Tag Archives: Cinema

THE IMITATION GAME (2014) – FILM REVIEW

 THE IMITATION GAME (2014)

**MASSIVE SPOILERS IN HERE. SORRY**

Films based on “true” stories are interesting to review as they will inevitably distort situations in the name of drama. I personally do not mind if a film compresses times, characters and incidents as I am interested firstly in my emotional response to the story and characters more than historical authenticity.  If I want accuracy I’ll rely on Wikipedia.

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Yet, as films based on ‘real’ events go The Imitation Game (2014) is a creditable distillation of the WWII code-breaking heroics as well as being a high class theatrical tragedy in cinematic form.  Having said that while the film acts as an excellent tribute to the genius of Alan Turing (phenomenal Benedict Cumberbatch), the work of others in the field such as the Polish code-breakers, Tommy Flowers and many others must also be recognised. But perhaps that is for another film altogether.

I didn’t know much about main protagonist Alan Turing prior to seeing this movie but having done some basic research one soon realises what a great British hero he was in terms of cracking the Nazi Enigma codes. Moreover, his incredible mind also contributed in some way to the invention of what you are reading this very review on right now. No, not http://www.wordpress.com but the actual computer itself.

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The fact that one of humanity’s greatest minds was treated so badly because of his homosexuality is a genuine war crime.  It’s also a massive indictment AGAINST the Government and the Official Secrets Act that Turing is only just being truly recognised for his outstanding work in the last few years.  Indeed, one of the films main strengths — not forgetting Andrew Hodges’ book on which it is based —  in bringing Turing’s story to the screen is it acts as a thrilling monument to a man so cruelly destroyed by an intolerant 1950s society.

The narrative switches between Turing’s life pre-war, post-war and in-between.  Graham Moore’s screenplay is deftly written and well-paced; both personable and witty. In terms of genre we are in biography and war film territories with a sprinkling of espionage and suspense thrown in.  The code-cracking team at Bletchley Park are a kind of super-intelligent version of Marvel’s Avengers and include a handsome cast supporting Cumberbatch including: Matthew Goode (the next James Bond I reckon), always reliable Mark Strong and a commendable turn from Keira Knightley.

Firstly the team clashes with the prickly and arrogant Turing. Then, of course, over time they come to respect him. Meanwhile, idiosyncratic Turing finds his main ally in Joan Clarke (Knightley) as their “romance” becomes the heartbeat of the piece amidst the manipulation of machines.  Both hearts and minds are drawn to each other and the two get engaged. But Turing’s sexuality proves an obstacle to the marriage and there’s a wonderful scene which reflects this; beautifully played by Cumberbatch and Knightley and echoes — albeit more seriously — the classic “No one’s perfect” end-scene from Some Like It Hot (1959).

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There is so much heartache in the character of Turing.  The flashbacks to Turing’s school years when he was bullied and suffered personal loss garners further pathos. Moreover, the “peas and carrots” scene alludes to the possibility of Turing having Asperger’s or similar high-functioning autism.  And in Benedict Cumberbatch we have an actor who imbues Turing with a grandiose pain which I found genuinely moving. Here’s is an actor — who while cornering the market on misfit geniuses — once again shows terrific range and surely he will be nominated come Awards ceremony time.

This is a tremendous drama directed by Morten Tyldum which is arguably more televisual than filmic. Indeed, it reminded of those amazing BBC Play For Today productions I grew up watching when a young boy. It works mainly as a fine biopic of an incredible man so cruelly persecuted for just being born slightly different. Yet it is also has touching romance and high drama as shown when having  cracked the Enigma the team face the agony of having to hide the fact as a strategy to win the war. Ultimately, I left the cinema uplifted by the work these amazing code-breakers did and but also with anger in my heart; anger at the damned British Government for not rewarding Alan Turing for his miraculous contribution to the war effort. He deserved so much more.

