Monday, 30 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Artist

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius

Produced by: Thomas Langmann

Screenplay by: Michel Hazanavicius

Starring: Jean Dujardin
Berenice Bejo

Music by: Ludovic Borce

Cinematography by: Guillaume Schiffman

Editing by: Anne-Sophie Bion
Michel Hazanavicius

Studio(s): La Petite Reine
ARP Selection

Distributed by: Warner Bros. (France)
The Weinstein Company (United States)
Wild Bunch (Worldwide)

Release date(s): May 15, 2011 (Cannes Film Festival)
October 12, 2011 (France)
December 30, 2011 (United Kingdom)
January 20, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 100 minutes

Country: France

Language: Silent (English intertitles)

Production budget: $15 million (estimated)

Box office revenue (as of publication): $40, 883, 232

Ah hoy hoy, my readership, how doth thou go? That's good, as for myself, while the slowing on the review front would indicate a certain laziness (and I must freely admit it), however I have been watching a number of movies and have a pile that keeps seeming to get bigger. As such, I have now seen The Veteran and Drive, and will be watching Troll Hunter, Senna, Insidious, Albert Nobbs, Beginners, Conan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Descendants, so needless to say I'll be busy! In keeping with these sentiments, the only thing left for me on the matter is to keep your eyes posted!

So, the movie up for digestion today is The Artist, the film which seems to have stolen just about everyone's heart. The success that this film has achieved, being a French-made silent film that has received awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes (why I appease the idea that they are an award ceremony of any significance, I do not know), and has received numerous nominations from the BAFTAs, the French Cesars and the Academy Awards. As a fan of the silent film medium, I was looking forward to seeing this from both a reviewing standpoint and purely for personal pleasure. I missed the opportunity to see this in the Queen's Film Theatre a number of weeks ago, believe it or not, due to it being sold out. Although disappointed at not getting to see the film, I left satisfied in the knowledge that there is indeed a market for silent cinema. In The Artist, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent film star and happens upon a chance encounter with a young fan by the name of Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). As time goes by, Miller becomes an actress, and with the arrival of the talkies, her status begins to eclipse that of Valentin, who refuses to take sound film seriously and as a result his status declines. I'm not going to go into any more detail: all you need to know is 'one star declines while another rises.' There, hopefully I've done a decent job of selling that!

So, to start off with what is good about The Artist, I must flag up writer-director Michael Hazanavicius. Now, I have never seen any of his previous films, but the man has earned my complete and utter respect. Not only does he deserve praise for having the guts to pull off a silent film in a day and age when most people don't have patience for subtitles, never mind a completely silent picture, but also in making a silent picture that is highly accessible and that anyone could watch. It is made with such conviction that you don't question from about a minute or two in that you are watching a silent picture: you are simply watching a great film. Also, the way in which he structures his script to work around the use of sound as a storytelling device is very inventive, providing for some of the year's most memorable film moments. This brings me swiftly on to the next point I'd like to discuss, because as you know there is no such thing as an entirely silent film. Ludovic Bource is in the unenviable position of having to maintain the film's heartbeat with a consistent rhythm and pace that is non-intrusive. Far from intrusive, it almost invites a viewer participation. It does exactly what a score should do, and that is capture the mood of what is going on in the story, and Bource wisely does not force himself on the viewer. Listening to this score, in my mind I was Gene Kelly in Singin' In The Rain, bouncing around with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. Honestly, if I was in the cinema by myself, I would have been up on my feet dancing. Bource's work is nothing less than terrific and is a leading contender for best music of 2011. Also, with regards to sound editing/mixing, the use of certain sound techniques as storytelling methods is masterful. Now, to put things in a bit of context, during 2011 I discovered that I have hypersensitivity towards sound, which probably explains my general grumpiness at film scores, and whoever said knowledge is power was talking balderdash, as my hypersensitivity only seems to have increased with the lack of ignorance. As I mentioned earlier, your ears get accustomed to the film's sound pretty quickly, but there is a scene (which I don't want to spoil) that breaks from the established sound. This deviation unnerved me so much (and feel free to laugh) that I felt more intensely frightened during The Artist than any horror film I've seen this year. These deviations, which occur infrequently, so as to not make the film seem gimmicky, and quite obviously are meant to have these effects, my writing form being a fine example of the desired audience emotions. Also, being a silent picture, there is a greater emphasis on performance being a key part to storytelling. As such, I was very pleased to see that the film boasted many fine performances. Jean Dujardin is excellent as Valentin, depicting a fully-rounded character whose every surface we get to scrutinise. It is a very naked performance in the sense that nothing is simply window-dressing, but rather based on pure emotion and getting into the skin of his character. Though a brilliant romantic lead in silent film, we see Valentin also as a stubborn, charismatic, if slight aloof character, and it is through the power of Dujardin's performance that we are able to understand the various sides to him. Also splendid is Berenice Bejo as the simply charming Peppy Miller. Bouncy, full of confidence and life, Bejo completely inhabits the movie-star persona that Miller assumes as time goes by. Importantly though, we also get to see more than simply a movie-star, but also a vulnerable and slightly insecure young woman whose public image is perhaps more than a little misleading. In a lesser capacity, John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller shine, but I must pay a little attention to Uggie the dog. Sweet and humorous, he makes for a great sidekick to Dujardin's Valentin, has many of his own memorable moments and is my front-runner for best bit-part in a film in 2011. I understand I've went off on one here, but I've got a few more things I'd like to say about The Artist's pros. As far as a mise-en-scene goes, this is a fantastic piece of work. For a low-budget picture of $12 million, the production and costume designers have done a great job in believably capturing the world of late-20s Hollywood in transition. Also, Guillaume Schiffman's beautiful black-and-white cinematography does what all visual artists should aspire towards, and that is tell a story in a visual medium visually. The editing too is very modest, but my final compliment goes towards the overall tone of the picture. While by no means afraid to take on challenging material, and believe me, it does tread dark waters, but I can't remember the last time I enjoyed myself so much at the cinema. I had a good cry in the process and needless to say this film is the game-changer I was referring to in my previous review. It is an amazing bit of work, and while it may be hard to find, I would urge you to get your backsides down to the cinema urgently!

