Freelance Journalist


Posts tagged Blog
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Enjoying Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes requires only one thing from you: admitting that you bought into the idea that super-intelligent apes have forged their own society (and can talk, ride horses, accurately operate heavy weaponry on the first try, as well as manipulate basic political principles). After that, this follow-up from Matt Reeves, the director of Cloverfield and Let Me In, is wall to wall gripping cinema.

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X-Men: Days Of Future Past

No worthwhile discussion of an X-Men film can exist without a fair amount of criticism, so let’s lay it all upfront. Brian Singer’s comic aesthetic is a vestigial leftover of the original film from 2000. Drab metallic suits and lifeless characterisations may have made sense in a time where comic book films were risky studio endeavours, but in a market saturated with vibrant costumes and immediately endearing performances, Days Of Future Past is plain fucking ugly. Which is a crying shame, because while the reboot cast is an exponential improvement, the film is a visual wasteland. Case and point is the character design on the really god-awful Quicksilver, who’s been plucked from the canon for no reason other than to facilitate what is, admittedly, a fun slow-motion set-piece. That stupid silver jacket though. Most of these effectively executed action set pieces fall to the wayside due to a lack of any visual hooks.

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Godzilla - Jurassic Park, Not Gojira

There is so much to gawk at in Godzilla, both in what you see onscreen and how it’s being displayed. Director Gareth Edwards hasn’t taken just a single leaf out of Steven Spielberg’s handbook, but the structure, tone and idiosyncratic touches of his entire blockbuster catalogue. For those who were weaned onto big-budget cinema with Jurassic Park or Jaws, Godzilla boasts all the essential touchstones. Walking a fine line between foreshadowing and straight-up tease, Edwards drip feeds the audience spectacle, doling out snippets of his gloriously rendered beasts like a disgruntled prison lunch lady. 

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Poor Community.
Jeff: Abed, you’ve had how many breakdowns?

The ragtag Greendale study group have been battered, bruised and brutally pigeonholed over the last four years. Each opening episode to a season played out with a certain kind of melancholy, with its writers attempting to wrest the narrative in their own direction from previous collaborators. With season five, the tug of war involved the triumphant return of Dan Harmon as showrunner. With him at the reins, Community acquired that familiar, yet almost intangible feeling of conversation; writing steeped in pop culture referencing and meta in-joking that felt like it responds to its audience. Instead of lauding at his reappointment at the head of season 5, Harmon seemed to find the whole business of re-appropriating the plot detrimental to both the characters’ and his own mental well-being. The title “Repilot” alone suggests distaste for the tradition, expressly realised through the characters’ utterly bleak need to return to study group.

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The Raid 2: Berandal

The Raid: Redemption was a balletic display of brutal martial arts action; a film structured so perfectly, it felt like poetic verse. Each shot was cut to an infallible action rhythm, with no beat dropped or struck too hard. The bulk of the film’s content was a showcase of intricately designed and impressively executed fight scenes, interspersed with only the most necessary of connective narrative tissues. Story merely serviced action, and writer/director/editor Gareth Huw Evans proved himself a talent at sustaining and breaking tension. It was 90 minutes of simple, yet fully-realised stakes and was exemplary of a stripped back, barebones filmmaking style that elicits far more wonder and excitement than many of its bigger budget contemporaries.

It’s a bold move, then, to shift the series into a style that’s more fully-fledged crime saga than anything else.

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Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin is rooted in the moral quagmire of revenge, redemption and family legacy. And what a quagmire it is. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier has stripped the form down completely, not only creating incredible tension, but also constructing the film as a mirror to its main man, Dwight (Macon Blair). He’s an enigma - first introduced as a bearded transient, scavenging meals from theme park waste bins and living out of the back of his rundown car. His motives are hinged on the release of a prisoner, whose crime has consumed Dwight’s life entirely. 

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Jackie Chan: Schadenfreude

Jackie Chan can't seem to help digging deeper into the grave that is now his career. The news that he's trying to pull a Dustin Hoffman and make the transition from kung-fu films to respectable Oscar-bait. The way the mixed reviews for his latest CZ12 aka Chinese Zodiac are entirely unsurprising. Even the just really poorly phrased 'I like it when countries are hit by earthquakes and tsunamis' debacle or the 'Chinese people need to be controlled' controversy. It's hard not to want to try to distance this crazy man from the actor whose films were once amongst the greatest in the action genre. 

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The Counselor

Being sold in a more niche, arthouse light can only have helped public opinion of the gaudy Ridley Scott/Cormac McCarthy vehicle, The Counselor - not that it really shows. The narrative follows Michael Fassbender’s ‘Counselor,’ who gets wrapped up in a drug trafficking scheme gone bad and endangers everyone around him.

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Prisoners is a taut, psychologically draining exploration of the devastating effects of hope in the face of loss. And, of course, with the likes of Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Terrence Howard completely acting their asses off, it’s also a powerhouse of performance. While these players spend much of the film teary eyed and looking like they’re in the midst of a monumental hangover, their pain always feels real and empathy-inspiring. Jackman's rage here has none of the hallmarks of his more popular comic-book work and Gyllenhaal plays brooding as effectively as ever. Cinematographer Roger Deakins captures this grief beautifully; his restrained style keeps the actors at the forefront of your attention, yet with minimal flourishes, his work remains wonderfully entrancing. Director Denis Villeneuve handles all of this with grace and finesse, sidestepping the dramatic pitfalls of Aaron Guzikowski’s otherwise expertly paced script.

