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The Farewell (2019)
The Farewell waves goodbye to clichés and welcomes humanistic endearment.
Death. A significant part of life. For if one must live, they also must decease. The natural order of existence. But what if you acknowledged the inevitability of your demise? The apprehension that one night you will never wake up. Would knowing that your health deterioration, in this case stage four lung cancer, has granted you a finite amount of time change the way you spend your last months alive? In China, it is tradition for family members to withhold this information. To suffer with the emotional burden and make the remaining days as optimistic as possible. Naturally, the conflict of emotive responses becomes difficult to balance, with bursts of sorrow frequently overwhelming falsified happiness.
In this personal directorial feature, Wang's own "actual lie" includes a family preparing a pseudo-wedding in order for their "Nai Nai" (paternal grandmother in Mandarin) to see all family members one last time. The marriage of cultural particularities, exploring the moralities of upholding a lie that is deemed illegal in western nations, with relatable earnest themes to create a stunningly honest feature that revolves around family. Wang has essentially created a film about death. Yet achieved this by masterfully balancing sharp humorous dialogue with melancholic tones, alluding to a light dramatic comedy. For every laugh, there is a tear. Exhuming the tight embrace that family has to offer, rarely releasing from its grasp.
Whilst Wang courageously traversed familial love at a time of substantial loss, she also permitted an introspective look into an American immigrant rediscovering her traditional roots. A long forgotten heritage differing in ideology and principles, providing a formidable transition that offers sentimentality without resorting to melodrama. It all stems from Wang's ingenious screenplay, merging conscientious humour with dramatic power, charging at the audience's hearts at maximum velocity. A prime example of the sheer beautiful longevity that Wang tonally constructs, would be "Chinese people have a saying: When people get cancer, they die.". An adequate amount of subtle humour whilst tackling the heavy subject matter at hand. It's stunning. Absolutely incredibly stunning. And when Wang wants you to cry, she'll hold you down til you do.
This is mostly down to the nullified performances that purposefully felt restrained. Awkwafina, proving herself as a formidable dramatic actress, commanded the dialogue with her simplistic yet nuanced delivery. Her facial expressions, glistening eyes and dysphoric spirit resulted in her character resembling our western perspective. The clashing of cultures. The moral dilemma. The perfect performance. With Wang supplying elongated sequences with the members staring at the camera against the eloquent symphonic score provided by Weston, to harness the sorrow of the situation. However, it's Shuzhen's benign role as "Nai Nai" that truly squeezes at the heart. The fragility and innocence she conveys will force you to cry during every scene. Whether it be happiness or sadness, her matriarchal role proved powerful. That final wave goodbye? I'm still recovering.
Occasionally certain scenes felt too restrained for their own good, unable to emanate the raw emotional response Wang was striving for, which hindered the overall desolation by the smallest of degrees.
However, small criticism aside, Wang has produced an intimate portrayal of cultural contrast. A luminescent feature that is illuminated by an earnest screenplay that deftly highlights the talent of everyone involved both on and off screen, cementing this as one of the best films of the year without a doubt. I want to conclude by leaving a poignant line that summarises the film perfectly. "Life is not just about what you do. It's more about how you do it.".
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
The Wolf of Wall Street opulently howls for the insipid apotheosis of money laundering.
Well, might as well deliver my soul to the slaughter for my apparent blasphemous opinion of this acclaimed "masterpiece". Ready? I don't like The Wolf of Wall Street. I don't. I just can't. I've endured this three hour mental exhaustion twice now, and each time it crawls further under my skin. The blatant irritation Scorsese causes me to suffer with, is enough to make me question the validity of this adaptation's existence (more on that later...). For now though, just let my unmistakable opinion settle and ready yourself for battle. Recounting the memoirs of stock-market manipulator Jordan Belfort, we witness the rise and fall of his Wall Street career as his susceptibility to corruption destroys everything and everyone around him.
Well, apparently that is what the film is heavily implying. Yet, for three bloody hours (six if you count the initial watch), I tolerated explicit sexual nature, drugs being sniffed off of breasts and abnormally juicy buttock cheeks and an extreme amount profanity that unsurprisingly set a Guinness World Record. For what? No, seriously. What's Scorsese's purpose here? There's no insight into corruption. No moral implications for Belfort's actions. No substantial development for Belfort's arc. Nothing. Scorsese literally consumed a hundred million dollars for the glorification of a criminal who is now considered a role model for many businessmen.
The absolute reason why this is so beloved, is because of how "hilarious" his shenanigans were. Launching midgets onto a scoreboard. Summoning strippers and a marching band to plague his office. Shaving a full head of hair off for cash. Sure, Scorsese's frantic antics accompanied by Schoonmaker's rapid editing kept the buoyancy afloat during these hellish moments. But what's the purpose here? To depict the maddening behaviour of stock brokers obsessed and driven by money? Negatory. Scorsese was too nonchalant about the depiction of fraudulent activity, that it consequently held no groundwork. The foundations were built entirely around excessive dark humour, and essentially collapsed in on itself.
Where I take issue though, is with the development of Belfort himself. A man who slides into the decadent lifestyle of drugs and prostitutes. A wannabe jerk becoming an actual jerk. His character arc, although predictable given any film regarding Wall Street, should've concluded on a note of reflection. The natural realisation of the erroneous behaviour he had demonstrated. Alas, he was forced to change. If he hadn't pleaded guilty, he would still be slapping asses and performing drug angels in mountains of cocaine. That's not development. At all.
What doesn't assist is Winter's inconsistent screenplay. Shifting frequently between actual plot and explicit shenanigans, whilst embedding an array of supporting characters that are deemed useless in the grand scheme of the film. Granted, it was DiCaprio's spotlight, and Scorsese was mindful of that. But the likes of Chandler, Favreau, Lumley and Dujardin were under-utilised. DiCaprio gives a tour de force performance as Belfort. He really does become the man by obnoxiously screaming, erratically laughing and fake tanning his way to awards season. It's an absurd performance that must've destroyed his vocal chords, and really is the only reason why I would endure this again. Hill on the other hand, I despised. Bland as per usual, and DiCaprio chewed him up real good. Robbie was used to spice up the sexuality, not for her acting ability. And McConaughey, who garnered the most memorable scenes, was in and out quicker that saying the words "alright, alright, alright...".
I shan't go on anymore. You now know where I stand with this endurance test. Whilst technically a proficient film from an inspiration director and commanded by a captivating central performance, it's entire purpose reeks of self-indulgence and ill-fated devotion. If Belfort asked me to "sell this pen", I know exactly where I would stick it...
Ad Astra (2019)
Ad Astra galactically depicts sorrow, proving that no one can hear you cry in space.
For the past few years, dramas set in the expansive dangers of space have been my bread and butter. Devouring them during my annual breakfast as I purposefully starve myself for the taste of space traversal. Every year, the likes 'Arrival', 'Blade Runner 2049', 'First Man', 'Interstellar' and my all-time favourite film 'Gravity', have secured scores ranging from outstanding to perfect. Whilst Ad Astra may be tilting towards the former adjective, it's still irrefutably one of the best films of the year thanks to Gray's understanding, yet again, of what makes a character study captivating. After unearthing the possibility that his missing father may still be alive, his astronaut son travels across the Solar System in search for him and to unravel a mysterious power surge phenomenon that threatens humanity's survival.
Immediately, one thing I need to brush off my chest is the horrendous marketing. This is not a sci-fi blockbuster. There is limited "action". And if you're wanting the next 'Star Wars' or 'Avatar', then remove yourself from the cinema and watch mind-numbing nonsense like 'Angel Has Fallen' instead. This is a James Gray extravaganza. A meticulously woven character study, harnessing melancholia to challenge an existential crisis. Thematically, Ad Astra's premise bolsters a plethora of metaphorical imagery that divulges into the empirical purpose of humanity. Majestic planets emitting every prismatic shade available, yet emanating no emotional connectivity. The vacuous expansivity of space, marking humanity's reflection on life as a mere speck of stardust. Worldly hostility reaching the depths of our galaxy, hyperbolising the "world-eating" philosophy of our own self-destruction as a species. The obsession to venture forth. Departing love, hate and grief. Welcoming nothingness.
Gray's space-opera is a sorrowful tale, intently focusing on the pressures of a son following in the footsteps of his acclaimed father. A patriarch of inspiration to many. Allowing a tangible tense bond to illuminate the stars with despair and anguish. Pitt's universally nuanced performance brings forward stoic mannerisms that allow McBride to feel these emotions. Minor glitches that break character, such as slamming the wall in frustration, showcase the purity of humanity within him.
Gray encompasses the plot around McBride. The lunar pirate raid, mayday rescue and crew brawl scenes, whilst inserting mainstream tendencies into a contemporary drama, were emblems of McBride's emotions. Fear, rage and desperation respectively. A series of gestures that, again, hark back to humanity's endurance. The mildly engaging supporting cast, ranging from Jones, Sutherland and Negga, acting as stability for McBride. Stepping stones allowing him to find his father, as if fate was dictating his alignment. Narration, shifting between inner thoughts to exposition, was overused and irked me with its basic functionality. Hoytema's cinematography could've elicited these unnecessary lines of dialogue from his beautiful imagery. And beautiful just doesn't do it justice.
