Posted on 8/11/14 12:48 PM
The Expendables 3 - no nonsense, no frills, no fun. Check out the review at Cinapse and feel free to comment/like either at Cinapse or RT. Thanks.
Posted on 7/19/14 10:03 AM
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Apes Good! Humans Bad!
Science fiction is one of the most effective methods of exploring man's hubris, and arguably one of the most famous examples is Pierre Boulle's ridiculously titled sci-fi satire Monkey Planet (although granted, La Planete Des Sanges sounds slightly more poetic in its native French). Cinematically transmogrified into the classic Planet of the Apes, starring eternal NRA poster boy Charlton Heston, his inaugural simian adventures were followed by a brace of sequels whose quality could be charitably described as variable. Firstly going Beneath the Planet of the Apes, then escaping from it, conquering it, and battling over it before Tim Burton got his lace-lined velvet-gloved hands on an ill-conceived reboot where the audience couldn't decide what was more ludicrous - monkey Abraham Lincoln or astronaut Marky Mark Wahlberg.
So hopes weren't particularly high for Rupert Wyatt's reimagiprequelboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Thank Chuck Heston's grubby loincloth then that Rise turned out to be one of the most satisfying summer blockbusters in years, whilst confirming everyone's suspicions that James Franco is the harbinger of the apocalypse. Handing over the reins to Matt Reeves (off of Cloverfield and Let Me In I'm a Vampire infamy) following some pesky creative differences, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (or DOTPOTA as it is known to lazy writers) is a cinematically-spliced mutated bastard child of a rebooted sequel that's still a tenuous prequel to the original series of films (wisely telling Marky Mark's Adventures in Monkeyland to go fuck itself), building on its predecessor and paying homage to its considerable legacy in equal measure.
In the ten years since James Franco's farcical attempts to cure Alzheimer's wiped out most of the human population of the planet whilst having the unintended side-effect of making apes smart enough to reason, manipulate tools and weapons, ride horses, perform elaborate acts of synchronised twerking, etc, DOTPOTA sees what's left of humanity struggling to survive and rebuild civilisation whilst the apes live in peace and monkey harmony in the forests outside San Francisco. Led by Caesar (played once more by committed mo-cap genius Andy Serkis - Roddy McDowell would definitely approve), the now husband, father and simian saviour from Rise has established a simple but effective society based on the central 'commandments': 'Ape not kill ape', 'Apes together' and 'Knowledge is the shit' (at least I think that's what the last one was, but the end of the sentence scrawled on a cliff face was obscured by an orangutan's enormous head). But then, with grim inevitability, humans stumble upon the apes' peaceful colony whilst searching for a dam that could solve their potentially fatal power shortage problems. Misplaced trust leads to misunderstandings leads to betrayal leads to threatened all-out war, predictably not helped by prejudices on both sides.
A good friend of mine informed me that in London Zoo there is an enclosure entitled "The World's Most Dangerous Animal." It is a mirror. And it is this level of profundity that is rife throughout DOTPOTA. In other words, like Mark Bomback's script, it's simple but effective. It makes a refreshing change for a major Hollywood blockbuster to have a go at sophistication and intelligent social commentary, but although its attempts at being provocative are commendable, it's only sporadically successful. It doesn't help that DOTPOTA gives itself a lot to do - even at over two hours - and the script can't support the difficult balancing act the story requires. Focus too much on the humans, and the main draw of how ape society could credibly take the upper hand over humanity becomes flimsy and underwhelming. Focus too much on the apes and the human drama comes off as sorely lacking making it difficult to relate to. Despite their best efforts, the film makers can't help but be tempted by the latter which, if we can't have the best of both, is probably the more preferable of the two options, purely from an entertainment perspective.
