Friday, 20 May 2016

Nightcrawler - Dir: Dan Gilroy (2014) REVIEW

Originally written: November 4th 2014

A mesmerising dreamscape of Los Angeles crime journalism. Dan Gilroy quickly paints a seething underworld vision, through the urban night life in this dangerous city. A slow, and drawn out establishing sequence, combined with a gentle melody, utilising synthesiser drones and echoing guitar screeches to deliver a somewhat Lynchian style introduction to an even grittier film. Gilroy carefully foreshadows a bloody and lonely narrative by allowing us glimpses of a setting, in one of the most populated cities in the world, by emptying all shots of life and movement.
                Meet Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) a methodical, business-minded college dropout, with an increasing sense of accomplishment, coupled with an obsessive drive to photograph emerging crime stories. After encountering Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), himself videoing two police officers rescuing a woman from a burning wreck, Bloom quickly gets a taste to progress in this peculiar art form. Loder’s own words, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ sets up Bloom’s ethos towards his newfound career for the rest of the film. 
                Offering a nice balance between the characters, Gilroy offsets Bloom with his loyal but apprehensive partner Rick (Riz Amhed), who dedicates his time to Bloom’s pursuits of the perfect story to expand his growing business. Getting steadily richer over the course of the narrative, and furthering an explicit American dream symbolism. Gilroy proceed farther afield, when Bloom crosses the line between observer and participant. Implanting not just ideas of capitalist venture, and sociopathic behaviour, Gilroy quickly paints a vision of everyday violence and it’s anesthetization through the coverage of media. It takes the removal of the veil to eventually perceive Bloom’s voyeuristic pleasure upon seeing these victims, which in turn reminds us of the ethics and legality of allowing these graphic images to be screened.

Gilroy has created his own little sin city. However, a large emphasis should be placed on the quantifier “little”. Apart from the moments of unfettered violence; to the point where Bloom is crafting his perfect crime scene for that perfect shot, this is not a film that boasts Snyder levels of ultraviolence. Instead, we get a subtle narrative. Carefully paced, to deliver peaks of intensity wrapped up in a warped protagonist’s desire to be the best video-journalist he can be; whilst remaining undercut by a sharp tongued Nina Romina (Rene Russo). Initially appearing professional, as a two-dimensional TV studio producer, quickly evolves into an enigma. Charged with an underlying sexual aggression, that seems to only be punctuated by Bloom’s character’s need to fulfil darker and darker news stories. The more drugs and murders that become unearthed fuels these two, in what can only be described as, pleasure and pain for two twisted Scopophilics. Epitomised in one clear two shot, as the two sadists look at each other, with a stormy lust, as Gilroy shrewdly places backlights with mauve filters to set the scene off into this ‘lust scene’ - appearing more pornographic and grimy than a Cronenberg movie.

To close: the one certainty that runs consistent, is the quality of Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting presence, and fantastic devotion to characterisation. Gyllenhaal devolves into the character with just the right balance of depressive malcontent and manipulative sociopath. Gilroy captures his grease sodden hair and slumped posture, puling us in like Keyser Soze, and what blossoms is a visceral treat that is offset twofold by crucial art design and lip-smacking cinematography.                           

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Jurassic World (2015)

 Is Jurassic World (2015) simply a cash cow for fan service, with brazen product placement and an unstoppable budget? And can it compete critically without Spielberg directing?

After twenty-two years since we first came face to snarling-face with Spielberg's reanimated dinosaurs, we have arrived here: to a monolithic adventure park that finally sees John Hammond's (Sir Richard Attenborough) vision a reality. However, this thrill ride sees Spielberg offering his directorial chair to the indie wonder Colin Trevorrow; renowned for his wonderfully wholesome and fantastical Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). Instead he has opted, as he has done in recent years, to act as Executive Producer overseeing the production with creative integrity and dinosaur mayhem in check. The question we should then be asking is can Tevorrow deliver to the franchise? Can the spectacle revived from the original astonish us, and hopefully bury the atrocious Jurassic Park 3 which mortified our eyes with mere fan service and stretched narrative device. It has only taken a few glimpses of teeth, a handful of notes from John Williams' nostalgic score, and a sprinkling of references to Jurassic Park (1993), to reunite the fans for the biggest battle of prehistoric creatures in what seems like too long.

