Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Best and Worst of September 2015

September has been a unique month. Now that the summer is officially over you start to get that odd mix of films that aren’t quite blockbusters but at the same time aren’t quite Oscar contenders. It’s sad to say that some of it has been disappointing, particularly ‘Legend’. Though Tom Hardy was fantastic he was let down by a fairly standard and uninventive script that was also worryingly one sided. At the same time another big studio film with a massive cast proved to be not quite the spectacular epic I thought it would be, it seems that the best efforts of this month came from smaller movies. Here are the best three.

 3: Everest
Though it may have let itself down in terms of getting into the psychology of its subjects and fidning any major protagonist for its audience to support, there was still a lot to like about ‘Everest’. It’s stunning and awe inspiring visuals left me with a real sense of enormity as the mountain loomed over those who wished to conquer it, every cast member was on top form (they just weren’t given enough to do) and the cinematic format only made it even grander in scale and scope. Think of it more as a study of the mountain itself rather than the humans on its slopes.

2: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
This year’s Sundance Winner did not disappoint. It speaks to movie lovers and life lovers, says a lot about the value of time and even more about the value of friendship. Few films this year have made me laugh as much as this, but at the same time few have moved me as deeply. The characters are likable and sympathetic, they deserve our respect and our admiration. IT’s topped off by terrific performances all round that know how to get the best out of this sharp script and this is an undoubtedly entertaining movie experience, it has everything you want a coming of age comedy to have.

1: 99 Homes
Every film from Ramin Bahrani has been an underseen masterpiece and ’99 Homes’ is no exception. Though I probably won’t watch it as many times as I will ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ I know that its searing criticism of the current financial situation, highlighting the desperation of those on the edge and how much they will sacrifice to earn their own piece of America, it is brutal, thrilling and honest. The moral questions it raises are one thing, the compelling nature of it is another, and Garfield and Shannon just sell it completely.

And the worst…

The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials
‘Mockingjay Part 2’ may be very good but franchises like this are making me sort of glad that its coming to an end, and it will have to be very good to make me forget the recent case of teen dystopian fatigue that’s been brought on by this film. Not only is it a complete re-tread of the first, it makes the same mistake of being, like its characters, completely lost in a vast wasteland. Nothing is particularly compelling or intriguing and there is even less to make me excited for the next instalment.
So what were your favourite movies this month, leave a comment below to let me know. Please don’t forget to recommend this blog on google with the icon at the top of the page, thanks and bye.

Monday, 28 September 2015

99 Homes

"America doesn't bail out losers. America was built by bailing out winners."

I often find that one of the most fascinating subjects throughout film history is the way that writers and directors choose to portray and tackle the American Dream. Today few are doing this better than Ramin Bahrani, crafting such intricate modern masterworks such as 2005’s ‘Man Push Cart’ and ‘Chop Shop’ in 2007. So naturally I was intrigued and left in deep anticipation when I heard his next project involved Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, with yet another spin on modern society’s financial goals and dreams.
In this thriller, a single father (Garfield) is evicted from his home and his only chance to recover it is to work for the charismatic and ruthless businessman (Shannon) who evicted him in the first place. At first he believes that this deal with the devil is a necessary cost to provide for his family but as he falls deeper into the businessman’s web, he finds his situation grows more brutal, dangerous and morally challenging than he ever imagined.
The previous work from Bahrani has mostly consisted of a more intricate and intimate scope in the past, taking quite a philosophical pace. But ’99 Homes’ definitely has the feel of a non-stop suspense movie. Our first scene involves what appears to be a happy and coping family being suddenly and uncomfortably uprooted from their home and left standing outside it, surrounded by the entirety of their possessions. It’s an alarming and uncomfortable way to open a movie, forcing the audience to confront the reality of such a situation and leaving them dumbfounded when they are faced with the difficult question of how to carry on. None of it is made easier by the coldness and confrontational attitude of their evictor Michael Shannon, as Garfield begs him to allow one more day to prepare, he gives them two minutes.
Through Shannon’s performance ’99 Homes’ allows itself to act as a savage critique of the American feudal system of only adapting and making exceptions for winners, taking a thorough examination of the current financial state of the average person and an unflinching view of the grim conditions this has left many people in. It does this so effectively partly due to its impeccably sharp script but also, as I said before, Shannon’s cut-throat nature (as an actor at least, I assume he’s not like that in real life, but then again I’ve never met him so… anyway). Shannon manages to strike a bizarre balance between merciless and considerate. It’s a complex performance that initially seems ruthless but similarly to Gordon Gekko from ‘Wall Street’ he gradually explains that this is how the world works, and you almost, but not quite, fall onto his side of the argument.
Andrew Garfield may not be Spider-Man anymore but his work as a dramatic actor here does not worry me at all as, rest assured, he will not be short of work. He goes from being a fighter to a reluctant participant in the grand scheme of those he despises and it is all excellently portrayed. He seems to be in a continuous anxiety for nearly the entirety of the film but manages to convey the fact that he is anxious for different reasons at different points in the story, from failing as a protector of his family to grudgingly siding with the enemy to get back on top. The raw and honest reactions of those he ends up evicting only make his struggle all the more tragic.
The only criticism I can really find is that after the brutality of the first half ’99 Homes’ never really surprised me after that, I could see where its plot was heading and anticipated certain beats of it. It was still executed flawlessly though and brought the ordeal in and out of perspective throughout to highlight both the importance and futility of it.
Not only does the fast pace keep you enthralled throughout, it makes you look at the situation with a sense of earnestness. Yet again Bahrani uses an individual character to analyse American society better than anyone else can today.
Result: 9/10

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 16 - Revenge of the Sith Review