Consequently, the humans are painted in such broad strokes as to help move the plot forwards and give some basic character motivation, but not enough to allow us to care much for their inherent plight nor make any of the characters particularly memorable. All have lost someone close to them thanks to Franco's Simian Flu, including our main human protagonist played by that guy who tortures Arabs in Zero Dark Thirty, and an underused Gary Oldman as ex-military man Dreyfus, whose own bereavement has predictably led to his irrational fear of monkeys. Out to help negotiate peace with the understandably prickly apes is Arab torturer's scientist girlfriend, Arab torturer's skinny son (who keeps brandishing a copy of Charles Burns's graphic novel Black Hole - a Cronenbergian coming-of-age tale which is also tenuously about the struggle for acceptance) and the predictably twitchy idiot who you know will screw things up for humanity thanks to a calamitous combination of unreasonable prejudice and itchy trigger finger syndrome.
It comes to something, though, when a bunch of motion-captured, computer-generated apes are more interesting than their human counterparts. But because DOTPOTA is evidently more interested in its apes than its humans, so are we. The film comes alive when focusing on the internal struggles within the burgeoning ape society, particularly the conflict between Caesar and fellow ape Koba, the latter hell-bent on taking charge of ape-kind and going to war against humanity, having never gotten over his own torturous experimentation at mankind's hands. The humans behind the apes give fantastic performances, seamlessly melding the latest motion-capture techniques and sophisticated computer-generated effects that prove it really is all in the eyes; Andy Serkis as Caesar continues to nudge the boundaries of what actors are capable of by delivering a nuanced performance that encompasses dignity, kindness, sadness, and, when required, savage animalistic rage. He's matched by Toby Kebbell as the duplicitous and ferocious Koba, and the battle between his warmongering agenda and Caesar's peace-loving world view lends the film some much-needed dramatic backbone. Much like how the apes in DOTPOTA seem to have everything going for them whilst the humans continue to struggle for existence, the film could be seen as a clarion call for next generation cinematic technology, where conventional acting seems to be becoming increasingly arbitrary next to what can be accomplished by a gifted physical performer in a figure-hugging leotard covered in golf balls and some clever computer software.
Additionally, director Matt Reeves constructs a credible post-apocalyptic setting for the inevitable ape-on-human war, extracting some palpable dramatic tension to make up for deficiencies in the script and orchestrating the onscreen action well. Maintaining a cracking pace, delivering some slick set-pieces and a number of well-handled dramatic beats: Caesar's powerful first roar of the word "GO!" to a group of stunned humans; the believable hostility and lack of trust between two similar but disparate species; and hundreds of apes attacking one of humanity's last outposts on horseback whilst firing semi-automatic weapons sounds as awesome as it actually is, DOTPOTA careers inexorably towards its predictably fitting doom-laden, sequel-baiting conclusion in style.
As with previous Apes movies (apart from Tim Burton's Apestravaganza, which can shut the hell up), DOTPOTA isn't tempted into portraying humans as ignorant architects of their own downfall, but rather, suggests that perhaps apes and humans are more alike than either of them think - unfortunately something none of them realise until it's too late. You half expect one of the apes to turn to the camera at some point and cry, "Why can't we all just get along?" Hiding its flaws behind superior blockbuster movie-making craft and distracting us by providing a little food for thought along the way, DOTPOTA is one of those worthy rebootedpresequels that successfully builds and expands upon the themes so well established in its predecessor(s), and bodes well for Matt Reeve's next venture across the Planet of the Apes. After Rise and now Dawn, the search for a credible title for the third (technically ninth) in Caesar's ongoing struggle for peace starts now. Confessions of the Planet of the Apes, anyone?
Posted on 7/19/14 09:45 AM
Growing up in apartheid-era South Africa must have left its mark on talented writer-director Neill Blomkamp. Bursting on to the movie scene with a triumphant "TA-DAA!" by way of the brilliant and provocative 'District 9', an efficient, thrill-packed and politically astute tale of alien prawns, segregation and racial intolerance, Blomkamp caused critics the world over to bellow such epithets as "Greatest cinematic debut in a decade," and "Sci-fi's next true visionary," garnering an Oscar nomination in the process. Attempting to avoid the dreaded 'Richard Kelly Syndrome' (i.e. never being able to repeat the success of an astonishing debut), South Africa's now most revered director attempts to continue the themes and preoccupations he so eloquently established in his cracking debut (minus the alien prawns) by way of his flawed but entertaining follow-up 'Elysium'.