Wow! Looking back over that spiel, I'm surprised I got through it myself, so good luck if you've decided to skim over and read later, or the more power to you if you were able to drag yourself out of the Sarlacc's pit. For all my loving of The Artist (I know, here we go, it pains me to say it!), I must highlight one small criticism that is a little chink in the film's otherwise impenetrable armour. Frankly, I thought the film could do with less intertitles, as I felt that some of them were used to explain expository details that I had already got through all of the other elements used. I can understand their use for those perhaps not familiar with the medium, but for me, it was a niggle that was slightly irritable.

So, yes, aside from a little too many intertitles, I loved The Artist. Perhaps the novelty of a 'new' silent film has something to do with it, I'm not even going to try and feign objectivity. Nevertheless, outside of the context of the silent film medium, The Artist stands up tremendously on its own two feet. Boasting stunning performance from Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, a terrific original score from Ludovic Bource, and some beautiful visuals to behold, courtesy of the cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman, and the film's editors, production and costume designers. Finally, The Artist hails the international arrival of writer-director Michel Hazanavicius. He made some of the wisest artistic decisions that I have seen a director make for some time, and it is him we must be very thankful to, for realising and bringing to fruition this cinematic treasure.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Zapped (put a lot of effort into this review. Nevertheless, feel free to point out typos and grammatical errors. I'd rather look like I put my English degree to good use!)

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Mission: Impossible - Gho

Directed by: Brad Bird

Produced by: Tom Cruise
J.J. Abrams
Bryan Burk

Screenplay by: Andre Nemec
Josh Applebaum

Based on: Mission: Impossibe by Bruce Geller

Starring: Tom Cruise
Jeremy Renner
Simon Pegg
Paula Patton

Music by: Michael Giacchino
Lalo Schifrin (themes)

Cinematography by: Robert Elswit

Editing by: Paul Hirsch

Studio(s): Paramount Pictures
Skydance Productions
Bad Robot Productions
TC Productions

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): December 7, 2011 (Dubai)
December 16, 2011 (United States) (IMAX)
December 26, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 138 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $145 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $571, 641, 000

