The Light Between Oceans Review: By the sea


Director: Derek Cianfrance

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

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

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Release date: November 2nd, 2016

Distributor: 132 minutes 

Countries: USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand

Running time: 132 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Fassbender and Vikander’s chemistry.

Worst part: The exhaustive run-time.

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: A sweet romantic-drama.

X-Men: Apocalypse Review: Super-meh


Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Simon Kinberg

Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac

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Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 144 minutes


3/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The weak villain.

Halfway through the ninth X-Men franchise installment, X-Men: Apocalypse, four characters walk out of a cinema having just seen Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. One character discusses the A New Hope‘s ground-breaking aura. Another praises The Empire Strikes Back‘s darkness and complexity. Finally, another snarkily retorts: “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst”. Although a throwaway jab at X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the line perfectly sums up my feelings about this latest entry. Sorry Apocalypse, you shot yourself in the foot.

This series, kicking off back in 2000, set the bar for action-adventure storytelling and superhero cinema with a modest and mature first installment. Since then, the genre has launched into the x-men-6-2bc1b619-fbb6-4faf-9a71-45464932d131stratosphere. The franchise has been on a rollercoaster ride of stellar (X-Men 2), unique (The Wolverine), and terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) entries. Following up the kooky X-Men: First Class and exhilarating X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse dives into the 1980s’ brightly coloured, discomforting void. The world has grown weary of mutantkind, with the events of Days of Future Past now
etched into modern history. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has built his college for gifted students in Westchester County, New York. Meanwhile, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) learns of old frenemy Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto(Michael Fassbender)’s return to the war between them and humanity.

That synopsis barely scratches the surface regarding Apocalypse‘s multitude of plot-threads and character arcs. All-powerful being En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), inadvertently awoken by CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert(Rose Byrne)’s activities, gathers his ‘Four Horsemen’ – Lehnsherr, Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy), and Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn) – to help obliterate the world. Earth-shattering events draw Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Michael-Fassbender-X-Men-Apocalypse-TrailerTill), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into the battle.

Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse pales in comparison to trend-setters Days of Future Past and Captain America: Civil War. The movie cherry-picks plot-strands, sociopolitical messages, emotional moments, and memorable sequences directly from earlier X-Men flicks. The overall narrative (end of the world, blah blah blah) is lifted from countless blockbusters before it. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, Days of Future Past) and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, once again, explore Xavier and Lehnsherr’s push-me, pull-you dynamic, Raven’s wavering allegiances, William Stryker(Josh Helman)’s shady dealings, new mutants brought into Xavier’s school, and recurring characters making googly eyes at one another. It’s not bad, just too familiar. In fairness, thin sub-plots including Lehnsherr’s Polish family life torn asunder and younger maxresdefault (1)mutants becoming friends make for several interesting patches.

At an exhaustive 144 minutes, Apocalypse feels overstuffed, underdeveloped, inconsequential and bloated simultaneously. The nihilistic worldview, washed-out colour palette and dreary atmosphere permeate. Worse still, Despite the terrific Quicksilver, nuclear warhead, and Auschwitz set-pieces, the third act becomes a mind-numbing blend of mutant powers and cataclysmic destruction. For all the bluster of exotic locations, pretty performers, Logan/Wolverine(Hugh Jackman) cameos, and millions of dollars, the movie crumbles thanks to its titular villain. After a blistering opening sequence, depicting Apocalypse’s Ancient Egyptian origins, the character is given nothing but cheesy dialogue and vaguely defined abilities. Isaac, one of Hollywood’s most promising talents, is stranded under layers of costuming, prosthetic make-up, and voice modulation.

The low-three-star Apocalypse survives primarily on its cast’s enthusiasm and inherent charisma. Pulling themselves through silly dialogue, McAvoy and Fassbender are compelling leading men. Imbuing Xavier and Magneto with warmth, both thespians treat the material with respect. Dodging the Mystique maxresdefaultmakeup at every turn, Lawrence brings her deer-in-headlights/contractual-obligation facial expression to an underwritten character. Fortunately, Hoult, Peters, Smit-McPhee, Sheridan, and Tuner get just enough screen time to develop chemistry and lasting impact. However, Munn, Shipp and Hardy barely register in glorified henchman roles.

