Criminal Review: Title Fits Description


Director: Ariel Vromen

Writer: Douglas Cook, David Weisberg

Stars: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot

criminal-poster


Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


1/5

Review: Criminal

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


Director: Matt Reeves 

Writers: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

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

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Release date: July 11th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes


4/5

Best part: Serkis’ fascinating performance.

Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.

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

Jason Clarke, Kerri Russell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee

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

Gary Oldman.

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

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

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Andy Serkis as Caesar!

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

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

Verdict: An entertaining and ambitious sequel.

RoboCop Review – Rewired Revenge


Director: Jose Padilha

Writer: Joshua Zetumer

Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson

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Release date: February 12th, 2014

Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The exhilarating action sequences.

Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.

Despite his on-set temper and direction’s occasional clunkiness, Paul Verhoeven, in the late 1980s and early 90s, was one of Hollywood’s most versatile and entertaining directors. From sex-fuelled thrillers (Basic Instinct), to satirical action flicks (Starship Troopers), to warped sci-fi extravaganzas (Total Recall), Verhoeven’s style injected flair, punchiness, and wit into intriguing premises. Shaping contemporary audiences to fit new styles and sub-genres, his kitschiness pushed modern moviemaking into overdrive. Sadly, since then, his prized works have been beaten beyond recognition. After Len Wiseman’s lacklustre Total Recall remake bombed miserably, the oncoming RoboCop remake lost credibility and viewer interest.

Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy/RoboCop.

In addition, crippling production issues threatened to throw this remake’s ambitions into disrepute. Hollywood, delivering several big-budget movies with major production quarrels last year, inexplicably illuminates its own embarrassing missteps. Beyond this obvious “blockbusters kill cinema!” agenda, major studios contain enough resources to overcome minor issues whilst delivering engaging final products. Unfortunately, controversy strengthens the link between major studios and the media. My ‘perfect world’ aspirations, unsubtly, connect with RoboCop‘s distorted universe. Despite the obvious agenda, I must commend this remake for immediately hitting its stride whilst developing original ideas. Despite the over-the-top reboot/remake/reimagining PR debacle, I became inexplicably entranced by this explosive action flick. RoboCop, despite its overwhelming flaws, becomes an engaging and exhilarating thrill-ride unafraid of negative hype. Despite exploring the original’s veracious intricacies, this is an ambitious, dour, and inferior remake. Here, the plot delves head-on into its overwhelming thematic aspects. Set in the not-too-distant future, the remake becomes a visceral and slick buddy cop flick. Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) scours his city for criminals and corruption. Murphy and police partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are tasked with tracking down vicious mobster Anton Vallon (Patrick Gallow). Convinced that several co-workers are tied to Vallon’s organisation, Murphy’s pragmatic style lands Lewis in hospital. After a horrific car explosion, Murphy’s physical, emotional, and mental structures are destroyed. Meanwhile, technology conglomerate OmniCorp looks down on America’s liberal ideals. Pushing for robotic lawmen to patrol American cities, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) strives for a revelatory creation. Against Chief Scientist Dr. Dennett Norton(Gary Oldman)’s valued opinion, Sellars develops a half-man-half-machine invention. From this point forward, the movie transitions into a thought-provoking and intense sci-fi actioner. After turning Murphy into a cyborg warrior, Norton and Sellars’ conflict reaches breaking point.

Gary Oldman & Michael Keaton.

