, and adapted to, this film/film-goer interaction throughout his career. So, does his latest feature stand up to criticism? As it turns out, White Bird in a Blizzard fits comfortably into his controversial filmography. The movie crafts itself around 1980s suburban America’s pros and cons. Its story follows promiscuous high school graduate Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley). Preparing herself for a degree at Berkeley, the youngster – despite her loving family and friends’ support – feels cut off from the rest of the world. Aided by her confident father Brock (Christopher Meloni) and detestable mother Eve (Eva Green), Kat’s life resembles that of your average adolescent. However, after Eve’s mysterious disappearance, Kat must pull herself back from the brink whilst asking the most important question of all: What happened to mum?
Christopher Meloni & Eva Green.
Based on Laura Kasischke’s best-selling novel, White Bird in a Blizzard takes on several genres and messages within its hurried 91-minute run-time. Exploring out-there stories and characters, Araki’s on-set intentions and off-set demeanour define him as one of American cinema’s most unusual auteur filmmakers. Known for his New Queer Cinema movement entries, he – similarly to Gus Van Sant – isn’t afraid of proclaiming his sexual orientation and significant viewpoints. Faced with fearsome opposition, his movies seek to destroy prejudice, conflict, and status quo. His latest effort, discussing societal norms and the studio system, has a helluva lot on its mind. In fact, like previous features, White Bird in a Blizzard depicts horrific events with subtlety, verve, and intelligence. Sticking to Araki’s independent roots, the narrative wears the veil of American Beauty whilst hiding many masochistic undertones. Harking back to Sam Mendes and Todd Solondz’ earlier works, this drama-thriller depicts a love-is-a-lie version of middle-class existence. Tearing his story-threads and characters apart, each sickening twist and turn further enlarge the central conflict’s cracks, tears, and erosion. Kat, pointing out her family and friend’s overt pretentiousness and transparency, becomes the knife slicing through society’s grand illusions. Our existentially frazzled lead, despite her boyfriend/neighbour Phil(Shiloh Fernandez)’s nice-guy nature, seeks primarily to destroy his booming reputation. Several scenes – featuring fluffy conversations between her and friends Beth (Gabourey Sidibe) and Mickey (Mike Indelicato) – strive to elevate our ‘protagonist’ above everyone else.
“The beautiful woman she once was…became a phantom wandering away in a snowstorm.” (Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley), White Bird in a Blizzard).
Woodley, Gabourey Sidibe & Mark Indelicato.
Araki, not one for subtlety or objectivity, designed White Bird in a Blizzard to obliterate suburbia. Despite the approachable set-up, the movie thrusts deep-seeded emotions into the spotlight. Commenting on our evolution from 20th-century patio culture to 21st-century liberalism, the narrative revels in its views on feminism, masculinity, class warfare, gender politics, and relationships. Through flashbacks and dream sequences, we see a nightmarish insight into the Connor household. Eve, close to grinding glass into Brock’s dinner, appears stuck in a mind-numbing and lifeless void. Slipping into a booze-and-loose-clothes-addled depression, she leaps from glorified mistress to independent nightmare. Turning the tide throughout, the movie further examines its own disturbed, philosophical recesses. Biting off more than it can chew, it even tackles current young-adult, mystery-thriller, and relationship-drama trends. Crafting a Lovely Bones-esque switch from marriage to mystery, the narrative pokes fun at its whodunnit twists and turns. Whilst seducing Detective Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane), Kat openly calls her actions into question. Picking apart modern literature heroines’ weaknesses, it’s really an indictment against popular entertainment. She even has two good-looking guys fighting over her, outlined by her roommate’s “I’m Team Oliver” comments. In particular, Woodley’s casting illuminates Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars‘ misgivings. However, her sweet-natured performance, out-classing Meloni and co., highlights her immense dramatic talents.
Though Araki’s reach exceeds his grasp, his ambition and style cannot be faulted. Throwing bright colours, comically appealing narration, a kitsch soundtrack, and soap-opera-esque lines across his 11th feature, the writer/director Araki is one of few big-names crafting efforts of lasting effect and whip-smart attitude. White Bird in a Blizzard – thanks to its non-linear structure and self-aware humour – creates a thought-provoking contrast between reality and ‘reel life’.
Back in the 1990s, one well-known comic-book writer sparked up the perfect concept for a truly unforgettable graphic novel. As a political and social satire, the Sin City series skewers everything our capitalism-run world has, and will ever have, to offer. Amicably, creator Frank Miller didn’t aspire to make millions when it was first released. In fact, if you read anything he’s done, or listen to any of his interviews, his unique viewpoints still stand tall. With that in mind, his recent cinematic endeavours come off as wholly contradictory and hypocritical.
Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tear down Sin City.
