Hail, Caesar! Review: Ode to Old School


Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen

Stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes

hail-caesar-poster


Release date: February 25th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: Hail, Caesar!

Sicario Review – Rooftop Movies Series


Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer Taylor Sheridan

Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya

Sicario-poster


Release date: September 18th, 2015

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 121 minutes


 

4½/5

Review: Sicario

 

Sicario Audio Review: Blood & Sand


Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya

Sicario-poster


Release date: September 18th, 2015

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 121 minutes


 

4½/5

Review:

 

Inherent Vice Audio Review: Slow-burn Blunt


Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson (screenplay), Thomas Pynchon (book)

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson

Inherent_Vice_film_poster


Release date: December 12th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 149 minutes


 

3/5

Review:

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review – Feelin’ Black, White, & Blue


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

Writer: Frank Miller (screenplay & graphic novel)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

sin-city-2-poster


Release date: August 25th, 2014

Distributors: Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The confusing structure.

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 tearing down Sin City.

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.

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.

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. 

Labor Day Review – Like Undercooked Pie…


Director: Jason Reitman 

Writer: Jason Reitman (screenplay), Joyce Maynard (novel)

Stars: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg 


Release date: December 27th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 111 minutes


 

1½/5

Best part: The charismatic performances.

Worst part: The egregious romance.

Romantic-drama Labor Day‘s opening credits sequence sets its audience up for a heart-breaking fall. Here, the movie introduces us to one of Middle America’s most gorgeous suburbs. Sure, this seems pleasurable. But, as this sequence goes on, the tedium steadily sets in. In one 30/40-second shot, Labor Day transitions from intriguingly simple to bland and dreary. This movie, leading itself down Oscar-bait lane, is nowhere near as interesting as its all-powerful competition. From the aforementioned credits sequence onward, the movie crashes and burns.

Kate Winslet.

Dear young and old couples alike, don’t be drawn into Labor Days alluring marketing campaign! This movie is the ultimate relationship test. If anyone who watches it says, to their respective partners, things like: “that was so romantic” or “these characters remind me of me”, they should take a long, hard look in the mirror. Despite my scornful words (really, they’re just words!), Labor Day does sport several interesting scenes and revelatory performances. However, despite the slight positives, I still hate this messy and disgraceful melodrama. Anyway, I guess I should describe the ‘plot’. In a sector of 1980s America (I presume), depressed and agoraphobic single mother Adele (Kate Winslet) struggles with day-to-day life. Forced to look after her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) full time, the thought of even stepping outside makes her shake uncontrollably. Relying on Henry’s acute precociousness, she’s unable to fend for herself. In addition, at the local supermarket, several things remind Adele of her current predicament. Henry bumps into escaped convict Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin). Forcing himself into their maudlin lives, Frank finds solace in their quaint home. Over Labor Day weekend, Frank becomes ingrained into their peculiar familial structure. Based on Joyce Maynard’s semi-autobiographical novella, this adaptation bludgeons this already weak-minded genre. Admittedly, the story’s heart-warming premise seems romantic. My steel-like heart melts the tiniest bit for concepts like these. However, Labor Day’s execution, to be gleefully hyperbolic, is as painful as witnessing an actual execution.

Josh Brolin & Gattlin Griffith.

