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Thursday, 29 October 2015

Ultimate Horror Movie Marathon

Halloween is fast approaching, and undoubtedly some of you will be looking out for decent horror movies to watch, old or new, repeat viewing or first time, chances are you will be watching one of them over the weekend. In fact I suspect that some of you will be planning a marathon of some kind, skimming through horror film after horror film in a true fright fest. If that seems like the ideal thing for you but you can’t decide on which titles to watch, then why not allow me to suggest some.
As part of a new feature (well actually how successful it is depends on whether it actually becomes a new feature) I am going to plan out the ultimate horror movie marathon with carefully selected titles (and by carefully I mean the ones I thought of first) that form the complete spectrum of horror movies. But of course, if you have seen ever title I select and want to try something new then do not despair because I have also pitched an alternate and not as frequently seen title alongside each selection that is similar in some ways and aims at the same horror sub-genre. Enjoy (or don’t because everyone on the internet has an opinion and will inevitably get angry at the absence of one of their favourites, even though I’m not ordering them to watch these movies so why they get so frustrated about it I’ll never know).

1: The Exorcist - Starting off big, if you are watching a horror of such superb standards as ‘The Exorcist’ then you have to be wide awake to do so. The demonic masterpiece is so much more than gruesome effects, it reflects a viewer’s fear back at them, be it religious, societal or culturally. The nature of its horror is one of rawness and dread. You are stuck on this rollercoaster ride of horror, savouring the time before the adrenaline rush with a prolonged sense of trepidation.
Alternatively; The Babadook – A demonic presence testing the bond between parent and child, that could describe both ‘The Exorcist’ and the 2014 horror movie ‘The Babadook’. There is a similar rawness to its horror with a comparable slow burn before a gut wrenching climax. To top it all off the director of ‘The Exorcist’ himself, William Friedkin said that he had ‘never seen a more terrifying film’.

2: The Shining – It is still early in this marathon, now is the time to get the think pieces out of the way. You can even take some time to debate with company or yourself (although going through all these movies by yourself suggests a stomach of steel) to discover the hidden meaning behind this film. Is it about Native Americans, the moon landing, or is Stanley Kubrick just crazy? You decide by watching it now.
Alternatively; Under the Skin – A horror movie the mixes deep philosophical ideologies and hidden meanings to create a work of infinite discussion and various possible interpretations as Scarlett Johannsen plays a parasitic alien seductress visiting earth.

3: Halloween – Time for a slasher, and what else can you have other than John Carpenter’s original landmark horror remains the best of its genre. It uses sheer directorial brilliance to induce its fear upon watching you may be shocked by how little blood and gore there is while the feeling of terror is very real indeed.
Alternatively; Black Christmas – One misconception is that ‘Halloween’ invented the slasher genre, but it actually just popularised it. ‘Black Christmas’ pre dates Carpenter’s film and though it is not as refined or as polished, but for horror fans it is worth checking out as not many people have (probably something to do with the original release date coinciding with ‘The Godfather Part 2’).

4: Scream – As time goes on you won’t be paying as much attention, but why should that mean a dip in quality? Wes Craven wanted to reinvigorate the slasher genre and did so by parodying it with a love letter. The horror movie about people who watch horror movies must have an even more resonating terror for those watching it in the middle of a bunch of other horror movies.
Alternatively; New Nightmare – Before he tried it with ‘Scream’, Craven used the meta-horror tone with, what was by now, his ailing ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ franchise. As the millionth instalment in the increasingly degenerative series it was mostly overlooked but was secretly ingenious, featuring Freddie Krueger coming after a real Wes Craven and the actors of the franchise. Though it failed commercially, critically it succeeded and proved how such an idea could be successful…

5: 28 Days Later - Zombie time, and though there are many great works by Romero you are eight hours into this and are you really going to sit through slow shuffling black and white zombies. You want something visceral with a surge of adrenaline. You want Danny Boyle’s fast paced, rapidly edited, shoe-string budgeted post-apocalyptic thrill ride. In other words, running zombies.
Alternatively; 28 Weeks Later – I know it seems like a cop out to just go with the sequel but I feel as if hardly anyone gives this one a chance as it is equally thrilling (if not quite as well made or as terror inducing) as the first, plus the best use of a helicopter in a horror movie ever. But if you are still not satisfied I can also recommend Zack Snyder’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake.

6: Evil Dead 2 – So you’ve seen the most horrifying films imaginable but for the penultimate round why not take a chance to laugh along with that horror as well. It will be just in time for the new series ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’ as well, so if you’re a fan or new, this is a good chance to catch up.
Alternatively; What We Do in the Shadows – A vampire mockumentary that is so much more intelligent, well directed and wonderfully acted than it ever deserved to be. If you have yet to see this horror comedy then do yourself a favour and check it out.

