Thursday, 30 June 2016

Best and Worst of June 2016

By this point of the year I have to ask, what the hell is wrong with this summer? Everything seems to be either bombing or disappointing one way or another. With the exception of ‘captain America: Civil War’ we haven’t really had anything that could be labelled great, and as for the box office the only other thing to make a substantial climb is ‘Finding Dory’. In terms of blockbusters it has been a fairly lacklustre summer season so far, while there are plenty of great movies out there if you’re willing to look for them, as far as popcorn entertainment goes we have the wonders of ‘Independence Day: Retraining Revenging Renegade Rebirth Rise’. Where did all the blockbusters go?

I’m willing to place my bets that the audiences are out there but are actually craving something good, proven by the fact that ‘Warcraft’ and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ are struggling to break even. So that means that it could all be for the taking for whatever blockbuster is genuinely great, ‘Jason Bourne’, ‘Suicide Squad’ or ‘Star Trek Beyond’ all have the potential to make it big and if they are great then they just might. I’m calling it now, expect the next great movie this summer to blow up in a big way. But anyway, onto the best and worst of this month.

3: Finding Dory

Pixar’s latest sequel may not live up to the brilliance of the original instalment but it is an emotionally heavy, brilliantly animated and superbly acted family film. You have the usual mix of heart and humour that Pixar have almost perfected by this point and it is undoubtedly going to be a crowd pleaser, in fact if it continues to climb at the rate it has we will probably be looking at a new frontrunner in terms of highest grossing movie of the summer, we’ll know by the end of this week. Ellen DeGeneres is terrific in the role that put her back on the map way back in 2003 (wow, I feel old) as well as a wonderful cast of supporting characters. It may not be Pixar’s strongest effort, but a mediocre Pixar movie is still pretty damn good.

2: The Neon Demon

From family friendly to a film that should not even be mentioned in the same sentence as family friendly. Nicholas Wending Refn’s often insane and sadistic take on the fashion industry, fame and beauty in general is a disturbing yet also oddly prophetic film. It may be perfect by any means but it is amazing to behold from its stunning cinematography from its deranged story. Elle Fanning’s slow loss of innocence is almost haunting, only rivalled by the sheer arrogance and obsessive jealousy of her rival models, or Keanu Reeves’ eerie and disturbed landlord. Wending Refn’s use of light and colour is extraordinary, making a film that is simply gorgeous to look at, the visuals only elevate the film to an even higher level of artistry.

1: De Palma

It is remarkable that Pixar and Wending Refn are beaten out by what is essentially a film about a man talking for 108 minutes. But when that man is Brian De Palma, one of the most interesting and innovative filmmakers to come out of the New Hollywood wave, the result is an insightful and endlessly entertaining movie. It’s a pleasure to watch the acclaimed drector discuss not only his biggest hits like ‘Blow Out’ and ‘Scarface’ but also his misfires and failings. The stories of their development, success and aftermath are discussed in glorious detail and all without ever sounding as if he is bragging about it. It’s an introspective of both De Palma himself and the entire film industry and its evolution over the past fifty years.

And the worst...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

The fact that this movie bombed financially gives me hope that there is some justice in the world. What it sadly does not do is erase it from my memory. A crass display of vulgarity, clichés and tired stereotypes that turns the once beloved turtles into CGI, steroid fuelled monstrosities. Some have excused the movie with the defence of “it’s only for kids” but to that I say, do we really have such little respect for our children that we would take them to this? I would rather make them watch ‘The Neon Demon’, okay that’s a lie but regardless, this film is terrible.

Talkin' Scorsese: The King of Comedy

"What I'm thinking as I'm sitting here now, is that maybe this is my big break, maybe this is my big chance."

So after a film like ‘Raging Bull’ Scorsese was naturally eager to try a different tone of movie. When you have just made one of the greatest filmic achievements of modern times the only sensible thing to do in order to try and expand your career is broaden your own horizons as a filmmaker and go for a different genre. So he gave comedy a shot, and leave it to Scorsese for his version of a comedy to be a frighteningly relevant character study.

Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), a stage-door autograph hound, is an aspiring, mentally deranged stand-up comedian unsuccessfully trying to launch his career. After meeting Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), a successful comedian and talk show host, Rupert believes his "big break" has finally come.

Despite its title as well as what I just said, ‘The King of Comedy’ is far from an actual comedy. There are certainly humorous undertones that naturally accompany the film’s subject matter, and from a certain perspective it is sometimes so darkly bizarre that all you can really do is laugh. But make no mistake, at the heart of this movie is yet another innovative character study about a damaged and deranged individual.

If anything it’s almost even more disturbing than Scorsese’s other character pieces like ‘Taxi Driver or ‘Mean Streets’ as this one has a distinct lack of pay off. As in there is no giant finale, no cathartic release or violent conclusion as well as no clear resolution. The film just sort of happens and that may sound like a poor summary of the film but there is nothing to really bookend the film, whether that is an attribute or a disadvantage is another matter entirely.

The reason is that while his other films built towards an inevitable conclusion, ‘The King of Comedy’ remains just as painful and wounded as it was when it started. There is no real indication that the Pupkin has broken his circle of obsession and jealousy, if anything it feels like it will only escalate from here. So does that make the film more disturbing or simply unfulfilling? It is difficult to tell, mainly because, as I said at the start, Scorsese clearly wanted to depart from his more violent character studies, going instead for a more comedic one. So with such a difference in tone it only makes sense to change the formula slightly, avoid an emotional payoff and simply leave both the viewer and the characters trapped in their tormented circle.

But enough about the ending, let’s focus on all that came before it because most of it is simply amazing. De Niro is back as the leading man and once again we get an insight into just how talented he is as an actor, watching this after ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ makes it a marvel to behold. Jake La Motta, Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin are all variations of the same character to a certain degree. But through subtle mannerisms, changes in his speech and his general stance and posture De Niro transforms yet again. Here he can be just as deranged and obsessed as the previously mentioned roles, but instead the violence or self-loathing is replaced by a slight comedic edge and general pathetic nature. Pupkin can make you laugh just as often as he can make you squirm, from shooing away his mother when she interferes with his stand-up routine that he rehearses in her basement, to his unnatural obsession with fame and stardom.

Jerry Lewis is essentially playing a version of himself here, in fact some of the depicted events are based on real experiences Lewis had with his fans. So although he is pulling from life experiences and his own personality, Lewis’ performance is able to put aside any potential sense of security and focus on the character. In other words, despite essentially playing himself Lewis isn’t doing so with any concern for his own image, he is simply playing a great character.

 In many ways Lewis’ performance summarises the entire tone of the movie. It cuts so close to the bone of our modern celebrity culture (and has grown even more relevant over time in my opinion) that you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry. The score and cinematography reflect this as well, while being bright and vibrant there is a sense of claustrophobia and emptiness of the characters’ lives.

