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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

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Suck

(Note: this is the US poster, and is marketed completely different to the UK DVD cover, which I couldn't find on Google, hence the differences in cast credits)

Directed by: Rob Stefaniuk

Produced by: Robin Crumley
Jeff Rogers
Victoria Hirst

Screenplay by: Rob Stefaniuk

Starring: Rob Stefaniuk
Jessica Pare
Iggy Pop
Alice Cooper
Malcolm McDowell
Dave Foley
Moby
Henry Rollins
Paul Anthony
Mike Lobel
Chris Ratz
Dmitri Coats

Cinematography by: D. Gregor Hagey

Editing by: Michele Conroy

Distributed by: Capri Films

Release date(s): September 11, 2009 (Canada)
April 16, 2010 (United States premiere, RiverRun International Film Festival)
October 11, 2010 (United Kingdom DVD Premiere)

Running time: 87 minutes

Country: Canada

Language: English

Budget: $3.5 million

Box office revenue: (Unavailable)


Ahoy there matey! 'Tis I, The Thin White Dude! Alright, I'll get rid of the Pirate gimmick, I've had a wild couple of days. On a special note (that makes me sound disabled, right?), I was at the Queens Film Theatre on Saturday as part of Cinemagic's Mark Kermode Film Night. The good Dr. was promoting his new book, The Good The Bad And The Multiplex, and presenting The Buddy Holly Story, a movie that I enjoyed and am looking forward to watching again. However, highlight of the night for me was winning a prize giveaway DVD copy of the film on the basis of Mark selecting my citing Neds as a movie "of savage grace," a comment which I used in my review of the film, as audience comment of the night. For those of you who don't know, Kermode is the film critic whose work I admire the most, so for him to compliment me in that manner means a lot, so I would like to shout out a big thank you to the good man himself. My second shout-out is to the gang at Spill.com, whose reviews I have been eating up like a box of Pringles! Finally, the last shout-out goes to Charlie Chaplin, who has made writing Film Studies essays such a privilege: I treasure every moment I get to watch one of his films.

So, yes, I'm in a pretty good mood. Also, I've had about a week to evaluate this film over in my head, so I know where I am going with this one. Suck is a film that was released in the United States in 2009, but I picked my copy up in HMV for £3 a couple of weeks ago. The DVD case reads the year 2011, even though the ' UK DVD Premiere' was in October 2010. Personally, I've never seen a copy before, and the 2011 gives me enough justification to review it. So, Suck is billed as a 'rock-'n-roll vampire comedy,' and stars rock legends Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins and Moby. It follows failing band The Winners, fronted by Joey Winner (the film's writer-director Rob Stefaniuk), who is hungry for fame. Despite things taking a turn for the better for the band, Joey is irritated that the band's bassist Jennifer (Jessica Pare) is getting all the attention, due to having been turned into a vampire. However, hot on their tail on the road is Eddie Van Helsig (the great Malcolm McDowell), a vampire hunter who is afraid of the dark.

To start off with the good, it must first be mentioned that the "rock royalty" the DVD markets with top billing, Cooper, Pop, Rollins and Moby, all star in very small bit-parts, so these roles aren't as substantial as we would be lead to believe. Nevertheless, they each play the parts well. Cooper doesn't do much, but creates a convincingly mysterious presence. Nobody does crazy quite like Iggy Pop, and Henry Rollins is highly entertaining in his insults towards the film's main band, The Winners. Most surprising is the normally modest Moby, who plays the complete opposite of himself, a self-indulgent asshole who seems have a fetish towards meat. In larger roles, Chris Ratz does a good job playing Hugo, the film's equivalent of a Renfield character. Also, Dave Foley is pretty funny in this film as The Winners' manager, a manager who is almost as bad as Stephen Merchant's Agent in Extras. As ever though, it is the great Malcolm McDowell who flourishes as Eddie Van Helsig. His part is a real scene-stealer, and provides the film's best laughs. Furthermore, he isn't going in there shouting "Look at me, I'm Malcolm McDowell." He is wise and intelligent enough an actor to know when to blend into the background, something that he does very well when necessary. Also worthy of mention is Rob Stefaniuk's job as a director. Considering when you think about how bad the movie could have turned out, it is a testament to his control and efficiency that he was able to make something watchable out of this film. There are also some wise decisions to work around the film's limited budget. Shooting most of the travelling scenes in claymation and the editing by Michele Conroy ensure that we don't get drawn into laborious scenes of the band on the road. It also means that the film has a relatively consistent pace and doesn't fall in low troughs for certain sections. At eighty-seven minutes, the film is as long as it needs to be. Finally, no one can deny that some of the soundtrack, featuring Cooper, The Stooges, David Bowie and The Velvet Underground, is so timeless and listenable that you can't help but feel good, especially with the film's inclusion (and use) of The Stooges' TV Eye.

