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Thursday, 30 November 2017

Thelma



"This is something much greater than us."


2017 seems to be the year of allegorical stories relating to the inner turmoil of female characters through movies that appear to be niche genre pictures on the surface. I know that sounds weirdly specific but when you consider the fact that we’ve seen a cannibal movie being used as a metaphor for identity and class, as well as a monster movie telling a story of a woman struggling with addiction and abuse, it kind of makes sense. The latest one is ‘Thelma’ from director Joachim Trier.

A young Norwegian woman by the name of Thelma (Eili Harboe) and with a strong religious background moves to Oslo. She soon finds herself falling in love with another girl, but what’s even more unexpected for her is that she discovers that her newfound feelings have triggered inexplicable powers within her.

From what I have seen of Joachim Trier I’m honestly not really sure what to make of him. ‘Oslo, 31 August’ was a truly fantastic and layered character study. But then ‘Louder Than Bombs’ was a staggeringly conventional drama, one that I wouldn’t necessarily say was bad but certainly I’d struggle to remember anything about. ‘Thelma’ seems to fall somewhere in between, in that there are certain ideas and moments within it that show an inkling for a highly interesting movie, only to get bogged down in flat conventions that not only rob the film of any unique potential it had, but also hinders the story as a whole.

Putting aside the fact that the concept of a young woman struggling with oppression and finding herself in possession of telekinetic powers has been done before in movies like ‘Carrie’ (not to mention using the protagonists first name as the title, plus ‘Carrie’ is awesome so that hardly helps), there’s a lot to be desired within ‘Thelma’. Trier does a great job building mystery and intrigue throughout the first act of the movie, as the central concept builds up and the immediate dread of pondering what the implications of these powers might be.

Sadly though, after that the film just falls flat and can’t sustain itself for the rest of the narrative, at least not in a way that’s unique or interesting. It takes an unusually clinical approach to the way it presents its characters and that makes it difficult to feel invested in their struggles. ‘Thelma’ by its title alone, should work as a character study but it never establishes a connection to its central character that would invite interest from the audience. In short, it seems far more interested in its own broader themes than the intimate parts that would endear us to those themes.

What also stopped me from becoming fully invested in the movie was how it never established any logical boundaries for Thelma’s powers. I understand that not everything needs to be explained but it’s difficult to feel the weight or stakes of a situation when the limits of what the characters can achieve is never defined. Granted we don’t explanation around the power limits or reasoning in ‘Carrie’ (not that I was constantly comparing them but I do feel like De Palma’s film sets a good standard and given the similarities between the two it’s a fair contrast), but the film’s structure and pacing lent itself to her abilities escalating towards a climax. In ‘Thelma’ there’s a constant need to derive tension that feels weightless because the parameters have never been established.

All of this being said, I can at least comment the movie for being well made on a technical level. Trier’s direction is aesthetically pleasing and each shot felt well composed. The cinematography in particular feels like a good step up from his previous work. It may lack the hypnotic visual beauty of ‘Oslo, 31 August’ but it does work very well for the mood that ‘Thelma’ seems intent on establishing from its opening few scenes. It’s a style that’s consistent and interesting but much like the story never seems to evolve beyond what it initially presents itself as.

The performances are difficult to judge. Trier insists on keeping the characters so muted that he never really lets his actors move beyond their basic function. We keep being told of this great energy within Thelma but Eili Harboe is never given the chance to convey that. I admit there is something unnerving about the contrast between being told Thelma has this great power and her monochromatic look that contrasts it. But once again I find myself wishing the movie would take that concept and develop it in some way. Without any sense of escalation the movie plays out like a meandering, aimless waste. It’s pretty to look at but I never felt like I’d gained anything from going on this journey.

‘Thelma’ is a well constructed film but it never develops its characters or concept enough to make its ambitious themes feel engaging.

Result: 5/10  

Avengers: Infinity War - Trailer Review


I think at this point we can safely say that any MCU movie will at least be good and entertaining. Understand that there are plenty of MCU films I’m not overly fond of or find particularly memorable, but I wouldn’t necessarily call any of them genuinely bad and I think it’s safe to say that the future instalments will be keen to maintain the bare minimum level of quality. So I don’t doubt that ‘Infinity War’ will be enjoyable at the very least, but in this case it’s vital that this movie be more than just entertaining.

It goes without saying that this is the culmination of everything the MCU has spent the last ten years building up to, whether it’s the finale or not is yet to be confirmed (I think, it’s all kind of unclear). This trailer certainly conveys a good sense of foreboding and impeding dread. The build up to Thanos’ arrival just from these few select shots instantly seems to carry more weight. Though I fear he may end up being another generic “I’m destroying the world just because” kind of villain, Marvel has always maintained that it’s heroes come first and foremost so seeing their horrified reactions speaks volumes all on its own.

One thing I will say about Thanos though is that he looks much better in this form than he has elsewhere. For those complaining about the continuity issues from a few aesthetic changes, with all due respect, shut up. Much like Kylo Ren’s scar, it’s a tiny detail that I highly doubt was made due to a lack of attention or any malice for its audience. It was almost certainly an intentional choice made because the filmmakers felt it was necessary. Considering the character made his first film appearance six years ago it’s understandable that minor elements of his appearance would change due to advancements in CGI and script details.

Brolin’s voice definitely adds to the amount of intimidation that the character radiates. From these few lines in the trailer there’s something so unnervingly casual about how he seems to regard tearing the earth’s mightiest heroes apart. You truly believe that this is just another small obstacle on his way to achieving his goal, just as much as you believe that it does indeed put a smile on his face to watch the suffering of millions.

There’s a lot to be said in the way that the trailer tries to recall the first time we witnessed these heroes being assembled on the big screen. We have various characters quoting Nick Fury’s speech, the original theme playing once again in all its glory. It’s a nice reminder of how far the characters have developed and I hope they use it to a similar effect within the movie itself. Given that Marvel have always prided themselves on valuing their characters and the intimate relation its audience seem to have with them I think they’d be remised to not but just as much work into them in ‘Infinity War’ than anywhere else.