Before I go on a “modern romance is awful!” rant, I’ll stop myself dead. My cynical perspective, somehow, became darker as I watched this insipid and egregious romantic-drama. Its problems stem from the story’s core ingredients. As Adele and Frank fall in love, Labor Day slides into a brainless and vacuous lull. Anyone, of any age group, can tear through this unending melodrama’s plot mechanics. Relying on coincidences and implausibilities, the story’s hollow and archaic nature becomes frustrating. From their creepy meet-up onward, Adele and Frank’s romance hurriedly, and unexpectedly, becomes ethically questionable and unlikeable. From then on, the movie falls into manipulative territory. Forcing himself into their lives, Frank, inexplicably, turns into a cross between Bob the Builder and Martha Stewart. Within Labor Day’s malfunctioning 72-hour window, Frank fixes everything around the house, teaches his ‘victims’ how to bake, and turns Henry from a sensitive child into a baseball-loving primate. Even more unrealistic, the leads’ relationship blossoms over this alarmingly short space of time. Frank’s muscle flexing and Adele’s cleavage-friendly dresses become catalysts in this uninspired love story. As the saccharine love child of Fifty Shades of Grey and Nicholas Sparks’ harlequin romance novels, this exhaustive mess is just as stale. Like Safe Haven and The Lucky One, Labor Day is mind-numbingly dull and oddly psychosexual. Sadly, Dear John is much better. My disappointment rests squarely on its wasted potential. Romance, despite mass cultural and critical vile, can make for intriguing and invigorating cinematic gold. The Notebook and Titanic, though not without their flaws, still sit at the top of this schmaltzy leaderboard.

“I don’t think losing my father broke my mother’s heart, but rather losing love itself.” (Henry (Gattlin Griffith), Labor Day).

The ‘family’ in action.

The blame rests with acclaimed writer/director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air). Reitman, known for insightful and darkly comedic character studies (Thank You for Smoking, Young Adult), avoids his satirical shades and witty edge here. Instead, this energetic filmmaker reaches into an ancient bag of tricks. Where is his sense of humour or acute insight into pop-culture? Despite Reitman’s ambitiousness, his new career path falls into dangerous and degrading territory. Like with Nick Cassavetes, commercial glory and watchful studio eyes now cast a debilitating shadow over Reitman’s distinctive style. Here, Reitman examines his and Maynard’s livelihoods. Based on Maynard’s peculiar experience with a prison pen-pal, the young filmmaker’s efforts dampen this manipulative tale. Displayed in flashback, Frank’s life story and motivations become clear. However, Reitman, clinging onto small and intriguing details, mashes the flashback and flash-forward buttons. Unfortunately, inconsistent flourishes distort several plot points and revelations. Jumping from pre-Vietnam 60s, to present day, then to the swinging 70s, the movie’s timeline doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. However, one sequence is effectively handled. Examining Adele’s dilapidated psyche and harsh life story, this flashback-fuelled vignette sits head-and-shoulders above the present-day romantic dross. Rescuing this atrocious romantic-drama from the cinematic doldrums, Winslet and Brolin deliver touching performances. Though unable to elevate such soggy material, Winslet injects charm and malice into this frustrating character. Looking beyond her character’s child-like mind, the Oscar-winning actress – making the most of this career misstep – relishes in the narrative’s wavering emotional state. Here, Brolin is endlessly charismatic. Despite the lack of chemistry, Brolin’s distinctive voice and charms bolster this irritating character. Meanwhile, Griffith is revelatory as the patriarch turned concerned citizen.

Sadly, Labor Day is a gigantic waste of time, potential, and talent. Despite the cruelty, I see this as a public service announcement. Depicting a joyless and hollow version of romance, this romantic-drama is a calculated, lugubrious, and cynical mess. Earning a spot on my 2014 Worst of the Year list, I pray this Hallmark Channel reject is just a one-off for Reitman. I still like him, but this is pushing it! Even the world’s craziest cat ladies are too intelligent for this one. Skip it at all costs!

Verdict: A laughable and frustrating melodrama. 

Gangster Squad Review – Guys & Molls


Director: Ruben Fleischer

Writer: Will Beall

Stars: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn

 


Release date: January 13th, 2013

Distributors: Warner Br0s. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Charismatic performances.

Worst part: Its lack of depth.

A girl, carrying dreams of Hollywood success, steps into a bus station. A creepy figure immediately lures the gullible blonde into a trap. However, the criminal was followed by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin). O’Mara defeats the criminal and his accomplices, finds the frightened girl and says “Welcome to Los Angeles.” From the get go, Gangster Squad establishes the ‘City of Angels’ as a seedy underbelly of the 1940s and ’50s. The film is nothing but a violent-as-all-hell piece of escapism.

