Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Hugo

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Produced by: Johnny Depp
Timothy Headington
Graham King
Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by: John Logan

Based on: The Invention Of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Starring: Asa Butterfield
Ben Kingsley
Chloe Grace Moretz
Sacha Baron Cohen
Jude Law
Christopher Lee
Helen McCrory
Michael Stuhlbarg
Emily Mortimer
Ray Winstone
Francis de la Tour
Richard Griffiths
Marco Aponte

Music by: Howard Shore

Cinematography by: Robert Richardson

Editing by: Thelma Schoonmaker

Studio(s): GK Films
Infinitum Nihil
Metropolitan Filmexport

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures (United States)
Entertainment Film Distributors (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): November 23, 2011 (United States)
December 2, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 126 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $150 million (approx.)

Box office revenue (as of publication): $52, 618, 914

Updates, updates, updates. So, in the wake of it being that time of year, and my buying my gifts for everyone on the 26th (hey, unemployed student living at home: i'm not minted you know!) has led to a number of new purchases. Along with my copies of The Way Back and Stake Land, I have acquired Source Code and 13 Assassins (finally), so expect reviews for them. Also, I can guarantee next month a review for The Artist: being a fan of silent cinema, this is more or less essential viewing, so here's a proposal: if I don't keep my word on seeing The Artist, I quit as a reviewer! No, really, I mean it, how many times have I made promises I don't follow through with? With my professional (a bit rich using that term, I know) reputation at stake, I know I will definitely go and see it, so keep your eyes posted!

So, the film up for dissection here is Martin Scorsese's latest picture Hugo. As same of you may know, one of my regular readers asked me to review Shutter Island last year, and I didn't get down to it but managed to see it to ensure it's consideration in my best and worst films of 2010. Now, I will be writing a full review at some point, but in short I think that it is the best thing he has done since Goodfellas, and sees Scorsese venturing successfully into uncharted waters. In the case of Hugo, I get the impression that Scorsese is bored with making conventional films, for once again he enters unexplored territory, this being his first 3D film. If I'm truly honest, I must say that I have a testy relationship with 3D film's. The only trump card in the argument for 3D's artistic prowess is Avatar, for the only other time I have genuinely enjoyed 3D in a film was it's use as a novelty/gimmick in Final Destination 5. There are so many movies, such as Toy Story 3 and this year's final Harry Potter film which prove that less is more, and that 3D is, for the most part, an unnecessary eyesore. But, 3D or no 3D, there is still a story and film to discuss: in 1931, young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in the walls of a train station, stealing food and parts for the automaton he is attempting to repair, all the while attempting to avoid the gaze of Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen), the station's Inspector. However, Hugo is caught by toy-shop owner Georges (Ben Kingsley), and, while developing a friendship with his goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), works for him in order to regain the notebook Georges has taken from him.

Taking into account that it is a 3D film, I saw it in 2D, so this is a review that correlates specifically for the 2D version. To start off, it is a visually gorgeous film. Cinematographer Robert Richardson and editor Thelma Schoonmaker's teamwork is a tremendous example of technical synchronicity, from the amazing opening series of shots into the train station that flow into one another to the final frame. Also, the film has perhaps the best mise-en-scene I have seen in a film this year. Someone (to my shame I forget who and couldn't find out through research) once said regarding the sets for Scorsese's for Gangs Of New York that we'll never see production design like this anymore. I would have agreed, but after seeing Hugo it seems that Dante Ferretti has said an emphatic 'NO!' to this statement. Ferretti has most certainly equalled his work on Gangs Of New York, particularly with the brilliantly imagined train station, its colour palette both realistic and like something, well, beautifully cinematic and hyperreal. Also, the walls of the station are intensely detailed and layered, so it is as though we are following Hugo through the pipes, ducts and clocks, obviously a metaphor for the intricacies of the human brain. Another aspect of note in the film's mise-en-scene is the costume design and make-up, which help transform the film's actors into characters that believably inhabit the film's time-space of Paris 1931. Considering all of the roles that these actors have previously played (Butterfield, the son of a prominent Nazi in The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas, Kingsley, Ghandi, Moretz, Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ali G, Borat, Bruno et al), it is a serious plus that you can buy them as a homeless urchin, an elderly toy maker, a well-off young girl and an eccentric security guard respectively. Speaking of which, these actors all give fine performances. Butterfield anchors this film, delivering a performance that ensures a likability in a lead role that could have been irritating. Also, Moretz (a 'Thin White Dude' award winner) is ever reliable, and Sacha Baron Cohen delivers a batty performance that matches his meticulously chameleonic previous efforts, utterly slithering about in a role that is as funny as it is at turns surprisingly moving. Christopher Lee also graces the film with his presence, and Ray Winstone (recognisable in voice only) delivers a good bit part. However, the film's best performance is definitely that of Ben Kingsley as Georges. Kingsley is at an interesting stage of his career, because for a number of years he has been playing these really overt, scenery-chewing roles that threaten to implode both his and everyone else' in a given film. 2008 though, with his generous, naturalistic performances in Transsiberian and Fifty Dead Men Walking, marked a turning point, for he seemed to understand this, and thus, his work from then has been positive, benefiting himself and others in this reviewer's eyes. One occasionally forgets he is Shutter Island that he is so subdued. In Hugo, 'Papa' Georges is the consummation of this period of transition. Kingsley depicts all of the layers of this secretive character with great understanding. Georges is a grumpy and often intimidating old miser, but we also detect an intense sadness in Georges, who is at heart, just like Hugo, a dreamer. Never at any point do we question Kingsley as Georges, and he gives us an onscreen character to both adore and be afraid of. Finally, much of the film's triumph and control comes from the man himself, Martin Scorsese. Along with Clint Eastwood, he is a reminder of everything that is good about Hollywood cinema. Scorsese, like Columbus, is unafraid to explore uncharted waters, and is constantly coming up with new challenges for himself as a filmmaker, and once again, he breaks through to the other side and triumphs. Despite having new toys to play around with, he thinks of his audience, never one to overindulge himself. The control he exhibits here, over a picture that is both unlike and similar to his back catalogue, is nothing short of amazing: let's see any other director make two films as different as Taxi Driver and Hugo! Also, while he is of course paying tribute to cinema, Scorsese is first and foremost a storyteller, engaging the audience and with Hugo, delivering us a picture that slots itself firmly into his great filmography.

As you can see, there was a lot that I liked about Hugo. However, there is one notable flaw that, while certainly not detracting from it's status as a great film, bars Hugo at the doors of The Upper Echelon Club of movie masterpieces. I am referring to, once again, the script. John Logan is a good screenwriter. After all, earlier in the year he scribed one of the year's best scripts in Rango. However, his script for Hugo, while not being a bad piece of work, is troublesome and problematic. For starters, the film's structure is seriously misjudged. My good friend Daniel Kelly (Danland Movies) made a great point on the flabbiness of the first two acts, and while I think he argued more eloquently and was irritated greater than I, it would be a lie if I said I didn't agree with him. As such, while the final act of the film is as good a bit of cinema as you're going to get, the first two acts have a sluggish pacing, which didn't bother me at first, but by the time you reach the one-hour mark and the film has gone from Point A to Point A, it starts to get annoying and boring. Also, the dialogue is by no means outstanding, and does give the film an air of contrivance, which is a shame considering how natural, well-timed and judged Rango's dialogue came across. As mentioned, this does not take away from Hugo's status as a great movie, but it does deny it the opportunity to get that bit greater.

Aside from the film's troublesome script, Hugo is a great movie. It boasts good acting performances, particularly from Ben Kingsley. Also, there is a strong technical synchronicity between Robert Richardson and Thelma Schoonmaker, which gives the film a solid visual style. Furthermore, this is one of the, if not the best mise-en-scene I have seen in a film this year, with some excellent production design, make-up and costumes. Finally, Martin Scorsese is at that stage of his career were he has seen it all, done it all, and wants to try something new. Following on from the enigmatic genre thriller Shutter Island, Hugo is Scorsese's great endeavour into the medium of 3D cinema and stands as a good, traditional kid's adventure film. Daniel Kelly, in his own words, told me if he was a kid taken to see this movie he "would have a shitfit," referring to it's laborious pacing. Although I think it is an occasionally badly paced film, I'd like to think that one of my cousins would appreciate this fine film as opposed to trying to convert me to the Transformers cause. Words of advice: take your kids to see Hugo, because I have a hunch that they'd love a kid's movie that treats them with respect and does not patronise them. It's easy for me to jabber on about this being 'a great kid's movie,' but the fact is I'm not a kid. Please, take them to see Hugo, and I hope they enjoy the film as much as I did.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Content (Uni work and Reviews up to date. Booyakasha! Proof you put enough beer in a man, he can do anything!)