That might be a difficult task though given the truly gargantuan cast on display here. It’s actually kind of ridiculous and even though we see a plethora of talented actors in great character roles within this trailer, that’s still only a fraction of the full list of people they need to give time to. There are so many characters that I want to see develop and evolve but I’m struggling to see how they can possibly devote adequate time to all of them. Prove me wrong Russo’s.

Speaking of the Russo brothers, it seems their talent for handling large scale action sequences is only increasing further. The huge battles we see in this trailer are certainly a far cry from the hand to hand, ground level combat we saw in ‘The Winter Soldier’. There is an immediate fear that as the action gets larger it loses some of its urgency, but given how well they handled the scaling up from ‘The Winter Soldier’ to ‘Civil War’ I’m confident they can deliver. But there’s no denying that based on the trailer alone, ‘Infinity War’ has an epic scope unlike anything else we’ve seen from the MCU so far.

I think it’s a misconception that characters need to die for a movie to feel dark and emotionally mature (after all, do any major characters die in ‘The Empire Strikes Back). But, that being said, I truly believe Marvel need to start axing off some of its primary characters. Yes it will be emotionally crippling for those who have become invested in the plight of these characters, but it’s for that exact reason that it needs to happen. The MCU is now in a prime position to step out of their comfort zone and deliver some powerful and emotionally driven moments, let’s just hope they can deliver.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Roman J Israel, Esq



"I'm trying to do the impossible for the ungrateful."


Given that ‘Nightcrawler’ was one of my favourite movies of 2014, I’ve been waiting patiently to see what Dan Gilroy’s second directorial outing would be. I admit to being a little surprised and disappointed when I found out as a historical legal drama since seems oddly pedestrian for the director whose debut was one of the most unconventionally thrilling movies of the past decade. But with Denzel Washington in a starring role I remained hopeful that there would be something worthwhile within it.

Set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system Roman J Israel (Denzel Washington) is a driven, idealistic defence attorney who is recruited to join a firm led by one of his late mentor’s former students, the ambitious lawyer George Pierce (Colin Farrell). He soon begins a friendship with a young champion of equal rights (Carmen Ejogo) as a turbulent series of events ensue that will put the activism that has defined Roman’s career to the test.

The problem that often arises with legal dramas like this is that when they are not executed correctly they can become movies which are solely memorable for its central performance, with nothing else being remotely intriguing or thought provoking. It brings me no pleasure to say that ‘Roman J Israel, Esq’ is that kind of movie. Denzel Washington is terrific (as he always is) but the film around him is far less impressive and has such a lack of substance that it actually starts to hinder its only saving grace.

I might as well address the positives at the start. The performances in the film are, as I already said, highly engaging. Washington manages to embody a role unlike anything he’s ever undertaken before. It’s much more introverted than the roles that have garnered him the most acclaim, but is punctuated by idiosyncratic tendencies that instantly establish what kind of person Roman J Israel is. He’s withdrawn and reclusive but no less passionate about the movement he represents than the loudest speakers. One of those loud speakers is Colin Farrell who is also terrific and makes for a good dynamic alongside Washington.

It’s these strong performances that lead me to believe Gilroy intended ‘Roman J Israel, Esq’ to be another character study with an underlying slice of social commentary much like his debut. But the film doesn’t pan out that way as it meanders across various plot threads and seems very tonally confused to say the least. It picks up new narrative threads but then never resolves them, and worse still most of them don’t have any impact upon the central character. They don’t change his outlook, provide an answer to his motivations or justify any actions he carries out later in the movie. It seems as if they just exist to fill up time.

I might be able to forgive the film had any of these subplots been interesting, they’re not. Every detour this movie takes are unengaging and frankly boring. Gilroy crafts the origins of a great character study, and has an actor fully capable of not only portraying that character but also developing him, only to squander it with a series of incoherent ideas that never seem to meld together into a fully functioning whole.

What is even more frustrating is that I can see the where the film could have gone to redeem itself, in fact it looks as if it’s about to do so on several occasions but then falls back into its string of contrived conventions. The way Roman’s character is set up would lead you to believe he was about to be presented with some moral conundrum that would force him out of his comfort zone. But instead the narrative ploughs on without any sense of urgency or importance. It’s poor structure and pacing don’t help either as the movie brings up various plot threads before dropping them until its most convenient to reintroduce them.

Considering Gilory made such a huge impression as a director with his first feature, the overall look and mood of ‘Roman J Israel, Esq’ falls somewhat flat. In Nightcrawler Gilroy created a highly immersive atmosphere as he rendered the streets of Los Angeles as a neo soaked hell scape. It had such great versatility and distinctiveness that made the movie feel like a modern noir. But here, the direction doesn’t feel particularly provocative or immersive. It’s competent at least but never distinct from the look that a dozen other legal dramas also have. Even Robert Elswit’s cinematography seems to lack its usual cinematic flair. Once again, it’s not a visual style I would necessarily call bad but it certainly fails to live up to expectations considering the past work of the talent involved.

Aside from a strong performance by Denzel Washington, ‘Roman J Israel, Esq’ is a meandering, disappointing mess.   

Result: 5/10

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Battle of the Sexes



"Business, sports, you name it, the very top is a man's world."


You often get movies that take on greater meaning depending upon the time at which they are released. Granted, a sports biopic about the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell is an intriguing prospect. But if ever there was a time when a movie addressing the place of women gaining respect within their own profession in the wake of gross chauvinism, now seems like a pretty good time for that. Of course, I can’t for the life of me imagine why…


The 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) became the most watched televised sports event of all time. Trapped in the media glare, on the tennis court King and Riggs were on opposite sides of a binary argument, but off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles that fuelled their desire to win even more.  


On the surface, one could be forgiven for thinking that ‘Battle of the Sexes’ will play out as any standard, inspirational sports biopic with a strong message might. But the movie actually surprised me in how light hearted it was, in a good way. Rather than a heavy handed message that ends up becoming more important than the actual story of the story itself (are you listening 2005’s ‘Crash’?) it takes a more deft approach in telling a story of two unique individuals whilst showcasing a message of social equality in a way that’s both entertaining and endearing, if not without flaws.


