Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Best and Worst of May 2017

Despite a relatively strong start to the year, May of 2017 was a fairly lacklustre month. While there was still enough good movies to fill in the usual three spots, there was plenty of mediocre misfires that feels frighteningly reminiscent of the summer of last year. Hopefully things can improve in the coming months because I don’t think I can go through another summer that is so bad that ‘The Shallows’ is widely regarded as one of the better films of the season.

That being said while the blockbusters were somewhat disappointing the indie scene was as interesting as ever. For every movie I was anticipating that ultimately failed to live up to expectations I was also treated to a brilliant smaller movie that caught me by surprise. While I wouldn’t regard the best efforts of this month as perfect or ref8ned visions, they are brilliantly unique ones.

3: Colossal
While Nacho Vigalondo’s movie might not be a perfectly constructed piece of cinema, its concept alone is bold and unique enough to be marvelled at. But by adding a terrific blend of humour and drama supporting what is ultimately a character study of a damaged person, played brilliantly by Anne Hathaway. Hathaway continues to establish herself as a brilliantly talented actor whom is capable of tackling roles far larger than her roots in ‘The Princess Diaries’ would suggest (which is only fair, I mean I doubt anyone looked at the child star of ‘Jeepers Creepers 2’ and went “There’s Martin Scorsese’s next acting protégé). It plays ingeniously with its own genre, both subverting it while also adhering to what makes it unique and though it can be disorienting it’s highly interesting to watch.

2: I Am Heath Ledger
Any documentary to Heath Ledger could easily fall into the trap of analysing the movie star as opposed to the artist. But this excellent documentary showcases Ledger from the perspective of his friends and family, intercut with the actors own home videos that inject such an air of personal affection to the movie that it is difficult to not be instantly drawn in by it. The documentary sheds light on just how committed Ledger was to his craft, his ability to take risks within his career and further push his abilities as an actor. It may not address the elephant in the room but then again why should it? It sought to celebrate his life and work in the most intimate way it could.

1: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
I wanted to recommend something other than the massive blockbuster everyone has already seen, but I can’t be dishonest to myself and say anything other than James Gunn’s intergalactic sequel was the best movie I saw this month. The entertainment factor alone is phenomenal, blending such a brilliant amalgamation of action and comedy that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other (say what you will but no other movie here opened with a tiny sentient tree dancing to Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Mr Blue Sky) and as far as I’m concerened that’s their loss). But what is even better is how Gunn uses the framework of the sequel to further develop and analyse his characters, making them more empathetic and complex in the process. Given that the all-star cast have no trouble bringing said characters to life it’s not difficult to name this the best movie of the month.

And the worst…

The Circle

Though I would not exactly say I was highly anticipating this techno thriller, but with a talented cast and director I was certainly intrigued. However, despite directing the excellent ‘The Spectacular Now’ James Ponsoldt seems to have lost his skill at intimate crafted movies. Not only is ‘The Circle’ mind numbingly repetitive in what it is trying to preach, but it’s a message we’ve all heard before and nothing here makes it even remotely refreshing. The movie just seems so utterly flat and uninspired, with hardly a single aspect from the characters to the plot or direction, nothing sticks out even slightly. One could almost say the film just goes….round in circles. I’ll show myself out.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

I Am Heath Ledger

"He was the most alive human, and if it wasn't on the edge it didn't interest him."

The passing of Heath Ledger was probably one of the greatest losses to the craft of acting in recent years. The sheer potential Ledger has just tapped into with his awe-inspiring performance in ‘The Dark Knight’ was astonishing, coming off the back of other impressive turns in ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘I’m Not There’. Instead of decade upon decade of terrific performances we and everyone that knew him were robbed of his remarkable talent as well as him as a person. Close to a decade after that we get ‘I Am Heath Ledger’ as a celebration of his life work.

With contributions from Naomi Watts, Ben Medelsohn and Ang Lee, this documentary takes an intimate look back upon the art and life of actor Heath Ledger.

A good question to ask for documentaries, especially ones of this nature, is “would this be better as a narrative feature?” If the answer is “no” then it’s a good sign that the movie is an affecting piece of cinema and that is the case for ‘I Am Heath Ledger’. This documentary weaves in home videos of Ledger as well as media reports and modern interviews that inject such an intimate and personal sense of meaning to proceedings. It allows us to get an up-close look at the actor and experience the affection and personality others are describing. It’s hardly a revolutionary technique and one that has been executed better elsewhere but it serves the narrative here very well. If you want to see it done to perfection then check out both of Asif Kapadia’s recent documentaries ‘Senna’ and ‘Amy’.

Actually, speaking of those two particular documentaries I do have to remark upon a flaw with ‘I Am Heath Ledger’ in that regard. I find that the best documentaries dissect their subject rather than just celebrate them, and while Ledger himself is certainly worthy of being celebrated one has to ask if the documentary should have tried harder to uncover more about him and dig beneath the surface. It’s not an approach I object to but it’s one that has its limitations. I already knew what this film had to tell me about its subject whereas those I mentioned earlier by Kapadia added a whole new dimension to their subjects.

That being said, I try to judge a film on what it is, not what I think it should be and as a celebration of Ledger’s life and work this documentary excels. The sheer amount of people praising him is meaningful enough, but to see the interviews in full where we can feel the genuine empathy and meaningfulness to what each guest is saying makes it all the more impactful. They range from reminiscent to somewhat mournful as one does when remembering a departed friend/loved one, though I must say there are some notable absentees. Could they not at the very least pull some archive footage of Christopher Nolan or Terry Gilliam discussing Ledger given that they each directed his final two performances?

In fairness though the movie never claims to be a subjective view of its subject. That is obvious both from the way it handles the interviews about Ledger as well as the fact that it foregoes any formal interview of the actor during his lifetime in favour of recovered home videos. It further adds to the personal feel the documentary possesses. It’s heartfelt, tender and to someone like me who continues to admire Ledger’s work as an actor, doesn’t take long to resonate on an emotional level. We also get insight from professionals within the industry who further emphasise the remarkable nature of the actor’s career. As Mendelsohn remarks at one point, Ledger had established himself as a movie heartthrob only to turn around and star in a prestige picture about gay cowboys, in 2005. Granted it does not seem an age ago but ‘Brokeback Mountain’ remains a bigger touchstone and risk taker than many people give it credit for, and it’s not something every actor would undertake other than those willing to push themselves and their craft.

In terms of how it is structured the movie does a superb job of weaving its many sources together. Obviously it has no straightforward narrative but everything within it intently revolves around the man himself and all feels tightly focussed and constructed. It’s a humane portrait but one that never escapes the grasp of its makers. But as easy as it would be to just recount Ledger’s filmography the movie goes one step further as it never fails to infuse a sense of humanity into proceedings. It’s not about Heath Ledger the movie star, it is about Heath Ledger the actor who strove to improve his craft, and was admired by so many.