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It’s a shame Gravity had already garnered so much critical attention prior to its release. While it’s refreshing to see an original premise given such a mainstream treatment, it’s also a major detraction for exactly the same reasons. The buzz pouring out of its film festival debuts a few weeks ago hit fever pitch almost immediately, punctuated by a constant turnaround of ‘exhilarating,’ ‘terrifying,’ and ‘visual’ in the reviews. The trailers, while ridiculously engaging at just 90 seconds, exacerbated my pre-release fears as they seemed to give it all away. So she must just fly off into the terrifying vacuum of space, right? Go where no man has gone before?

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Take Shelter

While a character drama at heart, those more pedantic among you could argue that Take Shelter is actually an incredible puzzle of a film. Curtis (played by Michael Shannon) is a mild-mannered family man who begins to have visions of a coming apocalypse; vivid hallucinations of storms of motor-oil rain and crazed neighbours. This premise hinges on the ‘is he or isn’t he crazy’ scenario and much of the tension in the film arises from the increasing disconnect Curtis experiences due to these visions. But writer/director Jeff Nichols often subverts our attention, instead drawing it to family and the strains Shannon’s erratic behaviour places on them. Curtis’ wife, Samantha (played by Jessica Chastain), underplays the tension by asking the burning logical questions that Curtis tends to ignore. It’s a wonderful dynamic that keeps you grounded in the realism of the whole experience; a dynamic that doesn’t let the premise get too wrapped up in itself. 

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Jack Reacher

Though lacking in almost all respects, Jack Reacher isn’t as terrible as you might think.

Most detrimental to the film is director Christopher McQuarrie and his detached sense of style. Fun suffers in the name of seriousness at almost every turn and his palette is cleansed of the kinds of idiosyncrasies that may have given the story the spark it needed. When dealing with a homicidal sniper, the serious approach would generally be justified. But the ‘whodunit’ narrative is devoid of any real interest or stakes as its twists are often predictable and when they’re not, they’re hollow. Couple this with the film’s air of over-production (credit to Tom Cruise) and the wooden performances from its leads (credit to Tom Cruise) and you’ve got technically solid, yet lifeless drama. Most frustrating of all is the fact that this dynamic is applied to source material so chock full of pulpy action clichés that it belongs to a class of action film we haven’t seen since the 90’s.

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Zack Snyder's Maybe Bigger, But del Toro Knows How To Use It

It's always a pissing contest when it comes to blockbusters. With hundreds of millions of dollars behind them, directors and writers must feel obliged to go 'bigger' to earn their keep. In the last year or so, the industry standard of 'bigger' seems to refer to the level of destruction you can bring to a city. Whether it be with gigantic robots or with superheroes who just don't give a shit - the box-office is overflowing with city-dwellers in constant fear for their lives. But as Man of Steel has shown, going big needs a human scale. Guillermo del Toro is one of the only directors of late to actually imbue his on-screen spectacle with a legitimate scale. Despite Pacific Rim's gleein shattering glass and crumbling buildings, it's somehow avoided the recent furore over blockbusters exploiting 9/11 imagery as a shortcut to scale. Writers from around the web have chastised Man of Steel for this sort of callous referential behaviour and its seeming inability to remove itself from the well-worn images of fleeing citizens covered in debris. 

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V/H/S 2 or "I'm Only In This For Gareth Huw Evans"

I hope that's how a lot of people approach this film. Not because they enjoyed the first film - if anyone really did - but because they'd been so ravenously enthralled by Gareth Huw Evans' previous film, The Raid: Redemption, that they now seek out anything he does with great relish. The Raid is one of the greatest action films of the last few decades. It's largely undeniable. Ever since stumbling upon it during a marathon IMDb trawl, I've told everyone I know to watch it. Granted, I'm a glutton for martial-arts films, but I sat down and watched it with them and no matter their predisposition, the film always elicited a series of cringes and gasps. The obsession I have with this film is not due to its display of astounding physicality or its shocking violence, but due to Huw Evans' complete mastery of handling action. Though the film is a blistering 90 minutes of frenzied silat, it ties together a cohesive narrative into a palpable climax; brought to psyche-shattering life by engaging characterisations and an unflinching adherence to structure. The film felt fresh even though it was as simple a premise as you could ask for: a SWAT team have to fight their way through a slum-apartment block to reach a brutal crime lord.

That's it.

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New Star Wars, A New Hope?

As fanboys/girls around the world have experienced repeatedly since 1983, a loving relationship with George Lucas is a heartbreaking experience. The Star Wars magnate had instigated, in spite of his most loyal fans, a tumultuous and violent affair with money and, like a beautiful lover with self-esteem issues, alienated those genuinely interested in him.

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Argo within Argo within Reality.

While last year's Oscars buzz centred around films that celebrated fictional cinema, such as The Artist, Hugo or Midnight in Paris; this years fare is firmly steeped in the dramatic recreation of history. Lincoln and Django Unchained in its focus on slavery in 19th century America; Zero Dark Thirty on a post-9/11 climate and Argo, on the ploy to rescue Americans taken hostage in 1980's Iran. Where a considerable amount of scrutiny comes is in these films' adhesion to historical accuracy. The CIA and the Academy itself have slammed Zero Dark Thirty for its insistence on the outcomes of 'enhanced interrogation techniques', or 'torture', to the layman. Whether that's an indication of its legitimacy is unclear. The problematic element here is that these films constitute Americans being truthful about their past, which is in direct conflict with Hollywood's tendency towards propaganda as entertainment, rather than factual recreation. Zero Dark Thirty has avoided this in its deadpan delivery of its events, its resistance to playing up the dramatic and distancing itself from Hollywood.

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The Master vs. The Animal

Less an exploration of cultism and more of the animalism in human nature, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master tackles such unanswerable questions beautifully, but incompletely. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, the instinctual, basest war veteran who meets Philip Seymour Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd, spiritual leader of The Cause and all-round egotistical maniac.

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