Despite going through sequels, prequels, and reboots, the X-Men franchise needs yet another shake-up. X-Men: Apocalypse, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, just cannot compete against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Less really is more, and Deadpool is starting to look a lot better.

Verdict: A middling, overstuffed superhero flick.

Steve Jobs Review: Man & Machine-Made Masterpiece


Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Aaron Sorkin

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

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Release date: February 4th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

4½/5

Review: Steve Jobs

Slow West Audio Review: Cowboys & Immigrants


Director: John Maclean

Writer: John Maclean

Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius

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Release date: June 26th, 2015

Distributors: A24, Lionsgate UK 

Countries: UK, NZ

Running time: 84 minutes


 

4/5

Review:

Frank Review – Band Recognition


Director: Lenny Abrahamson 

Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan

Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Michael Fassbender


Release date: May 9th, 2014

Distributors: Element Pictures, Magnolia Pictures

Countries: Ireland, UK 

Running time: 95 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Fassbender’s manic performance.

Worst part: Gyllenhaal’s lacklustre character.

Some movies, whether they deliver momentous scores or pop songs designed to sell albums, use music to accelerate their effect. Blaring through each cinema’s sound system, a song, or even an entire compilation, can worm its way into our heads. British indie dramedy Frank utilises this concept to build upon its funky and potent core. Accentuated by out-there performances and manic directorial ticks, Frank delivers a fun, insightful, and momentous insight into music’s effect on human beings.

Domhnall Gleeson & Michael Fassbender.

Screening for festival fanatics and steely critics at this year’s South by Southwest festival, Frank had a high note to reach to impress these auspicious crowds. Sweeping through the circuit, this dramedy throws caution to the wind whilst its characters try to conquer their burgeoning issues. Pressing against typical festival-dramedy tropes, the movie’s inner-peace is repeatedly disrupted. The narrative, when not looking into an ever-so-slightly unhinged trajectory, follows the mediocre existence of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson). This struggling keyboard player/songwriter, stuck in a depressing office space, dreams of hastily escaping his tragic existence. Everyday, Jon draws up the soundtrack to his monotonous life. Taking inspiration from the most mundane of occurrences, Jon’s life halts when he witnesses a man trying to drown himself. The man, keyboarder for popular grunge group ‘Soronprfbs’, is deemed unworthy of future gigs by the band’s eccentric manager Don (Scoot McNairy). Invited to play at their next gig, Jon watches on as the group crashes and burns on stage. However, Jon, invited to their cosy recording-studio abode, draws inspiration from misanthropic percussionist Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and electrifying lead singer/songwriter Frank (Michael Fassbender).

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Experimenting with music.

The word ‘predictable’ doesn’t belong in any context, or review, of this peculiar romp. Over several weeks, Jon learns from everything he sees and each bizarre personality he runs into. In each scene, little surprises and jokes reside to amp-up this already impressionistic creation. Working with a creative screenplay and boisterous cast, director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) takes aim at Ireland’s ever-lasting cultural stamp, the world’s music scenes, and genre clichés. Here, Abrahamson looks to his bubbly characters for ideas. Looking through the pages of this enjoyable material, his bright direction searches for and develops eye-catching gems. For the most part, Frank sticks to its promises by staging itself in affable and quaint locations. Stuck together in the recording studio, the drama relies on discomforting personalities and interesting ideas. The brightest moments revolve around the band’s quaint jam sessions. By using epiphanies and spiritual practices, this eclectic bunch seeks to conquer the alternative-rock game. Pushing past everyone around him, Frank – wearing a large, paper-mache head – holds his group together with charm and everlasting appeal. Without turning conflicts into melodramatic exchanges, the narrative takes several sharp and mood-altering turns towards darkness and disparity. Punishing its opportunistic new keyboard player, the group’s antics keep Frank above similar fare. Heading to SXSW itself, the movie’s fish-out-of-water-esque humour throws our ensemble into the heart of pop-culture. Aided by Twitter and Instagram, Jon’s social media coverage may draw a line between the band and its comforting surroundings.