Intimate and personal in the best of ways, ‘I Am Heath Ledger’ does not dissect its subject but it is a fine celebration of him.

Result: 7/10

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

"The dead have taken command of the sea. Searching for a girl, a pearl and a Sparrow."

I don’t know what it’s like for everyone else, but nostalgia really sucks don’t you think? I mean you can be completely and utterly accepting that something is not that good on an objective level but they make one quick mention of something you remember fondly from your childhood and you can’t stop watching even though you want to. That basically applies to me when it comes to this franchise. The first ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ is something that I remember fondly from my childhood and something that still holds up decently to this day. I wish I could say the same for the sequels.

Thrust into an all-new adventure, a down-on-his-luck Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) feels the winds of ill-fortune blowing even more strongly when deadly ghost sailors led by his old nemesis, the evil Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil's Triangle. Jack's only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, but to find it, he must forge an uneasy alliance with a brilliant and beautiful astronomer and a headstrong young man in the British navy.

So this is apparently ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ (or ‘Salazar’s Revenge’ in some areas because apparently Disney thought it wasn’t ridiculous enough already) is a thing that exists and I am therefore obligated to review it. That being said the last instalment turned a hefty profit so I suppose in that regard it does make sense to continue the franchise, but said last film was so utterly bland and devoid of anything remotely memorable that the whole franchise just feels like more of an exercise in futility than ever. This instalment is, by some baffling oddity, even more forgetful and pointless.

That is actually somewhat disappointing, especially given that a whole new creative team was drafted to direct this new instalment after Gore Verbinski directed the first three and Rob Marshall helmed the lacklustre fourth. The directors this time around are Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, the due behind the impressive 2012 Norwegian film ‘Kon-Tiki’. The direction itself on ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ is mostly competent and sometimes notable but to be honest that was never really the problem with this franchise. All of them have been solidly directed, what has plagued them and continues to do so is a complete lack of tonal consistency. The film tries to balance drama, comedy and adventure which is far from impossible but in this case the film only seems capable of conveying one mood in any one scene, meaning that going from scene to scene is frustratingly jarring in tone.

Like the other sequels as well there is no clear narrative thrust to be found for a majority of ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’. It’s just one magical McGuffin, one meaningless backstory, another motivation, some special curse, a revenge plot, a flashback and son on until you realise there’s been no cohesive underline to this story and we’re already halfway through the movie. When the plot of sorts finally does kick in I’m not invested enough within the characters to even care. Which brings me to another problem, as in the problem that I just mentioned. While the characters from ‘Curse of the Black Pearl’ weren’t exactly complex you could understand their motivation and were therefore sympathetic towards them. That just isn’t the same here, everyone just kind of goes where the script tells them to without much rhyme or reason.

Of course, ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ actually reintroduces the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly having not seen them since ‘At World’s End’ and I must admit I personally got a nostalgic kick out of seeing them on screen in these roles again, albeit very briefly. I also found myself surprised at how much I enjoyed just being within this world again. Even though the mythology of this franchise is convoluted beyond reason the feel and atmosphere of it, combined with that terrific theme that still makes almost any scene it’s attached to stand out, was somewhat immersive to see again.

But I think what hurts this movie most of all is the comedy, or should I say the attempts at comedy because they all fall so painfully flat. Everything from the one-liners to the running jokes just feel horribly unfunny and to make matters worse each one contains a pause as if that’s where they thought the audience would be laughing like a bad Adam Sandler film. It’s just awkward and goes nowhere, and as I said before because according to the logic of this movie a scene can’t convey more than one thing at a time you know they have several more minutes of this before we can move on. Bardem could have been interesting but he isn’t given enough to do as part of this franchise’s long running line of undead ship captains out to settle a debt. I don’t think it’s even worth saying that Depp’s performance is infuriatingly shallow, boasting nothing other than a few silly gestures and catchphrases. Again, this would be acceptable if like in the first movie he was part of an ensemble, but here he’s still pushed as a main character and it’s still awful.

Repetitive and derivative of its own predecessors, ‘Dead men Tell No Tales’ makes the franchise feel more stagnant than ever.

Result: 3/10

Friday, 26 May 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Franchise So Far...

One would think that a theme park ride would only offer so many storylines but the folks at Walt Disney Studios evidently disagree and as we look down on what will be the fifth instalment of ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise it seems only fitting to take a look back on the franchise so far. Wish me luck, I may not make it all the way through.

It must have come as a shock to everyone involved when that first film became the hit it did in 2003. Swashbuckling and pirate stories were not exactly a hot commodity at the time, but when ‘Curse of the Black Pearl’ opened it held a special kind of feeling that was radically different from any other major studio picture at the time. It was also significant in that it was the first film from Walt Disney to be rated PG-13 by the MPAA. Re-watching it today, with the mistakes of the sequels being so present in my mind, it was frankly astonishing how excellent that first film was. Critics will often praise a genre film for “knowing what it is” which is essentially a code phrase for being tonally consistent which is exactly what ‘Curse of the Black Pearl’ is. There is an array of action, fantasy, adventure, humour and dare I say some horror-esque elements but they all blend together brilliantly. Under the direction of Gore Verbinski the film has a finely crafted feel to it but also a sense of pulsating energy that permeates every frame.

What is more impressive still is the character work. In an odd way it reminds me of James Gunn’s recent films (and not just because Zoe Saldana is in it) in that every character has some sort of arc, development or running theme. Even minor characters get some sort of cathartic moment to an aspect of their personality that was earlier established and even though there is still a lot going on in regards to backstories and exposition it all feels intrinsically linked to the main focus of the film, as well as being delivered in a way that feels natural to the plot’s progression. Even the CGI holds up remarkably well, particularly in a climactic action sequence where the actors are repeatedly and seamlessly switched out with CGI doubles.

The real strong point though is the cast who are all terrific in their roles. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly share good on screen chemistry that can carry the emotional crux of the movie. It’s great to see Geoffrey Rush being so fully committed to the role as the villainous Barbossa, bringing great charisma and menace to the part. But if we’re talking charisma you know where this is going. Johnny Depp received an Oscar nomination for his role as Captain Jack Sparrow and honestly, taking this movie alone it’s not at all surprising. Depp so many distinct nuances and great physical traits to the character that he is instantly burned into your memory. Yes it’s a caricature but it’s a caricature done with such commitment and flawlessness that you have to applaud.

