Monday, 10 November 2014


                Fury is the latest from writer/director David Ayer, creator of the acclaimed End Of Watch and frowned on Sabotage. The film is about a tank crew at the end of the Second World War led by a dashing Brad Pitt doing his best impression of himself as Lt. Aldo Raine, while Logan Lerman does his best not to be out acted by Shia Laboeuf. Truth be told, this film is not as cut and dry as its screenplay would have you believe but, it still fails to pave over the chasms that make up the scenes between each battle scene.
Brad Pitt, Shia Laboeuf, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal star as the veteran tank crew members; Collier, Boyd, Garcia and Travis respectively. Joining them is Logan Lerman as Pvt. Norman in a typical fish out of water scenario,  “He’s a typist, he shouldn’t be in a tank, but we’re short on men!” cliché kind of way. For the most part they all make it work. None of the acting will really endear you to them or knock your socks off but they make enough of it that they come across as though they’d truly served together. It’s a natural kind of chemistry. The problem though rests in two places, firstly we’ve seen all this before and while it’s done well, it is not memorable and will make you think of other, similar characters and roles. Brad Pitt suffers the worst from this as his character is the same one from Inglorious Basterds, transposed into a tank. Sure it’s a good character, but let’s try something new. The second problem is vastly more of an issue. Fury, the tank, has no personality, no character.  Serenity, the Falcon, Enterprise the Memphis Belle and so on, all these vessels had a personality. They endeared themselves to the viewer, they are characters in their own right, with or without a crew. In this film, Fury is nothing more than a lumbering death machine, it feels like a dime a dozen straight off the line with none of the history that its crew shares. It’s like hiring Keanu Reeves to star in a drama about the holocaust.
That said, the characters and scenes themselves look alarmingly authentic.  The world that this film occupies shares more in common with the grit and grime of Peckinpah and its foreign contemporaries than it does with modern Hollywood films. Fury does not shy away from brandishing the horrors of war. Both the protagonists and the antagonists do barbaric things all throughout the film and all innocence is lost within days from even the most righteous of characters. The look of the film helps to realize the ugliness and hate that has seeped into these people’s lives. In one scene in particular, Pitt and Lerman’s characters enter a well-kept apartment with two young women inside. It is a calm and quiet scene until the ugliness of their world and deeds catches up to them in the form of their crewmates, spoiling any beauty the scene once held. This kind of cynicism is refreshing in a world where Hollywood thinks that all films must have clear cut good and evil.
Sadly though, the script does not fare so well for much of the film. When I had read a draft of the screenplay, the one thing that kept nagging away at me was the massive divide between the battle scenes and the expository ones. The action was tense and pulse pounding, the exposition was dull and floundering. Luckily the finished product had wonderful battle scenes and the exposition was not as bad as I had expected. Still though, the issue remained. Anytime the tank stopped for character development, the film stalled. Momentum was lost to humdrum moments that anyone who has seen a war film before has already seen.  What’s worse is that they come in stark contrasted to the exquisitely scripted and filmed battles.
Speaking of said battles, they are a great reason to see this film in theatres.  The sound and visual splendor over takes you each time you hear a tank shell whistle by or smash through metal and flesh. The sound of the gears squealing and turning as the drivers scramble to beat their foe to the punch is heart-pounding.  The sound alone makes this film tense enough, but then they put the cameras into the tank. The shots are cramped and looked greasy and lived in. You can feel the terror as the sound of shells, bullets and grenades bounce of the full. When you see a tank explode or get set a flame, it is thanks to these sights and sounds that you will feel mortified and saddened. Through this, Ayer forces empathy upon the viewer.

Overall, Fury is a pretty good film, but mostly due to its attention to technical detail and depiction of war as not something glorious, but rather a soul corrupting force. The performances are solid, but are hampered by a sense of, been there done that, draped over the film by the script. If you are a war buff or action fan, this will be right up your alley. If you are looking for something deeper, with more characterization, you may wish to look elsewhere.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Under The Skin

Jonathan Glazner's, of Sexy Beast and countless music videos fame, latest film is a sight to behold, a triumph of form and function. Scarlet Johansson plays a strange woman who roams the roads and highlands of Scotland, seducing young men into her van and driving them to her lair for a sinister yet never disclosed purpose. That is probably the best way to explain what goes on in this movie, but that is not what this film is about. Rather instead of sultry seduction and Johansson’s curves, the film is about humanity in all its forms. The film does not disclose this easily, it is not to be taken for granted, it demands your full attention, since it refuses to lay out any of its plot through exposition.
Where oh where does one begin to lavish praise upon the film, you could start just about anywhere really, but I will start with the look of the film. It is a gorgeous blend surrealist imagery with haute couture. The film has some superb superimposition shots and photography to go with its art direction. Just about every scene pops out at you in one way or another and they all serve to do more than just look cool or pretty, they bring forth emotions of all sorts, feelings of warmth, loneliness or the first love. One shot has Scarlet Jo sound asleep, superimposed upon a gentle forest wrapping itself around her. The feeling of warmth, safety and comfort that washes over you is worth two hours of your time right there. There is another scene, where she is at the beach watching tragedy unfold. As a viewer it leaves you feeling cold and conflicted. The hyper in focus waves crashing down upon the pastel colored beach echo the sentiment of the event. Everything is so calm and yet this violent event is taking place all at the same time. Finally, there are the abduction scenes, their eerie nature is only heightened by the sleek blackness that surrounds their demise. Glazer uses this imagery to convey all the basest emotions about humanity, from lustful depravity to redemptive love. This film tells you it’s story through these visuals, the position of the cameras, the use of light, colour and movement all create a much more nuanced and revelatory experience than words ever could.