With his latest project, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he and co-director Robert Rodriguez are simply treading old ground for a quick profit. With this instalment blazing through cinemas, the question Should asked: why is it coming out nine years after the first one? With the 2005 original breaking the mould for comic-book adaptations, and becoming a critical and commercial surprise hit, why did it take so long? Sure, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit several major studios hard. However, that didn’t stop Rodriguez and Miller from crafting mega-flops like The Spirit and the Machete double. Our two pop-culture conquerors built this bewildering comeback effort from the ground up. Developing a powerful concoction of film noir, exaggerated comic-book gloss, and gritty action extravaganza, this rushed return delivers momentous highs and lows. Spreading several stories across this nightmarish ordeal, the hidden ingredients fuel its best moments. Sadly, these ingredients are hard to find. First off, in ‘Just Another Saturday Night’, we see the violent return of hulking badass Marv (Mickey Rourke). With no recollection of his past, Marv tries to figure out how and why he crashed a car before murdering several teenage gangsters. Next up, in ‘The Long Bad Night’, we are introduced to slick poker champ Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Swaggering into Kadie’s Saloon, he hits the slot machines before besting the all-powerful Senator Roark with the cards. Soon after, Johnny is taught one major lesson: don’t mess with a Roark!
Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.
These stories, rekindling the original’s invigorating tone and consistent pacing, make for a cracking first third. Throwing old and new characters through this awe-inspiring universe, the opening scenes deliver over-the-top action beats and emotional resonance. In addition, these sequences set up a magnetic mystery-thriller vibe for the narrative to capitalise on. Unfortunately, the middle and final thirds fail to deliver on the first’s promises. The third storyline, ‘A Dame To Kill For’, takes up a significant part of this instalment’s efficient run-time. After Dwight (Josh Brolin) falls for yet another one of Ava Lord(Eva Green)’s tricks, the movie’s gratuitously eyes down the slinky dames and leather-clad hookers of Old Town. With Gail (Rosario Dawson) and Miho (Jamie Chung) leading the charge, the titular storyline becomes a lugubrious mix exposition and tiresome twists. In addition, some sub-plots hinder this vignette’s overarching impact. One story-line, involving a conflict between detectives Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), sucks the tension and gravitas out of this otherwise intriguing narrative. However, the final third’s vignette, ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, in which Nancy Callaghan (Jessica Alba) – recovering from saviour John Hartigan (Bruce Willis)’s suicide – heads straight for Roark, lacks this series’ coherency, humour, and allure. Relying on kooky comedic moments and tiresome action beats, this storyline is nowhere near as creative as Rodriguez and Miller think it is. Ultimately, our two writer/directors never blend these heavy-handed, sequel/prequel-purposed vignettes together effectively. Thanks to overcooked dialogue, hokey narration, and misogynistic overtones, Miller’s involvement nearly eviscerates this puzzling instalment.
“Sin City’s where you go in with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all.” (Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).
Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.
Creating ‘The Long Bad Night’ and ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ specifically for this adaptation, Rodriguez and Miller’s latest effort awkwardly fuses their once-celebrated styles with more-recent ticks. As two great tastes that don’t go together anymore, Miller’s cynical perspective and Rodriguez’ nostalgia-drenched glow never blend. Fortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For clings onto the original’s breathtaking visuals. In fact, Rodriguez’ style pays off throughout. Bolstering their black and white creations, his atmospheric direction delivers several memorable flourishes and captivating compositions. Indeed, his cinematography, editing, and production design choices elevate every sequence. Filling certain frames with smoke, chiaroscuro lighting patterns, kinetic colour splashes, blood splatters, and breasts, his direction bolsters Miller’s nihilistic narrative and abrasive character designs. The action, despite harming the climax, bolsters certain panels and ideas. Above all else, Rodriguez deserves credit for rewarding such respected performers. Credit belongs to this obscene cast for fuelling this belated instalment. Despite the obvious nine-year hiatus, Rourke, Alba, Boothe, and Dawson efficiently sink back into their beloved characters. New cast members including Brolin, Meloni, Piven, and Dennis Haysbert perform adequately despite the challenges involved. However, chewing up the scenery, Gordon-Levitt and Green stand out in valuable roles.
Beneath the wind and rain coursing through Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez and Miller languish in its seedy underbelly. Immersing themselves within this world, these writer/directors fail to re-capture the original’s imagination and vigour. Becoming an oppressive parody of original, this instalment comes off like an ageing stripper – once flexible and courageous, now belligerent and unconvincing. However, credit belongs to Rourke, Brolin, Gordon-Levitt, and Green for embracing their surroundings and delivering splendid turns in two-dimensional roles. Clearly, in going by the trailer’s advice, they went in with their eyes open.
Verdict: An enjoyable sequel arriving nine years too late.