Then as a finale, well I actually have no alternative for this as what could be a better way to round out this fright fest that Joss Whedon’s ‘Cabin in the Woods’. Whether you’ve watched it multiple times or never before you can appreciate how it satirises and honours every horror trope imaginable and combines them into one glorious movie.
So what are your thoughts, did you like this list or could you do better? Leave your thoughts in a comment below, also if you want more writings on horror follow this link about Horror Movies and society
Thanks and bye.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Journl of Whills: Part 20 - Star Wars Review

 ‘Star Wars’ is a difficult movie to review today. For me it is among a select group of films that cannot be judged objectively, we all have films like that, they transcend impartial criticism and simply hold a place within our souls that will never be replaced. But then again how do you judge a film that holds such a collective consciousness within everyone. Even people who have not seen ‘Star Wars’ will know what it is, and just walking into my local Tesco’s I can still find a pile of ‘Star Wars’ merchandise from action figures, LEGO’s or Blu-Ray versions of the movies. Can you find Blu-Ray editions of any other films that were released as long ago as ‘Star Wars’ in a local store?
You know the plot, a young farm boy called Luke Skywalker who dreams of reaching the stars stumbles upon two droids carrying vital information to assist the Rebel Alliance against the evil Galactic Empire. Along with his dead fathers’ comrade Obi Wan Kenobi and small time crook Han Solo they set out to return the plans to the Alliance and restore freedom to the galaxy.
But contrary to what I said earlier, I must at least make some effort to view this film objectively. I explained how brilliant that opening shot was in the last article, so at least I don’t have to spend valuable space writing about it.
The fact that it instantly captivates your imagination and hurtles away with it is also so integral to the success of the entire film. The good nature of it allows the high octane action to blend ancient mythology together in order to create a film that above all else, is so much fun. It asks that you simply go along with the ride and not worry too much over how you got there and where everything else is in comparison. Lucas set the film not in the distant future, but simply ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’.
One could say the characters are simplistic and I would say that for the first film in the franchise that is fair. But they are so well defined that it simply does not matter, nothing is worse than a character that is simple and inconsistent. In most blockbusters characters serve the plot, not the other way around. But here it is their defined decisions that lead to the events that unfold, Luke decides to undertake this journey, he chooses to make a difference to the galaxy and confront evil. They are also so memorable, I’ve said this before but anyone can recognise the names Obi Wan, Princess Leia, R2-D2 and C3-P0 as names from ‘Star Wars’.
Aesthetically the film is remarkable, the Cantina scene is a conglomeration of bizarre alien beings as is the Jawa’s robot dealership, but scenes like that are drawn into sharp contrast by the clinical and ordered nature of the Imperial ships and their soldiers. The Imperial forces are of course led by Darth Vader, the menacing warrior, shrouded in dark armour and mystery. Even if at this point he seems like a one dimensional villain the questions one must ask about him demand curiosity, what function does his helmet serve, what does he look like beneath it, how did he betray Luke’s father? (because that’s what Obi Wan told him at the start). His hollow breathing just evokes a deep seated fear and curiosity, only given extra stature by James Earl Jones’ voice of doom.
To this day the effects in ‘Star Wars’ hold up to astonishing brilliance. But not only that, it is the ability for those effects to be so wonderfully melded with elements of fantasy and mythology. Where Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ strove for realism in its depiction of space, ‘Star Wars’ allows the sounds to permeate the environment, call-backs to history are rife as Han Solo operates a gun turret similar to one from a World War 2 era aircraft. The climactic assault on the Death Star, and its famous trench run scene utilizes a method from Kubrick’s space door sequence from ‘2001’, it creates a genuine feel of hurtling through space. Then there is the fact that every object and spacecraft has a weight to it, they seem fully realised in every way.
Are their faults, probably. But for me they all fade into obscurity. ‘Star Wars’ is film at its simplest form, pure narrative. Yet somehow it is analysed and examined more than nearly any other movie. Why? Because it captivates imaginations, it inspires people on a wide scale and tells a story that is about good and evil, accepting there is more to the world than what we see and the ever present desire to reach beyond what we know.
So that is my impartial, objective and unbiased review of ‘Star Wars’. It’s perfect in every way.  
Result: 10/10

Journal of Whills: Part 19 - The Opening Shot


One old saying about movies is that if you can grab an audience with your first shot, you’ve got them. The first shot of ‘Star Wars’ grabs you instantly, it is the go-to for shots that grab audiences right from the off. The sheer scope and depth of the objects that hurtle through space before our very eyes is awe inspiring. And how much does it say about where the good guys are in comparison to the bad, we instantly know where every character stands and what kind of battle they are about to fight as one tiny spaceship is pursued by the largest one ever. That Star Destroyer shrouds everything in its wake and even after so many repeat viewings it still astounds me with its size. How does it do that?
But of course, technically that is not the first shot of the film. Following the 20th Century Fox fanfare, one that for many people means 'Star Wars' more than the studio (perhaps my only regret with Disney producing 'The Force Awakens' is that the fanfare I so heavily associate with the film will not be present anymore)What Lucas did was open with ten immortal words that immediately generated curiosity among the audience. This was advertised as a science fiction film yet it was not set in the distant future. It as set 'A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away'. Originally it was followed by 'an amazing adventure took place', but is that not just so unnecessary, we do not need to be told that an 'amazing adventure took place' in just a few seconds from now every audience would see I for themselves. Aside from that it simply defies all logic of what a fantasy or sci-fi film should do, it cements the idea of 'Star Wars' being a modern myth, it solidifies the notion of having no relation to our earthbound reality. But it never seems derivative or as if it is forcing you to listen, it invites you in to this universe.
Five seconds, then BANG. The huge logo fills the screen, accompanied by an orchestral blast. It refuse to waste time to answer any questions those first ten words raised, and thrusts you straight into the action. But because of the inviting nature of the earlier message, you do not feel forced into it, you have willingly participated in the beginning of this journey. The opening crawl that follows was, as already stated in this series, was penned by Brian De Palma (as a sort of apology for openly mocking the film at an early private screening). With some simple editing and using the power of implied words, De Palma cut what had previously been a nonsensical and overly long description, into an instantly empathetic and engaging scene setter. It drops just enough names like Princess Leia and Death Star so that the stakes are set out, but we can still be surprised by later developments.
After reading that a viewer might be annoyed at all the work they are having to do before they have even seen a single moving image. Lucas did something very unusual in doing away with opening credits, he did not want to waste any more time and make the audience do any more reading, nor break the illusion he had built up so well by instantly reminding every viewer that the characters were being played by actors, with sets designed by people that exist in our world. It may seem like a small decision, but he actually faced a fine and a stern telling off from the directors guild of America for such an action
The opening states that 'Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans', so we are expecting some kind of spaceship. We do get that, but first there is one more thing to credit, the fact that the camera pans down over a number of moons and the curvature of a desert planet. This was the first time in film that a camera had panned across space. Until then shots in space were always done with a fixed camera, but here you are moving slowly and eloquently through the stars.  
As I said before, when you do see a starship it is the miniscule Tantive IV being chased by an Imperial Star Destroyer. You get a sense of how powerful this 'Evil Galactic Empire' is, and how valuable this stolen information is to them. These Rebels are clearly outmatched, with the odds stacked against them. How could anyone possibly win a battle like this?
That is for the rest of the movie to answer. Did you notice that? You are already hooked.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 18 - Troubled Production

