Jimi: All Is By My Side Review – Mild Thing


Director: John Ridley

Writer: John Ridley

Stars: Andre Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots, Andrew Buckley


Release date: October 24th, 2014

Distributor: XLrator Media

Countries: UK, Ireland

Running time: 118 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Andre Benjamin.

Worst part: Ridley’s direction.

When handling a true story, the producers, writers, directors, actors etc. involved have momentous duties to uphold. As Hollywood’s taste for docudramas and biopics grows hastily, we’re getting more true stories than ever. Attracting specific audiences (those learning about the subject matter and those already aware), these movies are designed to accelerate ongoing discussions. Jimi: All Is By My Side is the latest docudrama to aptly cover a well-known musician. So, why the average rating?

Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix.

There are several factors keeping me from loving Jimi: All Is By My Side. Despite  Ridley and co.’s affections, its flaws are more irritating and obvious than a narc at Woodstock. Like an old Republican yelling “get off my lawn!” at a drum circle, the movie breaks up the party before the cool stuff happens. In all fairness, the cast and crew aren’t to blame. In fact, the studio executives – normally responsible for on-set turbulence – let free will and bright ideas take control. Picking through enthralling facts and details, the movie crafts a spirited yet inconsistent take on Jimi Hendrix’s life. The movie kick off in a lowly, New York jazz club in 1966. Chronicling one year of Jimi'(Andre Benjamin)’s existence, the opening scene holds the cards and plays them succinctly. As a sideman to several forgettable acts, his career looks to be heading nowhere. Refusing to take anything seriously, the younger Hendrix lives a hazy, simplicity fuelled lifestyle. One night, he catches the eye of Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith (Imogen Poots). Despite being mistaken for a groupie, Linda’s street-smarts and moxy pull people into the spotlight. After Hendrix’s discovery, aided by The Animals’ enthusiastic manager Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), the mesmerising musician turns friends, lovers, and record label executives against him.

Benjamin & Hayley Atwell.

Benjamin & Hayley Atwell.

Despite the true story’s value, Jimi: All Is By My Side‘s production issues overshadow the final product. Criticised by Hendrix’s former flame Kathy Etchingham (Played by Hayley Atwell here), its agenda is cause for concern. Also, writer/director John Ridley, lacking  permission from Hendrix LLC (Hendrix’s estate), couldn’t use any of the singer/songwriter’s phenomenal tracks. Hindered by these restrictions, this biopic opts for a more subdued and modest approach. Ridley, having tackled story and screenplay duties for everything from Undercover Brother to 12 Years a Slave, lends a strong-willed touch to this project. Avoiding most musical-biopic cliches, Ridley dissects the guitarist’s love of music, women, music, philosophy, music, weed, and music. Infatuated with the subject matter, Ridley’s project explores the under-the-surface elements. This biopic, capturing the ins and outs of Hendrix’s identity, examines a time before the fame, fortune, classic tunes, and copycats. Avoiding America’s bright-lights music scene, its microscope-like, small-scale focus on the London years delivers several invigorating sequences and enthralling revelations. Set before revelatory first album Are You Experienced‘s release, and the Monterey Jazz Festival, the year-long storyline never hinges on his current, long-lasting notoriety. Utilising cover songs (Benjamin’s ‘Wild Thing’ cover is used twice) and extensive guitar riffs, Ridley’s glowing affection hits like reverb and pot smoke.

“I want my music to inside the soul of a person. For me it’s colours, I want people to feel the music the same way I see it.” (Jimi Hendrix (Andre Benjamin), Jimi: All Is By My Side).

Benjamin & Imogen Poots.

Benjamin & Imogen Poots.