MOCKINGJAY – THE HUNGER GAMES – PART 1 (2014) – FILM REVIEW

MOCKINGJAY – THE HUNGER GAMES – PART 1 (2014)

Dear Hunger Games Franchisers,

I really liked the first two films for the following reasons:

1)  Jennifer Lawrence – a wonderfully talented actress who proved her natural actoring ability in Winter’s Bone (2010),  was perfectly cast in the lead and has proven star quality.

2) Katniss Everdeen is a formidable character with great physical and emotional power as well as fight and determination. She is brave, loyal and it doesn’t hurt that she resembles a young goddess like Artemis (not the Kebab place on Garratt Lane.)

3) The films adhered to a convincing formula which built believable characters, trained them up and then pit them against each other in gladiatorial combat.

4) Powerful drama as children are exploited for the purposes of political purposes by an dictatorial capitalist machine.

5) Social commentary on the nature of “reality television” or physical sports such as boxing where humanity takes vicarious pleasure in watching individuals destroy themselves

6) The games’ themselves are exciting with theme of individual glory being pitted against the notion of teamwork acting as a microcosm for the District as a whole.

7) Capital City (i.e. Capitalism) being shown to be a nefarious force ruling over and exploiting the working classes for their own ends and thus the communistic ideals proffered appealed to my socialist  leanings.

8) The narcissistic and vain city dwellers shown to be preening peacocks only interested in themselves versus the noble working classes struggling against the richer scum.  The idea of revolution also appealed to my Bolshie side.

So, while Hunger Games – Mockinjay Part 1 is a very well constructed film you’ve ruined the franchise with a piss-taking split-into-two-parts-narrative which has completely lost all momentum to the story.  When you rest your head on your pillows stuffed with cash I hope — Hunger Games Franchisers — you sleep well because I feel like I’ve had to endure TWO HOURS at the cinema of fluffing. Because aside from a bit of action this film was very boring. It was ALL fluff and no money shots!

As your servant brushes your teeth with diamond encrusted toothbrush I note the excellent performances of Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP), Jeffrey Wright and I completely get the political and social satire of using Katniss and Peter (excellent Josh Hutcherson) as propaganda tools BUT you made that point over and over again. There was not enough drama for me. It was all fluff and set-up and I want more for my money.

The film speaks of socialist values and revolution all the while the capitalist machine rakes in the dough. But I felt cheated I tell you – cheated.  The character of Katniss was kept in a hospital bed or underground and generally a bystander in the action. I don’t usually complain that a blockbuster is too cerebral but the first two films were great and set-up certain expectations in my mind; so it’s probably MY fault.  Of course I’m not stupid I realise you’re keeping something back for the finale but it had better be good guys – it better be good!!

INTERSTELLAR (2014) – FILM REVIEW

INTERSTELLAR (2014) – FILM REVIEW

**IF YOU CAN WORK OUT THE PLOT – THERE ARE SPOILERS**

So, Paul – what’s Interstellar (2014) all about?

Well, the film is a science-fiction epic about the end of the world. Some astronauts are sent on a deadly mission – led by Matthew McConaughey’s ‘Coop’ – farmer – to try and find habitable existences in outer-space.  To do so they must travel into the unknown across the heart of darkness; through worm-holes; through black-holes; crossing temporal and spatial dimensions to find a solution to save the human race.

Meanwhile, the emotional meat of the story is supplied by McConaughey/Cooper’s relationship with his daughter portrayed by Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain.  He had a son as well but apparently he didn’t matter as much and was ultimately used as weak final act plot point.

Sounds complicated?

Yes. It is. And also very very long. So load up on popcorn.

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What did you like?

This is a visually stunning experience with some incredible set-pieces on Earth, in Space and on other planets.  But from a visual and conceptual genius such as Christopher Nolan I expected as much.  The “wave” sequence on ‘Miller’s Planet’ is an oxygen-stealing delight and I was gasping at the awe of it all.