Another unnerving detail is the fact that ‘The King of Comedy’ was released shortly after the shooting of Ronald Reagan that was carried out by John Hinkly Jr, a disturbed young man with an obsession over ‘Taxi Driver’ and in particular Jodie Foster’s role in the movie. An obsession over one Scorsese movie proved to be prophetic in illustrating the point of another Scorsese movie, people can go crazy over celebrities.

Its dark comedy is only matched by its unnerving pain.

Result: 8/10

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Neon Demon

"Beauty is not everything, it is the only thing."

Nicolas Winding Refn has often referred to himself as a pornographer. Well that’s one hell of a pornographer because while ‘Only God Forgives’ was a severe disappointment ‘Bronson’, ‘The Pusher’ Trilogy and especially ‘Drive’ were absolutely fantastic, with ‘Drive’ being my favourite film of 2011. I will say that while I have enjoyed most of his films they are not for the faint hearted and if you’re on the ropes over whether or not to watch one of his films then let me just say that ‘The Neon Demon’ is most definitely not the place to start.

An aspiring model (Elle Fanning) travels to Los Angeles and finds an unprecedented amount of success. However, her youth a beauty place her in significant danger as it attracts jealousy and distrust from other aspiring models.

This is film is completely insane. Whatever you have heard or whatever you think, make no mistake, this film is pure and unrestrained insanity. Given that this director also brought you the head stomping from ‘Drive’ and basically all of ‘Bronson’ the fact that I’d call this his most sadistic and disturbing movie so far should give you an idea of just how deranged ‘The Neon Demon’ is.

It may seem odd to say that because structurally ‘The Neon Demon’ is a fairly straightforward film. The narrative itself seems to balance between reality and a dreamlike state as if the main character is torn between two different worlds. The whole film seems to be about the all-consuming power of beauty, which is sometimes conveyed subtly and at other times….not so much and the mian characters journey through the carnivorous world of fashion. It’s hard to judge Elle Fanning’s role in the film as her performance has to be analysed within the context of what the movie is trying to present. It is easy to look at this film and criticise the characters as being blank slates, but in many ways that is what the film itself is about, set in a world where everything is objectified and judged based on their exterior appearances.

So with that in mind the performances are good all round. Fanning’s innocent spark slowly fades as the movie progresses, and the almost haunting arrogance she seems to gain as more people fawn over so it creates this sense of development and only hammers in the message of the movie, perhaps too much at times. Photographer Dean comes close to being the most sympathetic character in the movie as Karl Glusman’s performance treads the line carefully between moral depravity and compassion for others, injecting doubt as to whether he really belongs in this world. Jena Malone is also mightily impressive. Keanu Reeves is also a nice addition though it’s sad his characters suffers from some wild inconsistencies that are slightly distracting and as for fellow models Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee to full describe their performances would be to spoil to film so I’ll just say they are convincing.

But the actors themselves are almost overshadowed by the environments they inhabit, because the cinematography of this film is absolutely stunning. Wending Refn’s use of light and colour is extraordinary, making a film that is simply gorgeous to look at. Sometimes to the point of style over substance, but what separates someone like Wending Refn from another style over substance director like Zack Snyder is firstly the benefit of not every shot being ripped straight from a comic book but also the fact that the style is able to allude to the deeper themes of the film. Even if his vision sometimes strays from that substance on multiple occasions it seeks to elevate it and is successful for the most part. Sadly though it can’t quite make up for hollowness the film seems to project, but then again as I already said is this not a film about a world were beauty is valued over substance, so would it not make sense for the film itself to reflect that?

Those visuals often tell a deeper story of how people are objectified and obsessed with their own vanity, analysing it and dissecting it, but never really answering it. That be a problem for some, not everyone will be able to swallow certain aspects of this film, particularly within the third act, at times I found it going slightly over the top as well, but otherwise this is an amazingly crafted film. Sometimes almost too much, which brings me back to Wending Refn’s description of himself as a pornographer. He seems to fetishize various aspects of the film to the point where you could swear he was endorsing them (and we’re talking about some fucked up shit here). It’s insanity almost consumes whatever message the film was trying to convey, and the message itself was already hammered into your head so many times and is sometimes conveyed with a mind numbing lack of subtlety that it’s pretty hard to do that. Still, it’s one hell of a ride.

Disturbing, riveting and visually stunning as well as completely insane.

Result: 7/10

Friday, 24 June 2016

Independance Day: Resurgence

"We've gotta remind them Earth is not for the taking."

So given the recent results of a certain referendum it may either be prophetic or strangely ironic that I’m reviewing this today, you decide. I will say that if the actual quality of the film matches the quality of the decision made today, we’re in trouble.

Twenty years after the devastating alien invasion, in a world where humans have incorporated the abandoned alien technology with their own equipment, the extra-terrestrial threat returns with greater numbers and heavier weapons. Can Earth’s defences withstand a second round?

It’s an odd world where the primary target demographic for a film were not even alive when the previous instalment was made. Though it’s not the first time a franchise has been revived after a lengthy hiatus it seems like even fans of the 1996 movie are confused as to why the sequel as even been released, and are teenagers still that familiar with ‘Independence Day’? It must have been impressive in its day but the years have not been kind, and its cliché ridden, corny plotted, effects heavy appeal doesn’t have nearly the same effect as it did back then.

That being said, it’s a fun movie and I don’t think anyone would deny that. That’s actually not true but as far as mindless popcorn entertainment goes, one where you’ll laugh, be excited, won’t have to think too much and will leave with a smile on your face it’s hard to beat. I mean for starters it has Will Smith punching an alien in the face, secondly it has Bill Paxton as the best movie president ever or was it Bill Pullman (that’s the guy who would truly make America great again) and of course it has the one and only Jeff Goldblum, and every movie is improved with the inclusion of Jeff Goldblum. Even ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ for that matter.

Whereas like its predecessor ‘ID:R’ relies on massive spectacle and the allure of summer movie season to draw in audiences, there is a distinct and worrying emptiness to it all. Whereas the first one was a deeply flawed and by no means a perfect (or even exceptional) movie, it had a pulsating energy as well as a sense of fun and humour as it flew through its increasingly nonsensical plot. ‘ID:R’ takes a surprisingly long time to actually arrive at any form of action or fun for that matter, almost two hours in fact. It’s a bizarrely sombre affair, one that lacks any visceral thrills, charming charisma or innocent humour of the original.

Which is somewhat astounding considering how it manages to retain all of the corny dialogue and overstuffed visual effects of the first one. The dialogue of this film would have worked terrifically in the early 1990s, today not so much. Meanwhile the CGI is less of an effect and more of an attempt to overwhelm the senses by throwing as much as it possibly can at them. They don’t have weight or depth to them, it’s just stuff flying about on the screen.