Alright, so I took yesterday off! I reckon I'm due a day (or two) off after the amount of work I've been putting in over the past few weeks. Still, it ain't gonna stop me! This is the last week of reviewing and then I'll be putting together my best and worst of 2011. Over the next week, I'll be seeing Albert Nobbs, Conan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Descendants for definite, but others will be included along the way, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Okay, today's movie for review is Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. I know the movie has been out for over a month now, but this was really the first opportunity that I got to see it. I attended a six o' clock screening at the terrific cinema that is The Strand, and one of the great pleasures about that cinema is that if a movie has been out a few weeks, generally there isn't much of a demand for it. As such, I got the pleasure of paying my three-pounds fifty-pence to watch this film on the big screen by myself. As for the Mission: Impossible series, we've had an interesting relationship. I haven't seen the first two for a while, but I remember the Brian De Palma 1996 film being a good, if slightly overrated thriller, while John Woo's M:I-2, released in 2000 was a messy affair, though it did have some fantastic stunts. It is J.J. Abrams' M:I-3 that was the best of the series, a showcase for both Abrams' talent at filming action and Tom Cruise, whose Ethan Hunt was given the benefit of strong character development. Five years on, in the fallout of that great film, we have Ghost Protocol. The debut live-action film of Brad Bird, one of our great living animation directors, Ethan Hunt and his team, Jane Carter (Paula Patton), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and reluctant IMF analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), are left with the blame of a terrorist attack on the Kremlin during their operation. After 'Ghost Protocol' is activated, disbanding the entire IMF, the team must, while fugitives, clear their name by finding out who is responsible for the attack and prevent the terrorists goal of beginning a nuclear war.

Starting with what is good here, I must compliment director Brad Bird. Showing no trepidation in the transition from animation to live-action and far from doing a for-hire job on behalf of J.J. Abrams, he mounts this formidable steed and runs with it. Handling the action with finesse, his visual stylistics are that of a pure storyteller and I look forward to seeing where he goes from here. Also, technically the film is strong, the cinematography casting an all-seeing eye over the proceedings, while wisely it is cut so we can admire the spectacle that is being presented. At risk of spurring any pretence of objectivity, I must say that it is a pet peeve at mine when an action film is cut as though Michael Myers Vs Leatherface (as directed by Michael Bay) is being shot in the editing suite. While I think directors like Paul Greengrass and J.J. Abrams use the Steadicam well, I am thankful to be able to say that this film does suffer from this terminal illness. Also, although you certainly aren't going to get any acting masterclass, you couldn't ask for a more charismatic bunch of actors to play the disavowed IMF team. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, terrific as ever, Jeremy Renner displays his range once again, Simon Pegg gets all the funny lines, and the film's most pleasant surprise is Paula Patton, who gets saddled with a weak character but comes across as a strong, empowering heroine. Finally, the stunt team working on this film deserve an extended round of applause for their work here. The whole thirty-minute sequence set in Dubai is among the greatest action sequences in film history. I shit you not, I was making noises like a poor eight-year-old woman in the throws of a vicious case of indigestion, and as a result was thoroughly grateful for my being the only one in the auditorium. I know there are some of your that'll be rolling your eyes at my hyperbole, but I started feeling faint and getting vertigo just watching it. Also, the whole structure of that sequence, cutting back and forth between the two different meetings and the ensuing chase that follows, is masterful, and brought out some of the most powerful emotions I have felt watching from a film in 2011.

Nevertheless, for all these emotions and my extreme hyperbole, this is still not a great film, because it has a number of fundamental flaws that detract from my enjoyment of it. Many of these emerge from the film's script. While by no means a slapdash bit of work, Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum's script feels very contrived. Every snippet of backstory or transitory scenes of dialogue in between the action feels mechanical and comes across as filler for the action scenes, far from the more organic M:I-3. If there was one thing that made the predecessor stand out from the rest was that there was clearly genuine care in Ethan Hunt's story. Furthermore, from the antagonist standpoint, there is some terrible characterisation. After Philip Seymour Hoffman's Owen Davian, these villains are as flimsy as those cardboard cutouts on a shooting range, and leads to some poor performances. Also, the film's ending is rather rushed in the wake of the sheer carnage ensuing throughout, especially given its long running time. Finally, though this is a minor quibble, it is hard to top the Dubai sequence, so perhaps this would have been more appropriate as the setting for the film's climax.

However, despite it's decent but nevertheless flawed script, I found Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol to be a very enjoyable film. Brad Bird makes the transition from animation to live-action successfully, his eye for spectacle translating over the medium and a big influence on the film's strong editing and cinematography. Also, the four leads are a charismatic bunch and do a fine job of sustaining the audiences' (as in my) interest. Finally, I reiterate, an extended round of applause for the stunt team, for causing this world-weary film critic to nearly faint during the terrific Dubai sequence.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pretty good (given the weekend's shenanigans!)

