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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Julieta


"I'm going to tell you everything I wasn't able to tell you."

When it comes to modern directors Pedro Almodovar remains a bit of a blind spot for me. I’m familiar with some of his more popular films like ‘Volver’ and ‘The Skin I Live In’ (both of which were excellent) but as far as the rest of his filmography is concerned I have a lot to catch up on. This means I don’t necessarily have an established impression of what level I should expect from him other than the two films of his that I have seen, which are very good. If ‘Julieta’ speaks anything about the quality of his work then I will have to check the rest of them out as soon as possible.

Told over 30 years, with two actresses (Emma Suárez and the younger Adriana Ugarte) playing one woman, this is the story of Julieta, who after a chance encounter is left heartbroken and looks back on her life and relationship with her estranged daughter.

From what I can gather about Almodovar’s body of work ‘Julieta’ is far from unexplored territory for him. But that seems to say just as much about the quality of his filmmaking as it does the style of his directing. ‘Julieta’ serves as a sombre study of grief, regrets and guilt but rarely feels overtly dark or depressing. While there are high strung emotions to be found within the film they are initially concealed and difficult to pick apart, and slowly reveal themselves over the course of the 96 minutes. During which the plot takes numerous twists and turns that succeeds in making the characters emotional arcs all the more riveting and intriguing.

 One of the reasons why ‘Julieta’ is so riveting it due to Almodovar treating the material less like a typical melodrama and more like a thriller. Even the direction has subtle undertones that reveal information and emotional exposition piece by piece, allowing the story to unfold and progress at a natural pace, but one that never feels dull or delayed. Even the score reminded me of something Bernard Hermann would craft to accompany a classic Hitchcock thriller.

The film carries many underlying themes and does so with consistency and brilliant attention to detail. Almost every scene reflects the overall message of the film, themes of guilt and burdens are brought up time and time again, across decades and generations. The way the film transitions from flashbacks to present day is brilliantly structured, made to toy with our expectations and deliver the full emotional punch at exactly the right moment.

But while the two eras meld together excellently they are also clearly distinct and distinguishable. The downside of this is that the film as a whole can occasionally feel somewhat disjointed but the benefit is to fully understand the titular character. We understand the lasting effect that certain events have on her, what aspects of her personality change and how she chooses to deal with them. This is all emphasises by the two brilliant performances that bring Julieta herself to life. When we first meet Emma Suarez as the character there is an instant sense of inner demons and conflicting emotions, and they act in such contrast to the wide eyed innocence of Adriana Ugarte’s younger portrayal that when we see the two synch up it is a powerful revelation.

What is more remarkable about the two performances is how frequently Almodovar’s direction puts them under pressure to carry the central conceit of the movie. The camera practically asks us to read the two actress’ emotions as it presses close to their expressions, trying to scrutinize every detail of their performances in order to gain some kind of clue that will help unravel the emotional mystery at the centre of it all. But that is not the only trick Almadovor uses to further his story. The way he employs visual storytelling and repeated motifs throughout the film is spectacular, from the use of colour to his subtle and metaphorical transitions, they all reflect the character’s emotions and inner turmoil. You can spot it everywhere from the fixtures to the decorations, everything is steeped in importance and meaning. This is the kind of film you could watch with the sound muted and still feel the emotional weight behind every scene.

As I said at the start of this review I have only had the pleasure of watching two other Almodovor films, ‘Volver’ and ‘The Skin I Live In’. ‘Julieta’ feels more straightforward than both of them with the former being a genre collision of farce, tragedy, melodrama and magic realism while the latter was described by its own director as “a horror film without frights or scares”. That is ever so slightly disappointing for ‘Julieta’ to feel less playful and have more of a one note tone however it compensates for that with its sheer dramatic impact.

‘Julieta’ is as emotional as it is masterful, while it’s more straightforward than other Almodovor efforts this concentrated focus allows him to create a dramatic and riveting web of feelings.

Result: 8/10

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Don't Breathe


"Now you'll see what I see."

Horror films have a tendency to catch fire at the box office, especially a really good one. That is not to say this one will but on the whole it seems that the general starvation of recent horror is reflected by how much money a decent or unique movie can rake in. Whether it’s a bad but unique movie such as ‘Unfriended’ or ‘Paranormal Activity’ or a genuinely decent scare vehicle such as ‘The Conjuring’ or 2013’s ‘Evil Dead’ they seem to be a profitable business. Speaking of ‘Evil Dead’, from the same creative team comes ‘Don’t Breathe’, but is it any good?

A group of cash strapped teenagers elect steal some money out of desperation. The target they choose is the home of a blind man (Stephen Lang) who supposedly has a safe in the basement. However they discover the blind man may not be as helpless as he seems and soon they are caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a man willing and capable to kill them all.

It is my belief that the best horror movies are established from simple premises, from a single hostile creature aboard an isolated spaceship to a little girl being possessed by a demon (there are some exceptions to this rule but for the most part it seems to work). Before you get any ideas I am not about to say ‘Don’t Breathe’ is on par with either of those examples but it is a meticulously crafted thriller that takes a simple premise and creates one of the most intense and pulse pounding films this year. Or it would be if it was not for ‘Green Room’ but that’s beside the point.

By making their antagonist a human being as opposed to the recent supernatural trend that many horror movies follow, ‘Don’t Breathe’ invokes real stakes and meaning. There is something formidably terrifying and threatening about another human over some faceless ghost, in the same vein as Michael Myers or Jack Torrance. Not only that but the film utilises its antagonist’s physical abilities and incorporates them into its techniques to draw more tension out of the situation. With a blind man as your hunter sound becomes a big part of the film, and not only is it fascinating to witness the characters solve each problem when their potential killer can hear their every action but the sound design of ‘Don’t Breathe’ is some of the best I’ve seen in any horror film of recent years. It places emphasis on the slightest noise and lingers in the silence, making you more perceptive to the major narrative driving force that is sound.

That narrative in question is also propelled by some clever pieces of writing. Despite the fact that the films plot summary would only be a few sentences longer than its premise the film incorporates enough twists and turns to create plenty of surprises. The characters suffer from a usual trope of the genre in that they ultimately take a back seat to the movies own premise and are far from fleshed out individuals. That being said the movie provides you with enough backstory to make them sympathetic to a certain degree and therefore you have a serviceable amount of emotional attachment which only emphasises the intensity of the unfolding drama. But still I have to wonder how much better the film as a whole could have been if I genuinely cared about these people.

If anything the most interesting character proves to be Lang’s blind man. He remains a threatening presence throughout and for the most part the filmmakers establish his limitations which comes in handy whenever they feel like surprising the audience by subverting those expectations. My immediate concern was that I would sympathise more with the ass kicking blind man protecting his property than the dumb teenagers trying to rob the place, but as the film progresses Lang goes from empathetic to contemptible and becomes all the more threatening for it.