Despite avoiding the ‘greatest hits’ structure of Jersey Boys and Get on Up, Jimi: All Is By My Side resembles fantasy wrapped in docudrama’s bright clothing. Dodging any discussion of civil rights, the movie – like its subject – lacks clear vision and purpose. Presenting the rule-makers and rule-breakers evenly, Ridley’s 1960s is as disarming as Hendrix’s stash. Unceremoniously, the third act relishes in Jimi’s abuse of music industry practices, weed, and women. Certain sequences, including one featuring Jimi bludgeoning Kathy with a phone, rift against its hallucinogenic flow. Sadly, Ridley breaks his stings well before the climax. Having written for Steve McQueen, Oliver Stone, and David O. Russell, his style is a frenzying but overcooked mix of visual flourishes. Affectionate for this specific time and place, the archival footage, elaborate production design, and magnetic score alleviate the tension and existential crises. Unfortunately, Ridley’s direction – smashing together sound-bites, freeze frames, cut-aways, and jump cuts – rifts against the production’s restraints. Despite the visual and narrative incoherence, the performances save it from obscurity and unoriginality. Benjamin, known as Andre 3000 of RnB group Outkast, its scintillating as one of music history’s biggest hitters. Blitzing previous performances from  Four Brothers and Semi-Pro, his overt charisma elevates this stagnant effort. Poots and Atwell, two of Hollywood’s most underrated women, deliver fun turns in intriguing roles.

Despite lacking ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘All Along the Watchtower’, ‘Voodoo Chile’, ‘Castles Made of Sand’ etc., Jimi: All Is By My Side swaggers and spins around production issues. Thanks to Ridley’s quiet reserve and spirited style, the movie appeals to Hendrix aficionados and average film-goers. If anything, it will attract more people to the master’s discography. Hell, it may get some hooked on ganja! However, despite the ambition and allure, Ridley overworks several gimmicky flourishes. Too bad Hendrix’s Estate isn’t as laid-back.

Verdict: A stylish yet shallow biopic.

Short Term 12 Review – Woman, Interrupted


Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Writer: Destin Daniel Cretton

Stars: Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek

short_term_twelve_xlg


Release date: August 23rd, 2013

Distributors: Cinedigm, Demarest Films

Country: USA

Running time: 96 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The powerful performances.

Worst part: The minor contrivances.

It may be a cliche, but, more often than you’d think, laughter really is the best medicine. However, eclipsing this sentiment, a concentrated mix of emotions is a sure-fire cure-all. By that token, dramedy Short Term 12 pleases anyone who submits themselves to its aura. Along with laugh-out loud moments, the movie contains more emotional twists and turns than previous dramedies of it type. Based on writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton’s own 2009 short film, its engaging characters, heart-warming narrative, and powerhouse performances will make even the toughest men cry throughout the blissful run-time.

Brie Larson & Keith Stanfield.

So, with indie-dramedies serving specific and profound purposes, how does Short Term 12 break away from the pack? These dramedies all sport similar promotional material – commendable actors look sad, the soundtrack sets the mood, and title cards exclaim the movies’ true merits and potential. With movies like Short Term 12 bursting to life at film festivals across the world, these modest productions become small gems hiding amongst major trendsetters. Thankfully, Short Term 12 is currently blossoming outside the festival circuit. Examining powerful social and psychological issues, Cretton’s dramedy contains more emotional force than all of last year’s blockbusters put together. The previous statement may be extreme, but it’s difficult to disagree with. Sitting in the near-empty theatre, the movie’s awe-inspiring momentum enveloped me. The movie focuses on the titular foster-care facility in an unnamed sector of middle-class America. Its head supervisor Grace (Brie Larson) looks after several under-privileged children. Thankfully, she is not alone. Grace, aided by long-term boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), Jessica (Stephanie Beatriz) and newcomer Nate (Rami Malek), values her life’s work. The movie also examines a handful of these under-privileged children. Defined by varying genders, races, personalities, and problems, these characters draw memories, advice, and emotions out of their trustworthy carers.

John Gallagher, Jr.

Shy troublemaker Marcus (Keith Stanfield) is two weeks away from turning 18. Forced to leave the facility after reaching this age, Marcus’ crippling confidence issues threaten his and Mason’s personas. Flying under Hollywood’s all-encompassing radar, Short Term 12 takes controversial and potentially saccharine material and transforms it into a compellingly dramatic creation. In need, and deserving, of major critical consideration, this dramedy wholeheartedly delivers an accurate and dense depiction of America’s neglected citizens. In a better world, young audiences would ache for a drama like this. In fact, the movie becomes a mirror for this infamous demographic to peer into. Grappling touchy subject matter, Short Term 12 speaks to young people of all mental, physical, and occupational statuses. In particular, the movie touchingly deliberates on the problems facing teenage girls. The story kicks into gear after one person’s introduction. Welcoming troubled minor Jaden (Kaitlyn Dever) into the facility, Grace meets her emotional match. Unlike most institution dramas, the subjects and carers exist on similar and familiar planes of existence. We sympathise with these characters whilst relating to every twist and turn hitting their valuable lives. When one character breaks down, another relates to, and then elevates, their crippling condition. Grace, putting her arm around certain characters whilst listening to their every word, is the narrative’s emphatically likeable core. Despite coming close to Girl, Interrupted and Precious’ levels of dreariness, Short Term 12 balances out its heavier moments with sharp and humorous sequences.