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Hanna

Directed by: Joe Wright

Produced by: Leslie Holleran
Marty Adelstein
Scott Nemes

Screenplay by: David Farr
Seth Lochhead

Story by: Seth Lochhead

Starring: Saoirse Ronan
Eric Bana
Tom Hollander
Olivia Williams
Jason Flemyng
Cate Blanchett

Music by: The Chemical Brothers

Cinematography by: Alwin H. Kuchler

Editing by: Paul Tothill

Studio(s): Marty Adelstein Productions
Studio Babelsberg

Distributed by: Focus Features

Release date(s): April 8, 2011 (United States)
May 6, 2011 (United Kingdom)
May 26, 2011 (Germany)

Running time: 111 minutes

Country(s): Germany
United Kingdom
United States

Language(s): English

Production budget: $30 million

Box office revenue: $63, 782, 078

Well, the reason I have not been on schedule, only posting this one review and having only watched one movie, is partly down to my own laziness, but mostly because the one movie I watched was The Artist. I will be dealing with that in a review of its own, but needless to say, my once rather predictable year-end awards have been shook up: the game has changed significantly on the last straight heading into Oscar season, so, for all updates before the season finale, keep your eyes posted!

I promised a number of surprises that weren't on my schedule, and this is one of them. Hanna is the new film by Joe Wright, director of Pride And Prejudice, Atonement and 2009's rather disappointing The Soloist. In a break from the dramas we have come to know him for, Hanna is an action-thriller, starring Atonement's Saoirse Ronan in the title role. Hanna is a teenager living with her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana) in the wilderness of Finland. Never having been in contact with the outside world, Heller has given her specialist training to become an assassin "when the time comes." When Hanna decides she is ready, she proceeds forth with her mission to kill a certain target. With this going on, CIA officer Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) is alerted to the presence of Heller, a former agent who betrayed the agency and is holding a secret that Wiegler cannot let go public. I know this isn't the most accurate plot explanation ever, but I want to get as much across as possible without revealing plot spoilers.

To start with the good about Hanna, I must praise director Joe Wright. Working outside of a genre that he is clearly comfortable with, he does a good job of controlling this film, which could have been a real mess, with finesse. Furthermore, given the ridiculousness of the concept and it's blackly humorous, exploitation film roots, I'm glad that Wright took the film seriously, treating the project respect and giving it a depth beyond surface level. Also, the original score by The Chemical Brothers is very good, giving the film a unique, electronic soundscape with heavy beats. Alwin H. Kuchler's cinematography contains numerous long-takes that obviously required a lot of set-ups, so the more power to him for being able to make the crew's hard work pay off by projecting with gusto the action that is occurring onscreen. Furthermore, from a production design standpoint, the cinematography is important, as both contribute to giving Hanna (the film) a unique look which makes it stand out from the pack. With regards to the acting, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett are both good in their roles, but it is obviously Saoirse Ronan who shines here. In a difficult, physically and emotionally demanding role which a sort-of grown-up Mathilda from Leon, Ronan takes the weight of the film on her shoulders and runs with it. The execution of her part would have made or broke, and I think that we get the former, with her subtle role containing both an animal, instinctive intensity, while still clearly portraying a closeted teenager who is attempting to get in touch with her emotions. I'm glad that Ronan was wise enough to know not to overplay it. Finally, it's not often that we get film's destined for cult status, particularly as so many (just ask Quentin Tarantino) try so hard to make their own cult films. However, Hanna is one of these rarities, and is a genuinely interesting film.

As such, it pains me to point out the film's flaws. However, I do not think that Hanna is a great film, and has a number of issues that need pointing out. For starters, while I like certain elements of David Farr and Seth Lochhead's script, such as it's consistent, darkly humorous tone, I feel that when it comes to penetrating the surface of the story, it tries to dip its hands in too many pots. Is this a Brothers Grimm fairytale, an exploitation movie, or the subtle emergence of female sexuality a la Spirit Of The Beehive, etc etc? In the attempt to focus on so many different things, none of them succeed in coming across as successfully as one, or even two of them might have if they decided to axe some of the more flabby thematic content. Also, I must say that for a film that does stretch on a good fifteen to twenty minutes too long, it doesn't so much conclude as stop. The ending of the film is far too rushed for us as an audience to register what has been going on. This in unfortunate, especially given the qualities that the film possesses.