Let’s talk about the cast though, because while the likes of Goldblum (who is by far and away the best thing about this movie) and Pullman (or Paxton) reprise their roles comfortably the new arrivals don’t sink in quite as well. Smith’s absence is sorely felt and it’s not compensated for by his character’s son played by Jessie Ushe. It’s hard to decide who is more bland and dull, Will Smith’s movie son or his real son. Yeah, am I right? If you think that was mean then can I direct you to ‘After Earth’ which is indefinable proof that such a statement is not only not mean but also 100% factually correct. Liam ‘Not Chris’ Hemsworth is essentially just playing his usual type of character. It’s not bad by any means but it’s not exactly good either.

Is this all to say ‘ID:R’ is on the same level as say, a Michael Bay ‘Transformers’ movie? No, for starters it doesn’t contain any deep rooted cynicism or contempt for its own audience. There is some fun to be had with this movie, maybe two or three times I found myself chuckling. There is such a massive overabundance of characters that it’s hard to really get attached to anyone, in fact it’s literally impossible. So as a result I was not invested within any of the action, they could have destroyed the entire world and I would not have cared at all. Except (spoiler) they don’t, what we get instead is one of the most ham fisted sequel set ups I’ve ever seen, so we have that to look forward to. I’m sure ‘Independence Day: Rise of the fall of the returning dawn awakening of justice’ will be hitting a cinema near you in 2036.

Overstuffed and overblown, yet somehow shockingly empty.

Result: 3/10

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Central Intelligence

"I got a plan, it might get us both killed but if it works it'll be a totally boss story."

Okay I can immediately say that regardless of the quality of the actual movie, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson’s (it feels weird without adding ‘The Rock’ to it, but I guess we can’t because he wants to be a serious actor now) latest comedy already wins the award for the best tagline of the year. ‘Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson’, never mind that Hart’s last film ‘Get Hard’ was an unmitigated pile of garbage, you’ve already got my attention.

In 1996 Calvin Joyner (Hart) was voted the most likely to succeed in high school while his classmate Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson) was the object of bullying and ridicule. Twenty years later Calvin works as an unsatisfied accountant and Robbie works as a fully-fledged CIA agent, only for them to reunite in order to save the world.

So with Dwayne Johnson rapidly being added to literally every film ever, to the point where we might as well just assume he is going to be in every movie from now until the end of time and add him to the cast list, (you’ve got ‘Moana’, ‘Baywatch’, ‘Fast 8’, ‘Doc Savage’, ‘Rampage’, ‘Shazam’, ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, maybe that ‘Jumanji’ remake, possibly ‘The Wolfman’ remake, perhaps ‘San Andreas 2’ if that gets off the ground), it’s difficult to know what to expect with his latest comedy. As much as I like Johnson’s on screen charisma I can’t really think of an occasion where he has been playing a character other than himself. However in ‘Central Intelligence’ his performance differs slightly from his usual forte. In fact if anything out of the comedy pairing of Hart and Johnson it is Hart playing the straight man which may seem unusual to have the comedian in that role but Johnson’s character is quite simply hilarious, with his child like sensibilities and obsession for ‘Sixteen Candles’.

In fact the chemistry between Hart and Johnson is undoubtedly the highpoint of the film, I doubt anyone would try to dispute that. The relationship they have only adds to that, with Calvin being the only person who showed Robbie any kindness in High School, so by the time they reunite he idolises him. The resulting dynamic is both fun and inventive and though there is a worry that the entire movie would rely solely on the visual gag of placing them together (because one’s short and the other’s tall, get it?) it manages to avoid that for the most part.

The only problem is that the rest of the film is not nearly as funny as they are. It is miraculous because if this film put aside its attempts to have a complex plot or to be taken seriously as an action movie then the result could be a much more enjoyable movie. While the result here is far from a disaster and there are many good laughs to be had, it’s not nearly as funny as its two central stars promise it might be.

The emphasis on action soon drowns out most of the wit and charm of Hart and Johnson’s chemistry. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber doesn’t have the knack for creating visceral action or visual comedy (this is why every comedy movie should be directed by Edgar Wright until everyone else catches on) so the film’s comedy relies strictly on its two leads. I know I sound like I’m repeating myself but it really is annoying me, what director would look at a comedy pairing that so obviously works and then decide to devote an unreasonable amount of time to things that are not funny or even relevant.

While I understand that you need a plot to draw the two together I can’t understand why it needs to be explored in as much detail as it does. The film tires so hard to be a riveting and politically intriguing thriller but all it really does is distract from the comedy that should be front and centre. What’s worse is that with so much time and seriousness to these multiple story threads you would expect them to at least wrap up and lead to a cohesive conclusion, but they don’t. Instead you end up with a needlessly convoluted story with a shoehorned and clichéd message about bullying. But if nothing else ‘Central Intelligence’ is a decent summer comedy for the chemistry between Hart and Johnson, as well as that tagline.

Hart and Johnson work wonders, if only the rest of the film was as funny as they are.

Result: 6/10

Finding Dory

"I suffer from short term memory loss. It runs in my family, I think."

Of the next four Pixar films scheduled for release, three of them are sequels. We’ve got another ‘Incredibles’ movie, another ‘Toy Story’ (why?) and perhaps most horrifyingly, another ‘Cars’ movie (the first two weren’t even good, why would you make another?). Outside of the ‘Toy Story’ sequels Pixar have not had resounding success with their sequels so there is an underlying pressure on ‘Finding Dory’ to establish that Pixar can actually produce a half decent sequel that isn’t a ‘Toy Story’ film.

A fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) who suffers from short term memory loss sets out to find her family based on her fragmented memories of her past as she tries to piece them together. She is also accompanied by her friends Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo.

So I hope I’m not alone in saying that ‘Finding Nemo’ was hardly the Pixar film I was demanding a sequel to. It just feels so perfectly self-contained that messing with it or even attempting to expand upon the story seems like it might spoil it a bit. Thankfully ‘Finding Dory’ most definitely does not ruin the previous instalment and on its own it is a pretty decent successor as well. Like the original the animation is simply stunning. There is a glorious fluidity to everything from the smallest of expressions to the largest backgrounds, all beautifully textured and with such a variety of backgrounds and settings that is no small feat.

It’s all the more remarkable considering just how fast paced everything in this film is, from the plot to the animation itself everything moves at a terrific speed but not as a means to distract its audience from plot hols or inconsistencies. It is able to maintain this fast pace yet also retain a good amount of emotional hooks that drive the story forward and also create compelling characters. That is actually a big surprise because I did not expect to be nearly as emotionally attached to Dory as the film made me, I was expecting to always think of her as the derogatory humorous side kick but on the contrary there is a real source of investment to be found within her character and her story.

