The Accountant Review: Crystal math


Director: Gavin O’Connor

Writer: Bill Dubuque

Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal

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Release date: November 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 128 minutes


3/5

Best part: Affleck’s subdued performance.

Worst part: The third-act plot-twists.

The Accountant is the latest in the never-ending line of middle-budget action flicks. It – Like John Wick, Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher – lives in bigger-budget movies(superhero flicks, space-operas etc.)’s shadows. At best, they deliver cheerful call-backs to 1980s/90s action-thrillers. At worst, they seem cheap and desperate. This year’s Bourne and Reacher franchise extenders resemble the latter.

The Accountant, unlike Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, is still a good movie. The marketing and movie itself revel in A-lister/talented filmmaker Ben Affleck’s renaissance. This is his second action-hero/intelligent savant role for 2016 after Bruce Wayne/Batman. Of course, despite the flaws, this is Citizen Kane next to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It follows highly functioning autistic and small-town accountant Christian Wolff (Affleck). Head of strip-mall firm ZZZ Accounting, he lives a secluded existence in suburban Illinois by day. By night, he un-cooks the books for assassins, drug cartels, money launderers etc. His latest mission may be his most puzzling. Living Robotics’ accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) finds irregularities in the company’s finances. Wolff monitors executives Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), Rita (Jean Smart), and Ed (Andy Umberger).

The Accountant is the busiest and most complex of 2016’s action-thrillers. The central plot-thread is difficult to crack or even explain. Bill Dubuque(The Judge)’s screenplay throws together lists of names, dates and figures associated with said fictional company. In the second act, as the whodunit mystery unfolds, the scripts opts for confusing jargon over clear explanations. More so, the financial-decoding is never cinematically appealing. Even Dubuque loses interest, adding multiple plot-strands and characters around it. On top of said industrial espionage, the script includes a buddy-cop sub-plot led by Treasury Department director of financial crimes Raymond King(J. K. Simmons). His story-line – blackmailing analyst Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into tracking down Wolff – leads nowhere. Meanwhile, an assassin (Jon Bernthal) is hired to dispose of Wolff. The eight-movies-at-once feel hinders an otherwise engaging premise.

The Accountant, although not succumbing to blockbuster fatigue, still feels dated and formulaic. Along with said meandering subplots, director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Jane Got A Gun) wrestles with flashbacks to Wolff’s childhood and dealings with jailed accountant/fixer Francis Silverberg (Jeffrey Tambor). By the third act, O’Connor struggles to pull everything and everyone together. Plot-holes emerge as the set-pieces and revelations kick in. However, like with Warrior, O’Connor’s rustic, gritty aesthetic pays off. His peculiar camera angles and movements provide nuance, while the action sequences are fearsome. Thanks to Affleck’s committed performance, the autism spectrum disorder angle never feels forced. The character’s professional and personal lives are well fleshed out. The movie’s stacked cast give unique turns in generic roles. Bernthal, deliciously over the top here, is the breakout star.

The Accountant, like many of 2016’s blockbusters, delivers maximum potential and mixed execution. O’Connor and his cast enthusiastically grapple with the material. However, 128 minutes is simply too long for this story.

Verdict: A diverting action-drama.

Hell or High Water Review: High Plains Drifters


Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Stars: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham

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Release date: October 27th, 2016

Distributor: CBS Films, Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


4/5

Best part: Pine and Foster’s chemistry.

Worst part: The two-dimensional female characters.

The western has experienced several overwhelming highs and lows. In Hollywood, the genre thrived on manliness and simplicity. Later on, it turned to existentialism and revisionism to illustrate its points. More than any other genre, western fiction reflects fact. Hell or High Water is only one shade away from reality.

Hell or High Water is a rare gem: a 21st-century western. 2016 has delivered a couple to mixed success. The Magnificent Seven was a fun but flawed action extravaganza. However, Jane Got A Gun threw its prominent director and cast under a stagecoach. This movie’s promotional material seemed entirely samey. The independent-drama feel marked it as ‘yet another’ straight-to-Netflix project. Indeed, Chris Pine’s Star Trek Beyond paycheque is probably worth double the budget. It follows brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner(Ben Foster)’s pitiful existences in middle-of-nowhere Texas. Toby, a divorced dad, lived with their mother throughout her fatal illness. Tanner, fresh off a ten-year prison sentence, always finds trouble. With the house in reverse mortgage, the two must find cash before Texas Midlands Bank carries out foreclosure.

Hell or High Water immediately launches into the action. Rather than building to it over the first act, writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) hurls us into their first bank robbery. His script is an ode to good ol’ Hollywood’s western/crime filmmaking style. Here, unlike with most heist set-pieces, everyone acts and reacts like real people. Hilariously, their first robbery is almost bungled by poor timing and preparation. Like classic western/gangster flicks, the movie evenly develops the cops and robbers. In reality, Toby and Tanner’s actions are despicable. Here, however, they are rebels with a cause. Toby, discovering the family’s land has struck oil, pushes to support his ex-wife and kids. Tanner, with nothing better to do, simply wants to help. Of course, Texas rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Brimingham) view the brothers’ antics as detrimental. Dutifully, Sheridan never makes us side with either party. His approach unveils both parties’ wants and needs throughout a tight cat-and-mouse game.

The movie’s fusion of western, crime-drama and heist-thriller elements flows. It handles several conventions (the ranger close to retirement, the partner with a target on their head, the criminals fighting against the system etc.) with slight twists. Playing with Sheridan’s sparkling dialogue, director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) could be Hollywood’s next talent goldmine. His style balances dark-and-gritty and enjoyably comedic. Thanks to the talented ensemble (in front of and behind the camera), each scene delivers intensifying moments. Whenever the brothers’ quarrels reach critical mass, Bridges comes along with a witty retort. However, its few female characters resemble nagging ex-wifes, one night stands, and sassy waitresses. Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens capture an unenviable plethora of one-horse towns and indian casinos. Furthermore, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score is nightmarish yet addictive.

Hell or High Water delivers more substance, thrills and laughs than most of 2016’s major releases combined. The marriage of cast and crew works wonders. Pine, Foster and Bridges showcase leading-man charisma and character-actor class simultaneously. This throwback proves some still make films the way Hollywood used to.

Verdict: A tight western-thriller.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review: Punch drunk


Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
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Release date: October 20th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Cruise’s charisma.

Worst part: The daughter subplot.

A-list megastar Tom Cruise has had a career most actors could only dream of. He has led some of the 20th and 21st century’s most compelling films, delivered multiple killer one-liners and lifted forgettable material. The man puts 110% into every role and production. However, his off-screen antics -Scientology, failed marriages etc. – have made him a polarising figure.

Since his last marriage’s decline, he has turned his attention to the silver screen. Almost every year since, he has delivered one critically and commercially viable actioner after another. 2013’s Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s seminal book series, delivered whip-smart dialogue and gritty drama. Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is merely a serviceable action-adventure. It begins with our titular character (Cruise) on the lam. Shifting between assignments, he finds solace in his and Major Susan Turner(Cobie Smulders)’s phone calls. He heads to Washington DC to take her on a date. However, Turner is arrested for espionage after botched military dealings in Afghanistan. Predictably so, he takes the case to uncover the truth.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has little to do with the original. The events of that film are not even thought about here. Instead, like Child’s books, this is a pure standalone adventure. Sequel and blockbuster fatigue set in like rot. From the get-go, the story delivers limited stakes or tension. The opening scene defines Reacher: a superhuman with nothing to fear or even be mildly miffed about. The screenplay provides broad, simplistic characters and plot points. Reacher switches clunkily between personalities. As the plot kicks in, and more baddies show up, he becomes more powerful and stoic. On the other hand, after meeting his potential daughter (Samantha (Danika Yarosh)), he turns into a wise-cracking buddy-cop archetype. The mystery plot-line is infinitely less interesting, defined only by rushed flashbacks and exposition.

Director Edward Zwick once excelled with action sequences and tight story-telling. Many of his works – from crime-thrillers (The Siege, Blood Diamond) to historical-epics (Glory, The Last Samurai) – are compelling. The original set the bar for deftly handled fist-fights and shoot-outs. However, despite having worked with Cruise before, Zwick brings nothing new to the table here. The sequel’s set-pieces are few and far between. Worse still, it commits to quick-cut, shaky-cam hand-to-hand combat. The movie’s biggest flaws rest on the villain’s ultra-white shoulders. The movie delivers an even-blander Jai Courtney clone (The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger)) and nondescript military/government figures. Thankfully, Cruise and Smulders elevate said woeful material. Their back-and-forth sparring is suitable. Meanwhile, Yarosh is stuck with an idiotic, unlikable character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is forgettable but not terrible. Cruise’s raw intensity turns a tough-guy cliché into a fun lead badass. However, Zwick and co. drop the ball. The movie’s bland action, story and characters make for another disappointing sequel.

Verdict: A serviceable action-thriller.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation Review: Basic Instinct


Director: Sotiris Dounoukos

Writer: Sotiris Dounoukos, Matt Rubinstein (screenplay), Helen Garner (book)

Stars: Maggie Naouri, Jerome Meyer, Sacha Joseph, Gia Carides

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Release date: October 13th, 2016

Distributor: Titan View

Country: Australia

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

 Review: Joe Cinque’s Consolation

 

Blood Father Review: Mad Mel’s Mission


Director: Jean-Francois Richet

Writer: Peter Craig, Andrea Berloff

Stars: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna

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Release date: August 31st, 2016

Distributor: SND Films

Country: France, USA

Running time: 88 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Gibson’s committed performance.

Worst part: The gangbanger villains.

2016 marks big, bad actor/director Mel Gibson’s shiny return to the big screen. Is it ok to accept the artist despite the controversies? Should we forgive and forget despite serious – and possibly unresolved – social problems? Whatever the case, Gibson is back with action-thriller Blood Father and directorial effort Hacksaw Ridge.

Blood Father kicks off with American war veteran and ex-hardened criminal turned convict John Link (Gibson) in a mediocre existence. Thanks to his parole officer’s orders, he is unable to drink, do drugs, or leave the state. Stuck in a dead-end tattoo business, housed in his caravan home, he longs to find his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty). Lydia’s life goes from bad to worse. Influenced by her drug-running boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), she joins his assault on tenants occupying cartel-owned homes. After an accidental shooting, she runs off and meets up with Link. The cartel’s baddest are hot on their trail.

Obviously, Blood Father lacks the big-budget prowess of Gibson’s 1980s/90s hey day. The veteran performer can do ‘dark and gritty’ this in his sleep. Director Jean-Francois Richet (Public Enemy #1, the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) boils everything down to essential elements. This little known director tackles one of Hollywood’s best (watch Braveheart and Apocalypto for confirmation) and gets his way. His style provides Gibson some meat to chew on. The drama builds slowly throughout the first half. As Link and Lydia steadily come together, the story delves into their broken lives. Richet and co. revel in Link’s dour existence. As Link and Lydia team up, the man-on the-run thread lightens the tone. That slight elevation from depressing to gritty builds the excitement.

Make to mistake, this is comfort food cinema. The ‘heroes are bad, villains are worse’ plot works well here. While the violence raises the stakes. Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff’s script provides fun surprises and an off-beat sense of humor. Their witty one-liners and lean sarcasm balance the jarring tonal shifts. The opening scene is a highlight; laughing at America’s lackadaisical gun laws. Link’s friend Kirby (William H. Macy), on the surface, is an nice-guy/target archetype. However, the writers and Macy make us care. His nasty gags and protective nature are worthwhile attributes for an otherwise throwaway supporting character. Gibson is the stand out performer – proving he still has the charisma and ferocity to pull off meaningful roles. Moriarty, however, is somewhat bland.

Blood Father recalls Gibson’s action-movie good ol’ days. Discussing the icon’s past, present and future, it is much deeper than most may give it credit for. At the very least, it is worth at least one Saturday afternoon viewing on Netflix.

Verdict: A fun, lazy-afternoon watch.

Don’t Breathe Review: Dance in the Dark


Director: Fede Alvarez

Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

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Release date: September 1st, 2016

Distributors: Screen Gems, Stage 6 Films

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


4/5

Best part: The cinematography.

Worst part: Daniel Zovatto’s character.

2016 is the year of bottle-film/horror-thrillers. Movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room and Don’t Breathe feature helpless people, trapped in small spaces by complete psychopaths. Of course, the drama relies on their repeated attempts to escape. This peculiar resurgence delivers the goods. Don’t Breathe, although not the best of them, makes for an exhilarating 88 minutes.