Still, for all these faults, which if I'm frank, stopped me from connecting to the film on a deeper emotional level, I rather enjoyed Hanna. It has three good performances, particularly from Saoirse Ronan. Also, Joe Wright daringly applies his trademarks to a very different genre from which he is familiar, resulting in some well-photographed and rehearsed long-takes. Sonically, The Chemical Brothers score adds immensely to the film's atmosphere. Finally, even in the faulted, flawed form, Hanna is still, at it's heart, a very good exploitation thriller that doesn't take itself too seriously, has a jet-black streak of humour running all the way through it and is one of the few genuinely unique pictures out there destined for cult film status.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good (I'm glad you asked!)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - J. Edgar

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Produced by: Clint Eastwood
Brian Grazer
Robert Lorenz

Screenplay by: Dustin Lance Black

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio
Armie Hammer
Naomi Watts
Judi Dench
Josh Lucas

Music by: Clint Eastwood

Cinematography by: Tom Stern

Editing by: Joel Cox
Gary D. Roach

Studio(s): Imagine Entertainment
Malpaso Productions
Wintergreen Productions

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): November 11, 2011 (United States)
January 20, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 137 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $35 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $57, 348, 620

"I love it when a plan comes together." You know you're starting to run out of bright ideas when you start quoting Hannibal Smith from The A-Team as a starting point for your movie reviews. I've just been to the cinema to see Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, and needless to say I have a lot of strong opinions regarding the picture. What side the stick falls on, is up to God. Well, before I (as an agnostic atheist) start getting accused of blasphemy, I may as well wrap this preamble up with the traditional "keep your eyes posted!"

So, here we have the second in our biopic double-bill (though of course The Iron Lady is so up itself that people involved claim it not to be a biopic), Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar. For those of you who don't know, I am a massive Clint Eastwood fan, both in the acting and directorial capacity. I have been unfortunate to miss his most recent films, Invictus and Hereafter, I loved his 'other' 2008 film (Gran Torino having been released months later) Changeling, a highly underrated film which is one the best movies of the 2000s, with an extraordinary central performance from Angelina Jolie and is easily up there alongside Unforgiven as one of Eastwood's best films. Also, I think very highly of Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor who I feel gets rather unfairly slagged, as he has proven himself time and again to be a great actor. DiCaprio plays the eponymous J. Edgar Hoover, who was the director of the FBI and it's predecessor, the Bureau of Investigation. Following two separate storylines in the same manner of The Iron Lady, it depicts his rise to power from the Palmer Raids onwards, but is also an examination of his private and relationships, particularly those with his mother (Judi Dench) and Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

So, to start off with what is good about J. Edgar, I must congratulate Leonardo DiCaprio for his terrific performance as Hoover. He looks to have put on a bit of "solid weight" to play the part, and carries himself rather heavily. Also, he has Hoover's voice nailed down to a tee. Furthermore, as far as showing his emotions, DiCaprio shows, very subtly, a man who is not able to express to anyone else his feelings, and gives Hoover a genuine sense of sense of tragedy in his portrayal of him as inherently awkward and lacking in confidence. Also, Armie Hammer is very good as Clyde Tolson. Far from coming across as Hoover's metaphorical punchbag, Hammer delivers a three-dimensional performance that gives believability to his presence as the character who says everything that Hoover cannot. Also, he is thoroughly charming and charismatic, and as such you can understand Hoover's infatuation with his Clyde Tolson. Another element that works well, whenever it keeps it's focus, is Dustin Lance Black's script. When he really gets down working on the characters, Black's approach is humanistic and touching. He has a great feeling for dialogue, in that the characters get across their point and true meanings, while the veil of public politeness ensures they don't outright say it in a Basil Exposition manner. This is a nice element to the film, especially when one of the film's central themes focuses on Hoover's public image being a case of smoke and mirrors. Also, I think the film has a well-established mise-en-scene. The costumes and the production design entrench the audience into the various settings over the course of the fifty-odd years the film encompasses. Finally, Clint Eastwood is one of those directors who could make a decent film with his eyes closed, so it is no surprise that his efficiency comes through in the final product.

