Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Reviews

Snowpiercer **

snowpiercer-posterAfter a prolonged ‘disagreement’ between director Bong Joon Ho and distributor Harvey Weinstein over the length and pacing of Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer the film was finally released in the States earlier this month and here in Australia this week. It wasn’t worth the wait. The film, which stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, John Hurt and Ed Harris has done well in Korea and France and has gotten strong reviews… and I’m perplexed as to why.

Snowpiercer is an adaptation of French graphic novel La Transperceneige by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette. The Snowpiercer of the title is a massive train that travels around the world via a perpetual motion engine in a future frozen wasteland. The train is massive, divided into the spacious front and middle carriages in which the wealthy and privileged live in relative luxury while the lower classes are crammed into the back few carriages, living in squalor and fear for their lives. Led by Chris Evans, it’s the ‘Masses Against the Classes’ as the inhabitants from the back of the train fight their way to the front…

I had high expectations for Snowpiercer, the source material is good, and Bong Joon Ho’s previous films, The Host (2006) and Mother (2009) are exceptional examples of their relative genres. Snowpiercer starts well; is beautifully shot, it looks incredible and continues to look incredible throughout. The performances are all fine, the cast is very strong for a genre flick, Tilda Swinton is always great and I like John Hurt and Jamie Bell. It has some fantastically graphic violence and some oddly dark humour. All aspects that would generally make for an enjoyable genre flick, but for some reason it just didn’t work for me.

I think one of its main problems is it’s not sure what it wants to be. It made no sense, you can get away with stereotypical dialogue and nonsensical set-ups and reveals in graphic novels as you are generally more forgiving with the format. Transferred to film we expect more, and visuals aside Snowpiercer doesn’t provide anything else. I’m sure that fans of the film will point to its world society in microcosm, a dark satire and declare it a ‘thoughtful’ piece of work, and ‘damning world view of the future’ or some random rubbish.

Without spoiling it, I really hated the ending. When Evans finally gets to the front of the train, not a spoiler, the ‘mythical designer/operator’ reveal just made no sense and descends into nonsense rapidly. If anyone is really shocked or amazed at the ending they probably haven’t seen many good films. It’s inspired and sloppy, stylish and dumb.

To my mind, Harvey Weinstein was probably right this time around… he should have been allowed to cut it.


Filth ****

filth_ver5_xlgBigoted, corrupt, sociopathic, misanthropic, alcoholic junkie Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is in line for a promotion. A promotion he sets about attaining by Machiavellian games, manipulating his colleagues, withholding information on a sensitive murder case and sexually harassing the wife of his ‘best friend’ Bladesey (Eddie Marsan).

However, as the racially motivated murder case remains unsolved, his increased drinking, drug taking, sexual misadventures, the office Christmas party, a trip to Amsterdam’s red light district and realisation that his estranged wife and daughter are no longer part of his life, initiate a shift in Bruce’s mood swings. His scheming, bitter, pathetic, rage and insanity give way to a more fragile, tragic and emotionally unstable character.

McAvoy is exceptional in the lead role and totally dominates throughout. If awards were given honestly, for actual performance and not as popularity contests, McAvoy would be on best actor short lists now. He is more than ably supported by the aforementioned Eddie Marsan, as well as Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Gary Lewis and Shirley Henderson.

Filth_James McAvoyCredit must also go to director Jon S. Baird for turning the labyrinthine source novel into a cohesive script. Dispensing with the novel’s ‘tapeworm’ inner monologue in favour of dream sequences with psychiatrist Dr Rossi (Jim Broadbent), and adjusting the books revelation about the murder all work well on film. However, there’s still plenty to work with here, freemasonry, drug abuse, sexism, discrimination, racism, pornography, prostitution and alcohol abuse abound. Baird’s directing style works well with the subject matter and is a marked improvement on his debut feature Cass which I also liked.

8640235554_bb8d865427_oComparisons between Filth and Trainspotting are inevitable due to the source material. Irvine Welsh has stated that Filth is the best adaptation of his work, it’s not, Trainspotting is a far superior film in all aspects apart from performance, in that respect they are impossible to split. However, Filth, in dealing with more unsavoury material and a lead character with no redeeming traits was always going to be a much harder sell.