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

Directed by: Bill Condon

Produced by: Wyck Godfrey
Karen Rosenfelt
Stephanie Meyer

Screenplay by: Melissa Rosenberg

Based on: Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer

Starring: Kristen Stewart
Robert Pattinson
Taylor Lautner

Music by: Carter Burwell

Cinematography by: Guillermo Navarro

Editing by: Virginia Katz

Studio(s): Summit Entertainment
Temple Hill Entertainment
Sunswept Entertainment

Distributed by: Summit Entertainment

Release date(s): November 18, 2011

Running time: 117 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $110 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $649, 192, 542

Ok folks, updates! On Saturday, I will be going to see Sherlock Holmes: The Game Of Shadows. Also, in case you didn't know, it is that time of the year, and I have regressed into my default mood of "Bah, humbug!," so you'll have to excuse the occasional bit of cynicism in my tone. Of course, I will be seeing a number of films in the coming weeks, with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (whose source novel I am enjoying greatly) coming out on the 26th, so keep your eyes posted.

Right, it's about time I got to putting words to my opinions, this movie having been out for a month, so let's get down to it. "Forever is only the beginning" runs the tagline for Breaking Dawn Part 1, an appropriate phrase that describes my feelings regarding The Twilight Saga. I have watched (and reviewed) every one of the films, of which I've had mixed feelings: I liked Twilight, hated New Moon and thought Eclipse was a very good film. Saying that, having now read two of the Stephanie Meyer novels, I have come to the conclusion that while there are good elements in the books (as well as catering to an untapped readership of young girls that is seriously under-catered), as I was finishing New Moon, I felt that if I had went through the book with a red pen, I could have edited this five-hundred-plus page book to closer three-hundred: Meyer is a consummate over-writer who waffles way too much and envelops the reader like a suffocating, overprotective mother, and doesn't give her children enough independence to develop their own thoughts. Anyway, this isn't a discourse on Meyer, but one of her book's adaptations, so here comes the synopsis: Bella and Edward are getting married, but on their honeymoon in Peru, Bella gets pregnant, and the foetus is growing at a furious rate, consuming her from the inside. Thus, tension is caused between Bella's new family and in the Quileute tribe, with the impregnation of a human by a vampire the final straw that broke the camel's back, or rather the vampire/werewolf pact in Forks, the Quileute's declaring war on the Cullen coven.

To start off with what is good about Breaking Dawn: Part 1, I must credit the three leads. Pattinson (who I have liked in other films) has never been good as Edward, but this is as good as he ever has been playing the role, but Kristen Stewart continues ascending the upward scale of gradually improving performances as Bella. She really has grown into the part that she was initially very awkward playing, and portrays a rather empowering female character, putting her all into the absolute hell that Bella goes through. Once again, Taylor Lautner is the glue that holds this cast together. Often slagged by some critics, I find him to have a great expressive range that is appropriate for the character arc and a strong range of emotional palette. Still a young actor, I feel Lautner has the makings of something special. I must also praise the cinematography by Guillermo Navarro. The Twilight Saga has a real lack of consistency in terms of its crews, so I do think it is good that despite the film's being the same tonally, Navarro's colour palette is still very distinctive and gives Breaking Dawn a unique flavour. Finally, I would like to congratulate the film's make-up department for their transformation of Kristen Stewart. In a movie that reeks of absurdity in parts, you can't help but wince as you watch Bella's degradation as her spawn consumes her energy. Also, Modus FX has done a wonderful, subtle bit of work in adding to Bella's pregnancy, although their work here would make one think that her pregnancy was more like a giant tumour (I mean that in a good way). Furthermore, (spoiler alert) the whole birthing scene is done excellently, capturing a deep-grained fear of pregnancy and childbirth that despite being more part of a young woman's psyche, I found very intense. The quick jump cuts, Bella soaking in sweat, terrifically overbearing sound editing, and to top it off, the nastiest caesarian birth I have ever seen, with as much grot as A Serbian Film (I kid you not), and you've got one of the most memorable scenes in a film this year.

That said, as with the other instalments of The Twilight Saga, for all the good that it has to offer, equally there can be as much bad elements that we have to swallow. For instance, Carter Burwell, whose musical compositions I do like (and with regards to the series, has been a more consistently decent composer than his New Moon counterpart Alexandre Desplat), reek of the same stench that the series emits, in that we are told everything, as opposed to figuring it out for ourselves. It's a case of 'in case you didn't know how you're supposed to feel, here's how it is.' Even the great Howard Shore suffered the same issue in Eclipse: with all these talented composers on hand, with multiple awards and nominations between them, those bastards at Summit still felt like breathing down their neck, and forcing them to work with the notorious Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra. Great job guys! Also, despite Bill Condon directing the film, if anything, the closest The Twilight Saga's adaptations has to an auteur is Melissa Rosenberg. Her screenplays have been at an inconsistent level, corresponding to the quality of the films (Twilight/Eclipse = Good:New Moon = Bad). Granted, part of the problem is the source material, but Meyer's books, as messy as they can be, have far more structure than Rosenberg's screenplay for Breaking Dawn Part 1. Structurally, the whole story revolves around certain plot points, i.e. wedding, sex, pregnancy, birth etc. These points are well developed (although I would have went further myself with the sex scenes, but hey, it's a 12A film), but they only take up about thirty to forty minutes of screen time. As such, you would think with over an hour in between there would be some decent filler, but no, everything in between is written as though they are attempting to rush from plot point A to plot point B to... you get the (plot) point. Also, being a 'talky' film, with lots of heated discussion, you would think that there would be some decent dialogue, especially regarding Bella's pregnancy. But once again, nada: the dialogue sound like something from a propaganda film. I'm not getting a bee in my bonnet about the so-called pro-life themes, but all verbal sounds in the film sound base, forced, and above all, highly patronising. All semblance of an argument is lost in the fact that the dialogue is so terrible you can't help but notice how terrible the dialogue instead of being able to pay attention to what is going on. Furthermore, speaking of plot points (this won't be a spoiler for those who haven't seen it, but those who have will know what I talking about), the whole imprinting incident is bullshit: we never quite buy 'a major character's' instantaneous transformation, and it makes the film's ending completely anticlimactic. Speaking of the ending, why rip your last shot straight out of the last shot of Avatar? How contrived does one have to be? No spoilers, just saying! Finally, while I'm still on my high horse and my Napoleon complex maxed out to eleven, I've never ever bought those CGI werewolves. They've always looked like big, furry, blobby teddy bears, as opposed to the nasty killing machines they're meant to be. Also, there is a scene with the wolf pack in a heated discussion ('heated discussion' seems to be the default Twilight mode), but they are in their wolf form and the actors depicting their human form are delivering voiceover dialogue. I'm sorry, but I was the ignorant git laughing at the back of theatre, because this scene was funnier than the entirety of Zookeeper and had me thinking about Alpha, the dog with the malfunctioning collar in Up. It was good in all the wrong ways and was a classic example of misjudged filmmaking.

I know, I know, I went off on one there, but The Twilight Saga is something that I am highly opinionated about. As much as there is devoted to the bad about the film (granted, probably too much, I got a bit carried away), there are also some enjoyable elements in Breaking Dawn Part 1. The three leads, particularly Stewart and Lautner are good, Guillermo Navarro's cinematography really elevates the status of this picture, and the transformation of Bella by the makeup and CGI teams is an astounding bit of work. Finally, the staging of the birth scene is one of the most memorable scenes in a film this year. However, by no means is it faultless, and in terms of the film adaptations of The Twilight Saga, it ranks as the second worst.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Contented

P.S. Dear Stephanie Meyer, I know the opinions of a (slightly) pretentious film critic will have no effect on you or your significant financial income, but please take these figures into account: over four books (not including The Short Second Life Of Brie Tanner), The Twilight Saga comes to 2492 pages. I make that an average of 623 pages per book. The less successful (but infinitely better written) vampire series The Saga Of Darren Shan, has a total of 2499 pages over it's entire series. I know, it's exactly seven pages more than your Twilight Saga, but take into account that this is over twelve books, and not four, with an average 208 pages per book. So, in conclusion, you write roughly three times as much as you should, and the primary reason for your series' continued success is because there is a massive gap in the market were teenage girls are concerned. There is good material in your books, you just have a serious tendency to waffle!