That said, with these numerous plusses, I found myself irritated by J. Edgar, in that I got to see what the film really should have been, but I had this bounced off of the film's messier aspects. As mentioned, Black's script is good when it maintains it's focus. It's unfortunate that it takes roughly an hour for J. Edgar to gain that focus. The central problem is the dual narrative. The elderly Hoover dictates to his biographer, and the story will go, a la flashback, into his memories. However, between these memories, as opposed to using this as a narrative structural device, we are constantly interrupted for the first hour by the elderly Hoover storyline, as though the young and elderly Hoover are both jockeying for pole position in their own movie. As such, it takes a long time to get into the movie, and I only got into the film when it decided to scrap the elderly Hoover story for an extended period and focus on the story that Black so obviously wished to tell. Also, Tom Stern, normally a terrific DP with a real eye for storytelling, poorly lights the film, so as to obscure the film's mise-en-scene. I don't know if he was attempting to give the movie a film noir look, but frankly there were large sections of the film were I was squinting to try and see what was going on. It would work for black-and-white photography, but for full-colour digital photography, it just doesn't. Watching these visuals would lead you to believe it was a different man who so beautifully lit and shot Changeling, a film interestingly set in roughly the same period as J. Edgar. Finally, much as I love Clint, I feel that as a director/auteur, he has made some poor decisions this time round. Most notable is the inclusion of a J. Edgar Hoover narration. Now, I like DiCaprio's performance and voice as Hoover, but having him also narrate the film is overbearing and is like having Charles Foster Kane booming through the speakers at you. Couple this with Eastwood's score, which I normally find to be the most understated part of his films but here found irritating, and you have a film that doesn't leave a whole lot of room to breath.

Now, don't get me wrong, J. Edgar is a flawed film. It has a troublesome narrative inconsistency, cinematography that threatens to make one colourblind and some poor decisions, but it is nevertheless a good film. Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer both give terrific performance in their respective roles as Hoover and Tolson, Black's script, though troublesome, has some great moments and is genuinely touching when it maintains a certain level of focus. Also, there is a very well-established mise-en-scene through it's costumes and production design, and, in the interest of fairness, has some nice long takes from Tom Stern. Finally, although Eastwood has made better (and longer) films of this nature such as Bird and Changeling, you are guaranteed an efficiently made film, and J. Edgar is a good film worth at a watch.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sharp (as Crocodile Dundee's knife. Well, off to take the dog a walk!)

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Iron Lady

Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd

Produced by: Damian Jones

Screenplay by: Abi Morgan

Starring: Meryl Streep
Jim Broadbent
Alexandra Roach
Harry Lloyd
Olivia Colman
Anthony Head
Nicholas Farrell
Richard E. Grant

Music by: Thomas Newman

Studio(s): Pathe
Film 4
UK Film Council
Media Rights Capital

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company (United States)
20th Century Fox (United Kingdom)
Pathe (France)

Release date(s): December 26, 2011 (Australia)
December 30, 2011 (United States; limited)
January 6, 2012 (United Kingdom)
January 13, 2012 (Wide release)

Country(s): United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $13 million

Box office revenue: $32, 967, 122

Okay, now that I'm done with the scourge that is Sucker Punch, let us never speak of it again. Today, I have seen Hanna, and will be attending a screening of Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Also, expect many reviews to keep coming in. As Rocky Balboa would say, "Ain't nothing over 'til it's over." Much work is to be done, and, in keeping with my trademarks, keep your eyes posted!

So, today's film up for scrutiny is The Iron Lady. The first major feature-film biopic on the life of Margaret Thatcher. Interestingly, not withstanding it's mixed critical reception, the film has also managed to irritate people of both the left and right on the political spectrum. While Mark and Carol Thatcher have been reported to call it "left-wing fantasy," others have criticised the film for glossing over the politics of Thatcher, instead depicting her as a woman triumphing against the odds. Beginning with the elderly Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) buying milk in a shop, The Iron Lady follows two separate narrative timelines, the first showing her suffering from dementia and conversing with deceased husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent), while the second consists of her reflections over her life, from youth to her rise to power as the first female Prime Minster in the history of the British government. Excuse the Jamesian sentence, but it gets the point across with regards to the storyline.