‘Revenge of the Sith’, the final ‘Star Wars’ prequel (for now) and… well I think there are a number of things in this instalment that sum up the prequel trilogy pretty well, a good concept and some very impressive filming here and there, but mostly executed in completely the wrong way to make it stand on par with the original trilogy. So with that being said it’s time to finish the prequels and move on to the far more interesting content. Here it goes.
I say that but to be fair this one is regarded as the best prequel, in fact it’s mostly watchable. But there are still one or two flaws that hold it back from greatness, but I’ll get to those later. For now I want to talk about the opening, and it’s pretty damn good. I mean it, for me this scene is actually the closest single piece of filmmaking to the original trilogy in all three prequels. It’s action packed, well-paced and even humorous at times. There’s still a bit too much of an overreliance on CGI but for the most part it actually holds up and that’s probably because by now the technology had moved on enough so that not only do these scenes look better they are quicker to make and therefore the creative team could actually start to focus on the real core of the movie.
Now when I describe the opening scene as being humorous I mean flying towards the Separatist Cruiser, not as much on board. The dialogue is still quite wooden and forced and it’s not helped by Hayden Christianson’s less than stellar performance. Again though it’s an improvement over conversations about sand (no one has romantic conversations about sand) but still it can be infuriating. However the next twenty minutes are still better than the entirety of ‘Attack of the Clones’ featuring lightsabre duels, lasers and space battles.
Once again there’s a new villain called General Grievous and once again I have no idea who he is nor do I fear his presence. By swapping out villains for each film we couldn’t build a dread and association with any one character, especially one that by this point we know for definite will not survive the course of this movie. Of course we were hoping that ‘Revenge of the Sith’ would introduce us to the best cinematic villain of all time, Darth Vader. While Anakin’s motivation for searching for paths of power other than the Jedi are inventive, switching sides for conservation of his loved ones rather than destruction of enemies and Palpatines catalysing Anakin’s vulnerabilities to manipulate him , the execution of it is really lacking. The total transformation is not a gradual process but one of torn morals and then child murdering in the space of ten minutes, not to mention the fact that we as an audience are supposed to believe that the name Vader came from mere seconds of contemplation. ‘You will be known as Darth…. Vader.’
Sadly the effects aren’t as impressive for the whole film, at times it is painfully obvious that the sets and designs are fake, green screened, CGI every trick apart from genuine practical sets. The other problem is that without a great performance to draw your attention from it you notice it even more. Speaking of performances you’ve got Natalie Portman being equally as uninterested as in the previous instalments and I already mentioned Christianson. But I do think that there are moments without dialogue, where his facial expression is doing the acting, where he’s pretty impressive. Ewan McGregor gives what has to be the best performance of the movie, a sort of youthful energy that is slowly ripped away by betrayal (albeit not in nearly as much detail as a truly great character development would be) until he becomes more of an aged warrior.
But going back to scenes without dialogue, they are perhaps the most powerful in the entire film. The scene where Anakin and Padme are on different sides of the city staring towards each other is quite a compelling scene, as is the one in which Order 66 is carried out, with the John Williams music (that is as always, spectacular) and Yoda’s expression and the sight of seeing these proud warriors torn down, it’s enthralling. Then there’s the moment that Anakin massacres the Separatist leaders only to look back with his glowing yellow eyes. The birth of Darth Vader being intercut with the birth of Luke Skywalker is also clever.
The final lightsabre duel in ‘Revenge of the Sith’ still looks choreographed, not to the same extent that it does so in ‘The Phantom Menace’, but it lacks the intensity, emotional involvement or dialogue for us to ignore this. Then Padme loses the will to live…. Yeah okay its… its dumb right, we all know it so… let’s just move on okay, we’re nearly finished.
‘Revenge of the Sith’ still has many issues and could have been executed in such a better way, but at the end of the day there’s still a lot to like, especially if you’re willing to overlook other imperfect details.
Result: 6/10   

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials

"The maze is one thing, but you kids won't last one day out in the scorch."

I thought that with the end of ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise (one that I’m not completely against like some but certainly not worshiping like others) this year the whole teen-apocalypse genre would be put to rest for a few more years. Wow was I wrong, actually this intro may just be a rehash of the one I did for the first ‘Maze Runner’ film, but frankly I can’t remember properly and I’m sure readers won’t be able to tell either. Oddly it’s this kind of thinking that permeates this franchise.
Having escaped the deadly maze, the group of teenage survivors think they have left the horror behind them. But now they face an even greater danger as they make their way across the scorched earth.
Look as well as the slew of young adult apocalypse movies we’re going to get this year, as well as the rest that are yet to come, all now become irrelevant. Look at what Mad Max: Fury Road’ did to their apocalyptic world and now nothing else looks even remotely close by comparison. Whether it be backed up by real psychological and scientific studies or just George Miller’s mad mind, for some reason I buy that universe, out of all of them I could see the one in ‘Mad Max’ actually happening. Maybe through detail maybe through character, but next to that I don’t buy into an apocalyptic world in which teenagers are put into arenas, or mazes, or sorted into factions where you’re either smart, strong, skilful or something else and if you combine more than one attribute you’re a ‘Divergent’ even though the true definition of that is Convergent, where was I?
In a similar vein to the first ‘Maze Runner’ movie the first half of this film is actually quite impressive. It’s fast paced, well directed, good performances and some genuinely exciting moments. However when it reached the halfway point, like the first one, it just screeched to a sudden and startling halt in favour of setting up yet another sequel. The pace and suspense that populated the first half were gone by vague questions and convoluted plot developments that are clearly there just to deliberately leave the door as widely open as it possibly can. At this rate you’d have a better job pitching this story as a TV miniseries as everything is so episodic and nonsensical in the form of a feature film.
Another reason why the suspense and pace dissipates in the second half was because for me it once again began to dawn on me that these characters simply aren’t going anywhere. Interesting set pieces and scenarios will only keep audiences hooked for so long, after that I was expecting some more personal or emotional dilemmas form these characters, something for me to care about their situation, hope that they make it out of this scenario. But nothing of the sort occurs and I’m left watching people I don’t care about walk across ruins for another hour. Dylan O Brien is commendable with the material, but as far as depth goes his character challenges the status quo and shakes the system, but what else? I don’t know. Say what you will about Katniss, but the writing and Jenifer Lawrence managed to show her inner turmoil amid revolutions and fights to the death, ‘Maze Runner’ doesn’t succeed on that front.
There are also far too many elements borrowed from other films. Not just other YA apocalypse films either but movies of a completely different nature. Take this example, as they’re on the run from hordes of zombie-like creatures, the kids find refuge in an abandoned shopping mall. A random yet still obvious reference to ‘Dawn of the Dead’ or a wild coincidence that was not spotted or acknowledged as no one’s heard of that film on set because they’re all fourteen years old.
We’ve still got to get through another one of these, maybe even two.
Result: 3/10