Mica Levi, a young musical artist, has crafted one of the most memorable scores in a long while and one of the best of the year. As a point of comparison I would point you to Trent Reznor and Atticuss Ross' score for The Social Network, but with a kind of natural refinement. Levi achieves what they achieved, a sound that perfectly adds to the tone and feel of each scene. This is most evident in the abduction, 'ensaring?' scenes. As the men are seduced and walk, literally dick first, to their own demise, the score ramps up with this, not grating but rather unsettling chord all the while making it sufficiently pleasant that you always remain attentive to the whole scene even as the visuals lure you into a daze. Furthermore, anytime that this unsettling chord comes on, you snap to attention, drawn and slightly afraid of what is to come. Within each abduction scene, this theme changes ever so subtly. You feel that something queer has happened, but never does it feel obscene or intrusive. The rest of the score use this same kind of lovely jarring approach. It creeps all around you, never letting you settle in and become lackadaisical, but never distracting of the tale or image.
This combination of sight and sound is perfectly blended in this tight script by Jonathan Glazner (also director) and Walter Campbell. It is light on dialogue and heavy on imagery. The script is a give and take affair, it is a rich and wonderful tale but in order to appreciate it, the viewer must be patient and very attentive. There are no one liners, or cool dialogue, the dialogue feels like more of a commercial break, a pause to the flurry of story given to you through breathtaking imagery and hypnotic sounds. As I said earlier, the film demands your respect. It will not guide you by the hand with characters spouting out expository lines for the sake of some nitwit.
Finally, there's Scarlett, the center of the film, holding everything in place. Her other two films this year have failed to make use of her excellent talents, but here Glazner makes use of them to their fullest. Who knew that she could pull off a Scottish accent? Sure it's not perfect, but the minimalist dialogue allows it to seem natural without stretching credibility. She may not say much, but her wordfs are carried with confidence and skill. More importantly is the grace of her movements and expressiveness of her face. Over the course of the film she is a wonder behold. Her role ranges from emotionless seductress, to loving angel of hope, to a terrified creature just hoping to understand the world around her. She does all this effortlessly, transitioning without missing a beat. Her character radiates exotic charm even as her face remains blank. This natural evolution of her is marvelous and has been rightfully acclaimed.

The film is a wonder to behold, everything just melts together so perfectly that there really is no flaw to be found. It achieves every goal, that being said, this film will not satisfy everyone. It is contrarian to most western expectations of a great film, due to the high demand it places on its viewers. Those looking for simple pleasures or an easy to digest film should look elsewhere. Comparable viewing might be, ‘Enter the Void’ or ‘Valhalla Rising’. If that is your thing, you will adore this picture.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Million Ways to die in the West otherwise known as, 2 hours of Seth McFarlane shitting in your face

Mr. McFarlane, you're film was fucking awful. For twenty three minutes I sat and starred at the screen. I waited as a barrage of wildly unfunny jokes and astoundingly bad delivery from people who are supposed to be masters of the art form. For twenty three minutes I wondered if a single joke would land. For twenty three minutes I wondered how limited my life prospects were that I would keep sitting here, allowing myself to be showered in your toxic verbal diarrhea. Then, at twenty three minutes, I chuckled. I know it was twenty three minutes, because I paused the film just to check how long it took McFarlane to land one joke. It was a gay joke that finally got me. It was not overt, but it wasn't subtle. The joke felt natural, it felt like it should've been the weak joke in a good movie. And just like that it was gone, like a sliver of gold being washed away by a sea of unending shit. And that is all this movie is really, several jokes that would stand out on a bland episode of Family Guy that are drowned out in a nearly two hour flurry of bad writing, bad delivery, shoddy writing and half assed performances.
Let’s begin with the writing, it is absolutely terrible for pretty much the two hour duration. It's almost as if McFarlane had written down the premise on scrap paper as he took a shit and then handed it off to The Cleveland Show's writing team. The jokes all have this feeling of being recycled, like a comedian who has told the same joke a million times and has grown bored with it and passed it on too his protégé to recycle some more. The frontier is a dangerous place where any wacky thing can kill you, photographs weren't always instant, and the frontier had hookers, bar fights. That last sentence is how the movie feels, like the McFarlane and co., wrote down a list of stuff from the olden days and just filmed it, hoping that the joke would come in the moment or some shit. Even the cut away gags feel lazy. There’s no zing or surprise to them. They feel like a fat man squashed into an airplane seat. This kind of laziness is unacceptable from McFarlane and co. This brings us to the next point, with this hundred and how-ever many pages of unbelievable ineptitude the actors are wasted.  