Immediately, from the iridescent opening shot, Hoytema takes hold. Utilising colours and shadows to produce the incarnation of life, what it means to see. The blue of Neptune, the red of Mars. Clashing tonalities resembling McBride's emotions. Accompanied by Richter's euphoric score and the almost '2001' production design, and Ad Astra is technically a masterful piece of art. Gray's conclusion is teetering on the edge of underwhelming, for me atleast, with its rushed journey home that dissipated the simmering sorrow built exquisitely beforehand. The ending I personally would've desired, would be the ending no one wanted (but that's life I guess...).
Regardless, the small criticisms here and there are subject to change upon an inevitable rewatch. Gray is fast becoming one of my favourite directors. He is a man who understands character. He acknowledges the obsession of man. Amalgamating life's wondrously challenging hurdles into singular expressive characters. Ad Astra's meditative and resonant pacing, whilst is sure to put many viewers off, ensures that loss and grief are captured wherever a soul may be. At home or in deep space. It never vanishes.
Evil Under the Sun (1982)
Evil Under The Sun basks in the murderous sunshine with a tepid cocktail at hand.
Ahh yes! The moustachio Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, performing magical illusions with "oeufs" to young girls and peering over doorways whenever he hears gossip of the juiciest nature. Such a delightful fellow, don't you think? Initially inquisitive, only to then deal out the ultimate "I know who did it" descriptions known to man. Not even the blazing soothing sun of the Adriatic can prevent Poirot from encountering serendipitous murders. Unlike the Orient Express and Nile, he seemed to be enjoying his stay at the summer palace a tad bit too much, consequently diminishing an engaging mystery to a pedestrian stroll. Poirot is sent to an exclusive island resort to confront a leading actress regarding a priceless diamond, only to meet her unfortunate demise by the hands of one of the guests. In true Poirot style, he must interrogate each guest and find a chink in the seemingly impenetrable alibis.
Hamilton, having learnt his errors in judgement when directing Marple's lacklustre 'The Mirror Crack'd', sees himself rapidly fleeing the blustery Yorkshire moors and heading to the temperate Mediterranean for a mystery of two halves. The first hour slowly divulging into each guest, or should I say, murder suspect. Poirot chipping away backstory, motives and reasonings in his usual nonchalant mannerisms. A necessary and substantial amount of character discovery, unveiling plenty of "oh, it's definitely them!" moments, yet at the expense of the second half.
Just over the halfway mark, the grossly superficial leading lady is strangled to death, leaving Poirot limited time to uncover the murderer. The unfortunate moment when Hamilton and the screenplay writers lost the momentum of Christie's novel. Y'see, for an Agatha Christie mystery to work, time is essential. Time to build up the supporting characters, which were well executed in this adaptation. And time to allow Poirot to realistically find the solution. After questioning each suspect for a grand total of four minutes each, he sleeps on the information and wakes up with the most meticulously constructed explanation possible.
Problem is, we as the audience require more time to process the barrage of information and to make the mystery engaging. It's all well and good if the legendary Poirot can solve it in thirty minutes, including various plot holes. However the interpretation of the murder forces us to think "ahhh so that's how they did it..." instead of "I knew it! It was them all along!". Although just putting it out there, I did guess the suspect as soon as they mentioned a particular piece of swimming attire. You can call me Hercule. Regardless though, Christie mysteries require time to simmer, to pull you into the crime at hand. Hamilton failed to do so, which is a shame.
Alas, it's a buoyant holiday regardless. Ustinov made for a pleasant Poirot with an equal balance of cynicism and narcissism. Dame Maggie Smith, in all her glorious costumes, was a delight. Clay wearing speedos should be illegal. And Rigg was infectiously spiteful. The casting was solid, the locational filming adding a warm authentic allure to the murder. Oh, and Porter's score was infectiously flamboyant, accompanying the cinematography and editing in being reminiscent of a television styled TV drama.
The actual film itself is enjoyable. As an adaptation of Christie's novel though, it's missing that vital element of direct involvement. We as the audience constantly feel distanced, whereas we should be in the hotel with them. Drinking a cocktail and eating sausages on a stick...
The Lost City of Z (2016)
The Lost City of Z explores the density of obsessive discovery shrouded in a jungle of abandonment.
Exploration. The yearning for discovery. To set foot where no man has ventured before. To excavate rarities that determine ancient civilisations. There's nothing quite like it. The addiction for reconnoitring. That overwhelming chase for glory in the ambitious overlay of cementing one's name in the history books. During my childhood, I desired to gain such credibility as an explorative scout. The inner Indiana Jones or Rick O'Connell within me, presenting film as a means of inspiration, screaming for adventure. Alas, working behind a desk will have to suffice, as Gray's portrayal of Amazonian fauna and flora proved to be devices for both the dangers of adventure and character self-destruction, in what is the most realistic depiction of exploration presented in film.
Percy Fawcett, a young officer, is sent to the unknown Amazon jungle to map out the boundaries between two rivalling countries. His expedition proved fruitful, as he continually lusts to discover greater finds and prove the existence of an ancient civilisation. A jungle city covered in gold to which he describes as "the lost city of Z".
First and foremost, Gray's illustrious biographical feature is a character study. Surveying a man corrupted by obsession, determination and compulsion. Selecting the option to risk his life discovering an ancient city, on multiple expeditions, as opposed to residing in England with his family fathering his newborn children. Representing the Amazon as a means of escape, Gray balances Fawcett's fanatic behaviour against his wife's abandonment with such infirmity that it instantly allows connectivity with each character. Nina's lust for her husband's safety and adventurous opportunities coincides with Percy's painful sacrifice of missing out on his children's adolescence. His unavailability scarring the mentality of his offspring, as they fail to grasp their father's longing for exploration.
This isn't an outrageous adventure film where Percy is fleeing from an oncoming oversized boulder. Not even an action blockbuster where colonialism results in "savages" being viewed as antagonists. It's reality. Gray grounds the story and characters in realism, and rarely explores the route of fantastical ambiguity, with several scenes tackling societal issues. Fawcett's speech after his first expedition unravels the conflicting ideologies of what makes a society civilised, showcasing the narrow-minded viewpoints of RGS academics. Nina arguing with her husband for his misogynistic remarks in an attempt to level out equality. His son, Jack, reconciling and following the footsteps of his father, presenting the themes of respect and admiration. It's epic, both literarily and in scope.
The extensive runtime is rarely noticeable, with only one or two segments slowing down the pace. The Battle of the Somme, just to further highlight Fawcett's lust for pride and provide reconciliation with his son, diminished the intent obsession for "Z", which consequently made the third and final expedition feel more like a holiday than an adventure. And that's really my only gripe. Gray expertly maintained the aura of compulsion for the first two expeditions but faltered at the last hurdle.
However, the deliberate slow pace meticulously produced plenty of opportunities for cast and crew to display their talents. Hunnam gave a mesmerisingly commanding performance as the lead, although slightly lacked nuance in the calmer moments. His ferocity and thirst for adventure was truly infectious, as was Pattinson's role who yet again proved he is no longer the sparkly vampire of 'Twilight'. Miller and Holland, although lesser roles, had important scenes that were conveyed beautifully, affecting Fawcett's mentality in poetic ways. Khondji's cinematography was stunning. Emphasising the frivolous shades of yellow and green to complement the natural environment that these characters have embarked upon. And Spelman's score, shifting between uplifting and sentimental, portrayed Fawcett's conflicting interests euphorically. Technically, an astounding achievement that cements Gray's understanding of filmmaking.
The slowness, despite not accessible for all audiences, works in Gray's favour. It coincides with Fawcett's gradual susceptibility to pride. And at its core, The Lost City of Z is a wondrously engaging character study. One that is eloquently performed, meticulously written and creatively constructed. A biographical adventure that, whilst set a century ago, seals its relevancy by exploring not just luscious jungles, but societal issues. A drama that, providing you put in the investment, may just quench your thirst for dangerous adventure. Just don't take James Murray with you...
RED 2 (2013)
RED 2 mistakingly hires double the amount of retirees and twice the bombastic action.
"Bigger is better", so they say. Whilst that may apply to a variety of situations (televisions, equipment for after dark usage (if you catch my cold...) and Nicolas Cage raging his heart out), it doesn't necessarily work for sequels. Here we have a prime example of that ethos backfiring, with so much *stuff* happening that it becomes a clustered, splintered and hefty mess of global political proportions. The ol' RED team of new must team up again to stop governments from acquiring a WMD that could obliterate opposing nations, quickly and efficiently.
My hyperbolic introductory paragraph is just that. Exaggeration. But it expresses my disappointment for this sequel considering the light character-driven fun that was portrayed in its predecessor. In all honesty, this sequel is fine. Neither bad nor good. A plethora of locales for action of the highest intensity to take place, including the mesmerising Byung-Hun spraying a symphony of bullets from a Gatling gun in downtown Paris. An extended range of cast members, ranging from Willis and Malkovich to Hopkins and Zeta-Jones, assembling an ensemble cast of cataclysmic proportions. Oh, and a myriad of real-life problems, from stale relationships woes to obsessive wine purchasing, enhancing the central spine of characterisation.