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Heat: 20 Years On

It’s hard to believe that Michael Mann’s crime epic is twenty years old. I say that it’s hard to believe because it still looks and feels so modern, holding up so well with its pace, characters and plot. Maybe it lies it Mann’s searing realism when it comes to the shootouts and heists, maybe it lies in the characters that populate those conflicts and therefore grab our attention and intrigue. Whichever one it is, the effect of what ‘Heat’ represents and stands as today is still astonishing.
For those of you who haven’t seen the film it chronicles the battle of wills and professions of a police officer and a criminal and concentrates on how they need one another. Without a skilled police officer to track down every amateur criminal, professional thieves like Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) would be irrelevant as everyone would want a piece of the action. But at the same time dedicated enforcers like Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) would be unnecessary without criminals as good as that.
Not only do their professions necessitate one another, they parallel each other. Both men are devoted to their work, their careers are their lives, at the cost of everything else. Hanna’s third marriage is falling apart and McCauley simply cannot commit to anything as a part of his principle despite his own emotions. There is a moment when both are offered the chances to escape, Hanna could spend more time with his family when they need him most and McCauley could run wih the money when he has the chance. But another opportunity comes up in their careers, and neither can walk away.
As well as all the philosophical thoughts behind the film, there’s no denying that this is a great cops and robbers movie from the plot and action alone. I described it as a crime epic earlier and that is most definitely a fitting description. Not only that though, it’s an excellent cat and mouse game as we see McCauley plan his next move and Hanna attempting to guess what it is, luring one another into a trap every now and then as well as dealing with disputes and power struggles within their own teams as well.
Though it may appear to be more of a gimmick to pick DeNiro and Pacino to square off against each other in this ultimate showdown you instantly realise it really isn’t. They are both veterans of so many crime stories (‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Scarface’), both Oscar winners (‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Scent of a Woman’) and have both played that tragic hero (‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘The Godfather’) that are reprised here as war weary specialists, acting as a reflection of one another. Their presence is felt and only matched by the other. In no scene is this better shown than perhaps the best scene of the film, in which they meet each other for the first time (but already know everything about the other) and have a cup of coffee together.
As they sit across from one another, they each state exactly what one represents to the other, life or death. They take this short time to question why the other one does what he does. Not only that, but with McCauley planning a big heist very soon, and Hanna fully prepared to intercept him when it happens, they know that they will soon meet again and everything that they talk about here theoretically will be put into practice. But for the moment they merely sit back and drink.
That leads me on to the reason for my phrase ‘perhaps the best scene of the film’. There’s that gun battle, when McCauley and his team exit the bank they have just robbed, only to be confronted by Hanna and his police force. The resulting showdown is bombastic, intimate and intense all at the same time. It’s also frighteningly realistic, due to the rigorous amount of training that the actors went through such as meeting and interviewing real cops and robbers as well as being put through intensive firearms training and Michael Mann going to the trouble of building a replica of the street on a shooting range for them to practice. Then there’s the sound of it, normally films have gunshots and ricochets added in post production in favour of the set recorded audio. ‘Heat’ did the same until Mann heard it and hated it, so he discarded it and used the sound recorded on the set instead. The result is that deafening, uncomforting, gritty sound that places you right there, in the heat of the battle, right in the firing line.
Though many people try to emulate this cops and robbers story, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it as well as ‘Heat’ did, mainly because it just feels like the definitive version. It explores both sides of the battle, says everything it needs to about them individually and their relationship. But at the heart of it all are just two people acting as different sides of the same coin.   

Monday, 21 September 2015


"Human beings simply aren't designed to function at the cruising altitude of a 747".

It’s tricky to know how far to describe the plot of a film like ‘Everest’. It is of course based very much on a true story and that always poses problems as to how much you assume whether or not the person you’re recommending it to knows about the event. If I were to describe ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is it a spoiler that Jordan Belfort goes to prison, or in ‘Rush’ is it a spoiler that Niki Lauda crashes his car and is horribly injured (regardless of the answer to those questions it doesn’t matter now because I’ve spoiled them if you haven’t seen them). The point of all this is that I can’t really think of an intro to this review but at least now I’ve filled the necessary paragraph so we can move on.
Looking back and chronicling a number of simultaneous attempts to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1996 as rival companies and dangerous weather conditions resulted in the worst disaster ever to occur upon the slopes of the world’s tallest mountain.
A film like ‘Everest’ may also struggle to find numerous ways in which it can separate itself from the standard disaster movie, the other major entry for that genre this year was ‘San Andreas’ but of course they are completely different in terms of their tone and what they’re trying to accomplish as movies. This one is attempting to avoid clichés and rely much more on character driven drama, though of course one has to accept that with history certain elements of the story are naturally clichéd in a certain sense. Nonetheless the writers have done an excellent job in making the plot feel more like a natural progression of people struggling to survive and establishing their characters in such a way that these efforts make sense compared to their actions for the rest of the film. Though sometimes there are elements of added drama that seem to exist for screen time rather than logical character steps.
But the true scale of ‘Everest’s’ accomplishment lies in the way that it is shot and its cinematography. It is a gigantic visual spectacle in capturing the scope and enormity of exactly what these mountaineers are trying to accomplish. After a while the striking visuals go above and beyond making the mountain look terrifying, it appears to be some kind of malevolent overlord that towers above our protagonists and is throwing everything it has at them. ‘Everest’ even manages to use these elements every once in a while to point out the foolhardiness of what these people are trying to achieve by climbing up it, allowing the striking imagery to pose more questions in the viewers mind than any dialogue could.
As we saw with 2007’s ‘Zodiac’ Jake Gyllenhaal fits very well into an ensemble cast and does so again here. Contrary to what many believe he is only one player in this much larger story. If I was to single out one main protagonist I’d say Jason Clarke as Rob Hall a New Zealander expedition group leader who is expected to return home to his wife and unborn child. But then again the sheer size and weight of this cast ironically undermines this central role sometimes, making it harder to focus on his trials and tribulations when there’s so much more going on as well. That being said though there are many players they all bring their best efforts into the game. Sam Worthington (who’s been absent from our screens for a while) is pleasing in what could have been a very irrelevant role, Kiera Knightly and Robin Wright add a touch of normality to the otherwise alien world of the mountain, then there’s John Hawke, Emily Watson and Josh Brolin who also do superb work here.
The true strengths of ‘Everest’ lie in the size of the spectacle and the ensemble cast but its ability to tell this story on an intimate level is drawn into question.