Due to adhering to those previously established advantages and disadvantages ‘Don’t Breathe’ raises palpable amounts of tension through anticipation and claustrophobia. When the teens first break in to the house it’s only later in the movie that you realise what you witnessed there was a meticulous layout of the house to make you aware of its geography and contents that will prove to be vital later on in the movie. It reminds me a lot of the opening to Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ in which every vital story component is laid out right in front of you, so subconsciously you are intimately familiar with your setting.

Somewhat frustratingly the films biggest flaw is its ending, which not only undermines certain aspects of the film that have proceeded it but also feels unnecessary. The film was one edit away from being as close to perfect as it could be but with one extra sequence the films pacing is thrown off and suddenly instead of bounding towards its closing credits at a break neck speed it crawls forward for its last few minutes, making it feel far longer than 88 minutes.

A tense and taught thriller with meticulous direction and impeccable sound design, let down only by its final stroke.

Result: 7/10

Monday, 29 August 2016

Blood Father


"Whatever you've got to do with Lydia, first you've got to deal with me."

So who’s in favour of skipping the obligatory recounting of Mel Gibson’s various statements and controversial acts in favour of focussing on the quality of the most recent film he is starring in rather than simply alienating readers, spouting needlessly outrageous political views and potentially offending anyone who belongs to one of the groups insulted by Mr Gibson? Is that everyone? Good because I know I am.

John Link (Gibson) is a war veteran and ex-convict is out on parole, trying to go straight and clean up his act. However when his estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) turns up, carrying a fair amount of baggage in the form of a drug cartel assembles of murderous thugs seeking revenge against her.

Despite that rings startlingly close to ‘Taken’ in which a highly skilled and dangerous father returns to his former ways of violence in order to save his daughter, ‘Blood Father’ manages to transverse the usual clichés that could potentially weigh down this story and instead goes into a much further exploration of the character dynamic as well as a more brutal portrayal of the violence taking place within it.

That is partially a result of having a much stronger female character than the usual, vulnerable damsel in distress kind of role. Lydia is not only a far from perfect daughter, and somewhat reflective of her father’s tumultuous history, but she brings about this crisis on herself through her own actions. It means that the ensuing journey is not just a typical run of the mill action thriller but also a story of redemption and forgiveness for more than one of the characters. The fact that the movie establishes such a strong connection between John and Lydia both thematically and emotionally is the driving force of the film, and serves to further both the narrative and development of the main characters.

This sense of imperfection (that thing that real people have and action directors/writers seem to forget about) carries over to Gibson’s character as well. There is no secret arsenal stashed under the floorboards, no team of former colleagues to call and find the nearest exit and no instant relapse into his old ways. John Link feels like a real, world weary character, one that has endured scars and troubles but has clearly taken the toll from them. The way he takes down the various bad guys is not with the demeanour of an unbelievably skilled fighter, the way his character ploughs through the action feels like the reality of the situation, and that reality is that a sixty year old man has been thrust back into a violent world against men half his age. Not only that, but there is a sense of vulnerability to him not just on a physical level but on an emotional one as well, a character seeking redemption for his failings as a father who yearns to compensate for those shortcomings ion the only way he knows how.

These characterisations are not only brought forward with the writing but also the performances. Gibson’s charisma is almost inescapable as it bleed its way onto every frame he occupies. This greying and distant attitude makes the character feel more believable and fleshed out, but no mistake, Gibson remains in full command of every scene he is in and never for a second leaves you in any doubt that he has the ability to kill whoever he wants, whenever he wants. Moriarty is also decent in her role but occasionally struggles to share the spotlight with Gibson and often gets left in the dust. William H Macy offers a slightly more comical but no less interesting performance and Diego Luna makes a menacing and suitably unstable antagonist.

 This description only serves to build the film up as more of a nonstop action, thriller. However one striking feature of ‘Blood Father’ is how the action regularly seems to take a back seat in favour of further developing the characters. While the pacing suffers somewhat in between these set pieces the performances and writing are satisfactory enough to carry them. With the direction adopting a grindhouse sensibility that helps maintain a consistently gritty and down to earth tone. The finale in particular sees both the director Jean-Francois Richet and Gibson himself saving their most valuable assets until the last moment to end fairly spectacularly. None of this is quite enough to elevate ‘Blood Father’ above the status of mid-level thriller that it occupies but it helps it leave a lasting impact and become a pleasant surprise.

Anchored by an excellent Mel Gibson performance, ‘Blood Father’ is a surprisingly riveting movie.

Result: 7/10

Monday, 22 August 2016

Ben-Hur (2016)


"My family was once among the most respected in Jerusalem, until we were betrayed. By my own brother."

Have we really come to this point? Are we so starved of ideas that we are forced to recycle not just one of the greatest films ever made, but one that seemingly leaves so little room for improvement or different interpretations that we end up with a new version of ‘Ben-Hur’, something that no one asked for or even wanted? Are we that desperate for name recognition or established properties that we have to do this? Isn’t ‘Stranger Things’ doing really well without an established property behind it, why can’t movies just follow that?

A nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), is falsely accused of treason by his childhood friend and adoptive brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). He survives years of slavery under the Romans and attempts to get revenge by challenging Messala to a grand chariot race while being forever changed after a series of encounters with Jesus.

In fairness there are any number of excuses one could use to support this remake of ‘Ben-Hur’. After all, the 1958 version is in itself a remake of a 1925 silent film, which is itself also a remake of a 1907 short film, which is based off 1880 novel, ‘Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ’. Not only that but of course this is hardly the first time Hollywood has opted to make a quick buck through name recognition so why should we dish out all the hate to the latest in a long line of remakes. Well that may be the case, but as far as I’m concerned there’s something much more cynical and devious about this particular remake that I will explain later, for now though, what of the actual movie?

The first question you need to ask when reviewing a remake is as follows, does the remake improve on the original in any way, shape or form? The answer with ‘Ben-Hur’ is a resounding no. Warning bells should immediately be sounding when you noticed that this version clocks in with a run time of 123 minutes compared to the original’s run time of 212 minutes. The result is the story as a whole feels rushed and poorly structured, lacking several key aspects that made the original the defining masterpiece that it was.

The result of such a drastically shortened running time is that the fully fleshed out atmosphere possessed by the original no longer exists. The world these characters inhabit feels severely limited and artificial. That being said, these characters lack any discernible development and even if there is some limited attempt to shoehorn it into the plot, once again it feels forced and contrived rather than natural and believable. The result is that several moments in the movie feel rushed and not nearly as dramatically powerful as they should be or as the movie thinks they are. By the time we reach the ending the plot, despite being identical to the original on paper, descends into a laughable mess of contrived plot devices and melodramatic clichés. This is not a problem in the original as it used its epic run time to establish each plot point, bring forward these revelations through subtle nuances and bring them to fruition at the conclusion naturally. But that’s not how we do things in 2016 apparently.