Alas, it all comes falling down, quicker than London Bridge, thanks to a forgettably generic plot that intently focuses the narrative's agenda on worldly politics instead of the retirees. CIA, FBI, MI6, Russian Intelligence, and I'm ever so certain a Korean agency was mentioned too. It's a wasted opportunity, reeling off its unambitious predictable plot and twists, instead of honing in on what made the original so much fun. The characters. There are moments in which the juicy personalities are brought forward, particularly Mirren and Malkovich, yet handcuffed to a script that doesn't care. The constant switches between Paris, London, Moscow, Paris again, London again and nearly Iran, was messy to say the least. Never allowing the characters and story to simmer or take in the surroundings. A shame, considering Silvestri's score does much of the international embodying. Also, more Byung-Hun please. The man is a legend.
To conclude, let's correct the introductory statement. "Bigger is not always better, ya dig?". It's an obvious step down from its predecessor, however RED 2 manages to maintain its light hearted escapades for a watchable, if forgettable, sequel. Can we appreciate Hopkins chewing up the scenery though? I salute you Sir Anthony!
Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance attempts to avenge its predecessor on a flat tyre.
Continuity. It may just be the most valuable asset to a franchise. In fact, it's the only quality that a sequel should uphold. Whether the films be a couple of years apart or even a decade, they *should* resemble some sort of common ground. Aside from the titular anti-hero making his demonic presence for a grand total of five minutes, Spirit of Vengeance is essentially a vehicle for Cage to activate full "Cage Rage". Despite how gloriously atrocious those scenes were, it wasn't enough to change my overall opinion. And that is, Spirit of Vengeance is the worst superhero film I've seen. Blaze is tasked with saving a young boy from the Devil, who wants to shift all of his demonic powers onto him.
This sequel has a reputation. Released during phase one of Marvel's cinematic conception of their shared universe (although not associated with it whatsoever), this is a prime example of a studio not knowing what to do with their intellectual property and pumping out a sequel for the sake of nothing more than to earn some quick bucks. There's no creativity involved. There's no effort. Only an uninspired reason for a studio to keep a property. And y'know what? It's dreadful. Both the film and its existential purpose.
It commences with a stylised comic book aesthetic which offers unnecessary backstory in case any viewers hadn't watched the awful predecessor, recreating scenes that didn't actually happen in the first place (i.e. signing the soul deal). Strike one! Then we're introduced to a plethora of characters whom I can't remember the name of (that were *that* memorable), to which they all emanated no sense of characterisation and only splurged excessive exposition for the sake of moving the generic storyline along with no real innovation. We meet up with Johnny Blaze again and it seems his alter-ego can now ride the fires of hell in daylight, despite explicitly stating that he must remain in the shadows. Strike two!
Once all the handheld shaky cam, frequent rewind clips and desecrated set pieces are out of the way (absurd creative choices to say the least...), Blaze apparently decided he no longer desired the Rider within him. Yet again, despite stating to the Devil in the first film that "it's a curse I will use to destroy you", and so half of the film felt more like 'Nicolas Cage: Spirits of "How'd it get burnt!?"'. Strike three! The blatant aesthetic change from cheesy comic book adaptation to grungy alternative sequel resulted in several traits no longer existing. It was like a child growing up listening to The Spice Girls, now choosing to hear the screams of Marilyn Manson. The witty one liners were absent, no mention of the supporting characters including the romance with Mendes and the visual effects were somehow worse, the entire film resembling fan-made Adobe illustrator rubbish. Strike four and five!
The acting was woeful, with Cage and Elba hamming up their performances to maximum velocity. Hinds, the new Devil replacement, was grossly misused that it made me feel gross just watching him sway his body round like he is in the middle of a yoga session. Blacked out action sequences? Decaying glass but hardly anything else that was touched? Abrupt conclusion? No. I'm done.
This isn't a sequel. It's a reboot disguised as a successor. And I cannot get onboard. The overly gritty style accompanying Goyer's dreadful story was enough to make my head spontaneously combust. Continuity is everything, and this had nothing. Spirit of Vengeance? Don't you worry, I'll be taking my vengeance by burning this film.
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Girl, Interrupted abruptly infiltrates mental conditions through a solid, albeit inconsistent, characterised plot.
There's only one film that truly tackles mental institutionalisation with enough heft and characterisation, that it remains the superior benchmark for all subsequent topical features. 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest'. Mangold's adaptation may not be in the same league as the aforementioned near-perfect drama, yet he serves up one of the most talented ensemble casts of the late 90s. Each performance turning in a level of emotional connectivity that, whilst subsequently diminished the darker tones, interrupted our thought process with genuine characters that emanated fragility and heart. A young girl's parents have their daughter institutionalised on the basis that she nearly tried to commit suicide, not aware that her mentality is actually intact, to which she finds herself enthralled by the other girls within the hospital.
Mangold's intentions weren't necessarily to comment on the system's capitalisation of business over patient welfare, but to grant audiences a window into a splintered group of friends. Blossoming friendships in the confined spaces of an imprisoned environment. A minuscule community driven on the reliance of each other, despite the frantic and erratic schizophrenic behaviours of the patients. His screenplay mimics the close proximity of these patients by intrinsically focusing on their relationships with each other. Divulging into their tainted pasts and current daily routines. Like I said, it's never an examination of the system, but an insight into the patients' residence. It's all the better for it, and oozed so much characterisation that it's nearly impossible to resist.
What aided in the emotional vulnerability of these girls, were the performances. Ryder gave a career best in a role that clearly meant something to her. The innocence, fragility and sharp tongue. The perfect lead character. A supporting cast comprising of Goldberg, Tambor, Moss, Leto and Murphy ensured high calibre performances, and they all delivered. Of course though, there's one performance that stole the spotlight. That one flickering light of excellence that made the film as memorable as it is today. Angelina Jolie. Her ferocity allowed her character to earn a commanding presence. A presence that chewed up every scene she was in. The alternative style clearly differing from her colleagues. The bitter lines of dialogue that made her unapproachable yet empathetic. No surprise that she won an onslaught of awards, it's one of her greatest performances.
The narrative however falters on several occasions. There were frequent moments of darkness within this tale of hope, juxtaposing the lighter tone set in the first half of the film. These moments unfortunately had no staying power and heightened an unnecessary amount of melodrama. The bathroom suicide scene for example, and the rushed final night at the hospital. Exploration into borderline personality disorder was also lacking. These blinded scenes in tackling the darkness of mental illness had no conviction, and instead hurried the thinly plotted narrative along to its predictable conclusion. Which is a dire shame considering the intricate development of the characters. The bland score also attempted to enhance that acute sense of dramatic power, yet instead felt clinical. And finally the film is set in the 60s, yet strangely the wardrobe felt very modern and didn't necessarily suit the decade it was attempting to portray.
Despite these reserved withdrawals, the performances and fleshed out character development alone were enough to prevent Girl from continually being Interrupted. Implanting solid foundations into a splintered narrative casually observing mental illness, producing emotional resonance during its conclusion.
Let's Be Cops (2014)
Let's Be Cops handcuffs itself into being the laziest comedy I've ever had the misfortune of watching.
This is a first, ladies and gentlemen. I have never done this before in the entirety of my life, let alone in my current amateur critiquing days. You ready? Approximately fifty minutes in, I turned off the film. I couldn't do it to myself. I just couldn't! This. THIS. I made it through 'The Love Guru'. I survived 'Jack and Jill'. I watched 'Movie 43' and lived to tell the tale. But not this simple-minded "comedy". It flamboyantly waved everything I despise about modern American comedies right in my face, and I screamed "No!". Sit back and prepare yourselves, this isn't going to be pretty. Two friends, who are deemed failures in life, dress up as police officers and impersonate them in an attempt to spruce up their lives and have fun.
At the time I turned it off, the tone somewhat shifted into tackling local vigilantism with some strands of "taking justice into our own hands", but I didn't care. I witnessed enough torturous humour to cement my sentiments early one. As you know, I'm not susceptible to comedy. Without tooting my own police siren, my resistance to laughing is impenetrable. Fortunately there was no struggle here, as not a single line of dialogue was effective. No smiles were cracked. No chuckles were heard. I was dead, inside and out. Let's Be Cops is, essentially, a five minute sketch drawn out for an hour and a half. You aren't going to take anything away from this feature. Nothing. Just the solidification of one's natural ability to withstand self-torture.
Firstly, are the main characters that are so abhorrently frickin' unintelligent, that they had to physically type the words "impersonating a police officer offence" into a search engine, and be subsequently shocked by the revealed punishment? Have modern audiences degraded their minds so substantially that they find a naked obese man body slamming into one of the "cops", resting his sweaty genitals gently on their cranium, hilarious? Have we, as a species, become so unsophisticated that finding enjoyment from a child being forced to stab a man double his age to be outrageously funny behaviour? I apologise that I like my comedy with a hint of intelligence, but this was woeful. Absolutely frickin' dreadful. I'm sick and tired of these modern traits plaguing the genre. "Oh, well if we have the characters dress up as officers, then atleast we can shove ten minutes of partying, purchase a soundtrack predominantly comprising of dubstep and get those pubescent teens booking tickets immediately!".