As you are no doubt aware, in Greek mythology Elysium (also known as the Elysian Fields or the Elysian Plain) was originally the paradise to which heroes on whom the gods conferred immortality were sent. But it also doubles as the name for the heavily fortified giant space-wheel-cum-artificial paradise floating umpteen miles above Earth in the space year 2154. By this time, the world will have degenerated into a pollution ravaged and economically destitute place, riddled with crime and over-populated to the point where Soylent Green could be considered a viable option. Consequently, the wealthy upper echelons have relocated themselves to the aforementioned Elysium space station, hoarding all the cool resources and medical marvels that can cure anything from cancer to a chronic yeast infection, whilst the poor and down-trodden are left to fend for themselves on a ruined earth and can quite frankly go fuck themselves (which I believe was one of the rejected tag lines for the eventual movie poster). Ex-con Max (Matt Damon) is trying to go straight and hold down a menial job on a construction line, ironically building the robots that help keep a merciless iron grip on this unfortunate future society. When an industrial accident pumps him full of so much radiation even the Incredible Hulk would pause and exclaim, "Blimey!", leaving him with only days to live, he employs the help of some criminal friends, a kick-ass, strength-boosting exo-skeleton and some heavy-duty artillery in a desperate bid to infiltrate Elysium in search of a cure. Inadvertently carrying the key that could destroy the totalitarian social structure established by the rich and beautiful, Max's path to that all-encompassing cure is blocked by power-mad fascist Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her bat-shit insane pet mercenary Kruger (fellow 'District 9' chum Sharlto Copley).
After producing such a stellar debut, comparisons to 'District 9' were going to be inevitable whilst viewing 'Elysium'. But whereas the former benefited from an improvisational, almost documentary-like style to subtly flesh out its intriguing themes and engaging premise, the latter paints a similar story in much broader strokes as befitting its larger budget and scope, consequently falling short and tipping over into heavy-handedness in places despite a few successful satirical jabs along the way. Matt Damon makes for an engaging and (refreshingly) morally flawed lead, although his volte-face from selfish jerk willing to screw anyone over in search of a cure, to saviour of mankind by way of a wide-eyed, terminally ill moppet relaying a cute story about a hippo is not entirely convincing. Whilst most of the cast make little impression, Sharlto Copley is great fun as the psychotic Kruger, relishing every second of being an unpredictable and truly reprehensible character in his dogged determination to hunt down and exterminate pretty much anyone who looks at him funny. William Fichtner is an always welcome screen presence as the cold corporate head of the company Max works for, regardless of the size of his fairly minor but pivotal role. But, although it's great to see Jodie Foster back on the big screen as the ruthless fascist with dreams of world domination, her performance is, quite frankly, odd, compounded by the inexplicable decision to make her French (cue some dodgy dialogue dubbing as well as emphasising the tired Gallic stereotypes of arrogance and aloofness that may or may not have been intentional).
As in 'District 9', Blomkamp creates an utterly convincing and plausible world for our protagonists to beat/blow/shoot each other up in, staging some violently inventive, if occasionally incoherent, action sequences (the slo-mo effects of exploding bullets on robots and squishy body parts is particularly impressive) and the whole enterprise regularly jumps feet-first into the pool marked 'visually stunning', recalling the work of such legendary sci-fi visualists as celebrated Gallic artist Jean 'Moebius' Giraud and SFX guru Douglas Trumbull. But despite all the meticulous attention to detail, the world itself and how it got into such a sorry state is never adequately explained. The delineation between the haves and the have-nots is so basic and clear cut it winds up sapping any credibility and logic from the admittedly highly enjoyable proceedings, causing the whole thing to collapse into an implausibility vortex of its own making. Blomkamp seems so preoccupied with hammering his message home in the simplest, most dunderheaded, terms possible, including some lame slo-mo flashbacks that add little to the narrative(and perhaps more interested this time in world building now that he has such a large budget and starrier cast to play around with), he seemingly forgot what made his previous effort so intriguingly refreshing.