It is not just the running time either, by drastically scaling down the world of the film by removing interesting side characters and set pieces the movie as a whole feels much smaller and not nearly as grand. The original is the definitive epic film, while you would struggle to call this version an epic in any sense of the word. Not only that but it never adds anything new. If you think I’m comparing this movie too much to the original can I remind you that the film is called ‘Ben-Hur’? If they wanted to be viewed as their own entity why nor call the film something else while basing it off of the same novel, like ‘A Tale of Christ’ or ‘The Chariot Race’ or something to give some evidence to suggest that this is not simply another attempt to invoke name recognition as a cynical cash grab.

But back to the point I was making, ‘Ben-Hur’ does nothing to improve upon the original. To tie back to my earlier statement about recognition the film devotes so much time to its version of the famed chariot scene that it could be seen as a last ditch attempt to remind the audience they are watching ‘Ben-Hur’. It plays out almost identically to the 1958 version but with the additions of CGI and shaky cam. It isn’t helped by the lifeless lead performance by Jack Huston as it lacks any charisma or sense of empathy. None of the other cast fare any better, with Morgan Freeman having such a thinly conceived character it’s difficult to not just refer to his role as the role of Morgan Freeman, while Toby Kebbell lacks the necessary intimidation to make a threatening villain.

But as I said earlier there is a certain aspect of this film that makes it feel particularly cynical, even for a remake of such a classic film. ‘Ben-Hur’ was not made out of a passion for this story or a desire to reimagine it. The main characters are simply a vehicle so we can receive another pandering message retelling to story of Jesus. The film has actually been marketed as such, pandering straight to modern Christian audiences. So what’s the harm in that you ask? One notable aspect missing from this version are the homosexual undertones from the original (these undertones were confirmed several times as an intentional inclusion by writer Gore Vidal). These undertones had to remain subtle in 1958 in order to sneak past the stringent censors. But with a more accepting and lenient society, surely what could only be alluded to in 1958 could be explicitly explored in 2016? Unless of course your main objective was to target conservative religious audiences who may take issue with any homosexual themes within their movies about Jesus. Just maybe.

Uninspired and unmotivated, the ‘Ben-Hur’ remake, while competently made, falls flat on every level when compared to the original.

Result: 3/10

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Talkin' Scorsese: The Last Temptation of Christ


"Whatever path you want, I'll take."

The most controversial film ever made. Even by this point in his career Martin Scorsese had already been involved in a fair amount of controversy regarding the content of his movies. ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Mean Streets’ contracted some controversy but that was nothing compared to the absolute hatred received by the director, writer, cast and virtually everyone involved with Scorsese’s 1988 religious drama, ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’. It just goes to show that at the end of the day, nobody fucks with Jesus.

Depicting the life of Jesus Christ (Willem Dafoe) and his struggles with various forms of temptation including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust in the build up to his final days and crucifixion.

Banned by countries, condemned by the Vatican and boycotted by just about every Christian group in the world. These are all reactions that only scratch the surface as to just how outraged the world was when Scorsese released his long awaited passion project, in fact Scorsese himself became the target of death threats, accusations of blasphemy and allegations of being a Satan worshipper. TV evangelists tried to buy copies of the film and burn it before it could even reach theatres, if the theatre companies hadn’t already refused to show it that is. In fairness though the theatres had good reason to be worried, anyone who went to see the film ran the risk of being assaulted outside the cinema, in one case with sulphuric acid. It gets much worse. One man drove a fully loaded truck into a cinema playing the movie. On October 22nd another theatre was set ablaze, injuring thirteen people and another cinema bombarded with an attack of Molotov cocktails.

The craziest thing of all is that these are probabaly the same groups of people who, years later, would turn out in droves to support the anti-Semitic bloodbath ‘The Passion of the Christ’. But I digress because a movie like this is already complicated enough to review without going into the mass controversy surrounding it (to this day it’s still banned in the Philippines and Singapore). A review can become less of a critique on the actual film and more of an interpretation of the scripture. Putting aside all the religious debacle (if only the world did that more often), what does the film itself have to say?

Well I can immediately say that the ironic thing about those trying to suppress the film is that ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ is a contemplative and thoughtful meditation on its own subject matter.  Like many of Scorsese’s films it carries themes of guilt and redemption but also takes the message of Jesus seriously, never ridiculing it or mocking it, treating it with the utmost respect and giving it gravitas which seems appropriate as these are the beliefs and aspirations of the main character. As an audience we feel his struggle and conflict, building a sense of empathy and forming a strong connection with his internal emotions.

This portrayal of Jesus is very different to the pandering, glossy portrayal other films then and today. Here he is doubtful, weary and struggling with his own position in the world. In many the film itself reimagines Christ in a much more humane interpretation and if anything that only helps further its central message. The film is not trying to find flaws in Christianity for the sake of it, it wants its audience to see their own strengths and weaknesses within Jesus himself and that only further cements the central conceit of the film. The narrative is supported by the characters and reflected by their own emotions that work in tandem with the plot to create an immersive and breath taking experience.

This experience is aided by the stunning direction. Despite being a far cry from his usual habitat of inner city life Scorsese frames and shoots the vast expanses of the desert impeccably, making them look rough and merciless when he needs to but also peaceful and tranquil at others, depending on the emotional state of his title character. The direction never ceases to feel in synch with the plot and emotions, constantly being able to reflect and enhance each aspect. This is something Scorsese has managed to perfect during his career and it’s not missing in ‘The Last Temptation of Chris’ either. It may help that he is once again paired with his screenwriting partner Paul Schrader whose script rings with soaring ambition as well as beautiful intimacy.

As the title character, Willem Dafoe does a magnificent job in bringing forward each quality of the main character that underpins the entire film. Every detail of his performance conveys a sense of conflicted duties and dual roles, someone torn between his beliefs and desires. He is courageous, doubtful and even angry at the world around him but the performance remains constituent to the established character and masterfully enacts each quality both he and other proclaim about him.

Harvey Keitel was infamously nominated for a Razzie award for Worst Supporting Actor due to his role in the film and honestly, I’m not sure why. On the surface his role admittedly seems needlessly cryptic and it is frequently difficult to pin his central motivation down. But given that he is playing Judas Iscariot that almost seems like a given.

The liberties this film takes with the story of Jesus are not intended to blaspheme or offend, they are present to establish a connection between the audience and its central protagonist a trope you will find in any successful narrative. But specifically to ‘The last Temptation of Christ’, a film about the connection between man and god, directed by a devout Catholic, it makes even more sense.

Immensely powerful and thought provoking, epic in scope yet intimate in character.

Result: 9/10

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Sausage Party

"Once you see that shit, it'll fuck you up for life. Good luck, have fun."