It also helps that Ellen DeGeneres is fantastic in this role. I feel like there are few voice artists who could make this character as lovable as she is as opposed to annoying, because make no mistake there is an underlying potential for this whole scenario to become annoying and pandering. But it manages to stay just above that and instead becomes a much more enjoyably entertaining movie than one might imagine, both for adults and children. There is plenty of humour to appeal to both demographics and they never feel mismatched or inappropriate, it is simply a well-placed joke that anyone can laugh at.

There are a few problems however. One of the main ones is how heavily this film relies on the original, hoping that you already know established characters and their relationships as well as their experiences to excuse any initial lack of depth. Now to be fair it’s safe to say that most of the audience for this movie had already seen the original (although it is kind of worrying to remember that most of the target audience probably weren’t even born when the first one came out twelve years ago). Not only that but (and I know this may seem irrelevant for a film about talking fish) but some aspects of the plot seem hard to swallow. In other Pixar movies any potentially unbelievable moments were handles with just the right tone in order to make them funny as well as easier to buy. But here real stakes both in terms of emotion and narrative hinge on a few factors that are somewhat beyond belief, even for a film about talking fish. As well as that, while the film is emotionally stirring it feels as if it has far less of an impact that it wants to.

The plot also feels closely reminiscent of the original as well. Not in a way that necessarily expands on the first film but merely continues it, repeating the same beats to arrive at a very similar conclusion. It repeats the same themes and motives and a lot of the old characters crop up to remind you of that, and they are mostly filling the same roles as well. In fact characters like Marlin and Nemo seem unfairly side-lined here they become less of an accessory than Dory herself was in the first film. The cast of new characters are all enjoyable and creative, with the standout being an octopus named Hank (Ed O’ Neil).

‘Finding Dory’ mixes humour and heart in the usual Pixar way, even if it does rely too heavily on the appeal of the original.

Result: 7/10

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Talkin' Scorsese: Raging Bull

"The thing ain't the ring it's the stage, so give me a ring where this bull here can rage."

‘Raging Bull’ is often viewed as Scorsese’s greatest film, but during its production he felt that it was a vanity project and was worried that it would never gain a wide release. It began as De Niro had been reading the autobiography of Jake LaMotta. They asked Paul Schrader to write a script and there it languished until Scorsese’s drug addiction led to a crisis. Having been hospitalised and nearly dying from an overdose De Niro visited his Scorsese in the hospital, threw the book on his bed, and said, “I think we should make this.”

Following the life of Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) through his boxing career, coached by his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) supported by his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) from the side lines. However his self-destructive rage, obsessive jealousy and massive paranoia will destroy his career and his relationship with everyone that loves him.

‘Raging Bull’ is the greatest boxing film of all time and it has almost nothing to do with boxing. Okay that may not be strictly true but very little of the film actually devotes itself to the technical side of boxing like strategy, results or training. Instead it chooses to focus on the emotion that lies behind boxing and the kind of man that would choose to partake in such a career. For Jake La Motta boxing is a means of confession, resolving his personal issues and punishing his own sins. At one point just as he is about to enter a match his wife remarks that his opponent is “good looking”. In the ensuing fight La Motta bashes his face into a pulp. What happens in the ring is not decided by strategy or business but by fear and desire.

‘Raging Bull’ is a film about exactly that. La Motta’s life is dictated by his own self-loathing. He holds himself in such low self-esteem that he believes his wife would easily cheat on him. His obsession with her spirals into a fit of jealousy, fear of her own sexuality and the influence it has on him. He tortures himself with fantasies and conspiracies of Vickie sleeping with other men, he twists and scrutinises every statement and every glance that she makes to serve as proof for his paranoid outbursts. It is ironic that his fear of his wife no longer loving him leads to exactly that.

Rumour has it that Scorsese intended this to be his final directorial effort and while it thankfully wasn’t you can tell that he threw everything he had into it. It felt like the culmination of everything he had been working towards as a director. The film carries this sense of hyper realism but also immense stylistics. When Scorsese wants something to be brutal it is, beyond belief and when he vows to make it graceful, he does that as well. Once again he employs techniques such as slow motion to display a heightened sense of awareness, from invoking La Motta’s jealousy to that poetic opening shot.

The fight scenes apparently took six weeks longer to film than he had intended but the end result speaks for itself. These fights are not just two men hitting each other, they are artful and violent poems, more expressionistic than realistic but at the same time the visceral nature of what the fighters are going through never leaves you. Scorsese placed his camera within the ring itself and adopted such a personal view of the fight that one can be forgiven with wincing as each punch is thrown. Very massive impact is underlined, Scorsese even pakced concealed sponges into the gloves to release blood and sweat with every punch. De Niro actually trained with the real La Motta, going through rigorous training for the film, he even entered three real boxing matches in Brooklyn, winning two.   

Not only that of course, but De Niro famously gained 60 pounds to play La Motta. Many actors use a physical transformation as a means to act for them, they convince themselves that gaining/losing weight will automatically establish them as a great performer. But De Niro never let his physicality do the acting for him, he literally transformed himself in this role, from the way he moves, speaks, holds himself, fights, sits, reacts, everything he does is a work of pure renovation. His performance is the most painful portrayal of paranoia in cinema history. It was his physical and mental transformation that sealed his position as the actor of a generation with this explosive display of talent. The ugly emotional turns he takes somehow provoke empathy in a reprehensible human being with a twisted sense of judgement. It is in my opinion the greatest performance ever put to film.

So with that a natural assumption would be that the supporting cast could not possibly live up to De Niro, but they do. Pesci is able to be the polar opposite to La Motta as his brother, you sense the logic and tactics behind his decisions, the responsibility he undertakes on behalf of his brother. Despite their contrast, their relationship is the closest one in the film and Pesci works with De Niro to convince us of that. By the end of the film when Joey is a shell of a man due to his brother’s treatment, which Pesci also plays perfectly, we’re reminded of what their relationship once was and the image we are now presented with only hits home harder.

One of the best scenes in the film involves the two of them. Joey bursts in on another domestic outburst from Jake and the two begin to discuss upcoming bouts and tactics. Jake laments how as a middleweight fighter he will never fight who he perceives as “the best there is”. Then he asks Joey to punch him in the face, after much persuasion Joey wraps a tea towel around his fist and lays into his brother, all the while Jake goading him to hit him harder. He slaps his brother, trying to provoke him, his stitched cuts open up and blood spatters across his face until Joey backs down. “What are you trying to prove” he asks, Jake simply smiles back, his point already made.