As much of a novelty as Suck is, it is also highly problematic and is by no means the cult movie it aims to be. My friend and fellow film critic Daniel Kelly always makes a good point when he gets pissed off about film's that try to be deliberately 'grindhouse' (look at Tarantino's Death Proof by itself and it falls flat on it's face), and the case is the same with those try too hard to be 'cult.' If you have talent like those that Stefaniuk got into the film, good as they were, they shouldn't just pop up as window dressing. This is not the only problem with the film's script. Structurally, it is so transparent that you can see everything coming multiple scenes before they happen. For a such a 'cult' horror-comedy, it is way too predictable. Having the right balance between horror and comedy can be hard to do, but Stefaniuk's script doesn't succeed in either department. The dialogue is nowhere near as funny as it ought to be, and the term 'horror' only seems to relate to the fact that vampires are involved in the films. Furthermore, the vampire make-up for all of the actors bar one (not unveiling for spoiler reasons) is awful. I know that in the case of Jessica Pare this might be deliberate, but Dmitri Coats and everyone else in the film look embarrassingly stupid. Finally, and I will count this as a fault for I don't interpret this as a satire, The Winners band themselves suck. You are meant to get behind the underdogs, and as they grow in success their songs 'improve,' but of course they don't really, they're still terrible. I know that music taste is subjective, but man, when you have Iggy and Alice Cooper on your soundtrack (and not even particularly good Along Came A Spider Alice Cooper), these guys' rubbish performances only seems all the worse. Off the stage, they do not fare well either. I know Stefaniuk's character is meant to be a dick, but Moby was more entertaining as a dick in twenty times less screen time. Also, Jessica Pare's acting severely lacks the charisma that her character requires, while Paul Anthony and Mike Lobel came across as nothing more than spare tyres as The Winners' guitarist and drummer respectively.

Look, to call a movie Suck is always risky business, as it leaves you wide open to have some critics go for predictable 'review-in-a-nutshell' pun based off the title. On the other hand, I've seen 'xoxMARSVAxox' on YouTube give the old "The movie was totally different from its title! IT ROCKS! \m/" Regardless of these polar opposites (the latter comment makes me want to cane the user's typing fingers for the horrible grammar. Yes, I'm a grammar bitch, bitch!), Suck is neither. It has its pros in decent performances (excluding The Winners and Dmitri Coats), decent editing, decent soundtrack and decent direction. However, it is nothing more than a decent movie, as The Winners, our protagonists, 'suck' (I'm already a hypocrite, pulling out the title references), both as actors and performers, the script is a mess, the makeup is bad and it tries way too hard to be a cult film. If you want to see a cult horror-comedy, go watch Repo! The Genetic Opera. Furthermore, the music is awesome! Suck is not a bad film, nor a good film, just average.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Busy (I'll be glad to be rid of these Uni essays and get back to some hardcore reviewing)

P.S. To 'xoxMARSVAxox:' nothing personal, I decided to go with you as my reference, and I don't care about your grammatical 'errors.' No one has a monopoly on grammar, so feel free to right what you will, regardless of my opinion and yours differing

P.P.S. My next two reviews will be for The Rum Diary and (finally) I Saw The Devil, so keep those eyes posted

P.P.P.S. My researching for this film's poster has reminded me of a recent error: Barbarossa: Siege Lord is not the first '0' rating I have given out a few years. Last year, I gave one to my worst film of the year, Vampires Suck. The less said, the better, I'm still trying to recover from post-traumatic flashbacks!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - 5 Days Of War

Directed by: Renny Harlin

Produced by: Renny Harlin
George Lascu
Mirza Davitaia
Koba Nakopia

Screenplay by: Mikko Alanne
David Battle

Starring: Rupert Friend
Emmanuelle Chirqui
Richard Coyle
Andy Garcia
Johnathon Schaech
Rade Serbedzija
Antje Traue
Val Kilmer
Dean Cain
Heather Graham

Music by: Trevor Rabin

Cinematography by: Checco Varese

Editing by: Brian Berdan

Studio: RexMedia

Distributed by: Anchor Bay Entertainment (United States)

Release date(s): June 5, 2011 (Georgia)
June 9, 2011 (United Kingdom)
August 19, 2011 (United States)

Running time: 109 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English
Georgian
Russian

Budget: $12 million

Box office revenue: $17, 479


Allo allo, I've been on an absence again due to essays, but I can guarantee a number of reviews coming in. Along with this movie, I've been able to see Suck, the rock-and-roll vampire comedy with Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins, and will be going to the cinema tomorrow to see either Immortals or The Rum Diary (probably the latter). Also, I've got copies now (to join the plethora of those awaiting review) of Age Of Heroes and The Way Back. I've been bogged down with Late Medieval Literature and Charlie Chaplin films of late, neither of which are a bad thing, but I'll be glad of the brief respite before I get back into them in a few days. By Wednesday next, my essays'll be out of the way, and reviews will resume as normal, so keep your eyes posted!