Animation is a unique genre, one that open more possibilities than any other filmic technique and with the recent surge from the likes of Pixar, Laika, Studio Ghibli, Dreamworks it seems as if the genre is slowly becoming one of the few guaranteed ways of being bankable at the box office. So it would only be inevitable that someone tried to take a mainstream animation movie and use it to broaden the horizons of the genre, do something audacious that we have never seen before and do something that John Lasseter probably never envisioned back in 1995.
 In a supermarket called "Shopwell's", where the sentient food who reside within see the humans as gods who choose them to go into "The Great Beyond", a sausage named Frank (Seth Rogen) has dreams of living in the great beyond with his girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a hot dog bun. But when he discovers the terrible truth about their beliefs he makes it his mission to warn the others and stand up against the humans.
The concept of ‘Sausage Party’ alone is an audacious one, and in a world where animation is associated more than ever with being purely kids entertainment (even though in reality it feels like it’s pushing through more boundaries than ever) it seems amazing that a studio would even greenlight an animated movie that is by design cutting itself off from the usual target demographic for the genre. But then again this is also a world where the R rated ‘Deadpool’ was able to become a monster hit, so maybe there’s a great potential for a movie like ‘Sausage Party’.
Despite having a premise that is based on what seems like a one trick gag (the gag being, “the animated people are swearing and fucking, isn’t that funny?”) ‘Sausage Party’, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, is actually much smarter and more ambitious than one might expect. As well as being a satire of the current Pixar trend of personifying inanimate objects, it is also a film that tackles issues of religion, race, gender and a large part of society. Conflicts over interpretation of scripture, segregation and science vs religion are all addressed in their own way and satirised rather brilliantly. It does it so well that I found myself being reminded of the work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and that was where I found a problem.
Maybe this is overly critical of me, but for some reason as soon as I was reminded of Trey and Stone, ‘Sausage Party’ as a whole suddenly felt much less original and boundary pushing, as well as less satirically brilliant. Not only have we seen this kind of mean spirited, foul mouthed satire done before, but of course we’ve also seen it done with animation. The films of Trey and Stone include ‘South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut’ and ‘Team America’, both of which are not only funnier by having a wider variety of humour, but they are also more subversively intelligent in their satire. All of a sudden ‘Sausage Party’ felt much less unique and became little more than a comedy that was merely following in the footsteps of others. If anything it had taken the ideas of those before them and made them more accessible to general audiences.
If I could go back to my earlier statement about ‘Sausage Party’ lacking a wide variety of humour I can explain another problem in more detail. Within the first ten minutes of the film, most of their jokes have been used and sadly most of the film is the same ten minutes of material being recycled. It is still humorous enough and manages to escalate so far by the final act of the film that the movie finally picks up pace again to become outright hilarious, but while I was waiting for that to happen the jokes in between felt repetitive and eventually started to fall flat.
It began to feel as if the writers of the movie found a few hilarious jokes and then built an entire movie around them, all the while pulling on the same comedic thread until the movie starts to drag and feel frustratingly slow. I felt sure that I had been watching the movie for a lot longer than 88 minutes. This is not to say that the film lacks any laughs for a significant section, there are a number of frequent laughs to be had at any point in the film, but not nearly as many as there should be. That is as I said, until the last act in which the filmmakers explore every dark and hilariously twisted detail you could imagine. If you thought they didn’t have the nerve to go as far as your wildest imagination can comprehend, trust me when I say they go even further.
Smart, dumb, but not quite as comically brilliant as it feels it should be.
Result: 6/10

Friday, 12 August 2016

Rogue One: Trailer 2 Review


So the new trailer for ‘Rogue One’ dropped as we all knew it would and there is definitely a lot to talk about. With rumours of reshoots and various different editors being brought in to handle the film (though most of those rumours have been rebuffed by numerous sources if anyone was worried) it’s pleasing to have a trailer that is this spectacular, that seems this sure of what the film itself wants to achieve and such clarity of the vision behind it.

I would have been worried if what we saw was a sprawling mess of randomly amazing images and even though the trailer features numerous amazing shots they all seem to serve a purpose of telling a singular story within the ‘Star Wars’ universe. It establishes tone, character and scale excellently and all while providing only the thinnest outline of the plot.

But first thing’s first, Darth Vader is in this trailer (either than or Rick Moranis has decided to make an unexpected return to acting). Just the back of his head at least and while this doesn’t say much on what exact role he will be having in ‘Rogue One’ it is an iconic image and sound and the reveal is utilised very well. To hear that familiar inhale and see the domed helmet shape for the first time in so many years is a remarkable sight. Maybe it didn’t have quite as high an impact as I would want it to but to be honest there are so many amazing things to be found elsewhere in this trailer that I honestly don’t care. Vader’s presence is a welcome addition (if used correctly) but they already had my ticket long before that shot.

I admire the fact that the trailer instantly creates an atmosphere of oppression and subjugation, this era for the ‘Star Wars’ universe harkens back to the aesthetic of ‘A New Hope’ but somehow the world view seems even bleaker and that certainly fits the narrative of where the universe is at this point in the franchise. The Rebels feel like a desperate, rag tag organisation who are barely scraping  by under the power of the Empire. Unlike other ‘Star Wars’ films the villain is almost painted as an omnipotent being that can only be delayed rather than stopped.

We also get some quick character introductions, nothing too obvious so as to spoil the surprise but merely a rough outline of who these people are and what role they will be playing in this struggle, as well as a brief glimpse of their respective personalities. From Donnie Yen’s blind and skilled warrior who may or may not be a Jedi (it’s kind of hard to tell) to the blunt and bulky droid K-2SO played by Alan Tudyk.

The main players like Felicity Jones, Diego Luna and Ben Mendleson are also given plenty of screen time to simply reaffirm what we know. Luna seems to be the Poe Dameron type of role as an experienced Rebel soldier who acts as a secondary player, Mendelson looks delightfully evil and flamboyant as Orson Krennic, an Imperial Military Director. Then we have Jyn Erso and despite bign the main character, the place where her loyalties lie remains a mystery, with Jones’s performance keeping a sly and protective shroud around her identity. I’m confident we will of course uncover more within the actual film, but right now it’s difficult to categorise her, but by no means does that make it inferior, on the contrary she rightly feels like the most interesting character there.

Then of course the trailer also does an excellent job of establishing the tone ‘Rogue One’ will be going for. This truly feels like a war film, a war film dressed in the clothes of ‘Star Wars’. Once again Gareth Edwards direction captures a great sense of scale and scope to accompany this ground level combat and there is a decidedly visceral feel to each action sequence we have caught a glimpse of so far. But of course there is no lack of visually stunning shots either, with some simply gorgeous images from the Death Star eclipsing a planet’s sun to the monstrous sand storm and the lone shuttle that flies through it. The trailer has a sense of grit and grime, a universe that feels lived in and, more than any other ‘Star Wars’ film so far, one that has seen conflict and the damage of it.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Talkin' Scorsese: The Colour of Money


"I've got half of me that says I found the best thing I've ever seen and the other half that says it ain't worth it."