“You play C, F, G?” (Frank (Michael Fassbender), Frank).

Maggie Gyllenhall.

Playing off revelatory music-dramedies like Almost Famous and This is Spinal Tap, as well as renowned TV personality Frank Sidebottom, Frank examines music’s affect on pop-culture and social quarrels. Experimenting with varying tools and sounds, Frank’s recording techniques are peppered throughout joyous montages. Alarmingly, pushing its characters to breaking point, the movie delivers an insightful commentary on philosophy and mental health. Blaming one another’s questionable antics, its characters test one another without being condescending or complacent. In the final third, as Frank’s intentions become clear, we see the downfall of a potential genius. Jon and Frank, as their bromance reaches a crux, reflect upon music, life, and escapism. Describing each other’s facial expressions, their alluring mannerisms lend heart and brawn to this ear-drum-strumming farce. Unexpectedly, Jon’s confidence-fuelled efforts do more harm than good. Drawing fame and fortune towards this quirky group, Frank’s personality becomes increasingly unpredictable and concerning. Credit goes to Fassbender for bringing a charismatic glow to this difficult role. Suited to blockbuster fare, Fassbender, like his character, reaches outside the box to deliver extraordinary quirks. In addition, soon after his heartbreaking performance in About Time, Gleeson delivers a likeable turn as the audience avatar and the group’s most opportunistic member. Made whole by Gleeson’s whimsical accent, his charm and wide-eyed glory ground this abstract feature. However, despite her best efforts, Gyllenhaal fails to overcome her nasty character. Thankfully, at opportune moments, McNairy comes along to lighten the darkest moments and deliver genuine thrills.

Similarly to Fassbender’s performance, Frank is an engrossing, enlightening, and intelligent commentary about the world around us. With music being Frank’s guiding light, the movie maintains its optimistic glow and heartening motifs throughout. Looking for new sounds and compilations, the band reflects the movie’s will to succeed by looking beyond the norm.

Verdict: A charming and unique dramedy.

12 Years a Slave Review – Definitive Docudrama


Director: Steve McQueen 

Writer: John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (book)

Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano


Release date: January 10th, 2014

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


 

5/5

Best part: McQueen’s direction.

Worst part: The slightly exasperating run-time.

Docudramas, popular during Oscar season, take exasperating true stories and transform them into celluloid masterpieces. From small-screen mini-series’ to big-screen historical epics, these docudramas strive to inspire, inform, and enlighten. This description may seem clichéd, but the information is necessary and appropriate for this review. Docudramas, despite the vast number of them released each Oscar season, provide interesting insights into shocking and influential events. Several holocaust, slave, and war dramas – 1977 TV special Roots, in particular – have re-shaped Hollywood conventions. Before heading into highly anticipated slave-drama 12 Years a Slave, filmgoers must understand just how inhuman and confronting this topic is.

Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Though this topic has been depicted before, this exasperating and meaningful docudrama is significantly more astonishing and enrapturing than this season’s other docudramas. 12 Years a Slave becomes a truly enthralling experience!Based on Solomon Northup’s influential 1853 memoir of the same name, 12 Years a Slave chronicles Northup’s painful, revelatory, and transcendent journey against all odds. Despite the colossal preconceptions, viewers should drop their guards before absorbing this artistic endeavour. The story kicks off in in Saragota Springs, New York in 1841, with Northup embracing his enviable and likeable existence. Living a peaceful life with his wife and two children, his financial, spiritual, and moral wealth becomes irreplaceable. Hurriedly, he’s offered a fruitful gig with a travelling circus by two advantageous figures, Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton (Taran Killam). After an infectious celebratory dinner, Northup is drugged, kidnapped, and sold to slave owners for a hefty profit. Tortured, abused, and re-named “Platt” by his captors, Northup must stick close to his fellow prisoners whilst avoiding his masters’ violent bursts. Shipped from Washington DC to Louisiana, Northup comes across malicious slave trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti). With Freeman’s despicable personality inflicting his ‘property’, slave owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) saves Northup from Freeman’s overwhelming grasp. Sharing bible passages and gracefully interacting with his workers, Ford becomes a kind-hearted and honourable plantation owner. However, the plantation’s other inhabitants aren’t impressed with Northup’s presence and skills. With the other slaves keeping to themselves, the white employees treat their black counterparts with disdain. Pushed to breaking point by disgraceful carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano), Northup, after beating Tibeats, seeks Ford’s council. Ford, believing Northup to be an honourable individual, trades him to fellow slave owners Edwin and Mary Epps (Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson). Coming across downtrodden slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) and carpenter Bass (Brad Pitt), Northup must defend himself and seek justice during his time under the Epps’ control.

Michael Fassbender.

The bible, for a text so heavily lauded and practiced by people across the world, describes slavery as a natural condition. In fact, verse one, Peter 2:18 specifically states: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh”. Every so often, a Hollywood production comes along that illustrates cinema’s over-whelming power and potential. Breaking down cultural preconceptions and social barriers, 12 Years a Slave compromises between ambitious moviemaking and its heart-wrenching story. This docudrama, forming a unique, potent, and tangible identity, wholly detaches itself from the Hollywood system. Wholeheartedly, it deserves its already overwhelming critical and commercial success. This courageous docudrama explores controversial and sickening depths. This extraordinary and intelligent artistic achievement enhances cinema’s courageousness and tenacity. Escaping from cinema’s commercial, moral, and ethical confines, this experience violently buries itself under the skin and into the mind. Here, we are exposed to a disturbing and despicable period of human history. With Slave-dramas normally classed as Oscar bait, this narrative removes the genre’s manipulative and obvious trappings. Embracing its prestigious opportunities and glorious advantages, the movie paints an honest and distressing portrait of one of history’s bleakest periods. The story immediately states is discomfortingly direct intentions and startlingly solid viewpoints. With Northup’s journey being a profound, terrifying, and heartbreaking tale, the movie examines vital periods and facets of his fascinating existence. During his twelve-year ordeal on four plantations, Northup’s tale becomes a heartbreaking reminder of mankind’s most disgusting shades. The movie considerately and thoughtfully chronicles Northup’s inconsolable transition from respected upper-middle class citizen, to broken object, to deprived yet honourable slave. Northup, with his ideologies and identity traits destroyed during several violent beatings, becomes a blank slate for white upper-class men to contort, distort, and manipulate.

Benedict Cumberbatch.

Director Steve McQueen (HungerShame) is unafraid to inject his own ideologies, morals, and principles into this chilling narrative arc. Throughout this gritty slave-drama, McQueen defines history, religion, and entertainment as life’s more note-worthy aspects. Despite holding onto Steven Spielberg’s emotionally gripping story-telling ticks, McQueen turns this brutal slave-drama into a confronting, visceral, and philosophical masterpiece. Eclipsing Spielberg’s The Colour PurpleSchindler’s ListLincoln, and Amistad12 Years a Slave  exclaims that man was, is, and will always be Earth’s greatest and yet most deplorable creature. With humans controlling, harming, and tricking one another throughout time, the movie depicts and describes our worst tendencies without blaming the audience. Slave owners, whether they were good samaritans or psychopathic Neanderthal-like monsters, eternally condemned themselves through obvious malpractices. Modern cinema’s greatest Black directors, including McQueen, Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, and Ryan Coogler, create thought-provoking dramas heartily discussing race, gender, class, and the human condition. This ambitious and emotionally powerful slave-drama, living up to the true story’s emphatic potential, is bolstered by McQueen’s uncompromising direction. Directing with brains, braun, heart, and moral fibre, McQueen’s unquestionable talent and commendable intentions develop an original, heart-breaking, and revelatory slave-drama. Here, like with his previous films, McQueen, with screenwriter John Ridley’s assistance, illuminates the narrative’s most gruelling aspects without creating an overwrought and gratuitous Hollywood feature. Analysing and deconstructing slavery’s overwhelming negatives, he explores this issue’s many controversial, neglected, and dangerous shades. Embracing this story’s socio-political insight and emotionally affecting moments, McQueen and Ridley deliberate on this harrowing topic’s facts, intricacies, and perspectives. Despite the noticeably exasperating run-time, McQueen, refusing to inject fantastical elements or overwrought opinions into the narrative, presents an objective and engaging account of this potent true story.