Not only does its representation of these figures stay true to history, but it also makes for a much more interesting story. To portray Riggs as an evil misogynist would be too easy, but to take the approach of showing him as a former professional with heavy gambling losses who saw a chance to regain some of his stardom and adopted a villainous persona to ensure it garnered attention is not only accurate but far more entertaining. Steve Carell is immensely watchable and oddly charming in the role. He displays Riggs’ showmanship in a way that is enjoyable to watch but also manages to convey the heavier drama that was developing outside of the tennis court and press conferences.


Directors Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris breeze through the plot points of the movie in favour of focussing more upon the struggles of the characters. They seem intently and genuinely interested in exploring the personal details of each opposing player’s lives. The result is a movie that devotes equal attention to both of its protagonists and seems all the more endearing for it. Though it would have been interesting to see them examine the wider cultural environment around the match, this intimate approach is a pleasing one as well.


That is not to say they don’t draw some modern parallels though. The movie makes a point of how the real chauvinistic villains of this story seem to be the institutions around tennis at the time. The head of the tennis association, played by Bill Pullman, offers a tournament in which the male winner receives an award of $12,000 whilst the female champion only receives $1,200, prompting King and a number of other women to form the Women’s Tennis Association which catches the eye of Riggs who in turn challenges her to a match. It’s those kind of touches that help make ‘Battle of the Sexes’ more memorable and though it never quite tackles the issue head on, it presents it in a manner that’s involving enough.


There are a few missteps within the movie, particularly when the movie tries to generate drama and ends up coming across as contrived and at odds with the tone the film establishes to that point. It’s not that it would be impossible for ‘Battle of the Sexes’ to add a higher level of drama to proceedings, in fact it does just that very well numerous times, it’s just that on a few occasions it seems to clash with the overall tone of the movie. But putting that aside the film’s script is solid. It subtly explores the nature of its two central figures such as their motivations and history. It treats them each with great respect and drawing a number of parallels between them that make the story that much more enriching.  


The most valuable part of the movie for me though was Emma Stone, whose performance is fantastic. She perfectly conveys the strength and determination of Billie Jean King, making the admiration and iconic status that was bestowed upon her instantly understandable. She also does a great job of presenting the conflict that weighed on King as details of her personal life started to become ever more complicated. I won’t spoil it for those who are unfamiliar with the true story but I can say that it makes for some truly endearing drama.


‘Battle of the Sexes’ is a crowd pleasing dramedy that boasts two excellent performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell.


Result: 7/10

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Jim and Andy: The Greay Beyond



"I know him as well as I can know him. But who do you know, Even when they're right in front of you?"


If you’re like me and you love Andy Kaufman, you love Jim Carrey and you love the flawed but still very impressive 1999 film in which the latter plays the former, ‘Man on the Moon’ then there should be an instant interest in this latest documentary from Netflix. Beyond that, it’s even directed by Chris Smith, director of ‘American Movie’ which is also utterly fantastic and something I’d recommend to anyone interested in filmmaking.

During the production of the 1999 film ‘Man on the Moon’ documented Jim Carrey’s transformation and performance as the late comedian Andy Kaufman was documented as an intended behind the scenes featurette. Until recently the footage has been kept under wraps, but has now been reassembled. With a modern day Carrey reviewing and looking back upon the experience, we witness this fascinating examination of actor and subject.

Jim Carrey is hardly the first actor to adopt this method approach of fully immersing himself within a role to an almost insane degree. In fact it seems every year we get crazy stories like Daniel Day Lewis insisting upon staying in character for the entirety of production or whatever Jared Leto is doing to get attention. But I think it’s never been as well documented or as thoroughly examined as it has in ‘Jim and Andy’. It’s an insightful, shocking and sometimes deeply poignant look at the way an actor can so easily become lost in their own craft and lose sight of their own identity, particularly in the case of portraying Andy Kaufman, a man famed for never defining where the act ended and the person began.

The documentary opens with a brief recollection of how Kaufman and Carrey each started their careers. Both of them defied conventional comedy practises by instead of simply telling jokes or monologues, embraced the sheer uniqueness and outright bizarreness of their own personalities. Not only does this establish a clear commonality between the two, but it’s abundantly clear how Kaufman was a major influence on Carrey. They each represent the height of individuality within comedy, not only in how they executed their stylings but also how they were completely embraced for it.

This also helps to add context to what follows, because in 1998 Carrey was unquestionably one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. He had a clearly established personality to his friends and fans so his subsequent descent into embodying Kaufman is all the more disconcerting. It was an embodiment that he maintained throughout the production of ‘Man on the Moon’ both when the cameras were on and off. He adopted Kaufman’s eccentric personality and love of practical jokes, gradually pushing the cast and crew to breaking point.

At times the footage actually takes on a frightening realness. Carrey seems so utterly invested in his character that you can clearly see the people around him struggling to cope. There is a sense of unease in how they address and speak to him, acutely aware that they are not talking to “Jim” as they know him anymore. In fact quite often they address him as “Andy”, giving him information that he says he will “pass onto Jim, wherever he is”. There’s also a good chronicling to development to those reactions. Initially Carrey’s co-stars are elated by his transformation but as his onset antics grind them down they shift towards a more unnerved reaction not just out of frustration but genuine concern for how deeply Carrey immersed himself into the identity of a dead man.

The documentary is also keen to point out the irony of Carrey never dropping the act, as “never dropping the act” could be the perfect way to describe Kaufman’s own life. Kaufman was so utterly committed to his own routine that he blurred the lines between where his on stage persona began and ended. In fact as a biopic ‘Man on the Moon’ doesn’t do a great job of deconstructing Kaufman as a person, but how can a story do that when said person was an ever churning machine of mystery and intrigue. To this day rumours are still circulating that Kaufman’s death from cancer at age 35 was part of some grand hoax on the comedian’s part.

But amid all of the insanity and questioning, there are numerous moments of genuine poignancy throughout ‘Jim and Andy’. Carrey was able to meet Kaufman’s family whilst still in character, including Kaufman’s own daughter who had never had the chance to meet her father. It’s a truly surreal concept and to then see Carrey recounting the crisis of identity he had when he had to come out of the character is another thing entirely. He remarks upon how he had taken the act as far as it could go, and now that it was over he found himself questioning who he was, and who any of us were.

Hilarious at times but equally unnerving at others, ‘Jim and Andy’ is a fascinating deconstruction of two uniquely talented people who never even met.