When Cathy Moriarty took this role she was nineteen years old. She had to portray a young woman from her carefree teenage years to being a broken woman trapped in an abusive marriage.  It is a remarkable performance and one that carries equal gravitas for each stage of her portrayal. From the moment she appears she is the object of La Motta’s obsession and defines all of his actions. Having abused her at home, in his next fight he simply stands there letting himself be pummelled, refusing to fall down, his hands by his side and taking in his punishment. He hates himself too much to end the pain.

That is what ‘Raging Bull’ is about, a man who fails to separate his life inside the ring from his life outside it. By the end of the film, an overweight and balding La Motta is preparing to go out onto stage for his stand-up routine. He recites Brando’s famous speech from ‘On the Waterfront’ and at first we think he admits his failings. But then he psyches himself up as if he were entering the ring, shadowboxing and chanting “Go get ‘em champ”. Nothing has changed.

‘Raging Bull’ is Scorsese’s magnum opus, his true masterpiece, and the fulfilment of his entire career as a filmmaker.

Result: 10/10

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Silence of the Lambs: Fear Through Paralells

My high school drama teacher once told me that when she finished her A-Level exams in 1991 she and a group of friends went to see a film to celebrate. A lack of planning ahead meant that they just picked the most popular movie that was playing at the cinema they went to. That movie was of course Jonathon Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs”. That’s what you need after weeks of nerve shredding exams, to sit down and watch one of the most enduring and lasting horror films in cinema history, although maybe it put things into perspective, I mean it’s hard to worry about exams when the people in this movie had to worry about being eaten by a psychopathic cannibal.

I bring this up because ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is 25 years old this year and such an occasion should not go unnoticed. For starters the film belongs to a unique group that just two others belong to, it was one of only three films to win all five top Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay). The only other two to bag all five are ‘It Happened One Night’ and ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. It’s even more remarkable when you recall that to this day ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is the only horror film to win Best Picture, by 1991 only two films of the genre had ever been nominated for the award, ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Jaws’, so it’s hard to imagine anyone predicting that outcome.

Except is it really, because when you analyse each aspect of the film you really begin to realise how masterful it is? Like ‘Psycho’ and ‘Jaws’ people return to ‘Silence of the Lambs’ time and time again due to its lasting impact, it just feels timeless. Too many Best Picture winners are stuck in the year they came out yet Demme’s film has this ageless sensibility to it. It gets under your skin and inside your head, toying with your expectations, evoking fear from the calm before the storm, taking a line of symmetry and turning it in on itself. In short, it’s scary because it’s about us. While watching it you can’t help but notice the distinct parallels between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lector. Their common goal of finding Buffalo Bill, their own psychological analysis of one another as well as the fact that they share childhood wounds. But of course one turned into an FBI agent and the other turned into a serial killer.

The heart of this film is their relationship, the thin line that separates them and their mechanisms of getting what they want. They are both held back by the system around them, Lector by the human race due to being a cannibal serial killer and Clarice by the law enforcement system due to being a woman. Not only that but they both respect the other’s intelligence enough to play these psychological games, in fact Lector is one of the few people in the movie to see Clarice as an equal, with most men in the law enforcement looking down on her. These factors and more are what make their conversations so enthralling. The strategy of it resembles an epic fight scene, or a tactical negotiation, they both strive to gain the upper hand and at more than one point have to back down and give a little to make progress. Clarice wants Lector’s help in catching Bill, but Lector is more interested in reaching deeper into Clarice’s psyche. What for, pathological satisfaction, a sense of superiority or aside from eating people and wearing their faces is this how he gets a kick out of life?

Even on a visual level these patterns are replicated. As soon as Clarice and Lector meet Demme’s camera establishes them as equals with two close-up shots, one of them may be behind glass but as far as the camera is concerned they are on level ground. Most of their conversations are filmed in that style to let us see every flinch, every detail of their faces in the best possible attempt to penetrate each character’s mind. What have they given away? You can tell who is winning each psychological battle depending on how they’re filmed. When Lector is looking straight into the camera it’s because our point of view (the camera) is now Clarice’s, without an objective view of Lector we can’t read his thoughts and thus he wins to conversation. The same goes for Lector, when he is genuinely interested in a subject or wants answers the camera takes an objective view of him and frames Clarice in close-up, looking straight as us.

As a whole Demme’s direction is masterfully suited to this film. He was not one to shy away from the grit and gore, but also never neglected to examine the humane side of each situation. He builds up an empathetic relationship with the main characters and then establishes the stakes by not skimping out on the violence and not making light of it, death is a real and ever present element in this world. Like the best horror films ‘Silence of the Lambs’ evokes fear not through abnormality, but frightening realism, there is an artistic credibility to each action that only makes it all the more disturbing.

But where does that humane emotion come from? Most of the time it can be found in Jodie Foster’s performance. She carries a sense of strength and purpose but also vulnerability. We never doubt her abilities as an officer or an investigator but somehow we still feel deeply frightened as she enters that psychiatric ward for the first time. She conveys something that too many horror films forget today, the more we care about a protagonist the scarier the film is. We fear for their safety, we hope they make it through until the end. When it’s revealed through a case of superbly deceptive editing that the FBI are at the wrong house, and it is in fact Clarice who finds herself face to face with the serial killer, it makes your heart stop.

For a majority of the film we occupy Clarice’s mind set and that is no small feat for an actor. To sustain those same empathetic elements both when the audience looks at the world from your perspective and when they view you from the world’s perspective is difficult. That climactic scene in the dark feels scary due to a number of factors, one of them being that we are witnessing Clarice stumble around in the dark while Bill watches on through his night vision goggles. We can no longer feel safe within her own mind, everything we know about her and her abilities is out of focus and beyond reach, we can’t accurately read her thoughts and we can’t predict her actions.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Anthony Hopkins’ performance is the stuff of legend. It’s entering the zeitgeist of movie villains in a way that few people ever have. Hopkins was not to first actor to portray Lector on screen nor was he the last, but from the moment we laid eyes on him the identity of that character was forever burned into our subconscious. That first shot gives an eerie presence, he’s just so….calm. The way he stands upright, unflinching and unmoving, after we have had such a build up to his character and the horrific crimes he has committed, yet here he is, seemingly unaffected by it all. Then that chillingly pleasant “Good Morning” comes forward and seals the deal. Hopkins is and always will be Hannibal Lector.

Not only that but he is just so damn charming, it wasn’t for the small inconvenience of being eaten I would gladly have Lector as a dinner guest. A feat not matched by Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill who creates one of the most loathsome characters in modern cinema. The self-loathing, mutilation of others and sickening scheme are enough to make your skin crawl. He remains an enigma for so much of the film and yet his name dominates the conversation so much that we almost feel as if we know him before we even see him. But then we see him and he still shocks us. As Clarice descends into his basement one could believe she is descending into hell itself. Not least because of the sound mixing consisting of Clarice’s frightened panting, Bill’s own heavy, predatory breathing, the screams of a captive girl, frantic barking of a dog and they are all underpinned by Howard Shore’s mournful score.