Moreover, space has never looked so beautiful and dangerous and Nolan — clearly inspired by Stanley Kubrik’s  seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — delivered a truly spectacular experience when Cooper’s craft hurtles through the black hole Gargantua at the end of the lengthy middle act.

The film also has some wonderful science-fictional ideas relating to time and space and being a big Doctor Who fan I almost got my head around them; sort of.  Such concepts will of course solidify on further viewings once the blood in my buttocks begins to re-circulate. Did I say it was a very long film?

Yes. Yes you did. So, Paul, what didn’t you like about the film?

Well, I think there is an Alfred Hitchcock quote – which I’m paraphrasing now – where the Master said “if the audience is thinking too much they’re not feeling.” Something like that.

Oh, that’s clever. Using another director’s words to critique another.

Yeah – it is. And my main problem with the film was that I was so busy trying to get my head around the plethora of concepts in the screenplay that I didn’t feel ANYTHING for the characters.  I would have been happy with the film on a visual and poetic level if ALL the dialogue had been removed and emotion allowed to arrive between the spaces. But by over-reaching it dragged the whole film itself into a black hole of incomprehension.

To me the best science fiction marries concept with emotion.  Some of the acting was fantastic notably from McConaughey but – like the superior Inception (2010) – many of the characters are reduced to mere expositional tools – Anne Hathaway’s Brand being an example of this.  Inception worked better because it was grounded in the heist movie genre where Interstellar is all over the shop from: disaster-movie-to-space-opera-to-thriller-to-art-cinema-genres.

There were numerous plot-holes throughout beginning with the awful first act which set up the characters badly and then ran with poor characterisation throughout the film. Many of the cast, notably Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, were given a bit to do but far too late in the narrative.  And the speed with which concepts are thrown at us in the last 40 minutes are just damn confusing.

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What did you think of the film overall?

Watching Christopher Nolan’s over-expensive and humourless folly was like eating your favourite cake for 3 hours on a rollercoaster. I loved it – then I hated it – then I loved it – then I hated it – then I felt horrifically sick and wanted to get off. By the end – like life itself – I wondered whether it was all worth it.

It felt like a big-budget apology to his family for perhaps being an absent father. Perhaps it’s a film to watch with the sound off and classical music on; although I did enjoy Hans Zimmer’s score .  Yet, the over-loaded plot-lines and weak-movie dialogue ruined the stunning visuals and action set-pieces for me.  Indeed, I watched Nightcrawler (2014) on the same night and that took a simple premise with one major character and rinsed that idea for all the suspense and drama it could.

Nolan has made some great films with clever ideas such as:  Memento (2000), The Prestige (2006) and aforementioned Inception (2010) which retain their emotional impact while delivering some mind-bending concepts. Moreover, he breathed life into the Batman franchise with his brilliant take on the Caped Crusader. However, Interstellar is a fail for me. It’s a magnificent looking jigsaw but if the maker doesn’t give you all the pieces, or the bits you do have don’t seem to fit properly; all you’re left doing is banging the table in frustration.

Who do you think you are slagging off one of the great filmmaker’s of our time?

I am no one. I work in a Scrap Metal Yard. But I paid my £11 entry fee and thus feel like I am entitled to an opinion. My feeling after watching Interstellar – and following his involvement in the dire Man of Steel (2013) – is that Nolan the  director should sack Nolan the screenwriter.  Perhaps he’s spread himself too thin producing and directing several big budget films in a short period of time?  Nonetheless there is no doubt Nolan is a genius filmmaker creating marvellous blockbusters-with-brains. But, as a storyteller he is losing the plots somewhat and in danger of disappearing up his own black hole.

 

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – FILM REVIEW

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – FILM REVIEW

***SPOILERS?  HELL YEAH!***

This is a sensational pitch black character piece that allies a powerful script with violent social satire; all glued together by an Oscar-worthy lead performance from the ever-excellent actor Jake Gyllenhaal.