“I will survive! I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!” (Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), 12 Years a Slave).

Brad Pitt.

Comparable to Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in There Will Be Blood, his style scours this story’s most promising aspects by crafting memorable sequences. Pushing the camera into each pressing situation, extended takes linger uncomfortably on unflinching images. These moments, complimented by raw silence, illuminate the characters’ degrading situations. McQueen pierces vital settings whilst conveying powerful messages and viewpoints. The noose sequence is comprised of several nail-biting shots. Wide angles establish the characters’ predicaments and the sequence’s relentlessness. Smash cutting and splicing contrasting images together, the poetic editing style links symbols to valuable story-threads. Outdoing himself at each twist and turn, McQueen alleviates this heartbreaking story with artistically conquering montages. These near-wordless vignettes, depicting this poignant journey’s most captivating moments, become enthralling and disconcerting flourishes. However, gruelling sound effects elevate McQueen’s sumptuous and edgy style. With each whip crack, hammer and nail, and buckling shackle, the movie’s intensity is drastically heightened – defining the movie’s most shocking moments. Hans Zimmer’s score also elevates certain sequences. The music cues’ percussive rumbles and beats throw vital sequences into overdrive. However, the actors also craft this confounding drama’s ingenious and cognitive aspects. Ejiofor delivers a powerful and awe-inspiring turn as the degraded lead character. Tenaciously devouring several enthralling sequences, he delivers the decade’s most valuable performance. Fassbender and Cumberbatch excel as slave owners with vastly different Methodologies. Paulson, Dano, and Giamatti steal scenes as despicable and polarising figures. However, newcomer Nyong’o provides an insatiable and unique performance as Epps’ favourite slave and Northup’s guiding light. Meanwhile, Pitt, Killam, McNairy, Garret Dillahunt, and Alfie Woodard succeed in one-or-two-scene roles.

Examining one of history’s most distressing time-periods, movies like Django Unchained  and 12 Years a Slave become compelling Oscar-worthy treasures. Though its graphic violence and sickening darkness may prove too much for some, 12 Years a Slave‘s compelling story, enrapturing directorial flair, and fascinating performances classify it as one of the decade’s greatest cinematic accomplishments. With subject matter this valuable; McQueen’s blood-sweat-and-tears approach has crafted an appropriate and chilling portrait of America’s darkest era.

Verdict: A powerful, haunting, and rich slave-drama. 

The Counselor Review – Tex-Mex Gruel


Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Cormac McCarthy

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem


Release date: October 25th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Scott’s direction.

Worst part: The harsh overtones.

Rejected and underpaid by tinsel-town’s famous faces and studios, screenwriters deserve infinitely more credit. In this century, writers are pushed away because they seemingly lack enviable commercial traits. However, writers build the roots of every artistic project. Without their words, labour, and guidance, directors and actors would have nothing to work with. Occasionally, some writers, jumping between screenwriting and novel writing, are credited for breaking the immense and crippling Hollywood-screenwriter stigma. Novelist Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, The Road) launches into screenplay territory with his latest creation, fitting into his own disturbing and ground-breaking genre.

Michael Fassbender.