It is important that we register Buffalo Bill as a genuine threat because what else could bring these two characters together. Their unites symmetry underpins our fear of Bill as well as our deeper fear of the fragility of morality. If Clarice, a woman devoting her life to protecting others, can connect with Lector so easily what does that say about her? What does it say about us?

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Conjuring 2

"After everything we've seen there isn't much that rattles either of us anymore. But this one, this one still haunts me."

Well at the risk of instantly dividing any readership I may have I must confess that I’m not a huge fan James Wan’s horror movies. ‘Saw’ felt like a good idea for a short story that was stretched extremely thin for 103 minutes, 'Dead Silence’ is ridiculously terrible as was ‘Death Sentence’. Both ‘Insidious’ and ‘Chapter 2’ were subpar horror films for me and while ‘The Conjuring’ was easily the best it felt more like a homage to superior horror films. Everything in it just felt like something I’d seen before in a better horror film. So with that in mind, how does the sequel hold up?

 In 1977, in London, the Hodgson family begins to discover strange occurrences within their home. Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) travel to the Hodgson household to assist them with their poltergeist problem.

Like the first film from this franchise ‘The Conjuring 2’ still feels very much like a greatest hits compilation of every horror film James Wan watched back in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s easy to see what populates his cinematic nightmares from ‘Poltergeist’ to ‘The Amityville Horror’ (the originals, not the remakes, god what is the world coming to when both of those movies have been remade, what’s next ‘Videodrome’….oh no I’ve said too much).

This creates somewhat of a dilemma for me, you see I could very easily go through this film and pick apart where I’ve seen each horror sequence before, where each inspiration comes from and where it’s been executed better. There are numerous clichés, tiresome and overused tropes as well as a general predictability to the overall story. However there is no denying that ‘The Conjuring 2’ is an impeccably crafted film. Like its predecessor is picks through the archives of the past and brings forth the best elements of whatever classic horror film it wants. To say that Wan desecrates these sequences would be a severe miscalculation as his craftsmanship and skill behind the camera is excellent and he knows how to create a mounting sense of dread, an environment that feel claustrophobic, dark and a breeding ground for all manner of scares.

The only problem is that the story itself holds him back from ever actively delivering on that early promise. ‘The Conjuring 2’ is essentially one brilliant horror set piece after another linked together by a thinly veiled and often far too predictable plot. I’d be lying if I said the film never scared me, in fact I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frequently unnerved and frightened by what was unfolding on the screen, but I left the film feeling like I wanted more, that Wan’s film hadn’t quite delivered on what I was expecting. It speaks to how strong the first half of the movie is, as someone like myself who had moderate expectations at best, suddenly had those expectations raised over the course of the movie’s first and second act.

It’s in the films third act where it just feels as if it’s stuck on repeat, going round in circles, replicating the same scares and although they still pack a punch due to Wan’s more inventive directorial style. If anything that is what frustrates me most, the fact that Wan is so clearly inundated with techniques concerning how to frighten people. He employs the use of sound and lighting brilliantly but even that isn’t enough to sustain a rather tiresome finale. Not only that but the characters don’t feel fleshed out enough to make me invested within the story itself, they’re well written to a certain extent but not quite empathetic or relatable enough for me. As the story drags out we all know where it’s going and Wan is reduced to an overreliance on jump scares. Though even here they are far better than any of the alternative approaches by other directors who claim to be working in a genre called horror but in reality is only frightening due to how terrible the film itself is.

It does raise a significant question of whether or not the film is better placed within the context of the current horror genre itself. While it’s not as broken as it was ten years ago it’s still a long road to recovery, and I must be honest, it’s films like ‘The Conjuring 2’ that are helping it to do that. Wan has introduced the idea to mass audiences and big studios that an expertly crafted horror movie with convincing performances all round and less CGI in favour of atmosphere building can pay off. So maybe this could lead to better things, so for that reason I hope it’s successful. If only they could sort that damn screenplay out.

Expertly crafted, if not slightly lacking in the story department.

Result: 6/10

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Top 5: Brian De Palma Movies

So having seen the documentary ‘De Palma’ I thought now would be the best opportunity to give a quick rundown of my top five films from the acclaimed director. There isn’t really anything else to say other than a few honourable mentions, the first being ‘The Untouchables’ which may be surprising but maybe that just goes to show how tough the competition is that De Palma’s prohibition epic didn’t quite make the cut. It’s still a fantastic and layered film, with David Mamet’s sharp script, Ennio Morricone’s invigorating score and an Oscar winning performance by Sean Connery, as far as I know it’s still the only Oscar winning film in which someone is beaten to death with a baseball bat. I’d also be remised if I didn’t give a shout out to ‘Body Double’, ‘Dressed to Kill’, ‘Sisters’, ‘Phantom of Paradise’, ‘Passion’, ‘Mission: Impossible’ and if I can forget the rest of the movie happened then I’ll also include the opening shot of ‘Snake Eyes’ But now onto the top five.

5: Carlito’s Way

In 1993 De Palma reunited with Al Pacino to craft a their second gangster epic together, in which Pacino plays an aging criminal recently sprung from prison by his lawyer, played by Sean Penn in one of his best performances,  and decides to give up the lifestyle once and for all, only to be dragged back in against his will. Like ‘Scarface’ it’s a large and sprawling portrait of a criminal and the world he inhabits, but ‘Carlito’s Way’ is perhaps more mature and restrained. It’s fascinated by the reasons why men are drawn back to their origins, why the violence and betrayal of the criminal world somehow keeps its hold on Carlito despite his intentions to leave it behind, a compelling portrait a man who wants to be better than he is. It also features some of the finest set pieces of De Palma’s career, especially its spectacular finale.

4: Carrie

Having created a storm on the underground indie circuit De Palma finally secured his breakthrough hit with his 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel, ‘Carrie’. This is a real horror film, not made up of the recycled parts of classics, not relying on cheap jump scares or flashy special effects. ‘Carrie’ builds its terror through a study of its characters, by creating a poignant human portrait and though it doesn’t go completely off the rails until it’s last twenty minutes, that climax is earned through making its title character as fleshed out as possible, creating a conclusion that is as tragic as it is satisfying. Not only was the film a box office hit that well and truly launched De Palma’s career, it also earned Oscar nominations for its stars Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, a feat unheard of in the horror genre.