Since it was last in operation in 1993, the park has seen a massive overhaul in innovations, dinosaur genetics and viewing experience. Now under management, with Simon Masrani (Iffan Khan) acting as the main investor and 8th richest man in the world he has now continued to pursue Hammond's dream, by creating not just a park, but an infrastructure. A multitude of enclosures, paddocks and quasi-sea-world shows and you have Jurassic World. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park operations manager and Auntie to Zach and Gray Mitchell (Nick Robinson & Ty Simpkins), has the misfortune of playing host to the boys while attempting to run a park and contending with a new park attraction - the aptly named Indominus Rex - a name met with immediate mockery by the characters. As can be expected operations don't run smoothly in Jurassic World, so Claire calls in dinosaur expertise, and resident eye-candy. Chris Pratt plays Owen Grady, an ex-Navy Seal turned park trainer, who sees past the scaly exterior of theses scientific experiments, and actually bonds with and raises several Velociraptors to take commands. Compared to everyone else, customers included, he appears to be the only one who realises these are still ruthless predators, regardless of genetic domestication. Therefore he treats them with a balance of fear and respect.

It all sounds like a dream come true. The dinosaurs have become genetically modified so they are born ostensibly domesticated; making them much easier to control. These once wild beasts that were highest on the food chain are now pets to be paraded around for human amusement, in a park that seems suggestive of the universal theme park in Orlando, Florida - a smart marketing move by Universal Pictures. Yet with all these improvements and advancements, we are reminded of Jeff Goldblum's words 'nature always finds a way', as Owen foreshadows to us the growing hostility that is apparent in animals who remain in captivity. Before long the intimidating Indominus learns of her own confinement, grows smarter, more volatile and devises an escape and tricks the park attendants into becoming dino-chow.  

Woven expertly into this overriding story about the dinosaur attraction, are two other carefully constructed stories in their own right. One perspective is seen through the children attending the park; one gawking at the magnificence, and the other at the girls, while the third narrative perspective takes us behind the scenes. Not so much as a derivation of the first film, which had deception, exploration, car chasing action sequences and humans falling prey to hungry dinosaurs, the latest installment offers practically the same; only this time the action is turned up to eleven. The cliché 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' should be applied fairly here. After all, the writers and produces tried all other variants of plot device in the sequels, and did that work? Well, you can find the answer in Sam Neil's soggy demeanour in Jurassic Park 3 (2001). 

Nevertheless, some comfort can be taken in the fresh faced actors who are happy to take on these archetypes with a gleeful enthusiasm and originality. Pratt and Howard are delightfully well fitted as an on screen couple, following the trail of her character's nephews with quips, in jokes and connectivity that fully rounds out their characters. This immediate backstory develops a romance plot early on that is somewhat unnecessary, but does however invest us in this group of characters. So much so, that we find ourselves transfixed on the acting, and multiply that by ten for the 100 foot talking points surrounding them.