With Kind Regards

Callum 'The Thin White Dude' McCready

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Adjustment Bureau

Directed by: George Nolfi

Produced by: George Nolfi
Chris Moore
Michael Hackett
Bill Carraro
Isa Dick Hackett
Joel Viertel

Screenplay by: George Nolfi

Based on: Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick

Starring: Matt Damon
Emily Blunt

Music by: Thomas Newman

Cinematography by: John Toll

Editing by: Jay Rabinowitz

Studio: Media Rights Capital

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): March 4, 2011

Running time: 101 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $50.2 million

Box office revenue: $127, 869, 379

As ever, I seem to take an age between reviews, finding some lame-ass excuse to not continue with my endeavours and simply sit around (rather ironically) with cans of beer and packets of crisps watching Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. Anywho, I have seen The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn and Hugo, so expect to see reviews for them soon. Also, as mentioned in my previous post, I will be starting a new blog in which I cast myself as a sort of despotic producer with every tool at his disposal, and proposing to you my fantasy adaptations from a number of sources into the medium of film. My first post will be my 'adaptation' of Metal Gear Solid, so (in keeping with the buzz-phrase of the new blog), keep your eyes open!

Okay, today we're getting down to reviewing The Adjustment Bureau. I've been talking about reviewing The Adjustment Bureau for a couple of months since picking up a copy for £5 in Tesco a while back, but before I get down to it, here's a bit of a preamble to give you some context. The film is adapted from the short story Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick, who is probably hands-down my favourite author. I first fell in love with his work via A Scanner Darkly, and have been nothing than entranced by his singular visionary and accessible style. Readers, do yourselves a favour at get some of K. Dick's work, because it is pure gold dust. With a (primarily) science-fiction author as it's source, Matt Damon as its star and having emerged in the wake of Inception, the geniuses of film marketing have promoted The Adjustment Bureau under Total Film's silly buzz phrase "Bourne Meets Inception." For starters, whoever came up with that editorial wonder seems to have come up with it so that it makes the UK DVD cover. The big problem though is that it gives the completely wrong impression of the film itself, so readers, go in with an open mind and do not give in to preconceived ideas you may have got from this. The Adjustment Bureau follows David Norris (Matt Damon), an up-and-coming politician, whose campaign crashes whenever photos of him mooning former classmates at a reunion party emerge. On the plus side, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a woman who he immediately engages and becomes infatuated with. However, after the two cross paths again, a group of men (the eponymous Adjustment Bureau) threaten David to never see Elise again, as it is not part of 'the plan.' As such, the plot advances from this point on.

To start off with my review for The Adjustment Bureau, it must be said that despite the "Bourne Meets Inception" label, at heart this film is first and foremost a romance. In this aspect, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are terrific. I've always liked Matt Damon, and his role as Norris, both as the lover and the charismatic politician, shows yet another layer to his talent. In the case of Emily Blunt, it's easy to understand why Norris becomes so infatuated with her: she oozes charm and sexuality, not in an overt manner, but in the way that actresses such as Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman did, through naturalism. You can't help but feel good every time the two share the same space onscreen, as their romance comes across with conviction and genuine, which is more than can be said for most romance films. They deliver their dialogue as though everything is pure improvisation, and it makes for some great cinema. Also, George Nolfi, who had previously scribed The Bourne Ultimatum, handles this, his debut feature, very well. It would have been easy to overindulge in certain aspects of the story, but Nolfi keeps it fine, and has a great sense of pacing. Throughout you get this feeling of a momentous forward drive that doesn't stop the film's conclusion. John Toll's cinematography also contributes to this. It has a wonderful look about it, capturing the film's drama and the romance between David and Elise, but also having the ability to switch tones/moods. The lighting in the scenes with the Adjustment Bureau are suitably dark and expressionistic, while David and Elise, quite literally, bring light to the lives of one another. Finally, the production design is to be noted, for despite this being a 'science-fiction' film, it is only science-fiction in the loosest sense of the term: the design and locations embed the film firmly into the real world, adding to the paranoiac tension that is prescient throughout.

As much as I like The Adjustment Bureau, there are a number of issues involved with this production. Although Damon and Blunt deliver their dialogue well, George Nolfi's script is very flawed. Admittedly, this movie is a tough sell, and it is admirable in it's attempts to do something different, but the script tries to cover too many different topics and doesn't end up bringing much of substance to the plate. It deals with romance, politics, paranoia, free will, predestination, Christian themes and the idea of omnipresent forces behind the scenes. In dealing with that many topics, while catering to a certain audience, there are times when The Adjustment Bureau falls flat on its face. Too much is shoved in to deal with in ninety-nine minutes, and they are not dealt with in any great detail. If it had been made to be a 130-140 minute film, it may have worked better and they could have a stronger story, as opposed to presenting us something that feels like an oversized suitcase. Also (without spoiling the film), the ending is an anticlimactic, botched affair that just stops as opposed to giving the film any true sense of conclusion. Finally, I was not a fan of the use of Thomas Newman's compositions. Hear me out: I did like Newman's work, I just wasn't a fan of how it was implemented in the film. In the post-production process, I feel there was a lot of watering down done, and in the finished product, which remains a challenging movie (in a good way) no matter how much tinkering has been done, this sense of artificiality comes through. I think that they simply were stuck between a rock and a hard place, dealing with a tough sell and compromising to try and make it appeal to a mainstream audience. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the use of Newman's music, which is placed in scenes 'appropriately' to imply, rather overtly, what we should be feeling. Once again, EHO (Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra) makes an appearance, gouging an otherwise great movie.

It's a shame, because I think The Adjustment Bureau is a very good film. Damon and Blunt give the audience one of the most legitimate screen romances I have seen in some time. Also, George Nolfi has an efficiency about his direction, and the film has some great cinematography and production design. However, the script comes across as watered down and compromised, while the use of Thomas Newman's music (not the music itself) ensures that we are being told what we are meant think and what to feel. Much as I like it (how can you not like a film with Terence Stamp pitching in a great bit part?), The Adjustment Bureau will not rank among the great adaptations of K. Dick, such as Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report or A Scanner Darkly. That said, it is certainly not in the category of 2003's abysmal Paycheck, and while I feel it may be forgotten about, deserves to be remembered as a good solid film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Excited (off from Uni, lots of films to review!)

P.S. Dear Total Film, please don't use silly 'poster phrases' like "Bourne Meets Inception" to describe this film: it is nowhere near as much a science-fiction film as Inception, and is only a science-fiction in the basest sense. Also, it is a bit stupid to put Bourne onto any film that stars Matt Damon. That's like marketing The Departed as 'Bourne Meets Goodfellas' or Invictus under 'Bourne Meets Mandela!'

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Thin White Dude Makes Another Update As An Excuse For Not Having Posted Any Reviews!

Alright, folks, I have been pretty busy in University of late, and thus haven't been updating as regularly as possible. That is not to say that the reviews aren't still going on: far from it! I've got a quota of my own to meet, and have at least a good month and a half left to go.

Next in line are my reviews for The Adjustment Bureau, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn and Hugo, so, as ever keep your eyes posted!

Also, I am going to start a new blog (under The Thin White Dude moniker), in which I effectively cast myself as a producer and create these fantasy line-ups for who I would choose for certain parts (director, screenwriter, cast etc) in the creative process. Self-imposed rules are simple: I will suggest a contemporary player for a part in the production, and one from the history of cinema. Therefore, you can get some idea of what would be a 'true' fantasy adaptation and a 'realistic' adaptation. I will beginning this with my proposed 'fantasy' adaptation for the video game Metal Gear Solid, and, in coining a new catchphrase, keep your eyes wide open!

P.S. Once again, to Jack's complete lack of surprise, (god knows I sound like a broken record), apologies. The review for Shutter Island is not just some pipe dream, it exists in some form or another, and it's just a matter of not being so lazy as to translate them into terms of universal understanding!