The actors of the film are all incredibly talented, save one. Neeson, Harris, Ribbisi, Silverman even Gottfried have done wonderful things in the past but here they are simply left hanging, scrambling for a lifeline. Neeson as the villain is limp. Neeson can play a badass in his sleep and yet, somehow McFarlane’s shitty writing and direction makes clinch one of the worst bad guys I've ever seen. Neither funny nor menacing. Much of this seems to come from Leeson either not understanding his role or not caring at all about it. He has the usual grisly growl but his delivery seems off, like either the lines don’t work or Neeson is not sure of how clench his face and body as he delivers these lines.  
Silverman and Harris are left repeating their general shtick, but with all the joy and fun sucked out of it. Sarah Silverman for some reason is not doing her deadpan humour; instead she is made to over act and force unfunny lines at the screen. I’m pretty sure that here copy of the script was "You are a hooker, insert joke here". This is probably the biggest shame of the film. You have one of the most talented comics in the world, you could’ve given her a logline and had her write her own dialogue the night before and it would’ve probably turned out better than this. McFarlane quelled an angel while filming this and as such has saddened the world a little bit more.
Harris on the other hand is given the kitsch song and dance, maniacal mustache villain role. I've got no funnies to say about this role, it just stinks. Everyone in this movie stinks, being left with zingers like, "don't drink and horse!” Go fuck yourself and your lazy movie McFarlane. Speaking of whom, his 'acting' is the worst; he makes Tarantino look like Tom fucking Hanks.
Sure McFarlane can do some great voice work and he is a terrific performer, his Oscar's hosting was fantastic. You naysayers should just go back to your VCR and watch some eighties SNL reruns. His work in this movie though is god awful. Every line, of every joke that escapes his breath in this film will make you cringe. He is a self-aware cartoon character and that isn't funny, it's just sad. What makes it even worse is that his facial expressions almost never change. Think about it, McFarlane’s arms flailing wildly at the mere concept of a joke, while his face remains more frozen than a Keanu Reeves action figure. His vanity overcomes him in this film and chews the worn concept out until it’s a deranged mess.
Usually I like to put in a little something good about the movie, even if it's bad. Bucky Larson was made by people who had fun; Prometheus had ambition and so on. A Million Ways to die in the West has nothing good about it. It is recycled trash that should never have made it to production. What makes it all worse is that it is a film made by talented people who got lazy and are basically telling the audience to go fuck themselves for two hours while McFarlane rakes in the cash and laughs at the chumps he calls fans. This kind of dreck would be expected from the Wayans brothers, or the guys behind Meet the Spartans, but not from McFarlane. If I were McFarlane I would not have released this shit for the sheer sake of my career.

I truly hope that you're experience in making this dreck will only serve to make Ted 2 a better movie.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


Lucy is a film based on the myth of humanity only using 10% of our brain power. It is Luc Besson's first self-written and directed action flick in a long, long time as such it feels very nostalgic, like an ode to his early work. Having said that, Lucy feels like a like a missed opportunity, more of a nostalgic mess rather than heartwarming memory of Luc Besson's work from the 90s.
In the film, Scarlett Johansson plays Lucy, an American student on vacation in Taipei. One hungover morning she is forced to do a mysterious delivery by her week long boyfriend. If a massive hangover and a boyfriend who looks like he sleeps in a dumpster aren't bad enough, soon enough Lucy finds herself face to face with a psychotic Korean mob boss. One thing leads to another and she wakes up in a bed having been turned into a carrying case for some kind of future-science drug. Yada-yada-yada, drug bag bursts in her stomach and she goes all batshit crazy looking for a mixture of revenge and more of the drug. Had this been the entire driving force of the movie, it would have been fantastic. Scarlett Jo, kicking ass, Chok-Min Sook going all psycho on everyone, Morgan Freeman narrating the whole thing. Seriously think about all of that for a moment, it is a dream come true. It is too bad then, that at the halfway mark the film turns into dull techno babble and pseudo-science with the  action relegated to background as if they were some old drapes.
The action scenes are probably the most disappointing part of the film. Besson has choreographed some grand mayhem in the past and has even fostered most this generation’s action franchises in one way or the other. Kiss of The Dragon, Fifth Element, Leon and the rest of his old work all had this insanely beautiful violence that was paced perfectly and was wrought with tension.  Sadly in Lucy, they feel like they were an afterthought. Almost as if the script was written with lengthy passages of sciency sounding bullshit, with place holders labeled, action scene here, scattered along every few pages. I can see Besson sitting at his work desk wondering if he could turn A Beautiful Mind into an action film. But not a loud and furious, all engrossing gunplay type of action film, something  more along the lines of timid and restrained Victorian gunplay.