3: Femme Fatale

Possibly the most purely De Palma film of them all, not only is it a superb showcase of style and craftsmanship, but the way the movie unfolds and takes you on a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns, defying expectations, deceiving and surprising you with each new plot thread. After pulling off a daring heist during a gala premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and double-crossing her colleagues, a thief (Rebecca Romijin) leaves for a new life in America only to find herself the target of an ambitious photographer (Antonio Banderas) and her recently released former partners. Like the best of De Palma’s movies it’s smart, sexy and stylish, anchored by a set strong and layered characters all portrayed brilliantly by their respective actors. ‘Femme Fatale’ is filmmaking at its purest.

2: Scarface

Everyone has quoted Pacino’s iconic last stand, whether they know they are reciting ‘Scarface’ or not, at some point everyone has uttered those magic words. Chronicling the rise and fall of a ruthless Cuban drug dealer Tony Montana (Al Pacino) this may be the most spectacular, stylish and excessive project of the directors career. With a script penned by Oliver Stone the movie is aggressive and violent for an aggressive and violent era of American history, brimming with greed and indulgence. Pacino’s performance is legendary, over the top, bouncing from wall to wall and completely engrossing. Under De Palma’s direction the film has an energetic and almost wearying sensibility to it, hyper stylised and features some of the bests scenes of his entire career from the infamous chainsaw torture sequence to the explosive attack on Montana’s compound (one shot of which was directed by Steven Spielberg), featuring multiple explosions, wave after wave of attackers being gunned down and of course Pacino familiarising us with his tiny associate.

1: Blow Out

De Palma’s masterfully crafted thriller stands as one of the greatest thrillers outside of Hitchcock’s calibre, in fact scratch that because with this De Palma made a suspense film worthy of Hitchcock himself. John Travolta plays a movie sound effects technician who, while recording sounds for a low-budget slasher film, inadvertently records audio evidence of an assassination involving a presidential hopeful. ‘Blow Out’ is a film fuelled by obsession, one that plays out in an enthralling and visceral manner, but also one of surprising maturity and thoughtfulness. It is permeated by real cinematic intelligence and has a number of great performances to accompany it, with Travolta at his best as well sympathetic Nancy Allen and sleazy John Lithgow. It’s a challenging, stimulating and impeccably designed film that stands as De Palma’s masterpiece.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

De Palma

"When you do some of these things they make perfect logical sense to you and then you put them in front of an audience and they go 'holy cow'."

Of all the acclaimed auteurs to emerge from the New Hollywood era of filmmaking, otherwise known as the Movie Brats, Brian De Palma is possibly the most unique and daring of them all. While my favourite of the group remains Martin Scorsese (big shock given that I’m currently writing an entire series on him) De Palma’s rollercoaster career that pushed boundaries, challenged conventions and more often than not was a giant “fuck you” to the ratings system.

Following the tumultuous career of director Brian De Palma, having decided to venture into filmmaking after seeing Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’, from his underground early features ‘The Wedding Party’ and ‘Greetings’, to his breakout hit ‘Carrie’, cult hits like ‘Carlito’s Way’, ‘Dressed to Kill’ and ‘Sisters’ as well as the acclaimed showcases of ‘Blow Out’, ‘Femme Fatale’, ‘Scarface’ and ‘The Untouchables’.

There are few films this year that I have enjoyed as much as ‘De Palma’. Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary is not just an incisive view of one of the most interesting filmographies of our time, it is also an introspective through the tumultuous bumps of the American film industry over the last fifty years. On it’s most basic level the film is a one on one conversation with De Palma, combined with some perfectly selected clips and images from his remarkable career and what a conversation it is. Riveting, intriguing and insightful from start to finish, brimming with vibrancy and energy as well as an unparalleled sense of knowledge and perception of the film industry.

It’s a joy to watch De Palma deconstruct and analyse his own career. This is not simply a formulaic look back at his biggest hits that refuses to acknowledge his various misfires, ‘De Palma’ covers every angle and questions the director on all of his career moves from the highs of ‘Scarface’ and ‘Blow Out’ to the lows of ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ and ‘Mission to Mars’. He recounts every project and does not shy away from the ones that even the most devout De Palma fans would be willing to overlook. It never feels embarrassing or awkward to talk about these misfires either, the director’s level head, humbleness and sense of humour makes the conversation just as enthralling. Incidentally, De Palma has been nominated for a staggering six Golden Raspberry Awards, one of them for Worst Director on ‘Scarface’, but then again Kubrick was also nominated for the award with ‘The Shining’ so don’t be too worried.

Not only that but they address the various controversies of De Palma’s career. In the 1980s the public tide seemed to turn on his stylistic, violent and sexually fuelled method of filmmaking. Movies like ‘Scarface’ attracted mass controversy, famously at the initial screening Martin Scorsese told De Palma "You guys are great – but be prepared, because they're going to hate it in Hollywood... because it's about them”.

Of course when he is talking about the classic De Palma films we know and love, it’s even better. The stories of their development, success and aftermath are discussed in glorious detail and all without ever sounding as if he is bragging about it. At this point I realise that in many ways a review of this documentary turns into a review about Brian De Palma’s personality, but I then again I guess the movie itself is called ‘De Palma’.

I suppose it is a credit to the filmmakers to discuss such a variety of aspects concerning his career, fully realising that none of this content deserves to go unheard, and on a technical level many of the pieces of footage they unearth match perfectly with the stories unfolding. The editing makes the pace flow very nicely, on the one hand it does seem like we have talked about thirty movies in two hours but at other times the minutes just fly by. Some of the best stories include De Palma’s disastrous first meeting with iconic composer Bernard Hermann (‘Psycho’), his battles with the various writers he has collaborated with such as Oliver Stone, Robert Towne and David Mamet as well as that time when he was offered the chance to direct ‘Flashdance’, you heard correctly.

But as I said not only does ‘De Palma’ offer a perspective on the directors own career, we get a look into the development of cinema. He talks about the early days with his fellow young filmmakers like Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola and Lucas, the struggle of keeping his personal vision intact and the state of blockbusters today. To top it all off we get confirmation that De Palma has hated every shameful version of ‘Carrie’ other than his own, noting that many of the elements he rejected for his version ended up in the remakes.

If you’re even slightly interested in the last fifty years of American cinema then watch ‘De Palma’.

Result: 8/10

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Talkin Scorsese: New York, New York

"They say that only five people in the whole world, you know, know really what it's about."