Sadly, like any caricature though, when it’s overused it can go from charming to annoying in a matter of minutes. That is one of the many problems with the higher budget sequel ‘Dead Man’s Chest’. That being said there is a lot to like in this mess of a film. It loses that tonal consistency that made the first one so enjoyable and the pacing and structure of the film is so convoluted that it feels exhausting to sit through it. Whereas you could argue Depp was just part of an ensemble in the first he seems to be thrust forward and centre here (I’ll elaborate later on why that is such a problem as it only gets worse as the films progress). The problem is that each plot thread and sequence feels enjoyable enough, but hardly any of them feel relevant to the main story of the movie, which is….I’m honestly not that sure. Take the reunion of Jack and Will, which is established via a lengthy sub-plot about cannibal tribes and false gods that feels fun at first but is treated with such seriousness and goes on for so long that it detracts from the main movie. But as I said, there’s still a lot to enjoy especially as Verbinski’s direction is still superb and the cinematography in particular feels like a significant improvement upon the first. Some of the set pieces are especially inspired, such as the three way duel. Not only is it brilliantly staged and orchestrated but every character involved has an established and relatable motivation, and the sequence itself escalates with such brilliant ridiculousness that just when you think it’s reached its height it goes on even more and is great for it. But then you reach the end of it, exhilarated and exhausted, and you realise there’s still half an hour of the movie left and you don’t have the energy to care. 

Mind you, all of this is nothing compared to what is next. When people ask about the most confusing movies ever made they recall the work of David Lynch or Ingmar Bergman. I however, point to ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’. It seems that in the process of making these films someone forgot to tell the creative team that their movie isn’t ‘Lord of the Rings’. It’s not based on one of the most acclaimed works of fiction of the 20th century, it is based on a theme park ride. As I said before, the first movie still had a lot going on but it was all with the intent of going towards a single goal. You could sum up the plot in a few sentences and the rest was just there to enrich the characters and world. To this day I still have no idea what the plot of ‘At World’s End’. It’s just minute after minute of contrived plot points, overly complicated mythology and an infuriating amount of rules and regulation governing this supposed pirate fantasy. And it all goes NOWHERE, I mean literally nothing has any bearing or relevance to the ultimate plot. The pirate brethren, pieces of eight, detour to Shanghai, weird multiple personalities of Johnny Depp, something to do with an East India Trading Company and another ship of undead monsters, it all amounts to jack-shit. There are entire subplots of this movie that I had completely erased from my memory, subplots that take up a good half hour of the films gargantuan runtime. One scene isn’t just tonally inconsistent from another, it’s on an entirely different astral plane. Character development and motivations are almost as nonsensical as the actual character actions, with everyone betraying everyone else despite the fact that the previous movies led me to believe that they actually had some mild affection for one another, or at least enough not to sell them down the river when it’s convenient. What was even up with that whole Calypso thing? Was all that just so you could get a cool set piece at the end of your movie? You know there is such a thing as editing right?

So, I decided to bail on that before I drifted into insanity. So four years later Jack Sparrow returned yet again with ‘On Stranger Tides’ which at the very least manages to go back to basics. No more complicated squid monsters and sea Goddess’, just Jack and some fine adventure. Except it kind of sucks. By no means is there anything inherently wrong with ‘On Stranger Tides’ but it feels so completely devoid of that innovation and distinct charm that made the first film so enjoyable. The plot, action and general tone of the movie just all feel flat and uninspired. I think a lot of that is due to the character dynamic. As I stated earlier Jack Sparrow simply does not work when he isn’t part of an ensemble. For these films to succeed they rely on his antics and charisma being ever present throughout the story, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to character depth or dramatic range. He needs to stay the same throughout because any development would risk changing his character. In the first film we had Bloom and Knightly to provide the emotional arc of the movie whilst Jack reacted to them whilst setting the plot in motion. Sparrow is the maverick to the straight man that is the rest of the world. When you try to make a caricature the focus of your movie it doesn’t matter how well Depp plays him, he’s still a caricature. Which brings us up to date and up to the next one. Learn from your mistakes guys.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Top Ten Movies of 2012

When I think of 2012 in terms of cinema I think of a year in which artists were able to truly define their own visions. Regardless of genre of generation it seemed as if almost every great filmmaker of our age came out in full force this year to craft a movie of stunning craftsmanship and endless impact. Whether it was stories that shook the world or intimate tales of individuality, everything was striking a similar level of excellence. Best of all is that even amid the endless stream of masterful veteran filmmakers reminding us why we loved them, we were also treated to several newcomers whose work loudly announced their arrival on the scene. As ever though, before I get to the ten best movies of the year I have some honourable mentions to name.

David Cronenberg may be a master of body horror but his disturbing dramas have proved to be, if anything, even more visceral. Some may find ‘Cosmopolis’ somewhat distant but personally I was enthralled by its psychological complexity and brilliant lead performance by Robert Pattinson. But if we are speaking of great lead performances we have to acknowledge the tour de force that is Daniel Day Lewis in ‘Lincoln’. Under the skilled direction of Steven Spielberg it comes as little surprise that this portrait of a great man and his struggles is stunning to behold. Ben Affleck also further enforced his talents as a director with ‘Argo’.

It was also a very strong year for science fiction, with two very different but equally involving movies from the genre emerging and providing an excellent platform for their filmmakers to go far (maybe even direct a ‘Star Wars’ film….). Colin Treverrow’s ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ and Rian Johnson’s ‘Looper’. In fact for genres films in general it was a strong year, with ‘Skyfall’ being one of the best films in the history of the Bond franchise and ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ being a brilliantly inventive horror film. ’21 Jump Street’ was also a terrific comedy. There were also a number of very impressive documentaries like ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ and ‘Indie Game: The Movie’.

All of this goes without mentioning superb movies like ‘End of Watch’, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ and ‘The Impossible’. All brilliant films crafted with such a distinct style but dealing with such broad and grandiose themes it was difficult to imagine that they would be relegated to here rather than on the actual list itself.  

10: The Sessions

How John Hawkes did not get an Oscar nomination for his role here as a man paralysed from the neck down is beyond me. His performance here is the highlight of an already wonderful movie that is so much more light hearted and endearing than the premise would suggest. It is a comedy of sorts but it never fails to treat its characters with dignity, allowing us to be fully invested within the struggles of those characters without ever undermining them. Hawkes performance is endlessly empathetic, with his fragile physical stance being contrasted by his larger than life charisma, not only that but with a strong supporting cast consisting of Helen Hunt and William H Macy the movie contains such joyous message of life and loss. It may not be the most complex movie of the year but you will struggle to find a more uplifting one.