Maybe, in attempting to stop the pace from flagging and appeal to a slightly lower common denominator, a few extra minutes of footage were booted into the editing room bin that could explain and perhaps add a little depth to all the aesthetically pleasing events dancing in front of our scorched eyes. But it probably wouldn't be able to fix the central flaw of an illogical, politically naïve and one-dimensional world that is difficult to believe would become a reality.
'Elysium' cements Neill Blomkamp's reputation as one of cinema's most intriguing visualists and exciting future prospects, delivering a fast-paced, simplistic, fun, R-Rated sci-fi actioner by telling a similar tale to the more thematically complex and satisfying 'District 9'. It will be interesting to see how he handles the presumably smaller scale but intriguing sci-fi comedy 'Chappie' (again starring best mate Sharlto Copley). But inevitably, compared to one of the best sci-fi films of the last decade, 'Elysium' disappointingly falls a little short. And, like the space station it's named after, Blomkamp's latest vision of the future is an undeniably pretty and exhilarating ride which ultimately ends up an artificial and shallow experience.
Posted on 7/14/14 01:08 PM
Please follow the link to the review and feel free to comment/like either at Cinapse or RT. May the Lord bless you all.
Posted on 7/02/14 10:30 AM
Thumbs up for Roger Ebert: 1942 - 2013. Check out the Life Itself review by following the below link. Feel free to comment/like either at Cinapse or RT. Thanks.
Posted on 6/10/14 02:56 PM
There are no original ideas anymore. It's a fact that everyone just needs to be accept. Oh sure, you can come up with a fairly quirky or idiosyncratic concept, but there'll always be some smartass critic waiting in the shadows brandishing a lazy comparison, or harping on about how they saw something similar and better decades before. We now live in a world with a rich cultural tapestry, where new ideas can be traced throughout our history from one reference point to another, like joining the stars on a map of the galaxy's constellations.
Blame post-modernism, or that new-fangled notion bequiffed media knob-heads like to call 'meta'. All that does is encourage creative types to strive for originality, only to trip over their own self-indulgence as everyone else watches their latest attempt at innovation collapse in on itself like a dying star. While there are those who would take established ideas and mask them behind a veneer of originality, there are others that see nothing wrong with wearing their influences on their sleeves, as long as it results in something reasonably slick and well-made.
Take Doug Liman. This is the director who previously took a Bond film, stripped out all the lady-slapping gin-soaked spy-jinks before adding a moody Matt Damon, shaky-cam and a brutal efficiency that gave the Broccolis the cinematic kick up the arse they needed to revitalise their flagging franchise with the help of Daniel Craig. This is the film-maker who combined Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie into the celebrity Transformer known as Brangelina - and then got them to try and kill each other in the underwhelming and silly Mr and Mrs Smith. And now he's at it again with Edge of Tomorrow, his take on Hiroshi Sakurazaka's slightly less generically titled sci-fi novel All You Need Is Kill.
Introducing us to a refreshingly different version of Tom Cruise (well, as different as Tom Cruise can be within the constraints of being a genetically engineered A-List megastar), his Major William Cage, whose name sounds like the epitome of the term 'Badass Marine', is, in fact, a snivelling coward. An ex-advertising exec drafted into a war to orchestrate the military recruitment drives against an extra-terrestrial enemy nicknamed Mimics, thanks to their uncanny ability to anticipate humanity's every military move. Having already laid to waste much of Europe, the Mimics are well on their way to conquering the world. After attempting to weasel out of a direct order to film the latest and biggest assault on the alien forces, Cage finds himself busted down to Private and heading for the front-line as a combatant - even though he has zero combat experience. Predictably, he dies within the first five minutes, only to find himself caught in a time-loop, reliving the same day over and over again until he works out a way to grow a set of balls. Figuring out how to win a seemingly unwinnable war would be a bonus.