While most viewers will have focused on the characters, and the awe-inspiring dinosaurs, the more astute will have been noticing, the overabundance of product placement for Coke, Mercedes and Samsung. Call it shameless marketing if you will, but Trevorrow has his own answer to this, which he explained to that 'there's something in the film about our greed and desire for profit [...] the Indominus Rex, to me, is that desire.' Therefore it is contestable that Trevorrow's awareness of advertising, commercialism and capitalism is in itself flipped on its head. In one scene, the tech-savvy operator Lowery Cruthers (Jake Johnson) sports a Jurassic Park t-shirt, much to the dismay of Claire. He tells of his attire as a worthwhile purchase from Ebay for $150, before later praising Hammond's initial park concept, and ripping into the commercialisation of the park attraction now. In itself a commentary on Spielberg's simpler narrative of dinosaurs reborn in the age of mankind's dominion, compared to the Frankensteinian hybrid in Trevorrow's movie that is synonymous with the dangers of capitalism. Clearly Trevorrow knows his source material, he deeply adores the franchise and has had the guts to reinvigorate the franchise into something more than just the year's highest grossing film. If it takes selling the souls of the dinosaurs for brand marketing, just to expand the budget, then it may be a practical sacrifice. Especially when you're mocking the whole capitalist ideology in the first place.  
Reminiscing back to Jurassic Park, it is noteworthy that the CGI has made vast improvements in the twenty year gap since we first saw those Brachiosaurus grazing on the hills. The opening shot takes care of any preconceptions we may have had for the forthcoming movie. The visuals feel crisper and refined, to the point where you can actually feel those baby dinosaurs clawing out their shells and up to your seat. Similarly, the sound quality and music composition is on top form. The absence of John Williams as musical director is upsetting, but Michael Giacchino fills his particularly large shoes, with a little wiggle room. After some playful homage to the great Williams, Giacchino keeps a consistently atmospheric and unnerving sound, that pierces every scene in all the right places.

Spielberg has pushed the scope for the franchise. When the first film was released, it was the dinosaurs that became the stars. Now, it is the island that is the most diverse character. Boasting viewing decks and rolling bubbles that allow one to immerse themselves in the whole Jurassic experience, then throw into the experience, lectures, archaeology digging and the return of Mr DNA. What we then have is a four dimensional world that is as real to the extras in the film, as the people behind the veil, sitting in their seats, eagerly stuffing popcorn into their mouths. 

It may not have the propulsion to get it any more critical acclaim than art direction and visual effects, but it is certainly a movie that innovates and captivates. Jurassic World will easily follow with sequel after sequel. Quite simply, Trevorrow has injected this franchise with the literal performance enhancer it needed, whilst focusing on the main points: characters, setting, homage and teeth. A roar-some spectacle that every member of the family will enjoy. 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Review

Originally Written: 07/01/2015

Edited: 23/02/2015

Haggard, forgotten movie star, or schizophrenic superhero? Alejandro González Iñárritu’s dark comedy combines the magnificent cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki and punchy dialogue of Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, and Iñárritu himself, to deliver a spellbinding piece of cinema that cleverly transcends expectations and tradition

Birdman is Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a once loved superhero movie star who has now fallen into the realms of theatre. As a last ditch effort to pull himself from the dregs of obscurity, he adapts a Raymond Carver short story into a play on Broadway. Riggan is pushed to the extremes as he contends with pretentious, hostile actors, dysfunctional family relationships and a malicious journalist pecking at him like a vulture, all in parallel to the demise of Riggan’s spirit through the battling of his secondary persona, as it quickly outshines as the main attraction.  

The narrative outlines more of a melancholia of the disenfranchised celebrity, than the telling of a play. However, Iñárritu comes full circle with this by reflecting the melancholia of said stardom using the featured adaptation as a commentary on troubled relationships. This feature is punctuated primarily through Sam (Emma Stone), Riggan’s daughter, who is fresh out of rehab and now working as Riggan’s assistant. In one particular scene she and her father exchange verbal blows, as she ruthlessly attacks his pretention and selfish intentions to reclaim his accolades, by butchering him as a father and actor. The camera does not cease. We’re in the midst of the action, uninterrupted, as Stone gives one of the best performances to date. The whole audience can feel the angst of this jilted daughter, as this heated argument ends with Stone’s own expression of perplexity and shock.
Accompanying this star studded cast, and portraying their own celebrity counterpart is Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) offering up a stand out performance, with the pretentions of an actor so immersed in his own performance and status that he borders on psychotic, rather than method actor. The important thing to note, is just how Iñárritu is using these actors to comment on their own acting careers, by using the narrative as a device. Norton’s acting prowess is intrinsically linked to Mike Shiner’s egocentric real performances. Almost as explicit as the now dim light of the bat signal, that was Keaton’s stead as Batman. However, it must be emphasised that this is a black comedy, and so it is only fair that the real-life accomplishments of these actors be roasted. 