Chok-Min Sook plays the dastardly villain Jang. You know he's psychotic because he is introduced right after he brutalizes two random people in the washroom. A one dimensional villain in this type of movie is fine. It rallies the audience behind the hero and if the role and actor mix well, a one dimensional villain transcends cliché and becomes a magnetic force. In this way, Jang is very reminiscent of Gary Oldman's Zorg and Stansfield, from the Besson classics; The Fifth Element and Leon, respectively. Sadly, where the Oldman was given room to breathe, flesh out his characters madness' and eat more scenery than Meryl Streep when she feels like winning an Oscar, Sook is left only crumbs too feast on. His scenes diminish as the movie unfolds, going from full on moments where he sucks in all the attention from every viewer like some angry black hole looking for more food, to sitting in a car brooding like some generic everyman villain Hollywood loves these days. If the villain was generic it would have been fine, but the problem is that he is not. There is obviously plenty of fun to have with him and we get glimpses of it throughout the movie. Sadly those glimpses are just that, glimpses into something that could've been, instead of the yawn worthy movie bad guy number 6 we get.  Who knows, maybe when the inevitable super special 100% edition is released we will get to see more of Jang and his absurd lunacy. At the end of the day though, Besson can and has done better which makes Jang’s waste an even bigger shame.
Then we have Morgan Freeman, this is his second strike of the year after the shitfest that was Transcendence. Yet again Freeman is relegated too spewing pseudo-science while wearing some proffesory garb. Yes we know, Morgan Freeman sounds wise and insightful and wearing those jackets make him look like the most dapper old man this side of the 1950s. Problem is, even Morgan Freeman can't turn shit into gold. Besson, Pfister and Freeman have tried that twice and failed miserably both times. It's almost as if Freeman doesn't want to narrate my dreams anymore, so he just chooses the scripts with the dumbest science shit in the hopes that I won't be soothed by his voice anymore. Nice try Freeman, but I don't give up that easily.
Lastly and most importantly we have the titular Lucy, who starts off as a badass, shooting anyone in her way, cabbies, cancer victims, mobsters etc. Yet as the story progresses and she becomes more powerful she somehow becomes less and less badass. This though is not the most troubling part. The troubling part is that as she becomes the most powerful human to ever exist, literally, she requires men to take care of her more and more. Her first act as a superhuman is to clear a room of villains and shrug off a bullet wound. That's the movie I wanted to see. By the end of the film she requires regular men to hold off Jang and his army for her. Narratively this makes no sense either, because two scenes earlier, she effortlessly disabled six of his men with a wave of her wrist. On top of that she drags around the male cop just to have someone hold her hand and 'remind' her of what she used to be. Leon and Fifth Element both had limp romance angles but they worked. They worked because the film established them properly in their own world. In Leon, it was awkward and felt quite off, but it matched the tone of the film. In The Fifth Element it was cheesy and light, just like the movie. In Lucy, the romance is just shoved into the film, like amateurs filming a fisting session. Why would a god need some bumbling French cop to hold off some two bit mobsters, when she could just as easily make all those mobsters float off into the sky?
This all being said, the movie is not without its merits. The score is terrific; it’s vibrant and heart pumping. It is also part of the feeling of nostalgia that washes over fans of Besson's early work. This is all due to Eric Serra being the composer, the genius behind The Fifth Element. The score does exactly what any score should, heighten each scene it's attached too. Serra's work takes even the limpest of scenes and brings drama too it, like a really good athlete trying to carry his team.
On top of this, the cinematography and art direction is also top notch. The cinematography evokes a great deal of Leon.  It feels kind of like going back to your childhood home, if that childhood home was the setting of a love story between a brain damaged hitman and an eleven year old girl. This feeling of nostalgia also lets you disregard certain weaknesses in the action scenes, namely that they get weaker as the film progresses.
Finally the colour scheme works really well. It's crisp and clean and matches the tone of each progressive scene quite well. The use of colours is not original or even all that creative really, borrowing aspects from all over the place. Instead the scheme feels finely tuned, as the work of a master should.

Overall the film is a clashing mess of two separate films. The first half is exactly what the trailers sell you on. Scarlett Jo, getting drugged up and going Kung-Fu with a side of gunplay on everyone. The second half of the film is a pseudo-sciency mess of outdated science myths with shitty philosophical pondering. Besson enthusiasts will find some joy in the nostalgia, but will be left remembering a master's glory and ruminating on his fall. Everyone else will sit down watch the movie and give a resounding shrug of indifference.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Stalingrad (2013) aka Fedor Bondarchuk's big fuck you too vets of the second world war

Not to be confused with the excellent German film of the same name from 1993, Fedor Bondarchuk’s take on what is the most harrowing of human depravity is nothing short of an atrocity in and of itself. It is a beautifully shot mockery of the horrors of war and the sacrifices made by those who suffered through it. It fails on almost every level in which a film can fail. Avoid at all cost, for details continue reading.
Stalingrad takes its inception from the true life events of Pavlov’s house. This was an apartment building in Stalingrad where twenty-five Russian soldiers held off hundreds of German soldiers under the command of one sergeant Pavlov. Bondarchuk takes this epic premise and infuses it with stale romantics, over-choreographed action sequences and so much heavy handed propaganda that it to feel like a soap opera with Spielbergian production values.