“It’s impossible to worry about anything else when there’s blood coming out of you.” (Grace (Brie Larson), Short Term 12).

Kaitlyn Dever.

Highlighting important moments with witty lines and appealing character traits, Short Term 12 takes necessarily deep breaths. From the opening scene – involving Mason delivering a sweet yet peculiar anecdote about his most embarrassing incident at the facility – this story delivers organic links between lost lives, tangible existences, and wounded souls. Speeding toward the potently affable finish line, the narrative delivers emotional and psychological gut-punches and heartfelt surprises. Short Term 12, relying on morally ambiguous and straight-laced characters, breaks boundaries despite its small-scale setting’s bleak confines. Refreshingly, no one comes off like an antagonistic hindrance. Even the facility’s head supervisor Jack (Franz Turner), whilst arguing with Grace about Jaden’s stability, adequately outlines her situation’s more alarming details. Realistically, protocol and evidence stand above impulsive decisions and commendable intentions. Despite falling into visceral revenge-thriller territory in the final third, the empathetic and conscionable characters guide this poignant tale. Cretton’s screenplay, despite lacing each role with distracting contrivances, never trips up this talented ensemble. Larson, improving upon her terrific 2013 in cinema and TV, tackles her tumultuous role head-on. With Grace fending for herself throughout a tough emotional spiral, Larson’s performance works wonders for the movie’s ambitious aura. Playing the ultimate nice guy, Gallagher Jr. stretches his acting muscles beyond Aaron Sorkin’s perplexing dialogue (The Newsroom). As the voice of reason, his character provides levity for several heartbreaking scenes.

Thanks to lasting appeal, powerful dramatic beats, and fresh-faced performers, Short Term 12 becomes a strong breath of fresh air compared to the past few months’ big-budget flops. Here, we see the evolution of a diminutive genre. This movie doesn’t simply burst into life; it delivers original ideas and emotionally gripping moments unlike any previous micro-budget drama. This optimistic character study, much like its teenage subjects, deserves some much-needed credit and attention.

Verdict: A sumptuous and heart-warming drama.

All is Lost – I’m On A Boat


Director: J. C. Chandor

Writer: J. C. Chandor

Star: Robert Redford


Release date:  October 25th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, FIlmNation Entertainment

Countries: Canada, USA

Running time: 105 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Robert Redford.

Worst part: The manipulative score.

In an Oscar season chock-a-block with dark docudramas, deftly comic road-trip movies, and visceral crime-thrillers, few movies have been brave enough to stand out from the pack. Despite the Oscar contenders’ overwhelming quality and relevance, movies that balance an entertaining action-adventure narrative with stark rawness become instant success stories. Delivering an engaging survival story, All is Lost delivers Oscar-calibre moments and thrilling set-pieces. It’s extremely difficult to mix these qualities together into a meaningful artistic endeavour. However, two geniuses reached out and grasped this fruitful opportunity.

Robert Redford.

With pulsating concepts and cultural preconceptions in hand, All is Lost delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills whilst occasionally remembering to take deep breaths. This intricate balance places All is Lost in the realm of memorable and confronting survival-dramas. The story itself is incredibly straightforward. However, in an age of convoluted and self-indulgent blockbusters, simple yet effective action-adventure movies are indelibly refreshing. The movie kicks off with a man (Robert Redford) deliberating upon his dying wishes and deepest regrets. Why to himself? He writes these haunting words on a scraggly piece of paper before placing the note in a jar. These revelations become his final statements whilst his life raft floats across the Indian Ocean. The movie then jumps back eight days, and the man’s priceless yacht, Virginia Jane, crashes into a floating, bright-red cargo container. Filled with cheap shoes, the tough container tears an excruciatingly significant hole into the boat’s starboard side (right, I researched it). With guile and quick thinking, the man repairs the hole with a glue-like concoction and scraps. Unfortunately, the soft patch is far from the man’s most exasperating issue. Soon after, he sails into a gigantic thunderstorm. Tossing his boat into impactful waves and currents, the thunderstorm tests the man’s steely reserve. However, the boat is nowhere near as strong as its captain. With the boat’s final voyage concluding disastrously, the man must choose between a memorable life and a horrifying death.