9: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

A coming of age fable that stands alongside the best work of John Hughes, one assembled of complex characters, great emotional weight and that great balance of tone that captures that moment of someone’s life. For all the pain and struggle there’s a sense of endearment and joy that permeates every scene. In adapting his own novel to the big screen, director Stephen Chbosky adds an extra dimension to his story and utilises a supremely talented cast to do so. The central trio of the story played by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller have such a terrific group dynamic but also shine so well as individuals that it almost defies belief. It renders high school as a warzone of insecurity and isolation, brings forward repressed trauma and captures the indelible pain of growing up but none of that stops the moments of euphoria feel infinite. Also, it has the best use of a David Bowie song in movie history.

8: Marvel’s The Avengers

When it comes to pure cinematic escapism I defy you to think of something more outright entertaining than the ultimate superhero extravaganza. Seeing these heroes rendered on the big screen in all their glory felt like the fulfilment of a million childhood dreams. But anyone can make something like this look cool, where Joss Whedon distinguishes himself and his movie is by making it a more personal affair than we could have imagined. His heroes all have distinct arcs and personalities, making their eventual unification all the more gratifying when we witness these larger than life superpowers joining together. Its ensemble cast never put a foot wrong with Robert Downey Junior, Chris Evans, Tom Hiddlestone and Mark Ruffalo being particularly brilliant and that’s just to name a few (we haven’t even got to Samuel L Jackson yet). ‘The Avengers’ is more than just a showcase of Marvel’s properties, it’s heartfelt, smartly written, gorgeously cinematic and a great sense of humour. Basically everything a modern blockbuster should be.

7: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson continues to establish himself as not only one of the most distinctive but one of the finest auteurs in modern cinema. His entire filmmaking persona is so wonderfully unique but finely crafted that when he brings forth an emotionally resonant script like ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ it is only elevated even further by his terrific directing sensibilities, excellent set design, flawless composition and rich cinematography. Described by its writers as an "eccentric, pubescent love story", Anderson never lets that eccentricity dominate the film so as to make it feel like nothing more than a collection of oddities, he injects it with a great sense of emotion and variation of tone that makes it accessible but also brilliantly whimsical. It features wonderful performances from the likes of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand as well as an array of talented young performers. In works as a comedy, a love story and an exercise in eccentricity.

6: Killing Them Softly

If I had to name the most underrated but secretly brilliant director working today, it would be Andrew Dominik. His 2007 revisionist western ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ was exceptional, but dare I say his latest directorial outing in the form of this neo-noir film is even better. In a story about two hitmen (Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini) sent by the Mob to deal with a group of small time criminals who have robbed a Mob-protected gambling operation, Dominik uses his skills as a director to elevate his already excellent screenplay to new levels of brilliance. He gives the movie a visceral and satirical feel that is as committed to its intricate crime story as it is being a commentary on the dark side of capitalism all the while balancing these two sides perfectly. At times darkly comical and at other brutally forceful, ‘Killing Them Softly’ is a masterfully crafted crime tale.

5: Django Unchained

By this point I think you can divide Quentin Tarantino’s career into two phases. The first is his gritty, postmodern crime films of the 1990s consisting of ‘Reservoir Dogs’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Jackie Brown’. The second is the more ambitions, genre subversion phase in which QT classic styles of filmmaking and injects them with his own unique sensibilities. ‘Kill Bill’, ‘Inglourious Basterds’ and now, ‘Django Unchained’. Not only does Tarantino revel in the western tropes he so obviously adores but he forges his own distinct identity in the process, while saying a great deal about the ugliness of prejudice in the process. But for all of its emotional resonance, meta homages and social commentary, ‘Django Unchained’ is pure and unfiltered entertainment from start to finish. In what amounts to one spectacularly crafted set piece after another, connected by two immensely watchable leading men in the form of Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz whose dynamic alone is enough to sell the movie. But then we find ourselves face to face with the gloriously despicable Leonard DiCaprio as the film’s villain who turns in one of the finest performances of his career. What else is there to say?

4: Zero Dark Thirty

To tackle a global manhunt of this scale that had already been covered by the media more than most events this century would take a masterful filmmaker. That brings us to Kathryn Bigalow, who as well as adding superb craftsmanship, terrific suspense and flawlessly staged set pieces also adds a human element to the story. Despite this global manhunt being a gargantuan affair, Bigalow turns it into a character study, one of obsession and compromise that all leads to a non-triumphant finale. You see, despite what we know about this story and how it concludes, Bigalow forces to ask that with all the suffering and toil to get to this stage, was Bin Laden’s death really worth it. She pushes no political agenda but instead relays events in a bold but intimate manner with Jessica Chastain’s stunning performance at the centre. Every technical detail is without error and despite its great length the movie is always engaging, provocative and empathetic.

3: The Hunt

I have to admire a film that can tackle a subject most people are afraid to even talk about and if you have already seen Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘The Hunt’ then you will know exactly why it is here on my list. In the film Mads Mikkelson plays a school teacher falsely accused of sexually abusing a child, leading to mass him being completely isolated from and scrutinized by the community around him. Of course, the fact that the movie itself is exquisitely made help as well, but Vinterberg’s direction is bold and provocative enough to be as terrifying as it is relevant, as well being grounded enough to make it feel all the more realistic. The film has a lot to say about group mentality and mass hysteria as well as the power of accusation. Mikkelson’s performance is simply phenomenal, being haunting in terms of how sympathetic and desperate he is. Despite being set in a lush suburbia Vintergerb stages his film like a psychological thriller which in many ways it is as the protagonists life slowly falls apart under the strain of one poisonous rumour.

2: Amour

You would be hard pressed to find a more emotionally engaging film from this decade, let alone this year. Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ is a story of endless compassion, told in such an insightful and intelligent manner that you will feel every second of the film as it ticks by. Haneke is a patient filmmaker who wants to portray the suffering in his stories in the most brutally honest way he can which he does through the subtlest of techniques. But rather than take a clinical approach Hanake’s style feels full of humanity and personal attachment. A film about the trials of old age was always going to be tough to watch, but by utilising the acting talent of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva ‘Amour’ becomes soul shatteringly devastating, to say it is harrowing is an understatement. The fact that it’s a movie with Isabelle Huppert and she isn’t the first thing I rave about is a testament to the mastery of Haneke.

1: The Master

I’ve held the idea for a while now that Paul Thomas Anderson is seeking to make the great American film, and after he has already done so with ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’ I believe he has done it again in ‘The Master’. It confirms Anderson’s place as one of the finest filmmaking talents of this generation, balancing grandiose statements on religion, devotion and identity with the intimate character studies that make his movies so endearing. Boasting a truly phenomenal performance by Joaquin Phoenix whose ability to completely transform himself never ceases to amaze me, alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tour de force and Amy Adams impeccable role. The cinematography is beyond beautiful, flawlessly composed by Anderson’s direction and captured on glorious 70mm film. Its ambition is profound and it’s no surprise that numerous people have tried to interpret it. Is it statement on religion, an examination of an entire culture or a story of two men searching for identity? Whether it’s all of them or none of them, it’s simply masterful.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

"Raise the sword, show the people the power of Excalibur."