Ok, today's film here is 5 Days Of War. I bought this film on the basis of it being a new Renny Harlin movie, and so I knew that as a review it would provoke some interesting arguments. Now, I believe that Harlin is a very underrated filmmaker, for while he doesn't have the critical reception of a Christopher Nolan, he has in Die Hard 2 and Deep Blue Sea two good films under his belt, and in the case Cliffhanger, one great film. Harlin has proved to me that there is enough talent there to be deserving of objective critical analysis. 5 Days Of War follows Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend), an American reporter who along with his cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle) and a number of others reporters, including cast members Antje Traue and Val Kilmer, who get caught in the crossfire of the 2008 South Ossetia War between Russia and Georgia.

To start off with what is good about the film, I must say that Renny Harlin directs this movie with the efficiency and flair that is typical of his work. Although he has certainly made some rubbish films in the past, it is generally the case that even their individual parts are bad, Harlin handles them with care. Also, Andy Garcia convincingly plays Mikheil Saakashvili, the President of Georgia. At first, I couldn't help but think "what the hell are they doing?", but for all the limited screen time he has, Garcia does a good job and has you believe that he is that character. Also, there is an affecting performance by Rade Serbedzija. Despite his character being written in a nuts-and-bolts fashion, he excels in his performance as the weary, 'seen it all' Col. Demidov. It is the kind of performance that is befitting of the film, especially considering the direction that it wishes to take, blending right in with the film's serious tone. He is definitely the most intriguing part of the entire picture. As expected with a Harlin movie, there is really good production design, and this being coupled with some well-selected locations give the film a believable mise-en-scene. 5 Days Of War is at its best when Harlin has cinematographer Checco Varese placed far away from the action, using wide and helicopter shots to capture the action taking place. Finally, there are a number of scenes at one point in the film involving a chess game, where the action slows down and we get a scene of dialogue that is surprisingly strong, affecting and from the way 5 Days Of War feels overall, seems to belong in a different film.

While there are certainly worthy elements to 5 Days Of War, it is a seriously problematic film. For starters, and I'm not going to be rude because I'm worried that if he knocked out Tom Cruise he wouldn't think twice about kicking my head in, but if you are going to introduce Val Kilmer in a film, these days it would be preferable not to do so via webcam in a bathtub. Just saying. Next on the checklist of wrongdoings is the cinematography. Now, I praised it earlier on, but my problem is that there are too many times that they decide to shoot on Digital Video. I have no particular problem with DV as a format, but it is just being used so much, and in this case so badly, that it is no longer stylistic (or even realistic!), and sometimes becomes the dullard's format in terms of shooting a picture. Also, as one and one go together to make two, the editing by Brian Berden also fails. The switching about from all of these different formats, and the extreme variation in shot lengths, the type of sound in a scene etc etc all create a film that is easily as hyperreal as a postmodern documentary like Exit Through The Gift Shop. Saying that, while Exit Through The Gift Shop clearly nods towards whether or not you should buy it as legitimate, 5 Days Of War is unfortunately a very serious film that's fundamental hyperreality ensures that you don't buy any of it whatsoever. This is a big problem that makes the film's already weak script come across even worse. Unlike Harlin's other pictures, this is a dead serious, 'horrors of war' war film, and attempts to send out a serious message as opposed to it being a straight-up action picture. As such, we have a lot of scenes of people talking rather poignantly about how they lost their prize pigs (not literally, I am taking the piss!) and woe is me. I have no problem with 'horrors of war' pictures, I consider Come And See one of the greatest films ever made, but this is done in such a propagandist manner. The dialogue is shoddy, as if the actors, none of whom bar Garcia and Serbedzija give a good performance, have enough to contend with already having to play poorly realised characters. Also, there is no real sense of an objective argument, with 'glorious Georgia' being portrayed as all good and peace-loving, while the Russians are evil barbarians. It's like the portrayal of Russians in the 1980s, only then there was a context (the Cold War) behind these stereotypes and that films like Rambo: First Blood Part II were not meant to be taken as serious depictions of war. Finally, although I think Harlin handles the job with efficiency, this contains many of his trademarks, most of which end up contradicting the 'horrors of war' angle the film takes and leave me with the opinion that he probably wasn't the right director to work on this project.