More Robert Redford.

Survival tales blend intriguing, multi-layered relationships with celluloid’s emphatic potential. With metaphorical and literal conflicts eviscerating the big screen, their varying twists and turns deliver enlightening and punishing rewards. Spiritually enriching journeys (Life of Pi127 Hours) and discomforting life-or-death situations (Buried) define this beguiling genre. With these movies becoming major box-office hits, this popular and note-worthy genre strives to grasp its true potential. All is Lost – defined by groundbreaking technological achievements, captivating set-pieces, and an invigorating performance – continually delivers emotional impact and thematic resonance. Here, the survival narrative rests on an understandable and harrowing scenario. With retirees and ambitious sailors taking around-the-world trips each year, horrific casualties continually arise. Despite the ambitious idea, tumultuous conditions and poor preparation deliver significant risks. All is Lost, ideally, focuses on a specific point in time. With its limited scope and enriching authenticity, this action-adventure conveys specific points about morality and mortality. Director J. C. Chandor (Margin Call) immerses us into one pressing and heart-breaking situation after another. Sticking with the boat throughout its 106-minute run-time, Chandor’s vision is astoundingly touching. Becoming Gravity‘s ocean-dwelling relative, All is Lost similarly transforms into a soulful, exhilarating, and modest survival-thriller. To examine this movie’s most engaging aspects, the viewer must recognise the valuable details that remain missing. The movie never travels to other setting or characters. We are never introduced to relatives, friends, enemies, or even strangers. Efficiently, Chandor seems wholly fascinated by Redford’s idiosyncratic features. Assuredly, the narrative effectively tests the character’s survival skills, will power, patience, and faith. Mutedly, this survival-thriller, like our main character, looks upward for an explanation. Is God punishing this man? Is God solidifying his internal strength? Or, realistically, did the man make wrong turns during his voyage?

“All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is, what’s left of them, and a half day’s ration.” (Our Man (Robert Redford), All is Lost).

Even more Robert Redford.

Lacking stupefying exposition, useless supporting characters, and obvious titbits, the movie allows the audience to piece together this mystifying puzzle. Pushing his only character to breaking point, Chandor’s latest feature tests humanity and Mother Nature’s boundaries. With thunderous weather patterns, dwindling supplies, waterlogged equipment, and predatory creatures affecting this journey, the movie, by pummelling Redford’s character, wallows in its harshly constructed world. Chandor’s style develops a picturesque and damaging reality. Here, Earth’s elements stand between the main character and a continued existence. Immediately stating that he is: “1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straights”, this atmospheric journey becomes an exasperating cinematic experience. Searching for land and/or passing vessels, this captain becomes a humanistic and conquering force of nature. Credit goes to Redford for delivering another textured and naturalistic turn. Reaching beyond his sub-par directorial efforts (The Company You Keep), Redford’s all-important physicality and charisma shine through this near-wordless role. Thankfully, Chandor’s directorial flair also provides an assuring and unconscionable aura. Exposed to the lead character’s drastic actions and recognisable reactions, we become one with his impressive yacht and amicable life raft. Frank G. DeMarco’s uncompromising and unique cinematography elevates unquestionably intense moments. Emphasising the man’s critically arduous situation, the camera commendably fuses with the movie’s desolate settings. Kept in close-up, the yachting sequences become heart-pounding and nail-biting roller-coaster rides. However, once the raft becomes key to the man’s survival, the camera dives into the ocean and soars into the sky. Immaculate pans and zooms establish this ordeal’s otherworldly impact. Graciously, chillingly powerful sound effects highlight crashing waves and tumbling vessels. However, the score becomes an unnecessarily overt distraction. The manipulative rhythms distort this otherwise organic and potent drama. 