Don’t Breathe is more thrilling and fun than most of 2016’s blockbusters. Maybe, the lack of expectations helps smaller-budget/independent features become more fulfilling experiences. This horror-thriller kicks off with three criminals – Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). The trio burgle high-end residences secured by Alex’s father’s security company. Saving up to leave Detroit for Los Angeles, they get word of a one-last-heist opportunity. The three track down a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) said to have $300,000 in his home in an abandoned neighbourhood. The man, whose daughter died in a car accident, was supposedly paid off by the culprit’s family. Obviously, the mission does not go smoothly. Upon entering the house, they discover the blind man’s taste for murder.

Writer/director Fede Alvarez (the Evil Dead remake) delivers a gruelling and tightly wound horror-thriller from frame one. Don’t Breathe subverts every overplayed horror-thriller trope. The blind man’s house, although filled with darkened crevasses, features minimal jump scares. He and cinematographer Pedro Luque veer away from shaking cameras or gratuitous clichés. Its set pieces throw young, spritely protagonists against a formidable villain and a vicious rottweiler. The infra-red sequence provides plenty of edge-of-your-seat thrills. Like Panic Room, the situation, characters and plot collide without excessive violence or gore. However, due to the second half’s disturbing plot twists, it turns from David Fincher thriller to Park Chan Wook stomach-churner.

He, alongside screenwriter Rodo Sayagues, focuses on character and story depth. Although similar to many anti-heroes, its three leads are fully developed from the opening scene. In reality, they are purely despicable. Here, their code of ethics and goals make sense. The first heist sequence, with limited dialogue, establishes their rules (not stealing over $10,000, making it look authentic etc.). After entering the blind man’s realm, the movie’s tension and stakes spike drastically. Although depicted in the trailer, Money’s brutal death makes for a crucial scene. The cast throw themselves into ostensibly schlocky material. Levy and Minnette are two of Hollywood’s most dynamic young actors. Lang, known as Avatar‘s scarred-up baddie, is a force of nature. Sadly, Zovatto’s gangbanger stereotype does not work.

Don’t Breathe – beyond creating #turkeybaster – is one of 2016’s most visceral cinematic experiences. Alvarez deserves the leap from indies to blockbusters. His relentless style and screenwriting touches flip genres on their heads.

Verdict: A tight horror-thriller.

Jason Bourne Review: Blunt Instrument


Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse

Stars: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel

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Release date: July 28th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.

The Bourne franchise has powered through several fits and starts. The first three – Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum – set the bar for modern action cinema. The meme-worthy franchise is praised for its story-lines, visual style, and iconic elements. Many people cannot tell the difference between them. However, everyone knows the Jeremy Renner-starring Bourne Legacy is a waste of time and energy. Sadly, Jason Bourne doesn’t re-kindle the flame.

Jason Bourne is easily the least impressive of the four Matt Damon-starring Bourne flicks. This slice kicks off with a disgruntled Bourne (Damon) living off the grid, after discovering the truth behind his past 9 years ago. He feels lost within our bright, shiny world. However, in this post-Snowden and post-post-privacy era, the former psychogenic, amnesiac assassin is watched by agency spooks. He is brought back into the war by former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). Parsons, after hacking into CIA secure files and stealing Black Ops secrets, uncovers new details about Bourne’s role in shady outfit Treadstone. Bourne’s latest mission leads to revelations about those chasing him and his father’s involvement.

Damon and writer/director Paul Greengrass (Supremacy and Ultimatum) refused to return unless a strong vision was presented. Bourne birthed – and continually utilises – specific plot-points, iconographic elements and character types. Each flick follows a familiar pattern – Bourne goes on the run, discovers strands of his back story, is tracked by CIA reps, defeats a shady border-hopping agent, and exposes an older agency representative as the real villain. This one is a bland, uninspired retread of the four preceding entries. The miasma of mysterious settings, Bourne’s reserved demeanour, quiet female characters and shady CIA dealings feels all too familiar. However, the introduction is still intriguing. Bourne’s one-to-four punch fighting style is glorious. Despite minimal dialogue and plot development, his first few scenes develop a fascinating character study. However, Bourne’s involvement leads to several underwhelming revelations. Like with Legacy, the questions are given silly answers.

Jason Bourne is hampered by Greengrass and co-screenwriter Christopher Rouse’s laughable depiction of the 21st century. Their vision delivers a fear-inducing, out-of-touch view of surveillance states. The CIA sequences are truly baffling. The CIA crew – led by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and an asset (Vincent Cassel) – look at a screen, perform Machiavellian feats with GPS/identification technology and become hyper-aware. Their God-like powers continually lower the stakes. Whereas previous entries created enthralling cat-and-mouse missions grounded in reality, this one is stranded in a sci-fi realm. The social-media subplot, featuring app-founder Aaron Kalloor’s dealings with the CIA, is given little development. Like the other entries, the action is top-notch. Two set pieces – the bike chase through Syntagma Square and the car chase/fist fight in Las Vegas – deliver Greengrass’ enthralling quick cut-shaky cam style.

Despite glorious action sequences and locations, Jason Bourne turns a tried-and-true formula into bland mush. Damon and Greengrass coast on goodwill, leaving the remaining cast and crew in the dust. This installment, like its lead character, resembles a tired, haggard and pale shadow of its former self.

Verdict: A disappointing installment.

Goldstone Review: Bitin’ the Dust


Director: Ivan Sen

Writer: Ivan Sen

Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Transmission Films 

Country: Australia

Running time: 110 minutes 


4/5

Best part: The strong cast.

Worst part: The pacing.

Film noir has taken on many shades and turns since its beginnings in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course, everyone knows the heavy hitters including The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil from way back when. However, plot, character, theme and visual elements have stuck with cinema throughout generations. The genre has also made its way to the great southern land of Oz.

Goldstone is the superior follow-up to writer/director Ivan Sen’s 2013 surprise hit Mystery Road. Mystery Road‘s electrifying noir-western fusion, cracking cast, haunting locations and genuine chills overshadowed the diluted missing-person plot. Goldstone keeps the good stuff and improves on the poorer elements. Set several years after the original, the sequel returns to the scintillating landscapes of rural Queensland. After exposing corruption within his home town, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is assigned to investigate the mining/pit-stop town Goldstone. After being arrested by local naïve cop Josh (Alex Russell), Jay coaxes Josh into helping him track down a missing Asian girl. Scummy mine supervisor Johnny (David Wenham) and corrupt town mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) are soon hot on his trail.

Goldstone continues the trend of compelling Australian crime-thrillers with numerous nuances and twists. The movie expertly balances larrikin black comedy and dark, dreary epic elements. Unlike Mystery Road, it does not rely on long-drawn out pauses for dramatic effect. Every plot-point and twist is painstakingly etched into a taught, clear-cut vision. In true film noir fashion, its period setting alludes to  today’s social and political climate. Sen leaves nothing to chance – the good guys look tough and strong, the baddies are slimy and pale. Although a little too obvious, Sen’s love of classic cinema is chiseled into every detail. Like Chinatown, the crux of it boils down to a spiritual and financial battle between opposing forces. The tussle between greedy mining giants and small indigenous communities, led by strong-willed elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil), sets off a deadly chain of events.

Sen’s latest effort is a character-based, disturbingly intense noir-western with style and substance.Sen captures the outback setting with an array of visual and sensory flourishes. Every explosion, gun shot and line of dialogue rings out with whip-cracking precision. The quieter moments highlight its intellectual and emotional heft. His new-twist-on-old-tricks approach stands out during tender moments between Josh and Asian sex worker May (Michelle Lim Davidson). The contrast between Jay and Josh is vital. Jay, suffering one loss after another despite doing the right thing, is disillusioned by the endless desert void. Josh, however, is enthusiastic but afraid to make a real difference. The performances showcase Australia’s rich variety of talent. Pedersen and Russell delightfully toy with one another. Weaver and Wenham are suitably hammy, while Gulpilil provides true class.

Goldstone, although filled with elements we’ve seen 1000 times before, is a worthwhile flick from start to finish. The movie falls short of reaching the standards set by Australia’s best crime-thrillers (Animal Kingdom). However, it provides a tough, arresting look at the land down under.

Verdict: A tough-as-nails modern western.

Money Monster Review: Wall Street Woes


Director: Jodie Foster

Writers: Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden

Stars: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


3/5

Best part: Clooney’s charm.

Worst part: The third-act twists.

Unquestionably, actor/director Jodie Foster is a Hollywood legend of unrivalled industry recognition. With a sterling reputation in front of and behind the camera, the 53-year-old deserves to spearhead her own projects between now and infinity. However, her critical success – based on unique and interesting projects – has never led to major box-office returns. Old-fashioned hostage-thriller Money Monster won’t attract any new fans.

Money Monster presents the high-ego, low-emotion world of financial television. Host Lee Gates (George Clooney), star of TV phenomenon Money Monster, can influence the stock market’s peaks and troughs. The loud financial guru lives and dies with his wacky persona and highfalutin lifestyle. Longtime show director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) has had enough, leaving the studio for one across the street. On her last day, during Money Monster‘s latest live telecast, delivery man Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shuffles into the studio. He pulls a gun, holds Gates hostage, and forces him to wear an explosive-laden vest. Budwell had placed his life savings and deceased mother’s inheritance ($60,000) on IBIS Clear Capital stock after Gates’ endorsement. Now, with a trading algorithm glitch costing investors $800 million overnight, he wants answers.

Money Monster ambitiously blends Dog Day Afternoon‘s intensifying hostage-thriller vibe with Network‘s biting media commentary. Foster, coming off Mel Gibson flop The Beaver, delivers a more approachable and straightforward hostage-thriller than expected. The central premise, staging a hostage crisis for the world to see in high-definition, is certainly prescient. The first half is intriguing, developing Gates and Budwell’s uneasy dynamic with Fenn and the production crew watching on. Foster balances light and dark moments throughout, finding a funny side within the madness. However, The second half becomes a derivative and baffling espionage-thriller devoid of tension. The plot is a jumbled mess – throwing in IBIS chief communications officer Diane Lester(Caitriona Balfe)’s investigation of CEO Walt Gamby (Dominic West), bumbling New York police, South Korean programmers, Icelandic hackers, and South African mining strikes.

Money Monster‘s third act delivers several nonsensical twists and turns, lessening the overall impact. More so, Foster pushes a topsy-turvy political agenda. Gates, at first, represents the snobbish and shallow 1% behemoth standing on top of us. However, after some personal confessions, he suddenly turns into the ultimate saviour for the little guy. On the other side of the coin, Budwell kicks off his crusade with a mission – to prove Wall Street jargon cannot pull the wool over our eyes. As his back-story unfolds and antics turn foolish, it becomes difficult to like or feel sorry for him. Thankfully, Clooney is still a charismatic and jazzy leading man. Despite limited screen time together, he and Roberts develop a nice rapport. However, O’Connell delivers an over-the-top performance and laughable ‘New Yawker’ accent.

Sitting between the technical precision and resonance of Inside Man and silly terribleness of Man on a Ledge, Money Monster never transcends or even reinvigorates the hostage-thriller genre. Despite the unexpected little twists, Foster’s latest effort gives strong performers little to work with.

Verdict: A tight yet flawed hostage-thriller.

Now You See Me 2 Review: Limp Trick


Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Ed Solomon

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Now You See Me 2 is one of at least 13 unwarranted sequels released in 2016. The 2013 original reached baffling commercial success thanks to…actually, I still have no idea. Now You See Me is a clichéd, preposterous action-heist-thriller with a nonsensical string of third-act twists. Sadly, the sequel is similar in almost every way. The Now You See Me franchise has quickly become more mediocre than almost any other. However, the coupling of an all-star cast and unique premise keeps audiences coming back for more.

The original (spoilers) concluded with a plucky troupe of magicians known as the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher) conquering the entertainment world, Magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) jailed for stealing millionaire banker Arthur Tressler(Michael Caine)’s funds, and FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) pulling the strings. The sequel, picking up one year later, sees fan-girl magician Lula (Lizzy Caplan) replacing Fisher’s character and joining returning Horsemen Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) Merritt McKinney (Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Franco) for the return. Rhodes, now watched by fellow FBI Agent Natalie (Sanaa Lathan), oversees the group on behalf of secret magician society The Eye.

In true sequel fashion, Now You See Me 2 delivers another uber-convoluted plot, more characters, and a larger scope. This time, in a shameless attempt to cash in on the rising Chinese audience, the journey leaps hastily from America to Macau. Ed Solomon’s clichéd screenplay sticks by a collection of heist and action clichés. Predictably, the drama all comes down to a macguffin, set up by a snivelling tech magnate (Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe)), needed to clear the protagonists’ names. The movie immediately rushes through its convoluted plot, muddying the waters with endless exposition about its multitude of plot-points and characters. It struggles to catch up with itself, stuffing an assortment of baffling twists and turns into an indulgent 129 minute run-time.