So when a director crafts one great film after another to the point that they are not only regarded as a great filmmaker but a consistently amazing director there comes a point where you have to raise the standards of what you expect from them. By 1986, ten years after he directed the masterpiece of ‘Taxi Driver’ Martin Scorsese did something he had never done before, he made a sequel.

‘The Colour of Money’ is a follow up to the 1959 film ‘The Hustler’ with Paul Newman reprising his role as Eddie Felson from the previous film. The film begins at a point more than 25 years after the events of the previous film, with Eddie retired from the pool circuit. He comes across a young protégé named Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) and decides to mentor him and help make some serious money.

On the one hand I think that if ‘The Colour of Money’ was made by any other director I would be more accepting or it and view it in a more favourable light. But then again there are enough subjective faults with it to turn it into a lacklustre sequel regardless, either this should be seen in comparison to Scorsese’s other masterpieces like ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘After Hours’ or view it next to a classic like ‘The Hustler’ of which it is a direct sequel to.

It’s ironic because today directors have to fight tooth and nail for creative control in the world of franchises and established properties and that seems to be a pitfall of Scorsese here. His first sequel seems to tone down the dramatic themes and complex relations that had permeated almost every other film he had made beforehand and simply crafted a less interesting and much shallower film.

Firstly the characters themselves are treated as accessories to the plot and not the main focus of the story. This may be an inherent problem with making a sequel to a film that was already perfectly fine on its own. When the film starts Paul Newman’s character has nowhere to go, not wanting to damage the legacy of the old film means ‘The Colour of Money’ can’t tread any new ground with the character and that makes his inclusion here feel somewhat pointless. That being said, Newman’s performance is a subtle but deeply interesting one. With a few exceptions Scorsese knows how to treat each individual actor when directing his films, here he keeps his camera focussed tightly on Newman’s face to catch every detailed expression that allows the viewer to analyse and ponder over his true motivations. It is interesting to know that it was Newman who picked Scorsese as the director of the film and he chose well from a certain standpoint as it was Martin’s (because we’re totally on a first name basis) direction that highlight’s Newman’s performance that would ultimately win him an Oscar. But in the long run that might be a weakness, as when compared to the rest of his filmography ‘The Colour of Money’ pales in comparison.

Some of the character dynamics are intriguing put rarely result in a satisfying pay off. Eddie plays manipulative mind games with Vincent and those closest to him in an attempt to undermine his self-confidence and make him more susceptible to his grooming, but this rivalry is never fully explored and seems like more of a quick method to move the plot forward, in fact so many of the characters decisions and actions seem forced and contrived in favour of pushing the plot along instead of actually examining any more complex themes.

This is not necessarily a major pitfall but not only is the story itself dominant over the characters but the story in question is assembled by the usual Hollywood formula. It is ridiculed by clichés and tired tropes. You would think that if anyone could turn those clichés into an interesting character study it would be Scorsese but here his artistic sensibilities seem to be limited in favour of creating a more commercially acceptable film. He has some interesting lighting techniques and decent uses of close ups that focus on the faces of his actors (a trick the director has given credit to ‘Black Narcissus’ as a primary influence over). Back to the plot though, not only does it feel simplistic and formulaic but it is predictable and we can foresee the characters decisions and actions long before they ever arrive. Even Tom Cruise’s performance risks being unmemorable due to how formulaic it is, by no means could it be labelled as a bad performance but Cruise doesn’t really take the rebellious student type in a new direction or explore it in any new way.

Stylish and suave but ultimately formulaic and predictable, which is disappointing for a director of Scorsese’s calibre.

Result: 5/10

Monday, 8 August 2016

Sid and Nancy: Beneath the Surface

Relationships can be odd things can’t they? (So I’ve been told). When you try to examine what draws two people together and what keeps them together through thick and thin it can be for the smallest and most insignificant of reasons. In fact to most people it seems to hardly matter at all, the only thing that matters is that they are still together despite having no idea of why they remain in that state. Worse still is how brutally destructive a relationship can be, the aftershocks of it reverberate far further than just the two people directly involved in it and half of the time they are so unpredictable that the damage can be due to both the success and failure of said relationship. Such is the case with Alex Cox’s ‘Sid and Nancy’, a tale of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, or at least on the surface it is.
It tells the true story of Sid Vicious, the notorious bass player of the equally notorious Sex Pistols, and his relationship with American groupie Nancy Spungen. It was a relationship fuelled by drugs and violence and ended rather appropriately and tragically when Vicious awoke one morning in New York’s Chelsea Hotel to find her dead body. Having been arrested on suspicion of murder and subsequently bailed Vicious himself died shortly afterwards from a heroin overdose at just 21 years old.
True to the live fast, die young attitude that seems to permeate the music industry Cox’s film is seeping with energy and rhythm, portraying its two title characters as renegades who almost existed outside of society itself. They seemed to watch in glee as the world went to hell around them, they didn’t care, they had each other. That ideology is personified in arguably the film’s most famous shot, the two locked in an embrace in an alleyway as garbage, thrown from the higher storeys, falls around them. On the surface the relationship seems to be one of pure sexual attraction and while the film can easily be viewed as a brief and anarchic tale of love, a closer look reveals a much more complex and ultimately more unnerving truth.
The amount of subtle nuances thrown towards the audience is astonishing and comes mainly through the two fantastic lead performances. Gary Oldman is one of the most expressionistic and versatile actors in recent cinema history (although if his breakout role is 30 years old can that really be called “recent” now?) and his role in ‘Sid and Nancy’ may be his crowning achievement. Every cell and fibre of his body is fully invested and committed to bringing Vicious to life on the silver screen. From the tiniest of mannerisms to the loudest and most obnoxious screams, everything works to cement the character as everything his reputation suggests and even more than that.
He turns such a seemingly repulsive and reprehensible character into an unflinching look at fame, aggression and juvenile glee. He retains the more loathsome characteristics of Vicious but also underpins them with an unexpected injection of sympathy. From his upbringing to the fact that he was famous before he had even found his own identity, Oldman’s performance allows us to understand the position he finds himself in. Cox’s script is able to complement this kind of performance, never asking us to like Vicious, just to understand him.
As a result of that we get a better understanding of the relationship that lies at the centre of the film. Neither of these two really lived long enough to decide what they wanted to do with their lives, all they knew was that their fame seemed to rely on continually being as fucked up as possible. So can we really blame them for living the way they did? One can never say that neither of them at least tried to better themselves or improve one another. Nancy pushed her boyfriend to try harder, wanted to ensure that he was given his due within the band and really make something of him. Not to say that she was exploitative, the film makes that clear, she acted this way because she loved him and wanted what was best for him.
I do not hesitate to apply the word “love” to the relationship portrayed in ‘Sid and Nancy’ because for all the fallout, destruction and loathing, those two idiots needed each other. Beneath the pain and anger is a deep dependence for each other, with Vicious as a boy who was still a man, in need of self-esteem and self-control and Nancy wanting someone to care for and depend upon her. Beneath the drugs and bewilderment there is a sense that they were truly meant for each other and their mad and quick trail of destruction was permeated with moments of blissful tenderness.
Credit there goes to Alex Cox, whose story of rage and fury contained a violent and damaged relationship at its centre, and somewhere within that mess of pain and confusion Cox was able to single out the more tender and intimate moments. That story at the centre of meticulous and focussed and like the real story could have flowered into something beautiful if not destroyed by the spiralling storm of drugs and fame around them. You really get a sense of tragedy and loss lying at the heart of the film.
You feel that loss because, almost shockingly, by the end of the film you realise you have come to know these characters quite well. Whether you love them, hate them or simply understand them there is no denying that by the time the credits roll you feel as if you have witnessed the snapshot that represented their lives and now an abrupt and empty space is left where they were. ‘Sind and Nancy’ tells a very conventional story and shrouds it in anarchy to make it look unfamiliar enough to be engaging. The two people being portrayed are indeed very different from us, but at their core lie the same dreams and the same pain that we all share.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Suicide Squad