Just one year after he crafted his quintessential masterpiece, Martin Scorsese returned with an epic musical drama titled ‘New York, New York’. Like many things that were released in the summer of 1977 it was inevitably crushed by the might of ‘Star Wars’ but that hasn’t stopped people debating over where it stands in comparison to the rest of Scorsese’s work.
Set primarily in post-WWII New York City the film follows the relationship between a jazz saxophonist (Robert De Niro) and a pop singer (Liza Minnelli) as they fall in love and marry. But the saxophonist's outrageously volatile personality places a continual strain on their relationship, and after they have a baby, their marriage crumbles.
One thing that I have noticed about this film is that while many dismiss it instantly and others regard it as one of the lesser entries in Scorsese’s filmography. I’ve found that those who do like it however, not only enjoy it but praise ‘New York, New York’ as one of the director’s forgotten masterpieces. I am most definitely not in that mind set. While I can admire its scale and its aesthetics, beneath the glitz and glamour it ultimately feels like an empty and hollow affair, the lacks any form of cohesiveness and is just a sprawling mess.
To be fair that sounds overly harsh, because there is a lot to like about this film. One aspect that impressed me the most may have been Scorsese’s direction, for while he carries consistent themes and motifs throughout all of his films ‘New York, New York’ demonstrates a great versatility in his directing, particularly in how he directs the musical scenes. The performers, bands and musicians are hot with loving care and detail, revelling in the rhythmic beat and tempo of the music. The editing is also spot on and though that may be something you take for granted in any other film in musicals it does make a real difference, cut at the wrong time or drag a take for too long and you may find the pacing and style of the musical numbers thrown off as a result. If the rhythm of the editing is not synchronised to that of the music then both can suffer as a result, the whole sequence feels mismatched. I feel as if this is where many movie musicals fall down (‘Chicago’, ‘Les Miserables’, etcetera), they try to direct the music as if it is still taking place on stage rather than using the medium of film to any unique effect, not taking into account the benefits of editing and multiple levels of staging. But Scorsese doesn’t fall foul of this, even in his lesser films he proves he is a born filmmaker.
The performances are mostly a mixed bag. While De Niro is fantastic in almost everything else from that era here he seems to be stuck with an oddly shallow caricature. It brings back painful memories of some more recent De Niro performances in which he seems uninterested in the role and character, not striving to explore its dramatic potential and just enjoying his time on the film set. Liza Minelli also can’t elevate her role to any dramatic heights and given that the whole film rests on their relationship, my disassociation from their characters was somewhat detrimental to the films narrative. Both of them are put to good use within the musical sequences but beside that there isn’t much substance to their characters.
I understand that this is meant to be a homage to the big musical numbers of Hollywood’s Golden Age but it’s not tweaking the genre in any interesting way, nor is it exploring it to a greater extent. Its costumes and set pieces fit the criteria perfectly but there is nothing underneath them to sustain the movie on a dramatic or comedic level. Maybe it’s just because of the higher standards I’ve come to expect from Scorsese by this point, or possibly the fact that he is coming directly from the masterful character study that is ‘Taxi Driver’ but a sprawling and often unfocussed musical epic like this just feels very odd in comparison, especially as this is just such a drastic departure in both genre and quality.
Sprawling and unfocussed, while visually dazzling and epic in scope, ‘New York, New York’ ultimately falls flat.
Result: 5/10

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

"Why aren't we going with the turtles, when something bad happens you want to be with the turtles."

Michael Bay is back, quick grab all of your explosives and run, no beloved childhood property is safe. Now I know the credits of this film say “Directed by Dave Green” but I can’t help but think that it was Bay who played the biggest hand in exactly what direction this movie would go. I’ve been saying for weeks that ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ is a ridiculous concept, by inherent design the idea is idiotic. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun though and the sooner Bay and his pals realised this, the sooner they could actually make something half decent.

Shredder (Brian Tee) resurfaces with mad scientists Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to create their own mutants to take on the Turtles. Just when the four brothers think things can’t get any worse, an extra-terrestrial menace also joins the party. The addition of rogue Casey Jones (Stephen Amell).

To say that this latest instalment of the franchise is better than its predecessor is to say that being stabbed in the back is better than being stabbed in the heart, either way it is an unpleasant and painful experience. The reason this film feels like being stabbed in the back is how it momentarily appears that the creators have finally embraced the ridiculousness of this concept, gone all out and made a fun and entertaining movie. That has not happened.

What we get instead is a fiasco that beyond a few subtle references that will undoubtedly appeal to loyal fans of the property, is a shockingly soulless product. I feel as if even loyal fans have jumped off this boat before it sinks (I’m going crazy with metaphors today for some reason) due to the fact that the once likable and entertaining foursome have been turned into CGI, steroid fuelled monstrosities. The movie leaves the impression that it thought it could disguise itself behind a wall of fan service and references to hide its own incompetence.

The plot is one scene of exposition after another. In fact to call it a plot is to oversell it, this film is just one development after another, each one lacking in drama, depth and imagination. There is no innovation within this exposition either, it’s just a scene in which someone directly explains one development to the audience so the characters can move into some mindless and pointless action scene only to have another moment where the actors might as well be speaking directly to the camera. The film thinks its audience is incapable of even putting two and two together and actually come to a conclusion themselves. I think we can work out that a giant alien brain monster housed within a massively destructive robot is bad news, we don’t need it to be spelled out for us.

In fact let’s talk about Krang and the rest of the villains. If there’s one thing that I admired from this film it’s that they made Shredder a human again, he is no longer some faceless bad guy who spends a majority of the film encased in big metal suit. The only problem is that he is inevitably side-lined for the turtles to have their climactic battle with Krang. So this film, like the first one ends with the four CGI turtles fighting a giant robot on a platform high in the sky. That hints at a larger problem that is taking place here, there is no growth within this franchise nothing is changing and ultimately it is exactly the same as every other movie in this franchise.

To this films credit, while aesthetically the turtles horrific to look at, their characterisation is very reminiscent of the turtles many of us had grown up with. If more of the movie was devoted to them it might be a lot better. Sadly though, too much of the film’s screen time is occupied by April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her quest to convince the police commissioner that the turtles are the good guys, and I couldn’t care less. Fox’s contribution to this film can be deduced within a single image, in fact there it is.

We also have additions such as Casey Jones and whether it’s through inconsistencies in the writing of his character or within the acting of Amell but pinning down his character is the only intellectual mystery the film poses. Will Arnett is put to better use, but even he can't save this. Surprisingly Tyler Perry is half decent, but on a side note I need to share something I just found out. Apparently before he was signed on to star in ‘Gone Girl’ Perry had no idea who David Fincher was. He works as a director (albeit in the loosest sense of the word) and he didn’t know who David Fincher was. Even as just a fan of film in general that would have to mean he had never heard of ‘Seven’, ‘Fight Club’ or ‘The Social Network, and even though ‘Alien 3’ is a terrible film he must never have heard of that either, which means he hasn’t seen the other two which suggests he has no idea of Ridley Scott or James Cameron are either, it’s just baffling.

The usual Bayhem, need I say more?

Result: 3/10