Result: 7/10

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Irrational Man

"There was no question that there was something lighter about Abe. His spirit was up, he seemed more focussed and yet for some reason, it bothered me."

Woody Allen really enjoys his social misfits doesn’t he? He may be perhaps one of the greatest names in cinematic comedy, back in his day and today in fact. ‘Blue Jasmine’ is a more recent example of course, but it ponders into a deeper philosophical drama and in ‘Annie Hall’ he is playing the social misfit. Now he has Joaquin Phoenix to be a social misfit and when you’re talking about philosophical drama it always gives you an early boost if your main character is a professor of philosophy.
A philosophy professor (Phoenix) is in a deep rut, having lost all of his confidence in both the purpose and meaning of his subject. He finds no solution amid drugs and alcohol but amid some interaction with a brilliant young student (Emma Stone) he theorises a plan that may give his life purpose again.
I should say that the advertising campaign behind this movie is simply awful. The plot summary describes it as more of a quirky rom-com, but I’d say that in reality it’s more like a Hitchcockian thriller with some Woody Allen twists in it. There’s a dark comic wit to it that both filmmakers have infused within their work before (‘Manhattan’, ‘Crimes and Misdemeanours’), and there’s a lot of metaphysical scenes to back it up that Woody in particular excels at, usually. It’s hard not to give away why ‘Irrational Man’ is suitable for that description without giving too much of the plot away because if I was to do so then I may risk taking away that surprise of the actual structure of the film as when you realise that it’s going in that particular direction you can’t help but laugh a little.
It does breeze through some very dark material rather lightly, in fact maybe a little too lightly. Though there are some interesting themes and ideas on display here, none of them are explored in detail. It would make sense to gloss over certain elements to maintain a consistent tone but at the same time it doesn’t feel like any aspects are examined in a three dimensional way. As I said before Allen has experience in mixing the thrills and quirkiness and in many ways that acts as yet another problem for ‘Irrational Man’, it’s the same old story. We’ve seen this before and though it’s entertaining, it’s undeniably trivial and overly light.
Of course one can make the argument that Woody Allen’s filmography is so impressive that anything less interesting than the likes of ‘Annie Hall’ or ‘Hannah and her Sisters’ would appear mediocre as opposed to good. That is a fair assumption, am I judging this film based on its own merits or compared to previous Allen pictures? I would say I’m looking at it and coming to a conclusion based on the singular achievements it accomplishes on its own. Honestly it just feels extremely lacklustre, and not just compared to other attempts by… (You know what, I’ve mentioned his name so many times in this review I’m just going to stop now) that director.
What other names are involved? Well Joaquin Phoenix makes for an likeable lead, if anything he just makes me more frustrated as I feel that an actor of his calibre would easily handle a more complex character study. Though he is a social misfit he avoids falling into the usual nervousness tactic of most actors and gives his sociopath some weight. Emma Stone does bring some youthful energy to the mix as well but their chemistry feels a little lacking, repetitive and sadly predictable. This coming from the writer that reinvented romantic-comedy conversations.
Whether it’s entertaining or not will depend on your frame of mind entering it, but even then only the most devout followers of its director will find a huge amount of enjoyment out of ‘Irrational Man’.
Result: 4/10