"I'm not gonna kill you. I'm just gonna hurt you, really, really bad."

The amount of pressure that has been placed upon ‘Suicide Squad’ is quite an unfair amount and one I’m sure that few people envisioned whilst making the film. With the commercial and critical failure of ‘Batman v Superman’ still hanging over the DCEU it was up to David Ayer to salvage the franchise and bring fans back on board, also with an incredibly lacklustre summer movie season audiences and critics everywhere were counting on ‘Suicide Squad’ to be the one glorious blockbuster we’ve been waiting for all summer. Is it all those things and more? No.

A secret government agency led by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) recruits imprisoned supervillains and assembles them into a team, offering them leaner sentences in exchange for their services to execute dangerous black ops missions and save the world from a powerful threat.

As we saw with ‘Batman v Superman’ fan backlash against the critical reaction to this film has been a severe one, with fans spamming IMDB to award to film a perfect score (before the film even came out nonetheless), petitions to close down Rotten Tomatoes (even though that’s the equivalent of trying to shut down Google because it showed you negative reviews of ‘Suicide Squad’ when you typed in “Suicide Squad Reviews”) and a general amount of hate sent towards any critic that dares to do what they are professionally paid to do and speak their mind about a movie they just saw. I’m going to say this once because if you enjoyed this film and had legitimate reasons for liking it that go beyond simply seeing characters you have heard on brought to life on the big screen and being able to validate that opinion without accusing other critics of being corrupt or “anti DC” then good for you. At least someone liked it.

Personally though, I found the film to be an abhorrent, dull, embarrassing and nearly incomprehensible mess. At the very least I can say that this DCEU is consistent, consistently bad. Reports indicated that ‘Suicide Squad’ was subjected to numerous re-writes, reshoots and re-edits and it shows. The movie lacks any kind of cohesive structure and instead resembles one drawn out action scene that is so choppily edited that is simply becomes disorienting. It tries to desperately to feel energetic and relevant when in reality there is barely anything to work with in the first place as the set pieces and story are so bland and generic that the film melted into a hot pot of what seemed like good ideas a long time ago but had been subjected to so much inference and tinkering that they now assembled a faceless and unrecognisable mess.

None of this is helped by how dark the film is and I don’t mean that when referring to the tone, I mean the film itself is literally overly dark as if the lighting manager went on strike. None of the scenes feel fully lit which either means that Warner Bros were incompetent enough to forget to remove the sepia tone or they felt that they were somehow compensating for how ridiculous the rest of the film was in comparison to what had been promised to be a gritty and realistic film. One consistent issue I’ve had with David Ayer’s movies is that he establishes a gritty and realistic tone within the film only to end in an over the top and unbelievable finale. In ‘Suicide Squad’ however I would have killed for an over the tope finale because the rest of the film felt incredibly clichéd both within its story and general direction that a balls to the wall finale might have given the film a redeeming quality, but it was not to be.

‘Suicide Squad’ also fails to live up to its promise of blowing Marvel away when it comes to the villains. The main antagonist of the film not only has the shallowness and lack of depth that the worst Marvel villains have but they are also even more forgettable. Their villains turned heroes on the other hand are not given nearly enough depth or characterisation to justify their sudden mood swings and change of loyalties, with so many plot elements being driven by the decisions of each character you would think they would want to establish why these characters are making said decisions, but instead we get unclear flashbacks that someone thought would establish the character’s motivation but ultimately fails as well. Their other attempt to draw depth and exposition out of each character is their soundtrack, but when you have to resort to your films music to substitute for the lack of written complexity then you have a serious problem, especially when the soundtrack is as poorly used as this one is.

The only upside are the cast portraying those characters who for the most part are fairly decent. Will Smith is essentially playing a more sombre version of himself, Margot Robbie is feisty and energetic as Harley Quinn but the screenplay decides to make her the quippy one line spouting machine so often that it becomes cringe worthy. Jai Courtney is good and I can safely say I never thought I’d be writing that in a review. Viola Davis could be the standout as she was the only genuinely intimidating person within the cast. As for Jared Leto’s Joker, well he is eccentric and wild and might have had more of a chance to grow on me if he was in the film for more than ten minutes, but with the amount of screen time we got the Oscar winner doesn’t do much to distinguish himself from other incarnations of the clown prince of crime or tap into that darker side we have come to know him for.

Uneventful, uninspired and painfully unsatisfying.

Result: 3/10

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Killing Joke


"Why aren't you laughing?"

So with petitions to close down Rotten Tomatoes based on their negative reviews of DC movies (yes, that is actually a thing) despite the fact that Rotten Tomatoes itself does not actually review movies and merely amalgamates the reviews of many critics and summarises them into a combined percentage. But with all the chaos and controversy that has been unfolding recently we can still count on our direct to Blu-Ray animated movies right?

Based on the legendary and ground breaking novel by Alan Moore ‘The Killing Joke’ examines the thing and fragile line of morality that separates Batman from his arch nemesis The Joker. Following another escape from Arkham Asylum The Joker attempts to prove his point concerning the fragility of sanity by torturing Commissioner Gordon in order to drive him insane. Batman sets out on a hunt to stop him before it is too late.  

So this is quite an anticipated movie to say the least. An adaptation of one of the greatest comic books of all time with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill returning to voice their iconic roles of Batman and The Joker as well as being the first DC animated movie to receive an R rating. So in a summer where so many superhero movies have failed to live up to our expectations does ‘The Killing Joke’ succeed? Not in the slightest.

That is somewhat harsh because there are in fact several good things about the film, but most of them are ripped straight from the graphic novel. I understand of course that this is an adaptation and at the end of the day I should review the film as its own separate entity, judging it as a whole regardless of how much it lifts from the novel. However it is hard to ignore the almost disconcerting change in tone and quality as the added context of the film is over and it becomes a literal, shot for shot, word for word adaptation of Moore’s novel and as someone who is so familiar with said novel it was difficult for me not to notice.