Casting was complete, the script was finished and the money was secure. Now George Lucas had everything he needed to begin the epic space opera he envisioned. With his strange cavalcade of British and American employees he set off to shoot it. The only thing that was to go wrong was everything.
First stop was the wasteland of Tatooine, or the Sahara Desert. On the second day of shooting the desert was hit with its first major rainfall in fifty years. Not only did this put filming on hold, it damaged pre-built sets and equipment, causing further delays. Of the fifty years on dry-as-a-bone conditions, the ‘Star Wars’ team happened to arrive on the day those fifty years ended. When the rain finally halted, temperatures soared back up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit that left the actors and stunt coordinators physically drained in their heavy costumes. The droids were disintegrating and singlehandedly killing their two actors, threatening choke Kenny Baker and stab Anthony Daniels.
But at least they only had to film a small portion of the movie outdoors. Once they had finished in Tunisia the crew could move to Elstree Studios in London, a much more controlled and calm environment. Having finished the impressive sets, costumes, and props as well as uniting its large and talented cast, Lucas was undoubtedly hoping for a much smoother period of filming.
But the production was still hampered by strict union laws for the crew that forced shooting to end at 5:30 PM exactly, regardless of the overall schedule. Lucas regularly asked for his contractual extension of 15 minutes but this was always declined by the crew. It didn’t help that most of the crew in question believed ‘Star Wars’ to be a doomed property that would fail regardless of their own effort behind camera. Though even the actors felt the same way, only Alec Guinness stood as a role model of professionalism but without him many actors felt that the project was not worth taking seriously.
Their playful and slightly anarchic attitude (though would you really have faith in a project that contained unknown words like Chewbacca and Jedi) conflicted with Lucas’ meticulous and sometimes pedantic vision. Few considered how much of his livelihood rested on this film and how it had been in the works essentially for his entire life. He was far from lenient, and used to doing things himself in his own style. He therefore felt that he needed to instruct the camera crew and lighting managers exactly where to set up their equipment, but they felt that such instruction were belittling to their professionalism.
Although most of the costumes were ready, some were not nearly as well-crafted or designed as Lucas had hoped, particularly the Mos Eisley Cantina scene where he had to rely on the lighting and camera angles to create his vision. Without any of the cutting edge special effects or added sound design (imagine watching ‘Star Wars’ without John Williams’ score or the special effects or hearing a Scottish accent from Darth Vader as James Earl Jones’ voice was dubbed over it) no one was able to take it seriously, they felt that the operation was an inflated children’s film. It was not helped by the fact that Lucas would often call out ‘faster, more intense’ to an actor following their scene.
The actors had to fill in a lot of blank spaces. Lucas was eager to tell them what was going on around them but not necessarily as good at telling the actors what they should be doing. He often became frustrated with the fact that they did not convey the exact emotions he wanted. Half the time they performed their own stunts, with a faulty harness being one tear away from dropping Mark Hamill down a ten foot chasm.
Meanwhile. 20th Century Fox were of little help as the shoot’s costs rose and fell behind schedule, they were still sending memos asking if Chewbacca could be wearing pants. The board of directors then panicked and told Alan Ladd Jr to shut down the production of ‘Star Wars’. Ladd Jr was able to buy Lucas one more week and a mad rush to finish production began. Sometimes three scenes were being shot as once with Lucas anxiously travelling from one stage to another to oversee them. The original release date of Christmas 1976 was now put on hold in favour of summer 1977. The editing team practically disregarded Lucas’ instructions on how to cut them film, forcing the director to re-cut it himself, eventually starting the final cut from scratch along with Paul Hirsch, Richard Chew and wife Marsha Lucas (who had was simultaneously working with Martin Scorsese).
Things could only get worse with Industrial Light and Magic, who had spent half of their budget just on building the necessary models and equipment. 20th Century Fox were now ready to terminate ‘Star Wars’ but the only thing stopping them was Ladd Jr, so he was also removed from the board of directors. The stress reached such levels that Lucas had to be checked into hospital, before re-entering the fray. With ILM they completed a years’ worth of work in six months, using aerial dogfights from old war films as inspiration.
Production was finally complete (the score and sound effects were also finished, but I’ll cover those in details later). The release date was set, and rather begrudgingly the studio put their name on it, worried that it would destroy their reputation and industry insiders were already predicting financial doom. How wrong they were.   