Monday, 12 December 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Age Of Heroes

Directed by: Adrian Vitoria

Produced by: James Brown
Jamie Carmichael
Christopher Figg

Starring: Danny Dyer
Sean Bean
Izabella Miko

Music by: Michael Richard Plowman

Cinematography by: Mark Hamilton

Editing by: Chris Gill
Joe Parsons

Distributed by: Metrodome Distribution

Release date: May 20, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 90 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Budget: (N/A)

Box office revenue: (N/A)

Hey hey, updates time! So, I've now seen Breaking Dawn, and I'd recommend keeping an eye out for my review because I have very strong opinions regarding the film. Also, this week I'll be going to see Hugo, and possibly Albatross and Puss In Boots. Once again, I'd like to reiterate how amazing a film Casablanca is. I know it is forever on the 'lists of lies' as one of the greatest films ever, but it truly is something. On a final note, this year I've keeping on schedule with regards to my 5th annual best and worst of the year, so keep an eye out for my hall of fame inductions, coming in January, and the complete list of awards in February, before the Oscars, so keep your eyes posted!

Right, today we have Age Of Heroes, a new release from Metrodome, starring the 'majestic' Danny Dyer and the majestic Sean Bean in a war film which purports to have been based on the true-life exploits on Ian Fleming's forming of the 30 Commando Unit. To give this some context, I was recently at Cinemagic's Mark Kermode Film Night, and in the Q and A section the good Dr. asked the audience to suggest their best and worst film's of the year. One member of the audience, while nominating Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes as his favourite of the year, was unanimous in his opinion that Age Of Heroes was the worst of the year. I had bought this film beforehand and had it waiting for review for a period of time, and if I'm frank, this audience member's opinion didn't do anything to endear the film to me, before I had even seen it. Furthermore, it gave Kermode a good excuse to do his entertainingly terrible impression of Danny Dyer, who has threatened to beat him up as a result of this ludicrous impersonation. In the interest of fairness, I did like Dyer in The Business and Human Traffic, so despite it being rather easy to take the piss, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Dyer stars as Corporal Rains, who is sent to military prison for disobeying orders and assaulting an officer. Due to be court-martialled, Rains escapes after holding up Major Jones (Sean Bean) and confessing his dream to be a Commando. Impressed by his tenaciousness, Jones offers him a spot on the unit he is gathering if he passes the intensive training.

To start off with what is good about the film, I can't say they went wrong in casting Sean Bean as a tough disciplinarian leader of a Commando unit. Now that Bean is in his fifties, he has that rugged look about him in the same way Lee Marvin had, but you can still legitimately buy him as a badass you shouldn't mess with. He may not receive many awards, but Bean is most definitely a fine actor. Also, the film has some good locations. For a movie that is supposed globe-trotting and seeing these Commandos go through various hard-ships, it is always good to have believable locations, and there is no question that it does. In particular, the intensive training in Scotland is suitably believable and dirty, while the snow of occupied Norway helps you get the idea of what these men are having to content with. This is important in a shootout near the end of the film (the shorter one, not the ambush at night), creating a sense, albeit temporary, of tension. This is all the good I have to say about Age Of Heroes: it's not especially bad in the vein of Friedberg and Seltzer or Barbarossa: Siege Lord, but it is unremarkable.

Now, despite these good parts, Age Of Heroes is a few slices good and many slices rancid. Let's start with Danny Dyer. Firstly, I'll reiterate (lest he threatens to knock something across my canister), I like Dyer in The Business and Human Traffic, but he's rubbish here. His character is poorly written (more of which later), but even still he manages to stamp his own unique brand of terrible on the role. At the start of the film, we get him being a bit of a rebellious, no BS soldier, same old. However, in military prison, he meets up with an ex-Commando, and all of a sudden the seeds have been planted for his pipe dreams to become a Commando: from wanting to go home to trudging around in Norway in less than five minutes of screen time is ludicrous, and Dyer acts this story arc as though he is a naive teenager. He might look like a boy, but Danny, you're a thirty-three year old man! The scenes in which he is crying because despite his determination, he is exhausted, are positively laughable. Not helping is his constant "Thank you, sir," to Sean Bean: if he was black, there would be national outrage for depicting such a "Thank you, boss" character is today's world. Minstrels were the first thing that came to mind watching Dyer here. So, Dyer, terrible, as is everyone bar Bean, but I won't use too much space to attack them as their parts are smaller and by rule of thumb less irritating than Dyer. Next in the line of fire is the script. As mentioned in relation to Dyer, the characters are written terribly, all written with the basest personality traits, though so base that you can't differentiate between anyone else, so that any time someone is knocked off and we get some terrible incidental dialogue in the vein of "(insert name here) is dead," you end up thinking 'who?' Also, structurally it gets along way too fast, going through the proceedings without a care for the establishment of a legitimate plot or cast of characters. The ending, for instance, is a horrendously botched affair that doesn't so much wrap up the film as sever the film's already weak pulse. Tonally too the film is a mess. We have the whole 'Dirty Dozen' scenario, which really originated with Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, with an ensemble cast going on a mission, a tried-and-tested scenario that has worked well in other films such as Aliens and Ocean's Eleven. However, mixed in with that, the filmmakers attempt to depict a 'horrors of war' film. There is a scene in which a group of actors (who have the unenviable task of playing Nazis in the wake of Christoph Waltz' Hans Landa) jovially execute an entire family while drinking and cavorting, all filmed rather voyeuristically by a camera. Frankly, while the 'Dirty Dozen' scenario is flimsy at best, the 'horrors of war' part of the film comes across as a poor man's Come And See, a film I'd sincerely recommend that everyone see at least once. Finally, to top this all off, we have a terrible 'Isn't this glorious and heroic?' score from Michael Richard Plowman, which sounds like the Royal Military Orchestra by way of Pearl Harbour, unquestionably Hans Zimmer's worst score.

My interest in Age Of Heroes is probably reflected in the rhetoric that I have used to review it. It is not an especially bad movie, with Sean Bean always a watchable screen presence and a relatively believable mise-en-scene, but, Jesus, is it a consistently unremarkable and dull film. It displays all of Danny Dyer's negative points, has a shoddy script, a score that sounds like it has been lifted from another movie and given a remix. Furthermore, the 'special' effects, which have nothing special about them, are terrible, and it is directed with all the detachment and lack of passion of a relationship between Michael Bay and the Transformers franchise, although frankly these two I'd say have a better sex life. Indeed, when the new Transformers movie is better than Age Of Heroes, you know you're are in far trouble. Simply unremarkable in every which way possible.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 2.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Glad (to see the back end of this movie: let us never speak of this foul creature again!)

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Tabloid

Directed by: Errol Morris

Produced by: Julie Ahlberg
Ajae Clearway
Max Daly
Robert Fernandez
Mark Lipson

Music by: John Kusiak

Cinematography by: Robert Chappell

Editing by: Grant Surmi

Studio(s): Air Loom Enterprises
Moxie Pictures

Distributed by: Sundance Selects (United States)
Dogwoof (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): July 15, 2011 (United States)
November 11, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 88 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: (N/A)

Box office revenue (as of publication): $686, 288 (domestic gross only)

Schedule/filler paragraph coming up! Right, I've now seen Age Of Heroes, The Adjustment Bureau and (by the time of posting) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. Also, there will no doubt be more on the way, it being the holidays and all. On another film-related note, on Wednesday I had the pleasure of watching (on the big screen too!) Casablanca for the first time. The film was wonderful, with top-notch performances, an excellent script and controlled direction. Here's a question to those of you who have seen the film: what do you think of Casablanca (in the film) being a sort of purgatory, with Rick's Cafe Americain being a waiting room the film's characters inhabit before either going to Heaven or Hell? Give me your thoughts, as I find it a real puzzle-box of a film. And by the way, keep your eyes posted!

Alright, the gourmet of the day is Tabloid, the new documentary film by Errol Morris. To my shame, Errol Morris has been a blip on my moviegoing radar, so this was my first experience in ever seeing one of his films. I saw Tabloid in the Queens Film Theatre with one of my three remaining free tickets which I received as a gift for my birthday, and I must note that I did appear to have missed the first few minutes, despite being on time for the screening. The subject of Morris' eleventh feature is Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming, who in 1979 became a major tabloid sensation in England after being accused of raping and kidnapping her former fiance Kirk Anderson, who had left America to become a Mormon missionary.