I’ll be honest, as ridiculous as it sounds I was not completely against the idea of Guy Ritchie directing a King Arthur movie. I mean it may not have been an obvious choice but in terms of taking a director who has excelled in one genre and asking them to take a step upwards this did not appear to be the worst option. But then those trailers came out, one after the other a ridiculous, overblown, stylistically confusing advertisements made the movie look like a disaster waiting to happen. So going into the movie my expectations were mixed to say the least.

After murdering his brother the power-hungry Vortigern (Jude Law) seizes control of the crown, forcing Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) the son of the former king into a life of hiding. Robbed of his birth right, he grows up the hard way in the back alleys of the city, not knowing who he truly is. When fate leads him to pull the Excalibur sword from stone, Arthur embraces his true destiny to become a legendary fighter and leader.

So I am a bit late in reviewing ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’, a fact that I am reminded of due to how, despite only being in theatres for a week, Ritchie’s fantasy action film has been declared a major box office bomb that is set to create a $150 million loss for the studio. Now, on the one hand that is a bit of a shame since Richie’s unique filmmaking sensibilities have created a blockbuster that is, if nothing else, stylistically different to most big budget disasters out there right now. But on the other hand ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ only shows that unique style occasionally, the rest of the time it boils down to mediocre at best, and at worst laughably ridiculous.

More than anything this movie just feels like that ‘Robin Hood’ movie from 2010 (remember that? Don’t lie, I know you don’t), a few interesting flourishes that have the ability to make the story interesting but also robs it of any recognizable attributes that make it unique. What is most frustrating about this is that Ritchie seems to be at his best when dealing with street level, small time conflicts and for a while this movie genuinely starts to feel like ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ in Medieval times which is in fact somewhat interesting. But sadly most of that is purely for exposition and once the main bulk of the story gets underway we return to contrived plotting, endless backstories and characters whose introduction feels like an obligation.

Ironically, ‘King Arthur’ suffers from the same problem another box office bomb from this year was burdened with, that film being ‘Ghost in the Shell’. They both suffer from what I like to call ‘John Carter’ syndrome, being that while the story they are based upon seems perfectly suitable for adaptation, said story has been cherry-picked so much and had such a profound influence that the once unique elements have already been borrowed by everyone else beforehand. There is nothing to distinguish Arthur as a compelling or unique character because it’s been used as a prototype for so many other “hero’s-journey” stories. That’s not to say it’s impossible to make a modern adaptation of this story that is unique and interesting, but it’s not to be found here.

None of the cast feel engaging enough to guide me through this needless exposition either. Save for Jude Law who revels in what might as well be a moustache twirling villain, Arthur and his band of knights who aren’t actually knights yet just come across as the most bland and uninteresting group of mercenaries you could find. To be fair I wouldn’t necessarily call any of the cast bad, they do their jobs and fill their roles decently, but they offer nothing in the way of a compelling hook to help me digest all of this exposition.

It’s bad enough that the movie be uninteresting but the fact that it’s jam packed with one pointless sub-plot after another makes it feel like an endless display of meaninglessness. None of these revelations add anything to the characters, narrative or themes so why they are even included is beyond me. They all feel repetitive and derivative of one another, with three different occasions in the space of about half an hour in which Arthur is close to defeat and about to surrender only to (spoiler) miraculously be saved at the last minute. Then at the end of it all, if you stop to think about the plot for more than a second you’ll probably come to the conclusion that it makes literally no sense at all. Though there are a few interesting action sequences and finely crafted set pieces it’s not enough to save this sprawling fantasy epic.

‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is a fantasy epic that’s being pulled in eight different directions, and none of them feel remotely interesting.

Result: 4/10

Monday, 15 May 2017

Alien: Covenant

"Hear that? It's Nothing. No birds, no animals, nothing."

If there is any movie in recent memory that I think had the potential to be a true masterpiece but was let down by a few core elements, it was ‘Prometheus’. It mixes great filmmaking with bad writing like oil and water. Striking visuals, intelligent concepts that are not spoon fed to you, impeccable design, strong ensemble cast and terrific direction (it’s Ridley Scott, what would you expect?). But all of that is marred by flat and uninteresting characters, completely inconsistent plot elements and irrational behaviour from pretty much everyone involved. In going from a story to a script the greatness was lost. That brings us to ‘Alien: Covenant’.

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members of the colony ship Covenant make a detour to an uncharted planet and upon landing there discover what they think to be a paradise. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life-form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.

This might not count for much given that every film in the ‘Alien’ franchise since 1986 has been disappointing to outright awful but ‘Alien: Covenant’ is certainly the third best film of the franchise. It sits a long way ahead of the likes of ‘Alien: Resurrection’ and ‘Alien 3’ but at the same time is still long way behind ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens. Yes, if I had to group it with another film from the franchise it would be ‘Prometheus’ but fear not, because by going back to basics ‘Alien: Covenant’ keeps a tighter focus on its story that allows its themes to feel naturally integrated if still not fully explored. Furthermore the characters within this film actually feel like something vaguely relating to a rational human being. Regrettably there are still a few idiotic character moments that are a highly distracting (surely there’s only so many times a character can stick their face directly above a pulsating alien embryo that will subsequently allow said embryo to attach a lethal Face-hugger to said face before it’s just issued as a general warning).

What is most surprising about ‘Alien: Covenant’ is that it actually raises concepts that have more in common with ‘Blade Runner’ than Scott’s original ‘Alien’. While it is certainly something we’ve seen explored elsewhere and to a greater degree it is intriguing to see them brought together here. In fact it leads me to say that the title of the movie is somewhat misleading, as despite the fact that Xenomorphs are a major thematic crux within the film they’re certainly not at the centre of its thematic conceit. In fact that in itself does result in a personal issue I have with the movie that I’m not sure whether or not to call an objective flaw so I’ll address it later.

Like essentially any film he directs, far and away the best thing about ‘Alien: Covenant’ is Ridley Scott’s direction. He possesses such an eye for visually stunning compositions that even the most comparatively mundane moments feel epic in his hands. Not only that but when Scott wants to instil a mood throughout a movie you can bet he will do just that, with an unnatural eeriness penetrating every frame and evoking a sense of unease. The sound design and cinematography also enforce this mood brilliantly, to such an extent that my only issue with the film on a technical level comes from the overabundance of CGI. Not that it isn’t used well on some occasions but I feel that more than once the genuine weight and presence of a practical effect would have suited the scene better.