The script is the first and foremost problem. Like Enemy at the Gates before it, Stalingrad seems to think that a war story cannot be told authentically without a love story. In this case Stalingrad one ups Enemy at the Gates by cramming not one, but two stale and forced romantic angles. The first is between Katya, the Russian civilian who stays behind in the ruined shell of a city and her valiant defenders, six Russian soldiers. The script routinely points out that there are in fact six main soldiers at the house and yet she only falls in love with five, for whatever reason. It’s okay though, the sixth guy is in the navy so he’s probably gay or something. At no point in the film does any kind of truly romantic action actually occur. Throughout, she routinely becomes a liability, a distraction and yet for whatever reason, five men fall in love with her. Instead of manning defenses and planning strategies on how to survive, they bake her cakes, run across trenches with bath tubs while under fire and gawk and awe. Out of what do they bake this cake? Fuck you, that’s what. This movie is not about logic or authenticity, don’t forget that. In the end this angle winds up becoming very creepy as they all begin to treat her as a prize, gazing upon her as a sacrificial lamb destined to be their salvation. They all see her as a ticket to their own salvation, always ready to  unload their personal deamons on her, but never once taking her issues into account. This might have been some kind of super deep point made in the script. If it is, it was done very poorly because it comes off as a shallow way to artificially extend runtime.
The second love story is the better of the two, not that, that’s saying much. This ‘love’ story is between the German captain Khan (Thomas Krietschman) and Masha a Russian civilian. This arc fails miserably as well. The two do not speak one anothers language, but through the power of love they find a connection. Does it matter that Khan rapes her and treats her as a valued ornament? Of course it doesn’t, because they love each other deeply, even as she tightly grips a knife for defense in anticipation of his return. The film at one point does try to address the issue of wartime rape, but quickly brushes it away as if it’s something icky that is nothing more than a footnote. Add another check in the shamefull column for this film. The last point of contrition with the love stories is how they treat the women. They are eye candy, porcelain dolls to be saved by greasy patriotic men with conflicted morals. This causes the biggest flaw with the romantic arcs, they are one sided. This essentially means we only get half the story and miss out on some crucial parts.
Now that we have the forced romance part taken care of, let’s take a gander at the characters, shall we. The Russians, bold, patriotic, heroic, valiant and whatever other propaganda like descriptor you can throw out. You won’t learn their names because that is unimportant. Bondarchuk seems to think that character development only gets in the way of cool explosions. At least Bay tries to give his characters cool names so as to be memorable. There is the stoic captain, the bear like naval marine, the boyish artillery officer, the silver tongue sniper, the silent badass and the father figure. They all get a forgettable backstory that is only good for a laugh through quite possibly the worst narration ever put into a major production, more on that later. All you really need to know is that these guys are, badass. Like, really badass, so badass in fact that all their fight sequences automatically go into slow motion and they never miss a shot.
On the other side of the conflict we have the Nazis. These aren’t the Nazis you will find in a film that is dedicated to authenticity. They have no character, no humanity. They are cartoon villains worthy of some terribly animated Hannah-Barbara cartoon. Their level of cartoonishness knows no bounds, they offer sacrifices to the pagan gods and then pray to the one true god for protection, they bumble about like idiots in a city full of snipers. They scream and stomp and you can almost see the steam shooting from their ears as they scream at their freshly foiled plan. This level of cartoonishness does not heighten their monstrousness, rather it neuters it. You can take them no more seriously than a Scoobie Doo villain of the week as they fumble about, failing to catch zem pesky Ruskies.
Yet none of the above is even the most egregious of faults to be found in the film although it ties into it. Yes I did just use egregious, deal with it. Where Stalingrad (1993) and Enemy at the Gates attempted and by in large succeeded at showing you the horrors of war, the brutality of combat and its effects on those who witness it or participate in it, Stalingrad (2013) glorifies it. The only way to describe it is, imagine if Call of Duty marketed itself as a war simulator. The film shows us the battles as these over-choreographed MMA matches, where everyone has a blackbelt. It strips away the reality by glossing over the brutality of the battle and the suffering and trying to make it look cool for the sake of Americanizing the film. Watching the action scenes was sickening. Bondarchuk and company, perversely fetishize the brutality of war, there were some moments were I could feel tears of disgust swelling in my eyes. That has never before happened to me. There were times that the choreography of the shots and action became indistinguishable from a videogame. I was shocked and stunned. It is one thing for an action or war movie to revel in death and destruction for the sake of entertainment. It is a wholly different matter when said film seeks to honour veterans through this form of tasteless mockery.
The final nail in the coffin for this atrocious garbage is the narration/dubbing. Having watched the dubbed version I cannot conclusively say whether the Russian narration was any good. What I can say though is that it is completely unnecessary. The script has the narrator either describing the scene you are about to watch verbatim or giving you some melodramatic description of feelings that would be more at home on a soap like “All my circuits”. The dubbing only serves to compound all of this. It sounds as if they hired the producers bag boy and had him record all the dialogue the afternoon before the film’s release. The voice sound stale, robotic and worst of all, way too young to be coming from the faceless narrator. But hey, if you’re gonna shit on heroes, you might as well go all out right?