While Renny Harlin does make a sincere effort to do his best with this picture, which contains a good performance by Andy Garcia and a great one from Rade Serbedzija, some decent cinematography, a strongly-established mise-en-scene and a great series of scenes in the mid-way point of the film that nearly convinced me the movie was better than it was, 5 Days Of War is ultimately a botched failure of a film. Bar Garcia, there is not a good performance to be seen, due in part to a bad script that fails in its structure, its characterisations and the dialogue that has been written for the characters. Also, the cinematography and editing do not work well together and cause the film to lack the consistency it dearly needs, no thanks to the regular switching of formats. This, along with the film's propagandist tendencies ensure that 5 Days Of War is a very flawed 'horrors of war' film that does not depict its topic appropriately and comes across as a hyperreal mess that you can never really take seriously.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Anxious (to get this done: I'm looking forward to beer and The Wicker Man! Original, of course)

P.S. There are some real Team America/Tropic Thunder moments in here that you'd think should never be seen again outside a comedic context

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - In Time

Directed by: Andrew Niccol

Produced by: Marc Abraham
Amy Israel
Kristel Laiblin
Eric Newman

Screenplay by: Andrew Niccol

Starring: Justin Timberlake
Amanda Seyfried
Cillian Murphy
Olivia Wilde
Alex Pettyfer
Vincent Kartheiser
Johnny Galecki

Music by: Craig Armstrong

Cinematography by: Roger Deakins

Editing by: Zach Staenberg

Studio(s): Regency Enterprises
New Regency
Strike Entertainment

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): October 28, 2011 (United States)
November 1, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 115 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $40 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $62, 153, 268

For a change, I've actually kept good on my promise to get active and do more reviews. I can also promise you that this year I will have my 5th annual best and worst of the year on time before the Oscars, as I am already prepping it up. As such, I reckon that my post-Oscars break that I take every year will only last to April (at the latest), unlike the usual break 'til June. So, to those of you who have followed my rants and raves through the thick and often thin, I thank you very much.

Okay, forgetting my attempts to cheaply appeal to my readership, here is the review for the new science-fiction thriller In Time. Whether you know it or not, I'll say it again, I am a big science-fiction fan, and with this being directed by Andrew Niccol, who wrote The Truman Show and directed Gattaca, I was looking forward to seeing it. Also, it stars Justin Timberlake (who I am now very jealous of: he's already had his ex Cameron Diaz and Mila Kunis star 'alongside' him this year), Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy. Quick overview? In the year 2161, humans have been genetically altered to stop ageing once they reach twenty-five. As such, 'time' has replaced money as currency, and people gain more time through their jobs to stop themselves from 'timing out'/dying. Will Salas (Timberlake) saves the life of 105-year-old Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), who turns out to be disillusioned with the concept of immortality, and transfers his years to Salas. However, his suicide is seen by the authorities as murder, and Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) is on Salas' case in order to repossess the 'stolen' time.

To start off with what I like about the film, I must go with the central concept. Andrew Niccol constructs a science-fiction world that we can believe in as a potential reality. He plots out every little aspect, with details such as a minute being paid to use a pay-phone. Also, it speaks highly of a Hollywood film to take such a left-wing approach. We are so used to being subjected to middle-America neo-capitalism that we end up becoming numb to those film's politics. As such, Niccol's establishment of a class system, where people live in certain 'Time Zone's', and the police of the film ensuring that minutes are not stolen, though it is explicitly suggested that the rich, who are gambling in casino's with their many millennia, are all crooks anyway. Being a left-wing film does not buy it brownie points, but it certainly ensures that we at least are seeing something refreshing. Also integral to the establishment of the film's world is the production design and costumes. Going for the retro-futurist look was wise, for this is both a dystopian world, but one that easily recognisable as our own and more plausible than most science-fiction, which seem to have the idea that the world will be have reached a complete catastrophic point within ten years. Furthermore, this combination of things recognisable and not give the film a strong sense of visual style. This style is complimented by the cinematography of Roger Deakins. One of our great living cinematographers, Deakins handles with prowess his first work shot in digital, and ensures that we are engaged by the look of the film. Finally, there is perfectly serviceable work from the actors, Timberlake and Seyfried doing a good job in the main parts, while Cillian Murphy really steals the show as the veteran timekeeper Raymond Leon. Just looking at Murphy's facial expression's, despite his youth, gives the impression of a world-weary man in his fifties, and his terrific enunciation completes the picture, and one can't help but be reminded of Morgan Freeman in Se7en, although with a bit more doggedness and rule-bending when it comes to the job.