The screenplay literally comprises of scenes, unconnected to each other, that play out as if they were one minute YouTube clips. Ah, they got the wrong dress code for the masquerade ball! Woops, frickin' hilarious though, right? Game developers wanting to make a video game that includes zombies. I can't breathe. No, not because it's so funny that they are commentating on an entire industry, but because they ARE commentating on an entire industry. God frickin' damn. Johnson and Wayans had no chemistry. None. The former wouldn't shut the hell up and was infatuated with the sound of his own voice. The latter looked so out of place and timid that Johnson was just eating him up alive. Then the sexism. Oh God, the sexism! It's ridiculous! A group of women floundering along shouting "Ohhh we have to kiss cops *mwah*". Go away. Stop. Enough.
You want to make a pro-police comedy? Grab a notebook, watch 'Hot Fuzz' and record the amount of times you laughed. Was it more than once? Well, that'll be one more than this piece of soul-draining pointlessly stupid incomprehensibly anger-inducing "comedy" has to offer.
Y'know what? I'm not even sorry I didn't finish this. Which is a shame, as D'Arcy looked to have put in a good performance. However, life goes on. This is the turning point. I'm not buying another modern comedy again. Unless they're unanimously praised, I'm avoiding them like the plague. Quite possibly one of the worst comedies I've watched, capitalising on crude behaviour for apparent laughs. Let's Be Anything But Cops. Heck, Let's Be Gravediggers.
Ghost Rider (2007)
Ghost Rider rides the highway to hell, leading to a lifeless dead end of hopeless talent.
I should've known. No, really. I should've. The same director who helmed that super successful superhero masterpiece known as "Blind Battfleck", I mean, 'Daredevil'. Perhaps Johnson learnt from his past mistakes when it comes to dealing with superheroes that mass audiences aren't entirely familiar with. Maybe, just maybe, the irreverent use of the "Cage Rage" could spontaneously combust this adaptation into a ghoulish inferno of apocalyptic excellence. Or, just to restore some remnants of faith, produce a film that is mediocre. Alas, not the case.
Ghost Rider is terrible. Woeful. Dreadful. Fully exorcising the ineptitude of amateur comic book adaptations that preceded this monstrosity and somehow tainting them even further, granting this hellish anti-hero no chance of retrieving his soul back. Johnny Blaze, the "Human Torch" who "flames on" whenever he needs to, sells his soul to the devil in order to spare his father's life. A supposed antagonistic demon makes his debut and thus Blaze must become a Ghost Rider in order to stop him from acquiring the contract of "I-Don't-Give-A-Toss".
If there was any ounce of literary creativity within this screenplay, or any other element of the film, I may have paid more attention whilst being perched on the edge of my seat from the sheer velocity that Ghost Rider rides his skeletal metallic motorcycle. Flames etched onto the road. Demonic dubbing that echoed the streets of wherever the heck this film was set. Cage screaming his lungs out as his face melts from the inside. It's fundamentally incoherent. No matter how much lunacy Cage injected into his vicious pointing or how minuscule Mendes' acting capacity may be, if the storytelling is executed with no common sense whatsoever, there's no point. None. And it's abundantly clear in Ghost Rider.
It starts off with an emotional acceleration, between Blaze and his father, which in turn produces some required apathy. After those introductory moments of tenderness were over, tackling an uninspired origin story, Blaze propels himself off a ramp and never lands. Look, he's still gliding over those CGI helicopters now! There were approximately seven minutes of action. Four antagonists, each harnessing a differing elemental power, are defeated in seconds. Don't ask me their names, I haven't got a clue and the film doesn't deserve to be researched prior to this decimation. No build up. Just a vacant stare and we're moving on. The absence of threat was abundantly clear, and as soon as Mr. Monotonous (that's the villain's name now...) reads a piece of paper and obtains glowing red eyes, the film was over.
So with no action or real substance, what the heck was happening for two hours you might ask? Just a road trip back and forth between a romantic sub-plot and Sam "Exposition" Elliott, spelling out a plot that had more lore than a frickin' 'Lord of the Rings' compendium. I just...don't care. If Cage didn't care, Mendes didn't care and Ghost Rider himself didn't care, why should I? I had to sit through two hours of complacent visual effects, for nothing to actually happen. The cheesy tone that Johnson outlined didn't suit the darker apocalyptic world that Ghost Rider resided in within the comics. I don't want to hear another "skull" pun. I don't!
And if there's only one thing I'm going to take away from this endurance test, it's consuming jelly beans in a martini glass. However that minor positive, which may or may not change my life forever, did not substantiate me sitting through the entirety of this boring adaptation. Quite simply one of the worst Marvel films in their canon, and I've still got the sequel to watch...
Presto humorously raises its curtains by paying homage to cartoonish tricks of old.
If you've never watched 'Looney Tunes', 'Tom and Jerry' or even 'Scooby Doo, firstly please remove yourself from the insignificant rock that you reside under, and secondly this may just be the most accessible stepping stone to the world of cartoons. We've got a Vaudeville magician who rushes on stage without feeding his mischievous rabbit, who unsurprisingly refuses to cooperate with the act and utilises a magical wizard's hat to his own advantage. Y'know, a powerful teleportational piece of clothing that is linked with the magician's own top hat that, when objects pass through, are buoyantly received from the opposing hat. No? You ought to purchase one. They're mighty good fun! As expected, the rabbit is throwing eggs, mousetraps, ladders and all sorts of health and safety hazards through the hat, resulting in an animation that primarily hones in on visual cartoon comedy.
It's a treat, albeit a forgettable appetiser. And the reason for this criticism is due to the short being, well, short. Back in the day, when a cat named Tom was producing meticulous traps to catch a sneaky mouse named Jerry, it was decent fifteen minute escapade. There was build up. There was creativity. There was the inevitability that the trap would backfire. Cartoons need buildup in order to deliver the laughs, and "hey presto" five minutes just doesn't cut any carrots. It's a rapid succession of quick fire shenanigans that, yes do produce smiles, but no chuckles. Fortunately the superb animation, Sweetland's acclamation for cartoons and the partnership moralised narrative ensures that this magical act remains delightful and mystical throughout. A suitable companion piece for the beast that is 'Wall-E'.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
If Beale Street Could Talk gently explores racial discrimination and eternal love through expressionistic drama.
Nuance. It's an approach that very few directors decide to take. The ability to fabricate raw emotions through minimal effort, whether that be literary or theatrically, producing a subdued aura that surrounds the characters. Jenkins' follow-up to the masterpiece that is 'Moonlight' is one that is riddled with expectations. A question of delivering such towering content consecutively. Whilst not in the same league, Beale Street has its own mesmerising allure that conveys the trust of love through the most earnest of facial expressions, securing the sentiment that they are truly worth a thousand words. A young woman and her endearing family seek to clear the name of her falsely accused lover, whom of which has been charged with sexual assault.
The love story of Tish and Fonny, two lovebirds so helplessly infatuated with each other that the environment encapsulating them stops in motion. Jenkins, along with Laxton's absolute gorgeous cinematography, paints a solemn illustration. The colour palette, lukewarm lighting and non-linear narrative structure allows Jenkins to maintain creative freedom whilst staying true to the source material. His expressionistic aesthetic from previous directorial efforts is maintained fully by consistently focusing all literary intent on the characters, against the backdrop of a predominantly racist society.
Frequently, he will cut a conversation, only to allow James and Layne to stare into each other's soul, or in this the camera. Their piercing stares, glistening eyes. A burst of mesmerisation that emanates more true love than any adjective could define. The passion strengthening the tainted history of the black community that were wrongly discriminated, both carrying absurds amount of narrative heft without substantial amounts of dialogue. Any and all conversational scenes emitted a sense of naturalism to them. This isn't a romantic puff piece resorting to melodrama in an attempt to force audiences to weep. This is real. Pure realism depicted by visual poetry that resonates within us all.
Bolstered by, again, nuanced performances that allow these characters to simmer. There are no outbursts of rage, a common trait found in award calibre films to showcase overacting. There aren't even any moments of eternal sadness, allowing performers to sob their way to awards. It's completely subdued. Layne utilises the silence of her character to nullify audiences. Vulnerable yet commanding. James remains admirable and defiant throughout, further cementing the love of their characters. A few cameos here and there which were pleasant surprises, if occasionally wobbly. However, the beautiful shining star has to be King as the supportive mother. Never mind the scene where she obliterates Fonny's family with one line. The moment, that one precise minute where she won the award, was when she flies to Puerto Rico. The way she crumbles to the floor crying her eyes out after her act of desperation, acknowledging the fact she has no more chances, was sensational. Absolutely incredible.