Elevating itself above the already intriguing premise, All is Lost is a gritty, realistic, and unflinching insight into mankind’s most absurd and thought-provoking endeavours. Despite queasiness becoming a major concern, Chandor’s style hurls the audience into the movie’s discomforting and perilous journey. Most importantly, Redford’s towering performance silences the critics – illustrating his immense star quality and intense range. Despite the quarrels, this is a purposeful and delirium-inducing thrill-ride.

Verdict: An intensifying and creative survival tale.

Much Ado About Nothing Review – Shakin’ Up Shakespeare


Director: Joss Whedon

Writer: Joss Whedon (screenplay), William Shakespeare (play)

Stars: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion


Release date: June 21st, 2013

Distributors: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The dynamic cast. 

Worst part: The awkward first five minutes.

“What’s the matter, smart ass? Don’t know any f#cking Shakespeare?”. Mark Wahlberg’s line from The Departed, to me at least, sums up William Shakespeare’s overwhelming effect on pop culture. The Bard, whether he’s infatuated with a sprightly, Gwyneth Paltrow-looking woman (Shakespeare in Love) or brashly labeled a fraud (Anonymous), is always depicted as a knowledgeable and enigmatic individual. In addition, big-budget renditions of his seminal works – including Ten Things I Hate About YouThrone of Blood, and Romeo + Juliet – amicably reach wide audiences. Along comes geek heartthrob Joss Whedon. Whedon, arguably Hollywood’s hardest working writer/director, offers up a loving tribute to history’s greatest poet. Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing depicts a funky, sexy, and witty insight into the Hollywood hills. Whedon’s rendition, receiving extraordinary exposure, is a unique and faithful ode to an ever-lasting hero.

Alexis Denisof & Amy Acker.

His version, touching upon an engaging story and vital themes, is an insatiably strong adaptation. Sticking to the source material, Much Ado About Nothing defines Whedon as an all-knowing and gracious filmmaker. Describing the plot, despite overlaying valuable information, doesn’t ‘spoil’ the final product. With work this treasurable and refined, everyone should seek out Shakespeare’s material (in fact, why are you still reading this review? Go find it!). The narrative unfolds with the scornful yet vibrant Beatrice (Amy Acker) lamenting her cloying existence. Her cynical ideologies and actions – cheerfully matched by zany, confident, and desirable bachelor Benedick (Alexis Denisof) – almost push her to breaking point. Thanks to Leonato (Clark Gregg) and Don Petro(Reed Diamond)’s agreement, Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) will achieve marriage and eternal happiness. This event, marked by lavish celebrations and free-flowing alcohol, is marred by Claudio’s deceitful brother Don John (Sean Maher). Along the way, our courageous and optimistic characters come across masked well-wishers, snivelling evildoers, and luscious settings. Hot on the evildoers’ trails, Agents Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and Verges (Tom Lenk), and their spritely associates, watch over proceedings. However, their good efforts are threatened by Don John’s helpers, Conrade (Riki Lindhome) and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark). Over the course of a few days, allegiances, best-laid plans, and the idea of love itself will be greatly tested. In this I-Pod, smart phone, and gossip induced world, our heroes and villains will face off in the midst of kind greetings, parties, weddings, interrogations, and funerals. Despite the pace wavering with each abrupt transition and additional plot-strand, this adaptation develops a comforting and engaging tone. With characters, twists, and sexual awakenings seamlessly intertwining, Whedon subtly controls every necessary strand and titbit. His overwhelming affection for Shakespeare pours over his charming and hilarious adaptation.

Nathan Fillion & Tom Lenk.