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Crimson Peak

"Ghosts are real, that much I know."

With ‘Pacific Rim 2’ taking an indefinite delay Guillermo Del Toro is probably focussing much more on his artistic and gothic stories rather than big budget robot-vs-giant-monsters story (I’m happy because maybe he’ll have time to finally make ‘Hellboy 3’, I can dream can’t I?). So one could argue that ‘Crimson Peak’ may set a standard for what we can expect from the director over the coming years now that he appears to be out of the franchise game.
After seducing a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) a landowner (Tom Hiddleston) takes her away to his family home that sits atop a clay filled mountain and contains hidden secrets and dark mysteries that are soon resurfacing.
Marketing executives can be idiots right? Having had this movie marketed as a straight up horror film it took Del Toro himself, just a few days from the release of ‘Crimson Peak’ to inform viewers that it is in fact a gothic romance rather than a complete horror. That may sound like a disappointment to those who were expecting something else and unsurprisingly it has already become one of the most divisive movies of the year.
It is also the most beautiful. From the stunning design of the films aesthetic nature to its eerie cinematography, ‘Crimson Peak’ is gushing with rich textures and glorious depth that is stunning to behold. It is  intricate in their detail and sometimes almost drowned me in its own symbolism. In a way the film was simply too meticulous, it may just be my (sometimes extremely) limited scope but there were moments when it overwhelmed me to try and soak in every methodically crafted set piece and representation.
One could of course ask, with all of this artistic design how does the movie induce fear, as it is after all still described as a gothic romance? Though there are some monsters and ghouls on offer it is through its characters emotions that ‘Crimson Peak’ draws fear from its setting. The intense emotions on display are given extra emphasis and put into context with the atmosphere of its scenery by Del Toro’s direction. The main problem is that though those emotions are extreme they do not really go anywhere. They seem to lack an arc and makes it ultimately difficult to engage on a long term emotional level. Ultimately it feels as if the house itself is the most important character of the story (though maybe that is intentional).
It is a shame that the characters are quite underwritten as there are some amazing performances on display here. Hiddleston, Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain are fantastic in their roles, fully evoking the fear, passion and drama of their characters as if it is easy. The problem is that when you consider the characters overall arc, it is. However once again I’m left to wonder whether this is intentiona; simply due to the films design.  Most of the design stands as a way to symbolise or represent certain emotions of the characters and epitomise their personalities without even saying a word, whether in a yellow dress in a lift (caged canary) or blood red silk the costumes and set pieces say so much more than the writing ever does. As far as directorial masterpieces go that can show off your talents as a creative mind behind the camera, Del Toro chose his material pretty well. His direction elevates what is a fairly substandard plot and clich├ęd characters to heights they would never reach, but is it enough?
The pacing is slow and eerie with a plot that feels more drawn out than it should be. The source material should have added a few more twists and turns to accompany the visuals or at the very least find a visual way to display the few conventional plot points. Where emotions and characteristics are displayed so astonishingly through visual elements the plot does not unravel in nearly as subtle or intricate a way.
So while it is stunning to behold on an aesthetic level, full of staggering displays of directorial brilliance from Del Toro, ‘Crimson Peak’ lacks the necessary substance to make it a seminal film. However I still retain a deep respect and fascination for it, what does that say about it?
Result: 6/10