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It’s about monsters.  The monster of ambition. The monster of obsession. The monster of humanity. The monster of the Media. The monster of a bloodthirsty public searching for the next violent clip to trend or share on Twitter or Facebook over their morning coffee. Gyllenthaal plays the main monster: Lou Bloom. He’s an anti-anti-anti-hero of our times. A personification of capitalist evil.

Dan Gilroy’s cutting script makes no attempt to make him likeable or even sympathetic. We first meet him stealing scrap metal and beating the crap out of a Security Guard. He then has the balls to try and get a job at the yard he’s selling stolen goods to.  So why was I immediately enthralled by Lou Bloom?  Well, he has ambition. He has drive. He has linguistic charisma.  He has a thirst for success. A thirst for money. And a thirst for blood.

Lou Bloom is a vampire – a night creature creeping between the shadows and he finds the perfect vehicle for his nefarious wants. He discovers he can make money filming car wrecks and violent crimes on the streets of Los Angeles and sell them to a local News station.  His TV handler Nina (Rene Russo) takes him under her wing but it’s not long before Bloom is taking flight and manipulating her to his own needs.

With the smooth patter and greasy complexion of a snake-oil salesmen Bloom extends his operation by taking on down-on-his-luck Rick (Riz Ahmed) and competes on the dark, mean streets of LA with veteran ‘crawler’ Joe Loder (Bill Paxton).  Bloom will stop at nothing to achieve his expansion goals.  The drama really cranks up as he races to record one gut-churning tragedy after another eventually manufacturing violence to his own gain. These guys are filming and selling death – with echoes of Michael Powell’s classic horror film Peeping Tom (1956) – and WE the voyeuristic public are buying it.

I enjoyed the fact that Bloom was a ghost; a shell of a man with little in the way of backstory and yet through his actions we absorb the horror of his character. I was drawn in so much by Gyllenthaal’s magnetic performance as well as a fine supporting cast. Incredibly this is a DEBUT film from respected Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gilroy. However, he directs with aplomb and the end shoot-out and car-chase was a memorable piece of filmmaking –  full of tension –  with a quite breath-taking pay-off.

I loved this film.  It takes the idea of the News Media as not merely objective representatives of fact but rather sensationalist manipulators where murder has become a natural by-product of their lust for ratings.  Films such as Gone Girl (2014) and Anchorman 2 (2013) have examined darkly and humorously the role of TV News in society recently but the stylish neo-noir Nightcrawler trumps them. Through Bloom the parasitic press and public are shown to both be vampires draining the life out of humanity. WE ARE ALL MONSTERS AT HEART!

 
 

THE PRESTIGE – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW

THE PRESTIGE (2006) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW

**YOU KNOW THE DRILL – SPOILERS!**

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With Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) orbiting the cinemas this week I thought I’d look back at the film which he made in between breathing life into the Batman franchise.   No doubt Nolan is an important genre filmmaker and as his budgets have got more grandiose then so have his ideas.  I just love that he is interested in attempting to make intelligent blockbusters where ideas, character and theme lead the story rather than rely simply on action, explosions and special effects (no offence Michael Bay.)

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Memento (2000) was a stunning and complex low-budget noir which dealt with obsession, murder and memory and Nolan continued these themes in superior cop thriller Insomnia (2002). Having delivered a cracking origins film in Batman Begins (2005) the director followed this up with a story about battling magicians based on Christopher Priest’s novel called The Prestige (2006).  For me it confirmed him as a force-to-be-reckoned with director. Following on the themes and tropes established in his prior films, The Prestige is centred around two obsessives brilliantly portrayed by the always excellent Christian Bale as Alfred Borden and the never-been-better (until Prisoners (2013), Hugh Jackman, playing his bitter rival, Robert Angier. The story starts at the end with Borden facing the hangman for Angier’s murder. After which the narrative flashes back to a time when the pair were freshman trick-smiths learning the ropes from mentor Cutter (always solid Michael Caine). When the cockney and cocky Bordens’ actions accidentally lead to the death of Angiers’ wife (Piper Perabo) – during a particularly complex and dangerous trick – the two go their separate ways. This sets in motion a story full of bitter twists of active and reactive vengeance. Each protagonist becomes so obsessed outdoing the other –  with the ultimate trick – they are prepared to sacrifice the ones they love in doing so.