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 15 - The Hero's Journey

Given its rather fanciful nature there is a clear and often cited connection between Star Wars and classical mythology. Once again this may appear as if I’m reading into everything way too much and if that is the case then… well let’s face it if you think that then you probably stopped reading this a long time ago. Anyway perhaps the most commonly found structure of mythology is what you would refer to simply as ‘the hero’s journey’.
This rambling starts with philosophical author Joseph Campbell who wrote a book centering around this trope called ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’. It was sommonly used throughout colleges in America during the 1960s and who would read it of all people? George Lucas of course (yeah because why on earth would I put a connection between Lucas and something else with a connection to Star Wars). Campbell summarised that myth is a metephor for the experience of life, to ‘find expression in a symbolic form’. The exact quote from Campbell is ‘A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won’.
The hero’s journey will often define a literal, physical journey, but frequently this experience will serve as a metaphor (the things that Drax can’t understand) for a personal or emotional transition. Most of the time this will involve a young protagonist of some sort, being called to an adventure, facing a decision between good and evil. There is one character within Star Wars that fits this description, even within detail. It is of course, Jar Jar Binks…. Except it isn’t because if I tried to stick with that any further I’d be murdered by a hoard of angry fans. It’s Luke Skywalker. I already did an overview of Luke’s character as a whole but now I just want to focus specifically on his hero’s journey.
Campbell defined three stages of the hero’s journey (remind me again how many films there are in Luke’s own journey). The first one is the departure, not the Martin Scorsese film, but it pays attention to our hero beginning his journey and setting off an their adventure. Though the hero may be enthsiastic they are naïve in the ways of the world and still secertly reluctant. This has to be the basic description of Luke in ‘A New Hope’ right? He wants escape the dust bowl that is Tatooine but even when Obi Wan asks him to accompany him to Alderran Luke initially refuses, only upon seeing his family murdered by the Empire does he agree to go, and from there naïve Luke gets into barfights with men that have death sentances on twelve systems (although I’d hardly blame him for that as the ‘I don’t like you either guy’ definitely started that by bragging about his various crimes and then threatening to murder the young farm boy).
Of course the hero encounters various thresholds that try to hold him back, sometimes they come in a passive form like Owen Lars ora more active (and by active I mean try to smash our hero’s head with a staff in the middle of the desert) one, in this case the Tuskan Raiders in the Dune Sea. They have some kind of call that pulls them away from home comforts and into their adventure, for Luke that call is the distress signal from Leia and the threat of the Empire. There’s always a possibility of rejecting the call, and Luke has that opportunity, but the hero chooses to ignore it.
Then you have the next phase of Campbell’s definition, the initiation. Here the hero will encounter numerous challenges and trials and often of an ambiguous form. For Star Wars ‘Empire Strikes Back’ acts as this initiation phase, with Luke being put through tests by Yoda to become a Jedi. Crucially though, the hero will fail at least one of their tasks during the initiation and for Luke in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ he fails nearly all of them. His Rebel army is annihilated on Hoth, he fails to listen to Yoda’s teachings, doesn’t defeat Darth Vader and cannot save his friends. This phase also involves moments of illumination and atonement with the father, Luke does both as he discovers the truth behind his parentage, Darth Vader is his father and once again the ambiguity plays a big part here as he is tempted to join his father and the dark side.
The third and final phase is called the return. The thirs phase of Luke’s journey even has the word return inits title, ‘Return of the Jedi’. It’s pretty self explanitory, and Luke once again fits the description as in the thrid film he returns to his home planet of Tatooine to rescue Han Solo from brutal gangsters. From there he must confront his past, retain the knowledge he has gained from the tests and become triumphant. Luke must face Darth Vader again and an even greater force of evil Emperor Palpatine. By the end of it the hero is regarded as being ‘free to live’ and with the threat of the Empire gone, Luke and every other character in the ‘Star Wars’ universe is able to do so. Even if you think this is all coincidental then just read this quote from the creator himself, as George Lucas said ‘it came to me that there really was no modern use of that's when I started doing more strenuous research on fairy tales, folklore and mythology, and I started reading Joe's books…. I began to realize that my first draft of Star Wars was following classical motifs’.
So those are a few of my ramblings about ‘Star Wars’ but I’d like to hear som of yours so please leave a commetn below. Thanks and bye.

Friday, 11 September 2015


Image result for legend poster tom hardy

"Me and my brother, we're going to rule London."

Dual performances are rare but inevitably becoming more popular with the advancement of CGI. It is rare however for your dual act to be the main focus of the film, in ‘The Social Network’ Armie Hammer was playing the Winklevoss twins but they were secondary characters within that story. So can this crime epic featuring Tom Hardy sustain itself as a character study of identical yet contrasting twins?
In the 1960s the East-End of London is rife with gamblers and gangsters, the most prominent and successful of which are the Kray twins. Ronnie (Tom Hardy) and Reggie (Tom Hardy) are at the peak of their success and the tale of their undoing is chronicled through the eyes of Reggie’s wife Frances (Emily Brown).
The story of how this film came about is that the director (Brian Helgeland) approached Tom Hardy to play the part of Reggie Kray, however Hardy was far more interested in a portrayal of Ronnie Kray… and you can probably see where it goes from there. There have been attempted biopics of these crime lords before, but it was a rather one dimensional affair, placing blame for their violent actions squarely on the parents. Writer Hegeland takes a different approach, choosing to use Reggie’s girlfriend, later wife, Frances as a window into their violent world. We see the initial appeal, the glamour and glitz and how one is taken away by the thrill of this environment. But then the scars start to show, the secrets spill out and monstrous truths come to light.
Though many will probably consider them as monsters, The Kray twins obviously considered themselves as local heroes and in some ways so does the film. I wouldn’t use the word glorifying, some may describe it that way, but for me it only exists on a surface level as like Frances we are treated to the allure only to be disturbed by what we find underneath. It seems reminiscent of other crime epics like ‘Scarface’ or some of the Scorsese mobster films like ‘Casino’ or, dare I say, ‘Goodfellas’. The movie is called ‘Legend’ and there is almost an air of folklore around the way the two strut around the streets of London as if they own it, as if they’re too big for reality, belonging to mythology. Even at the time they acted like high profile celebrities and ‘Legend’ makes no undercuts about that status. But then again it is also quick to point out how their luminary rank was ultimately their downfall and as I said earlier it is observing them through the eyes of Frances, and to her they are more than men, they are larger than life.
So, partly whimsical? Yes, and one has to wonder whether it is to idolise or dissect these twins. I can’t help but suspect it’s more of the former, and if there is any of the latter intended then it’s highly subliminal. But right at the centre of this saga is Tom Hardy’s immensely watchable performance. I can see why he was initially offered to part of Reggie as his suave and polished charisma gives him a natural and smooth appeal, with a cheek and boldness to accompany it. He radiates authority and respect, perhaps even a twinge of wanting a normal life, but knowing he’s too far gone to leave now. One could refer to him as a more violent and less sympathetic Del-boy.
In contrast though, I can see why Hardy himself preferred the part of Ronnie. This awkward figure clearly holds deep psychological problems and unlike his brother is feared but not respected. It’s not just the nasal tone, voice pitch and general attitude that separates one portrayal from another, every physical movement is altered slightly to be a distorted reflection of the other. When they interact it is seamless in terms of special effects and Hardy’s performance. When was the last time an actor fashioned harmony and dissimilarity with himself?
Though it treads a careful line between caricature and realism that will undoubtedly not be for everyone, it fits the tonal context and is backed up by the astonishing twofold performance from Hardy.    
Result: 7/10

Monday, 7 September 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Image result for me and earl and the dying girl poster

"I'm not here because I pity you, I'm actually here because my mom's making me."