Like the original, Now You See Me 2 blandly combines illusion, performance and fantastical CGI wizardry. The movie’s set-pieces and gorgeous international locations put the budget to good use. In fact, many sequences feature interesting and thought-provoking concepts. However, director Jon M. Chu (G. I. Joe: Retaliation, Step Up 3D) bungles the execution. One action sequence, featuring Rhodes subduing several henchman with slight-of-hand tricks, becomes lost in quick cuts and shaky-cam. However, although ridiculous, the opening and closing set-pieces are blissfully entertaining. The assortment of sexy, young actors and Hollywood’s finest thespians somewhat elevates the material. Jay Chou is suitably charming as a snarky operator of Macau’s oldest magic shop.

Now You See Me 2, by adding more of everything, messily devolves into yet another silly and forgettable tentpole. Like many of this year’s blockbusters (so far), its biggest accomplishment is the ability to disappear without a trace.

Verdict: Yet another unnecessary 2016 sequel.

Bastille Day Review: The French Connection


Director: James Watkins

Writer: Andrew Baldwin

Stars: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte le Bon, Kelly Reilly

getmovieposter_bastille_day


Release date: April 22nd, 2016

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


3/5

Best part: Idris Elba.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Action-thriller Bastille Day follows formula to the letter. Indeed, the process of watching the movie provides a strong sense of deja vu. However, in coming out on the heels of overbearing superhero flicks and fantasy-adventures, it stands out as a good chunk of ol’ fashioned thrills.

Bastille Day, set on the eve of the titular French commemoration/public holiday, follows grizzly CIA operative Briar(Idris Elba)’s dealings in Paris. Briar – kicking down doors/punching/shooting/grimacing first, asking questions later – seeks to redeem himself after botching a previous mission. Meanwhile, a group of euro terrorists/undercover SWAT officers plan to blow up a political landmark to ignite tensions between the police, activists, and Muslim community. The scheme backfires when pickpocket Mason (Richard Madden) inadvertently steals the bomb bag from Zoe (Charlotte le Bon) and dumps it in a public area seconds before detonation.

The movie, predictably, then turns into a simplistic cross between your average man-on-the-run thriller and somewhat light-hearted buddy-actioner. The plot is certainly cliched, jumping between clues and suspects before the goodies and baddies violently cross paths. With Briar and Mason forced to work together, every twist and turns relies on the former’s brute strength and the latter’s guile and skillset. The movie only briefly touches on the duo’s backstories, intent on sticking with their energetic dynamic. Despite its blissful simplicity, the third act delivers several ludicrous plot twists.

Like similar Luc Besson-helmed/euro-american flicks, Bastille Day‘s tone lurches awkwardly between blissful thrills and confronting sociopolitical discussion. Release mere months after the Paris terror attacks, the movie brazenly depicts the police force, Muslim community, and youthful revolutionary groups as angry hornets nests quick to cause all-out rebellion. Siding with the American lead characters over everyone else, its political edge may rub viewers the wrong way. Elba makes a strong case for being the next James Bond – handling the action sequences, dramatic moments, and humour with aplomb. Madden, known as Game of Thrones‘ protagonist Robb Stark, provides an charismatic yin to Elba’s yang.

Director James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Woman in Black) and writer Andrew Baldwin create an entertaining 90-minute distraction. Fit for a lazy Saturday, Bastille Day skates by on Elba’s charm, bruising action, and solid pacing.

Verdict: A serviceable action flick.

Criminal Review: Title Fits Description


Director: Ariel Vromen

Writer: Douglas Cook, David Weisberg

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

criminal-poster


Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


1/5

Review: Criminal

Midnight Special Review: The Boy Wonder


Director: Jeff Nichols

Writer: Jeff Nichols

Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver

midnight-special


Release date: April 21st, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 111 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: Midnight Special 

Eye in the Sky Audio Review: Strike or Spare


Director: Gavin Hood

Writer: Guy Hibbert

Stars: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi

eye_sky_one_sheet


Release date: March 24th, 2016

Distributor: Entertainment One

Country: United Kingdom

Running time: 102 minutes


4/5

Review:

10 Cloverfield Lane Audio Review: Who’s the Real Monster?


Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Writers: Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr., Bradley Cooper

10c_1-sht_online_teaser_alt


Release date: March 10th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


4/5

Review:

Beyond the Reach (Home Release) Audio Review: Teen vs. Wild


Director: Jean-Baptiste Leonetti

Writers: Stephen Susco (screenplay), Robb White (novel)

Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Michael Douglas, Hanna Mangan-Lawrence, Ronny Cox

Beyond_the_Reach_poster


Release date: April 17th, 2015

Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Country: USA

Running time: 91 minutes


 

3/5

Review:

The Drop Review – Gangster’s Paradise


Director: Michael R. Roskam

Writer: Dennis Lehane (screenplay & short story)

Stars: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, Matthias Schoenaerts


Release date: September 12th, 2014

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Hardy & Gandolfini.

Worst part: The heavy-handed symbolism.

In the 1990s, TV producer, writer, and director David Chase took a big chance on an intriguing premise. Showcasing one crime family’s good times and bad blood, HBO’s The Sopranos reigned supreme from 1999 to 2007. Thanks to its immense prowess, Hollywood recognised the hype and made many film and TV copycats. Despite the arresting Godfather-like concept, the world became awe-struck by its portly leading man – James Gandolfini.

Tom Hardy & James Gandolfini.

Latching on to The Sopranos and James Gandolfini’s aura, crime-drama The Drop pays tribute to lost people and genres. Honouring the character-actor’s immense career and persona, the movie lingers on many intriguing elements. As the latest in a string of existential crime-thrillers, the movie throws the studio system, the gangster-thriller genre, and Middle America to the wolves. Oddly enough, despite Gandolfini’s immense acclaim, the late Tinseltown icon is not the movie’s lead. In fact, along the way, we uncover several mesmerising aspects. The Drop revolves around one of America’s most dilapidated neighbourhoods. The story focuses on a modest watering hole – tucked inside Brooklyn, New York – known to some of America’s crummiest low-lifes. Cousin Marv’s, housing many strong whiskeys and nasty surprises, is run by socially awkward bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy). Taking orders from Marv (Gandolfini), Bob runs the joint more diligently than his own life. Working extensive shifts, our lead floats through a tiresome routine. Forced to confront unlikable citizens, Bob and Marv understand the rules of the game. Marv, having handed the bar over to the Chechen mob several years earlier, succumbs to immense stress and emotional detachment. Despite the subdued drama, the movie lays everything out on the table.

Noomi Rapace.

Noomi Rapace.

Embracing its simple-yet-effective premise, The Drop is a chilling and resonant crime-thriller. In fact, the story delves into the ‘drop bar’ world. Used to launder pockets of cash from suspect business dealings, Cousin Marv’s becomes this dynamic narrative’s heart. After a frightening robbery, the movie drops its guard and delivers a moody and philosophical tale. The central plot-line, dealing with the mob wanting its missing $5000 back, propels the otherwise stagnant narrative. Based on Dennis Lehane’s short story Animal Rescue, The Drop relies on Lehane’s style for drama and thrills. Similarly to previous Lehane adaptations, Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River, visceral moments and comedic riffs complement one another. Subbing multiple players into the game, Bob and Marv become intent on settling the score and keeping everything flowing smoothly. Bob – introduced to a lost, injured puppy and Nadia (Noomi Rapace) within minutes – becomes a fascinating specimen. As our hearts melt for his new four-legged friend, The Drop becomes more approachable and entertaining. Flipping through gangster/crime-thriller tropes, the story occasionally creaks and groans. Compared to recent revenge fantasies including Blue Ruin, Killing Them Softly, and Cold in July, its airlessness and ponderousness may deter some viewers. However, the emotional core remains strong throughout. As Bob and Nadia’s friendship develops, the emotional resonance covers up the glaring flaws.

“There are some sins that you commit, that you can’t come back from, no matter how hard you try.” (Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), The Drop).

Hardy & Matthias Schoenaerts.

Hardy & Matthias Schoenaerts.

Sticking by Lehane’s solid screenplay, director Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead) brings the swagger and tempo. Coming from a distinctive European cinema background, his style delivers succinct and invigorating bursts of energy. Focusing on humanity and humility, his adaptation balances the crime, romance, and violence with panache and vigour. Bringing Bullhead star Matthias Schoenaerts with him from Belgium (playing seedy badass Eric Deeds), the director takes full control. As egos and tempers clash, Roskam fuses typical  gangster tropes with peculiar flourishes. Experimenting with light and shadow, the bar setting immediately lights up. Dank and sterile, the establishment is a breeding ground for scum and chaos. Throughout the climax, the overcrowded hangout sees sparks, slurs, and bullets. Roskam’s atmospheric direction crafts an earthy and eclectic version of the suburbs. Depicting Brooklyn’s most disturbing and undignified shades, it pays homage to the early Martin Scorsese era. However, despite Lehane and Roskam’s successes, viewers will fall for our two charismatic leads. Hardy – having brought charm to toughies like Locke, Warrior, and Lawless – fits comfortably into this hard-as-nails role. Switching between blisteringly harsh and endearingly sweet, his nuanced performance – aided by a pitch-perfect accent – is an instant drawcard. Despite playing a similar character to Soprano, Gandolfini deserves credit for his haunting and visceral turn. Sparring with Hardy throughout, the movie shimmers whenever the man sniffles, snorts, and wheezes.

Hardy and Gandolfini’s signature dialogue sequence is worth the admission cost. Marv, outlining his former prowess, reflects upon a time since lost. Showcasing the man’s immense talents, this sequence marks a stellar career cut short. Like our lead characters, The Drop strives for respect and earns it long before its explosive last act. Thanks to the immersive performances, tense set pieces, and attention to detail, this crime-thriller is one of 2014’s most deserving successes.

Verdict: A scintillating and well-crafted crime-thriller.

Men, Women & Children Review – Social Melodrama


Director: Jason Reitman

Writers: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Chad Kultgen (novel)

Stars: Rosmarie DeWitt, Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer


Release date: October 1st, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 119 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The dynamic performances.

Worst part: The heavy-handed message.

In the age of…whoa, whoa, whoa! There is no way, in the name of God and Mother Nature’s big, blue Earth, I can or should start a review of ‘indie’ dramedy Men, Women & Children with that cliché! Such clichés, used throughout most ‘perils of social media’ articles/news stories etc., sum up everything wrong with modern entertainment/journalism. News and entertainment media, from big-budget schlockers to the independent idea mills, should always be divorcing themselves from convention.

Rosemarie DeWitt & Adam Sandler.

Sadly, no one informed Men, Women & Children‘s cast and crew of this. Hoping we’ll look up its release date and/or wait anxiously for the next trailer’s release, the marketing campaign tries to lure us into its conventional worldview. Obsessed with the zeitgeist, this dramedy honestly believes it’s delivering the last word on the subject. It expects everyone – from top-tier critics to average film-goers – to sit up and listen. The movie – examining the dangers of social media, pop-culture, and sex – wants us to look in the mirror at judge ourselves for everything we’ve done wrong. Unaware of its flaws, the movie is a virus no contraceptive or firewall could ever hope to destroy. This blunt and irritable mess starts off with a symbol floating through another symbol whilst drifting past more symbols. In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 into the endless void of space. Blaring cheery greetings in 57 languages, smooth jazz sounds, and animal noises, astronomer Carl Sagan’s recording was designed to communicate with extraterrestrials. Explained via sprightly, useless narration (Emma Thompson), the movie falls back down to Earth. It then flicks through multiple story-lines. Inter-connecting through friendships, relationships, and coincidences, these stories craft a never-ending narrative about the digital age’s pros and cons.

Dean Norris & Judy Greer.

Dean Norris & Judy Greer.