On paper, Edge of Tomorrow should come across as the worst kind of generic cinematic tripe. But it distracts you from its inherent tripeness through polished execution. With a big deep breath and a whole gaggle of those lazy comparisons waiting in the wings, Hollywood's latest alien invasion flick is a cinematic mash-up of...Starship Troopers, Aliens, The Matrix, Source Code, Groundhog Day and nearly every major video game of the last decade - from Halo to Call of Duty to Medal of Honour. In fact, Edge of Tomorrow could very well be the best film based on a video game never made. It shamelessly embraces the notion of gaming logic, from multiple lives, weapons upgrades, increased difficulty levels with end of game bosses, and occasional first person perspective shots of waves of tentacled extra-terrestrial beasties being mown down by soldiers wearing exo-skeletal armour firing ridiculously amped-up artillery.
Yes, it's incredibly derivative, but thanks to a reasonably smart script by Usual Suspects scribe and future MI:5 director Christopher McQuarrie, alongside Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, its 'Live Die Repeat' tagline avoids being pegged with the tiresome label. As Cage repeatedly relives (or repeatedly dies in) the same-but-slightly different scenes again and again, learning more about his enemy and improving his own capabilities, Mr Liman ensures tedium is kept at bay by orchestrating some spectacularly immersive action set-pieces. The initial beachfront assault is a timely (considering its 70th anniversary) reminder of the D-Day landings, akin to a sci-fi Saving Private Ryan, whilst the European setting not only adds to the repeated allusions to World War II, but also makes a refreshing change from watching the White House blow up for the zillionth time.
Maintaining a cracking pace so you don't have time to consider the inevitable plot holes that usually emerge whenever anyone attempts to deal with cinematic time travel, the script injects a surprising amount of humour into the frenetic proceedings. In particular, Cruise's occasionally farcical multiple death scenes, sometimes accompanied by amusingly high-pitched comedic yelps. Its focus more on the mechanics of its cyclical time-travel plot means that, unlike say, Groundhog Day, it isn't really concerned with delving into the nature of human existence. This isn't too much of an issue, because Edge of Tomorrow's main intention is to barrel through a twisty tale and give you a great time. But it seems that this has resulted in less care and attention being given to the fairly incidental alien invasion aspects of the story, as well as the design for the aliens themselves, which is particularly uninspired and reminiscent of the squid-like sentinels from The Matrix.
Meanwhile, Tom Cruise continues to cover up his intrinsic Tom Cruisiness through a ruthless belief in his character arc, from cowardly army mouth-piece to hardened combat veteran, alongside his usual engaging screen presence. But he is frequently upstaged by the brilliant Emily Blunt as hardass war veteran Rita Vrataski, who earned the nicknames The Angel of Verdun and the less savoury Full Metal Bitch, thanks to previously leading the charge in a rare victory against the alien hordes. Her physical commitment to her role matches her mega co-star, and their appealing chemistry is one of the reasons your attention doesn't wander off in search of more popcorn.
So it's a shame hardly any of the other cast get a look in. Brendan Gleeson is such a great actor he's able to make a lasting impression despite only having negligible screen time as the curmudgeonly General who sends Cage off on his chrono-nightmare. And Bill Paxton clearly relishes his role tormenting Tom Cruise as Master Drill Sergeant Farell. But apart from them you get stock British, Australian and American army stereotypes, all bluster and bollocks, like Private Richard Cannonfodder and Corporal Josie Deadmeat.
According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting things to change. Essentially, Edge of Tomorrow, like its imprisoned protagonist, does the same things that have been done many times before, but avoids that descent into madness by doing those things a little better. Draping itself in flashy special effects, running an engaging cast through its paces, and telling a quirky story alongside top-notch film making craft, it's nice to see a summer blockbuster that's not part of an ongoing franchise - even if it's unlikely to leave a lasting impression. Although Edge of Tomorrow has nary an original thought in its head, the thoughts it does have will at least give you a good time.