Josh Brolin & Sean Penn.

Josh Brolin & Sean Penn.

The goons O’Mara took down belong to Jewish ex-boxer and powerful criminal Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). His burgeoning empire, comprised of drug trafficking, pimping and money laundering, continues to grow. With L.A. becoming the grimy centre of corruption and murder, Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) calls for the creation of a unique team of trustworthy and talented law-men. O’Mara leads the squad while battling the demons of his military service. He picks womaniser and war veteran Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), and detectives Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) for this small, blood-thirsty unit. They take down Cohen’s vicious organisation piece by piece. Cohen, however, has bigger plans and uses L.A’s corrupt cops and politicians to his advantage.

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone.

Gangster Squad is a fun, pulpy, lurid yet empty crime flick. Girls will love Gosling’s inclusion, but this cartoonish representation of L.A’s ghastly existence lives for action and excess. It’s a punchy and breezy farce that aims to please. Unlike most gangster/crime films that spring to mind, gunfights and explosions tell the simplistic story. Tommy-Guns and tenacity are all this squad needs. Both they and the baddies obliterate every neon-lit setting with a reign of bullets. The film seeks to modernise one of Hollywood’s defining genres. Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) elevates the car chases and hand-to-hand fistfights with violence and visual flair. Fleischer never tones down the carnage, especially when a henchman is needlessly and disgustingly dispatched. The Chinatown sequence had to be created after the Aurora Cinema shooting. It still works, capturing the district’s beauty along with tension-inducing thrills. The digital cinematography occasionally distracts during many set pieces. But Gangster Squad admirably understands exactly what it is and never swerves away from that. This Dick Tracy-esque look at a classier time never ventures beyond the shallow heights of its premise. Gangster Squad is predictable and forgettable. Its cliché-ridden script, by former L.A. detective Will Beall, fails to lift the film beyond the allure of kinetic visuals and a starry cast. Its got all the gangster film clichés including horrifically over-the top antagonists, morally-driven protagonists, predictable deaths and a problematic romance. The romance between Gosling’s character and Emma Stone’s femme fatale is hard to believe and lacks the chemistry both actors created in Crazy, Stupid, Love. She looks across a crowded club and a minute later is forever in his arms. He can’t be that smooth! Can he?! Worse still is Beall’s ridiculous anecdotal dialogue.

“The whole town’s underwater. You’re grabbing a bucket when you should be grabbing a bathing suit.” (Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Gangster Squad).

Penn as Mickey Cohen.

Without influential screenwriters like David Mamet and James Ellroy at the helm, the gritty one liners and monologues sorely lack believability.  Its enlightening thrills will hopefully inspire people to track down better material. Categorically, Gangster Squad sits uncomfortably between outrageous crime films such as Sin City and subtle character studies like The Public Enemy. It’s easy to point out several films Gangster Squad is paying homage to. The Untouchables, L.A. Confidential, ChinatownMiller’s Crossing and Public Enemies – these gangster/crime films have already revolutionised an ageing genre. Gosling and the rest of this A-list cast are charismatic in underdeveloped roles. Gosling’s performance is obviously based on some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men. His squeaky voice and mannered personality sizzle as his ‘James Cagney meets James Dean’ shtick energises. An impressive sequence is his stylish entrance into his favourite club. Walking and talking like a real cool-cat, his actions light up the screen. Brolin acts with his gruff tone and square jaw, once again displaying his engaging on-screen presence. O’Mara is the only multidimensional character, smartly questioning the moral and ethical responsibilities that come with vigilantism. Credit also goes to Penn. Penn’s excessive mannerisms and silly prosthetic make-up effects elevate the character. Much like Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone in The Untouchables, his performance stands out beyond the film’s earnestness.

In the hands of a better screenwriter, Gangster Squad could have rivalled the best film noirs of the past 20 years. It, however, becomes a series of enjoyable yet depth-less, tiresome and forgettable parts. Maybe, stick with playing L.A. Noire.

Verdict: A fun, pulpy yet shallow gangster flick.