The nuanced approach can be too gentle for its own good, not entirely letting all the emotions boil over. It remains effective throughout, but there are moments when you want to feel more. You want to cry. You want to collapse onto the floor with them. However the subdued aesthetic prevents you from doing so, occasionally. There's also a dominant jarring tonal shift between the first and second act, where the accusation is explained, that seemed inapposite. A few criticisms that prevent this from being the ultimate visual poem, but Britell's authentic score entranced me during these uncertain moments. Should've won the Academy Award (especially as Hurwitz wasn't even nominated), just sayin'.
Beale Street is an exercise in modern expressionism. It yearns to mesmerise through its ornate visual aesthetic that enables an authentic level of romanticism to be conveyed against a historical movement in black culture. Suppressed repression presented masterfully by a director at the height of his power. Sensational viewing, and incredibly overlooked.
Precious Cargo (2016)
Precious Cargo steals diamonds, black boxes and your valuable time.
Precious Cargo? The only thing precious about this cargo is the scene where Willis, with all his antagonistic mannerisms (hint: the same as all his other performances), discusses the rules of chess as if he's a conniving version of Bobby Fischer. "The pawn can only move forward, and attack diagonally". Oh my lord! Never played chess? Watch this film. You'll be a professional by the end! Wanted to watch an action film? Move along. This diamond robbery felt less exciting than extracting the sedimentary beast that is coal from the Earth's surface.
I don't need to explain the plot. I summed it up just now. A gang of thieves, recruited by the kindest crime boss ever, attempt to steal some diamonds. This is why I despise watching "straight-to-DVD" disposable trash. False advertising. Y'see Willis there on the poster? No no, not the other guy who is apparently the lead actor and presented smaller in the marketing material. You got him? Great. Well, Willis is in it for a total of five minutes. Frickin' five minutes. I wanted/hoped for some wild Willis warfare. What I received was some garish Gosselaar garbage, strung together by the most frequent quick cuts to ensure that you are unable to see any of the "absolutely exciting" action.
After the eternally elongated introductory credits, honestly resembled a marathon, the first big action set piece is a boat chase down a river. Possibly 1,693 bullets were blindly discharged within this five minute sequence. I've never known so much blind fire in all my life! A "pregnant" woman is firing mid-conversation without looking! If she had actually used her frickin' eyes, the scene would've been over before they managed to get onto the boat! God damn. No one can shoot for toffee, making every action scene tediously stupid.
Every character is mean spirited, calling each other "d*ck breath", "manipulative b*tch" and every other expletive under the sun. Relax! Y'all supposed to be working together. Kelly, who plays Logan, only has one tone. Tone deaf. Just her speech alone forced me to combat general fatigue. Gosselaar was fine, if occasionally irritating. Forlani was the highlight, without a doubt.
There's perhaps one, just one, scene with these actors together where some acting is present (and a door is unexpectedly slapped). The rest? I'd rather shoot myself. Willis didn't care. The plot is more generic than a manufactured pop song. The editing is borderline mentally deranged. I mean, one minute two characters are making sweet sweet love in the middle of the night. They're interrupted. They get out of bed and holy floppy wangs it's the middle of the day!? What illusory magic is this? I want some. No wait, I don't! Straight-to-DVD? Straight-to-the-rubbish-bin-mate.
RED is fully equipped with light action set pieces that shows the youth of today how it's done.
Retired. Extremely. Dangerous. Three words that sums up my career of playing 'Mario Kart' at tournament "pro" level. But enough about my personal and secretive endeavours, let's dive head first into the world of elderly agents exposing very important people for the charlatans that they are. As silly as this DC comic book adaptation sounds, and it does venture into the stupid very frequently, it's just damn good fun and so watchable that you'll be eternally smiling as Willis devours a hearty breakfast by himself. The CIA are tasked in wiping out Frank Moses, a retired analyst who was part of a special operation years ago, to which he must find out the truth before everyone involved is killed.
Mixing action and light-hearted comedy often produces tepid results. The gags being more broken than Malkovich's mind. Fortunately this adaptation knows exactly what it is and never tries to be anything else. It's straight up fun, entertaining and swift. Agents literally explode into smithereens. I mean, literally. Boom! An exquisitely dressed Mirren unleashes a barrage of bullets from a gun that is three times the size of her. Willis actually smiles. And I'm absolutely fine with Parker getting kidnapped and handcuffed to a bed against her will. Perhaps the only time I'll allow that, ever.
Sure, the plot descends into a blah-fest that no one cares about, mostly due to the environment changing every eight seconds (to which a postcard is shoved in my face). And the climax is so anti-climactic that Willis essentially sneezes on the villain and the world is saved. Yet the cast packed tonnes of charisma into their performances, that they outdo the script given to them. The older cast members delivered the goods, but so did Urban who channelled his inner badass in preparation for 'Dredd'. Despite the generic forgettable plot of RED that not even the fantastic cast cared about and Willis munching on Parker's face at the end (ew...), it's the buoyant action and humour that elevated this adaptation into be classified as "good".
It Chapter Two (2019)
It: Chapter Two clowns around attempting to adapt a seemingly unadaptable second half.
There's a cruel irony that haunts the now all grown-up Bill, a screenplay writer, that represents my opinion of King's infamous conclusive half. "The ending kinda sucked". Having read the novel, watched the original miniseries and survived my own nightmares, I came to the conclusion that the adult section of 'It' is terribly written and highlights the very worst of King's writing techniques. It's balls-to-the-walls insanity with a thematic presence that loses its ingenuity built lovingly from the first half, in this case 'Chapter One'. Unfortunately, as hard as Muschietti tried, not much of the near three-hour runtime made any impact and produced a seemingly forgettable "horror" riddled with more disappointment than Pennywise's ruthless attempt in capturing the Loser's Club. Twenty seven years after the events of the first film, the Losers Club reunite in Derry once more to try and destroy "It" permanently before it devours any more children.
Before I express my predictably overwhelming level of disappointment, it's important to note that I knew I was not going to be truly enamoured with the narrative. I've always loathed it. Thematically, there is a tepid amount of exploration into the manifestation of guilt and how it haunts us on an emotional level. The inner turmoil that is buried within us and the repercussions of suppressing them. Despite the overall absence of psychological complexities within each character, that is somewhat present in the novel, there's enough impact within each loser to illustrate guilt. Bill, for example, being the perfect thematic bridge as he comes to terms with Georgie's death.
The inherent issue, which is an immediate negatory result of the surprisingly fantastic first chapter, is the lack of characterisation. As kids, the Losers Club were inseparable, with each character fleshed out to maximum potential. Twenty seven years on, naturally the reunion is to be intermittently spiky, but to not reproduce the intrinsic flavour that made these losers so memorable and relatable was a huge misstep. Take Bev and Ben, or Eddie and Richie. Aside from the conclusive ten minutes, there's no tangible emotion between them. A true lack of friendship that, even if they are unable to remember, showed no humanity. Just quick lines of dialogue to keep the overstuffed plot moving, with an excessive amount of quips that rapidly transformed this horror into a comedy.
Mike had the misfortune of resorting to the mechanical character of "exposition man", where every spoken word explains the ritualistic storyline and the absurdity of King's mind. The Ritual of Chüd, the origins of "It" and the recovery of fragmented memories. Diabolically destroyed as a character. Which is a shame, as the casting of the adult losers was sublime. Hader stole the entire show with his ornate use of comedic timing and emotional distress. Chastain and McAvoy, despite their star status, wasn't given enough substance to give truly captivating performances. Especially the former who was grossly underused.
Of course, if you are wanting to watch 'It', then you're praying to be scared, right? Ehhh. Wrong. The horror traits that should've been at the forefront, were completely ineffective. Nearly every single jump scare, except for one furry canine that annoyingly infiltrated my impenetrable skin the moment I let my guard down, was pointless. A host of CGI creatures that, whilst creatively showcase the fearful capabilities of "It", smelt of so much fakery that they proved to be tame and forgettable. Heck, even visualised effects on some of the character's faces, like child Ben, were incredibly noticeable and off-putting.
Which nicely brings me to Pennywise himself. Skarsgard gives yet another tantalising performance. But just one teeny problem. He isn't scary anymore. Whether that be due to the uninspired use of said clown or the lack of freshness that made the first chapter massively frightening, remains to be seen. The audience were laughing instead of looking away! Either way though, Pennywise was ineffective. And the conclusive science-fiction blah-fest highlighted
This is a frustrating chapter. It really bloody is. Muschietti can create tension. He proved it in the first chapter and occasionally embedded scenes of suspense within this sequel. The old woman inviting Bev into her apartment? Yes please! CGI Bev's head spontaneously combusting? Nah, I'm out. It's overstuffed, overlong (seriously, three hours? Chop atleast forty minutes off!) and overly tame. And when the flashbacks to the child losers are the greatest aspects of the sequel, a sequel predominantly focused on the adults, well something's not quite right. It's not entirely Muschietti's fault, as the source material is just as terrible. It's just a case of "the ending kinda sucked".
Spring Breakers (2012)
Spring Breakers dances through vivid neon colours sensorily with that added splash of objectification.