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Final Trailer Revew


So it’s the final trailer for that little movie called ‘The Force Awakens’. Of course I have to do a quick summary of some thoughts and to be honest even though I’m skimming through a majority of the footage there’s still so much to talk about so I’m not going to bother with an introduction and let’s get straight into this (I realise that by typing that exposition I have basically created an introduction).
I have to say what everyone else has immediately said about the trailer, it did not spoil any aspects of the movie as far as I know. Three trailers in and I still have no idea what the main plot details are, I could use theories and speculation to knit together some loose outline and use the hots to back as evidence but aside from that there is virtually nothing to talk about in terms of plot. And that is fantastic, I am ready to be surprised by this film, to feel the twists and turns with only a few familiar characters and environments to visit, the way people would have felt when watching the original ‘Star Wars’ sequels so long ago.
 Image result for star wars the force awakens trailer 3    The trailer builds in a gradual manner that takes a short amount of time to establish each characters story (or rather a very small introduction to it). We can now suspect that Daisy Ridley contrary to her self-description as a ‘nobody’ is in fact somebody. Who exactly we do not know, but maybe there is a sense of yearning for adventure similarly to Luke Skywalker in ‘A New Hope’ or is she hiding from something in her past?
Then you have John Boyega’s short segment. It would suggest that he is a Stormtrooper with a lost cause, so one can assume that he joins the Rebellion after this realisation. What fascinates me is what will happen after he joins, will his new found friends be judgemental of him and see him as untrustworthy, does he try to hide his past from them? It all stems from that shot of him bumping into Oscar Isaac. I can’t decide if that is acknowledging friendship or rivalry, does Isaac’s character not trust the former Stormtrooper perhaps?
Then of course, Kylo Ren himself. We can establish by this point that he is almost idolising Darth Vader and other former Sith lords, vowing to continue their work. The voice has an amazing sound to it, unique yet also slightly reminiscent of what we have already seen from the villains of ‘Star Wars’. One can hope that Ren will be the truly intimidating and longstanding nemesis that the prequels lacked.
Image result for star wars the force awakens trailer 3     Now we arrive at one thing that was not present in the trailer. Luke himself. It would appear that for this film Skywalker could be mostly absent, with Han Solo acting as the guide for our new heroes into the mythology. That would leave Luke to take on a role similar to Yoda in ‘Empire Strikes Back’. Appearing to train them after their initiation by Han. The idea of the events of the original trilogy now passing into legend is a brilliant touch as it gives JJ Abrams an opportunity to reintroduce us to this universe along with the new characters, and what better guide could we have than the scruffy looking nerf hurter himself?
There is also quite a mature feel to the trailer. It is filled with death and destruction just as much as it is with awe and wonder, soldiers are gunned down, landscapes obliterated and Kylo Ren appears to be torturing Oscar Isaac at some point. Then there is the craftsmanship of the film, it looks so beautiful and blended practical effects with CGI so well. It is CGI being used at its best, to enhance what is not possible without it, achieving impossible camera angles and unbuildable objects. Then there’s the music…. Wow, John Williams’ revision of that iconic score is so perfect.
There are a number of spectacular shots as well involving the tiny BB-8 perched on a Starfighter and given attention amid the massive battle around it, Han and Chewbacca surrounded by Stormtroopers with a complete look of ‘here we go again’ about them or Han and Leia back together. Then that final shot of Boyega igniting his lightsabre with such a look panic as he faces off against Kylo Ren, I suspect that at this point he is drastically outmatched. But maybe that confrontation is the start of his route to becoming a Jedi, and finding the other Skywalker.
So those are some potentially insane ramblings on ‘The Force Awakens’ but I would love to hear some of yours, so please leave a comment below. Thanks and bye.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Pan

"Welcome to Neverland!"

The story of Peter Pan has been retold on screen more than one might think. You do of course have the classic Disney version, then Steven Spielberg’s ‘Hook’, then there’s the 2003 version then there was the mini-series ‘Neverland’ a couple of years ago and the biopic about the original author J M Barrie with ‘Finding Neverland’ that examined the psychology of the author and character he created. So the key question by this point is not whether ‘Pan’ is any good, the first question should be, can it bring anything new to the table?
Orphan Peter (Levi Miller) is kidnapped and transported to Neverland, where he must save the magical land from tyrannical pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) by teaming up with fellow captive James Hook (Garret Hedlund).
I heard a lot of people making jokes about ‘Pan’ being ‘the inevitable dark and gritty reboot of Peter Pan’. But on the contrary it retains a strong sense of playfulness and a somewhat entertaining nature to it as far as simple whimsy and wonder goes. The problem is that too often that wonder starts to verge on, and then plummets into, a chasm of ridiculousness. For example, as Peter is whisked away by pirates, the ship finds itself in the middle of the Battle of Britain and must defend itself against fighter planes before departing. Then another frankly baffling moment comes when captured prisoners break out into a chorus of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, is that supposed to be comical, whimsical, dramatic? I honestly do not know apart from utterly absurd.
I think this is where ‘Pan’ finds most of its faults. It is not a kid friendly fantasy film, it is just a kids movie. It never uses any skill to reach beyond that and appeal to anyone other than children, it never attempts to transcend its target audience and is stuck on a trajectory of juvenile stylistics. At the same time the flamboyance and eccentricity of it often seem half hearted, as if everyone involved was waiting to make something much more serious and had to endure the inaner scenes first.
  With a budget of $50 Million one would expect that even the most tiresome acting and ludicrous plot can be redeemed slightly with some impressive set pieces and visuals. But even the design and style of the movie feel more like an elaborate stage production than anything else, I never feel as if I am in Neverland, or if it is a fully realised world, I just feel as if I am looking at a few strange props and never get a taste of a larger and more detailed world around them.
Nor was I given a reason to like any of the people that populated that very small and limited world. Most of the actors are credible in their roles but the roles in question are so bland and uninteresting that I simply do not care. Levi Miller is fine as a reluctant boy searching for his mother, but the writing never allows any real emotions to permeate the character. What are Peter’s fears, his aspirations, his motivations? I do not know. Then you have Rooney Mara, who was controversially cast as Tiger Lilly and I can’t say it was based on performance rather than ethnicity. Mara is fine, but far from outstanding, but once again it would take more than great acting to make the character here seem interesting. Then there is Hedlund as Hook, I can only describe his performance and character as when your friend gets drunk at a party, puts on a hat (that isn’t quite a fedora but is sort of similar) and tries to do an Indiana Jones impression. Hugh Jackman is good but only by fully committing to his role as an insane pirate, if it were not for his passion and flamboyance it would be a very different story.
Oh yeah, and as well as all of that, there’s a prophecy involving a chosen one.
To answer the first question, ‘Pan’ brings very little that is new to the table. To answer the second question of is it any good? No.
Result: 3/10

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Sicario

 

"Nothing will make sense to your American ears. But in the end you will understand."