Despite the amount of story-lines and characters, Men, Women & Children is about as lifeless and mechanical as The Cloud. The movie handles dating divorcees (Dean Norris and Judy Greer), first loves (Ansel Elgort and Kaitly Dever), promiscuous teenagers (Olivia Crocicchia), porn-obsessed youngsters (Travis Tope), paranoid parents (Jennifer Garner), and much more. Before I bin this dramedy and press ‘Empty Trash’, allow me to activate my newly devised ‘Angry Critic’ app and explain why I hate it. Here’s what you should know before seeing Men, Women & Children – the title is plural for a reason! Each story-line, featuring several flawed characters each, gets a significant amount of screen-time. One particular story-line – involving married couple Rachel and Don Truby (Rosemarie DeWitt and Adam Sandler)’s debaucherous, internet-fuelled indiscretions – should have been the central conceit. Unfortunately, this over-long and simplistic black comedy’s remaining story-lines needed more time to install, run, and update. The first third, designed specifically to introduce each plot-thread, is chock-a-block with meet cutes and dilemma-causing scenarios. Meanwhile, the last third lives to resolve said preposterous, cynical, and inconsequential strands. This leaves only middle third to solidify each thread’s existence. Flipping iPad style through each sub-plot, character arc, theme, issue, and conflict, not one story-line is successfully developed or treated with care. Several threads, including the Truby’s oldest son’s porn addiction and one cheerleader’s eating disorder conflict, are worth erasing.

“I think if I disappeared tomorrow, the universe wouldn’t really notice.” (Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), Men, Women & Children).

Ansel Elgort & Kaitlyn Dever.

Set primarily in suburbia and high school, the movie longs to examine ‘relatable’ and ‘ordinary’ people. However, writer/director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) – adapting Chad Kultgen’s novel – talks down to the public throughout this unrealistic and overbearing cautionary tale. Stepping into Sam Mendes and Todd Solondz’ worlds, Reitman’s snark and smarts dropped in favour of a discomforting tone and laboured pacing. The thirty-something filmmaker – following up confused romantic-drama Labor Day – crafts shallow depictions of monogamy, bulimia, obsession, temptation, infidelity, existential crises, celebrity, familial issues, and (anti)social media. Fusing this mean-spirited narrative with this overt sentimentality, it’s a peculiar mix of Dazed and ConfusedCrash, and Parenthood. Highlighting the obvious metaphors, Reitman’s aggressive agenda infects his visual style. Throwing text messages, chat windows, and URL bars across the screen, this useless technique overcooks the convoluted story. Highlighting each character’s indiscretions, the director’s techniques send shivers down the spine. The performers – a mix of A-listers, character-actors, and up-and-comers – bolster the underdeveloped roles. Sandler, making a major career switch, elevates his introverted character. Garner, Greer, and Norris are worthwhile distractions in this debilitating after school special.

Men, Women & Children‘s poster sums up everything about the final product – it’s ugly, misjudged, and features recognisable people hidden by a bevy of smartphones and smart-asses. Despite the ambition, this suburban dramedy – from 1% completion to 100% – mistakes convolution for complexity. Reitman, fusing indie sensibilities with Hollywood prowess and minor studio interference, delivers his second consecutive foible. Despite the flaws, the performers admirable tackle the material. In particular, hearing Thompson say: “titty-f*cking cum queen” is almost worth it. LOL, smiley emoticon.

Verdict: Reitman’s second consecutive failure.

The Imitation Game Review – A Puzzling Enigma


Director: Morten Tyldum

Writers: Graham Moore (screenplay), Andrew Hodges (book)

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong

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Release date: November 14th, 2014

Distributors: StudioCanal, The Weinstein Company

Countries: UK, USA

Running time: 114 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The charming performances.

Worst part: The last 15-20 minutes.

Mathematician, logician, computer scientist, cryptanalyst. Worthy of this Tony Stark-esque description, one aspiring man one undertook these phenomenal professions simultaneously. The man, subject of front-running Oscar contender The Imitation Game, is one of history’s bravest and most inspirational people. In fact, his momentous inventions and experiments have paved the way for some of modern civilisation’s most valuable technological advancements.

Benedict Cumberbatch & Charles Dance.

Beyond the positives, The Imitation Game presents key World War II figure Alan Turing’s life as a battle between arrogance and modesty. Early on, after his introduction into British Intelligence’s darkest depths, the game-changing scientist compares himself to Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Refusing to promote his sterling accomplishments, the twenty-something compliments the aforementioned geniuses for making momentous strides at younger ages. From there, this spy-drama depicts his momentous journey. The movie, despite the premise, starts off in a different part of his life. In 1951,  after examining a suspicious robbery at Turing(Benedict Cumberbatch)’s Manchester abode, the lead investigator, Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear), seeks to learn more about him. Unexpectedly, his mission kickstarts a baffling chain of events. During an interrogation, Turing relays his life story. Jumping back to WWII, the movie then kick-starts its central plot-line. Turing – transported to top-secret Government Code and Cypher School, Bletchley Park – butts heads with Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance). Adjusting to the experience, the aspirational yet anti-social brainiac grates against fellow academics including Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Carincross (Allen Leech), and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard). Enlisting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s support, our team sets out to crack Nazi Germany’s notorious Enigma Code with Turing’s £100,000 code-deciphering machine.

Mark Strong.

Mark Strong.

The Imitation Game‘s convoluted premise appears tiresome and confusing. Largely ignored by the public, average film-goers might skip it in favour of Channing Tatum’s latest psychological-thriller (Foxcatcher) or Tim Burton’s latest visual splendour (Big Eyes). With said big names vying for our attention, the movie may only resonate with a select few. However, the movie charts one of modern history’s greatest stories. The central plot-line – pitting Turing against colleagues, higher-ups, underrated newcomer Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), and MI6 representative Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) – clicks like Turing’s inventions. Inspired heavily by The Social Network and A Beautiful Mind, this plot-line delivers a fun assortment of pithy dialogue, intricate flourishes, and Oscar-calibre moments. As the clock ticks down, this story-thread simmers over the proverbial fires of war. Uncovering a web of conspiracy and degradation, this small-scale thriller discusses modern political and technological issues. With freedom at stake, this docudrama places us in Turing’s blockish shoes. As battles rage on across the channel, the ego-driven feuds become increasingly more interesting. Punctuated by dynamic turns from the enthralling cast, certain scenes summarise the story’s immense worth. Unfortunately, director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) and screenwriter Graham Moore don’t trust in this plot-line. Interested more so in politics than action, our filmmaker and writer craft a meaningful tale about code-breakers and desk jockeys. However, narrative’s gear-churning shifts distort the pacing and tension. Hindering the touching personal moments, its non-linear structure lessens the impact.

“Sometimes, it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” (Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), The Imitation Game).

Our code-cracking team.

Our code-cracking team.

Jumping between this story-line, the ’51 investigation, and Turing’s childhood, screen-time is needlessly confiscated from vital moments. Adding little to The Imitation Game‘s narrative, two of said plot-lines merely lessen the impact. Delivering corny dialogue and heavy-handed symbolism, the boarding school sequences become major distractions. Despite the magnetic first-two thirds, the last act speeds through plot-points, historical moments, and revelations similarly to Turing code-breaking process. Skimming over thematically resonant moments, the movie relies too much on its last few scenes and closing inter-titles. The underlying conflict, concerning Turing’s sexual orientation, is scarcely commented on. Thanks to its simple-minded liberal message, it becomes a King’s Speech-esque Oscar-baiter. Despite the issues, it combines Britain’s brightest talents to achieve a commendable vision. Separating the movie’s three time periods, Maria Djurkovic’s production design paints a haunting picture of the era. Capturing Tyldum’s attention to detail, each shot houses a rich representation of WWII England. In addition, Alexandre Desplat’s score delivers emotional weight throughout. In addition, Cumberbatch’s performance and Turing’s arc are worth the admission cost. Being one of the movie’s many skinny, Lizard-like cast members, the British actor – in his first scene with Dance – establishes himself as one of cinema’s most alluring talents. Strong, Knightley, Goode, and Dance deliver nuanced turns in compelling roles.

Turing, whose public backlash and conviction for gross indecency led to his suicide at 41, proved one person, against all odds, can make a difference. Like our inquisitive and socially awkward subject, The Imitation Game cracks the vital codes and pushes the right buttons to achieve significant results. Despite the typical Weinstein Company production issues, this historical-drama places its circuit boards and wires together in an effective sequence.

Verdict: A compelling and witty docudrama.

Maps to the Stars Review – Hollyood Horror Story


Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: Bruce Wagner

Stars: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson


Release date: September 26th, 2014

Distributors: Entertainment One, Focus World

Countries: USA, Canada

Running time: 112 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Cronenberg’s direction.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Certainly, the sunny labyrinth of Los Angeles – sheltered by the Hollywood sign and supported by the Walk of Fame – wields many sights worth exploring. Indeed, anyone living outside the City of Angels has an idea of what’s on offer. As the hub of commercial entertainment, us Westerners rely on Hollywood to keep us engaged and relaxed. However, those who live in or have visited the landmark town know its many filthy secrets. Every inch of LA, from Compton to Santa Monica to Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, is covered in a layer of scum. This is reflected in Tinseltown’s latest bout of self-deprecation, Maps to the Stars.

Julianne Moore & Mia Wasikowska.

With Maps to the Stars, a big-name director, commendable screenwriter, and several A-listers got together to kickstart the project. Despite the cast and crew’s immense buying power, this satirical-drama holds up on its own. Combating all forms of criticism, it’s difficult not to applaud the movie’s raw pride. This crime-thriller, taking on everything and everyone around it, breaks off into several valuable strands. Its narrative follows the Weiss family’s peculiar lifestyle. As one of (fictional) Hollywood’s most prestigious and ballsy families, the Weiss’ represent the archetypal Beverly Hills dynasty. The husband/father figure, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), is a gutsy self-help guru/psychotherapist making his fortune from TV appearances and manuals. Obsessed with book tours and reputations, Stafford turns away from chaos and despair. The wife/mother figure, Cristina (Olivia Williams), is her thirteen-year-old son’s manic-depressive manager. Suffocating her child with pills and diet plans, her fragile frame of mind threatens to hurriedly destroy everything in her radius. The aforementioned son, Benjie (Evan Bird), is a mega-successful sitcom star bouncing back from a recent stint in a drug rehabilitation program. At the worst time possible, the daughter, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), leaves a Floridian sanatorium to reconnect with her family.

John Cusack & Evan Bird.

John Cusack & Evan Bird.

Why was Agatha situated so far away from her family? What happened to the family before we met them, exactly?  Why is she covered in horrific scars? I can’t tell anyone, as it would ruin Maps to the Stars‘ immense enjoyment factor. Inhaling The Shining, Sunset Boulevard, American Beauty, and Mulholland Drive, the movie fuses self-reflexive humour with confronting drama-thriller tropes. From the first frame onwards, writer Bruce Wagner – apparently on a hell-bent mission to skewer Tinseltown left, right, and centre – outlines his viewpoints and ideologies for the audience. In doing so, Wagner – basing his screenplay on his experiences whilst comparing it to Paul Eluard’s poem ‘Liberte’ – allows us to shape our own analyses. Adding obvious titbits to each line, Wagner illuminates the puzzle pieces throughout. The narrative, pieced together in varying ways depending on one’s knowledge of the industry, comments on modern showbiz’s pros and cons. Examining Hollywood’s cynical business decisions and shallow inhabitants, the narrative evenly spreads itself over several intriguing plot-strands and character arcs. Despite the compelling   material, Maps to the Stars never establishes a lead character. Early on, Agatha worms her way into Beverly Hills through a friendship with limo driver/actor/writer Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson). Thanks to her Twitter-based attachment to Carrie Fisher, this bizarre character becomes ageing actress/sexual abuse victim Havana Segrand(Julianne Moore)’s “chore whore” (personal assistant). Havana longs for a remake of a feature originally starring her deceased mother (Sarah Gadon). This satirical-drama, giving its characters many physical, spiritual, and psychological afflictions, waits for its subjects to unravel like a faux-Gucci outfit.

“On the stairs of death I write your name, Liberty.” (Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), Maps to the Stars).

Robert Pattinson.

Robert Pattinson.

Flipping between plot-strands, this psychological-thriller relies on its severe, agenda-setting methodology. Despite Wagner’s piercing dialogue and searing commentary, credit belongs to renowned  Canadian director David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Fly) for keeping everything under the surface. With each passing second, the master filmmaker supports Wagner’s argument by examining at his overwhelming viewpoints. Eclipsing his anti-establishment bottle flick Cosmopolis, Cronenberg hits a nerve most avoid like the plague. Like his 2012 limo-set drama, his cold, distant direction matches the agenda at every turn. Despite the tonal inconsistency, the filmmaker leaps between sub-plots with ease and determination. Sending shivers down the spine, his style amplifies the disgusting things our characters say and do. Learning from experience, his direction throws us normal folk into the chaos. His studio meetings, filmed entirely in medium close-ups, comes off like interrogations. Grappling with temptation, obsession, and greed, Cronenberg’s visual flourishes amplify the intensity. Amplified by Howard Shore’s piercing drum-lines and Peter Suschitzky’s mesmerising cinematography, the movie’s many climaxes and revelations hit like rejections. Unlike his more recent efforts (A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method), Cronenberg’s touch, like plastic surgery, rests on and under the surface. Tearing down egos and backstabbers, our talented performers capture a soap opera-like aura impeccably. Moore examines her searing role with gusto and vigour. Meddling with a despicable character (celebrating after a fellow actress drops out of a role due to tragic circumstances), she strips everything down to the bare essentials.