But why would they do this? 3D, that’s why. Three dimensions is the curse and extremely minor blessing of this film. Billed as Russia’s first 3D film, it pays more attention to the format of the camera, rather than the tail. Every scene and shot is framed in service to three dimensions. The slow motion is reminiscent of 300 and works perfectly well with the 3D element. Frankly told, the 3D is eye popping and the cinematography is fantastic. It is one of the only two good things about this film. Sadly what the filmmakers fail to realize is that, a movie that is a slave to 3D gimmicks is a terrible idea, no matter how pictueresque each and every frame of your film is.
The other good part of the film is Thomas Kriestchman. He is fantastic in the film. He brings ethos and humanity to his character. His performance is all the better when you factor in the fact that his character is a scatter shot of emotions and reasoning. His vacant stares and hallow declarations of love fit perfectly into the beautiful rubble created for this film. Kriestchman’s Khan perfectly encapsulates the collapsing world all around him. I imagine this comes from the fact that Stalingrad (1993) was one of his first films so some of the experience must have carried over to this turd of a production. Too bad that the role was buried by hammy dialog and action found in the script.

At the end of the day, all one can say about this movie is that it is a polished turd. By far, this is the worst film I have ever had the displeasure to watch. Poorly made and insulting.Fuck you Fedor Bondarchuk and who ever gave you the money to make this piece of shit. I hope you never get funded again.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Godzilla 2014

Godzilla 2014 is a strange film, but not in the sense of its general quality or some psychedelic plot. Rather, the film is a great monster movie, but not all too great a Godzilla film.  Unlike most reboots and remakes, this film is not an origin story, it is an introduction story. The best comparison is to The Incredible Hulk (2007). The opening credits serve as an origin to the world which this film inhabits, before jumping to the start off point for the film. In 1999, a mining corporation discovers an underground cavern in the Philippines containing the bones of ancient beasts as well as some eggs (referred to parasites in the film, but way too big to actually be parasites). Investigating these bones and eggs is a secret (for once not evil) multi-government agency called Monarch, headed by Dr. Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe) and  Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins). Things go south and a nuclear reactor in Japan is destroyed and turned into a gestation nest for the newly birthed MUTO. 
This is where the Brody family comes into play. The father and wife (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche respectively) work in the nuclear power plant while their son Ford goes to a school nearby.  When the nuclear power plant is destroyed, the mother dies (not a spoiler, not only is it in the opening, but it’s also in the trailer!) and the family is left broken. Flash-forward fifteen years later and Joe Brody discovers that a monster attack is imminent.  Que, monster battles as Joe and Ford Brody become stuck in the middle of a battle of the gods.
That last bit there is what this film does perfectly. Garth Edwards, perfectly captures the enormity of the conflict. The battles between Godzilla and the MUTOs are massive in scope and scale. These aren’t your generic monster battles. They’re battles between gods, where man is nothing more than an insignificant ant, hoping to not get squashed. Edwards and co. really play that part up really well, reducing the main characters too little more than spectators to a boxing match where the Earth is the ring. The destruction is on a scale truly deserving of the Kaiju title. The only other films in recent memory that can be used as a point of comparison are Cloverfield and Pacific Rim. Cloverfield, while having the same scale, is shot from a human’s perspective, so you can never truly appreciate the size of the beast. Pacific Rim on the other hand, while massive, is dwarfed by the Godzilla beasts, they are about the size of his leg and half as thick at best. Truly, the only comparison is the murals of Cthulu. A monstrous god, too whom humanity is an insignificant ant. The shots of the actors and even buildings scale truly drives this home. When the lizard drops, a skyscraper goes down beneath him. The best among these is definitely the HALO jump scene. Riders into a massive storm to a bone chilling soundtrack.
The next thing to note is that of the score. It’s fantastic, perfectly infusing the film with the much needed dread of a monster movie, while keeping the later style of fun. Desplat truly did something great  with the score. It’s never brash, nor annoying. It pops up to highlight the scene when needed and slips into the background when it’s nothing more than decoration for the world. An early contender for best score, perhaps?
The mixture of sight and sound would have been masterful all on its own, but with the help of a mostly excellent cast, the movie goes above and beyond. Bryan Cranston, Ken Wantanabe and David Straitharen are the shining points. Cranston plays Joe Brody with earnestness and compassion. Cranston aptly, handles carrying the massive weight of being the emotional anchor of the film. Even when he is not on screen, his impact echoes all throughout the film. Ken Wantanabe, plays the impassioned scientist, hoping to uncover the secrets of these ancient beasts. His roles harkens back to the old films, where he would played entirely as a straight man scientist spouting cheese one liners that make you either cringe or laugh. Wantanabe does the same here, except in his case, he carries the lines with conviction and seriousness. Lines like, “let them fight”, earn no cringes or smirks, but instead, shivers along your back. When Wantanabe speaks, you listen. Straithern plays the American military muscle, but a more sensible military man than what American cinema has given us. Straithern is the perfect actor to bring us a military leader who uses prudence and caution when dealing with unknowns. Even when he is forced to extremes, Straithern strives to make you believe that he has no other choice and would be the first to consider it (this character should really be used more often as a thinking man soldier, rather than the RAH-RAH-RAH, Hollywood usually spits out). All is not jolly in the casting department though.