Well, if you are of the same opinion as me, you'll find that Morris has selected a truly astounding subject for his picture. Joyce McKinney herself (who is now currently in the process of suing Morris) is a character, telling her story with genuine wit and humour. It is obvious that she understands the absurdity of what went on, but Morris also gives her room to be serious, and one cannot help but feel for McKinney as she explains that it was love that was her driving force. Also, there are some poignant moments as Joyce tells of the media frenzy that surrounded her in the years following the scandal, and some the tragic events of her life. Importantly, I think Morris takes a well-rounded stance on his subject, and the lines between whether or not 'The Case of the Manacled Mormon' was an instance of rape and kidnapping become blurred. After all, as McKinney notes, Kirk Anderson was a large man of six-foot-four; Morris treats the 'official' tabloid headlines with a pinch of salt. Also, in depicting the media frenzy, Grant Surmi's editing is done in such a kinetic style, with layer-upon-layer of newspaper clippings being ruggedly (in a good way) pasted on top of one another and various other mediums presented, we, like Joyce, can't help but feel overwhelmed. The editing ensures that Tabloid has a pretty consistent pace throughout, and the usually dull talking heads are given life by Surmi's pasting and the fast cuts ensure that there is always a certain level of tension. The final thing I'd like to note of worth with Tabloid is the visual effects department. Eric Demeusy's 2D animation is a pleasure to behold, and gives the film a number of humorous moments, while Kurt Lawson's excellent digital composition ensures that we are always presented with a visually interesting film.

If there is one major problem that I do have with Tabloid, it's that not all sides of the story are portrayed to the same degree as Joyce McKinney's own story. For instance, despite McKinney being depicted in such a well-rounded manner you'd think she was a written character in a screenplay, the Mormons do not come off well from this film in the slightest. Although obviously there were less sources on this side of the story (Kirk Anderson refused to partake in the production), Mormonism is painted with the same, rather base brush which people seem to love using on Scientology. As far as I could tell, the Mormons who 'brainwashed' Kirk Anderson were devil-worshipping cult members preparing the poor man for sacrifice in a wicker man. Also, the structure of the film brings with it a certain repetitiousness, which unfortunately means for parts you are struggling to follow it, as it can feel numbing. As much as I like the pacing, this structure keeps the film locked airtight, without any air to breath. Finally, it makes a film, which is a good, short length of eight-eight minutes, feel at least fifteen longer.

Tabloid is an occasionally problematic work. Mormonism is presented in such a horrible manner, and there is no real middle-ground objective source to adequetly discuss their side of the story. In their case, it is borderline propagandist and unintentionally funny. Also, the film's structure can be repetitious and numbing, contributing to the film feeling longer than it really is. Despite these issues, we still have a very good film. The subject of Joyce McKinney and the various media portrayals of the 'Mormon Sex in Chains' case is genuinely fascinating stuff. I didn't have a clue about this case beforehand, and was awestruck by the topic matter. Grant Surmi's editing has a consistent pace about it, and the way he constructs the multimedia sources, mixed with the fast cuts, give the film a real kinetic feel. Finally, the visual effects animation (also by Steven Do, who I forgot to mention earlier) and digital composition, ensures that Errol Morris' film is always pretty watchable and visually interesting.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Relaxed (finished review, box of Pringles, Casablanca on the way!)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: November 2011 - Life In A Day

Andrew McDonald (and the YouTube community) helms this great documentary that covers just about everything we need to know. Some of the best of moments of this year in film are to be found here, and in terms of the postmodern, information-era documentary, I think this might well be the best one. Engrossing viewing, highly entertaining and very touching, Life In A Day is a wonderful achievement in cinema history.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.4/10

Runner-Up: I Saw The Devil - A brutal, intense thriller from Kim Jee-woon boasting two fine performances from Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik

Second-Most Deadly Disease: Suck - Not a bad film, but makes no effort to be consistently average

Avoid Like The Plague: 5 Days Of War - Ridiculous balderdash that makes you want to stick on Cliffhanger to purge you of your sins

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)

Directed by: Tom Six

Produced by: Tom Six
Ilona Six

Screenplay by: Tom Six

Starring: Laurence R. Harvey

Music by: James Edward Barker
Eilam Hoffman

Cinematography by: David Meadows

Studio: Six Entertainment Company

Distributed by: Bounty Films (United Kingdom)
IFC Midnight (United States)

Release date(s): September 22, 2011 (Fantastic Fest)
October 7, 2011 (United States)

Running time: 87 minutes (International Cut)
84 minutes (United Kingdom Cut)

Country(s): United Kingdom

Language: English

Budget: (N/A)

Box office revenue (as of publication): $123, 043

Alright, as mentioned my previously posted review for Drive Angry, this will be my final review for the month of November, a summary for which will be posted later on. In getting on with December, I have seen Tabloid, Errol Morris' new film, and by the time I publish this will have seen Age Of Heroes. Also, I have screenings pitched in for Tintin, Breaking Dawn and Hugo, the big blockbusters out there. On another note, I'd recommend you get down to listening to some of the music off of Gary Numan's new album Dead Son Rising: there are a number of very cinematic tracks, and given that he has recently expressed thoughts about doing film soundtracks, they are of paramount interest to anyone into film music. So, as usual, by all means, keep your eyes posted!

Well, the gruel that we have been served up on our dish today is second Human Centipede film. Last year, director Tom Six released the first film to rather mixed reviews, but I found myself liking it as it didn't try to be anything more than it was: it's a brutal piece of exploitation schlock, and unlike the truly awful A Serbian Film, lacked the self-importance that often plagues these films, which all too often appeal to the audience and imply there is more to the film that what's on the surface. Centipede 2 has caused a stir in that it was rejected an '18' certificate here in the United Kingdom. Only two films in the past two decades have had this 'privilege,' so Centipede 2 has joined an elite group of films that have managed to be banned by the usually lenient BBFC. Following on from the tone of the original, with the sequel (which I frankly thought was milking the concept dry), Six, who claimed Centipede 2 made the original Centipede look like "My Little Pony," turns the concept on it's head, with Laurence R. Harvey playing the lead character Martin, a short, English, fat and asthmatic security guard still living with his mother (Vivien Bridson), who has become obsessed with the original Human Centipede film. Taking inspiration from Dieter Laser's Dr. Heiter, he decides to one-up, or rather 'nine-up' Heiter, opting to construct his own, twelve-person centipede.

It may come as a surprise to some of you, but there was a lot about Centipede 2 that I liked. As was the case with Laser, Six has unearthed an actor who is not famous, but fits their role like a glove. In what I would guess is his first picture (I have come up short on unearthing information), Laurence R. Harvey gives a great performance as Martin. Visually, he is perfect for the role, but it is the level of detail he gives the character that makes him so fascinating. Wheezing, spluttering and coughing, all with sweat perpetually dripping from his brow, Harvey conveys a character who is both realistic and can be sympathised with, but is also like something from the deepest recesses of our nightmares. Furthermore, Harvey tells Martin's story by acting, with a distinct lack of dialogue, and projecting to the audience in a visual manner. Harvey can be credited for making the movie watchable, but also of praise is the cinematography and editing. In contrast with the previous film, this is shot with a fast, moving camera, shaking along all the way. Normally I'm against the shaky cam, but here it captures Martin's fragile mental state and tells a story, as opposed to it being about technique. Also, Six's decision to edit the film, shot in colour, to a monochrome colour palette is a terrific stylistic turn. With the construction of the Centipede being shot in heavy light, colour would have been too much, and it is certainly much more unnerving with removal of the colour's we would normally think of in these situations (yes, I regularly wind up the tail end of a Human Centipede!). Also, as it should be, the make-up is suitably nasty. Although, of course, "100% Medically Inaccurate," the centipede's construction is full of enough grot, vomit, fecal matter etc. that we do buy into the whole thing. The centipede's ante is upped too, as Martin struggles and occasionally botches the process of his creature's creation, making for some horrible (yet fascinating) scenarios. Finally, after the success of the first film, Centipede 2 marks Tom Six as a force to be reckoned with in the horror genre. His directing method is unique, in that he makes 'pure' horror cinema: with absolutely everything on the surface, he invites a viewer's participation in his madness, and as such they apply their own meanings to his work. Far from ramming his messages down our throats, the application of such excessiveness gives us room to think about the picture. It is refreshing to see a director who invites such viewer participation and lives up to his word with suitably nasty concepts. I personally invite and applaud Six to continue with his endeavours in genre cinema.