Result: 8/10

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Woodshock



"Do you ever regret it, cutting everything down?"


All things considered, it’s not that surprising that certain fashion designers have been able to make a successful transition to fil directing. Meticulous design, thematic links and careful construction plays a significant role in each profession, and with the likes of Tom Ford proving that such a talent can translate brilliantly from one medium to another. It’s for that reason that I was intrigued by ‘Woodshock’ the directorial debut of famed costume designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy.

In the wake of a profound loss, a haunted young woman (Kirsten Dunst) tries to find solace in an experimental drug, only to spiral into a world of chaos and confusion as her perception on reality becomes all the more vague and her fractured emotional state makes matters all the more complicated.

Another advantage of entering the film industry from a fashion background is that you need to convey a sense of mood and atmosphere, which is something the Mulleavy sisters did excpeitonally well with their costume work in Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’. I bring all of this up because there definitely a very strong sense of mood and atmosphere within ‘Woodshock’, but unfortunately not much else to go with it. You’ll find no shortage of provocative images and compelling compositions throughout the movie, but you will struggle to find any sense of meaning or cohesiveness to said film as it unfolds.

This is very disappointing for me as in brief glimpses the movie looked phenomenal. It appeared to be haunting and atmospheric in all the right ways, in fact I would gladly sit through any five minutes of ‘Woodshock’ in utter awe. But therein lies the problem, its five minutes long and it is in fact a whole feature. It’s a feature in which nothing seems to happen and there’s no discernible substance to make me feel invested in these hypnotic images. I was hoping that the movie would feel reminiscent of a David Lynch movie but in actuality it feels more reminiscent of a modern Terrance Malick film.

The film makes the mistake of thinking that well composed images will automatically instil meaning unto itself. It genuinely feels like something a film student would make. It tries to work in a plethora of provocative visuals in the hope that they will instantly garner a reaction from the viewer. It seeks to work the narrative around these images and let each individual moment work for itself. There’s never any through line or sense of structure to the movie as it unfolds. If this were the first ever arthouse movie I’d seen then it might impress me, but as someone who’s experienced the work of Lynch and Tarkovsky I can say that individual images do little to draw emotions from the viewer when they’re not bestowed with any meaning.

I understand it may be a lot to ask a film whose very concept is about the altering of reality to incorporate any structure into that. But I think where ‘Woodshock’ fails yet again is that it seeks to establish itself as a movie with real stakes and consequences. It’s caught awkwardly in between wanting to focus entirely on mind numbing visuals but also demands that the audience be invested in the characters and world. It’s hard to do either of those things when the movie hasn’t provided us with anything to draw us into each aspect.

There isn’t even any development to allow me to feel the progression of the main character this story supposedly revolves around. At the start of the movie the protagonist is already despondent so this supposed descent into madness has no impact. It also leaves Kirsten Dunst with very little to do performance wise and that in itself is a crime. There’s no indication of progression in mood, tone or atmosphere, not just for the main character but for the entire movie. The intensity, level of intrigue and overall style of the film remains consistently flat and therefore comes across as less of a stream of consciousness and as more of a straight line.

I’m honestly running out of things to say at this point because ‘Woodshock’ is so despairingly dull that I can’t really add anything to it. There are some brilliant visual features in their incorporation of soft focus and lens flares but with all of them I found myself asking “to what end?” Where any of this going is and what purpose does it have? Not everything needs to be explained but at the same time I feel like I need something to grasp in order to latch onto any aspect of the movie that would make me feel remotely invested in it. It’s simply a pretentious movie and I’ve put off using that word until this point because it’s just too easy of a way to describe it. It’s a film that even if you love it, that still won’t come close to how much it’s in love with itself.

I’d say ‘Woodshock’ is all style with no substance but frankly there isn’t even that much style to it either.

Result: 2/10  

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Florida Project



"I can always tell when adults are about to cry."


Though it was not he feature debut as a director, I think there can be no denying that Sean Baker’s breakthrough was 2015’s ‘Tangerine’. Not only was it a remarkable feat of independent filmmaking, but its story and themes were as progressive as they were empathetic. Its style never overshadowed its substance, nor was it there to substitute for a lack of one. All in all I wouldn’t hesitate to call it one of the best movies of 2015 and it’s for that reason I’m very excited to see his follow up feature, ‘The Florida Project.’.

During the summer, six-year-old Moonee lives in the Magic Castle, an extended-stay motel in Kissimmee, Florida. She spends most of her day hanging out with her friends, which consists of visiting other motels, tourist spots and the local businesses around town. All of this comes to the dismay of Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the empathetic landlord of the motel.

In many ways, ‘The Florida Project’ can be seen as a companion piece to ‘Tangerine’. They both offer a portrait into someone’s life rather than a standard narrative. They provide a portal into a world and subsequently use that portal to tell a compelling character study. The difference comes in their presentation though, as where ‘Tangerine’ was filmed entirely on an iPhone, ‘The Florida Project’ was shot using 35mm film. Baker makes the most of this upgrade and uses it to compose some very aesthetically pleasing shots. There’s also a beautiful kind of contrast in seeing the trashy environment in which the film takes place rendered with such exquisite composition and depth of feel.

But as well as being fantastic on a visual level, ‘The Florida Project’ retains that great sense of authenticity that made Baker’s previous film so memorable. To describe it on paper is almost doing it injustice as it’s difficult to recount the film without making it sound contrived or overly sentimental, but Baker manages to find a perfect balance between crafting heavy emotional beats while immersing the viewer in a fully believable world. Part of that is achieved through his rigourous attention to detail, not just in terms of execution but also in how he treats the characters. There are specific traits of both the environment and the people who populate it that feel wonderfully consistent and genuine.

There’s a brutal honesty at the heart of ‘The Florida Project’ but the film never goes out of its way to beat you over the head with it. We can see the tragically bleak situation the characters are caught in just as clearly as we can see their tragically human flaws. But by framing this story through the eyes of a child’s summer odyssey Baker renders it all the more heart-breaking. We can see the inevitable loss of innocence even as we watch the day to day adventures of the children. Moonee is written in such a way that illustrates how she is aware of their predicament, but like any child still wants to have fun and adventures all day. There’s complexity and depth to her struggle that makes her more than just a clich├ęd movie kid.