Hawkins and Olsen are both lift with little too do. Hawkins’ talent is wasted on a role that amounts to little less than an assistant who speaks the obvious and ‘oos’ and ‘ahhs’ when required. Olsen fares little better, being reduced to a role which she surpassed in her first film. Neither character is really essential to the film in the way Cranston, Wantanabe and Straithern are in there supporting roles and serve more too highlight faults rather than heighten story or tension.
Then we have Aaron Tyler-Johnson. The man is a plank, a black hole of acting, the Michael Cera of action movies. Unlike Olsen and Hawkins, Johnson is given too much and he cannot shoulder it. He did fine in KickAss, because he was supposed to be out of place and lacking in confidence. In Godzilla, he does not play a rookie, but still sounds inexperienced (he actually sounds like he’s still going through puberty for most of the film). He has no gravitas, no conviction. Maybe it will come with time, but that’s still a ways away.
My final, ‘problem’ with the film is the lack of Godzilla. Yeah he looks and sounds amazing, but his time in the film is short. There is a distinct lack of focus on him as he only shows up in the last third of the film really. The reveal is handled really well and plays out fantastic, which would’ve worked out great in any old regular monster movie. When you have Godzilla in the name though, you have a very different set of priorities when it comes too who is the lead of your film. The film spends far too much time on the indestructible Ford and not enough on everyone’s favorite giant lizard.
On the other hand, the film is filled with an abundance of shout outs to Zilla fans, young and old. The soundtrack has little bits that sound like the old scores with a modern twist. The Godzilla vs Mothra wink on a background poster. Hell, even Wantanabe’s character is a reference/bridge to the legacy. All the winks bring glee to anyone who’s experienced a Gojira film before.

Overall this is a fantastic monster movie. Its lows are easily overlooked, while its highs are stunning and leave you breathless. It’s most glaring flaw, is the lack of lizard, that said though, when the green-man is on screen, he is handled perfectly and leaves you wanting more. Garth Edwards really knocks it out of the park with his second feature. Everything he has learned with his debut Monsters, is improved upon in every way in Godzilla. By the end, the film does two things. First, Godzilla has comeback with a solid bite, mimicking the return of Planet of the Apes. Secondly, the film Establishes Edwards as a new voice in filmmaking, who can aptly handle, small intimate films as well as large scale summer blockbusters.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Transcendence aka Fuck you Johnny Depp!

I went into this movie expecting a bad movie, all the reviews said so. And yet, the bland looking trailer passive aggressively insisted that this would be innocuous mediocrity, at worst. Sadly, I failed to appreciate how bad this film was really going to be. I assume that it was due to a mixture of, hoping against hope that Paul Bettany finally gets a good live action movie where he is more than a voice and  the thought that Pfister had picked up a thing or two from Nolan. I can hear you laughing at me know and it’s okay, I deserve it. Simply put the film is a series of panoramic vista shots with a thesaurus reading for dialogue. All the while, the filmmakers painstakingly remind you of all the better films this movie is influenced by.
Transcendence is a film about great ideas. It’s about one couples (the Casters, played by Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall) desire to create a better world. The movie is also about one psycho Luddite group’s hate for social media (led by a blonde Kate Mara who seems upset that she couldn’t get a role in Interstellar). This group, called RIFT (cuz everyone loves abbreviations that take a minute to go through), wants us to know that they are on the bleeding edge of the science/morality debate, by quoting fears from the 70s. It really made me think, was it too late to get a refund? Anyways, when these two groups collide, it’s bland and unexciting and Will Caster has his brain uploaded into a computer. It’s all very reminiscent of Lawnmower Man but nowhere near as fun and it’s upsettingly Pierce Brosnan free. What follows is a whole dictionary’s fill of pseudo-techno babble and quasi-philosophical bullshit that makes one squirm and fidget like a pregnant woman having contractions. Sadly, there is no bundle of joy at the end, merely a lingering foulness, as if Johnny Depp had just wiped his sweaty underwear on your tongue and expected you to thank him for it.
The biggest problem with the film seems to be an identity crisis. No one involved with the film seems to know what they want it to be. Is it a serious, hard science love story, like a realistic Her? Is it a hard science disaster film, in the vein of Soderbergh’s Contagion? Is it an action thriller? It’s all of these things really, but it never once does any of these things well. It jumps back and forth between the settings and characters, all of whom have a different thematic tone. It’s very jarring and does not allow for any of the themes or characters to have an anchor to the feels section of your heart and mind. Whenever an emotional investment does begin to form between the audience and the character, there is a seismic tonal shift that hits restart on any connection you may have formed. All the while you will be left shuddering at how all these aspects are reminiscent of other, better films. The other odd thing is that, much of this, could’ve been mitigated with a clear cut villain, but we never really get one. The film jumps back and forth, trying to decide who’s the real villain, like the asshole at Tim Horton’s who can’t decide between the apple fritter or cruller (just take the cruller, everyone always takes the cruller).