The war on drugs is hardly a topic that has yet to be explored. It is not an easy topic to cover and as a result most of the work is handled by the best filmmakers in the business like Steven Soderbergh and as a result of there are a few very good films about the subject such as ‘Traffic’. This means this if you want to make a movie that can stand against them as a modern and morally ambiguous thriller, you have to hire the best, welcome Denis Villeneuve.
Following a counterstrike mission for the FBI, Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) stumbles upon the trail of a drug cartel. She is recruited by two advisors from the Department of Defence (Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro) and accompanies them to the Mexican border to draw out the cartel’s major players. But she now finds herself at the front of the ethically distorted war on drugs.
‘Sicario’ opens with perhaps one of the most visceral and brutal raids in recent cinema (not including movies that are actually called ‘The Raid’). Macer is tracking down a kidnapper, charges through the wall of his house with a truck, enters under shotgun fire and finds herself inside a literal house of horrors belonging to a kidnapper that is full of plastic wrapped corpses and other atrocities, to such an extent when I actually had to ask myself if I was about to watch a horror movie or not. The pace and tension are drawn out to unprecedented levels and the harshness of the crime’s portrayal only raises the tautness of the film’s plot even further.
That opening scene sets the tone for ‘Sicario’ (which incidentally is Spanish slang for hitman), it puts all the cards on the table and is basically a snapshot of what you are about to witness. There are numerous scenes of mastery peppered throughout the film. The standout has to be one moment where Macer and her team is stuck in a traffic jam and are surrounded by cars, any one of which may contain a number of cartel agents about the take them out. This scene stands as a near perfect example of how to create tension, thanks in no little part to cinematographer Roger Deakins who even uses the tinted car windows as a way to highlight the suspense of the situation. Then the editing technique speaks for itself as time and time again you’re aware of the constant danger and of course Villeneuve’s directing just takes it even further.
   By setting the film right on the border the film firmly establishes a metaphor for crossing both geographical and moral borders. It’s truthful about the ethical price of desperate methods and manages to turn the concepts of right and wrong on their head. We are allowed to see all of this through Emily Blunt, she is our viewpoint to this pitiless world and manages to convey a sense of bewilderment to this world due to the mysterious nature of her mission. But at the same time there is a competence and leading nature to her character, she acts as a driving force as well as a vehicle.
Josh Brolin is also excellent but as far as Del Toro goes, he steals every single scene he is in. There is a sheer magnetic quality to his performance and to the true motives of his character and the loyalties he holds that impressed me, repulsed me and kept me guessing for as long as it needed to.
If I do have a criticism of ‘Sicario’ (though rest assured they are few and far) it’s that it lacks a deeper meaning. The script itself seems to be fairly standard and is only elevated to such magnificent heights by the talent of the executioners. As well as this there are some slow moments that drag a little and it seems to lack a central protagonist. One could argue that this is to emphasise Macer’s confusion over where she stands in this world and what role she plays, but I’m not quote convinced.
Any faults are knitpicking. ‘Sicario’ is a spectacularly brutal, blurred and edgy thriller with stunning visuals, direction and performances to elevate it.
Result: 9/10

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Macbeth

"By the pricking of thy thumbs, something wicked this way comes."

William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ has been adapted onto the big screen multiple times. Previous directors include filmmaking legends like Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosawa have all tried their hand at creating a definitive cinematic version of literature’s ultimate anti-hero. Has the relatively unknown Australian director Justin Kurzel outdone them all?
When the fearsome and respected warrior Macbeth (Fassbender) has a vision from three witches, prophesising his ascension to the throne of Scotland. This divinatory apparition sets the scene for manipulation, murder and madness.
I won’t claim to be an expert on the original Shakespeare play but I studied it in school like everyone else, and I know that the most common interpretation is that behind the crimes of Lord Macbeth lies the manipulation and influence of his wife Lady Macbeth. She persuades him into committing the acts that lead to his downfall (the story is five hundred years old, that is NOT A SPOILER). In this version however the focus drifts much closer towards the actual cause of Macbeth’s personal trauma and why he ultimately chooses to go along with her plans.
As opposed to the psychological horror style of Polanski’s version, this incarnation of the story focusses much more on the damage done to the character of Macbeth by his history in war and as a combatant. It pays attention to the emotional trauma that haunts the character and uses that as a source for his actions rather than purely motivated by his wife. That is just an aspect of a much more remarkable feat this version achieves, more than any other adaptation I’ve seen on the big screen. It shows the humanity behind Macbeth. It searches for it through even the most horrific of his crimes and questions why this desire for power becomes all consuming. To provide a motives it also needs to display that warfare in all of its blood-soaked glory. There are moments that seem reminiscent of ‘Braveheart’ and even ‘300’ with its use of slow motion, stylised backdrops and sheer epic nature in scope.
Fassbender is perfect for this role, with a ferocity that startles and frightens enough to make the role alienated from normal society in order to make his quest for power believable and consistent with his portrayal. But at the same time there’s a tenderness there that almost makes one sympathise with him, his glimmers of morality, inner turmoil and fear create something that resembles a tragic hero rather than a deranged tyrant, which is always the chief risk in this performance.Marion Cotillard is also brilliant as Lady Macbeth, sometimes delusional with dreams of power and authority that fails to shadow her own inner depression. There is an undeniable air of tragedy to her character as it slowly danws on her what she has helped initiate when her husband’s ambitions far exceed her own. As I said before there is much less of an accusation based approach to her character in terms of just how much she influences the events that transpire in the story. It is a unique interpretation but the downside is that she is slightly side-lined. Not to a great extent, but certainly more so than a traditional interpretation would. I’m still mixed over this decision, because once again it is an inventive one, but Cotillard is so fantastic in the role I can’t help but want more of that.
On a visual level it is utterly stunning, using the harsh and barren wilderness of Scottish moors to punctuate the harshness of events. The blood red skies, stone cold castles and eerie battleifelds help to highlight their interpretation of disturbance within its titular character. In some cases it deviates from the source material by letting emotions cross through on a visual level rather than a dialogue driven route.  
Brutal and epic beyond perhaps any previous adaptation of ‘Macbeth’ this version offers many ingenious and inventive interpretations of the original source material such as the implication of PTSD from more than one source. More than that it feels completely cinematic in its depiction rather than limited to a stage on screen.
Result: 8/10

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Walk

"People ask me, why do you risk death? For me this is life."