Yet Birdman is a multifaceted and visually stunning cinematic production, and it would be a travesty to omit the most compelling aspects of this feature, namely the manipulative and subversive cinematography. All pointing to a metafiction of self-grandeur. 
Riggan beings to expose the question that so many actors are plagued with; legacy. With reminiscence of so many Hollywood A-listers turned director, Riggan too is constantly under fire. Terrible reviews, setting disasters, ‘difficult’ actors, financial problems, and his own duality of self, Riggan proceeds undeterred like so many writers, producers and directors trying to create their vision. Regardless of the backlash of bad publicity, or Riggan’s nearly naked strut back to the theatre in his underwear, he still immerses himself in his performance. A testament to the ‘show must go on’ attitude that is propagated by artists and visionaries alike. What emerges is an impromptu documentary of the stage play. Sweeping us seamlessly behind the scenes; a voyeuristic glance into the fallings and pitfalls that are inherent within stage productions. This fixed lens – straight out of the Hitchcock directing handbook – delivers unceasing shots in practically real time. Iñárritu envelopes the audience in the action for the entire duration, positioning the audience as the omniscient party behind the curtains. Relationships turn to boiling point, all tightly framed to achieve a clever claustrophobia to reveal the anxiety turned depressed, tired actors all reflecting on the status quo. Yet this becomes somewhat subverted by the overarching narrative device, Riggan’s schizophrenia. 

Compared to the scenes that defy expectations, which are smartly juxtaposed by an intense battle between the protagonist and his wayward daughter and his flustered agent, we as an audience are left struggling to understand the director’s intention behind this metafiction. Is this quite simply one man’s legacy that has took off beyond the constraints of the theatre set, or on the reverse, is this a man who has failed to deliver on his promises and has instead flown the coop? A pivotal question that reinforces the film’s psychological aspects, pushing it in to the realms of “fantasy thriller”. By the film’s conclusion no one has the faintest idea what we are meant to believe. Much like Ridley Scott’s ambiguity surrounding Blade Runner’s protagonist, Iñárritu will endeavour to keep a closed lip on his interpretation of what Birdman represents. 

Birdman: a visually stunning and mesmerising cinematic gem. No film has astounded me quite like this film in the last five years. Iñárritu gracefully sweeps the audience through the duration of this film with tremendous acting, beautiful cinematography and visuals, and an original screenplay worthy of an Oscar. 

Friday, 28 February 2014

8 Expectations for The Amazing Spider-man 2

Spidey has swung on to our screens (warning terrible puns ahead), several times over the last ten years. It seems only fitting that in anticipation of The Amazing Spider-man 2, and with the new trailer being released, that I share my own hopes and trepidations for the sequel. Will Andrew Garfield don the tights with more style and finesse? Or will we be sat sulking, wondering what could have gone so wrong?

1. No more second rate villains
The first Amazing Spiderman saw a reinterpretation of the classic origin story, and a praising for Garfield's delivery of the sharp tongued wall-crawler. Focusing largely on Oscorp and it's shadowy past with the Parker family; this time around things became gritty.
     So why-o-why do we need The Lizard as our villain? He was never that imposing to Spidey, well not intellectually anyway. As a combatant, I want to see an enemy who uses his physical prowess and his mind to trick our hero. Any comic book fanatic will tell you Spidey's weakness is his responsibility to protect the public. If the writers had stressed the relationship between Connors and Parker as something more than acquaintances, then we could justify the need for a villain close to our heroes heart. Instead we get a divergence into the Osborn corporation. Is that the best way to reboot a franchise? To focus on the conglomerate rather than individual story. And also, while I am nitpicking, I recall The Lizard still wore his white lab coat during his fights. A constant reminder of his devastating transformation from Dr Connors to reptilian monster.

2. Where is Mary Jane?
As I recall watching the original, there was no mention of Mary Jane Watson. A character who dominates the Spider-man story, and yet she seems to be absent from the "Amazing" universe. Granted, Sam Raimi already used her in the Parker, Osborne, Watson love triangle in his trilogy, but is that enough justification to omit her completely. After all, Spider-man without Mary Jane is like Superman without Lois Lane, or rather strawberries without cream. They inevitably come together. I am not even suggesting she should become the new damsel in distress, just some mention of her will be fitting for the upcoming film.
3. We need Stan Lee.
It goes without saying he will make a cameo appearance in the new film. Touch wood there is some terrible reason he can't appear. But again, like the Mary Jane argument, his face is as synonymous to Marvel as the Spider-man emblem itself.