The second half of the film is where this takes place and it is fantastic, with the same themes being brought forward and the same storylines being played out to perfection. The way the characters act and respond in this section fits in with our associations of what makes them the way they are and with such a deep exploration of the relationship between Batman and The Joker the story is essentially an answer to the question ‘what separates the good guys from the bad guys?’ I won’t spoil it on the off chance that you have not read the graphic novel but rest assured it is a haunting and deeply meaningful read.

Notice I said read there because I would recommend simply reading the novel over watching this adaptation. Not only is it shorter and less time consuming it is also far more visually interesting and intensely paced. As I said before most of the best parts of ‘The Killing Joke’ are the parts taken straight from the novel so I can’t really think of a reason why I wouldn’t simply recommend that to you. Not least because there are some decisions made with this adaptation that even manage to lessen the effect of the novel’s storyline.

Not only does the added context’s shift in tone make the film as a whole feel like two completely different films stitched together but it drags on and takes the focus away from the bulk of this story. The added context is focussed more on Batgirl which if you’ve read the novel, on the face of it seems like a very good idea, given the events that are about to unfold adding some depth to her character in this brief moment beforehand could bring a greater weight to what is about to happen.

However what happens here does not quite work that way. Instead of humanising her she is made to look like another sexualised cliché and in the end it only hurts the films tone overall. It also shifts the character focus so that when we finally arrive at the central adaptation it becomes more disjointed as now Batman is the primary focus when in the first half he felt like a secondary character. Worse still is how certain creative choices in the first half not only seem illogical at the time, but completely change the character dynamic and their relationship later down the road, meaning that certain scenes of the novel are made to feel drastically different now, for all the wrong reasons.

The voice work is fantastic but I probably didn’t need to tell you that. With Conroy and Hamill reprising the roles they’ve homed for so many years it is almost a given that their return would be just as brilliant. Sadly the animation can’t quite match their talent, becoming clunky and artificial. I understand that the budget might not allow ‘Akira’ levels of animation but at the very least I would expect something that could have the same quality as, say, ‘Batman: The Animated Series’. Is that too much to ask?

A film that can’t live up to its own voice work and source material.

Result: 5/10

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Jason Bourne


"Remembering everything doesn't mean you know everything."

In such a disappointing summer is it too much to ask that we get one great blockbuster? I ask this because of all the terrible sequels and lacklustre movies we have seen rolling our way over the past few months one thought was ever present in my mind. “We still have ‘Jason Bourne’” I thought, ‘There’s still ‘Jason Bourne’ to look forward to”, because with Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass returning to the franchise that helped redefine the action movie genre and the previous instalments being such a high standard, surely there was no way this could be anything less than brilliant? I was wrong.

Years after finally recovering his true identity and living off the grid in an effort to avoid being detained the government officials constantly on his tail, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) suddenly emerges from the shadows as he tries to uncover more hidden secrets of his past.

One of the immediate problems of bringing back any franchise is that if said franchise ended on a high note that you particularly enjoyed, the franchise resurrection may end up undoing that ending and removing some of the poignancy you previously respected. Now without going into any specific spoilers I can say that ‘Jason Bourne’ does undermine certain aspects of the original Bourne Trilogy, particularly its ending.

So with that the film was already fighting an uphill struggle to win me over. It nearly did that with an astonishing early action sequence that takes place during a riot in Athens, it is a visceral and heart pounding experience that feels at once chaotic, energetic and claustrophobic, like the world’s worst mosh pit but with Matt Damon right at the centre to protect you (don’t try for a second to tell me that you wouldn’t go there to party). But sadly if I was under any impression that the rest of the film would be as exquisite as this I was to be proven wrong.

That is not to say that ‘Jason Bourne’ is a bad film, it simply gets lost amid a sea of mediocrity that has permeated both this summer and the spy genre itself. Last year alone we had five separate spy films from the heavyweights like James Bond and Ethan Hunt themselves to the unexpected brilliance of Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kingsmen’ and even a comedic take with ‘Spy’ as well as that other one nobody remembers (sorry Guy Ritchie). The point is to be remarkable in this genre, in this day and age you have to be outstanding and unique. Back in 2002 ‘The Bourne Identity’ was but in 2016 ‘Jason Bourne’ certainly isn’t.

The story itself is neither very compelling nor very innovative. It simply re-treads the same beats we have seen from previous instalments and not only does it fail to show us anything new but its attempts to be more relevant today are painfully executed and stop the film dead in its tracks. At the risk of drifting into spoilers the plot revolves around a social media mogul and not only has that theme been hammered into the ground by now ‘Jason Bourne’ never really explores it in detail enough to show us anything new or captivate us. The action is intercut with the conspiracy plot that grinds the movie down so consistently that it is almost infuriating.

What makes it so infuriating is just how well directed the action is. Greengrass’ unique take on the action genre is brought back to great effect here and with such high profile set pieces such as the Las Vegas strip and various environments from which to stage these action scenes he does a fantastic job once more. On a technical level the action is also handled superbly, with as little CGI as necessary (Dear Hollywood, please make this a lasting trend) that brings forth a great sense of realism and beautifully cinematographed locations. Even amid the high octane action part of me wants to pause each scene and admire the way each shot is composed.

Matt Damon’s performance is a reserved but magnificent one. He speaks less than thirty lines of dialogue but somehow comes across as a complex enigma in his physical movements, conveying a tortured and confused man desperately seeking answers. The conviction of every movement fully affirms his skill at what he does and just how far his abilities go. His initial appearance itself is somewhat anticlimactic but from there he is driven and intense in every scene he is in. The cast around him however go largely unnoticed, Tommy Lee Jones is his purser (I’m sure Damon can join the ‘Chased by TML Club’ now with Harrison Ford, Javier Bardem and a dozen other people) in a role that doesn’t seem to stretch his abilities much and is ultimately quite unremarkable as a result. Alicia Vikander is competent enough in her role apart from a not quite perfect accent but otherwise she is also fine, just lacking in any real staying power.

Every time I think of the action or Damon’s performance I want to convince myself I am being too harsh and the film is worthy of being called great. But with a bland and uninspired plot, a less than compelling arc for its central character and the fact that it is bogged down by so many redundant and slow paced plot threads get in the way. If you want an enjoyable action film you will get your money’s worth, but if you wanted another great Bourne movie we may have to wait a bit longer.

Disappointing but still entertaining.

Result: 6/10

Monday, 1 August 2016

Talkin' Scorsese: After Hours


"Is that unbelievable or what?"

Many people will site ‘The King of Comedy’ as not only Martin Scorsese’s most underrated movie but also his most darkly comical. However in my opinion the people who say that have never seen ‘After Hours’ that for me is not only Scorsese’s funniest film but also one of his most unfortunately overlooked films, as well as one of his absolute best.

The film follows Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) as he experiences a series of misadventures while making his way home from New York City's SoHo district during the night.