Within Hollywood’s bright lights, gorgeous landmarks, and raging parties, a disease – turning fame and fortune into despicable traits – seeks to destroy everything. Causing LA’s dirt-covered veneer, this scourge of reality TV and tabloid media has severely degraded the glamour. Despite the overbearing agenda, Maps to the Stars has the cojones to bludgen Hollywood with its own golden statuettes. Thanks to scintillating performances, pithy dialogue, and kinetic visuals, this satirical-drama is Cronenberg’s best effort since Eastern Promises.

Verdict: A compelling and confronting satirical-drama.

The Keeper of Lost Causes Review – Cold Case, Blistering Thrill-ride


Director: Mikkel Norsgaard

Writers: Nikolaj Arcel (screenplay), Jussi Alder-Olsen (novel)

Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard


Release Date: August 29th, 2014

Distributors: British Film Institute, Nordisk Film Distribution, Madman Entertainment

Country: Denmark

Running time: 97 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The chilling final third.

Worst part: The lead character.

Shuffling into varying release dates across the globe, Denmark’s latest cinematic hit, The Keeper of Lost Causes, is merely carrying the torch of a remarkable cinematic hot streak. This past decade, though marked by big-budget behemoths, has delivered several sleeper hits and international gems. Kicking off with 2009’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Scandinavian crime-thriller trend has ascended significantly higher than expected. Borrowing from the aforementioned Swedish thriller’s playbook, this adaptation is, despite the occasional misstep, worth scouring for amidst the bevy of ultra-dumb actioners and childish comedies.

Our two cops gunning for redemption.

Our two cop leads gunning for redemption.

Being a new release designed specifically for adults, The Keeper of Lost Causes connects with the target audience before beating us into submission. Despite this concept’s overwhelming severity, the process makes for an intelligent and thought-provoking cinematic experience. Thanks to its crime-thriller novel roots, the movie seeks out a higher form of film-goer. This particular viewer type  – one wholeheartedly familiar with breakthrough Scandinavian crime fiction –  is already accustomed to the genre’s lightest and darkest ideas. Indeed, this whodunnit, adapted from high-profile author Jussi Alder-Olsen’s first Department Q novel, is far more rewarding than most. The story revolves around the day in, day out life of hot-shot detective Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). In the opening sequence, Carl’s preemptive side takes charge. In disrupting a crucial stakeout, Carl strides straight into the target’s lair. Getting one partner murdered and another terminally paralysed, our Maverick cop is sent, by his pragmatic chief, down to the basement. Whilst sorting through cold cases, Carl’s withdrawal symptoms begin to destroy him. Soon enough, however, after aligning with department outcast Assad (Fares Fares), Carl delves into his new department’s most horrific case. Shut down years earlier, the assignment examines the mysterious, five-year disappearance of noble politician Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter) from a passenger ferry.

Sonja Richter as kidnap victim Merete Lynggaard.

Sonja Richter as kidnap victim Merete Lynggaard.

Trudging similar territory to airport novel heavyweights Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo, Alder-Olsen’s notoriously visceral works have placed him on a high pedestal. With bookworms pining for future releases, his novels have birthed several intriguing and note-worthy genre tropes. Inexplicably, The Keeper of Lost Causes aims for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series’ look and feel. Drenched in misery and anger, the narrative transforms Alder-Olsen’s material for the modern audience. However, with film and TV tackling similar material of late, this crime-thriller comes off as stale in comparison. Dealing in archetypes and a by-the-numbers story, certain plot-points and twists become visible from a mile away. In addition, the investigation itself lingers unnecessarily throughout the first half. Stalled by cop-thriller cliches, the first-two acts develop a confused and sluggish mystery-drama. Thanks to Carl and Assad’s good cop/bad cop dynamic, the main plot-line halts early in the second act. In fact, with potent dramas including Luther and Broadchurch throwing stronger punches, this movie may cause significantly more yawns then gasps. However, when separated from its rivals, this low-four-star whodunnit delivers the meat and potatoes. Adding enough depth when required, the narrative’s brightest spots lay in the tissue surrounding the bone.

“Do me a favour…if I get murdered…don’t investigate my case.” (Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), The Keeper of Lost Causes).

Just one tiny slither of this mystery-thriller's dark side.

Just one slither of this mystery-thriller’s dark side.

Light on exposition, the movie spends enough time examining, then taring apart, Carl’s personal problems – including his uneasy relationship with his step-son – and Assad’s backstory. Despite the generic whodunnit narrative, the second half transforms this conventional crime-thriller into a visceral and confounding thrill-ride. Switching this gritty experiment from Along Came a Spider to Prisoners, this spirited effort’s central conflict reaches darker, and more emotionally resonant, depths with each turn. As Merete’s never-ending struggle reaches breaking point, the movie’s Buried-esque dramatic shades deliver several heartbreaking peaks. As our two central plot-lines intertwine, director Mikkel Norsgaard (Klown) injects magnetic flourishes into its all-encompassing flashbacks. As the final third unravels, his vignettes tell haunting tales about our Buffalo Bill-like antagonist. More Daring and thought-provoking than most modern film noirs, this adaptation pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock, TV detective dramas, and even its competition. Like the sharp direction, the performances wholeheartedly elevate the predictable material. Lie Kaas spices up his tiresome role with levity and malice. Despite his character’s smarmy personality and frustrating code, our lead’s passionate performance grounds this obtuse crime-thriller. In addition, Fares delivers some much-needed levity as the concerned ally. Richter, confined to one morose setting, bares all for her fascinating character arc.

From Easy Money to Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Scandinavian crime cinema is making transcendent strides toward long-lasting worldwide acclaim. The Keeper of Lost Causes – one of many recent, top-tier film noirs – comes agonisingly close to reaching its more commercially-viable counterparts’ successes. With strong performances and profound twists, this whodunnit eviscerates the soul before busting the case wide open. Unfortunately, like most similar crime-dramas, the movie boasts a story we’ve seen too many times before.

Verdict: A disturbing and intensifying mystery-thriller.

Into the Storm Review – A Cataclysmic Disaster!


Director: Steven Quale

Writer: John Swetnam

Stars: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey

Into-The-Storm-Poster-2


Release Date: August 20th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 89 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The rip-roaring tornadoes.

Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.

Since Hollywood’s awe-inspiring beginnings, studios and filmmakers have thrown good guys and bad guys at eager audiences. In addition, some filmmakers have gone one step further to divert us from reality. With film technology evolving exponentially over the past 50 years, several major disaster epics have delivered monsters, weather patterns, and meteors for their characters to dodge and destroy. Recently, the tornado has become the go-to threat for Hollywood moguls to take down.

Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies surviving the wrath!

Tornadoes, in the cinematic sense, violently pull us in. As 1996’s Twister proved overwhelmingly, natural disasters can be spiced up with energetic action-direction, emotional resonance and plucky comic reliefs. Unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s latest disaster epic, Into the Storm, tries desperately to be the iconic Jan De Bont-helmed thrill-ride. Sadly, this epic gets picked up, thrown around, and dropped violently without warning. This movie, despite the pure optimism, never grasps onto anything of substance. On one side of Silverton, Oklahoma, we have high school vice principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) and his family. The story picks up with Gary struggling to connect with his two sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). Failing to cope with his wife/their mother’s death, Gary sincerely asks them to record messages and graduation day services for the school’s time capsule. Donnie then volunteers to help his crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey), with a make-or-break project across town. At the same time, a band of storm chasers, led by Pete (Matt Walsh), discover a vicious tornado outbreak heading for the area. The team – rounded out by Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta), and Jacob (Jerry Sumpter) – is bolstered by a tank-like vehicle called ‘Titus’ designed to resist the tornado’s eye.

Matt Walsh as the antagonistic storm chaser.

Along the way, we meet two redneck YouTube sensations, Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), vying for a whirlwind adventure. Into the Storm is a bizarre and interminable two-hour distraction. Inexplicably, the movie sets out to reach wildly contrasting demographics including Deadliest Catch/Ice Road Truckers addicts, found footage fans, disaster flick aficionados, climatologists, and horror-obsessed teenagers hungry for Friday night thrills. In doing so, this arrogant effort wholly fails to please anyone. Jumping erratically between scenes, the movie’s gears awkwardly turn as it reaches for different age groups. From the prologue onwards, where four hormonal teenagers are ‘ambushed’ by a whirling vortex of doom, the movie establishes its ultra-dumb horror vibe. Indeed, the movie’s intelligence levels cater specifically to popcorn-hungry, half-drunk adolescents. However, despite the zany marketing ploys, this thriller can’t even sustain itself for 90 minutes. Stretching its predictable sub-plots and character arcs around the action sequences, its narrative is about as exhilarating and intensifying as a light Autumn breeze. In fact, this thunderous creation picks up several cliches, contrivances, and corny moments throughout its monstrous assault. Copying and pasting plot-points and archetypes from Cloverfield, The Day After Tomorrow, and Dante’s Peak, Into the Storm is an unholy concoction of some of Hollywood’s biggest money makers.

“Grab a broom. It’s like a zombie apocalypse out here.” (Reevis (Jon Reep), Into the Storm).

Goodness gracious. Great balls of fire!

A big-time filmmaker like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich would’ve injected some much-needed humour and vigour into this banal effort. Sadly, director Steven Quale(Final Destination 5)’s latest wants to have its cake and eat it too. The movie relishes in the CGI-heavy creations and wanton destruction plastered across multiple frames. However, it also wants its audience to feel for the survivors. Unfortunately, its characters are troublesome hindrances. These unlikable/underdeveloped/idiotic people – though bolstered by trained thespians like Armitage and Wayne Callies – aren’t worth worrying about. Cranking the cheese factor up to 11 in the second half, the movie awkwardly throws a Right Wing message into its last few minutes. Presented like a Fox News piece, these artificial interludes hamper this already intolerable final product. Despite the problems, this disaster epic boasts engaging CGI-laden creations and set pieces. The  sentient tornadoes, speeding up whilst hurtling towards the screen, deliver several effective jump scares. At one point, a fire-hungry tornado barbecues one of our unlucky leads. However, the movie’s impressive effects are hindered by several editing and cinematography choices. At points, it’s difficult pointing out who’s holding a camera or why they are pointing it at these major threats. In addition, several wide shots distort the found footage conceit.

Bizarrely, Into the Storm‘s overwhelming stench of desperation provides an interest factor worth clinging onto. In striving for a larger audience, this disaster epic’s exorbitant reach exceeds its grasp. Hampered by useless characters and tried-and-true story-lines, the movie doesn’t even capture Twister‘s concentrated glow. However, the visual effects crew deserves credit for bolstering this tedious exercise in studio-driven filmmaking. I dare say the tornadoes are far more intelligent than the director, writer, and actors combined.

Verdict: A destructive force of unthinkable (financial) proportions.

The Two Faces of January Review – Hide & Seek


Director: Hossein Amini

Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (novel)

Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Bevan


Release Date: April 16th, 2014

Distributors: Studio Canal, Magnolia Pictures

Countries: USA, UK, France

Running time: 96 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The immaculate scenery. 

Worst part: The underwhelming love triangle.

Film noir, like many genres reminiscent of classic Hollywood, relies on several visual and thematic ingredients. Marked by alluring visuals, trench coats, and seductive femme fatales, the genre thrives today thanks to aspirational filmmakers. Keen to bring back Hollywood’s greatest motifs, The Two Faces of January is one such homage to film noir and all its charming prowess. However, whilst honouring the genre, this drama-thriller seeks to envelop and grapple with several other genres simultaneously.

The Two Faces of January, despite the impressive cast and sumptuous scenery, has slipped under the radar. Like a shadow dancing across black-and-white film reels, this feature’s motions and emotions match up to its all-powerful influences. Sweeping across the festival circuit, it’s strange how almost no one caught onto this intriguing chase-saga. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel of the same name, the narrative shares a handful of similarities with one of her most notorious works. Like The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Two Faces of January tells a softly spoken parable about dirty deeds and picturesque landscapes. Set in 1962, the movie investigates the highest peaks and seediest alley-way-laden depths of Europe. We follow enthusiastic and amoral tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac) as he attempts to start a meaningful existence within Athens’ momentous ruins. Ripping off, and occasionally seducing, young tourists, Rydal’s quaint lifestyle almost comes off as charming and enriching. However, his daydreams drift off over the horizon towards something more powerful. I may be delving into this a bit too much, for the movie says and does a lot less than it promises. However, alarmingly so, we sit alongside Rydal as he becomes infatuated with wealthy businessperson Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst).