4. Avenger's 2 with Spidey?   
The announcement of the Superman Vs Batman film scheduled for next year has come with it's own surge of controversy. It seems only fair that Spider-Man deserves his cross over treatment in 2015. Even X-Men's Days of Futures past will contend with an ensemble cast. Big names like Patrick Stewart, Ian Mckellan, James Mcavoy, Hugh Jackman and Michael Fassbender, will pave the way for a true spectacle. So with X-men's internal cross over, and Avenger's tapping into every other Marvel franchise, I have come to the conclusion that Garfield needs to swing on set for the upcoming movie.
     Does this mean Ant-Man will swarm the movie too? 

5. Spidey is a bad-ass!
This title of the section leaves little to be explained. Garfield delivers a great version of Spider-Man that feels original and slick. Resonating the 'it's cool to be a geek' nuisance. Tobey Maguire delivered a familiar, and somehow awkward Peter Parker that was just a chore to watch. Considering Garfield's filmography, that demonstrates a versatile acting style, he will no doubt bolster a character of ambiguity and suffering alongside a wit that feeds into the original Spidey-villain rapport. Introducing Jamie Foxx to the mix, we can expect nothing less than extravagant action spectacles - like that in the trailer, featuring Spidey weaving between electricity pylons. Foxx and Garfield will no doubt produce a "well-charged" camaraderie. Proving that Spidey and Garfield are both bad-asses in their own right. Plus, the actor is going out with Emma Stone off screen! So much for being a "web-head". 

6. So, who was Peter's father before? 
As the crux for the first film's narrative, we have continually asked who Peter's Dad was? What was he working on? Will Peter ever know the full truth?
Needless to say we will be teased over the next film with some insights, and assuredly be dumbfounded by the revelations. I am by no means a Spider-man comic enthusiast (so my knowledge is limited), but what I would like to see is nothing too far from believable. If Marvel could somehow connect to Weapon X from X-men, or the Avenger's initiative or another approaching villain for an upcoming third instalment, then I for one will be an elated fan. If all is revealed for this film alone; in respects of Mr Parker single handedly developing Electro or Rhino technology, I will be sorely disappointed in such obvious writing.

7. Can Dane DeHaan deliver as the new Green Goblin?
What I am slightly confused by is Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin, when there is no prior mention of Norman Osborn as the villain's predecessor. Columbia could be keeping an eerie canonisation from the Raimi trilogy, insofar as they are following the events of the third film's conclusion. However flawed that is considering Harry's death in the third part. But it seems more likely Marc Webb (aptly chosen director if I might say), is gliding over Norman's story to uphold the orphan narrative. Peter Parker, as the orphaned teenager compelled by a need to investigate his father's lost legacy. And Harry Osborn, a child of wealth and prestigious power, struggling to keep his father's fortune alive.
     Since DeHaan's breakout performance in Chronicle, the actor has pulled his way through the ranks, cementing himself as a worthy, top-budget actor. His countenance alone is striking and maniacal, which suffices to say will add a depth of loveable hatred to the Goblin. I will however concede the impossibility of DeHaan as the purely outlandish, utterly  insane villain that Willem Dafoe and James Franco both exemplified, with their "gassed" up Goblin. Only seasoned and leading actors seem to possess those qualities capable of memorable performances.  