Their feud, sparked by ethical and moral differences, drives the narrative. Bravely, this remake takes the methodical and heavy-handed route. Here, sci-fi tropes are examined and deconstructed to develop this laboured story. Despite its positive elements, the original vastly exceeds its tech-savvy remake. The 1987 original’s ridiculousness, style, satirical edge, glorious violence, and humour elevates Verhoeven’s feature above predictability and tedium. Despite towering over the Total Recall remake, unexplored ideas and generic modern-blockbuster tropes savagely infect RoboCop. With frustrating studio methodologies rejecting original ideas and effective storytelling motifs, this remake becomes another po-faced and forgettable action flick. The narrative, borrowing from the original and other influential sci-fi flicks, takes several uninspired twists and turns throughout its exhaustive run-time. Courageously elevating this repetitive story, director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) effectively re-creates the original’s most note-worthy sequences. Changing specific scenes’ most iconic aspects, Padilha’s affection for 80s sci-fi cinema becomes a vital asset. Here, Murphy’s attempted murder, avoiding the original’s pulsating gore, is a quick and costly event. However, Padilha awkwardly handles several major references. Including the original’s most famous line (“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”), the movie debilitatingly stalls during these ineffectual moments. In addition, the movie mishandles its brash political agenda. Sitting atop the Bald Eagle’s right wing, this crowd-pleaser impulsively projects jingoistic and overblown messages. Mistaking thematic relevance for satire, Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer’s creation jarringly shifts from punishingly serious to heartily enjoyable and vice versa. Commenting on gun control, military power, totalitarianism, foreign policy, government practices, corruption, and ethically questionable medical tests, the movie leaves no stone unturned. Breaking the fourth wall, Samuel L. Jackson’s aura salvages the movie’s blunt attempt at satire. The Novak Element, featuring Jackson’s Bill O’Reilly/Glenn Beck-type character Patrick Novak, deliberates on the movie’s outrageously fascist ideologies.

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.” (Alex Murphy/RoboCop (Joel Kinnaman), RoboCop).

Samuel L. Jackson.

Despite RoboCop‘s outlandish agenda and cliched narrative, Padilha’s direction bolsters this listless remake. Known for relentless action sequences and startling grittiness, his style lends this remake a punchy and electrifying identity. Unfortunately, the original’s sprawling violence and unflinching practical effects aren’t included. This bloodless and brainless remake sorely lacks emotional weight and creativity. This blatant studio decision, attracting a family-wide audience, lacks the original’s more memorable and significant aspects. Thankfully, the remake’s action sequences, ignoring the original’s clunky shootouts, are the movie’s most valuable assets. Borrowing from John Woo and Neill Blomkamp, Padilha’s clever and kinetic action-direction immerses us into emphatically dangerous situations. Despite its family-friendly violence, Padilha’s style throws surprises and “f#ck yeah!” moments into each set-piece. Despite its prominence in the trailer, the abandoned warehouse sequence is an energetic and adrenaline fuelled segment. Here, Murphy/RoboCop becomes an intelligent and enthralling symbol for justice and heroism. The movie’s kick-ass moments, including its explosive prologue and pulsating climax, elevate RoboCop above similar sci-fi action remakes. Unfortunately, Padilha’s direction doesn’t elevate the movie’s inconsistent performances. Kinnaman, known for TV series The Killing, excels as the family man/robotic crime-fighter. With his unique physical presence and gruff tone, Kinnaman pushes through several of the movie’s worst lines. Meanwhile, collecting hefty paycheques, Oldman and Keaton deliver enjoyable performances in valuable supporting roles. Known for separate Batman franchises, their monumental talent and instant chemistry elevates the mediocre material. Unfortunately, Jackson, sporting Mitt Romney’s hairdo, delivers his loudest performance since his controversial Bet 365 commercials. Despite his inherent charm, his character is a useless and ineffectual obstacle.

Brushing past preconceptions and negative hype, the RoboCop remake is an enjoyable action flick. However, Zetumer’s screenplay delivers concentrated doses of right-wing paranoia and sci-fi blockbuster cliches. Thankfully, Padilha’s electrifying direction rescues an otherwise forgettable remake. Hopefully, if given greater control, Padilha can create more memorable and relevant action flicks in the not-too-distant future.

Verdict: A cloying yet enjoyable remake. 

Lawless Review – Blood-stained Blokes


Director: John Hillcoat

Writer: Nick Cave (screenplay), Matt Bondurant (book)

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman


Release date: August 29th, 2012

Distributors: The Weinstein Company, FilmNation Entertainment 

Country: USA

Running time: 115 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Guy Pearce’s creepy turn.

Worst part: The unbalanced narrative.