Kirsten Dunst.

It’s in one delectable moment, in which Rydal sees the couple wandering through the Acropolis of Athens, that he halts his ponderous lifestyle and sparks wondrous ideas. After introducing himself, Rydal even begins to picture their holiday schedule. The plot, kicking in shortly after the jaw-dropping opening scenes, takes several turns toward romantic-drama territory. With Rydal’s affection geared increasingly towards Colette, a love triangle begins to sizzle under the European sunlight. Sadly, this laboured start, defined by candle-lit double dates and forced character development, comes close to getting this twisted narrative off on the wrong foot. In fact, the love triangle is sorely under-utilised in this otherwise rich and decadent stand off. Soon enough, thanks to its tight and eloquent screenplay, this keep-you-guessing thriller steers toward its more exciting promises. With Rydal falling into the MacFarland’s sticky situation, the three of them embark on a daring escape from the law. Admittedly, this drama-thriller deserves to be stuck with the most overused and lugubrious of descriptions: Hitchcockian. Attempting to match the master filmmaker’s subtle touch and distinctive visual motifs, director Hossein Amini sticks close to everything we’ve seen countless times before. Despite his best efforts, Amini – having written actioners like Drive and Snow White & The Huntsman – fuses Hitchcock’s deft sensibilities with bombastic action-thriller tropes. Leaving the page for the camera, Amini mistakes a derivative and inconsistent style for resonant, slow-burn storytelling. With its pace more wave-like than Greece’s gold-and-aqua beaches, this drama-thriller becomes mind numbing and predictable well before the second half arrives.

“I’m sorry I disappointed you.” (Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen), The Two Faces of January).

Oscar Isaac.

Fortunately, despite the stylistic flaws, The Two Faces of January smuggles several intensifying and immaculate parts into its sleek and pristine suitcase. As a sprawling romance between Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and North by Northwest, the movie tackles its fun premise by delving into its three-character feud. In the spirit of classic Hollywood, this Europe-drenched story pits our well-dressed allies against themselves, gun-toting baddies, and the foreign labyrinth around them. Along the way, several sequences remain dialogue free. Puffing on cigarettes and honour codes, our characters look through one another as the clock ticks down. The tension even reaches breaking point early on, as Chester says of Rydal to Colette: “I wouldn’t trust him to mow my lawn”. Gracefully, this tension-defying conflict, between these three power-starved anti-heroes, boosts the entertainment factor. Certain sequences, in which our characters come close to becoming recognised by security personnel, deliver the most memorable highlights. Indeed, thanks to everyone around him, Amini’s debut has looks to die for. Set against Europe’s most valuable and awe-inspiring cities, the cinematography, sound design, and mis-en-scene deliver something to write home about. Beyond the aesthetic wonders, our three A-listers bounce off this performance piece. Mortensen – known to impress first and attack his own movies later – excels as the relentless antagonist in this vicious concoction. Dunst delivers her most nuanced and likeable performance in a decade as the unpredictable squeeze. Meanwhile, following up his immense success with Inside Llewyn Davis, Isaac is a magnetic force as the other side of the coin.

Keeping friends close and enemies closer, The Two Faces of January’s vigorous premise is on par with many of classic Hollywood’s shining lights. If anything, this drama-thriller will be seen as a commendable effort for our three charismatic and dexterous leads. The movie’s compelling visuals and tough-as-nails screenplay deliver several delights hidden around famous landmarks and decrepit streets. However, Amini’s first-time jitters stall an otherwise enlightening thrill-ride. Let’s hope his Hitchockian blues no longer chase him across Tinsel-town.

Verdict: An intensifying yet glacial drama-thriller. 

Gravity Review – Shooting for the Stars


Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Writer: Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron 

Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris, Phaldut Sharma


Release date: October 4th, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 91 minutes


 

 

Best part: The spectacular visuals. 

Worst part: The hokey comedic moments.

Review: Gravity

Verdict: Out-of-this-world entertainment!

Only God Forgives Review – Bow Thai


Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writers: Nicolas Winding Refn

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Tom Burke


Release date: July 19th, 2013

Distributors: RADiUS-TWC, Lionsgate, Le Pacte, Wild Side Films

Countries: Denmark, Thailand, France, USA

Running time: 90 minutes


 

/5

Best part: Kristin Scott Thomas.

Worst part: The wafer-thin story.

You can always tell the quality of a movie by the reaction it receives at the Cannes Film Festival. Treated to simultaneous cheers and boos during its world premiere, Only God Forgives is one of many movies to be treated to the festival-related wave of critics and film aficionados alike. Having seen the mixed to negative reviews since then, and now the movie, I can only summate that the aforementioned polarised crowd was simply trying to warn everyone. The movie reaches for success, but can’t overcome its own overblown hubris.

Ryan Gosling.

Only God Forgives is, undoubtedly, the most ambitious yet discomforting movie I’ve seen so far this year (though that’s not saying much). A mix of different styles and messages ties this movie into a knot that can’t be undone. Set in Bangkok, the story, such as it is, follows Julian (Ryan Gosling). His business, a massive drug smuggling operation hidden by a Muay Thai boxing club, is about to take a serious blow (no pun intended). Julian’s brother and business partner Billy (Tom Burke) goes out one night, and ends up raping and killing a 16 year old prostitute. Billy’s death, at the hands of the prostitute’s father and Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), is about to make Julian’s life a living hell. Julian and Billy’s abrasive mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) travels to Bangkok to seek vengeance for her eldest son’s death. Believing Julian to be unworthy of avenging Billy’s death, Crystal sends goons after everyone who may be involved in this horrific crime. Julian and his prostitute-girlfriend Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) will soon be tested by Bangkok’s seedy underbelly.

Kristin Scott Thomas.

Fittingly, Julian, Crystal, and Lt. Chang, from Billy’s murder onward, go on an explorative journey of heartache, lust, redemption, and philosophical awakenings. At least that’s what I deciphered from this solemn and relentlessly pulsating crime thriller. Suffering a serious bout of pretentiousness, Only God Forgives lumbers around like a wounded beast. Its ‘style over substance’ execution is unfortunate given the cast and writer/director at the helm of the movie’s intriguing premise. Nicolas Winding Refn (Primer, Bronson) is, normally, a focused and affirming crime-drama filmmaker. His hyper-violence-based style has, over time, transformed some of his critically-praised dramas into modern cult classics. This follow-up to Refn’s surprise hit Drive, unfortunately, lacks the convincing character-based drama and thematic depth of the aforementioned 2011 movie. Only God Forgives is a skin-deep look at the depraved nature of man and the violent sides of two opposing cultures. These aspects are appealing and potent when they are brought up, rather obviously, throughout the narrative. However, Refn looks too deeply in places he shouldn’t. In too many scenes, we are treated to the characters thinking and talking about doing something instead of actually doing it. Refn’s plodding direction, featuring many unending shots of blank-faced characters looking off into the distance, makes his 90-minute ode to Alejandro Jodorowsky and Asian crime-action cinema feel like an eternity.

Thomas & Vithaya Pansringarm.

I thoroughly enjoyed 49% of this oppressive drama-thriller, but found the other 51% insultingly abhorrent. This surreal movie may be an experiment, but it proves that a commendable final product is far more interesting than watching someone meticulously undertaking an analysis. It’s difficult to put my finger on this movie’s biggest flaw, because it feels like a half-completed production. It seemed like there was a lot more Refn could and should of expressed, but was restrained by everything around him. Here, his ambitiousness and self-indulgence have helped churn out a sprawling mass of visually stimulating flourishes and influences. This strange concoction of The Killer and Blue Velvet contains many familiar intricacies placed together in an intriguing way. This slow, shallow visual feast is also a thorough examination of film noir and foreign cinema’s importance. Despite the surface-level writing and direction, Only God Forgives is strengthened by its hyper-kinetic visual style. Refn’s pulpy, visceral, and slick visuals bolster the movie’s discussion of masculinity, honour, and family ties. For those who love gore, sweat, and the colour red, Only God Forgives is the movie for you! Despite the repetitiveness of each vital scene, Larry Smith’s cinematography is simply breathtaking. The hallway shots, for example, emphasise Refn’s eye for intricate imagery/settings. The lack of dialogue and intelligence may grate on many people’s nerves. However, having the over-cooked dialogue drowned out by Cliff Martinez’ thundering score is a major positive.

“You can’t see what is good for you. So it’s better you don’t see.” (Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), Only God Forgives).

“Want to fight?”

This hyper-violent and lurid mishmash of Stanley Kubrick, Wong Kar Wai, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese’s directorial ticks is, thankfully, aided by the dynamic cast. Here, Gosling continues his run of stoic and scummy anti-heroes after Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines. Known for his enviable physique and bug-eyed performances, Gosling is a naturally charismatic screen presence. Unfortunately, his character’s quiet reserve and expressionless veneer become increasingly frustrating. Unlike Gosling’s damaged character from Drive, Julian has little reason to be this submissive, peculiar, and antisocial. Unfortunately, Gosling’s Steve McQueen-esque nature has become a trait he should stray from to achieve a greater level of acclaim. Thomas is scarily affecting as Julian and Billy’s greasy, white trash mother. Transforming herself, Thomas brings vitality and dimension to this otherwise irritating figure. Watching Julian and Mai intently, Crystal is a foul-mouthed and incestuous force of nature. Constantly reminding Julian of how Billy was the ‘bigger’ man of the two, her harsh personality and cougar-like behaviour push everyone around her to breaking point. Thai actor Pansringarm delivers an awe-inspiring performance as the vile yet well-meaning Chang. As a fan of karaoke and severing limbs (for some reason), Chang’s enrapturing characteristics define him as the ‘Angel of Vengeance’.

With the sex appeal of a dirty Thai hooker and subtlety of a Heineken commercial, Only God Forgives has none of the smoothness, scintillating story/character aspects, or emotional impact of similar Refn-directed crime-thrillers. This movie, about mothers, brothers, gods, and monsters, has some haunting and perplexingly beautiful images and concepts. However, to paraphrase every motherly figure in existence: if you have nothing interesting or original to say, say nothing at all.

Verdict: A confused, frustrating yet gorgeous crime-thriller. 

 

Trance Review – Boyle-ing Over


Director: Danny Boyle

Writers: John Hodge, Joe Ahearne

Stars: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani


Release date: March 27th, 2013

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Countries: UK, France

Running time: 101 minutes


4/5

Best part: Boyle’s direction.

Worst part: The multitude of plot-twists.

Memory can be a powerful tool. We can relive our greatest moments and worst experiences in great detail. It’s a mechanism that can also be warped in miraculous or disastrous ways. Many films have focused on this powerful and engaging topic. Hollywood’s latest examination of the mind is Trance. It’s a convoluted yet profound experience. It’s, for lack of a better word, mind-boggling.

James McAvoy.

The film opens with the lead character, Simon (James McAvoy), explaining how an art auction should operate. His job is vital to the security and preservation of famous paintings from many countries and centuries. He also doubles as an insider for a dangerous band of French criminals. Led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), the criminals storm the auction house, take out the security system, and head for Francisco Goya’s Witches in the Air. However, Simon’s heroism draws him to the painting before Franck can reach it. Suffering a blow to the head from the butt of Franck’s gun, Simon’s concussion leads to amnesia. When torture fails to work, Franck hires seductive hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help them find the missing painting. Her experimental procedures put everyone involved in danger. Simon must find the painting and uncover his darkest secrets before it’s too late.

Vincent Cassel.

Trance is, for all intents and purposes, one of the best films of 2013 so far. It’s a rich, sprawling and stylish thriller with a heartening touch. This film is similar to Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Side Effects. Both films contain layers that are both alluring and secretive. You’ll need to be wide awake to engage with the film’s many surreal elements. The movie becomes exhausting well before the final revelation. However, it’s nice to see A-list directors tackling slick yet inventive stories. Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is essentially the British version of Soderbergh. Boyle’s body of work varies in tone and genre, but his trademark visuals remain. He has taken on dark sci-fi adventures (Sunshine), docudramas (127 Hours), zombie apocalypses (28 Days Later) and family flicks (Millions). It’s exciting to compare Trance to other films in Boyle’s impressive filmography. It may not be his best film, but it’s still an electric and satisfying psychological-thriller. It’s much slicker than many of his previous efforts. It appropriately and efficiently focuses on style more so than substance. Boyle still manages to meticulously craft every twist and turn inside this convoluted story. The collaboration between him and screenwriters John Hodge and Joe Ahearne has created a visceral example of escapist entertainment.