The performances elevate this mood even further. It’s actually astonishing how authentic the child performances in this film are. There aren’t that many obvious dramatic moments but in a way that is what makes them all the more believable. The characters experience things in patterns rather than moments of drama and when the heavy emotions do come forward they are made all the more impactful by how starkly they contrast the characters daily routines.

But I can confidently say that the standout of the movie is Willem Dafoe. I can’t overstate how much humanity Dafoe adds to the movie as his appearances never fail to add a layer of empathy to the movie. He fully conveys a characters concerned with running the motel but at the same time unable to detach himself from the personal lives of the people within it. Dafoe makes such good use out of this conflict of interests that he even manages to work a sense of optimism into the role that makes it even more endearing. Bobby is a character that wants to make his community better, a wonderful human impulse that he always seems to carry with him.

My one and only issue with ‘The Florida Project’ is it’s ending. Specifically the last 30 seconds and though it seems odd to criticise a film for a mistake that small, it comes at such a pivotal moment in the movie that it can’t help but press on my mind. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that it was filmed on an iPhone without the permission of the area in which it was filmed, meaning that it’s a drastic step down in quality, feeling completely detached from the rest of the film and is a very confused shot to end on. Not only that but the entire sequence seems to be counterintuitive to this heart-breaking realism that the movie had done so well at portraying for the rest of its runtime.

But outside of that, ‘The Florida Project’ is a remarkable film. It perfectly demonstrates the idea that a movie can be so much more than the sum of its parts. In this case the parts are just a few snapshots into the daily adventured of some kids in a trashy motel. But the overall effect is something that has to be experienced.

Beautifully executed and endearingly written almost completely without fault, ‘The Florida Project’ is one of the year’s best movies.

Result: 9/10

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool



"I never expected Gloria Grahame to be in our kitchen making bacon butties."


There’s a tendency for movies about Hollywood, particularly ones about its very real history and how that compares to its current state to be very self-congratulatory. They either celebrate a bygone age whilst glossing over its darker aspects or frame the story as a pat on the back “look how far we’ve come since then” ideal that makes it all better. I think given the events and revelations of the last few months, a movie like ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’ not only subverts that convention, but becomes all the more relevant.

Gloria Grahame (Anette Bening) was once a leading Hollywood starlet but now finds herself as a stage actor in England. When she collapses one night, she calls upon an old flame in the form of young struggling actor Peter Turner (Jaimie Bell) who takes her to Liverpool to care for her. As her health worsens, the two remember their brief romance that affected them in more ways than one.

There are plenty of evocative aspects within ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’ that instantly and efficiently paint a bleak portrait of what women of a certain age have to endure in the movie business. From the very first scene in which Annette Bening portrays a noticeable frail Grahame struggling to mask her feigning health through her elaborate make up routine, we immediately understand the meaning that her subsequent diagnosis has on her as a person. It’s not just her health that’s fading, but with each passing day the chances of ever recapturing her livelihood and passion that is acting start to grow more distant. The saddest thing is that with or without her illness, that was always going to happen anyway. Rejected by Hollywood for her age and relegated to the world of stage, it’s no surprise that she finds comfort in the arms of Turner.

That is, in part, what makes the relationship at the centre of ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’ so resonant. There’s an authenticity to it that never feels contrived. There’s never a moment when it fails to feel believable or understandable as the two characters are displayed to us in a way that makes their dynamic feel not just believable, but also inevitable. It also helps that it’s a relationship portrayed by two actors perfectly suited to their roles. There’s a fragility to Bening’s performance that is underpinned by a ferocious determination that makes her character incredibly endearing. She is vulnerable both physically and emotionally but still willing to fight for what she has left.

Bell on the other hand, is able to exude charm very effortlessly. I feel like it would be so easy to accidentally stray into the realm of exploitative when portraying Turner in this story, and give the audience the impression that he is simply taking advantage of Grahame. But Bell plays the role with just enough deftness and adoration for his other half that his affection for her feels genuine. Despite their disadvantages their relationship isn’t one of self-pity either. There is a lot of joy and comfort to be found in their romance and the movie treats it as such, even if there is an underlying sadness to the whole story.

Outside of these great performances and subtle character work though, ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’ is a somewhat conventional romantic drama. It alludes to some statements on the broader picture but is mainly focussed on the more intimate side of the story, which is fine but more than once it’s caught awkwardly between the two. I feel as if the movie would have been better off focussing more on one aspect rather than half-heartedly trying to make more grandiose statements when they really are not necessary. It is not necessarily worse for those moments but nor is it any better.

This sense of awkwardness also comes across in the overall style of the movie. For the most part the film goes out of its way to relish in period details and lavish subtleties of the era which does a good job to ground the film in reality. But then it also throws in these strange stylistic choices, especially within its scene transitions, that despite not being bad do feel out of synch with the style the rest of the film was going for. It’s made worse when the film starts to feel a little manipulative when it comes to emotions. It hams up the music and plays moments for melodrama rather than authenticity. The odd thing is that I was fully on board and invested within the emotions of the scene already, but then the film attempts to heighten the emotions and in doing so comes into conflict with itself. But despite all of this, the film is still emotionally engaging and genuinely endearing for most of its runtime.

Held up by two charming performances and an endearing relationship at its core, ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’ is an engaging romantic drama.

Result: 7/10

Friday, 17 November 2017

Justice League



"Superman didn't just give people hope, he made them see the best parts of themselves."


So where to start with ‘Justice League’? It’s a movie that should have been one of the most anticipated cinematic events in recent memory and I’m sure that for some people it very much is. But if you’re like me, and you felt beaten into the ground by the DCEU so far (with the exception of anything directed by Patty Jenkins), can’t escape the constant news of production troubles and feel like I’m watching an accident about to happen in slow motion, then I have to face the somewhat depressing fact that I’m not even remotely excited for this movie. Still, optimism and such right?


Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) enlists newfound ally Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) to face an almighty threat to earth. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Working alongside The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), the team must band together to prevent a catastrophe of epic proportions before it is too late.