Gritty, darkly humorous, complex and politically incorrect, Filth feels like a throwback to those gloriously unrepentant crime dramas from the 1970’s, which I love. Exceptional performances, great script and solid direction combine to make Filth one of the better films of 2013… and look out for a fantastically surreal cameo in the final third.    


8:47 – A Short Film ****

847_Banner PosterIn a loop of desperate measures, Maia and her sick sister Emma find themselves backed into a corner. Standing in their way is Roger, a father with everything to lose. As the seconds tear away from them, each battle against the only thing that can save them. Time.

So reads the blurb for 8:47, a short film starring Lauren Birdsall, Shae Beadman and Roger Sciberras, written and directed by Nik Kacevski.

An Official Selection at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, and Hollyshorts Film Festival at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood,  8:47, clocks in at a swift 12 minutes minus credits, however the film feels part of a bigger whole, a fantastic teaser for what could very easily translate into a feature length film. A feature length film however, not shot in one-take, a technique employed here by writer/director Nik Kacevski. The one-take aspect isn’t a gimmick as it really works to the films advantage, on visual and narrative levels, as well as showcasing the vision and talents of those involved.

It would be easy to focus on the one shot aspect of the film, and that would be remiss as there are some good ideas at work here, as I mentioned earlier, ideas that could be worked up into a feature film. The cast are solid, with special mention of Lauren Birdsall who carries the films emotional thread with genuine conviction. The cinematography is fantastic, the technicalities of the shoot must have been a pain to work  through for all involved. Special mention must also go to the music and sound design which really help to keep the film moving and add to the feeling that we’re being dragged back and forth with Maia.

It’s difficult to say more about the film than the blurb, or comment on many aspects without giving it all away. Suffice to say that 8:47, is a film short on time but big in ambition. I look forward to seeing where these guys go next… Check out the trailer HERE and the official site HERE for more information about the film.


Pacific Rim ***½

Pacific Rim_Banner PostersPacific Rim begins with an incredibly entertaining backstory informing us that ‘we’ the human race had gotten it wrong, we were looking to the skies for clues to an alien invasion. A fissure between two tectonic plates in the Pacific opens up a portal that allows Kaiju, giant Godzilla inspired monsters access to cities bordering the Pacific Ocean… Massive destruction ensues.
PACIFIC-RIM_Charlie Hunnam_Rinko KikuchiThe human race fights back by building Jaegers, giant robots manned by two pilots, linked by mind-meld technology called ‘The Drift’. Jumping forward a few years and Jaeger pilots are treated like rock stars. Our hero, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancey, pilot their Jaeger against a Kaiju off Anchorage… things don’t go well and Yancey is killed. Another five years later and Raleigh is ‘off the grid’ working construction on a giant sea wall along the Pacific coastline. He’s called back into service by his ex-commander, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to co-pilot his old robot out of Hong Kong with a new partner… More massive destruction ensues.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, Pacific Rim is visually spectacular. The Hong Kong city sets are reminiscent of Blade Runner, run down neon reflected in rain-swept streets. It’s here we feature a quirky side story with Ron Perlman as a dealer in Kaiju parts. The visual effects are as spectacular as you would expect, and work exceptionally well in the 3D format, although a few more wide shots would have allowed us to take in the scale more clearly.
pacific_rim_widescreen wallpaperThe movie only falls flat in the non-effects driven sequences as the dialogue is fairly cheesy and delivered a little too straight most of the time and a little too comical from the ‘scientists’ who help Pentecost look for a way to bring the Kaiju down. Del Toro got the balance right with the Hellboy movies but it generally falls flat throughout most of Pacific Rim. A special mention must got to the two ‘Australian’ Jaeger pilots, as they deliver some of the worst accents I’ve ever heard.
But we go to see these movies for the spectacle, and Pacific Rim delivers more than its fair share in that department. The battles are huge and numerous, matching and exceeding the Transformers battles. This is blockbuster popcorn entertainment on a massive scale. Not Del Toro’s best work, but it’s great to have him back directing again after his numerous scripting and producing duties over the last few years. My 7 year old is jumping out of his skin to see this, he’ll see it on the weekend and his review will follow, but I can guarantee now it will be five stars from him.