Before I go on, I’ll admit my affection for Whedon and Shakespeare may potentially cloud my judgement. Having read and viewed their all-important works, its difficult not to proclaim Much Ado About Nothing as entertainment history’s greatest ‘collaboration’. Both critically-and-commercially-lauded artists – bringing heart, soul, and laughs to every creation – have crafted influential and popular efforts defining certain generations. In praising Whedon’s adaptation on its own merits, Much Ado About Nothing, as famed film production schedules go, is a jaw-dropping and clever achievement. Mashing the original material with a contemporary setting pays off. Whedon’s behind-the-scenes ingenuity boosts the small scale and quirky visuals. With a 12-day shooting schedule, Whedon took time off from working on The Avengers to work on this concept. With planning, production, and post production taking place in Whedon’s Santa Monica Mansion, his style and the narrative’s intimate nature go hand in hand. Passionate about Shakespeare’s comedic touches, Whedon’s writing style derives from the Bard’s seminal efforts. His adaptation highlights the most punctual and relevant aspects of Shakespeare’s work. Relaying Shakespeare’s every word, the opening few scenes are jarring. With kitsch direction applied to poetic material, viewers may, sadly, throw up their hands by the thirty-second mark. However, criticising the movie’s core would insult Shakespeare’s material. With each metaphor, anecdote, and soliloquy, I hurriedly connected to intricate details and overtones. Despite several plot-points, including feuds between royal ties and Claudio’s paranoia over Hero’s virginity, not connecting to the movie’s time period, certain strands relate to relevant themes. Despite the hurried marriages, articulate prose, and pontifications, Much Ado About Nothing places Whedon’s popularity in the spotlight. Like his previous efforts, multi-layered characters, deception, honour, and societal order rule the day. Obsessed with familial ties and small scale conflicts, Whedon deliberates on our media-obsessed world’s love of power, sex, love, loss, regret, inspiration, and fame. Featuring attractive heroes, scheming, black-haired villains and vicious conflicts, Much Ado About Nothing and The Avengers aren’t too dissimilar.

“Why, he is the Prince’s jester: a very dull fool; Only his gift is in devising impossible slanders.” (Beatrice (Amy Acker), Much Ado About Nothing).

Fran Kranz.

Whedon’s unique pet project, born from a shared understanding of the source material, brings family and friends together. His mansion becomes a labyrinthine castle for conflicted characters to swiftly travel through. Emphasising each hallway and empty space, characters efficiently peer around corners, fall down stairs, and glance through wide windows. In addition, several camera tricks illustrate Whedon’s methodical conveyance of small details and symbols. Aiding the confronting material, the black-and-white cinematography also takes time getting used to. Emphasising  each conflict and relationship’s rawness, this choice elevates Whedon’s succinct and powerful style. Keeping it in the family, Jed Whedon (brother) and Maurissa Tancharoen (sister in law) contribute with a hip, jazzy score. Firmly stamped into the enthralling narrative, their tunes elevate each intriguing set-piece. This anachronistic journey – featuring an entertaining masked ball, scintillating romantic moments, and a discomforting memorial sequence – is a wondrous miasma of fashion, fun, and fiery feuds. Like Shakespeare and Whedon’s previous efforts, the characters contain a knowing sense of humour. Understanding each debilitating situation’s gravity and urgency, these people appropriately speak the truth. Making for several hysterically awkward moments, these blunt yet alluring characters solidify this intriguing dramedy. Using dry wit, guile, vaudeville slapstick, and heart, Whedon touches up Shakespeare’s creations. Boosting each enigmatic characterisation, the movie’s dynamic ensemble conquers the cloying material. As Whedon’s ‘regulars’, the TV-centric cast convincingly delivers Shakespeare’s tongue-twisting dialogue. Standout performers Fillion, Gregg, Denisof, and Diamond become comedic geniuses in vital roles. Meanwhile, Acker brings gravitas and poignancy to her promiscuous and cynical character.

Combining two brilliant minds for one rendition, Much Ado About Nothing is a humorous, reflexive, and thrilling dramedy. Despite having stated my overwhelming affection, it’s still worth mentioning – Whedon is a cinematic genius! This movie, aptly accessing the play’s most intriguing elements, is certainly worth a look.

Verdict: A witty, clever, and enlightening dramedy.

Cloud Atlas Review – Mysticism & Make-up


Directors: Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer

Writers: Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer (screenplay), David Mitchell (novel)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving


Release date: February 22nd, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: Germany, USA

Running time: 172 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The interweaving story-lines.

Worst part: The laughable make-up effects.

Have you ever stared up at the stars? Or studied the patterns embedded in your fingerprints? Or even truly embraced the people close to you? Don’t worry, these actions are completely normal. This behaviour is considered to be ‘philosophical’. Throughout history, man has strived to answer life’s big questions. Cloud Atlas is an ambitious and enthralling examination of the human condition. It’s an extraordinarily difficult film to analyse. This review may only cover a small fraction of what the film has presented.