The Counselor is a writhing and monstrous beast unable to stay still for extended periods. The movie’s impatience and moodiness stand above its flaws. However, the flaws prevent this crime-drama from being as brilliant and transcendent as McCarthy thinks it is. McCarthy’s first screenplay mixes every drug trafficking drama cliche and McCarthy-writing convention into one sprawling tale. The intricate plot is difficult to explain, but still has been covered in similar Tex-Mex thrillers. The movie’s plot is a convoluted miasma of colourful characters and bizarre plot strands. Keeping up with The Counselor‘s convoluted narrative is like trying to out run a cheetah. Although, funnily enough, the previous sentence is startlingly relevant. The movie starts out with several intriguing sequences. First off, a lawyer known only as ‘Counselor’ (Michael Fassbender) and Laura (Penelope Cruz) are in the throws of love. Enjoying the physical and emotional benefits of their scintillating romance, Counselor wants to seal the deal with a gargantuan wedding ring. The ring’s impressive diamond, sold to him by an esteemed dealer (Bruno Ganz) in Amsterdam, shreds his financial status. Unwilling to admit to his faults, he enlists a Mexican drug smuggling operation’s services to obtain a slice of the high life. Thanks to elaborate businessman Reiner (Javier Bardem) and his promiscuous girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz), Counselor follows orders whilst tracking a cocaine-filled sewage truck across the US/Mexico border. With middleman Westray(Brad Pitt)’s help, Counselor can impress his fiancee and confidants. However, like with other McCarthy stories, nothing goes according to plan.

Cameron Diaz & Penelope Cruz.

Despite its ambitiousness and array of talent, The Counselor has received disastrously negative hype. With Salon.com calling it the “worst movie ever made”, the hyperbolic reviews call the state of pop-culture and movie-going into question. Here, McCarthy’s intentions are obvious. Aiming to uniquely tell this cliched story, McCarthy fans will lap up this material. His script, whilst not fitting standard screenwriting rules, is chock-a-block with idiosyncrasies and standout moments. The poetic and potent narrative becomes a puzzle complete with strange and purposeful pieces. Intricate concepts are wedged together to emphasise certain sections of this heart-breaking story. However, despite the alluring narrative, this ambiguous tale leaves out vital details. Strangely, its many impressive concepts don’t congeal to develop a cohesive vision. McCarthy, convinced viewers will figure everything out for themselves, creates an elaborate landscape fuelled by excessiveness and mean-spiritedness. McCarthy’s cynical and degrading outlook on humanity, economics, and justice is injected into every intriguing frame. Accustomed to novel writing, his screenplay links insignificant details to important strands. Featuring several controversial yet unnecessary scenes, The Counselor won’t be hailed as his best work. Considering No Country for Old Men and The Road‘s grandioseness and poeticism, McCarthy needs a middleman to separate him from his acclaimed works’ adaptations. Here, the sprawling narrative, introducing cartel members, MacGuffins, and red herrings at random, becomes steadily frustrating up until its heart-wrenching climax. This saucy and sickening thriller delivers a behind-the-scenes look at the USA/Mexico drug trade. Despite the trade’s violence and illegality, McCarthy’s Shakespearean prose delves into this dangerous business’ philosophical aspects. Despite the inconsistencies, the organic dialogue elevates each exhaustive scene. The turns-of-phrase and witticisms become as enthralling as the inevitable gunfights and car chases.

Javier Bardem.