Only Lovers Left Alive – Variety Review

only_lovers_left_alive_posterAlmost exactly one year ago I posted some exciting news that Jim Jarmusch was planning to make a vampire movie with Tilda Swinton that would be a ‘crypto-vampire love story’. Well, he’s made it and by all accounts it’s amazing. Check out the Variety review from Cannes:

Did somebody make it a rule that every director has to do a vampire movie at some point? If so, Jim Jarmusch got the memo, and he tweaks the genre slightly in “Only Lovers Left Alive” to fit his own laid-back vibe, turning in a sweet but slight love story about world-weary hipster bloodsuckers. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston have empathic chemistry as the leads, and the pic (acquired by Sony Classics at Cannes) is a smidge more commercial than Jarmusch’s meandering previous effort, “The Limits of Control.” But it still feels like an in-joke intended only for select acolytes, who will probably love it with an undying passion.

The end credits mention Jarmusch’s longtime partner, Sara Driver, for “instigation and inspiration,” and indeed the film feels a bit like a quirky, fitfully touching love letter from one aging punk to another. Slightly upending the conventions of the vampire film (although there are precedents for this sort of reinvention), “Lovers” is a celebration of connubial bliss between two creatures who are still in love after centuries, but are out of step with the modern world. They’ve been there, done that, and ripped up the band T-shirts long ago to make cleaning rags for their awesome guitar collection.

Jarmusch’s characters tend to be either laconic, enigmatic ciphers or garrulous clowns, so it’s a surprise to hear what sounds like a clearly spelled-out author’s message for once, when Eve (Swinton) tries to cheer up her suicidal paramour, Adam (Hiddleston), by pointing out all the things in the world there are to live for, like “appreciating nature … kindness and dancing.”

Indeed, these are basically nice, hepcat vampires, deeply attractive despite their fried, undernourished-looking hair, and exquisitely unscary; they score blood from hospitals and almost never feast on live humans, which would be so 15th century. Hyper-sophisticated to the point of being sometimes irritatingly supercilious, they despair at the stupidity of humans, whom they call “zombies,” and congratulate themselves for all the great art they’ve made and the famous luminaries they hung out with, inspired and/or used as fronts to disseminate their own great masterworks (as in the case of Schubert and Shakespeare). It even turns out that Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), another vampire, really wrote Shakespeare’s plays; he’s still alive and well, living in Tangiers and hanging out with Eve as the film opens.

Adam and Eve (someone should have talked Jarmusch out of those names) are so secure in their relationship that they can spend long stretches of time apart on separate continents, like nuclear particles in Einstein’s theory of entanglement (which is explained in the dialogue), but still keep the connection between them alive. So while she’s in Tangiers, surrounded by a library of books in every language she loves, he’s in decrepit Detroit, making droning dirge rock on vintage recording equipment supplied by Ian (Anton Yelchin), a helpful human dealer in rare goods who’s unaware of Adam’s true nature.

Foreboding dreams about her sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) send Eve on a night flight to Detroit to be with her beloved. When Ava duly blows into town from Los Angeles, Adam and Eve grit their fangs and bear it, even though they have to hide their blood stash from this selfish, feckless houseguest and can’t leave her alone with their human friends.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” works best in this section, when it’s essentially a light comedy of social mores set among a bunch of bohemians whose drug of choice just happens to be human blood, rather than cocaine or heroin. The attempt to introduce a more tragic dimension in the final act falls flat, however; by this point, the film has run out of juice, not unlike its wan, exhausted protagonists.

Languid pacing makes the result feel longer than its two-hour running time, and although lenser Yorick Le Saux’s nighttime traveling shots of desolate Detroit cityscapes and Tangiers’ acrid backstreets have a bewitching beauty at first, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Likewise, Jarmusch brings the film to a stop too often to show off his taste in slightly recherche music from all over the world, even if the tracks will collectively make for an interesting soundtrack album.


Dredd 3D ****

In the near future, the post-apocalyptic Mega City One stretches the length of the Eastern seaboard of the United States. It has over 800 million inhabitants and a crime rate so out of control that the City’s law enforcement, the Judges, can only handle 6% of crimes committed.

Uncompromising Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is assigned rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) for assessment in the field; Anderson has failed her final exam but is being a chance due to her rare psi abilities.