So, as I said, there was a lot I like about Human Centipede 2. However, despite these strengths, it can be a very flawed film. For instance, Tom Six's script is pretty poor. The film is at it's best whenever Harvey just fills up the screen, but having all these characters pop up, display the basest of emotions with the basest of dialogue, only to become a part of the Centipede is rather silly. Would it not be more appropriate to let the audience engage with them, so that we have an idea in our heads of them as people, thus making Martin's abusiveness toward them more repugnant? Also, while I like the central concept, I think the inclusion of a certain 'actor' from the first film (no spoilers) is pushing the idea too far. This overtness in terms of self-referentiality does tend to overbear whenever Six's script gets a little more indulgent. Also, frankly there was no need to explain the origin of Martin's fractured personality: Harvey already told us as much, without writing in a doctor that resembles the great Alan Moore, just in case we didn't know already. Much as I like Six, I think he really needs to learn how to write a script that is not sold solely on the strength of the film's central concept. Also, I think that the film's ending is botched, as it's nature implies a negation of events, and thus takes away from the horror, and indeed, importance of what we have just witnessed. I really do think Six exists on a different plane from other human beings (and I mean that as a compliment), so it would help if he paid attention to other people, for as much as he may find his film's amusing, most people don't: bearing that in mind, I think he would have made a better film. The script is really my only major problem with the film, but it is enough of a problem to have made me want to personally rewrite it myself as it is the cinematic equivalent of a gaping knife wound to the film's overall body.

Nevertheless, despite what I feel to be a rather shoddy script which does significantly detract from the film, I did like it. I forgot to mention the terrific minimalist score by James Edward Barker and Eilam Hoffman, but there are also many other fine aspects. Laurence R. Harvey gives an amazing lead performance, technically the film is spot on, and I think that considering the decisions he made in bringing this to the screen, Tom Six is a directorial force to be reckoned with. The pressure on for him to deliver his anticipated third and final part to the Centipede trilogy, as I feel that the script covers too much and frankly I worry there won't be anywhere else to go. Mark Olsen, writing for The Los Angeles Times, makes a valid point in arguing that "Six has more or less already contorted himself into The Human Ouroboros": there really is only so far you can go with this, and I would recommend that Six start thinking of new ideas, because another Centipede film could be flogging a dead horse. Also, on the basis of this script, we could be in for trouble. Nevertheless, I'll be keeping a close eye of Six, as Human Centipede 2 is an enjoyable exploitation flick in the purest sense of the word.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (Radioplay finished, review finished: me need sleep!)

P.S. Vivien Bridson plays a great bit-part as Martin's mother

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Drive Angry

Directed by: Patrick Lussier

Produced by: Michael de Luca

Screenplay by: Todd Farmer
Patrick Lussier

Starring: Nicholas Cage
Amber Heard
William Fichtner
Billy Burke
David Morse

Music by: Michael Wandmacher

Cinematography by: Brian Pearson

Editing by: Patrick Lussier
Devin C. Lussier

Studio(s): Millenium Films
Nu Image
Saturn Films

Distributed by: Summit Entertainment (United States)
Lionsgate (United Kingdom)
Metropolitan Filmexport (France)

Release date(s): February 25, 2011

Running time: 100 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $45-$50 million

Box office revenue: $28, 931, 401

Okay dokey, I've seen The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), and as a teaser for the full review (published later this week), I will say that I did like the film and think Tom Six is a director to be watched in this decade. On another note, I'm really enjoying Mark Kermode's The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex. Unlike his first book, which was essentially his autobiography, this stands as a brilliant study of the state of the art form of cinema in it's contemporary (and past) form, punctuated by his great wit and should grace any film lovers library. Kermode and my friend Daniel Kelly (of Danland Movies) are among the few I would personally recommend as alternate opinions to my own. Of course, every critic has an alternative opinion (incidentally, I wouldn't rule out a read of Armond White: no one has a monopoly of opinion, and White's beliefs are as legitimate as anyone else's, even if some of them seem bonkers), but I just have my preferences, both as a reader and member of the critical community. But, moving swiftly on, in closure (and keeping with tradition), keep your eyes posted!

Getting on with the shizzle, here we have on the operating table Drive Angry. This film was released earlier in the year and stars Nicholas Cage, who last year reminded his fans with Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans and Kick-Ass that despite all the crap we've had to sit through, he's a fine actor. He and his ever reliable co-star Amber Heard head up this film by Patrick Lussier, most famous for White Noise: The Light (very nearly my first ever worst film of the year) and My Bloody Valentine's 3D remake. Also shot in 3D, although I got the version I saw was in 2D (poor me), Drive Angry follows John Milton (Nic Cage: get the reference), a mysterious stranger of sorts, is seeking Jonah King (Billy Burke), a satanic cult leader who murdered his daughter and took her baby. Along the way, he meets Piper (Amber Heard), beating up her nasty boyfriend and heading on the road with her to complete his mission. Amidst all this, there is another mysterious stranger who goes by the name of The Accountant (William Ficthner), is on the search for Milton for unknown reasons.

Starting with the good, Drive Angry excels in a department that many others fail: it succeeds in being a legitimate 'grindhouse' film, unlike examples such as Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, and importantly, it isn't trying to be a grindhouse film. It is a suitably nasty, crazy film full of car chases, explosions, and most notably, a Manson family-esque religious cult. The religious aspect is one of the films greatest strengths, adding to it's inherent ridiculousness and some way making it stand out from the pack. Cage's 'Godkiller' gun and his ability to take ridiculous amounts of pain tie in well to the movie's undertones. Also, being a film of this genre, it is good to see that the set-pieces are well choreographed and that the stunt teams have done fine work here to make this as entertaining a film as they possibly can. Although not up the standard that Fast Five has set for the genre, the chases are bounds above those you would see in most other Hollywood films. Furthermore, Brian Pearson's cinematography has given the film a nice visual flair which ensures that it is always watchable. Speaking of watchable, I'd finally like to point out Amber Heard. At the risk of sounding like a creep (and not ruling out her attractiveness), every movie I see her in she puts the maximum amount of effort into her part. Her role as Piper is the kind of defiant 'girl power' part that makes for a nice change (although it should be the norm) from normal depictions of female stereotypes. One of Drive Angry's greatest pleasures is seeing her punch her boyfriend who has been sleeping with another woman, and laughing as he hits her back. Heard is never anything less than impressive in this film, and is Drive Angry's stand-out actor.

However, as much as I think there are good points about Drive Angry, I feel too that there are a number of negative points. The foremost offender is Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier's script, which aside from the religious aspect, is completely murder-by-numbers. Every character onscreen is two-dimensional and with the exception of Heard's Piper, you never buy as people to sympathise with or believe in. Billy Burke's Jonah King is the most horrendous example, and feels like he was written by a statistician with a check book/chequebook. Also, the dialogue has the problem of causing the audience to not be able to distinguish between serious and comic scenes. This is problematic when you get an actor like Cage, who puts a lot of effort into every role, but unfortunately his efforts, due to the poor script, have made him look silly. Also of issue is the editing by (once again) Patrick Lussier and Devin C. Lussier. As a film that was clearly designed for 3D, with lots of tyres and pokey things flying towards the screen, having these gimmicks in the 2D version of the film is pointless. Furthermore, the portrayal of Cage's inner turmoil is achieved with stupid (and visually irritating) dissolves between Cage and his daughter's murder. Frankly, a simple, old-fashioned series of fast cuts would have done. Also, and this may be as much the fault of the CGI team, there are some awful special effects. I've seen some between computer effects this side of Flight Simulator '98: (no spoilers) watch the final shots of the film, and you can't say they don't look hokey. It is problems like this that seriously detract from an otherwise enjoyable experience.

Drive Angry is a real mixed bag of a movie: on the one hand, it is a genuine grindhouse picture, with strong religious undertones, some entertainingly choreographed action set-pieces, good cinematography and a rather good turn from Amber Heard. Despite this, it is plagued by a shoddy script, that does not benefit it's actors whatsoever, has a number of issues in the transfer from 3D to 2D (can one version not be enough?) and has some insufferably bad editing and CG special effects. You may or may not enjoy this film, as even with its problems, it's watchable. Saying that, my words of advice would ask you to be wary and take Drive Angry with a pinch of salt. Still, it's better than White Noise: The Light.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Excited (I've got set-dancing tonight!)

P.S. This is juvenile I know, but I can't but laugh at the composer's name: Wandmacher = 'Wand-maker.' Look, I found it funny, ok!