The cast are also on very strong form here. Katherine Waterston’s performance and character may feel overly reminiscent of Ripley (is it that hard to come up with a different kind of character?) but as a protagonist she’s suitably capable, as is Billy Crudup and the rest of the Covenant Crew. The two standouts are in fact Danny McBride, whose performance is so convincingly different from anything the actor has done prior to this that it is actually remarkable, and Michael Fassbender whose nuance and brilliance never fails to shine and without spoiling anything (or at least anything that you could already see in some stupid studio synopsis anyway) that talent is put to great use here.   

I suppose the biggest criticism I have of ‘Alien: Covenant’ is also its’ biggest strength, or at least what a majority of people are also praising it for. It feels a little too reminiscent of previous entries in the ‘Alien’ franchise to a point where it sometimes feels like it’s pandering to its audience. Of course, sequels have taken influence from their predecessors before, especially on a narrative level. But where they did something new and interesting with the characters or environment, ‘Alien: Covenant’ doesn’t seem to have enough interest in its own characters, who themselves are still fairly uninteresting for the most part. As a huge fan of what Scott achieved with that original film I will revel in anything that feels like a return to that style, but this movie almost seems to get stuck there.

Which leads me back to the point I avoided discussing earlier. You see, as much as I enjoy revisiting Scott’s ‘Alien’ world I can’t help but think this movie and its intended sequels are focussing on the least interesting part of ‘Alien’. As interesting as the origins of the Xenomorph might be, what made that first film great was the human element. I feel as if the longer this series goes on the more it risks actually undermining the original film. So as great as it may be to return to this universe in the short term, in the long run it might do more harm than good.

Effectively chilling and technically masterful, Scott’s return to the ‘Alien’ franchise may be a little static but it is certainly entertaining to those looking for some classic ‘Alien’ thrills. But I fear that simply isn't good enough.

Result: 6/10

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Alien vs Aliens: Which is Better?

With ‘Alien: Covenant’ hitting cinemas soon I was considering doing a rundown of the whole ‘Alien’ franchise but let’s be honest, such an undertaking would involve praising two movies followed by a string of underwhelming or outright terrible movies, all with a differing set of specific problems. Also, given that Ridley Scott has recently announced plans to direct two more instalments after ‘Covenant’ I’m sure a chance to review those films will arise again in the future. For now though I thought I would try to settle the age old question, one that has raged for decades and is unlikely to go away anytime soon (and by “settle” I of course mean “provide my own subjective opinion on the matter that will undoubtedly leave a number of people unsatisfied”). Which is better, ‘Alien’ or ‘Aliens’?

I think it is safe to say that in 1986 even the most loyal of James Cameron fans were sceptical of his ability to deliver a sequel to what was already being acknowledged as a masterpiece of science fiction cinema, Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’. Having caught the attention of the movie world with his science fiction thriller ‘The Terminator’ Cameron wrote the screenplay for ‘Aliens’ long before he ever procured the rights to actually direct the sequel. He often spoke about how he made the movie as more of a war film in contrast to the heavy horror elements of Scott’s film, which is not to say ‘Aliens’ does not contain it’s fair share of traumatising scenes as well.

I suppose deciding which is best depends upon your preference of genre. Some people do naturally gravitate towards the more action oriented style of filmmaking but others are comfortable with the slower and more methodical pace of a true horror movie. But as someone who does not show a preference for either genre I like to think I can look at each film in an objective light, and at the end of the day I can say one is superior to the other.

‘Aliens’ is often held up as the gold standard of sequels. It builds upon the weight and meaning of the original, efficiently conveys all you need to know about the situation and quickly sends you into a new story, one that goes in a completely different direction from the original so as to avoid feeling repetitive while also masterfully integrating our preconceived knowledge of these characters and creatures to great effect. It is a vastly different film from ‘Alien’ and I think those differences shed light how Ridley Scott and James Cameron are two different kinds of filmmakers. Not just in their tone but in their sensibilities. Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ is arguably more humane, it’s optimistic ending stands in stark contrast to that of Scott’s bleak nightmare. Cameron also injects his movie with strong moments of empowerment that are designed to make the audience root for the main character in a single line of dialogue (“Get away from her you bitch” serves the same purpose within its narrative as the “You’re terminated, fucker” line).

I think, beyond the sensibilities though, when it comes to the actual process of filmmaking I could single out one director as being a cut above the other just as I could with said director’s film. I think ‘Aliens’ is a near perfect film in every regard, but ‘Alien’ is simply a perfect film. Cameron is by all means a great director but Ridley Scott is on an entirely different level of mastery. Watching ‘Alien’ feels like watching an artist in complete control of his technique, never putting a foot wrong and evoking such abject terror that it defies belief.

On a technical level ‘Alien’ is still perfect. There is nothing within the movie that dates it or relinquishes its timeless quality. On the other hand ‘Aliens’ for all its brilliance still has a few poorly composited blue screen shots and one or two dated visual effects. In his film Scott strikes the perfect balance of low key terror and giant existential dread. What the film implies about the history of the Xenomorph is terrifying enough, with its huge concepts and Freudian set design, if you ever watch ‘Alien’ and think the set design seems overtly sexual it’s because it is. It shows a deep understanding of its thematic terror as Scott plays up the themes of violation and the result is a horror film unlike any other. The claustrophobic interior of the Nostromo only furthers this enclosing sense of horror.

Furthermore, I think when it comes to the way each film utilises its titular creature ‘Alien’ has the edge. The surrealist artwork of H.R Gieger is cemented into our subconscious as pure nightmare fuel and it’s due to the way it is shown in ‘Alien’. There is an overtly industrial look to the creature, almost as if it was more than just a product of evolution, the ultimate refined killing machine. The way Scott shoots the monster gives it a feeling of beauty and horror. You could admire the creature design for hours but are ever present of the unstoppable threat it poses. Given that it is a sequel the next logical step would of course be to introduce a higher number of aliens. As terrifying as that is, I think in doing so ‘Aliens’ robs the creature of some of its omnipotence, making it feel like less of a prevalent threat and more of an obstacle that needs to be overcome. As action movie antagonists go the Alien is a great choice, but remember that all of the unique qualities about them were established in Scott’s film, without any clunky exposition in favour of brilliant visual storytelling.

I think this plays into the fact that like any action movie ‘Aliens’ relies on escalation. I commend Cameron for making that escalation feel integral to the characters rather than the number of explosions and gunshots. Cameron does understand that watching Ripley overcome this horrific obstacle is the best kind of catharsis, especially for a character as well drawn as her. But intrigue and mystery played such a huge part in Scott’s film that it would never fail to be used as a major narrative tool when required. Once ‘Aliens’ uncovers its first act mystery (which isn’t exactly hard to work out given the title of the movie) there are very few twists and turns to be had. There are surprises and revelations of course but the narrative still plays out as one would expect.