As I'm sure you can tell, unlike the rather unfair critical reception In Time has been receiving, I liked the film. However, it is doubtless that the film has its fair share of problems, and although I will get into detail, one word comes to mind when I think of the film's issues: compromised. The central concept, world and thematic content we are presented with showed me that this had the potential to be as savage a satire on consumerism and capitalism as RoboCop. However, unlike Paul Verhoeven's classic, which stands as one of the greatest films ever and is anything but compromised, In Time feels like a dog castrated of its dignity. Thus, while we have the interesting thematic content, we have a lot of Timberlake running and having his shirt off. We also have the obligatory car chase scene, the running on rooftops scene etc etc. All of this stuff seems to have been thrown in for the sake of pleasing the moneymen who the very film is slagging off. Look, if you are going to attempt to 'crash the system,' do it properly and without compromise. Artistic sacrifices have been made here by Niccol, and I find it all to be very disappointing. Also, in establishing the concept, Niccol does occasionally go into overkill. There really is no need for the unfathomable amount of puns and little nods towards time in the dialogue. These references make the film come across as contrived and forced. Also, the script, while containing obviously the concept and world that I like, is propagandist in manner, with some badly constructed character arcs that we have seen done a thousand times before, and usually better. Dialogue too fares no better, and structurally the whole film goes everywhere you expect to by the half way stage. The only part you can't guess ahead is the rather deflating ending, which seems to have come to life as a bookend to something that Niccol couldn't be bothered finishing. Finally, there is a car crash in the film that looks like something really terrible you would see off of an Asylum production for the SciFi channel.

There is much to admire with In Time. It contains a well-developed and believable world, helped to no end by the production design, costumes and cinematography by Roger Deakins. Furthermore, the leftist position that the film takes is daring for a studio film starring Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy, all of whom are good (particularly Murphy) in their roles. However, In Time is also a tragedy, for while being a good film, it is also highly compromised. Much of the things that keep the plot in motion just seem to be there for the sake of obligation, as though a film must have so many different checks on a list of things a should have. Niccol has disappointingly made a lot of artistic sacrifices, injected the film with a propagandist nature that comes across as forced and not satirical. The film's ending is also rather deflating, which is my general feeling when it comes to the film: it gets gradually worse as it goes along. I would normally recommend the film as it is good, except that it is so compromised that I can only really recommend that you go see RoboCop (again, if you have seen it already).

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Ready to relax (been busy like a motherfucker!)

P.S. Dear Justin Timberlake, please spread the love. You've dry-humped your ex Cameron Diaz (Bad Teacher), had a casual sex relationship with Mila Kunis (Friends With Benefits) and had Amanda Seyfried (In Time) go Stockholm on her rich daddy, and all in one year! I am serious when I say you are good in these films by the way, even if I am jealous, you lucky bastard!

Regards, The Thin White Dude

P.P.S. Dear Harlan Ellison, please shut up! I like your stuff man, but Jesus, enough is enough with the fucking lawsuits! Other people are allowed to have ideas: just because they share some similarities to your own doesn't mean they were stolen!

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: October 2011 - Tyrannosaur


Paddy Considine proves himself a formidable force as the writer-director of this great film. Starring Peter Mullan, who is on a career high following his writer-director work on Neds, Tyrannosaur also boast great, naturalistic performances from Olivia Colman and Eddie Marsan. Also, there is some great cinematography from Erik Wilson and excellent sound design that wholly integrates the film's audience in its setting, one that is at once both of a cinema verite mould and a dystopian nightmare. It might not make for pleasant viewing, but Tyrannosaur is a gripping and essential film to be seen.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10

Runner-Up: Real Steel - A surprisingly effective action film on both the dramatic and visual side of things

Avoid Life The Plague: Barbarossa: Siege Lord - A repugnantly filthy and loathsome auteur 'masterpiece' from Renzo Martinelli

Second-Most Deadly Disease: Johnny English Reborn - Rowan Atkinson picks up a nice pay cheque in this thoroughly dull comedy

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Never Let Me Go

Directed by: Mark Romanek

Produced by: Mark Romanek
Alex Garland
Andrew Macdonald
Allon Reich

Screenplay by: Alex Garland

Based on: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Narrated by: Carey Mulligan

Starring: Carey Mulligan
Andrew Garfield
Keira Knightley

Music by: Rachel Portman

Cinematography by: Adam Kimmel

Editing by: Barney Pilling

Studio(s): DNA Films
Film4

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Release date(s): September 3, 2010 (Telluride Film Festival)
September 15, 2010 (United States; limited release)
February 11, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 103 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
United States

Language: English

Budget: $15 million

Box office revenue: $9, 455, 232


Hoy hoy hoy, this is the last post for a film that I reviewed in the month of October. As ever, it will be followed by a review of the month of October, which should give those of you who have missed some of the reviews a short distillation on what to watch and what not to. On another movie related topic, instead of going to see some of the crap movies I mention, watch some Charlie Chaplin. I have recently become very fond of his work due to bogging myself into piles of his movies for my Film Studies essay: it always helps to be fond of what you are studying, and Chaplin's Little Tramp is a highly endearing character that everyone will warm to.