Despite its glowing positives, The Counselor is trashy, silly, misogynistic, and, at points, a bit of a mess. With each anecdote, one-liner, and metaphor filling many beguiling scenes, McCarthy’s tongue-twisting dialogue eventually becomes confusing and alienating. Forcing us to catch up with each meticulous line, this pulsating thriller continually relays its all-important messages. Throughout, symbols and sayings refer to such thought-provoking themes as greed, death, power, wealth, predatory instincts, submissiveness, and the soul’s darkest depths. Despite the commendable intentions and glorious words, McCarthy’s motifs and idiosyncrasies are glaringly discernible. The monologues about sex, femininity, sadism, decapitation, and religion, though well written, become steadily repetitive and repulsive. Surprisingly, The Counselor‘s joylessness doesn’t stem from McCarthy alone. Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Black Hawk Down) understandably mourns his brother Tony’s recent death. In fact, this atmospheric and pulsating drama borrows aesthetic and narrative traits from his late brother’s oeuvre. Scott, normally building expansive universes (Prometheus) and kinetic action set-pieces (Gladiator), applies an approachable and glorious touch to this harsh narrative. Resembling such Coen Brothers crime-dramas as Blood Simple and Fargo, Scott’s magnetic visual style lifts an otherwise dour experience. Scott’s crazier projects (Thelma and Louise, Matchstick Men) out live his more clinical efforts (HannibalBody of Lies). Thankfully, his gripping direction lodges The Counselor‘s heart-thumping set-pieces into the consciousness. The notorious ‘catfish’ sequence is bafflingly silly and miraculously entertaining. Like Scott’s previous efforts, The Counselor’s horrific violence is worth the admission cost. Presenting the US/Mexico border as a vicious wasteland, scenes like the razor-wire/motorbike sequence don’t disappoint.

“You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist that world you have created will also cease to exist.” (Jefe (Ruben Blades), The Counselor).

Brad Pitt.

Scott’s pulpy and bold direction will keep even the most irritable viewer engaged. Those uninterested in the abrupt tonal shifts or McCarthy’s discourse can admire the miasmic flourishes within each composition. Scott’s enjoyable visuals, colour-coding particular sequences, stress the characters’ social and economic status’. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski efficiently develops an alternate universe powered by deception, murder, and brashness. Illuminating each setting’s most compelling features, Wolski and Scott create a vibrant and distressing portal into the movie’s vile yet advantageous world. Wild parties, elaborate villas, and expansive cityscapes provide eye-candy for this gritty and blood-soaked drama. The Counselor‘s A-list cast also bolster its production values. These destructive characters, coming across like Bond villains, continually find avenues to manipulate one another. Counselor, trained to conquer every situation, is a brave and effervescent figure. Continually told to step away from threatening situations, Counselor’s desperation and curiosity reveal the terrifying layers hidden behind his charismatic personality. Despite the unconvincing Texan accent, Fassbender’s remarkable screen presence pushes him along. Bardem also impresses as a vital strand of the movie’s excessive and expansive web. Expertly delivering McCarthy’s pontifications, Bardem brings charm and menace to his peculiar role. Sporting yet another zany hairstyle, Bardem brings this sociopathic character to life. Reiner, despite convincing himself of being ‘on top’, is whipped by his disturbing gal-pal. With the characters going toe-to-toe with one another (in more ways than one), Diaz struggles to wrap her mouth around McCarthy’s throbbing prose. Uncomfortably adjusting to her captivating role, Diaz is wholly miscast. Pitt’s pithy turn establishes his phenomenal range and tenacity. Sadly, Cruz is given short shrift as the sweet and naive love interest. In only a handful of scenes, Cruz is overshadowed by such enthralling character actors as Rosie Perez, Dean Norris, Reuben Blades, and Toby Kebbell.

Despite its overwhelming flaws, The Counselor proves McCarthy and Scott can still deliver thought-provoking and engaging material. This intense and witty crime-thriller, bolstered by its mean streak, rests between Traffic and Savages. Unfortunately, all talk and no action makes The Counselor a polarising thriller. If anything, McCarthy and Scott both just need a hug.

Verdict: A confused yet confronting crime-drama.

Prometheus Review – Alien-ating Sci-fi


Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Damon Lindelof, Jon Spaihts 

Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba


Release date: June 8th, 2012

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 124 minutes


4/5

Best part: Michael Fassbender.

Worst part: The unanswered questions.