I’m caught in a weird paradox in how to judge ‘Justice League’ as a movie. I didn’t find it as enraging of an experience as ‘Batman v Superman’ or ‘Suicide Squad’ but at the same time I feel like those two movies are far more interesting. For better or worse, every DCEU movie until now could at least say it was attempting to do something unique, but ‘Justice League’ not only feels like an incredibly most formulaic attempt at crafting a big budget superhero movie (at which it fails), it feels like it was made purely as an obligation.


It’s almost an exact reversal from its predecessor, because whereas ‘Batman v Superman’ felt like five movies trying to be one, ‘Justice League’ feels like the first act of a movie stretched into a full feature. By the time the first act of the film is over, the characters have developed about as far as they will for the entire movie and therefore remain static for the rest of its runtime. There are still some plot points to go, but basically by the time the movie reaches the one hour mark it’s already run out of any intrigue or potential development that could sustain its narrative. At which point it just becomes a parade of genre conventions that have been executed much more confidently in other, far better, movies.


What this even worse is that the plot itself was always going to be an afterthought, and I don’t even mean that as a criticism. In almost any major blockbuster the narrative serves as a means to hang the interesting elements around. It’s fine for the villain the be nothing more than a McGuffin (well, not “fine” but at least forgivable) providing that there is some substance to be found in other areas such as the character dynamic, development or just simple entertainment value. But you’ll struggle to find any of those within ‘Justice League’. The movie grinds through one predictable plot point after another without ever giving thought to actually endearing us to these superheroes or making their joining together feel meaningful.


What makes the lack of a compelling character dynamic all the more frustrating is that there is a very strong cast with a lot of potential on display here. Gal Gadot loses none of the charisma that carries her through ‘Wonder Woman’ but her role here feels static and obligatory. Ezra Miller’s socially awkward charm is sometimes humorous but sometimes grating. Jason Mamoa certainly commits to the role of Aquaman but it’s a role that becomes irritating and frustratingly one note. Understand that I’m not looking for huge amounts of depth here but I would hope for more than a single characteristic, especially when that characteristic seems to be “he’s the guy that shouts a lot”. I can’t even comment on Ray Fisher as Cyborg because a combination of some very shoddy CGI and almost no discernible characterisation makes him feel invisible.


It’s no secret that ‘Justice League’ was a movie with a troubled production and it certainly shows. Though there aren’t any major errors it’s hard to overlook the constant shifting in tone from scene to scene, as well as the fact that every Whedon-esque quip seems to be shot in a close up with no other actor in the shot as it happens. Though this lighter tone is preferable to the constant droning of vaguely defined philosophical themes, the movie never replaces that with actual character moments. Instead we get a film that feels like anything that wasn’t an action scene, a character quip or a cool shot for promotional purposes. I’ve sometimes criticised the MCU for valuing quick entertainment over genuine substance, but that doesn’t seem to scratch the surface of how thin ‘Justice League’ is on that front.


Let’s talk about those action scenes for a minute as well. I don’t want to come across as if I’m faulting the movie purely for using CGI as virtually every film does nowadays, but there’s so little weight and versatility to the visual effects of ‘Justice League’ that I could never become invested within the action. It’s bad enough that I had no investment in the characters, but the action just feels so artificial and contrived. On so many occasions the action comes down to composing the actors face onto a CGI double against a giant green screen background, which once again isn’t a sin by itself, but when it’s executed with such a repetitive visual style, flat composition and no depth of feel then it degenerates into an experience I can only liken to watching someone else playing a video game with really good graphics.


I had hoped that Whedon’s involvement might help provide some more connective tissue to Snyder’s vision since the director seems to excel at visuals whilst struggling to tell a naturally flowing, cohesive narrative. But instead the film still plays out like a series of set pieces that are barely held together. Character motivations and actions seem to change from scene to scene, narrative beats don’t seem to have any meaningful build up or resolution to them and the most potentially dramatic and cathartic moments of the movie land with a decidedly hollow ring to them. None of these scenes are inherently bad, most of them are perfectly fine, but there’s never any underlying connection that would allow them to become more than the sum of their parts.


At the end of the day, ‘Justice League’ is a movie that feels obligated to exist, one with no substance, meaning or weight to it.


Result: 3/10

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Top Ten Movies of 2008


It’s honestly kind of difficult to pin down what 2008 was as a year for cinema. I feel like wherever I look I find such a varied spectrum of movies both in terms of genre and quality as virtually anything and everything seemed to emerge over the course of 12 months, with nothing beyond limits and with no regard to whether it was for better or worse. As ever there was a healthy mix of both experience and newer filmmakers showcasing the best of their talents, from the utterly provocative to the exquisitely crafted.

Though this was the last year in which the Academy only nominated 5 movies for the Best Picture category in favour of increasing the total number to 10 in order to honour more movies, the Oscar contenders were still strong overall. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ showed Danny Boyle at his most inspirational and crowd pleasing, to great results. ‘Milk’ gave us a powerhouse performance by Sean Penn that earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor, whilst Kate Winslet was equally brilliant in the performance that earned her an Oscar for ‘The Reader’.

But it’s not just the Oscar winners that are worthy of praise. It may have been a little short changed at the awards circuit but Clint Eastwood’s ‘Changeling’ allowed Angelina Jolie to deliver a highly endearing performance in an already fantastic film. But if that wasn’t enough Eastwood also managed to bring forth another brilliant piece of cinema with ‘Gran Tornino’ that same year. ‘Doubt’ also gave us a whole plethora of stunning performances as Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Viola Davies all shine in the movie.

Any attempt I made to try and categorize these honourable mentions has already deteriorated, which I guess goes to show the variety of movies in 2008. There were terrific comedies in the form of ‘Burn After Reading’ and ‘Tropic Thunder’. Jon Favreau and Marvel Studios delivered a hugely entertaining and well-made superhero film in the form of ‘Iron Man’. But then on the other end of the scale we had sobering documentaries like ‘Waltz With Bashir’ and ‘Dear Zachary’, however there was still room for the truly inspirational as ‘Man on Wire’ proved. Then who could forget ‘Bronson’.