So, todays (someone give me advice on the grammar there) film for assessment is Never Let Me Go. Adapted by Alex Garland, a novelist and screenwriter who I like very much, from the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, it stars Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley as three young people who grew up in a boarding school called Hailsham with their lives forever intertwined. That's as far as I am going: I won't spoil the plot as there as some interesting details to be sought from this film. It was directed by Mark Romanek, who is one of the foremost music-video directors, working with artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Johnny Cash, Jay-Z and Michael Jackson. However, it is for his superb 2002 thriller One Hour Photo, which stars Robin Williams in what I believe to be his finest performance. It is a stunning film that truly deserves a wider audience, and as such I was really looking forward to seeing this, Romanek's first feature in nine years after having dropped out from the 2010 Wolfman remake that went to be helmed by Joe Johnston.

The main thing that deserves praise about Never Let Me Go are the central three performances. Carey Mulligan carries the weight of this film on her shoulders in a terrific lead role, proving herself more than adept at playing this part. Being the centre of this film is a task which Mulligan pulls off with ease. She shows off all of the different sides of her character without being too flash or showy. This is a great display of subtlety, and you never once buy Kathy H. as anything but a real, 'in the flesh' human being: Mulligan has given us one of the year's finest examples of acting. Also good in the film are Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling and particularly Keira Knightley, all of whom deliver performances that are above the level of the material on the written page, more of which later. It is worth mentioning the score by Rachel Portman, for while this is of the style of film score that I normally despise (hence my Emotional Heartstring Orchestra term for this), I thought for this project it was appropriate and really added to the resonance of the film. Also, as a director, as seen from his music videos and One Hour Photo, Romanek is both a visual stylist and visual storyteller, knowing how to make something look good while telling the plot in a cinematic manner. He is a master of the visual medium, and it is clear from the approach cinematographer Adam Kimmel takes that this was his intent throughout production. As a film that is a bit of a concept piece, the restraint that Romanek shows is admirable. This could really have went off the rails, but Romanek grounds it with a certain sense of reality that takes away from the film's occasional sense of contrivance. Finally, although I am about to get stuck in, I like the way Alex Garland reveals some of the film's 'concept'/'plot points:' they are revealed in a way that is true to life, as opposed to an overly dramatic M. Night Shyamalan manner (at least his newer stuff): it is one of the film's stronger points, and enables the audience to buy this as something legitimate.

Now, as you can tell already, I did like the film, and frankly I really want to like the film more, but there are issues that are highly problematic with Never Let Me Go. The first and foremost problem comes from Alex Garland's script. Garland is a writer who's work I normally enjoy (and am looking forward to his Judge Dredd adaptation), but despite this not being a bad script, it's also not a good script. I was really troubled because despite having never read the book, never read the script and never seen the film, I could guess everything that was going to happen. The way he reveals the 'concept' is interesting and subtle, but it felt so contrived and outside of reality that I found it very hard to attach to these characters. Speaking of which, and I know these are supporting roles, the character's of Tommy D. (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) are presented in such a two-dimensional manner that the actor's struggle to present themselves legitimately as naturalistic. My final problem comes with the artistic decision regarding the narration. There is some beautiful dialogue, and I could listen to Carey Mulligan's voice all day, but if you are going to have narration, have it be consistent throughout. When you have whole sections of the film dominated by Mulligan's monologues, only for there to points where the gaps in narration last approximately half-an-hour, you feel like they are saying "this is the part that is integral to the story, because we don't require the narration to tell you how they feel." This lack of consistency highlights both the film's stronger and weaker points.

While having some serious issues with its script and some of the artistic decisions made while making the filming, most notably the lack of consistency in the narration, Never Let Me Go is a good film that is worth your time. It has a terrific performance from Carey Mulligan, with good backup from Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley and Charlotte Rampling. Also, there is a good score from Rachel Portman and you will get to see a film by Mark Romanek, someone who knows how to make inject something with a strong balance between style and substance.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Satisfied (at the amount of work I'm getting done!)

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Life In A Day

Directed by: Kevin McDonald
The YouTube Community

Produced by: Ridley Scott
Tony Scott

Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
Matthew Herbert

Editing by: Joe Walker

Studio(s): Scott Free Productions
YouTube, Inc.
LG Corp

Distributed by: National Geographic Films

Release date(s): January 27, 2011 (United States)
June 17, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 95 minutes

Country: United States


Alright gang, I am writing this review before that of Never Let Me Go, so that will be hopefully explanation enough for the occasional confusion, as I'm sure you can see that this has been posted after that and my review of the month. Nevertheless, my seeing this film has decided to get ahead of myself and have ready to post. I have a busy enough month, as The Adjustment Bureau and I Saw The Devil are on the DVD stack, which will soon be joined by Age Of Heroes and Five Days Of War. Also, I can guarantee three trips to the cinema this week, so keep your eyes posted! On an unrelated note, do yourself a favour and get The Knife's Silent Shout album: it wipes the floor with most electro/house music that's coming out today!