The Sundance film festival is amazingly seductive in the way that it chooses films that are coming out many, many months from when they are given their prestigious prizes. Last year I had to endure months of hearing how great ‘Whiplash’ was before I ever got to see it. The same thing is happening here with this year’s winner ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’. So can it live up to expectations?
Two young and aspiring filmmakers in high school Greg and Earl (Thomas Mann and RJ Tyler befriend a girl called Rachel (Olivia Cooke) under the request Greg's mom as she has been diagnosed with terminal Leukaemia.
That may sound like the plot of any teen romance trying to exploit the recent craze of ill-fated romances kicked off by ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ (at least it’s much better than the ‘Twilight’ craze). But ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ becomes so much more. There are a number of obscure performances that simply get it right. That’s the best way of putting it as there’s no particular stand out (not even Nick Offerman from ‘Parks and Recreation) but there’s nothing to fault and normally that may be a criticism, but these understated roles and characters add to the overall tone of the film and make the situation more believable and engaging.
As is the fashion now the author of the bestselling book has adapted his own work for the big screen, Jesse Andrews. The writing in question is sharp, quick witted and excellently balances many elements such as satire, adolescent friendship, gut punching emotion and a love of movies. The best thing a coming of age drama can do is balance these elements to form something that can only be called a coming of age drama as there’s nothing else that it fits into. This movie could have been bogged down with self-pity for its subject matter, or risk treading too lightly and not covering the necessary ground to offer any emotional depth.
Another remarkable aspect of ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ is how it avoids every cliché despite the tools it deploys throughout such as narration, social ineptitude and some kind of affliction. Perhaps that is a result of the characterisation of Greg, our central character. He exists partly as your standard teenager, using the clichés, participating in them and existing through them, but also playing against them in his own arthouse projects. The result is the sublime mixed with the quirky and it’s not just the way to two play against each other that is commendable, but how one tone slips effortlessly into another and by the end you’re not sure if they are playing off of a chestnut or inventing one.  
It’s hard to believe that the last film I saw her in was the terrible ‘Ouija’ but Olivia Cooke is magnificent in this film as the self-described dying girl, Rachel. She balances an amazing mix of humour and heartfelt emotion to make her character truly believable, aside from the most obvious characteristic of having only a short time left to live, she has her own personality that flourished and is evident in Cooke’s performance, and yet it never lets you forget that elephant in the room.
The fact that Greg and Earl are lovers of cinema only makes the film more enjoyable for someone like me. Together they aspire to make their own movies, centring around a satirical and parodic nature. To give you an idea I can just list some of the titles they work on ‘ The Rad Shoes’, ‘Senior Citizen Kane’, ‘A Sockwork Orange’.
It’s easy to look at a film like this and concentrate only on the down, weighty and emotional. But there are underlying oddities and moments of laughter that are savoured and celebrated, because you know that they’re numbered.
Result: 9/10

Saturday, 5 September 2015

American Ultra

"Agent Howell has been activated. He killed two operatives with a spoon."

Since the early nineties days of ‘Dazed and Confused’ or the Coens bizarre noir pushing ‘The Big Lebowski’ there hasn’t really been a great stoner comedy. Maybe studios are afraid of receiving negative backlash by portraying drugs in a more humorous light, maybe we just grew out of them, or maybe they were all killed by Danny Boyle’s ‘Trainspotting’ and its grim depiction of drugs and I’m sure ‘Requiem for a Dream’ didn’t help. Regardless, can ‘American Ultra’ revive the genre?
A store clerk (Jesse Eisenberg) who enjoys drawing comic books in his spare time is confronted by two government officials. Then he begins to realise that he has hidden abilities he was not aware of and with the help of his stoner friend (Kristen Stewart) they go on the run and try to find a solution.
One thing that is hard to come across in recent years is a film that can sustain itself on cult status. Many have tried but only by going completely over the top and self-indulgent like the Asylum movies. But you know what, I would definitely brand ‘American Ultra as a cult film in the making. There are numerous issues with the film and multiple disordered aspects but through all of it there was a great sense of fun to be had from it. It almost seems to embrace it, not quite on a self-indulgent level but more in tune with knowing your flaws and accepting them rather than just multiplying the few things that work.
Eisenberg and Stewart have worked together in comedies before such as ‘Adventureland’ but that was much more of a coming of age comedy rather than one of this audacity. I say that because in many ways what ‘American Ultra’ is extremely impudent in its visuals and overall tone. The editing is visceral and done with a sense of extreme rapidity. Like I said, it seems to be aware of its own issues and instead of trying to fix them, simply resorts to quickening the pace in an effort to distract the audience from any flaws while they’re in the cinema. Normally this would be an issue and I could look down and smirk and point out as many plot holes as I could. But I have to admit their tactic kind of worked, at least while I was sat in the cinema, I was just entertained by it.
But going back to Eisenberg and Stewart, they were both pretty good. Obviously when I say that I’m not talking about something that would be deemed acceptable in any other film. But here it seems to work as Eisenberg is convincing as a confused and hapless clerk that goes from living an aimless and talentless life to being Jason Bourne. Kristen Stewart meanwhile is also surprisingly decent, conveying some shock and horror but on a comedic level.
But as I said, if this was any other film I would definitely be inclined to talk about the issues within the actual plot and pacing of the film. It is just a complete mess and verges on being utterly incomprehensible. It does so to such an extent that in scenes that are trying to be serious and dramatic involving the government officials feel like they’re from a completely different movie and aren’t actually that entertaining. It takes on more of a satirical tone that doesn’t quite fit with the overall tone of the film.
So what can I really say about ‘American Ultra’? I honestly don’t know as there are literally hundreds of flaws within the central structure and plot but honestly it just doesn’t matter. There are cartoonish sensibilities with a stoner action comedy that certainly entertains but unless you’re willing to sit back and forget about tedious things like sensibility it might wear thin. But as I said, a cult film in the making? Probably.
Result: 6/10

Friday, 4 September 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 14 - Pen to Paper