That leads me onto the characters. Given the fact that ‘Aliens’ exists at all and Sigourney Weaver’s stardom the eventual survivor of the Nostromo is obvious even to those who have never seen ‘Alien’. But try to imagine the movie as a singular entity and it becomes glaringly clear that trying to guess who will survive is a difficult feat. There is an unpredictability to which characters will die, when they will die and in what manner it will happen. Even if you are aware of Ripley’s survival (which is not a spoiler now because as I said before, ‘Aliens’ exists) there are still plenty of surprises to be had with the characters.

Speaking of those characters though, it’s another area where ‘Alien’ feels superior to me. James Cameron does have a talent for crafting memorable characters, with Hicks, Vasquez and Hudson (played by the late, great Bill Paxton) are among the most memorable. But the problem is that as likable as those characters are, they’re somewhat one note. There isn’t necessarily a lot of depth to them and while I understand that the characters in ‘Alien’ didn’t necessarily have any increased depth either, they were relatable, blue collar workers whom we could relate to on a more effective level. The characters in ‘Aliens’ are highly trained marines, overconfident ones at that to a point where the massacre later in the film feels more like a comeuppance than a sight of horror. I understand that part of this was to play into Cameron’s bold Vietnam metaphor that sees the American military as the marines, charging into a situation they are woefully underprepared for, when it comes to empathetic writing though Scott’s method is just more engaging. As I said before as well, the unpredictable way in which Scott handles his characters just makes the whole thing even more enthralling whilst it’s fairly easy to predict who will make it through Cameron’s film. In every regard for me, ‘Alien’ stands as the superior movie.

However I should stress that I am nit-picking here. Both movies are deservedly labelled as great pieces of cinema and in all honesty I’ve probably re-watched ‘Aliens’ more than I have ‘Alien’. For what Cameron’s film lacks in all the regards I listed it is also hugely entertaining and sentimental in just the right way as well as cementing the character of Ripley as an icon of action cinema. Nor can I fault anyone for preferring it to its predecessor. Though I can safely say I prefer ‘Alien’ and regard it as the better film, it and its sequel are each different entities, made by two great filmmakers at the height of their creative power and are both absolutely stunning for those exact reasons.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Circle

"I am a believer in the perfectibility of human beings. At the Circle, we can finally realise our potential."

I should probably learn to not be so excited based purely on the promise of a movie. Not only did a film with the premise of ‘The Circle’ sound like a brilliantly relevant subject, but combined with the strong cast of Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillian, Patton Oswald and Bill Paxton (in his last ever film role) as well as being directed by John Ponsoldt (‘The Spectacular Now’, ‘The End of the Tour’) made it appear to be a very promising piece of cinema. But promise and execution are two very different things.

Mae (Watson) is an ordinary and unaccomplished young woman with an ill father. Through an influential friend, she gets a customer relations job at powerful internet corporation The Circle. She quickly rises through company's ranks, and is selected for an assignment with the Circle's newest technology which she eagerly takes on. Soon she finds herself in a perilous situation concerning privacy, surveillance, and freedom that could affect the entire human race.

I always hate it when movies try to preach a message about something they clearly have no understanding of. It’s like being lectured by a clueless teacher, a giant waste of everyone’s time. But imagine of said lecture was also mind numbingly repetitive, predictable from the outset and so inconsistent in tone you start to wonder if you’re even listening to the same person anymore. Take all that into account and you have ‘The Circle’.

There are a lot of interesting ideas and concepts within ‘The Circle’ but in another way that is the exact problem, in which none of these concepts feel like a fleshed out narrative, a compelling story or interesting characters. They remain purely conceptual and never actually feel integrated into the story. In fact I question whether anything was actually integrated into this story as it mindlessly strays from one plotline to the other, introducing new elements on a whim, dropping old ones without actually concluding them and taking the narrative approach of a thriller even though everything the movie is saying becomes overtly obvious within the first fifteen minutes. There virtually no underlying structure or plot to proceedings and instead if just drifts around aimlessly.

As I said at the start though, for the movie that keeps insisting it is a parable about the dark side of modern technology it seems to know very little about it. At its best it resembles an amateur rundown of technological concepts and at its worst it’s a work place drama that drops in a few sentences of technobabble every so often. There are any number of outlooks on this subject that are not only much more informed but take a much more original approach. Half of them are on TV in the likes of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Silicon Valley’ and both of them feel infinitely more cinematic.

Despite showing a talent for directing low key, human dramas, here Ponsoldt seems lost over how to approach this material. In what feels like it should have been a tightly wound thriller or a cutting edge satire he tries to make it both and the result is a movie caught awkwardly between two directions, being neither instead of both and it’s not just through tone. His editing and direction heighten the idea that we’re seeing a mutated hybrid of two very different projects, both of which feel cut short as a result. To make matters worse the plot is just so predictable and repetitive of itself that it’s hard not to roll your eyes whenever the movie introduces a new element it seems to think will catch you by surprise. It only succeeds in further convoluting the already obvious story.

Not even the talented cast seem to be able to make this work. Boyega and Gillian feel underused, Watson is given so little to do with the character that it comes across as utterly one dimensional and flat. Then there’s Tom Hanks who despite being mildly magnetic as the villain still has too little to do. We understand the role of the tech giant Circle corporation is to carry out evil intentions but we never actually find out why what they’re doing is evil. By that I don’t mean there’s a lack of motivation (though for the record there isn’t any of that either) I mean the movie never actually explains why, by the laws of this world, what The Circle is doing is considered so diabolical.

It really is remarkable that a movie that is basically about what would have happened if Facebook was organised like Google became a thing can feel so detached or uninvolving. ‘The Circle’ not only seems completely clueless about what it is trying to say but also what it wanted to be in the first place. There are enough scary concepts about the internet to make a movie foretelling them feel relevant, but the ones you find within ‘The Circle’ have not only been explored elsewhere, they also feel hideously repetitive.

‘The Circle’ just preaches things we’ve heard elsewhere but in a much less effective and much less interesting way.

Result: 3/10

Monday, 8 May 2017

Blade Runner 2049 - Trailer Review

The main conflict of interest I had going into this trailer was whether or not it would have the feel of a sequel to ‘Blade Runner’ or come across more like a Denis Villeneuve movie, which isn’t exactly a bad choice to have. Despite assuring myself that it could only come across as one or the other the trailer for the upcoming ‘Blade Runner 2049’ actually does achieve both. There is an undeniable essence of ‘Blade Runner’ to be found within the DNA of this trailer, one that promises to build upon the themes of the original in what will hopefully be a unique way. At the same time though it still resembles a movie Villeneuve (the finest director of this decade) would bring forth, especially since his ambition as a storyteller only seems to be growing by the year, going from small scale thrillers like ‘Prisoners’ to the existential minefield that is ‘Arrival’.