Rosario Dawson.

If you mixed Hitchcock’s most polarising thrillers, with 40s film noirs (e.g. Double Indemnity) and Boyle’s impressive oeuvre, then Trance would be the end result. Just like Inception, Memento, and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Trance led me up one path whilst distracting me from the paths it intersected with. Hypnosis, psychology and memory are dangerous tools in this cat-and-mouse game. Its heist-thriller sequences intersect with both psychological-drama and sexy romantic-thriller elements. It was the Les Diaboliques-like story and arresting character threads that thrilled me. As the film delves deeper into Simon’s shattered state, the violence and nudity increases. These elements may seem gratuitous, but they heartily push the story toward its shocking conclusion. The characters are found lurking inside each memory. It becomes increasingly difficult to decipher reality from fantasy. Boyle’s kinetic visuals also elevate what could’ve been a lacklustre Memento wannabe. His visuals have distracted me in the past. It seems that Boyle has learnt from such mistakes as Sunshine’s messy final third and The Beach’s overt silliness. Bright, contrasting colours flood every scene. Shots are defined by peculiar angles, images, and movements. Meanwhile, the film’s punchy editing style precisely folds everything together. It’s ironic that Boyle’s taste in trance music works to this film’s advantage. The pulsating score pushes Trance into overdrive.

“I was really good, but not good enough. And not good enough really isn’t very good.” (Simon (James McAvoy), Trance).

Part of Trance’s violent streak.

Boyle is honest about the type of film he has created. He has made a psychological thriller that creates its own demented sense of fun. When the line “no piece of art is ever worth a human life” is uttered, Boyle is clearly winking at the audience. The film benefits from its Hitchcockian characters. They quickly become lost inside this catastrophic situation. Simon is a common man disarmed by multiple forms of temptation. Addicted to gambling, his eventual downfall into criminality brings his dark side to the surface. His description of the auction heist is both poised and engaging. McAvoy has proven himself to be a phenomenal actor. Able to leap from one genre to another, McAvoy balances charm and a fierce screen presence. Cassel has proven his worth in both French and Hollywood cinema. Famous for stunning tough-guy performances in La Haine and Eastern Promises, he is able to bring both charisma and style to any role. In Trance, he convincingly churns out a menacing and vindictive character. Underrated actress Rosario Dawson, Boyle’s ex-girlfriend, goes all out for her role as the slinky hypnotherapist. Her character is the queen of experimental therapy. Her practices are so controversial they would make Sigmund Freud fall off his chair.

From the heart-thumping Heat-like heist sequence, to the film’s creative resolution, Trance is an old-school thriller with 21st century filmmaking sensibilities. Boyle may not be doing his best work here, but it’s still a startling achievement. Trance is an examination of the human condition that never forgets to have fun.

Verdict: A complex and visceral heist/psychological-thriller.

Side Effects Review – Addictive Formula


Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Stars: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones


Release date: February 8th, 2013

Distributor:  Open Road Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


4/5

Best part: Soderbergh’s direction.

Worst part: Cartoonish supporting characters.

It’s ironic that acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh has made several movies about drugs, because his filmography is startlingly addictive. Soderbergh has made some of the best movies of the past two decades. His filmography features such hits as Out of Sight, Traffic, The Ocean’s trilogy, The Informant! and Erin Brockovich. Side Effects is his last feature film. Thankfully, his swan song may be one of the most intelligent films of his career.

Rooney Mara.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a sweet, young woman. She has waited four years for her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) to be released from prison. Unfortunately, she is struck down by her long-term bi-polar disorder. Her shaky mental state causes a failed suicide attempt. Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) is assigned to treat her on-going and dangerous condition. He prescribes Emily a new drug called Ablixa, recommended by Emily’s former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The drug seems to work wonders for Emily. That is until the side effects kick in. She begins to sleepwalk incessantly around the house. Her erratic behaviour suddenly, and violently, transforms Emily into a legal nightmare for Dr. Banks. His life soon begins to fall apart. Having lost everyone’s trust, he becomes obsessed with discovering the real cause of Emily’s condition.

Jude Law.

Jude Law.

Soderbergh has a very distinctive and experimental style. He can fleetingly go from a mainstream production with a huge ensemble cast, to an indie flick with porn star Sasha Grey in the lead role (The Girlfriend Experience). He creates temperate character studies instead of typical Hollywood fodder. He will cap off his screen career with Behind the Candelabra, a Liberace biopic for HBO starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. Afterwards, he will focus on painting and directing plays. He will be sorely missed. His latest film is an eclectic mix of influences and trademark flourishes. Soderbergh instantaneously flips the narrative; turning this sensitive character study into a Sex, lies and Videotape/Les Diaboliques-style drama, and then into a legal/journalistic thriller in the vein of Michael Clayton and Zodiac. Every twist and turn hits with a knock-out punch as egos and motivations are tested. However, some of the third act plot twists are a bit hokey. An adjective that is thrown around way too often is ‘Hitchcockian’ (thanks for nothing, Brian de Palma!) I will say, however, that the term fits Side Effects like a glove. From the opening shot of a bleak cityscape, you can pinpoint winks and nudges to such Hitchcock films as PsychoVertigo and Dial M for Murder. Soderbergh, much like Hitchcock, has a visual style that places him above other prominent directors. It’s very easy to identify his cool and moody style. He is a true A-list artist that is known to play with indie film-making sensibilities.

Channing Tatum.

Soderbergh, much like Hitchcock, has a visual style that places him above other prominent directors. It’s very easy to identify his cool and moody style. He is a true A-list artist that is known to play with indie film-making sensibilities. Nowadays, it’s hard to find directors with a taste for creating visual flourishes. His camera angles and movements, for example, are both unique and indelible. With just a few distinctive shots, he can make likeable characters seem peculiar. His use of depth of field is another important aspect of his direction. The camera comes in and out of focus at odd points, putting pressure on the viewer without using excessive force. His colour-coded scenes also paint an emotionally charged picture. His earthy and unsettling green and yellow tones (prevalent in many of his films) bring every scene and situation down to a real world level. His touch is not just in the visuals. The swift editing and pulsating jazz/electronica score help to create a cracking pace for this low key, atmospheric thriller. Soderbergh is certainly an opinionated director. Throughout his career, he has discussed many important issues (world-wide panic, economic crisis etc.). Traffic delved into the US/Mexico drug trade whilst Contagion, written by Side Effects writer Scott Z. Burns, depicted a world-wide epidemic. Side Effects, on the other hand, explores Soderbergh’s stance against prescription drugs and pharmaceutical companies.

“I won’t be able to tell the truth if I take anymore pills.” (Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), Side Effects).

Catherine Zeta-Jones.

In the first act, Soderbergh and Burns objectively and meticulously set up the conflict. Ever so slowly, however, the film turns into an all-out assault on America’s most profitable drug companies. It becomes an in-depth examination of pharmaceutical industry wheeling and dealing. Dr. Banks and his colleagues almost become drug dealers, dishing out meds for a quick and hefty profit. This film thrives on its winning performances and intensifying characters. Mara continues her scorching run after the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She conveys the full range of mental and emotional states, becoming a true Hitchcockian lead character. Her china doll look is in stark contrast to her failing mental and moral state. Law gives a passionate performance as a sympathetic man on the edge in more ways than one. Scarily determined to find the truth, Dr. Banks’ search for answers is a neo-noir-like race against time and injustice. Tatum, capping off his ‘Soderbergh hat-trick’ after Haywire and Magic Mike, impresses in a small yet dignified role. Unfortunately, Zeta-Jones delivers an unconvincing performance as a vindictive she-devil. Sporting more make-up than the Joker, she hams it up to a cartoonish extent. Many of the supporting characters are one note. Dr. Banks’ wife, for example, is nothing but a shrill obstacle. Their relationship is just too shaky to be believable.

Whether you like it or not, Soderbergh has closed the curtain on his film-making career. In my opinion, he couldn’t have done a better job. Warning: Side Effects may lead to multiple viewings and an addiction to Soderbergh’s previous works. With a stellar cast and dynamite narrative in tow, Side Effects varies between mesmerising and upsetting. Ironic, really.

Verdict: An intense and stylish drama-thriller.

Shadow Dancer Review – Irish Brew


Director: James Marsh 

Writer: Tom Bradby (screenplay & novel)

Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen


Release date: August 24th, 2012

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Countries: UK, Ireland

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Enthralling performances from Riseborough and Owen.

Worst part: The monotonous pace.

Throughout history, Ireland’s lower and middle classes have been embroiled in violent social upheaval. Political thriller Shadow Dancer is based on a novel from the film’s screen-writer Tom Bradby. His Journalistic work for ITV news in 1990’s Northern Ireland was paramount to the success of this authentic and haunting story. The film balances between gritty realism and poetic storytelling, creating a harsh, subtle yet emotionally powerful account of one of the world’s most appalling political conflicts.

Andrea Riseborough.

The film depicts the Irish Republican Army(IRA)’s atrocities from the insider’s perspective. Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) is a single mother and pawn in a political and familial struggle. Still reeling from her brother’s death decades earlier, her emotional restraints are broken when she fails to follow orders. Arrested after her role in a failed bomb plot on a London underground train, Colette is given a choice by MI5 agent Mac (Clive Owen). She can either aid the British police in capturing important IRA members or spend 25 years in prison. With her son and mother in mind, Colette reports IRA incidents to Mac. When an IRA assassination plot is foiled however, paranoia sets in and everyone becomes a target of republican revenge. Both Colette and Mac must soon face their own problems within separate organisations.

Riseborough & Clive Owen.

Riseborough & Clive Owen.

Shadow Dancer meditatively becomes a heart wrenching slow-burn thriller in the vein of this year’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Following the film’s emotionally resonant first scene, the sombre tone of these horrific events establishes the core of this IRA thriller. This character study, documenting the separation between the law and anarchy, is defined by the similarities between Colette and Mac. Colette is morally driven and sensitive, determined to help the innocent people in her family by any means. From the nail-biting station sequence, her emotions illustrate the true despair of a broken home and divided country. The unique step this film takes is to develop Owen’s determined and sceptical detective character. Frustrated with his superiors, his paranoia pushes his illegitimate investigation of both Colette’s pressing situation and the practices of his own organisation. Riseborough and Owen are compelling in their chilling roles. Vastly different characters on the surface with similar shades of regret and redemption underneath, their disconcerting relationship brews intensely.

David Wilmot, Aiden Gillan & Domhnall Gleeson.

David Wilmot, Aiden Gillan & Domhnall Gleeson.

Capturing a nation’s identity through familial heartache and violence, Shadow Dancer creates a more contemplative view of crime than similar films such as 2010’s Animal Kingdom. Sharing many similarities with 2008 action-thriller Traitor, personalities and political conspiracies collide into a discomforting and powerfully relevant story. Director James Marsh (Man on WireProject Nim) smartly focuses on the emotional bonds created and then broken between people on both sides of the law. Unfortunately, the film provides a narrow focus on the IRA situation through Collette and Mac’s perspectives. Marsh seems intent on depicting one family’s influential role in the civil unrest; failing to convincingly develop this pressing social affliction. This choice sorely costs vital screen time for talented character actors including Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson and The Guard‘s David Wilmot as vital IRA members close to Colette. The handheld camera style creates a gritty and atmospheric presentation of certain events. The funeral scene stands out in this case, capturing a breathtaking account of the clash between authority and republican rights.

“Is it just because she has a pretty face?” (Kate Fletcher (Gillian Anderson), Shadow Dancer).

Gillian Anderson.

Gillian Anderson.

Marsh has combined his experience with documentary film-making with the ever advancing possibilities of fictional storytelling. A gritty sense of darkness is born here, as each character must begin to accept the depths they have fallen into along the way. The film becomes a claustrophobic aura of death and emotional despair, despite lacking the political intrigue of IRA drama The Crying Game. Belfast specifically becomes a symbol of Colette’s shattered mind. Decrepit and sombre, Marsh focuses on locations which illustrate the societal impact of a republican force fighting oppression from a first world order. Each interrogation is an enthralling and climactic dialogue sequence. A smoke-like haze covers these scenes creating a significant sense of dread. Each interrogation illustrates Colette’s increasing danger, forcing her to continually look over her shoulder in a cold sweat. The film’s sombre tone is fuelled by a washed out colour scheme. Even in the film’s happiest moments, dark clouds gather over Colette as her paranoia begins to take over.