If ever there was a film that I was destined to loathe, it would be this. Women partying in skimpy bikinis, devouring alcoholic beverages, sniffing lines of white powder and James Franco gone, what I like to call, "Full Franco". And unsurprisingly the above criticisms are included in Korine's divisive crime caper, but for everything he executed incorrectly, he somehow combated through sensory visuals that narratively took hold of the thin story. A group of young girls attended spring break in Florida where they encounter a local drug dealer who spirals their lives into the descending world of drugs and violence.
Immediately, the film commences with a montage of flesh. Half-naked teenagers are having a gay ol' time at a beach, drinking their sorrows away whilst the pounding beats of Skrillex' dubstep causes sensory overload. When the torture ended and my ears re-adjusted, Korine takes the direction through a fascinating receptive tunnel that strangely entranced me.
Acquiring Debie's gorgeously vibrant cinematography and Martinez' minimalistic score, he controversially turns a seemingly buoyant party extravaganza into an artistic reflection of modern superficiality, presenting the tainted American dream in all its vulnerability. The self-destruction of today's youth proving far more visceral than your average spring break getaway. This is where Korine truly inhabits the contemporary aesthetic, with stunning tracking shots, particularly the restaurant robbery, taking hold of the narrative. The use of visual storytelling worked wonders, particularly when the female-led cast is less than impressive. Gomez singing a Spice Girls song is the extent of her "acting" ability.
However Korine distracts us with Crise's ornate use of editing techniques. Consistently jumping forward for one second, then cutting back to a previous scene, made for a hallucinogenic experience that felt both erratic and sensational. The minimal narrative content, whilst provided an entrancing experience, acted as a broken beer bottle. Forcing me to yearn for some character backstory just to cling onto an ounce of relatable investment. Unfortunately, the chaotic lighting didn't provide much character depth, merely limiting this experience to a superficial shell rather than an intrinsic perspective.
However my main annoyance was the constant objectification of females and how they were likened to "play things" for wealthy men. The portrayal of women was absurdly animalistic, with various scenes comprising of girl-on-girl action, crotch shots and enough buttocks meat to start a local butchers. Yet with no real purpose other than to remind us that we're watching a spring break party. Was there any need to constantly keep submerging the camera, that's floating on a pool, to focus on thighs and skimpy bikinis? It doesn't anything other that more objectification. Not even Franco choking on, not one but two, firearm suppressors was enough to invalidate the male superiority. "Good girls gone bad"? Not exactly, let's be honest.
I cannot dispute the fact that this is an interesting conversational piece, both thematically and through its execution. Quite rightly so, it's one of the most divisive films of the modern age, to which I acknowledge both juxtaposing viewpoints. I'd lean slightly closer to the positive side, yet so many aspects didn't sit right with me leaving me smack bang in the middle. Not the euphoric experience it thinks it is, but certainly won't be causing any hangovers either.
Daredevil is blinded by an overstuffed plot that feels more suited to an Evanescence music video.
"Devil card, never leave the church without it". Honest to God, was fully expecting that line, that's the level of cringe we're dealing with here. Prior to this wonderful superhero blockbuster, I had no knowledge of Daredevil aside from his sonar ability. No, I've not seen the Netflix series, and no I hadn't read the comics. I simply just don't care enough. And after watching this, I really really don't care anymore. My refusal to summarise the plot in one sentence is justified, reason being is that the narrative is overstuffed with segregated sub-plots that it feels respectable to tackle them individually. So, here we go!
Unequivocally the basis of Sin Cit..., I mean, Daredevil is revolving around a blind wealthy lawyer who takes it upon himself to become a masked vigilante at night and nunchuck civilians to death (*cough* Batman *cough*). It's a tight, cheaply woven PVC gimp suit that provides no protection or added traits whatsoever, and due to the helmet covering up his eyes, Affleck's butt chin is more noticeable than the shoddy CGI. Thank the lord his eyes were covered up though, because Affleck's blind acting was more "derpy" than me trying to work out basic mathematics whilst heavily influenced by gin (hint: I look like Affleck).
So Matt Murdock, the eponymous character, yearns to annihilate the crime lord Kingpin for committing a crime that had influenced Matt's fight against criminals. Y'know, "justice is blind" and all that obvious rubbish that makes you want to heave. Ingenious casting of Clarke Duncan, I must say, just a shame Johnson never flippin' utilised him at all. Same can be said about the assassin Bullseye, with Farrell having a target etched onto his forehead in case we forgot who he was playing, who "never misses". The cruel irony is, that he missed atleast fifty seven times. Should've been called the "Inaccurate Irishman". Anyway, he's in it for no apparent reason, but Farrell did good with his cocaine fuelled acting.
But we're not done yet. Oh no. Half of the film focused on a blossoming romance between Matt and Elektra "Nachos", because she wanted guacamole instead of salsa dip if you catch my cold. Yet despite Matt thinking "hey, I am nacho boyfriend", his resistance proved futile. And so, as soon as they meet, they battle it out whilst precariously balancing on some seesaws in front of some kids in public. Oh, super basic choreography by the way, was slower than my nan (she can't walk sooo...). But before any of this excitement ensues, Johnson tackles the origin story of Daredevil in the most uninspired fashion by simply doing nothing with it. All of this is just the narrative, I haven't even touched upon the court ruling with Coolio that apparently is exclusively available in the Director's Cut. So much stuff, yet no actual substance. Amazing, really.
The action set pieces are plagued with Dutch angles, flashing lighting that will induce epileptics into seizure mode and grungy aesthetics to capitalise on Miller's style. The soundtrack though, oh God the soundtrack! Who knew that playing Evanescence's 'My Immortal' at a funeral would evoke my nostalgic emo phase. And then 'Bring Me To Life' during a training montage? I can't. It's too much.
As an album, Daredevil rocks. As a film, it's both blind and deaf. That's narratively blind and emotionally tone deaf. The film wouldn't end and all I wanted was a bowl of nachos whilst I fall asleep watching this snooze-fest.
Final Destination (2000)
Final Destination uses its precognitive abilities to spawn a franchise devoid of suspense.
Yes, another influential horror series that is ferociously mediocre and stupid beyond belief. The franchise filled with inventive death sequences, narrow survivability and teeny weeny clichés all started here with Wong, a man clearly hellbent in forcing audiences to be mildly cautious of everything, everyone and everywhere. Except he forgot one crucial aspect. He had seemingly directed/written a horror, but where's the suspense? Where's the horror? And holy flailing live wire where's the characterisation? A teenager cheats death after experiencing a premonition of a plane (which clearly wasn't suitable for take off...) exploding. He and a multitude of students leave the plane before the catastrophic event takes place and now Death is curing his boredom by finding inventive ways to kill these fools.
For instance, a teenager strangling themselves with a shower and unable to stand up. Or a girl being slammed by the most silent speeding bus. Maybe a monitor exploding like a bomb and dispersing shards of glass into a woman's neck. No wait, I got it! Decapitation by shrapnel! Anyway, despite how inventive and gloriously gory these death sequences were, whilst suspending your disbelief for the vast majority of the film's runtime, masquerading plot conveniences as determinism is incredibly lazy writing. Hang on! I know exactly what you're thinking. "Uhhh the point of these films is that Death is controlling their outcomes". And I get it. I'm fine with that. But you're going to try and convince me that all the survivors happened to be at the same café as one of them meets their early demise, to which was all part of Death's plan? Or Billy riding his bicycle at the exact moment a house explodes? No. Those are just conveniences that outline the amateurish writing capabilities of the screenplay writers.
Speaking of screenplay, nearly every line of dialogue is used to theorise about Death's plan. These students aren't having natural conversations about their lives or what they had for breakfast. They discuss death in so much detail, that one could mistake them for being morticians. Cheer up guys, please! The lack of characterisation is woeful, and in turn makes us care less about who meets their demise or not. Honestly, didn't give a toss who got impaled by a washing line. Wong had his mind purely set on "how" they were going to die, as opposed to "who", and in turn deviated from the much required suspense that Final Destination craved.
Fortunately the practical effects make up for the absent tension, particularly the introductory plane catastrophe, inducing plenty of gore being splattered on the screen. The acting was functional for a teen horror, although Sawa and Larter were standouts with their underdeveloped pairing, and the Goldberg effect on some of the deaths were fascinating to watch unravel. But then you see Death retreat the water that mysteriously followed Tod on the bathroom floor, and we're back to nonsensical stupidity.
Final Destination is a film I appreciate, especially for its influence and staying power in the horror genre. Forever watchable and a great film to put on during a popcorn night. However it's irrefutably mediocre, with stupidity around every corner and morticians randomly delivering excessive exposition, so much so that Death has seemingly possessed everyone into thinking it's actually decent.
Incident in a Ghostland swiftly shows cracks within its porcelain psychological shell.
Well, that was frustrating. Y'know when you sit down, watch a film, become absorbed by the world it lures you into, only to ascertain that precious time has been wasted for such a convoluted story that really didn't need to be. Yeah, that. Well I've got the perfect example here! A family inherit a creaky house, but whilst moving in are confronted by a gang of murderers which alters the lives of the daughters forever.