Monday, 28 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Beautiful Lies

Directed by: Pierre Salvadori

Produced by: Philippe Martin

Screenplay by: Benoit Graffin
Pierre Salvadori

Starring: Audrey Tautou

Nathalie Baye
Sami Bouajila

Music by: Philippe Eidel

Cinematography by: Gilles Henry

Editing by: Isabelle Devinck

Studio(s): Les Films Pelleas
TF1 Films Production
Tovo Films

Distributed by: Pathe (France)

Trinity Film (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): December 8, 2010 (France)

August 12, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 100 minutes

Country: France

Language: French

Budget: (Unavailable)

Box office revenue: (Unavailable)

Alright gang, updates updates! The review following this will be one for Drive Angry. Next on the itinerary will be The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), which I am bracing myself to watch tonight. Tomorrow, I'll be watching either The Adjustment Bureau or The Way Back, so keep your eyes... wait! I'm not finished! On another note, for my creative writing course I will be working on a radio play, which I'm looking forward to creating. If all goes well (i.e. if I'm able to overcome my impatience/aversion to technology), I might well put it on the blog for you all to sample. Toodles!

Okay, so here we have Beautiful Lies. Earlier on in the year, I stated my intention to see it, but unfortunately missed it (one must take critics' words with a pinch of salt!) due to no reason other than my own inability to keep up with the amount of films coming out. At least that's the excuse I'm sticking with! Anyway, the film stars Audrey Tautou as Emilie, a young woman running her own hairdressing salon. After throwing an anonymous love letter (from one of her workers, Jean, played by Sami Bouajila) in the trash, she decides to send the letter to her forlorn, depressed mother Maddy (Nathalie Baye), still stricken by her husband's decision to leave her. The letter, which failed to move it's intended recipient Emilie, revitalises Maddy's love for life, and as is expected with a French whimsical comedy, all sorts of hilarious entanglements ensue.

Now, please do not take that as sarcasm. I know that is something that sounds like it comes from the film's marketing/financial department, whose tactics I usually take the piss out of. The fact is that I enjoyed watching Beautiful Lies. In terms of dialogue, this is up there with Bridesmaids in snappiness and quotability. Also, it doesn't feel forced whatsoever, and ensures that these do feel like real people. This realisation is further hammered in by three strong performances. Audrey Tautou has always been adapt at this material, and this further proves it. She carries herself with wonderful charm and elegance, while not being afraid to speak her mind or be a nasty bitch. Her Emile is well-rounded and three-dimensional, and her delivery of the script's dialogue is note-perfect. Also good is Nathalie Baye, whose Maddy makes the most dramatic emotional shifts in the film, but manages to keep the audience engaged. Like her onscreen daughter, Baye exudes charm and charisma, delivering a fine performance. Although to a lesser extent, as the women take centre-stage, Sami Bouajila elevates what could have been the film's worst performance to that of one that is both sympathetic and humorous. Considering the number of rather embarrassing (and entertaining) set-pieces he usually ends up being the butt-end of, he does a fine job in ensuring that he doesn't become the comic-fodder stock-character. Director Pierre Salvadori handles this with efficiency and grace, his directorial stamp giving the film the sense of pace and tension that a film of this nature requires. He must also be credited for ensuring the film's comic timing and that it doesn't, like so many other comedies, fall flat on it's face into the pitfalls of the genre. Finally, at a running length of a hundred minutes, it is exactly as long as it needs to be, no longer or shorter.

That said, while I think that Beautiful Lies is a highly admirable comedy, the film is by no means without its flaws. As a whimsical comedy, unfortunately there is only so far that it goes, and there is a real sense of a tentative approach in not staring outside of what is good about the genre. It really felt as if they weren't trying to do anything new or original, no matter how well they did the nuts-and-bolts stuff. As such, despite the ridiculous entanglements, which seem to have no way out for the characters, things end up in the most predictable and expected of fashions possible, even if it is without question the least plausible. Also, being a whimsical comedy, it is occasionally plagued by that terribly annoying 'bouncy, bouncy, ha, ha, ha, that's your cue, time to la-la-laugh' music. There are some really terrible cues that indicate to the audience, who would obviously be too thick to notice without it, that we are about to be led into a raucously humorous scene that is simply side-splittingly funny. Word to idiots: sometimes silence is golden, and the scenes would have been much funnier if you were to omit those stupid little cues which are as bad as some of the asides that punctuate every single Shakespeare comedy! For the record, Shakespeare's best comedies were his tragedies, as his comedies were as forced out as a well-trapped turd. While not as bad as that, Beautiful Lies has this issue to a certain extent, and it really is a shame that such a watchable and entertaining film should be let down by silly mistakes like this which seem to happen time and time again.

Certainly, Beautiful Lies has it's problems. It never quite emerges from the trappings of the film's genre, and thus it ensures the film is very predictable. Also, it is punctuated by that highly theatrical and stagey music that indicates certain moments where you must laugh, and maybe, just maybe, even shed a tear. These problems, when they emerge, are frightfully annoying. However, for the most part, this is a consistently entertaining film. You get three great performances from Tautou (our generation's Audrey Hepburn), Baye and Bouajila, some this year's best-written dialogue/comedic set-pieces, permeated by a constant fast, efficient and exciting pace by director Pierre Salvadori. While not being anything new, this is the kind of standard that we as audiences deserve to see on a more regular basis in a comedic film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Amped (Human Centipede 2, here I come!)

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Happy Birthday Dad!

Woops, forgot to shout out my big pappy. You wouldn't be getting these reviews if it weren't for him, so depending how you stand, curse his name or praise the ground he stands on. Happy Birthday Dad!

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - I Saw The Devil

Directed by: Kim Ji-woon

Produced by: Kim Hyung-woo
Jo Sung-won
Kim Jae-young
Kim Jung-hwa

Screenplay by: Park Hoon-jung

Starring: Lee Byung-hun
Choi Min-sik

Music by: Mowg

Cinematography by: Lee Mo-gae

Editing by: Nam Na-young

Studio: Showbox/Mediaplex

Distributed by: Showbox/Mediaplex (South Korea)
Magnet Releasing (United States)
Optimum Entertainment (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): August 12, 2010 (South Korea)
March 4, 2011 (United States)
April 29, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 140 minutes

Country: South Korea

Language: Korean

Budget: $6 million (reportedly)

Box office revenue: $12, 773, 990

Alright, as you can tell, I am now back in full force, churning out reviews at the rate that they really should be. As mentioned on a final note in my last review, I have now seen Beautiful Lies, the new French-language comedy starring Audrey Tautou, a review for which will follow this one. Also, I have since watched the suitably bonkers Drive Angry, so expect my opinions on that film soon. Finally, tomorrow I have penned in Tom Six's The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) for viewing. I will be watching that online tomorrow, because I am not paying the extortionate £13.99 prices that the UK's cut-version of the film is going for. I thought the first film was a good exploitation flick, so I hope that this will be as well. On this topic, I must say that the media publishing the BBFC's report on this film was a disgrace. The BBFC do a good job in policing films, but I would like to point out that Total Film, The Guardian, Metro and Digital Spy all published articles which revealed significant spoilers regarding the film. This was an absolute shambles, and the only mainstream press I have read which does the banning justice without spoiling the film is the BBC News' report, so kudos to them and shame on the rest. This is besides the point of this review, but keep your eyes posted on this blog!

The film up for review today, I Saw The Devil, ran into similar censorship issues in it's home country of South Korea. The Korea Media Rating Board objected to the film's content, and without cuts it would have received a 'Restricted' rating, preventing release on the theatrical and home video markets. This was unprecedented move, as director Kim Ji-woon's three previous films, A Tale Of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life (his best to date) and The Good, The Bad, The Weird were all major financial and critical successes. In his latest film, Lee Byung-hun stars as Soo-hyun, an intelligence agent who attempts to track down the murderer of his fiance, played by Choi Min-sik. That is all you really need to know, as the plot reveals itself as the film goes along.