I thought another way to churn out more ‘Star Wars’ related articles would be to give a few recounts of how that first film came to be in 1977. Of course this is just a vague outline, if you want the full and extensive description of how a fan of Samurai films, westerns and Flash Gordon Serials became the director of the highest grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation it remains the second highest of all time, only beaten by ‘Gone with the Wind’) then I would heavily recommend picking up a copy of ‘How Star Wars Conquered the Universe’. But anyway, I’ve covered the influences of George Lucas, and now it’s time to put pen to paper.
Lucas would write four different screenplays for ‘Star Wars’, shaping the structure, character and plot several times over in the process. The writing process began in 1973, and only by 1974 had Lucas finished a rough draft, incorporating elements of the Sith, the Death Star and various characters such as Anakin Starkiller. This character in particular would undergo several changes, shifting from a young boy, to a war wizened general. There was also a secondary character called Han Solo, ‘oh’ you’re thinking ‘there’s a familiar name’. But it’s not in the form you imagine as here he is a green skinned alien with gills, but it’s alright because his co-pilot is a large hairy being called Chewbacca. So there’s a lot going on, something familiar (not at the time of course) but not in the form we know it as. The best example of this can be seen by the fact that this early script also featured a Jedi Master and apprentice as father and son, the father is not only a hero but alive from the start of the film. I have a feeling that will change, and by feeling I mean I know it because it’s in the past, that’s like saying I have a ‘feeling’ that the Allies will win World War 2.
Where was I? By the time Lucas completed the second draft the story had been simplified (by this point Lucas had decided that such a story would require more than one film to tell it) and it was now decided that Starkiller would be a simple farm boy, and his first name would be Luke. We’re getting closer to what we know, but there’s still a long way to go. Another new idea was to start and end the film with a text crawl, one to set up the story and another to preview the next instalment. Luke also had several brothers and a father that would now only appear briefly at the end of the film and there was a concept of light and dark sides and the Jedi who fall prey to the dark side. Dark side of what, a mystical energy field called ‘The Force’. Then came a breakthrough as Lucas was able to hire concept artist Ralph McQuarrie to create some images for the film, it was these concept posters that helped sell the script to studio boards.
Draft three in the summer of 1975 then gave the concept its newest name ‘The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of Whills’. Okay, not that catchy and the title actually goes on, with ‘Saga 1: The Star Wars’ being added. But that was one of the few things that was different from the final product, Luke was back to being an only child, the mentor was not his father but an old hermit known as Obi Wan Kenobi and now the script was finally approved by the board of 20th Century Fox. Time to start making movies.
Except it wasn’t because there were a few more things to clear up. Just as one deal was secured Lucas’ earlier film ‘American Graffiti’ was finally released and became a smash hit, gaining critical praise and becoming one of the highest grossing films of the year. One renegotiation later and Lucas found himself dealing with a bigger budget and more respect, until they heard the full idea. But no matter, Lucas had the money and finally finished the fourth and final script. The name Luke Starkiller was changed to Luke Skywalker as he felt it gave off a more positive attitude for his main protagonist, as in someone that’s walking among the stars rather than killing them. Then there’s the title which abandoned the whole first section and simply went with ‘The Star Wars’ and then simplified again into ‘Star Wars’. And in the process Han Solo went from being a green alien to a human that would launch the career of Harrison Ford, the greatest action star of all time, god call.
The end crawl was also abandoned, but Lucas maintained that an opening crawl would be the best way to start the film, the only problem was that he had six paragraphs of it, at four sentences each. Luckily Lucas had a few friends in the movie business who were willing to help out and director Brian De Palma (‘Carrie’, ‘Scarface’ ‘The Untouchables’, and ‘Mission: Impossible’) did just that. Having described the first draft as ‘gibberish’ he offered to rewrite it. The version he came up with, based on the original by Lucas but simplified and shortened, is the one that you can still see today in the finished product as that was the roll they used for the actual film.
So with writing out of the way what was to come next for this up and coming director with his ramblings about space operas. Find out soon, because like most successful things in the film industry this instalment has just been a ruse to ensure that you will return for the next instalment. If ‘Maze Runner’ can do it, why can’t I?

Thursday, 3 September 2015

2015 Winter Preview

So, just as we enter the autumn we find ourselves faced with another bunch of amazing movies. Here are the ten that I’m looking forward to the most so without any more stalling or taking up valuable (that’s one word for it) post space I’m starting the countdown with… some honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the list. These include ‘The Visit’ M Night Smymalan is riding a very, very cold streak, but his latest film is riding the success of his TV series ‘Wayward Pines’ and played well to audiences at SDCC so you never know, ‘Black Mass’, ‘Suffragette’ features Meryl Streep as Emely Pankhurst (or in other words Oscar nomination number 20) ‘Pan’, ‘Mockingjay Part 2’, ‘Carol’, ‘The Good Dinosaur’, ‘The Danish Girl’ looks poised to give Redmayne a shot at a second Oscar in two years, ‘Youth’, Macbeth’, ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ and especially ‘High Rise’ were all close, but here are the final ten. (Plus one more at the end)

10: Crimson Peak - Trailers have proclaimed it as Guilmero Del Toro’s masterpiece and that is no small feat from the man who brought us other gothic fantasies such as ‘Hellboy’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. It’s also Del Toro’s first American horror film and features the god himself Tom Hiddlestone, fear awaits.

9: The Martian - It may look like an ‘Interstellar’ prequel but Ridley Scott’s story of an astronaut stranded in isolation on Mars allows Matt Damon to really flex his acting muscles and after a cold streak consisting of ‘Prometheus’ and ‘Exodus’ is this a return to form for the maker of ‘Alien and ‘Blade Runner’.

8: Creed – Not, as some people have branded it, Rocky 7, this next generation boxing story promisies to launch a new franchise to take the mantle of the Italian Stallion and provide Michael B Jordan with the next icon of sports in film, will it work? We’ll wait and see.

7: Spectre – James Bond is back yet again and after the hyper success of ‘Skyfall’ it’s hard to imagine this one disappointing (but be braced for anything) Mendes returns to direct, Craig starring again and it feels like Christoph Waltz’s entire career has been building towards playing a Bond Villain.

6: The Walk – Based on the incredible true story and Oscar winning documentary ‘Man on Wire’ Robert Zemeckis recounts the story of the man who broke into the World Trade Centre, strung a wire between the two towers and walked across it. As we’ve seen with ‘Flight’ Zemeckis can use 3-D and IMAX technology to their full and awe inspiring potential. ‘The Walk’ promises to be a pure cinematic experience.