Posted on 5/26/14 04:01 AM
If you've ever read Kurt Busiek's brilliant comic book Astro City, you will be familiar with its skewed take on the superhero mythos. Rather than follow the escapades of a bunch of ridiculously clad vigilantes with varying superpowers and an unhealthy God-complex, it was much more interested in the ordinary people, and how the extraordinary (and frequently apocalyptic) smack-downs between those justice-seeking heroes and megalomaniacal villains affected the relatively mundane lives and insurance claims of Astro City's general populace. It was a refreshing concept, and one carried off with warmth, heart and a surprising amount of emotional sophistication, by Busiek and his long-time artistic collaborator Brent Anderson.
This slightly more relatable perspective on such fantastical events kept going through my gin-soaked mind as I watched Godzilla and his mutated arch enemies beating the computer-generated stuffing out of each other in Gareth Edward's reverent take on Toho's flagship creation. Banishing memories of Roland Emmerich's some would say sacrilegious 1998 version, which saw a portly Ferris Bueller attempting to thwart the temper tantrums of something that looked more akin to a reptilian Jay Leno, Gareth Edwards evidently impressed the powers that be sufficiently with his breakout hit Monsters to give him $160 million dollars to play with and all the classy cast that he could eat.
Following up his impressive debut, which combined an intriguing alien invasion plot with a touching Terence Malick-tinged romance-cum-road movie, as gigantic alien Octopoids boned each other in the background, Edwards continues his preoccupation with telling the human story amongst all the on-screen destruction by actually taking the story of a bunch of ginormous marauding monsters with a serious jones for nuclear Haribo seriously. As the malevolent MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) cut a swathe of destruction across Japan, The Philippines, Hawaii, Nevada and San Francisco, in search of their favourite radioactive snack and a place to breed, they're met by the nature-balancing force of the ancient Gojira (or Godzilla, for you slightly hard-of-hearing Americans).
Your opinion of Godzilla 2014 will depend on what you're expecting from a film based on a series of affectionately remembered Japanese monster movies which emphasised the perils of the atomic age through the 'obvious' metaphor of a bunch of actors in silly costumes beating seven bells out of each other on flimsy fake-looking city-sets. Those expecting two hours of epic fisticuffs akin to the fun Pacific Rim will more than likely be sorely disappointed. Gareth Edwards's Godzilla is a brow-furrowingly humourless affair, preferring a present-day real-world setting to tell its ridiculous story from the point of view of the top drawer cast, rather than focusing on all that creature carnage. But this turns out to be one of the canniest and most successful aspects of the ensuing cinematic chaos. In emphasising the catastrophic humanitarian crisis that would result from gigantic creatures wrestling each other in densely populated cities, some of the imagery employed will remind a switched-on audience of the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami and, of course, 9/11. It takes nearly an hour for Godzilla to finally show up with a guttural "Ta Daaa!" and the audience-teasing build-up to the inevitable monster-mash near the end is expertly handled. When it finally arrives, it's a well-earned moment that will have Toho aficionados triumphantly lying back and smoking a cigarette following the cine-gasm they more than likely experienced.
Some will find the frequent shift away from the action to focus on a cast member looking dumbfounded, or a nice vase of flowers, frustrating, but the pay-offs are never too far behind. It's the little touches that show Edwards has clearly taken a leaf out of The Book of Spielberg (mainly from chapters Jaws and Jurassic Park); the Hawaiian tsunami that precedes the inaugural arrival of Godzilla; the hints of Kaiju-related shenanigans on grainy news footage; the titanic tussles between MUTOs and Godzilla at an airport or on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge; the way the action is seen purely from the human perspective so we only get glimpses of giant clawed feet amidst all the roaring, explosions and falling masonry; where humanity is collateral damage and seen more as an annoying distraction than anything else; Godzilla's back plates scythe through the oceans like a colossal Jaws; the fact that the main family are called the Brodys (Jaws again) and, y'know, fucking huge lizard.