I suppose if anything it stands as a testament to how perfect this matching of director and source material was. This trailer nails to visual aesthetic of ‘Blade Runner’ through its set design, props and entire mood. It is still very much rooted within the neo-noir, steam punk roots from which it was conceived. Just these few select shots feel intrinsically linked to Ridley Scott’s world but never directly imitating it.

There are also a number of arresting and provocative shots within the trailer, from the gruesome Replicant “birth” to the burning structure set against the bleak midday. None of this should really come as a surprise though. Not only do we have Villeneuve at the helm but he is reteaming with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins to bring this vivid world to life. Every image has the energy and vibrancy of any distinct science fiction landscape but also the grim social structure that  is so distinctly ‘Blade Runner’.

But as I said we always knew it was going to look pretty. What of the film as a whole? Well from the trailer it is hard to tell. We get a sense of each cast member’s role and how the character they are portraying fits into the world. As the mysterious Officer K, Gosling seems very detatched and withdrawn just from the trailer alone, similarly to how Deckard’s character was defined when we last saw him. Jared Leto seems to play a part in manufacturing the Replicants, Robin Wright is in some kind of commanding position and Dave Bautista is playing a big strong guy, figures.

Mind you, Bautista’s role could play into another shot we see in the trailer, or at least have a link to it. Years ago Ridley Scott once described an intended sequence in a possible ‘Blade Runner’ successor that had been conceived from a repurposed scene cut out of the original movie. In said sequence Deckard arrives at an outpost in pursuit of a fugitive, but triggers a trip wire and proceeds to engage in a brawl with a large and muscle bound adversary. Two shots in the trailer suggest this sequence may have been repurposed again, even if the lighting suggests they could be two different locations it is encouraging to know they are hand picking ideas that have been long in the making.

I’ll be the first to admit that some of the dialogue feels somewhat contrived and based souley on the trailer alone one could be forgiven the movie might play into your standard cause, conflict, climax structure. But Villeneuve seems too smart of a filmmaker to fall into those traps, and I’m confident he can deliver something very special in this. I’ll try my best from this point onwards not to watch anymore trailers for ‘Blade Runner 2049’ and even if I do I won’t be taking an in depth look at them. More than any other upcoming movie this year, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is something I want to experience first-hand, in all its glory.

Friday, 5 May 2017


"Feel that tingle? When you know you're watching something that's gonna change the course of history."

As odd as it may seem, monster movies were once a force for political weight and deep resonance. The original ‘Godzilla’ from 1954 was more than just a giant lizard smashing things, it was an expression of Japan’s post war fears of nuclear weapons. Whereas Japanese productions have continued to display this line of thinking with the most recent ‘Shin Godzilla’ being a metaphor for government inefficiency, western monster movies seem far more interested in the creatures than what they represent.

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an unemployed writer struggling with alcoholism. Her errant behaviour prompts her frustrated boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) to break up with her and kick her out of their New York City apartment, forcing her to move back to her home town in an effort to sort her life out. 6000 miles away a giant monster materialises in Seoul, South Korea and leaves death and destruction in its wake. The two events seem oddly connected.

I always appreciate stories with ambition to them, as well as those who rely on the intimate. Anything that can merge the two while also being an original property and an interesting blend of genre, adding a layer of complexity and being downright entertaining at the same time should all be a recipe for brilliance. By all indications ‘Colossal’ is a movie I should adore, but while I certainly liked it, the film was not the tour de force it could have been. As I said though its premise is terrific and one I won’t give any further detail on at risk of spoiling it as the trailers did. It not only establishes a completely unique concept but melds the two ideas together so brilliantly that each aspect goes hand in hand. The tone, mood and style of writing allows the conflicting storylines to blend together excellently, never making the transition from one to the other feel jarring or out of place.

However one of the problems arises from the fact that the movie seems to over explain its central conceit. Maybe this is just personal preference but I was perfectly happy with the ideas the movie was brining to the table without any specific reason for them. I can understand a need to provide some reasoning for said events but when the origin is revealed it feels completely unnecessary, adding nothing to the plot, characters of central themes of the movie. In fact there are a few scenes that have that effect. While on the whole the movie is structured excellently there are one or two scenes throughout that disrupt that, adding elements that are never addressed again or simply not being as compelling as the rest of the movie.

Luckily though, most of that is kept in check by the terrific performance being given by Anne Hathaway. She has played characters struggling with addiction before such as ‘Rachel Getting Married’ (shout to the late, great Jonathan Demme while we’re at it) but within ‘Colossal’ she is able to balance an acute sense of humour with the heavier dramatic moments. Like the film around her Hathaway does a superb job of balancing tone and mood, never taking a misstep in conveying a multi-layered character battling her own internal demons.

The supporting cast such as Dan Stevens and Jason Sudekis also fill their roles nicely. The problem however, lies with the characters they are portraying. As Gloria’s ex-boyfriend Stevens’ role feels more obligatory as the movie goes on and his presence starts to feel unnecessary. Then there’s Sudekis as Gloria’s childhood friend with whom she reunites with upon returning to her home town. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any one scene he is in Sudekis’ character feels so inconsistent in his actions, motivations and entire personality that it becomes annoyingly distracting. While his progression is not beyond the realm of believability it feels as if there is a whole sequence missing in which is transformation is explained or at least foreshadowed. Even if his behaviour in the latter half of the movie is examined it feels so wildly different from what he was introduced as that it’s hard to escape the feeling that he was changed to be whatever the script wanted him to be.

As well as that, despite having a very limited cast there are still a number of roles that feel redundant to the movie as a whole. In essence the movie is about Hathaway and Sudekis so why is so much time devoted to these secondary characters with no depth and no purpose in the plot. It’s one of the reasons why the film ultimately feels much longer than what it actually is.

Despite all this though I still feel as if I’m being overly harsh on ‘Colossal’. Writer and director Nacho Vigalondo has not only created a story of grand ambition and poignant intimacy but he has blended the two together brilliantly. Small scale drama and giant kaiju movies are not genres that one would associate together but his sharp screenplay and focussed direction keeps the tone and style of the movie on track at all times. It is a strong character study underpinned by some larger than life concepts.

An imperfect but highly admirable, as well as enjoyable, piece of genre filmmaking underpinned by some unique human drama.

Result: 7/10