They’re called to a triple homicide at Peach Tree apartments, one of the massive tower blocks that dominate the Mega City skyline. The block is run by drug dealer Ma Ma (Lena Headey), main distributor behind new drug on the market Slo-Mo, which gives the users the sensation of time moving at 1% speed. With the block sealed by blast doors, the Judges trapped inside and Ma Ma placing a price on their heads, the Judges have to fight for survival against endless armed thugs.

Fairly true to the source material, the film is written by long time Dredd fan Alex Garland (28 Days Later), with input from Dredd creator John Wagner, the script and visuals are littered with references to the comic. Director Pete Travis does a great job, especially considering the budget restrictions; the action is violent, frequent and very bloody. Some of the slo-mo fuelled set-pieces are incredibly stylish and a real showcase for the 3D.

The cast are all solid, Karl Urban is a pretty good Dredd, he looks the part, thankfully doesn’t remove his helmet, and is believable in the action scenes; however his voice wavers slightly during some of his longer deliveries. Lena Headey is a convincing villain, with this and her role in Game of Thrones, she’s cornering the market in evil characters. The strongest performance is that of Olivia Thirlby, she has the most to work with as her Judge Anderson undergoes the most growth and development over the course of the film.

The simple premise works well, both in terms of action, and budget limitations. This is a violent, humorous, bleak and almost fascistic film, just like the comics… violently adult, this is great fun and well worth a look for action fans. I’d love to see a sequel focussing on Dredd stories The Cursed Earth or Judge Death, however, the film hasn’t had a very successful run in the U.S. so a sequel seems unlikely.

Much better than I anticipated, a film to finally erase memories of the awful Stallone adaptation.

Quality: ****

Any Good: ****


Killing Them Softly ****½

Set in a dilapidated New Orleans during the 2008 Presidential campaign; low rent criminal Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) hires Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and his junkie friend Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to rob a back-room card game run by Markie Traftman (Ray Liotta). Markie is known to have staged a robbery on one of his past games, so the assumption is that he’ll take the fall. Mob boss, Dillon (Sam Shepard) sends hit-man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to sort out the mess.

Cogan meets with local mob representative Driver (Richard Jenkins) to discuss details and fees for the job. As Cogan is known to Amato, he brings in fellow hit-man Mickey (James Gandolfini) to take him out; Cogan will take out Frankie and Russell.

It’s a simple premise; however this film is anything but, it’s a dark, cynical, violent and blackly humorous tale. Australian director Andrew Dominik focuses on character, giving each of his cast room to breathe, and they reward him with uniformly excellent performances.

Pitt featured in Dominik’s previous film, the beautiful The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), one of my favourite films of the last decade. Ray Liotta is better than he’s been in years, Richard Jenkins and Ben Mendelsohn good, James Gandolfini is excellent as the wounded, self-pitying hit-man, drowning his pain in alcohol and prostitutes, his profane speeches about his sexual prowess and broken marriage are both heartbreaking and sad. However, Scoot McNairy steals every scene he’s in; he’s wonderful as the nervous, twitchy Frankie, his miss-placed optimism at odds with his constant agitation at his friends and situation.

For all the talk, and there’s a lot of fantastic dialogue, this is a very violent film. Ray Liotta is subjected to a brutal beating that is as far removed from glamorised violence as it can get, at odds with the stylised, super slo-mo shooting that follows, almost fetishistic gun porn.

The script, written by Dominik, is based on the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade by the late crime author George V. Higgins. I haven’t read it, however, in updating the action from the 70’s to coincide with the final days of Obama’s race for the presidency is not lost on the audience. Obama’s speeches of hope and the potential of the United States are at odds with the story unfolding on screen, the economic collapse, the miserable fate of the underclass and the repetitive cycle of behaviour which keeps them there, there is no hope for these characters. Not exactly subtle delivery, Dominik ensures we get the message.

The film is shot in grimy, washed out tones, almost monochrome noir in a desolate, rain drenched New Orleans, as bleak and unwelcoming as the nameless city in David Fincher’s SE7EN.
This is muscular film-making; not for the faint hearted, but well worth a look, especially if you like your crime dramas of the hard-boiled variety.

Quality: *****

Any Good: ****