Breathing new life back int0 Ireland’s film industry, Shadow Dancer depicts a much-maligned sector of the country’s history. Thanks to its refined cast and efficient direction, this stoic crime-thriller picks us up and shakes around throughout its taut run-time. It may even get people invested in this ongoing conflict.

Verdict: An intense and heart-breaking political thriller. 

Christopher Nolan (filmmaker) Profile – Grand Scale Filmmaking


Occupation: Director, writer, producer

Born: July 30th, 1970

Nationality: British (UK)

Works: The Dark Knight trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises), Memento, Following, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception

Christopher Nolan throughout his career has tirelessly worked to re-create the idea of authorship. His modern and expansive cinematic scope in every frame has proven his worth as one of the most influential and popular directors in modern cinema. Nolan, along with his brother and writing partner Jonathan, continually strive to break the bonds of modern Hollywood cinema, with The Dark Knight and Inception instantly considered to be modern masterpieces. His unique abilities with cinematography and stunt sequences prove the existence of artistic vision within modern action cinema.

Christopher Nolan.

Christopher Nolan.

In his interpretation of the Batman legend, his penchant for creating an aura of realism out of fantastical elements has created a gritty, terrifying yet culturally relevant depiction of a famously fantastical character. Nolan’s control over his works is proven in his militarised origin story and development of believable cult figures. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have taken Bruce Wayne, an arrogant yet determined warrior, and built him into a cunning, fearless and selfless saviour of Gotham. Batman’s universe (dubbed the ’Nolanverse’ due to his intelligent style) is a gravely sombre yet recognisable scene of post 9/11 threats and heroes developing a desire to protect those to need them. Nolan Creates a realistic universe out of beautiful yet haunting locations such as the maze-like structure of Chicago city streets, intricate photo realistic sets and alluring perspective tricks through miniature cityscapes.

Nolan on set.

Nolan on set (The Dark Knight trilogy).

His use of realism in film-making has created an authenticity rarely seen in the era of digital/blue- screen technology. Creating action set pieces through stunt work and elaborate, story-boarded set pieces, the creation of sequences such as the rotating hotel ceiling fight in Inception and the truck chase/flip through Gotham streets in The Dark Knight are developed with a seamless visceral quality not explored since the renaissance of practical effects in the 1960’s/70’s/80’s with gripping formalist cinema such Alien/AliensThe Terminator2001: A Space Odyssey and The Fly. His maze-like structures and other symbolic/visual elements reflect the intricacies of his eye for ground-breaking elements of film production. The idea of several layers inside the subconscious mind is an intricate and stylish concept explored through heist, film noir and chase film elements. The art-deco style created in each layer of Nolan’s visual splendour involves a strict use of smooth colour patterns/tones, symmetry and the composition of important symbolic foreground and background elements; creating multiple dimensions through the intricacies of multi-layered city streets and skyscrapers.

Trademarks: Epic scopes, writes with brother Jonathan Nolan, recurring cast members, non-linear timelines

Nolan on The Prestige.

Nolan & Christian Bale (The Prestige).

His use of symbolism to illustrate an important and original narrative structure can be seen in his first studio feature Memento, a thought-provoking thriller executed with complexity and based on Jonathan Nolan’s short story. Photographs and tattoos, illustrating Guy Pearce’s path through a decaying life of short term amnesia, symbolise his determination in tracing his forgotten steps, hoping to find his wife’s murderer. Whether it’s one man battling the villainy of a post 9/11 criminal world, Leo DiCaprio struggling to expel his love from professional duties inside his fractured subconscious, Al Pacino’s erratic mind due to his condition in Insomnia  and an attraction to stalking people on the street in Following, Nolan uses his expansive scope to illustrate the gravity of his characters’ disturbed situations. His non-linear storytelling and cross-cutting create a contrast between multiple realities and the conflicting subconscious; illustrated by the rivalry between Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in The Prestige, building throughout this story of the dangerously competitive nature of human beings.

Thematic, visual and symbolic relevance in film and popular culture has classified Nolan as one of the defying film-makers of this generation. Whether its the electrifying illusion of the transported man, a slowly developing superhero/vigilante origin story or Heath Ledger’s Oscar worthy portrayal of the Joker, Nolan has given birth to many authentic and thought provoking examples of ingenuity in modern cinema.

Interview:

Tony Scott (filmmaker) Profile – Danger Zone!


Occupation: Director, producer

Born: June 21st, 1944

Nationality: British (UK)

Works: Top Gun, Crimson Tide, The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, Enemy of the State, Spy Game, Man on Fire, Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable

Since stepping out of his brother Ridley’s shadow with the revered neo-noir True Romance in 1993, Tony Scott has proven himself an influential yet polarising auteur filmmaker. With his style a prime example for many of a director’s vision distracting from the original story, others view his style as a step ahead of many crime/action film directors.

Tony Scott.

Tony Scott.

His style involves a mixture of several extreme editing and camera techniques. Considered a defining director in the modern Hollywood style of filmmaking, he continually creates the perfect tone when tackling the explicit subjects he regularly approaches. In the 2004 revenge flick Man on Fire, detailing the story of a girl kidnapped by a dangerous Mexican gang, Scott focuses on the emotional impact of this situation, rather than the action film elements of the narrative. The visuals in Man on Fire, and many other films in Scott’s filmography, reflect both the intensity of the situation and the damaged mindset of the lead character. In Man on Fire, Denzel Washington’s character Creasy is a former alcoholic and gun for hire. Frequent slow- motion shots of a bullet casing hitting Creasy’s hand and narrowly missing the slow reaction of his fingers, illustrates a shockingly distant yet slowly recovering mindset, placing him outside the realm of normality.

Tony Scott & Jerry Bruckheimer.

Scott & Jerry Bruckheimer.

Scott provides a gritty, unrefined insight into every situation. The non-linear, parallel timeline crossing actioner Deja Vu proves the effect of Scott’s ever evolving editing techniques. Cutting between Washington’s character speeding in between traffic in the past, and his communication with colleagues in the present, represents the lack of time his character has to prevent a sickening 9/11-esque terrorist attack. His stylised action is also of debate and careful consideration. The use of slo- mo and/or pulsating soundtrack illustrate the gravity of the situation. The hotel room shoot-out at the end of True Romance has been copied by many aspiring film-makers, aiming for the same effect Scott achieved. The chilling shots of white feathers and bullet ridden cops and drug dealers flying through the air created a violent shootout handled with an artistic vision not seen before in action cinema at its height. The low lighting and shaky cam style of representing a realistic situation has also influenced many film-makers, eagerly using their influences to create an emotional connection. Daniel Espinosa, director of the recent Denzel Washington action film Safe House, used Scott’s grainy, unrefined visual effects in the film to illustrate Ryan Reynolds’ character’s emotional torment when brought into a world of espionage and brutal murder in the heart of a rundown South Africa.

Trademarks: Red baseball cap, Kinetic visual flourishes, recurring cast members, camera pans

Scott & Denzel Washington.

Scott & Denzel Washington.

Washington has collaborated with Scott in many films including Man on FireDeja VuCrimson TideThe Taking of Pelham 123 and Unstoppable. His dramatic range and charisma may elevate the quality of several of their collaborations, but its Scott’s style that illustrates the true emotional torment of many of Washington’s intriguing characters. Both him and Ridley Scott regularly collaborate with A-list actors, creating many electrifying and alluring performances out of their appealing casts. The 1986 cult classic Top Gun for example, despite today being considered a plethora of homosexual undertones (mostly due to the laughable shirtless beach volleyball scene), Tom Cruise’s rebellious jet pilot Maverick is still idolised as a cheesy yet determined pop culture icon; forever riding the ‘highway to the danger zone’. Despite his recent films, such as The Taking of Pelham 123, Domino and Unstoppable, being little more  than technical experiments with a threadbare narrative, Scott can definitely call his schizophrenic technical style his own.

Despite his notorious cinematography and editing tricks infuriating some, he is one Hollywood director still perfecting his trademarks with each film. From Top Gun to Man on Fire, the British-born filmmaker has garnered immense acclaim from guilty pleasure efforts.

Interview:

Man on a Ledge Review – Falling Down


Director: Asger Leth

Writer: Pablo F. Fenjves

Stars: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris


Release date: January 27th, 2012

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The courageous cast.

Worst part: The gigantic logic leaps.

When you have a film with a title as blunt and unsubtle as Man on a Ledge, you are likely to get exactly what you ask for. The film is a very mindless and tedious action thriller with many talented actors forced through bland material and one ridiculous action set piece after another.

Sam Worthington.

This tale of living life on the edge starts with Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), an ex-cop who escapes from authorities after two years in prison. He books a room at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, eats a final meal, cleans up and steps out onto the ledge. With the citizens of New York captivated by his daring feat, his ploy for attention is based on his call for freedom. After being sent to prison by slimy real estate tycoon David Englander (Ed Harris) for a crime he didn’t commit, he must call attention while at the same time, using his younger brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his Girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) to break into Englander’s safe to find the answers. Cassidy also calls upon hostage negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) and his former police partner Mike Ackerman (Anthony Mackie) to help prove his innocence.

Elizabeth Banks.

For a film involving a man threatening to jump from a high rise building to prove his innocence, Man on a Ledge surprisingly lacks either depth or any sense of tension. The direction by documentary director Asger Leth is heavily played down, choosing to reside with chases and heists over chemistry between the characters involved in these life or death situations. Despite what should be a convincing hostage negotiation thriller in the vein of the original The Taking of Pelham 123, the film is way over the top in many aspects. With the film switching mostly between the ledge and the heist, this Ocean’s 11 style heist only serves to be filled with one conflict after another for our characters to get past. Not only does the heist feel completely out of place for this type of film, but the constant, useless and unfunny bickering between the couple completing the heist becomes tiresome within 5 minutes. Despite the film’s consistent pacing, it moves from one ridiculous and predictable plot twist to the next. With the many attempts of story twists failing to create an emotional response, the final scene of the film will leave you sighing audibly.Of the many plot threads intertwining through Worthington’s character, the only one that is interesting involves his dice with instant death.

Genesis Rodriguez & Jamie Bell.

Man on a Ledge does manage to stay faithful to the original premise of the man on the ledge. Both the man on the ledge and the hostage negotiator are compelling and sensitive main characters. Throughout the film, the flashbacks and exposition based on them describe just enough to make them interesting. This is also helped by both Worthington and Banks once again delivering dynamic performances with the little they are given. Bell tries and fails to deliver an American accent, While a frail looking Harris and sexy, lingerie clad Rodriguez deliver Over the top and embarrassing performances as Englander and Angie Respectively. Harris’ excessive hand gestures and bad Brooklyn accent make you question his legendary Hollywood status. Despite a strong positive of the film being Rodriguez dressed in skimpy pink underwear, having her talk in Spanish in an over the top way is one of her many failed attempts at comedy. The film is filled with bad dialogue and a poor sense of humour, leaving it in the dust as a forgettable action flick trying desperately to be a hard edged but enjoyable cop drama. The film also suffers from a heavy handed ‘Occupy Wall Street’ message. This is only used to create an exaggerated connection between Worthington’s character and the crowd looking up at him, based on either a comical or emotional response to his situation.

“Today is the day when everything changes. One way or another.” (Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), Man on a Ledge).

Ed Harris.

The film manages to make several innovative references to other film’s of its type. Both Dog Day Afternoon and Safety Last! are paid tribute as we see the varying influences of a first time feature director. Despite the poor direction and screenwriting, the cinematography is very competent and is put to good use. If you suffer from either claustrophobia or a fear of heights, you may want to avoid this film as the many brisk shots detailing his view of the city, and point of view shots looking straight at the ground, create a perfect representation of his uncomfortable position. The quick editing also helps to establish a strong emotional response to this nightmarish ordeal. Quick cuts used to create a feeling of immediate danger with each slip, trip and chase amplify his terrifying situation. Despite the large number of chases, slips, attempted jumps to attract attention and helicopters flying dangerously close to the scene, they do briefly lift the film above its dull personality. For what its worth, you do have to commend Worthington for his efforts. He conquered his fear of heights with his film by standing on the 21st floor of the real Roosevelt Hotel for most of his scenes. His determination makes him one of the most commendable young Australian actors working today.

Don;t get me wrong, I love a good blockbuster premise. Hell, we need a helluva lot more of them to maintain audience interest in big-budget fare. However, Man on a Ledge fails to follow up on its many intriguing promises.

Verdict: A stupefying and bland action-thriller.