Tom Hanks & Halle Berry.

This complex movie covers the past, present and future. The narrative is made up of six stories, each with their own significant plot-points. The first plot-thread is set in the South Pacific Ocean in 1849. An American Lawyer, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), arrives in the Chatham Islands during the California Gold Rush. He befriends a poorly treated Slave, Autua (David Gyasi). At the same time, his friendship with Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) takes a frightening turn. The next story, set in 1936, follows a young bisexual musician, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), journeying from Cambridge to Edinburgh. He gets a chance to work with one of the greatest composers of all time. But their partnership is far from ideal. The next story, set in 1973, depicts a journalist’s gruelling search for answers. The Journalist, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), finds herself in more trouble than she ever could’ve imagined. The next story, set in 2012, finds a London-based book publisher, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), in hot water after a run-in with British gangsters. Searching for a place to hide, he finds himself locked up in a nursing home. In Neo- Seoul (2144), a dainty female clone, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae – the film’s stand-out performer), may hold the key to Earth’s survival. A resistance agent, Commander Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess again), must release her from a life of servitude. The last story is based in a post-apocalyptic world. Zachry (Hanks again) leads a peaceful tribe. He must guide Meronym (Berry again) across a wasteland known as ‘The Valley’. However, he is threatened by an evil spirit known as ‘Old Georgie’ (Hugo Weaving).

Jim Broadbent & Ben Whishaw.

The Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) have created the biggest independent production in film history. Their new film will struggle to make a profit. However, it’s nice to know that Hollywood directors are still willing to try new things. This is, as you can tell, a unique and expansive narrative. The writer/directors have inventively adapted David Mitchell’s book of the same name. The six story-lines are vastly different in both setting and tone. Bringing these contrasting stories together is a startling achievement. They are all bound together by certain ideas and character types. The 1849 story is seamlessly juxtaposed with the Neo-Seoul story. It takes a while for every story to intertwine. After a rather confusing prologue, I spent over two-thirds of the film trying to figure out how every story was connected. The film is bold and ambiguous (both very rare traits nowadays), but it could’ve been comprehensible at the same time. It becomes bogged down by pretentiousness in certain sections. The poetic dialogue and heavy handed messages are, to a certain extent, distractions. If you judge some of the story-lines on their own, you may notice that they are rather hollow. The nursing home story-line, for example, is shallow and easily could’ve been excised from the film.

Hugh Grant.

It’s a film that is both famous and infamous. It has already been placed on ‘Best of 2012’ and ‘Worst of 2012’ lists (if you hate my review, you should read Time Magazine’s write-up!). However, Hollywood films of this magnitude and complexity have always been met with mixed reactions. Despite minor flaws, it’s a film with so many positives. The use of metaphor and symbolism is nothing short of mesmerising. Cloud Atlas discusses how one person can change the entire universe. Our actions can shape time, space, identity and/or culture. The post-apocalyptic story-thread is poignant and rich. This Apocalypto-style world enthrallingly bursts into life. This story-line pushes the film to its enthralling climax. It discusses the fact vs. belief debate. This debate is de-constructed; proving that both fact and belief can lead to hate, betrayal and/or suffering. The editing is Cloud Atlas’ saving grace. All six story-lines are welded together; turning this delicate sci-fi drama into a roller-coaster ride of gargantuan proportions. Certain story-threads interweave in a light-hearted manner. For example, characters in Neo-Seoul will watch video footage featuring events from another story. These transitions relieve the many jarring tonal shifts. The film distracted me by hurriedly switching from a slapstick comedy to an intense corporate espionage thriller.

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” (Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), Cloud Atlas). 

Doona Bae.

This 3 hour examination of humanity and fate gets bogged down by its own hubris. The writer/directors have, in the past, created some remarkable achievements. But they have also created some stinkers. They put too much of themselves into this film. At one point, one of the characters throws a critic off of a balcony. This was an unsubtle and slightly offensive way of expressing an opinion. The Wachowskis are clearly still bitter about their last three critical and commercial bombs (the Matrix sequels, Speed Racer). Pet projects of A-list directors have failed in the past (Sucker Punch, Southland Tales, The Fountain). This film does succeed, but there are still some truly laughable elements. Lana Wachowski (formerly Larry) has drastically changed throughout her many years in the spotlight. The Wachowskis believe that anyone can change. The actors are forced out of their comfort zones to fit the ‘identity crisis/genetic experimentation’ theme. Caucasian, Black and Asian actors switch between varying classes, races and genders. The make-up effects are, for the most part, extremely unconvincing. Certain actors have genetic qualities that continually shine through the prosthetics (Keith David in particular). Some characters look like they’ve stepped out of a bad Saturday Night Live sketch.