Finally, I want to honour a movie that transcends almost anything else on this list. Even if it’s ambition ultimately escapes its grasp I think few filmmakers in their whole career could ever come close to the withering heights that Charlie Kaufman achieved in his directorial debut ‘Synechdoche, New York’. A sprawling epic character study about death, art and the longing of life, Kaufman’s film is one that can be endlessly analysed and dissected. It’s a movie that continues to grow on me with every re-watch, and therefore maybe after a hundred viewings I’ll finally come close to scratching the surface of its genius. For now it remains a distant and flawed entity for me, but one that’s absolutely worthy of admiration.


10: Funny Games

Michael Haneke said of his original 1997 version of ‘Funny Games’ that the films intended message (or part of it at least) was to highlight the pointlessness of violence in the media, so what better way to further reinforce that message than to remake the exact same movie ten years later. There are some noticeable differences in that the cinematography is vastly improved and with the talents of Tim Roth and Naomi Watts at hand, so are the performances. But the central themes and messages of Haneke’s vision remain intact, a movie intent on deconstructing its own genre whilst commenting upon the larger role that genre plays in society. By switching to the English language ‘Funny Games’ comes even closer to blurring the lines between itself and its intended subject, with Haneke’s cold and clinical visual delivering a taught, highly intense and deeply visceral experience that will undoubtedly provoke a lot of discussion.  


9: Revolutionary Road

It takes two actors of immeasurable talent to make me as fully immersed and invested within an onscreen relationship as I was in ‘Revolutionary Road’. It’s not just about making an audience believe that those characters are real in the moment, it relies of them feeling fully realised and embodied, to come across as real living entities that have a history together that goes far beyond the mere parameters of a movie. That is precisely what Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio achieve in this devastatingly brilliant drama that fully captures the weighty ideas of the novel it is based upon. Sam Mendes was the perfect fit to direct this story, as not only does it feel thematically reminiscent of ‘American Beauty’ but his deft touch allows the actors to flourish even amid the lush cinematography and lavish environment. It is both naturalistic and artful, gripping yet melancholic and heart-breaking in the way it depicts characters who can’t help hut betray themselves.


8: Rachel Getting Married

There’s something so wonderfully authentic about Johnathan Demme’s drama about a rehab patient being let out to attend the wedding of her sister. Part of that is down to Demme’s fantastic direction which employs hand held camera to a great extent, making the preparation to the titular event as well as the big day itself almost feel like a well-produced home movie. There’s a rawness to Demme’s visual approach that never fails to make the movie feel utterly humane. The screenplay by Jenny Lumet is also fantastic, presenting each character as a flawed but rounded individual, conveying the whole spectrum of human emotions. Certain scenes in the movie find such joy in details as small as loading a dishwasher, only to then deliver a gut punch and remind you of the unbearable pain lying at the movie’s core. Anne Hathaway delivers a stunning and endlessly endearing performance, a beautifully flawed but wonderfully sympathetic character study to say the least.


7: Happy-Go-Lucky

Mike Leigh’s sweet comedy proves that a film need not be downbeat to present us with high drama. ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’ may represent Leigh at his most complex, as his protagonist navigates life in a series of joyful (as well as a few not so joyful) encounters as her attitude is contrasted with that of the world around her. There’s something inspirational and life affirming about how Sally Hawkins infectiously happy Poppy goes about her daily business, conveying a whole plethora of emotions from humour to heart break, and undercurrents of oddness that tie it all together. None of these elements ever feel at war with one another as Leigh’s screenplay perfectly integrates them all. ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’ is a film that manages to be meaningful without ever insisting upon itself. It is subtle enough to warrant a deeper reading but also entertaining enough to be enjoyed on whatever level you feel best suits it.


6: Frost/Nixon

I think one of the best displays of how talented a director really is, depends upon how they choose to shoot a simple conversation. On that front Ron Howard has worked wonders with his historical drama ‘Frost/Nixon’. It works as a brilliant character study of two very different men, each with similar goals of seeking out what they believe is right through the art of conversation. Howard is able to stage the famous interviews as a psychological battleground and succeeds in making a question and answer session feel nail bitingly suspenseful. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are fantastic in their respective roles, fully embodying each opposing figure in this conflict, with a script that gives each of them plenty to work with. As the movie progresses we grow to understand just how much each man has stakes in this seemingly simple TV interview, and to see their interactions restaged in this dramatic form is absolutely fascinating.


5: Hunger

There’s an unconventional rawness to Steve McQueen’s recount of this tumultuous chapter in British/Irish relations. I think it’s inaccurate to say this movie is about the hunger strike of Bobby Sands because although that is featured within the movie, it’s just part of its broader portrait. It tells a story about the inhumanity on both sides of this conflict, without ever seeking to pass judgement on which side is in the right. We see law officers gunned down, prisoners beaten and living under inhuman conditions and a portrayal of Sand’s death that is not heroic but drawn out and painfully long in its suffering. McQueen’s craftsmanship is impeccable, somehow striking an excellent balance of being distant and restrained but also highly involving and humanistic. Michael Fassbender delivers a fantastic performance, as does Liam Cunningham, particularly in a scene where the two actors go face to face in a conversation shot in a single long take over 17 minutes. It’s a film far more concerned with the personal that the political.


4: In Bruges

There’s a lot about Martin McDonagh’s writing that feels reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s best work. He takes despicable characters and endears us to them with their cleverness and humanity. There’s an inner darkness to the comedy of ‘In Bruges’ that sounds as if it would never work as a concept, and yet McDonagh’s writing defies all preconceptions as he endows his characters with such depth and complexity. There’s such an inner and profound pain to their struggle and those flaws are exactly what makes their plight so empathetic. McDonagh is also lucky in that his dialogue has been put in the hands of actors who can convey its meaning perfectly, with Colin Farrell delivering a subtly masterful performance alongside Brendan Gleeson and the scenery chewing Ralph Fiennes. It’s a movie in which very little seems to happen in a broad sense, and yet so much is discovered and explored through this finny, dark and humanistic masterwork.  


3: The Wrestler

Looking at his past filmography, ‘The Wrestler’ seems like an odd fit for Darren Aronofsky. His films that are about the existential weight of life and the inevitable suffering the goes with it (fun stuff) is starkly contrasted by the flamboyant world of professional wrestling. But therein lies part of the brilliance of this movie. He seems to approach the subject from an outside perspective and yet fully captures the passion and euphoria each character expresses for their own self defined life purpose. His protagonist in ‘The Wrestler’ continues to cling to his wrestling career in an effort to reclaim his heyday, despite his failing health. It’s a role that allows Mickey Rourke to deliver the best performance of his career, as well as the best performance of the whole year. He carries such an sense of world weariness mixed with an unyielding passion that makes his character utterly endearing. Beneath its flashy exterior ‘The Wrestler’ is one of the most beautiful and intimate portraits of a man’s internal paradox ever committed to film.  