Today's review is brought to you courtesy of that wonderful website that is www.topdocumentaryfilms.com. This site is like discovering a treasure chest for the documentary fiend, and I'd recommend getting on the site, as you'll definitely find something to watch. Anyway, Life In A Day is an interesting case, for it comprises entirely of clips sent in to YouTube on the day July 24th, 2010. The film was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, and purchased by the National Geographic Channel, so, in an innovative case of marketing, the film has been available to see on the big screen, on television and for free on YouTube.

To start off with what is good, I must highlight Joe Walker's editing. Having over four thousand hours of footage to cull into a ninety-minute feature film is no easy task, but Walker seems to have succeeded in doing so without diluting away the purity of Life In A Day's central concept. Also, his work here ensures that Life In A Day is a postmodern film that is representative of our times. However, Walker's work would not have been as good if he did not have such strong material to sift through. Despite being 'amateur' cinematographers, the 'YouTube Community' have done an excellent job of being both true to life and representing a certain hyperreality that is prevalent in our society. Some of the things that I saw and these people told me were among the most emotionally powerful scenes I have seen all year, and it is the simplicity of the way they are shot that ensures they are anything but mundane. In many ways, the film resembles Koyaanisqatsi, the wonderful 1982 documentary by Godfrey Reggio. Director Andrew Macdonald displays a real sense of control over the project. This is the kind of thing that really could have got out of hand, but thankfully Macdonald has the sense to hold back and show some restraint. Finally, as music was so important to Koyaanisqatsi, it is key to the watchability of Life In A Day. It's great to see that in collaboration with Matthew Herbert, who makes some great contributions, that Harry Gregson-Williams has delivered a score that is on the level of his work in Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid video-game series. This score has a great mix between orchestral compositions and experimental work, Gregson-Williams and Herbert bouncing off one another to create a strong amalgam piece of music.

Life In A Day is a great film that is certainly of importance and one of the best of the year, but it is not without its criticisms. For starters, I think that there are pacing problems. At less than ninety-five minutes, the film barely leaves room to breath and feels exhaustive to watch. The same problems of the postmodern documentary can be seen Catfish and Exit Through The Gift Shop, the viewer just being bombarded with a sheer mass of information. Also, an argument could be made that with this much information, is a project as vast as this truly representative of, well, 'life in a day.' Also, despite some powerful scenes, I personally felt that it did not tell me anything that most people don't know already, and the film me led down a traditional route that didn't expose me to many new ideas.

Nevertheless, although not up to Koyaanisqatsi's level, Life On A Day certainly deserves to be held in similar regard. It is a remarkable achievement for the documentary medium, the co-directing 'YouTube Community' proving that their simple, pure stories can easily be as powerful as one wrote by a seasoned screenwriter. Joe Walker has done a terrific job editing this down to its bare essentials (frankly, if it was any longer, it would be a very flabby film), and Andrew Macdonald reigns in something that really could have got out of control. Finally, the great score by Matthew Herbert and Harry Gregson-Williams adds an additional layer of strength to this great film that I feel right now to be the best documentary of the year.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (been juggling a review for this and In Time at once, as you'll see with the quick posting)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Real Steel

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Produced by: Shawn Levy
Susan Montford
Don Murphy

Screenplay by: John Gatins

Story by: Dan Gilroy
Jeremy Leven

Based on: Steel by Richard Matheson

Starring: Hugh Jackman
Dakota Goyo
Evangeline Lilly
Anthony Mackie
Kevin Durand
Hope Davis
James Rebhorn

Music by: Danny Elfman

Cinematography by: Mauro Fiore

Editing by: Dean Zimmerman

Studio(s): DreamWorks Pictures
Reliance Entertainment
21 Laps Entertainment
ImageMovers

Distributed by: Touchstone Pictures

Release date(s): October 6, 2011 (Australia)
October 7, 2011 (United States & Canada)
October 14, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 127 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $110 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $182, 322, 602


Another month is finished! We are now on to November, but my reviews for this film and Never Let Me Go will be included as reviews for October and will be followed by my review of the month. Hope you all enjoyed your Halloween, I know I certainly did, at least, that's what my heart tells me when my poor swollen brain cries "Was it worth it? How could you do this to me?" Also, with my room trashed, it brought with it one of those little hangover mysteries that are actually quite fun, trying to find my watch, phone, dentures etc. On the movie front, next week is my reading week at university, so not only will I be doing a good bit of work, I'll be getting at least three movies in at the cinema. Concluding the preamble, I can guarantee reviews for We Need To Talk About Kevin, I Saw The Devil and The Adjustment Bureau in the coming month.