Robert Zemeckis has crafted some of the best capers, characters studies and most visually impressive movies of the last thirty years. So what do you get if you put what should be in theory, all of those elements into one true story that also happens to be an Oscar winning documentary ‘Man On Wire’? That’s a tough question to answer, and an oddly specific one.
Based on the real story of Philip Petit (Joseph Gordon Levit) who strung a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Centre and walked across them. The film chronicles his journey to, and the accomplishment of his unique, bizarre and dangerous dream.
Zemeckis directed sequences in 2012’s ‘Flight’ that defied belief and used the adequate technology to place the audience in areas and situations that they could never have experienced without the amazing directing and spectacular effects. There are moments of visual beauty that permeate and suspend the film, not just in its climactic sequence, but throughout the story of Petit discovering his passion and dream.
However that final half an hour is simply one of the purest cinematic moments I’ve seen in many years. The dazzling and almost surreal nature of that one moment, when Petit is balanced precariously, thousands of feet in the air is simply staggering. There was a genuine sense of vertigo and a few people even gave an outcry of fear and disbelief in the cinema. But this does beg the question, were they left breathless and frightened by just the visuals, or was there a genuine connection that momentarily made them forget that this was a true story and that we knew its outcome and made them fear for Petit’s safety?
As much as I would like to say it was the latter, my intuition tells me it was the former. The story telling technique is at a slight flaw here because although the film is entertaining, I rarely found myself connecting with Petit as a character in this film. I understood his desire to be remembered for a type of artistic expression and how he finds unknown tranquillity on a high wire. But I’m captivated by his dreams and emotions, and find myself sharing them not often enough.
The documentary that ‘The Walk’ is based on, ‘Man On Wire’ finds a simplicity beauty with its depiction of the story imply because it lets the poetic and enigmatic nature of the situation speak for itself. ‘The Walk’ feels like it is trying immensely hard to make the audience fall in love with Petit as a character but can’t quite make that emotional connection necessary. It feels as if it would be enough just to portray him in a more basic way, allow the audience to admire his actions instead of demanding that we empathise with him when it is not necessary.
It is slightly annoying that I have to say that, because it is so easy to admire moments from ‘The Walk’. There are moments when he conveys so many emotions with simple and minimalistic movements and rarely do these emotions feel heavy handed or overbearing, it’s just that they do not appear frequently enough.
Joseph Gordon Levit has been criticised by some for his accent in this film. It does seem slightly out of place initially compared with both his normal speech patterns and accent, as well as the other French actors around him. Originally my summary would have ended there, but I also went to the trouble of re-watching ‘Man On Wire’ to refresh my memory of the real Petit’s voice. It’s not actually a typical French accent, with some unique pronunciations and syllabus distinctions. What I have to conclude is that Levit is in fact doing a fairly good job of emulating him, though I wouldn’t say he quite embodies him. Not to say that is a major issue, in many ways it works as the film stands as more of a poignant tribute to his actions and the buildings where it took place that are no longer there.   
 Part heist movie and also a definitive chromatic experience of cinema, ‘The Walk’ may be a bit uneven at times and short on its story, but as a stunning display of visuals it is spectacular.
Result: 7/10

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Martian

"No matter what happens, tell the world, tell my family, that I never stopped fighting to make it home."