You give a director like Martin Scorsese a basic premise like that and revel to see what he does and with ‘After Hours’ he does not disappoint. It is a comedy but in a way that only Scorsese could execute one. It is wracked with tension and at times becomes almost nightmarish in its desperation, but at the same time it never invokes a sense of fear or dread, somehow retaining its sense of humour through each escalating sequence.

The nightmares Hackett confronts on his journey are trivial as well as tragic and every one of them is oddly hilarious. Despite being a complete bombardment of bad luck that appears to be random it is revealed to be connected in the most satisfying way imaginable, that allows the story to be eligible but also retain a sense of the illogical that prevents any potential constraints on the story or characters. Each character in question is sharply written and though many of them are simply caricatures passing through the film in fleeting incidents it works for the tone as that is exactly how Hackett sees them as they pass by.

But despite being brief each character is brilliantly memorable due to both the writing and the actors portraying them. Rosanna Arquette plays a woman that speaks worryingly of her lover whose unhealthy obsession with ‘The Wizard of Oz’ has led him to start calling her Dorothy in bed. Then you have Teri Garr as a waitress who has spent so long in New York trying to make sense of the city that it has driven her around the bend. If this is all too bizarre for you then Linda Fiorentino is on hand for a darker and more sardonic approach to things.

Where Scorsese used ‘Mean Streets’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ to display the darker, violent and guilt ridden side of New York ‘After Hours’ displays its more whimsical side. That is not to say it is completely detached from reality but being a Kafkaesque state of affairs makes it a perfect balance between the obsessiveness we have witnessed in other Scorsese films and the comedy that up until this point we had never really seen in full flourish.

The film never loses its sense of intensity and drive though, with Hackett moving from one bizarre scenario to the next with such conviction and desperation that it is almost impossible not to sympathise with him. When he finally gets a second to catch his breath and tries to explain what has been happening all night he has to pause as he realises how it sound so utterly implausible that is almost can’t have happened.

The film may on the surface resemble a farcical comedy but when one peels back its layers it is a brilliant emotional rollercoaster. By the end you almost feel as wrung out and exhausted as Hackett who is portrayed brilliantly by Griffin Dunne. His performance verges on the dramatic and horrific multiple times throughout these misadventures, yet never quite crosses that line and manages to keep the tone of the film as comedic, even with its darker elements.

The energetic and frenetic pace of the narrative is matched brilliantly by both the direction and the cinematography. It highlights the vibrancy and wonder of the city around Hackett but never pauses or contemplates it too long to let us breathe, the camera almost seems to glide through each incident and when it grinds to a halt with the character it is as infuriating for us as it is for him. The neon lit streets of New York can sometimes resemble hell in the same way they did in ‘Taxi Driver’ with the ominous buildings towering above and the copious amounts of smoke billowing from the sidewalk but at the same time the wonderment and fanciful aspects are kept intact and these small and strange details are what separates ‘After Hours’ as another masterpiece in Scorsese’s filmography.  

There is also a distinct personal connection between its director and its content. Paul Hackett is a man who tries to navigate the complex and sometimes bafflingly aggressive world around him to simply do his job. At the time of making this Scorsese was marred in problems during the production of ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ and simply wanted to pull back, make something more light hearted and whimsical that retained his unique stylistics but also captured his own frustrations with his career. He just wanted to do his job but it felt like everyone was against him.

‘After Hours’ its horror and humour in a way few films have, an overlooked masterpiece.

Result: 10/10

Best and Worst of July 2016


Following the pattern that has been set this summer July 2016 was somewhat disappointing. We have only really had one genuinely good summer blockbuster which I shall get to in a minute. But everything else seemed to fall short of expectations from Spielberg’s competently made but fairly unremarkable ‘The BFG’ and the ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot managed to be neither great nor terrible which for any other movie would be enough but for one that attracted as much attention as Paul Feig’s movie then that seems incredibly anticlimactic. Let me just say that when ‘The Shallows’ is being adopted by audiences as one of the best movies of the summer you know you’re in trouble.

So for the most part we had to look to the indie circuit for hidden gems and luckily we found them this month. Whether by conventional or unconventional storytelling there was a lot to like but let’s not kid ourselves, this is summer and we want big blockbusters and we simply haven’t had any. By this time in 2015 we had already been amazed by ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, ‘Inside Out’, ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’, ‘Ant-Man’, and we still had ‘Straight Outta Compton’ to look forward to as well. So far this year doesn’t look to be getting much better, especially with a certain film that I thought would save the summer may have ended up being the biggest let down of all (stay tuned for that another day). Now we have to look to ‘Suicide Squad’ to save us.

3: Star Trek Beyond

A wonderful celebration of the ‘Star Trek’ franchise just in time for its 50th anniversary and Justin Lin was able to steer the ship towards an entertaining and vibrant blockbuster. It perfectly captures the heart and soul of the original series, feeling more like an extended and higher budget episode of the original series at the same time. The action is fantastic, the screenplay may be somewhat simple in narrative but what it lacks in plotting it makes up for in character dynamics and is the first of the new movies to genuinely feel like an ensemble piece. That of course only makes it sadder that Anthon Yelchin can no longer be a part of that ensemble but this movie stands as a bittersweet end to his tragically short career. In a weak summer ‘Star Trek Beyond’ is a strong and entertaining entry.

2: Sing Street

A wonderful coming of age story that loves adolescence just as much as it loves music. It skirts expertly around any potential pitfalls and is so full of humour and heart that it seems almost impossible not to be smiling for the entirety of the film. It reflects the hopes and dreams of its characters and views music not just as an escape from their turbulent adolescence but as a pure form of emotional expression. The music itself is also able to reflect the development of each character and provoke an emotional response from the audience, as the band attempts to find its style and identify so do the teenagers. In his acting debut Ferdia Walsh Peelo is fantastic as is the entire supporting cast. It manages to be artistic as well as crowd pleasing.

1: Swiss Army Man

For all the complaints about a lack of originality in the film industry what we have here is something wholly and utterly unique that is completely unlike anything I have ever seen before. The Daniels’ tale of a farting corpse might just be my favourite movie of the year so far. It stands as a fantastic example of what can happen when creative minds are let free with no limitations and no constraints, when they are allowed to explore as many wondrous, bizarre and unusually poignant. It is an exercise in eccentricity just as much as it is a tale of existential beauty. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are putting in some of their best performances here along with plentiful amounts of striking imagery that is as immature as it is intelligent. Love it or hate it, there is nothing else like it.

And the worst…

The Purge: Election Year

Otherwise known as ‘Hypocrisy: The Movie’. How this ridiculous premise got stretched into three movies is beyond me, or at least this premise in this format. While it could potentially work as a satire or dark comedy it acts as a cheap exploitation movie that does not subvert anything about its own existence. Instead it celebrates the violence it claims to be cautioning everyone against, it brutalises the violence selectively and as a result we get a tonally inconsistent, terribly acted, horrible structured and poorly directed movie that leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.