Yet again, another film commencing with a Lovecraft quote, mistaking labyrinthine horror for surrealism. Ghostland, for all its slashing wholesomeness, is a horror of two halves. The dreadful reality-bending psychologically draining first half that was abhorrently misdirected by Laugier, rushed with such extremities and thematically empty. And of course the second half, a taut home invasion slasher that stylistically ramps up tension by intently focusing on the mental deterioration of its antagonists (whom I have named "Man Child" and "Weird Mom"), whilst maintaining the desperation for escape.
The issue that segregates these two halves? A certain plot reveal that is absolutely so unnecessary, that it yields no literary substance whatsoever. In fact, its purpose is just to convolute a plot that needs no convolution. The route Laugier chooses doesn't explore the human psyche, nor does it embellish imagination. Just a carbon copy of an infamous plot detail found in an incredibly popular 90s thriller (I shan't name it...), for the sake of extending the film's runtime. If Laugier removed this infuriating corkscrew, the narrative would've be more engaging without a doubt. Urgh.
It's a dire shame considering the decent performances, exquisite production design and gloriously enticing second half that had me shouting "Flee my daughters! Devour his neck!!". The absence of backstory for the murderous Weird Mom and the juvenile doll-fondling Man Child did leave a gaping hole narratively speaking, however the plot is told through Beth's perspective so made sense to maintain a minuscule amount of mysticism. There were a handful of jump scares that were obnoxiously predictable and piercingly loud, to which its inclusion was solely to forcibly quantify its horror tropes. Yet the uneasy strange behaviour of its murderers, most notably the inhaling of certain private areas found on dolls and the tantalising oddities that surround the silent but deadly Weird Mom, actually created enough tension and dread to momentarily captivate.
However the unfortunate first half believing to be an ingenious use of escapism, tainted the film's entirety by rendering it obsolete. If only Laugier chose the simplistic path, we may have had ourselves a decent straightforward slasher. Shame.
United 93 (2006)
United 93 is one biographical memorial that soars over any and all genre tropes.
Any feature tackling the events of 9/11 is surrounded by a thin line that when crossed, ventures into the realms of sensationalising a tragic event for entertainment purposes. It's a difficult subject to tackle, and one that needs to be conveyed from a semi-neutral perspective that prevents any glorification of certain individuals without substantial evidence. That being said, the hijacking scenario that took place aboard United Airlines Flight 93, a plane temporarily controlled by al-Qaeda terrorists intending to crash into US Capitol, is one of the most challenging narratives available.
The inevitability of its outcome serves as a harrowing depiction that showcases human nature at its most desperate. The passengers, acknowledging the suicidal exploitation, exerting one final desperate surge for survival. The terrorists, controlled radically by religion, performing disciplined actions predominated by extremism. The flight control employees chaotically coming to terms with the country's vulnerability and inability to provide national security. Several heightened perspectives, combined together in a symphony of technical flawlessness, that never at any one point resorts to Hollywood sensationalism.
This, is Greengrass' greatest achievement. Whether you appreciate his erratic control of the camera and clinical approach to worldly situations or not, his literary interpretation of the proceeding events, both in the air and on the ground, is so technically assured that it is almost impossible to criticise. Producing sobering thrills from simply analysing at an air traffic radar monitor is nothing short of outstanding, and the nullifying effect Greengrass creates is not a result of his astute direction. It's the inevitability of this tragedy. Witnessing the flight number "AA11" abruptly disappear, without showing any dramatisation of the impact, is what sends chills down the spine. Observing the traffic controllers and military personnel come to terms with the attacks beckons to our own reminiscence of when we ourselves watched the events unfold back in '01. Such intelligence is utilised to depict the background chaos, that it never once disrupts the distressing urgency of the film's purpose.
Everyone will remember the World Trade Centre attacks, some may recall the Pentagon blast, but how many of you honestly remember the United 93 flight? News coverage can only cover so much in such a heightened time of turmoil, which is why this biographical drama is so important. It doesn't just retell the events, using footage from that very morning. It shows the very best and very worst of humanity.
With the cooperation of all the passengers' families, Greengrass managed to produce a subtle level of sympathy and empowerment in well under two hours. The earnest phone calls home as passengers plead their love one final time. The surge of togetherness for that one last push, in spite of the unlikely chance of survival. And aside from the portrayal of Christian Adams, a German passenger who received minimal development and therefore came across as desperately appeasing as opposed to methodical (which was a questionable choice to say the least), every single passenger was portrayed delicately and lovingly. Powell's score also accompanies the ensuing drama with a visceral amount of palpable tension.
United 93 is not entertaining. If you want to watch a mildly enjoyable film and dismiss the extremities of reality, put on 'Shrek' or something. This, is real. This is harrowingly depressing. But most profoundly, this is important. With Greengrass commanding every single frame to technical perfection, United 93 will leave you breathless.
Get Him to the Greek (2010)
Get Him To The Greek sings through its unfocused plot quicker than a Metallica song.
The British eccentric behaviour of the leather-coated Brand and the American lifestyle of the fatigued Hill was an odd combination to say the least. Two types of humour that are regrettably polar opposites from each other. Explicit "London, ennit" expletives against monotonous lines of musically inclined dialogue unfortunately just doesn't work, further cementing the juxtaposing, unfocused and ill-fated tones that Stoller explored. Perhaps we shouldn't forget about Sarah Marshall after all. Tasked in bringing the rock star Aldous Snow to the Greek Theatre in LA, a wannabe music manager must adjust to the rock'n'roll lifestyle in just 72 hours.
I'm unable to score this highly for one simple reason. Depicting male sexual assault at the hands of a female for the sake of laughs is highly insensitive and just plain wrong. Imagine if the genders were swapped. It's not a joking matter, whatever the circumstance. Now that's out of the way, as mentioned before the two styles of humour failed to strum any guitars or bang any drums right from the offset, so the majority of laughs were diminished pretty early on.
The unlikely bromance between Hill and Brand failed to generate any electricity, just simply a means to showcase an onslaught of drugs, alcohol and sex to a peer pressured individual for the sake of his career. Brand was either too exhausting when conveying jokes or too unnaturally restrained to allow Hill to have his say, as if watching two different characters. And when rap titan P Diddy is funnier than the entirety of comedic actors, you just know something's not right (he was surprisingly effective). As was the rest of the supporting cast, including Byrne and Moss. The plot however held no substance, comprising of montages that showcased Hill's vomiting abilities. The tone bravely became darker in the conclusive third act, tackling depression and loneliness, yet it abruptly disrupted the characters and the "humour". Whilst I appreciate the exploration, it was far too thin to be anything but inconsistent.
Pretty much surmising the film. An inconsistent comedy that, whilst displayed talent from its supporting cast, predictably tarnished the lead characters by forcibly shoving the sentiment "the rock'n'roll lifestyle isn't for everyone" in our face and including a inconceivably sour sexual assault scene. By the end, you won't care if that make it to the Greek or not. All you will care about, is how Aldous thought "African Child" was a good idea...
Crawl floods its claustrophobic gator-infested environment with sheer stupidity.
Like the rest of you, I enjoy a decent B-movie that knows when to fully exercise its ridiculous premise. Last year's 'The Meg', whilst not fully embellishing its 'Jaws' escapade, was a prime example of being mildly amusing and self-aware. Aja's alligator plagued hurricane unfortunately plays out with an all too serious tone that prevents the full "creature feature" from emerging. A daughter ignores all hurricane warnings to drive back to her father's house, who isn't answering her phone calls, and find themselves trapped in a flooding crawlspace that is swamped with hungry alligators.
Right, let's address the alligator in the flooded street. Yes, the wild alligator is no where near as predatory or territorial as the ones displayed here. Hollywood adores exaggerating fauna in order to induce new fears into the minds of the mainstream. Atleast sharks aren't whirling around in a tornado or tarantulas aren't spewing lava everywhere, so credit must be given for some plausibility I guess. Now, my biggest gripe with Crawl is not with the ravenous wildlife and blustery weather, but actually the stupidity of its characters and absurd plot conveniences (you know how much I "love" conveniences).
Immediately, Hayley drives to her father's house in spite of the entire town being evacuated due to the approaching stage five hurricane. Y'know, Katrina levels of ferocity. Strike one. Next, the rain. They use it to traverse the treacherous waters, providing a fitting distraction for the gators. It's been raining for the entire film. The moment they need it to downpour, it stops. For a minute. Really? Strike two! The alligators have a numerous number of chomps at the father and daughter, like hungry hippos. Thrown around like rag dolls and still able to Tarzan their way through the crawlspace. Other civilians though? One bite and they are doomed. Strike three! Out swimming three gators swarming in from different directions. Access to a gun. Helicopter at the precise moment. Heavy object blocking an alternate exit. Strike four, five, six and seven. Heck, you're outta here!
Seriously, there are so many conveniences that the alligators didn't stand a chance at getting some delicious Scodelario meat. And unfortunately does reduce much of the tension that Aja actually lovingly produced. There are moments, particularly when our characters are confined to the claustrophobic restrictions of the crawlspace, where Aja fully utilised the surroundings to create tension. Accompanied by a physically demanding performance from Scodelario and an intricately developed dynamic between her and Pepper, the excitement was constantly flowing throughout the tight hour and a half runtime.