Spielberg in his heyday always had a knack for focusing on the effect an extraordinary event would have on the ordinary, rather than concentrating on the extraordinary event itself and attempting to bolster it with plot and characters as if they were pesky afterthoughts. It's a subtle but fundamental difference that renders most films such empty bluster nowadays. Although you can see that Edwards is desperately attempting to achieve that Spielbergian vision, he is hamstrung by a boneheaded script with ideas it simply doesn't have the depth or sophistication to back up. Attempting to engender some kind of character motivation or emotional response by cynically slotting in a tragedy here, a comment on the notion of fathers and sons and the bonds of family there, or conjuring up imagery reminiscent of real-world catastrophes, feels tacked on. Its failure to develop any of the characters beyond the first dimension leads most of the cast to be vessels for plot exposition. Consequently, its laughably inept attempts at serious drama come off as ridiculously po-faced and can't gloss over the fact that at the end of the day it's still a movie about a bunch of giant monsters laying waste to humanity and each other with equal abandon. If perhaps it had embraced the ridiculousness of its concept and celebrated it (as Pacific Rim did so successfully), this may have offset the drawbacks displayed in the less-than compelling drama.
So to distract us from the mishandled story, Godzilla 2014 shoves some gifted actors in front of expensive digital 3D cameras and then proceeds to waste them spectacularly. Like Bryan Cranston, looking weary either from hauling all those Emmys around or by being driven to the brink of madness in his lonely 15 year quest to discover the truth behind the destruction of the Japanese nuclear power plant he ran that claimed the life of his wife (who, in a fit of WTF casting is played by...Juliette Binoche?). Or Aaron Taylor-Johnson as his estranged son Ford, pining after his family following an 18 month tour of duty, as a beefy bomb disposal expert that you know will come in handy at some point during the film's running time. Then there's Elizabeth Olson as Ford's wife who, alongside their chubby son, is given literally nothing to do, apart from being something for Ford to worry about as he moves from plot-point A to plot-point B whilst avoiding being squashed by giant mutants. David Strathairn pops up as Admiral Gruff-Voice whose amazingly insightful military tactic for defeating all these humongous atomic powered creatures is to shove as many nuclear warheads down their throats because, if it worked on the Japanese then it must work on the mutants...right? Add talented British Mike Leigh-acolyte Sally Hawkins as a jittery, inexplicably teary-eyed scientist type called Professor Exposition. Then throw in Ken 'Token' Watanabe, jettisoning his dignity as a scientist who spends half his time staring at graphs and the other half looking uncomfortably aroused as he eulogises on Godzilla's role as the deified defender of the natural order of things, and it all results in a big, steaming pile of couldn't give a fuck.
Gareth Edwards has at last produced the most faithful and respectful version of Toho's legendary creature features the fans have been waiting for, no doubt satiating their hunger for hi-tech Man-in-Suit style action and eradicating the painful memories of Hollywood's previous farcical incarnation. Godzilla 2014 proves Edwards is a talented enough director to guarantee gainful employment on the inevitable sequel that will probably see Godzilla go toe to giant clawed toe with the mutated likes of Mothra, King Ghidorah and/or Bill O'Reilly. Although he may be too busy on the newly announced Star Wars spin-off (subtitled Yoda's College Days). But it also proves that even his considerable skill, alongside such a hefty cast, can't polish a turd enough for you to care about it. For a film trying so hard to focus on the human drama, it's ironic the story leaves out the humanity, and ultimately fails to prevent the films' inevitable decent into superficial, albeit intermittently entertaining, spectacle.
Posted on 5/12/14 01:44 PM
He's lost his elephant again? Seriously?
Please follow the link to the review and feel free to comment/like either at Cinapse or RT. Thanks.
Posted on 5/11/14 06:05 AM
'Every parent's worst nightmare' is a cliche used all too often, but clichés are apt when ruminating on Denis Villenueve's intense but flawed follow up to his highly regarded emotional drama 'Incendies'. No, it doesn't refer to being forced to sit through umpteen episodes of 'Pokemon: Black and White', or enduring the apple of your eye's tuneless warbling at their school's nativity play. All flippancy aside, it is, of course, the failure to protect your little one(s) from harm - something so outside of your control that it results in catastrophic consequences for all involved. Such an event befalls both the Dover and Birch family, when their six year old daughters go missing during a gloomy, rain-soaked Thanksgiving. Concern turns to panic turns to desperation as the police, in the twitchy tattooed shape of Jake Gyllenhaal's Detective Loki (no - not that one), point the finger of suspicion at baby faced man-child Alex Jones, as creepily played by Paul Dano...because of course it would be Paul Dano...who seems to be cornering the market in whiny, socially abnormal weirdoes with suspected paedophilic tendencies.