Starting with the good of I Saw The Devil, the two lead performances must be brought up. Lee Byung-hun portrays wonderfully the sense of tragedy to his character and the single-minded determination he approaches his task with. He has this extraordinary stoicism that means every single gesture is dictated by some deep-rooted emotion. Also, as the central heart of the film, he manages to be charismatic and watchable without any of the pretension that some of his peers possess. On the other side of the coin, Choi Min-sik does (appropriately) the complete opposite. Always full of intensity onscreen, the volume of this role makes his part in Oldboy seem suitably low-key. Nevertheless, he is insanely fascinating with his portrayal of this thoroughly repulsive character. Touching upon just about every aspect of the emotional spectrum, Choi Min-sik is astonishing and delivers what is probably the best supporting performance by a male actor I have seen this year. Other praiseworthy aspects of the film include Lee Mo-gae's fantastic cinematography. Kim Ji-woon is a visual storyteller in every sense, and Mo-gae's work complements this. In a film of this nature, this is very important. Despite the fact that there are some horrible and repulsive things going on, it is filmed with such a sense of panache and flair that you never want to tear your eyes from the screen. Also, Park Hoon-jung's script has some good elements about. Structurally, it is really something, as the first act begins at the emotional high point that most other thrillers end. This ensures that throughout the film you are kept guessing, and even still you will be unprepared for the third act climax, which is about as intense a series of scenes in a film you will see all year. Not to wag the dog, it does smack you on the head with a hammer! Finally, in what I would think is his most difficult film, Kim Ji-woon proves once again his great skill as a director. He has a great range, able to bounce from genre to genre, but still maintaining his consistently good style. Furthermore, his humanist approach to his work (and his characters) ensures that despite instances of extreme violence, his film's are handled with great care and empathy towards the audience.

Needless to say, I did like I Saw The Devil. However, I do think that there are a few issues that deny the film the status of the upper echelon. For instance, the script, while having very strong first and third acts, does have occasionally get flabby in the second act. There were certain scenes that were way too long-winded and as a result ended up getting boring. Also, the nature of the conflict between Soo-hyun and Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik's character) means that sometimes the action does get repetitive and you know where it is going. That said, the transition from second to third act is done so smoothly, it is easy to forget the weaknesses of the second act. Also, I feel that the film could have been cut by ten or fifteen minutes. This is not entirely the fault of the editor Nam Na-young, whose work has moments of brilliance throughout. Nor is the cutting necessitated by the film's violence. It is more due to some of the scenes of dialogue, which just seem to go on and on, coming across as too theatrical for the film's own good. I don't think it is important for all of the clutter in the film to remain, and it does feel as though this is an extended version with some deleted scenes to an already excellent film. As such, it does cause for lapses in interest in an otherwise fine film.

There is no doubt that I Saw The Devil has its issues. Overly long and occasionally problematic concerning the script, there is no doubt that with more vigilance in the editing room to thin the film out and erase it's repetition that this would be a masterpiece. Indeed, for all his talent, I still feel Kim Jee-woon has yet to make his masterpiece, and A Bittersweet Life is still as close as he's ever got to breaking through to the other side. However, his handled of this difficult film with difficult topic matter shows his directorial flair. Also, Lee Mo-gae's cinematography excels, placing emphasis on capturing the action in a stylistically innovative manner that looks gorgeous. It must be said that while Park Hoon-jung's second act is troublesome, the first and third acts of his script are masterfully written. The film's overall mise-en-scene, including production design, costumes and make up also add to the film's suitably dark atmosphere. Finally, you have two stellar performances, one from lead Lee Byung-hun and the other an extraordinary supporting turn from Choi Min-sik, ensuring that despite bothersome points, I Saw The Devil is nevertheless a great film that will provoke a reaction and stay with you for some time.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Solemn (not rushing myself and in a nice little zone)

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Rum Diary

Directed by: Bruce Robinson

Produced by: Johnny Depp
Graham King
Christi Dembrowski
Anthony Rhulen
Robert Kravis

Screenplay by: Bruce Robinson

Based on: The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

Starring: Johnny Depp
Aaron Eckhart
Michael Rispoli
Amber Heard
Richard Jenkins
Giovanni Ribisi

Music by: Christopher Young

Cinematography by: Dariusz Wolski

Editing by: Carol Littleton

Studio(s): GK Films
Infinitum Nihil

Distributed by: FilmDistrict

Release date(s): October 28, 2011 (United States)
November 11, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 120 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $45 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $19, 202, 772

Alright folks, as expected, me again (who else?)! So, I've finally got the dastardly essays for this semester in university done, now I'm going to get back into some serious reviewing (I seem to making a comeback every other week!). I have finally watched I Saw The Devil, the new Kim Ji-woon film, and I have copies of The Adjustment Bureau, Ages Of Heroes, The Way Back and a new addition in Stake Land to the DVD rack. Also, you can definitely expect a review for Breaking Dawn: Part 1, as it will be out for weeks, but I'm going to try and catch up on Immortals, TinTin and Tabloid, the new film by Errol Morris. On the internet horizon, I will try and get a properly subtitled version of Film Socialisme and The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence). Finally, you can expect that I will get down to reviewing 13 Assassins, the new Takashi Miike film, and Nic Winding Refn's Drive at some point, so keep your eyes posted.

Anyway, post preamble, let's get down to digesting The Rum Diary. This film has a lot of interesting components going into it: Johnny Depp stars in an adaptation of the eponymous Hunter S. Thompson novel as Paul Kemp, a journalist who, getting disenfranchised with America under the Eisenhower administration, gets a job working for The San Juan Star in Puerto Rico. This is Depp's second involvement in an S. Thompson adaptation, after 1998's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Also producing the film, he has also coaxed the great Bruce Robinson, writer-director of one of the greatest films ever made, Withnail and I, a film not unlike something unlike 'Gonzo' himself would have written. With all these elements in place, it would seem that a great adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson, starring the right actor and with the best writer-director for the job. However, The Rum Diary has gotten very mixed critical reception, and something that could have been a contender (a long shot, but a contender nevertheless) for the Oscars has already had its chances blown. Nevertheless, given the pedigree involved, I went in with an open heart and mind, wanting to enjoy it.

So, as mentioned, Depp is the perfect actor to play a Hunter S. Thompson surrogate, and he proves just that in his role as Paul Kemp. Although dominating the film, Depp is a good enough actor to know how to pull back and make his character slither about as a natural part of the scenery. He's clearly enjoying himself here, and it comes through onscreen. Also, as producer it is clear that his heart is in the right place, wanting to faithfully adapt his friend's novel. Bruce Robinson does a surprisingly good job of handling this project. After nineteen years, he shows no rust in his edgy and raw directorial style. Furthermore, his script captures the essence of Hunter S. Thompson: we go through all various scenarios, but there is a real serious undertone to the piece that makes it seem all the more whole. Also, some of the motley crew of actors, particularly Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins and Giovanni Ribisi (who looks absolutely filthy here) give good performances and help contribute the overall sense of the world Kemp is inhabiting. Finally, it is a pleasure to feel the passion which the participants of this project clearly have for the material, and The Rum Diary does always feel like something genuine.

From the glowing things I've said there you'd probably expect this to be one of the best of the year. I hate to say this, but The Rum Diary is by no means among the best films to come out this year. The primary problem(s) seem to be the decisions made in the pre-production process, particularly with who they have hired on the film. I'll admit that the film does look good, but I feel that in order to tell this story, it really needs to be downplayed. Dariusz Wolski is a very good cinematographer, but I think his work here makes the film look too crisp and clean, and adds a big layer of fat onto the film. This is especially problematic whenever you find that Kemp's 'squalor' looks like somewhere I'd want to live, as opposed to the filthy, scum-infested mess it's meant to be. Also, despite some of the shenanigans going on, I think it was really unnecessary to cut some of these sequences as though it's a Bourne movie. It takes away from legitimately buying the film, and makes it come across a carbon copy of things we have seen before. This is horrible I know, but I felt them really trying to be like The Hangover and cater to a mainstream audience. Furthermore, Christopher Young's score is shockingly murder-by-numbers, especially considering his work on Hellraiser is highly unconventional. It is highly disappointing that these elements of contrivance enter (and permeate) the film and make a potentially great film come across as forgettable.

The Rum Diary is definitely a good film. Johnny Deep is as always a strong lead, and the casting for a number of the actors, specifically Amber Heard, Giovanni Ribisi and Richard Jenkins is spot on. Also, in Bruce Robinson you have the right guy in there to adapt Hunter S. Thompson and bring it to life onscreen. However, unfortunately those hired for the film's technical aspects, talented as they are, do not fit with the project. While being a good movie, my prevailing feeling with The Rum Diary is that this is a watered-down, mainstream attempt to do Hunter S. Thompson. A shame, really...

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Content (to sit in)

P.S. REVIEW UPDATE - Got a copy of Beautiful Lies, the new comedy starring Audrey Tautou on my desk for review