Ridley Scott may be one of the most talented directors working today, but based on some of his weaker films he lacks a good eye for a great script. ‘Prometheus’ was beautifully shot and amazingly staged, but had a few too many plot holes, irregularities and existential speeches for me to overlook. Then ‘Exodus’ just scratched the surface of its interesting story despite being, once again, stunningly filmed. With ‘The Martian’ however, Scott has applied his talent to a superb script to create something very special indeed.
A NASA team must abort their mission on Mars when a storm hits their base, but in the evacuation process one crew member Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind. Stranded alone on Mars he must use his limited resources to survive, as well as finding a way to let NASA know that he’s still alive. Meanwhile on Earth his team and his colleagues must play politics to mount a rescue mission.
Can I just start by stating how amazing this cast is? People that I didn’t even know were in this film, and they are all spectacular. Let me list the biggest names, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover (but sadly no Abed to accompany him).
A bigger surprise though, may come from how outright entertaining ‘The Martian’ is. There is a sense of isolation and fear but above all of that there is a prolonged sense of hope and optimism, battling the odds and urge for survival, things that people claim to be present in ‘Gravity’, but the difference is that not only do they actually exist here, it’s also funny. While it would have been very easy to make a depressing film about someone stranded millions of miles away from any other human, the comedic moments shine through and are numerous.
That is not to say that it lacks any drama, there are still plenty of those moments as well. At one point Watney must pick shrapnel out of his body without proper surgical equipment or anesthetic and the intensity is frankly terrifying, on its own that would not be as frightening, but because his humor allows us to connect with Watney and admire him, and care about him we are left in constant suspense whenever he is in danger or risks not making it home, and that happens quite a lot. Dramatic moments seem more serious due to their contrast with comedy, and then the humor seems funnier due to its contrast with the drama.
Not to say that Watney is portrayed as an invulnerable superhuman though, there are times when you feel the weight of his ordeal, signs that he wants to break, to give in and loose hope. You urge on with him and feel every small loss, like losing the tiniest of supplies or celebrate with every victory like growing food from fertilizer taken from the waste disposal unit of the base. This role combines everything we like about Matt Damon, his charm, his wit, his ability to be dramatic, intelligent and resourceful and his action caliber as well, all come into play.
Under Scott’s direction the wastelands of mars are shot and captured exquisitely. This is a beautiful looking film and with every great Ridley Scott movie, it is the details that make it unique. He is such a fantastic builder of worlds that not only are you drawn into the futuristic vision, you believe it as if it has already happened, like it is chronicled in history and engrained in your memory. This is all assisted by Drew Goddard’s wonderfully inventive screenplay (Goddard also helped write ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ alongside Joss Whedon). If you want more evidence of the movies playful nature, its soundtrack consists mostly of disco music like ‘Rock the Boat’ and ‘Hot Stuff’ as it is the only music available to Watney in the base courtesy of his crew mate’s abandoned laptop.
A new tone on the Robinson Crusoe story with superb directing, performances of the highest order and a fantastic script. A science fiction classic is born, and another great film from Ridley Scott.
Result: 10/10

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 17 - Cast and Characters

Image result for original star wars casting

Lucas may have written all of his parts and problems, but he now needed a group of actors to portray them, someone that could fulfill his vision and find a way to draw the viewer into his world. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing any of these roles but a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. No that’s a different thing. So many of these actors were on the verge of passing up or missing out on these roles, but by chance, risky decisions or against all advice, these were the actors that Lucas chose. Over the course of a few weeks he and his buddy Brian De Palma set out to populate this universe, here’s what they came up with.
Even though ‘Star Wars’ had been a very tough sell to studios, Lucas wanted to keep true to his intention of casting mostly unknown actors in the lead roles, without any major experience. He wanted the strength of ‘Star Wars’ to be within its world, its ability to draw and audience into its scenario and enchant them with its own vision, not because it contained the current Hollywood A-listers. For Luke Skywalker he needed a youthful attitude, rich with aptitude and veracity, but also naivety. Next to other actors like William Katt (that guy from ‘Carrie’, you know, that BRIAN DE PALMA MOVIE) hopefuls had to read out a line full of names not even in any syllabus or zeitgeist. When Mark Hamill entered he chose to read the line (which incidentally, never made it into the final film) candidly. This impressed Lucas enough to give him the part.
Princess Leia Organa was at one point offered to Jodie Foster, who turned it down as a role in ‘Star Wars’ would clash with her contract with Disney (the irony it too much to bear). What Lucas wanted here was an actress that could convey a confidence beyond her age, one of responsibility as the leader of the Rebel Alliance. The daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher also auditioned and she secured the role, under the proviso that she loose ten pounds for the role. It was of course Carrie Fisher.
Moving on to Han Solo is where you really have to thank whatever massive coincidence caused the role to land at Harrison Ford’s feet. Other actors that were considered for the role included Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone (at which point the name Leia would be changed to Adrian), Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin were also up for the role (presumably that was in the stage where Han also had a comedic musical number as part of his character, or ran a golf course, or was taking his family on vacation, or trying to get back to his family for Christmas, or…) There are more, Burt Reynolds and Jack Nicholson (Opening line changed to ‘Here’s Solo’), were all potential actors. Even when they had all turned it down Lucas was still reluctant to hand the role to Ford, instead he hired him to read lines to other potential actors during the casting stage. And finally, with no one else left to offer the part to, Lucas gave it to Harrison Ford, and the greatest movie hero of all time was born.
So the three main actors were cast with mostly unknown stars, and one that had a bit part in the director’s previous project. I’m sure the studios were thrilled and brimming with confidence at that news. They were of course, not thrilled, at all, nor was his friend Francis Ford Coppola (although frankly, after fighting to get Marlon Brando the role on ‘The Godfather’ he should have realized that this was the same situation). Lucas knew that he needed some gravitas for the role of Obi-Wan not just to please his own vision, but those of the studio heads as well. He initaill turned to an actor who had been in one of the largest inspirations for ‘Star Wars’, Toshiro Mifune from Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Hidden Fortress’. Alec Guinness was eventually offered the role and accepted the part of the wise veteran, who was actually wiser than most in real life as Guinness asked for 2% of the royalties of the film, being one of the few who anticipated its success. Another veteran character actor was brought on in the form of Peter Cushing for Grand Moff Tarkin.
Then came David Prowse as Darth Vader. But because a tall bloke from the midlands was not deemed threatening enough (there’s something so remarkably hilarious about hearing a Yorkshire accent come out of Darth Vader) James Earl Jones provided the voice. A tall hospital worker by the name of Peter Mayhew was chosen as Han’s trusty co-pilot Chewbacca. Then for the two bickering droids you had Anthony Daniels (who agreed to do so upon seeing a design of C3-P0’s face) and Kenny Baker.
Every role had been filled with the maximum amount of complications and tribulations. But of course the rest of the shoot was bound to go smoothly…