Jones is released through lack of evidence, but has the misfortune to be suspected in the abduction and possible murder of the daughters of both Wolverine and War Machine from 'Iron Man'. Convinced of his guilt and frustrated at the perceived lack of police progress, desperate father Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) decides to take the law into his own hands, dragging his reluctant best friend and fellow bereft father Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) into his warped plan. Meanwhile, Detective Loki's seemingly fruitless search uncovers all manner of nefarious shenanigans in his sleepy town where the finger of suspicion keeps wildly pointing at anyone who looks a little shifty, with events brought to a hysterical head from which no one is going to come out looking good.
'Prisoners' defies our expectations, and not in a good way, as much through misleading marketing as its indecisive screenplay. Probably because scribe Aaron Guzikowski can't decide whether to tell a provocative morality tale or an intense police procedural thriller, aiming for both but, despite best intentions, failing to successfully hit either target, ending up needlessly bloating the running time to over two hours. Dodging the subtlety brigade with its forehead-slappingly obvious title and ladling on the religious subtext (ooh look, Detective Loki has a crucifix tattoo; Keller Dover wears a cross round his neck and keeps spouting the Lord's Prayer when drunk, torturing someone with his adamantium claws or shooting a deer) in a heavy handed attempt to show how good people can be corrupted whilst misguidedly attempting to do good, 'Prisoners' reduces its characters to archetypes who seem to exist solely to extoll a point of view, whilst introducing some unnecessary red-herring style plot points that distract the audience from the main drama and disrupt our ability to engage with the potentially incendiary, endlessly debateable 'what if' scenario.
Luckily, harrumphing is kept to a minimum by pumping up the quality factor thanks to a fine cast and Roger Deakins's sombre, hauntingly atmospheric cinematography. In spite of the running time, Villenueve manages to tell an engaging story that escalates with a quiet sense of dread, even when it degenerates into the usual cop-thriller clichés towards the end. Hugh Jackman gives us a more nuanced, but still intensely rage-fuelled performance that doesn't entirely eradicate the memory of Gruff Johnny Stabston. Convincingly portraying an essentially decent family man struggling to maintain control of his life, his family as well as himself, our sympathies fluctuate accordingly in his increasingly brutal attempts to find his daughter. Jake Gyllenhaal continues to prove he is one of the most engaging actors working today as the edgy, conflicted detective and Terrence Howard does his best as the film's liberal conscience (although the friendship between his quiet, middle class liberal and Jackman's volatile, blue collar republican isn't entirely convincing). However, both Maria Bello and Viola Davis are, for the most part, relegated to the background, despite their best efforts as mothers physically and emotionally collapsing beneath a world they assumed to be safe.
In the end, the film fails to be as thought-provoking or as contentious as it ought to be. Instead of prodding its celluloid (or digital) finger at you whilst barking, "So, what would you do?", leading to fervent post-cinema pub conversations, 'Prisoners' is content to paint its story in broader strokes, possibly to appeal to that drooling Oscar jury the producers are so desperate to catch the attention of. Consequently, its self-destructive attempts to dilute its own power creates a jack of all trades but master of none. It's a reasonably well made crime drama. It presents a fairly intriguing moral dilemma. But it does its considerably weighty subject matter a disservice. With a more sophisticated, more focused approach it could and should have been both devastating and challenging - even more so if you are one of those 'lucky', permanently weary individuals known as 'parents'. As the film draws to its neat, yet functional, conclusion, everyone at some point has become a prisoner, both literally and metaphorically, including the audience who has had to sit through what is essentially a reasonably effective and decently made endurance test.
Posted on 5/08/14 10:18 AM
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