2: The Dark Knight

When a movie comes along that not only transcends its genre, but manages to elevate its source and instil new meaning into a figure so deeply rooted in the public consciousness, well then basically you have Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’. Redefining the superhero mythos is no easy feat, and yet Nolan does just that with a movie that could sooner be categorized as a crime drama than a comic book movie.  ‘The Dark Knight’ takes the Batman mythos and uses it to tell a story of Shakespearean tragedy concerning the cost of heroism, the sacrifices made in its name and the corruption that seeks to consume those heroes. Nolan directs with a masterful touch, rarely putting a foot wrong in how he stages and executes each unfolding set piece, making each one as involving and as invigorating as the last. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is nothing short of mesmerising. It’s all-star cast that includes Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart are all fantastic. But we all know who the real standout is. Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker is rightfully iconic. It’s intimidating and visceral, theatrical yet masterfully subtle and has cemented itself as one of the best antagonists in cinema history.


1: Let the Right One In

There are certain movies that are so good that they almost seem to exist as a paradox. How can a single film be so chillingly visceral and yet so heart warningly intimate as Tomas Alfredson’s artfully rendered horror classic. 90 years after FW Murnau originally sparked cinema’s obsession with vampires, Alfredson takes the mythos and reinvigorates it in a way that no other filmmaker has before. It’s ironic that a movie about vampires ends up being the most deeply human film of the year, one that tells a compelling story of innocence, isolation and friendship better than most films in recent memory. It’s a gotic romance, a twisted coming of age tale, but still very much a horror movie at heart. Alfredson employs great restraint when it comes to the violence of this story as it clearly is the aspect he’s least interested in, but that approach does nothing to lessen the chilling nature of the violence when it occurs. It’s beautiful to behold both on a visual and emotional level as it distils centuries of mythology down to a simple childhood romance, but integrates the two in order to make each aspect feel completely immersive and fulfilling. Its characters are fully realised, its vision unflinching and its message so moving that it has to be my favourite film of 2008.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Blade of the Immortal



"You're lucky that you get to die."


One of Takeshi Miike’s earliest films, ‘Ichi the Killer’ opens with a scene in which the main character of the movie is masturbating as he watches a woman in the building across from him being raped. When he’s finished the title of the movie rises out of his steaming pile of ejaculation. I feel like that sets a certain standard for his work, and though you won’t find anything nearly as outrageous or disturbing as that in his samurai film ‘Blade of the Immortal’ it carries that same sense of absurdity and ultra violence that makes Miike so distinct as a filmmaker, for better or worse.


Rin Asano is a young woman seeking revenge against a group of swordsman who killed her parents. Her desire for vengeance leads her to seek out a mysterious lone samurai, who according to legend cannot be killed by any injury, an immortal warrior.


Say what you will about Miike, but I think it’s a rarity that the violence in his movies is ever completely unjustified. It’s bold, provocative and understandably controversial, but never feels like empty spectacle from what I’ve seen. I say from what I’ve seen because ‘Blade of the Immortal’ happens to be Miike’s 100th directorial outing. From ‘Audition’ to ’13 Assassins’, Miike has set the bar pretty high for his own filmography. ‘Blade of the Immortal’ rivals any of his previous efforts on the level of spectacle. It really is a mesmerising, artfully rendered, ridiculously fun, dismembering piece of cinema that any fans of the genre are sure to devour.


It’s hard not to be swept up in the care and affection Miike seems to have for this story. Despite being plastered in blood and spectacle, he never looks down upon the narrative elements that assemble the plot. He never tries to wink to his audience nor does he avoid being sincere when he need to either. Miike embraces every aspect of this story but still keeps his grip on the source light enough so as to have plenty of fun along the way. He moves swiftly from one action spectacle to the next whilst acknowledging the quieter moments that give those bursts of violence the necessary weight.


When it comes to assembling action scenes then ‘Blade of the Immortal’ excels. It’s a far cry from the absolute best of Asian action cinema but it’s certainly an entertaining ride, with Miike employing a good use of long sweeping shots that allow every hit and slash to be captured perfectly and clearly. The choreography is evidently brilliant, and the director clearly has big confidence in it being just that given Miike’s decision to make each scene fully lit, never obscuring anything for the sake of making it look more impressive than it really is.


But going back to those aforementioned quiet moments, as they are what make ‘Blade of the Immortal’ a more meaningful experience than pure empty spectacle. I’m not going to pretend that the movie is thematically rich or deeply complex because it isn’t. But what it does have is strong characterisations and instantly endearing characters. We feel invested in their plight and are able to recognise each individual player from a moments glance. Once a character turns up with their own unique stylistics you’re unlikely to forget them for the rest of the movie. From their meticulously detailed costumes to the intricate and utterly awesome weapon design, it’s within the details where the movie seems to be at its best.


Those details manage to sink their way into every aspect of the production. With the set design and costumes all being meticulously crafted to give them this versatile quality. The film also has this tremendous depth of feel on a visual level, earning praise as one of the best looking films of the year so far. The colours are rich and on a consistent palette, being able to evoke a range of atmospheres depending upon what the story demands from them. Whether he’s photographing an entire army of samurai or a simple conversation between two intimate friends, cinematographer Nobuyasu Kita seems to take it all in his stride.


It takes a lot to stage an engaging action scene when your protagonist is an immortal warrior. But not only does Miike keep the action varied and interesting at all times, but his command of how to pace and structure those kind of scenes is what really sells it. He knows when to employ restraint in how he depicts action and violence, which allows him to escalate both of those aspects as the film ploughs on. Though it does still become somewhat exhausting by the end, particularly when the film colludes you into thinking it’s about to end only to go on for another lengthy action scene, it’s still very impressive example of how to structure an action spectacle.


Always stylish and always entertaining, Miike’s 100th film is a triumph of violence and spectacle.

Result: 8/10