Writers: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad (screenplay), Frank Miller (graphic novel)
Stars: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro
Release date: March 7th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 102 minutes
Best part: Eva Green.
Worst part: the stilted dialogue.
Everyday, Hollywood comes up with new and transparent labels for its big-budget efforts. Placing blockbusters into specific categories, this system is hard to keep track of. Nowadays, its difficult deciphering whether something is a reboot, remake, sequel, or prequel. To bolster the ever-pressing studio system, Hollywood has come up with a new category. The ‘interquel’, thanks to belated sequel 300: Rise of an Empire, seems like a bizarre act of desperation. Thankfully, the movie ably justifies the category’s existence. This sequel/prequel is an enjoyable, action-packed romp.
Set before, during, and after the events of controversial auteur filmmaker Zack Snyder’s 2007 surprise hit, 300: Rise of an Empire continues on with the original’s overall narrative. Despite the extensive gap between instalments, the sequel commendably connects the two. Overlooking the original’s cult classic status, 300: Rise of an Empire justifies its existence from the get go. Fortunately, despite being a step down, the sequel is a pleasant surprise. Beyond the grown-inducing trailers and premise, the final product is salvaged by its lively execution. This series, ostensibly based on infamous comic-book writer Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novels, leans pressingly on major historical events. Here, we are introduced/re-introduced to the Battle of Salamis. The movie beings with Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) telling this pressing tale to a battalion of warriors. After her re-introduction, the movie jumps back to the conquering Battle of Marathon. With the Athenian and Persian factions locked in an epic battle, Athenian General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) becomes an unstoppable force. In the first five minutes, the highly-esteemed leader eviscerates an entire Persian battalion. After killing King Darius I of Persia (Yigal Naor), Themistocles declares the battle worthless. Witnessing his father’s death, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) becomes an angry embarrassment. Scheming Persian naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) pushes him into the desert. Becoming a God-king, Xerxes’ wrath descends upon Athens. Xerxes, one of the original’s unintentionally laughable creations, is a small part of a much grander vision. Thankfully, this backstory is lightly brushed over. Serving Artemisia’s disturbing plans, this uninteresting character is simply a puppet under a puppeteer’s control.
It’s worth pointing out, highlighting this movie’s troubled production history, this sequel is based on one of Miller’s unpublished creations. Basing his efforts entirely on cinema’s overwhelming potential, Miller’s writing and artwork reek of style more so than substance. Then again, Snyder’s style is also a perfect example of style over substance. So, will this franchise continue to mimic their stylistic flourishes? Or break away from irritable ticks and overblown creations? Judging by 300: Rise of an Empire‘s sheen, their notorious styles are imbued in this franchise’s DNA. Given the reigns to the Warner Bros./DC Comics universe after Man of Steel‘s significant profit margins, Snyder clings onto writing and producing duties. Director Noam Murro, beyond his silly name, is an odd choice for this type of blockbuster. With Smart People his only other feature-length credit, Murro launches into a wildly different genre with this convoluted sequel. For the most part, he does a commendable job. Murro understands the original is still a major talking point. The original’s cognitive elements – homoerotic overtones, muscular heroes, and visceral action sequences – drive his ambitious instalment. In love with the original’s monumental events, the sequel bows before Miller and Snyder’s grand accomplishments. Unfortunately, copying 300‘s structure, this instalment relies on the audience’s profound understanding of the original. Characters, at random, act on, and react to, the Battle of Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans’ brave sacrifice. Shoddily deliberating on freedom and political prosperity, the movie’s purpose relies on epic action sequences. Taking itself too seriously, the awkward dialogue moments present themselves as needless, and mindless, filler.
“Better we show them, we choose to die on our feet, rather than live on our knees.” (Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), 300: Rise of an Empire).
Surprisingly, the movie is defined by its closing credits. Bashing Black Sabbath and 2D animation together, this brashness efficiently sums up the preceding two-hour experience. Thrusting thinly-veiled exposition and messages into each scene, 300: Rise of an Empire paints a wholly expansive, gritty, and broad picture. With white characters charging through brown enemies throughout each action sequence, relevant discussions about military forces, political power, and social indifference are under-utilised. This franchise – aped by the Hercules reboots, the Clash of the Titans series, and Immortals – still stands above the pack. In particular, the directorial flourishes and action sequences elevate this series above its meandering competition. The plot, such as it is, caters to a series of overblown set pieces. Expectedly, the talky moments come off as cut scenes. Providing button-mashing-level entertainment values, the expansive set pieces are worth the admission cost. Beyond the video-game-like structure, the movie inventively takes to the seas. Depicting naval strategies and military prowess, the visceral and impactful naval battles stand out. With ships and swords clashing repeatedly, these sea-faring sequences are packed with edge-of-your-seat moments. Despite overusing Snyder’s slo-mo/speed-up trick, 300: Rise of an Empire amps up the violence. Slicing and dicing Persian forces, CGI blood is gratuitously splattered across each frame. Deliberating on honour, love, and war, the characters are defined by glorious speeches and harsh orders. Stapleton, a fine Australian actor, lacks Gerard Butler’s overt charisma. The soft-spoken Stapleton, despite his impressive physique, is stranded in an underdeveloped role. Thankfully, Green enthusiastically elevates her mediocre material. Lending maliciousness and sympathy to her antagonistic role, Green’s spectacular range pays off. The sex/fight scene between Themistocles and Artemisia sits head-and-shoulders above everything else.