Literally every minute is used to its full potential, making for an engaging thriller that has enough bite to thrill many. Just a shame that the excessively obvious CGI beasts, narrative stupidity and plethora of plot conveniences prevent Crawl from being the creature feature that it deserves to be.
The Innkeepers (2011)
The Innkeepers is one mundane hotel that I shan't be staying in again.
Is this the turning point? The realisation that I'm going psychotic? West's horror film is being lauded by critics and professional peers alike, including genre enthusiast Eli Roth of all people, as one of the "best, scariest and smartest" horror films ever. And here I am questioning the entirety of existence. Can we honestly just take a step back, finally put some critical skills into practice and appreciate how dreadful this film was? Did I miss something? No seriously, did I? This is without a doubt one the worst "horror" films I've ever had the misfortune of watching. The plot, if you can call it that, consists of two employees working the last weekend at a hotel where ghostly phenomena starts to arise.
Aside from maybe the concluding five minutes, I can categorically confirm that nothing happens in this film. Nothing. Not a thing. Nil. Zero. Nada. It's just a bunch of atrociously written characters, exhuming the personalities of surfer dudes for that juicy banter that we all so wanted apparently, running around with a recording device so they can update their hauntingly amateur website that is running on a Windows 98 laptop. Paxton was beyond irritating, screeching like R2-frickin'-D2 whenever an obnoxiously predictable jump scare played out, and then flailing her arms around waking up the guests of the hotel. Healy, in all his monotonous wholesome goodness, was diabolically boring. But the two together? Urgh. It's as if a belligerent teenager wrote the script thinking that if the characters would dance around pessimism, it would make for a hilariously quirky conversation. It's neither funny nor eccentric. Just dumb.
The underlying issue though is the fundamental absence of atmosphere. There's none! West seemingly thought he was channelling his inner Kubrick by alluding to 'The Shining', yet failed to understand what made the suspense flow. Retaining the camera's position for two minutes as the audience patiently waits for the jump scare to blow up, is not suspense. I've witnessed more tension in an advertisement for Premier Inn! I mean, including one of my least favourite people in the world (*cough* Lena Dunham *cough*) didn't exactly help matters either, but holy Madeline O'Malley I am seriously failing to see what all the fuss is about.
The excessive comedy diluted any atmospheric tension that West atleast tried to convey, bolstered by some genuinely innovative sound design. Yet as I mentioned, his inability to capture any suspense of ghostly scares was noticeable right from the immediate camera zoom. The conclusion also proves just how much of a terrible writer West truly is, as he wastes our time with apparition teases and asthma attacks.
West is so focussed on making this ghost story authentic, by referencing supposed hauntings in the real hotel (room 353 etc.), that he completely forgot that he was making a horror film and not a tepid documentary reenactment. Urgh. Never again. I'm burning the hotel down so that I never have to watch a staff member attempt to put a bag full of rubbish in a bin for five minutes.
Anchorman 2 is anchored down by a series of unfunny rapid quick fire jokes that managed to put this sequel off air.
'The Legend Continues' is about as legendary as Fantana's condom collection, the "chickens of unnecessary sequels" if you will. Now, I know exactly what you're going to say. "It's a comedy, you hate them, why watch it?". Well, believe it or not, but its predecessor headlined a variety of satirical gags that ensued a minimal amount of hilarity, which for me is a huge compliment. So to see that a sequel was inevitably commissioned nearly a decade later, had me nearly go full Brick. Unfortunately, my enmity for McKay grows stronger, as I believe this broadcast to be one of the most unfunny, lazily written and forgettable comedies I've ever had the misfortune of watching. Ron Burgundy is fired from his co-anchor position and is recruited by GNN to officially launch the world's first 24-hour news network, which obviously means that him and his old news team are back together to take over the primetime slot.
The inherent issue with this comedy is the sheer amount of jokes. The one-liners that had no setup and clearly no payoff. If the film has a multitude of gags that arise every minute for the entirety of its two hour runtime, you'll either exhaustingly faint due to laughing too much (in which case I question your humour) or you'll grow increasingly enervated by its onslaught. Evidently, I fall into the latter.
The next criticism with McKay and Ferrell's "humour" is the sheer randomness of it. Botching a suicide after being fired from SeaWorld. Temporary blindness as Ron lives out his isolation in a lighthouse. Bottle feeding a shark, which ends on a cringeworthy musical number when it's released back into the sea. Ice skating. A brutal conflict with other news networks just to shove as many celebrity cameos in as possible (Cotillard why!?). Yet there's no setup, it just happens. So you're bombarded with all this stochasticity, numbed by the fact that it relates to absolutely nothing. To me, that's atrocious writing. And at a meaty two hours long, the central plot is unusually given no time to actually develop, becoming secondary to the humour. For instance, where was the development in the team winning the graveyard shift? One moment they're on, the next Jack Lime changes his name to Jack Lame.
The next criticism is with the type of jokes. The outdated "black" shenanigans which sees Burgundy channel his inner Austin Powers, was horrendously dull and uninspired. Not nearly as intelligent as it thought it was. The female dominance of Good's character was severely undermined, and held no substance.
Burgundy himself take centre stage, naturally, but his news team were severely under-utilised. Carell receives some credit for his scenes with Wiig, which worked for his character. Rudd had one or two lines? Koechner didn't even need to be in this sequel at all. And the supporting cast were mediocre at best. Drake? C'mon! I still yet to find Ferrell remotely funny, as this sequel has cemented that sentiment. Possibly the longest two hours of my life, and that was without the "Super-Sized" cut. Yeah, no thanks...
Ex Machina (2014)
Ex Machina generates cerebral philosophies that both entertain and stimulate.
As a computer programmer and all-round technologist, I'm consistently in awe of the advancements made in the development of artificial intelligence. It provides many discussions regarding moral implications, psychological awareness and the inevitable fear of transcendence (another film we shall not discuss...). Ex Machina, for me, is the closest film to AI perfection that we're ever going to receive. It is without a doubt, and this is me confidently stating the adjacent claim after my fifth viewing, a modern sci-fi gem. A programmer wins a competition to stay at his CEO's luxurious home, where he is proposed to administer the Turing test to an artificially intelligent sentient robot.
Hollywood tends to exploit AI as villainous plot devices, that when turned on they instantly want to wipe out humanity from the face of the Earth. "Judgement Day" and all that "bio-digital jazz, man". In reality, not the case. AI has to learn, it has to adapt and exhume the capabilities of thought and consciousness. The human approach is a fundamental aspect into making AI instinctively relatable, and Garland is the closest into realising this potential. His analytical screenplay is nothing short of genius.
Utilising the Turing test to intrinsically provide character driven backstory for Caleb, acting as psychological therapy driven by the sentient humanoid Ava. Exploring the integral complex of a "God", including Nathan's narcissism, and the moral implications of terminating Ava despite her awareness of death. An exercise in psychological manipulation, harnessing every accessible aspect of humanity including sexuality, imagination and self-awareness. The fundamentalism behind the existential questioning is palpable. It's captivating. It's sublime. The intellectual approach and Promethean dialogue stimulates all senses. The Jackson Pollock remark, the programming of sexual orientation and even the Oppenheimer quote. Ironically self-aware dialogue that tickles the brain cells and continually divulges into omnipotent behaviour. Extraordinarily acute.
Initially, the premise looks to be a simple analytical test. However the claustrophobic subterranean environment forces the dynamics between these three entities to become serrated, allowing us to question the identities and motives of these individuals. Garland unravels the thinly veiled mystery with confidence and minimalism, complementing the outstanding visual effects that exhume clinical aesthetics. The excessive implementation of fluorescence, Ava's pristine fibre glass body structure and the colourless architecture reflecting the egotism of Nathan. Always matching the euphoric polyphonic score that invites the viewer into this lair of deceit and beguilement. Forever enhancing Hardy's gorgeous cinematography that delicately paints true intelligence through visceral shots of splendour, especially when using glass and mirrors to reflect and refract colour.
On a technical level, Ex Machina is perfect. On a literary level, Ex Machina is perfect. On a theatrical level, Ex Machina is perfect. Vikander, Gleeson and Isaac give three commanding performances, each offering a unique perspective on the technological advancements made in AI development that refers to our own reality. My only gripe? The dance sequence. It doesn't belong and provides an unnecessary distraction from the innovatory narrative. Many criticisms have been placed on the concluding ten minutes. I strongly disagree. Whilst it may seem unfair, it's actually the only reasonable outcome and further illustrates why Garland understands AI. It demonstrates the inferiority of man, further cementing the fear of transcendence.
Ex Machina, despite the smooth moves presented by Isaac and Mizuno as they dance to "Get Down Saturday Night", is a near-perfect representation of advanced AI. Utilising its technical astuteness to isolate fragments of consciousness that questions what it means to be human. And even if you aren't into technology, it's a stunningly written thriller that will induce a fear of everything computerised. Best not to use the microwave tonight...