The prohibition era gangster film has always been a popular movement in modern cinema. Despite their period piece settings, films such as Miller’s Crossing, Public Enemies and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (comedic example) have brought the genre into the contemporary filmmaking era with dashes of wit and violence. The latest presentation of 1930’s gangster life, Lawless, is a gritty, authentic yet confused retrospective of the infamous Bondurant brothers. Continuing the current trend of prohibition-era crime drama, born from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Lawless is a pulpy, visceral yet profound lesson in gangster lore.

Shia LaBeouf & Mia Wasikowska.

Shia LaBeouf & Mia Wasikowska.

The Bondurant brothers were supposedly immortal moonshine makers and runners, situated in the hills outside of a crime-ridden Chicago. With Al Capone and other dangerous men ruling the city, the Bondurants were in charge if the regional distribution of illegal alcoholic substances. Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard Bondurant (Jason Clark) are two of the most notoriously violent citizens of a broken United States. The youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf) wants to be just like them, trying anything to prove his worth to his older siblings. Their control of the countryside is interrupted however by the introduction of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), determined to destroy every drop from their distillery. Along with an alluring new bartender (Jessica Chastain), the brothers fight to keep their reputations alive and the dirty cops at bay.

Tom Hardy.

Tom Hardy.

The film successfully combines old and new Hollywood-style crime genre conventions. The strong, straight edged characters are brought to life with every gun shot, punch and stab, containing a loud ring to effectively depict every brutal act in this vile conflict. The third film by Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) is a dirty and hauntingly authentic look at so-called true events. The story of the Bondurant brothers is presented from Jack’s point of view. Unfortunately, this narrow presentation of gangster life and family bonds in the southern districts of America only focuses on the exploits behind Jack’s one dimensional goals. His eagerness to join the running and distilling business leaves little development for the other, more intriguing characters in this meaty story. Despite his character’s naive and occasionally banal nature, LaBeouf puts in a revelatory performance that could hopefully lift his controversial career. The other characters in this enthralling saga are performed convincingly despite the lack of development. Tom Hardy, continuing his promising year after breathtaking performances in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Dark Knight Rises, creates a loyal yet remorseless interpretation of the gangster who lives on his own terms. Despite his nearly inaudible southern drawl, Hardy’s physical presence and piercing stare creates a fierce leader with a slight vulnerable side. Also enrapturing in their small roles are the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain, Dane DeHaan, Noah Taylor, Mia Wasikowska as Jack’s love interest Bertha and Gary Oldman as influential outlaw Floyd Banner.

“It is not the violence that sets men apart, alright, it is the distance that he is prepared to go.” (Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy), Lawless).

Guy Pearce.

Guy Pearce.

This adaptation of the novel The Wettest County in the World by descendant Matt Bondurant succeeds in creating a darkly rich re-creation of 30’s America. Influenced by prolific crime directors such as the Coen Brothers, Brian De Palma and Michael Mann, Hillcoat efficiently emphasises the earthy and unflattering tones of every bar, dirt road and blood stained room in this era of temptation and cruel violence. Silhouettes and low lighting also effectively capture the depths these characters have fallen into, while the authentic Virginian setting depicts a southern community quickly falling to the evolving landscape of a changing century. The film continues Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave’s flair for punishingly affecting violence and torture sequences. Matching the whipping scenes of Australian western The Proposition and cannibalism in The Road, Lawless lives up to its name and the characters live up to their frightening reputations. Blood splatters all over the walls, gun fights and punch ups are handled with a shocking level of detail, creating many uncomfortable and even blackly comedic moments. Much of the violence and wit is convincingly handled through a passionate performance by Australian actor Guy Pearce. Rakes lashes out at the Bondurant Brothers with a strong distaste for their freedoms and practises. Creating one of the most disgusting yet pampered characters since Alex in A Clockwork Orange, his relentless nature, snarly accent and unique mannerisms create a truly threatening interpretation of the dirty detective character.