The film is rich in plot, character and theme and investigates thoroughly the very human aspects of obsession and revenge. The double or doppleganger trope is also integral to the story as the writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls. The gritty, dirty period of Victorian London is wonderfully evoked and the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets is expertly represented. At it’s heart the story begins by showing us the cons of the magicians and the lengths they will go to amaze and astound an audience. By the end though the film becomes something much different with a chilling and fantastic turn which you think you see but ultimately don’t see coming.

Brilliantly directed by Christopher Nolan The Prestige is inventive, intelligent and ingenious. His cast does not let the magical screenplay down with the gorgeous Scarlett Johannson and – albeit briefly – pretty Piper Perabo bringing some glamour to the gritty proceedings. Rebecca Hall is also on commanding form bringing a subtle pain to the role of Borden’s wife.

Overall, it’s a challenging big-budget tale in which you never quite know what is real or what is a con. It keeps you guessing to the end, leaving you with a jaw-dropping final act as the story moves from sleight-of-hand tricks to science fact and finally science fiction. Ultimately, the film successfully combines fantastical, existential, and scientific elements. The film gives us a kind of magic but asks whether it’s worth the damage it causes to lives? THAT, for me, is The Prestige’s greatest trick.

TRUE DETECTIVE – POETIC REVIEW

TRUE DETECTIVE – POETIC  REVIEW

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Set in the picturesque Bayou from the stable HBO,
Dead as night; black as a murder of crows,
Southern Gothic of the police procedural persuasion,
True Detective’s a compelling, gripping, televisual sensation,

Sacrificial kill of a woman begins the murky plots,
As past and present collides, grips and clots,
A gloopy broth ensues of which there’s little filler,
As Louisiana cops pursue a nefarious serial-killer,

True Detective dials many a pulp-fictional cliché,
Yet we’re always wrong-numbered by Harrelson and McConaughey, Portraying mis-matched partners both with darker sides,
Suffering addictions, obsessions and existential slides,

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Writer Nic Pizzolatto delivers a corrupt vision of humanity,
Amidst the Cajun swamps we’re in David Fincher territory,
Standard cop stuff like the Chief screaming “you’re off the case!”,
Is deftly masked by Cary Fukunaga’s directorial style and pace,

McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is post-modern Sherlock,
He will never cease until the mystery is unlocked,
Allied with Harrelson’s Watson the two just won’t stop,
Title may say True Detective but it should be Existential Cop,

Meth-head rednecks, biker gangs, Southern whores all feature, Alongside pederasts, tattooed maniacs and crazy preachers,
All travelling together down a path undoubtedly well-worn,
Nonetheless it’s a delicious slice of murder porn.

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DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) – FILM REVIEW

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APESFILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**SPOILERS AHOY**

Film great. Humans crap.

In my last review I compared going to the cinema like going to a restaurant.  For this review I am going to use another tenuous analogy and say going to the cinema is my equivalent of going to Church.  The director/writer/filmmakers are in my eyes GOD!  The actors are the Priests spreading the word while the popcorn is the body of Christ with Tango or Coca-Cola as the blood. Not that I drink fizzy drinks or sugary  any more as I am currently winning an ongoing dispute between my will power and several unhealthy food addictions.

Anyway, what I’m saying is the Cinema is my holy sanctuary — it means THAT much to me. So if you want to use your phone (texting or going online) or talk about something on your phone such as the latest photo of your own arsehole then I will strike down upon thee with furious vengeance! Well I will ask you to shut up or get out!