5: Bridge of Spies – Directed by Spielberg, written by the Coen brothers and starring Tom Hanks, need I say more? Well yes, because it involves Hanks as a lawyer assigned with negotiating the exchange of a Soviet and American spy at the height of the cold war, interested, yes you are.

4: Everest- Based on the most notorious disaster ever to occur on the slopes of Mount Everest, this movie has promised a tale of chilling horror and astonishing bravery and an ensemble cast that includes Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightly, Sam Worthington and the one and only Jake Gyllenhaal. Expect epic things.

3: The Revenant – Fresh from his triple Oscar victory of ‘Birdman’ Innaritu has now turned his sights to the western revenge genre as Leonardo DiCaprio is left for dead only to set out for vengeance after his attacker Tom Hardy. As we saw with his previous efforts, Innaritu’s directing could herald something very special, and maybe at long last an Oscar for Leo?

2: The Hateful Eight – It’s been a long three years since ‘Django Unchained’ and for a worrying moment Quentin Tarantino’s latest western appeared to be closed down for good, but it’s nearly here and what else needs to be said, a conscious throwback to his earlier works of ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and shot in glorious 70mm (Tarantino is using the exact same lenses they used for ‘Ben-Hur’ and the last major film to use the format was ‘Lawrence of Arabia’) and by his side are legends like Kurt Douglas, Tim Roth, Channing Tatum and of course, as always, Samuel L Jackson.

1: Sicario - This morally corrupted drama not only astonished top critics at the Cannes film festival but is the latest film from Dennis Villeneuve, director of ‘Prisoners’ and the future director of the ‘Blade Runner’ sequel. Centring around the war on drugs in Mexico the film sees Emily Blunt tracking down drug dealer Bennico Del Toro. It’s sure to be a complex tale of fear, power and corruption and it’s the film I’m most looking forward to over the coming months. Or is it…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – I excluded this one from the list because it was always going to come out on top. Why wouldn’t it? Rest assured there will not be a more anticipated film this decade. We don’t know much about it, but it will pass $1 Billion easily, if it’s great then all I can say is watch out ‘Avatar’. It’s got a lot to live up to, and we’re hoping the perfect mix of classic ‘Star Wars’ with new spins, but can JJ Abrams deliver? Can ‘The Force Awakens’ be all things to all people? Only time will tell.
So what films are you most excited for this year? Leave a comment below to let me know and as always you can recommend this blog on Google using the icon at the top of the page, thanks and bye.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

2015 Summer Summary

Before we move away from the summer of 2015 (I’ve really milked that whole process when I think about it) I think it would be a good time to analyse the films that came out, the flops, surprises and mega blockbusters. After all I did make some predictions concerning that and they have been proven very, very wrong.
For a start I anticipated that ‘Age of Ultron’ would be the undisputed box office king by the end of the summer, flattening all opposition. But then Chris Pratt and his Indominus Rex came along and proved everyone wrong. Looking back I don’t think anyone saw ‘Jurassic World’ coming, we suspected it would be successful, probably amongst the top three highest grossing films of the summer, but I never anticipated that it would not only top the list of the summer, not only break the all-time record for highest opening weekend, not only over take Marvel’s original (and still most successful) juggernaut ‘Avengers Assemble’, but keep going to reach a staggering third position on the all-time highest grossing movie table, only stopped by the two films to cross the threshold of $2 Billion ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar’. It is remarkable as ‘Jurassic World’ is most definitely not the best of that franchise, far from a flawless film and certainly not the best film of the summer. It’s fun but we have had a few truly remarkable movies over the past few months.
What is the most remarkable? Well I’ll get to that later, for now what is the worst film of the summer? ‘Big Game’ was probably the worst excuse for an action film and certainly had no appeal to anyone as it was too dark for teenagers but at the same time too stupid for adults. Then you have ‘Fant4stic’ that, if anything, only made me appreciate the Marvel Studios films more and made me wish that Fox would just pull a Sony and give them the rights back, maybe in exchange for greenlighting an X-Men TV series because that’s a compromise where everyone wins. But anyway you also have the dismal ‘Terminator 5’ that does its best to undo all of the good work done by James Cameron in ‘The Terminator’ and if there is a sequel I’m sure that will do the same to ‘Judgement Day’ luckily from that point on the franchise doesn’t have anything left to ruin so maybe they’ll just give up. That about covers it, because ‘Accidental Love’ was not a film, it was a new form of torture.
As far as disappointing films go then you could point to ‘Southpaw’ but Gyllenhaal’s performance was definitely worth the price of admission, my criticisms came from its fairly generic story. Honestly maybe this is my own fault but with ‘Tomorrowland’ I was expecting a family masterpiece, I mean Brad Bird turned down ‘Star Wars’ for this, but instead we got a rather convoluted and heavy handed story that ultimately bombed. Some have pointed out that ‘Tomorrowland’s’ commercial failure proves that there’s no room for original ideas any more, but then again if the film was good enough to set the word on fire one would think its profits would show it, so that leads you to point out that maybe it isn’t.
Marvel came out with some very strong contenders, but not quite as strong as 2014. ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘Age of Ultron’ were both deeply impressive, but one needs to remember that this time last year we were still raving about the amazing direction of the Russo Brothers for ‘The Winter Soldier’, or how awesome Groot was, not instantly looking toward the next instalment.
But as I said, two films stand alone as being the best of the summer. Actually in this contest there is one runner up in the form of ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ turning this into arguably the best modern action franchise in the world (the only other real contestant is ‘Fast and Furious’). But the two best films of the summer are two completely different forms of entertainment, at different ends of the scale. One is animated, one is all real, one is heart-warming and family friendly, the other is sadistic and features multiple people being hit by cars at full speed. The two best films of the summer (and the year so far with only ‘Ex-Machina’ to challenge them for that position) are ‘Inside Out and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. 'Inside Out' was the epitome of how films can create an emotional response, and 'Fury Road' was just amazing in very way.  Of course this is just my opinion so what are your favourite movies of the summer season? Leave a comment below and while you’re at it let me know what you’re most looking forward to for the rest of the year (as if I don’t know the answer).