Though not up to Spartacus and Gladiator’s immense status’, the 300 series benefits from immaculate production values and rippling muscles. You can’t help but notice these near-naked warriors’ enviable physiques. The casting directors must’ve had a helluva time picking these people. However, beyond the superficiality, 300: Rise of an Empire, despite its flaws, is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride. With a smarmy villain, fun action sequences, and stellar cinematography, this sequel is much better than you’d think.
Verdict: An enjoyably outrageous sword-and-sandal flick.
Stars: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz
Release date: May 11th, 2012
Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment
Running time: 113 minutes
Best part: Johnny Depp.
Worst part: The underdeveloped characters.
This tale from the crypt proves once and for all that Tim Burton has directorally run out of steam. His use of the same narrative tricks and visual motifs over and over again may please the die-hard Burton geeks, but non- believers may wish to steer clear of his latest white-faced, gothic adventure-comedy Dark Shadows.
Based on the 1960/70s soap opera of the same name, the film begins in 1782 with the Collins’s; a wealthy family leaving Britain for the new world. Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is the bright son of the Collin’s family and their new fortunes in the newly built Collinsport, feeling so powerful he rejects the maid of the Collin’s estate, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who has a craving for both which-craft and revenge. She sickeningly murders his family and new love while cursing him forever as a vampire. Awakened in 1972 with a thirst for blood and a fresh start with his once great wealth, Barnabas must contend with the manor’s new inhabitants; his wacky ancestors. With a stuck up head of the family (Michelle Pfeiffer), a rebellious teen girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), a drunkard (Jackie Earle Haley), a hired live-in Psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) and a strange little boy (Guliver McGrath), Barnabus must deal with clashing personalities, a vastly different time in history, a sexy yet vindictive Collinsport hotshot and alluring new visitor to the manor, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote).
The real name of Dark Shadows should be ‘Tim Burton on auto-pilot’. Everything you think a Burton film involves is here in some sort of slithering form or another. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter show up in important roles, white, sour faces cover the characters in every frame, beautiful set and costume designs and one underused yet significant actor after another. With Burton’s recent slate of uninspiring and unnecessary remakes and interpretations such as Alice in Wonderland, Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he can now add this adaptation of the infamous gothic yet satirical soap opera to the list. The story problems stem from Burton’s blatant disinterest in the unfolding of beautiful yet scary events. Much like his other remakes, the story begins with a whisper of promise. The prologue illustrating Barnabas’ violent fall from uptown grace by dark forces, starts Dark Shadowsoff in a necessarily dark fashion. Soon after however, the film heads to the 1970’s, where one obvious joke on the styles and stereotypes of the 70s, and ironic vampire humour, rise from the grave.
“I have already prepared my counter-proposal. It reads thusly: You may strategically place your wonderful lips upon my posterior and kiss it repeatedly!” (Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp), Dark Shadows).
The hip soundtrack, featuring a blatantly pointless concert performance from Alice Cooper, rings throughout this fish-out-of-water tale, while clashing ideologies between Barnabus and the 70s itself surprisingly click in several of the slow dialogue moments. Several talented actors are forced into small, underused roles. Moretz, famous for her ass-kicking, potty mouth portrayal of Hit Girl, is creepily forced to grow up too fast in her portrayal of a slightly filthy teenager in the era of free love. Bonham Carter is only used to bring colour to many dull moments of character based dialogue. Aussie newcomer Heathcote is charming as the other new introduction to the Collin’s family, while Earle Haley is sadly wasted in a role entirely based on silly slapstick comedy, a real shame after his brilliant and sickeningly disturbed portrayal of the anti hero Rorschach in Watchmen. Burton’s typical auteur symbols do manage to keep the film together. Depp provides his usual charismatic and intensifying abilities as yet another indistinguishable and supernatural character from Burton’s disturbed mind. While Burton’s contrasting style of bright colours and soul sucking darkness in every scene portrays a fitting representation of this supernatural yarn.
Burton, once considered the breakthrough auteur of Hollywood cinema, has transitioned from Edward Scissorhands to a parody of himself. With Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter holding him down, Dark Shadows solidifies his journey from greatness to messiness.