In the war between humans’ and apes I was already on the Apes’ side following the excellent blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes  (2011) and even more so after witnessing its’ superlative sequel. Indeed, with the insane ongoing wars, environmental issues, pollution, fracking, plane crashes, arms dealing, dodgy press, corrupt governments, genocide and other disasters such as selfish phone wankers talking at the cinema perhaps it’s time for a change on Earth; a clean slate maybe?  Maybe the apes and other animals deserve a chance of owning this planet and giving peace a chance; something humanity seems incapable of sustaining.

If you didn’t know the Planet of the Apes franchise originated from Pierre Boulle’s wonderfully conceived 1963 novel La Planete des singes  and spawned a plethora of films, merchandise, TV shows, comics, novelisations, comic books, posters and even an animated series.  In the late 60s and 70s they didn’t just milk the cash cow they drained the blood and sold off its’ organs and body parts to an ever hungry audience thirsty for another instalment.

Irrespective of the sloping quality of the various guises it took the intelligence raised in the original source and gave us some serious action and brain-food encompassing themes and historical events such as: Darwinism; dystopic and apocalyptic future visions; civil and social unrest; slavery; man’s inhumanity to animals; medical experimentation; the Vietnam and Cold war; civilisation versus savagery; anthropology; The Frankenstein myth; space and time travel; and many other socio-political and science fictional motifs.  It’s a conceptual and cultural phenomenon. And Dawn of the Planet is a wonderful addition to the series.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins a few years AFTER Caesar led the apes’ escape from captivity depicted so entertainingly in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He, his wife and children are now living in reasonable harmony in a huge commune of orang-u-tan, gorillas and chimpanzees.  As suggested at the end of the first movie humans have succumbed to a virus which has wiped them off the planet leaving only those with vascular immunity still alive.  These are lead by family man Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus; a man — who like many others — has lost his family to the virus and subsequent societal breakdown. The dramatic meat of the story begins to cook when the apes are disturbed by a party of humans looking for a new energy source via a Dam in the forest.

The film is a real slow-burner as it establishes the rivalry between the apes and humans as they initially form an uneasy truce before outright war eventually begins.  Indeed the first hour or so is very much given to establishing character dynamics with Caesar’s (phenomenal Andy Serkis) leadership of the apes questioned by the scarred Koba (brilliant Toby Kebbell).  This too is reflected in the more peaceful Malcolm seeking to avoid war and co-exist with the apes as opposed to Dreyfus who sees them as nothing more than savage beasts.  Thus the four main protagonists are very rounded and keenly drawn although one criticism of the film is the lack of a powerful female character and one may say, Oldman aside, the humans are a little bland overall. An accusation I cannot say about the apes who are rendered incredibly by the massive special effect team at WETA.

By allowing the slow build up characters, spiked by some in-fighting in each of the camps, the tension rises and anticipation of the battle rises to fever pitch.  It is Koba who precipitates the war as he is driven by his anger at being experimented on by humans’ years before.  While Caesar leads with majesty and quiet authority, Koba is driven by revenge, pain and hate and this passion drives him to attack the humans with full ape force.  What follows is one of the most memorable set-pieces I have seen at the cinema this year with apes smashing down the human compound with violent abandon.  The image of a dual-gunned Koba rampaging on horseback as fire burns behind him is a cinematic moment which will stay in my memory for sometime.

Matt Reeves is an excellent genre filmmaker and he maintains the great standard set by Rupert Wyatt from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Reeves, the writers, cast and his battalion of special effects people have produced an intelligent blockbuster which keeps the drama burning throughout culminating in a stupendous battle sequence at the end.  The film is a portent telling us once again that humans will reap suffering if they continue to tamper with nature in the name of progress.  It also reflects the importance of family, acceptance and tolerance of others in order find peace; war and in particular gorilla warfare (sorry) is not the way forward.  There’s one soppy and jarring bit of script coincidence where Caesar goes back to the house he grew up in but that was not enough to ruin another excellent film inspired by Boulle’s literary classic. Those still haunted by Tim Burton’s atrocious 2001 effort will be very grateful for this entry in the franchise. Altogether now: Hail Caesar! Hail Caesar!