8. Is that an armoured Rhino I see before me?
From the most recent (Feb 2014) trailer, it seems my previous hope for no second rate villains has been answered. Paul Giamatti will play the archetypal villain, trudging from weedy stature to immense power by accessing the Rhino suit. Let us hope three very different villains on screen can be balanced adequately; the brute (Rhino), the conjurer (Electro) and the manipulator (Harry Osborn).
     A step in the right direction by the producers, to not only cash in on the villains we have not seen before, but to also expand their origins as well. Rhino used to remain a man implanted into a synthetic suit that increased his muscle mass, and thereby his strength and speed to monolithic proportions. Now it would appear the armoured mech version has it's début in conjunction with Columbia's battle with Warner Bros. A need to compete with the recent giant mech monster fighting Pacific Rim (2013) and upcoming monster epic Godzilla (2014) has swerved Columbia in the general direction of the one man piloted mecha, using Rhino as a test subject. Should we naively accept this as a contemporary twist on the Rhino character? Or rather a keen ploy to exploit the growth in Japanese inspired mechs? Needless to say, it will be interesting to see the extent Columbia will push this trope. I for one am happy to see what havoc ensues - including Rhino destruction of NYC.      

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World (Review)

Thor is back. It has been a year since he last journeyed to earth, but needless to say, we have all been anticipating his return. At least I was, until I strolled into the cinema to watch another Marvel action flick and instead, was bombarded by a Hollywood rehashing of its collective blockbuster successes. 

Where is the originality and substance that the first film brought? Granted, origin stories always garner much mass appeal; especially to the the American individualist audience. Yet that narrative potential can not seem to be emulated a second time around. Think back to Iron Man - a franchise which has all the material and potential to create a good sequel. And what were we given? A mediocre movie, with a poorly executed villain, and a slow banal plot. 

It would appear Hollywood is fresh out of new concepts. Somewhere between the enemy ship crashing into the impenetrable Asgard throne room, and then being used by our hero to escape Asgard, is where I realised I had seen this film before - Independence Day and Avatar. In one we see the destruction of an iconic landmark (The White House), and the latter we see the escapees hot-tail it out of headquarters, against their superiors wishes. It might not be an exact template, but the very idea of using the "alien" ship to fool the enemy into letting their defences down, is a concept we have seen time and time again. Thor 2 unashamedly utilises it.
     Asgard beaten down, falling like Mount Olympus, we see a blatant re-envisioning of the America in trouble plot. We do not need any more of these films. White House Down, Olympus has Fallen etc. In recent years we have seen an abundance of 'kingdom under attack' movies, so why employ this here? Why include this device? Because it is a safe story. Marvel knows it has worked before, and unfortunately they are not confident enough in their characters to let their stories (you know, the ones from the comics they originate), develop and breathe. There is plenty of material on our titular hero. Norse mythology, comic books and 80s film adaptations, that said, I would not rely too heavily on the cheesy 80s Hulk/Thor cross-over. But even that would be a better direction than this Asgardian history lesson. A cross-over with the Mark Ruffalo Hulk, would expand both superheroes stories, as well as being commercially accepted by the masses. Plus we wouldn’t have to suffer through another terrible Hulk movie.      
Apart from a very amusing cameo by Captain America (Chris Evans), the one saving grace has to be mentioned. Of course, I'm talking about Loki and Thor's banter. As an audience, we are left craving more screen time for the brotherly squabbles. Loki's sarcasm ripples off Thor's ever frustrated shoulders. As Thor's increasing disdain for his treasonous sibling continues, you can see Loki's longing for his previous position - a dynamic that should have been explored readily in this story. To be quite honest, an hour of them volleying jokes between one another would have been more enjoyable than the actual plot. Better still, Loki amassing another army and battling in Asgard, with Odin and Thor on one side, and Loki plus Malekith on the other; that would have scaled things up perfectly. Throw in the Hulk and you have your new Christmas Blockbuster.

     The only way I can ultimately define the film is as a segway to the Avengers sequel. I, like so many of us, have continually watched Marvel film after Marvel film, convincing myself that I am watching the film as its own entity. But the truth needs to be accepted. We now sit through these filler stories in expectation of an after credits teaser for the Avengers sequel.

    Thor: The Dark World is not a bad film, it lacks the action and freshness that Thor brought to the screen, but it is watchable. If you are a Thor or Avengers Assemble fan, go and see it; if you are going with no priory context, then avoid it. Thor 2 is a movie that needs to be watched directly after its predecessor.