It doesn’t help that the script is a shoddy mess of clichéd writing and tensionless suspense scenes.  Take the scenes involving the Casters, they all sound like they were written by a highschooler with a thesaurus. They croon and pang with heartbreak as their lips sing about quantum processing and monkey brains. There is no passion in the words and the actors don’t even try to pretend there is chemistry the two of them. They’re like two breadsticks put side by side and ordered to make out. Will Caster himself is probably the worst character in the film. As an audience member, you’re supposed to question his motives, you’re supposed to question whether he really is Will or if he’s a machine gone rogue (I think they were trying to create a Hal 9000 for hipsters). This could’ve been a cool mystery had it been done right. Sadly, there is no tension since every suspect action is followed by an overwhelmingly altruistic one. Even his suspect actions are never all that dastardly or menacing to begin with (it’s like they were trying to make Will Caster Jesus, but Mary Magdeline is the Judas). Will’s progression as a potentially psychotic AI is ridiculously inferior to Jobe’s in Lawnmower Man.
The rest of the characters kind of just mull about as the story renders them neutered, left with their hands in their pockets, kicking dirt while they wait for something to happen. They watch and wait as things get better and better throughout the world. There is literally nothing bad or sinister conveyed in this period. As they mull about, they contemplate their actions and attack peaceful hybrids. Watching the luddites and FBI I kept asking myself, how are the filmmakers expecting me too root for these guys? They spend most of their time being sinister and shooting healed cripples, how did anyone think these are people anyone but Ed Bundy would root for? They have the education of a freshman philosophy student and try to kill that which they don’t understand. The film actively tries to make the audience root for the uneducated villains with no good justification. The cast seems to have figured this out and is evidently confused as they play their roles, evident by the strange glares they give one another after their lines.
The cast itself is remarkably wasted. We’re told that Mrs. Caster is this genius, but all we see is a stereotypical wife who seemingly has a growing alcohol addiction. Rebecca Hall does her best, whimpering face, forced tears, the whole package, sadly she’s got nothing to work with. All the shots of her in the lab, longing for her husband are wasted as soon as she opens her mouth and reads those neutering lines. All the fawning is forced and draining. Hell, hire Kristen Stewart, at least that way you won’t be damaging a serious actress’ career. Oddly enough, while her character is more poorly written, it doesn’t make me hate her as an actress, Depp on the other hand.
This film makes me outright hate Depp as an actor. He does not exude self-confidence or naiveté in his role. Instead we get a kind of smugness, one that comes from an actor who has yet to realize that he has become a joke.  He has this sort of vacant stare and bland delivery, almost as if he thinks scientists have all the emotional output of Robbie the Robot. Whereas Hall is let down by the script even as she tries to make sense and quality of it, Depp tries his best make each line as flat as possible. He really should go do a film with someone who won’t pandered to his celebrity, maybe then well get a real performance from him again.
The last of the big three is Paul Bettany. Usual Paul Bettany does the supporting role in good films and stars in terrible shit. This time around he is left mulling about, looking lost. He is supposed to be the down to earth, “let’s think of what could go wrong” character in the trio. This only comes into play when he is against the AI. The script derides and lampoons this character at every turn and yet Bettany takes the abuse and pushes forward. It’s like he is the only one in the cast who saw the potential and was thus blinded to the rotting carcass that was his role. He does that whole, British best friend who is not as hyper intelligent as the lead thing, with a lot of conviction. Really, Bettany does deserve a clap since he wades through the shit-monsoon of lines and the pendulum of emotions and conflicts his character is put through and still manages to be the only character you can really connect with.
The rest of the cast is kind of just, there, waiting for something to happen. Kate Mara plays the crazy terrorist, she channels her sister Rooney’s performance in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It’s a lot of brooding and ridiculous assertions that are never really fleshed out.  Cillian Murphy is criminally wasted, confined to the role of FBI guy, with no room to actually give his performance any life. Lastly, Morgan Freeman, plays Morgan Freeman, minus the charm and wit we have come to expect from him.
Sure the acting and story are shit, but what of the look of the film, this is a Wally ‘Nolan’s protégé’ Pfister film we’re talking about. Sure it’s well shot, filled with eye catching vistas and slow motion shots worthy of an Imax commercial. Sadly, none of it is fresh or original. We’ve seen it done and we’ve seen it done better before, by Pfister himself.  In many cases the vista shots are out of place and are crudely jammed into the narrative, further clogging the pacing up. For whatever reason, Pfister seems to use the same vista shots over and over again even though they have no particular importance to the grand narrative or any of the characters in particular.

Last time I posted a review, I said that I had wished for the Robocop remake to be a trainwreck, at least that way the film would have been memorable. This film is that trainwreck I had hoped for. Filled with grand ideas, a terrific cast and a director who has spent as decade learning from one of Hollywood’s best. Every single thing about this movie fails, spectacularily. The plot is muddled, dull and childish, more concerned with sounding smart, than connecting with the audience. The acting is lost between shoddy direction and an overreaching but, underachieving script. The direction is more concerned with having sweeping vista worthy of an Imax commercial than providing the audience with something worth watching. Mix that with a pompous actor who has finally stripped away all his credit and dived head first into confused absurdity and you have your first true trainwreck of the year. Save your money, save your time, go watch Lawnmower Man instead, at least Pierce Brosnan won’t let you down.