Ambitious, excessive and intensive; Cloud Atlas carries the weight of the world on its shoulders. It’s a tale unlike any other. The Wachowskis and Tykwer have created a beautiful movie about environmentalism, politics, capitalism, love, philosophy and sociology.

Verdict: A moving and ambitious work of art.

My Brothers Review – Stand By Me


Director: Paul Fraser

Writer: Will Collins

Stars: Timmy Creed, Paul Courtney, Tj Griffin, Don Wycherley


Release date: August 17th, 2012

Distributors: Olive Films, Cinemax

Country: Ireland

Running time: 90 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The sibling relationships.

Worst part: The underdeveloped supporting characters.

Very few films have powerfully focused on the positives and negatives to come out of the passing of a loved one. This solemn part of existence is illustrated in My Brothers with a delicacy rarely seen in modern drama. Paying homage to Stand by Me and Star Wars, this love letter to 70s/80s Hollywood comes from a profound place of love and imagination. Bolstered by three solemn yet ambitious lead characters, this road trip comedy reaches for the more meaningful aspects of existence.

Timmy Creed.

Timmy Creed.

With the imminent death of their ill father, three brothers react differently and affectingly to their current predicament. Noel (Timmy Creed) feels punishingly afflicted with sudden responsibility when faced with his family’s future. Paudie (Paul Courtney) avoids the situation through immature behaviour. While Scwally (T.J. Griffin) is a naive young boy connected to a cheap toy lightsaber, despite having never seen Star Wars. To redeem their once happy connection with their father, the three brothers travel to a seaside town to replace his broken watch. With an unbalanced array of personalities and sombre feelings towards their current situation, the experiences and recollections they encounter may positively change their unsteady relationship.

Creed, Paul Courtney & Tj Griffin.

Creed, Paul Courtney & Tj Griffin.

My Brothers is a touching, charming yet sombre examination of family, memory, death and redemption. Paul Fraser (Once Upon a Time in the Midlands) has directed this solemn yet inspirational road trip film with a powerful emotional connection. The sombre tone, created through gorgeous cinematography capturing every raindrop and dirt road on their journey through rich, green hills, assuredly develops this story of the importance of both life and death. Unlike Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, in which three different stories of people affected by death fail to develop a powerful emotional connection to its important themes, the three brothers aren’t simply aiming for a relief from their current predicament, but aim to effectively tie up loose ends with one powerful act. With the watch symbolising their family’s happiness and responsibility, its repair will ultimately bring the three of them together despite their imminent loss of family connection. The acoustic soundtrack and wildly differing personalities clashing throughout their journey effectively capture an authentic representation of youth in lower class Ireland.

“If daddy dies in the holidays, do we still get time off from school when we go back?” (Scwally (Tj Griffin), My Brothers).

The road trip.

The road trip.

With a window into family happiness at tail ends of the film contrasting their currently crumbling lives, the three brothers are developed as realistically flawed yet loveable characters. Much like the works of J.J. Abrams and Wes Anderson, they not only provide gripping and believable performances but feel like representations of the director’s childhood experience. Their clashing personalities and poignant issues powerfully affect their families’ structure, yet their ailments allow for genuine comedic moments. They become more believable with every van malfunction, expression of bodily function and revelation of inner thoughts and desires. The characters also symbolise a separation between imagination and reality. The transformational Stand By Me elements of their journey on the road to personal development and realisation, along with Scwally’s immense infatuation with an important item, define important issues created by youth when faced with unavoidable experiences and difficult yet vital decisions.

My Brothers, a current hit at film festivals around the world, is an emotionally gripping experience. The sympathetic characters and bittersweet narrative create a realistic representation of the dramatic shifts in any desperate family when faced with loss.

Verdict: An emotionally powerful journey of family connection.