Whether Prometheus is seen as a prequel or brand new adventure in the Alien universe, one thing is certain; no one does sci-fi quite like Ridley Scott. Scott, the director of memorable, smart blockbusters such as Blade Runner and Gladiator, not only excels in different genres but creates fascinating cinematic moments that will live with you forever. As the director of the 1979 classic sci-fi horror flick Alien, Scott’s highly-anticipated return to this universe is a philosophical and shocking account of the search for our beginnings.

Noomi Rapace.

Noomi Rapace.

We follow many characters, each with their own views of humanity and the mission itself. In 2089, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find a star map etched into different archaeological remnants from vastly different civilisations. This constellation, highlighted by the appearance of a large figure pointing to the sky, may in fact symbolise the dawn of man.  Landing on the distant moon LV- 223 three years later, the accuracy of this theory is what everyone on the spaceship ’Prometheus’ is searching for. Shaw and Holloway must encounter hostile sceptics including inquisitive human-like android David (Michael Fassbender) and hardened Weylan Corporation executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). There discoveries will however change the course of human history (for greater and worse) while creating scarily affecting problems for the ship’s largely scientist based crew.

Michael Fassbender.

Michael Fassbender.

Ridley Scott knows how to deliver truly smart sci-fi. While not as groundbreaking as Blade Runner or Alien, Prometheus carefully and uniquely asks the big questions no one has found the answers to. The screenplay by Damon Lindelof (co-creator/writer of Lost) and Jon Spaihts, based sparingly on Stephen Hawking’s recent theories on the discovery of hostile beings in the universe, uses important questions, suggesting different yet believable theories based on our evolution and of creationism, as the basis for its many character arcs. A believable relationship between this story of our beginnings and murky horror flick reminiscent of the Alien universe is executed in Prometheus, creating a truly dangerous sci-fi adventure, subtly using both references from the Alien films and the seeds to create its own universe. Many of the supporting characters feel two dimensional, developing largely predictable problems for the main characters. The performances, however, as usual with Scott, are all top notch. Rapace once again creates a strong female protagonist; this time noticeably similar to Ripley in the original Alien films. Theron and Idris Elba as the ship’s captain are charismatic in their smaller roles. While the stand out is Fassbender as the peaceful looking android with creepily ulterior motives. Fassbender creates the most fascinating character in modern sci-fi, depicting a strange, multi-functioning automaton with a curiosity for the existential questions his human ‘superiors’ ask. Several small touches, including his accurate impersonation of Peter O. Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, display a fascinating and in-depth depiction of a soulless being in search of a human connection.

“Big things have small beginnings.” (David (Michael Fassbender), Prometheus).

Charlize Theron & Idris Elba.

Charlize Theron & Idris Elba.

Despite this search for answers leading to a frustratingly ambiguous final third, each character’s motivations and theories delicately and assuredly create the themes of the film, culminating in a search for the reality of existence through hostile and tension filled terms. The film, for the most part, is emotionally powerful. You feel excited when Prometheus lands, while ultimately feeling a strange void in the pit of your stomach with knowing what comes next. Not really surprising to one who knows the brutal story behind the name ‘Prometheus’. Scott isn’t afraid to push the MA15+ rating. The beautiful yet bloody practical effects and creature designs match the violent intensity of the Alien series. The shockingly realistic and blood curdling penetrative deaths are part of the emotional core that will be longingly set in your mind. One scene in particular will have you questioning the practicality of Caesarean sections. The film’s visual appeal is also stunning. The holographic and touch screen applications of their operations and discoveries create several dimensions, using different pix-elated and CG creations to develop an appealing contrast with H. R. Giger’s influential and practical alien spaceship designs.

Does Prometheus live up to expectations? Yes and no. Yes, Scott’s streamlined direction delivers several wondrous set-pieces and visual flourishes. No, the big questions it so-eagerly asks in the first third aren’t given answers. Overall, we might have to show up next time for one ‘final’ adventure.

Verdict: An ambitious and glorious sci-fi actioner.