Bolstered by Boardwalk Empire’s immense success, Lawless is the latest effort to hop on the cinematic anti-hero wave. Thanks to Cave’s prose and Hillcoat’s style, this gangster flick sucks the stills dry and never lets up!

Verdict: An unfocused yet engaging gangster flick.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review – Specific Spywork


Director: Thomas Alfredson

Writers: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan (screenplay), John le Carre (novel)

Stars: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth


Release date: September 16th, 2012

Distributor: StudioCanal UK

Country: UK, France, Germany

Running time: 127 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The engaging visuals.

Worst part: The egregious pace.

Those expecting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to be a fun, retro, fast paced spy flick will be sorely disappointed. The film, based on infamous crime novelist John Le Carre’s book of the same name, is actually a tense yet confusing tale of betrayal, regret and corruption within the head of British Intelligence. It buries its head in the sand for the longest time as it becomes increasingly difficult to detect either the pivotal antagonist or any sense of an emotional connection.

Gary Oldman.

Right from the beginning, The shooting of Jim Pridieux (Mark Strong) sparks a chain reaction in the life of senior spy George smiley (Gary Oldman) as he is forced to retire due to the outrage surrounding Pridieux’s failure. Too soon, however, is Smiley forced back into the field, as an out of touch informant gives up information leading to the assumption of a mole high up in ‘the circus’. Smiley, feeling shame and regret for the death of his boss ‘Control’ (John Hurt) and the separation between him and his wife, narrows the list of suspects down to four. They comprise of ‘Tinker’; ambitious new head of the organisation Percy Alleline (Toby  Jones), ‘Tailor’; arrogant womaniser Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), ‘Poorman’; Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) and ’Sailor’; Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds). His investigation soon turns into a game of cat and mouse as everyone involved is suddenly forced to look over their shoulders at both each other and the reluctant Smiley.

Benedict Cumberbatch.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is filled with stellar yet stoic performances from everyone in its A-list cast. The chemistry between some of Britain’s elite actors is constantly engaging. Hanging evidence on each other in many of sound proof meetings  is fascinating as the snappy dialogue continually bounces off them. Gary Oldman delivers in his very repressed role; conveying a very quiet, damaged representation of a professional constantly on the edge. Subtle touches in both his actions and facial expressions deliver traits of a character who is forced into a life he will never be comfortable with. Another stand out is Tom Hardy as the disgraced rogue spy turned informant Ricki Tarr. Hardy gives yet another captivating and sensitive turn as the gritty secret agent who broke the first rule of being a spy. Unfortunately, many of the supporting characters  lack depth or emotional attachment. Firth, Jones, and Hinds are barely focused on, taking all the intensity out of the reveal in the third act. This tale of corruption within British intelligence soon becomes tangled in its own web of conspiracy and espionage. The large list of characters together with the intertwining story lines and lack of clear exposition make the film difficult to deduce.

“He’s a fanatic. And the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.” (George Smiley (Gary Oldman), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy).

Mark Strong.

The pacing also suffers due to the complex story. Despite building a strong sense of tension throughout the film, culminating in a brutal and satisfying conclusion, many scenes carry out longer than required, constantly losing focus and quickly becoming dull. The direction by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) is used to terrific effect in creating the world surrounding high class 70’s agents living in a gritty urban landscape. The graphic violence and realistic sex scenes create an authentic and disturbing depiction of their high flying lifestyles and blood soaked situations. The mis en scene is Drenched in bold and contrasting colours and settings, representing the 70’s retro era of exaggerated costume and interior designs. The film has a smooth, straight edged style that perfectly displays Alfredson’s creation of atmosphere and intriguing experiments with cinematography. The use of soft lighting, experiments with depth of field and framing with patterns, and tight camera work deliver a unique pallet that distinguishes Alfredson’s subtle and stylish direction from other European arthouse directors.

Boiling over well beyond necessity, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a meticulously studious spy-thriller adaptation. Despite the overwhelming flaws, this mesmerising narrative is bolstered by its stellar cast and unique visuals. Next time, hire a editor.

Verdict: A cloying and overlong spy-thriller.