The film for review today is Real Steel. Now, I saw the trailer for this attached to another film, and I couldn't help but thinking "this is going to be shit." I love Hugh Jackman, but considering my relationship with movies about robots hitting each other, I was getting wholeheartedly negative vibes about this film. Set in 2020, robots have replaced humans in the boxing world, and Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is an ex-boxer who owns one that helps pay his wages. On the run from a promoter due to money issues, he finds out from social services that his ex-girlfriend and mother to his eleven-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo) has died. Charlie ends up having to take care of Max for three months, but not without brokering a deal with Max's uncle and future guardian for $100,000. With this money, Charlie intends to buy and revamp a robot to fight, with the help of friend Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly). Every bit of detail in that plot had me thinking that the screenwriters are just trying to write a 'story' around the movie adaptation of the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots board game, so I wasn't exactly looking forward to the film. Speaking of board games, what the fuck are all these filmmakers doing trying to turn board games into movies? Is the food they're eating too stale, because the shit coming out of their mouths at these production meetings is so unoriginal and fruitless you'd think they'd been eating cardboard! (Look at the Battleship trailer: it's terrifying!)

Surprisingly, despite the film's trailer, there was a lot that I liked about Real Steel. There is some terrific onscreen chemistry between Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo. The two nail the estranged father-son relationship, which makes their bonding sessions and squabbles all the more touching and humorous. Importantly, they avoid the potential pitfalls of their respective characters, as they are both written in a cliched, stereotypical manner, one being a sleazy jackass and the other wise-cracking cute kid. Jackman and Goyo manage to act above the material they are given and deliver some strong performances. Also, there is some good-looking cinematography by Mauro Fiore. A man who knows how to shoot action scenes, his talent contributes a lot to this film. Speaking of the fight scenes, although the human side of the story is a lot more engaging than expected, it is all about the robots. For a change, I had no problem with robots hitting each other. The animatronics and motion-capture technology, alongside some great CGI give the film a unique artistic direction. Each of the robots looks distinct and unique, and the fights between them do feel real and hard-hitting, as though they aren't just blobs of effects falling around. Those working on the film have given the robots true weight, and the way in which the fight scenes are constructed make the film have a real 'big fight' feel that should be present in all boxing movies. Also, the film's overall mise-en-scene is well-established, and makes you believe in this rather ludicrous idea of a film as something legitimate. Finally, Shawn Levy has done a very admirable job in taking control of this film. Out of his comedic comfort zone, he does a good job of increasing Real Steel's credibility, and handles this movie with efficiency and with a great degree of restraint: I've seen all too many times a certain director's indulgences in explosions and robots hitting each other, so Levy's approach is refreshing and gives life to what could have been a vacuous and lifeless film.

Despite being a very good film, there are problems with Real Steel. For starters, Danny Elfman, a composer I like very much, delivers a really murder-by-numbers score. It contains a lot of his trademarks, though the score sounds like someone trying to do a poor imitation of Danny Elfman. It's like those who hired him for the film just said to him "Go and do a Danny Elfman score." Unlike Hans Zimmer, who did not go and do a 'Hans Zimmer score' for Rango, Elfman just goes and does a flat and dull score. It is a shame considering his talents as a film composer. The film is also hampered by John Gatins' script, written with the same approach Elfman took to composition. In fairness to him, there is probably only so far one can stretch the film's central concept, but it doesn't change the fact that this script is not up to scratch. All of the characters are written in a stereotypically cliche manner, and as such, while Jackman and Goyo manage to act above the roles they have been assigned, the same cannot be said of Evangeline Lilly, Hope Davis, Karl Yune and Olga Fonda. Each of these actors seem dumbfounded by the shoddy material they have been given, and it is a particular shame with Lilly and Davis, as they are both very good actresses. Also, there are instances of really terrible dialogue that take away from the believability of the film, making it feel like something more hyperreal than it already is. (Sorry if I sound like I'm rambling, I'm listening to The Lion King soundtrack's ...To Die For, the scene of Mufasa's death) Finally, someone (or a few people) needed a rap on the knuckles, as Real Steel is at least twenty minutes too long, and required some vigilance from the editor Dean Zimmerman, Shawn Levy and the film's producers.

Despite the murder-by-numbers score by Danny Elfman and a script by John Gatins that seriously affects some of the film's acting performances, Real Steel is a surprising pleasure of a film. Jackman and Goyo act above and beyond the characters written for them, Mauro Fiore shoots a good-looking film, which helps to no end in the wonderful fight scenes. The animatronics, motion-capture and CGI departments should take great pride in their work here. Also, the strong mise-en-scene ensures that you buy this otherwise ludicrous concept as a legitimate future-sport. Finally, Shawn Levy shows the control that a certain somebody (cough... Michael... cough cough.... Bay) is seriously lacking, and ensures a good degree of audience enjoyment in this picture about robots hitting one another.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Mellow (chilling to Hans Zimmer, about to walk dog)