To start with the good about The Iron Lady, I must highlight the performances of Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent. Despite being an American, Steep nails Thatcher in her various incarnations, be it the younger "screecher" or the refined, deeper-voiced "Lady of the House." Vocally, it's a strong bit of work. Also, as far as believably embodying Thatcher, Streep's meticulousness and detailed research comes through. As far as Broadbent goes, his Dennis Thatcher is more of a character is opposed to a realistic depiction. However, in these terms, Broadbent is entertaining, charming and serves as a strong catalyst for Streep's Thatcher and her mental degeneration. Also, the film has some excellent makeup, particularly for Thatcher. It enables Steep to believably portray Thatcher over a period of time that spans approximately fifty years. This is no silly, leather-faced hokum pokum, but an integral part to the film's mise-en-scene, as is the hair that became one of Thatcher's trademarks. Also, I was impressed by the film's costumes, which serve the same purpose as the make-up, adding to the believability of the characters, but also giving the film's mise-en-scene a wide, varied range in terms of it's colour palette.

That said, with these good things, The Iron Lady is still a highly flawed, and frankly, boring film. Abi Morgan's script is a large part of the many contributing factors. For instance, the narrative structure, based around Thatcher's reflections on her life, is flimsy and very messy. Bouncing too freely back and forth between 'old' and 'young' Thatcher, it ensures that we never really get involved with the story the film is trying to tell. Also, the story itself is not one that we especially care for. Thatcher's 'reflections' are a rather base, contrived and cliched depiction of a woman overcoming the odds. Everything in the reflective storyline is so simplistic and propagandist in it's feeling that in bring to mind Eisenstein, a director I like, whenever he was at his very worst. Also, Morgan's characters are two-dimensional and feel like a strong wind would knock them over if put to the test. Furthermore, the dialogue sounds like something out an overly theatrical stage play without substance, and seems to serve no purpose in elevating the story beyond a basic, Basil Exposition surface level. Also, Thomas Newman, whose music I like, delivers an intolerably murder-by-numbers score that reeks to high heaven and serves as a reminder of the emotions that we are supposed to feel, in case the film's rather overt storytelling wasn't bad enough (yes, another appearance by the Emotional Heartstrings Orchesta!). Also, it must be said that if you are going to cast great actors such as Anthony Head and Richard E. Grant, give them something more substantial than a simple walk on, say something, walk-off part. Grant in particular suffers here, for while looking the part as Michael Heseltine, does not get the opportunity to give him any sense of depth or significance, despite playing a large part in Thatcher's political career. Finally, Phyllida Lloyd artistic decisions are a fine example of poorly judged misdirection.

The Iron Lady has to it's credit two strong performances from Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent, some fantastic makeup and great costumes, both of which contribute much to establishing the film's mise-en-scene. However, these qualities are threatened to be dwarfed by Abi Morgan's base script, Thomas Newman's murder-by-number's score, under-utilised actors in Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant etc, and misdirection by Phyllida Lloyd. Incidentally, I was probably the only person under fifty in the screening I went to see this (and for all the flak teenagers get, the problem of talking in cinemas does not decrease with the increasing age of the audience demographic), and they came out as nonplussed by the film as I did. Honestly, it reminded me of the film's parodied in the Academy Awards section in The Naked Gun 33: The Final Insult. At one point, I felt the eyes glazing over and my form slowly sinking into my seat, because for all it's qualities, and don't get the impression I hated the movie (my own fault perhaps), but I found it very dull and boring, and if you want to see a batty old woman, just watch Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket (it's 'Bouquet!') in Keeping Up Appearances.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Ready (I've got a long day of films ahead of me!)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Sucker Punch

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Produced by: Deborah Snyder
Zack Snyder

Screenplay by: Zack Snyder
Steve Shibuya

Starring: Emily Browning
Abbie Cornish
Jena Malone
Vanessa Hudgens
Jamie Chung
Carla Gugino
Oscar Isaac
John Hamm
Scott Glenn

Music by: Tyler Bates
Marius de Vries

Cinematography by: Larry Fong

Editing by: William Hoy

Studio(s): Legendary Pictures
Cruel and Unusual Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): March 25, 2011 (United States)
April 1, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 110 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $82 million

Box office revenue: $89, 792, 502

Well, things are going well, although I have yet to advance on to watching two movies a day, much less my intended three a day. A lot of cramming is going on, and I have since acquired through various means seven films from 2011 that I can review. As such, I have now seen J. Edgar, and can guarantee a good few more in there. Some are one's that I have been consistently harping on about watching, others are surprises, so keep your eyes posted for details!

Alright, so my next film for review is Sucker Punch, the latest film from Zack Snyder. For those of you who don't know, me and Snyder have a little history. I first started paying attention to Snyder with 300, his adaptation of the Frank Miller comic book series, a simple yet highly stylish and entertaining film. However, since he has plied his craft to an adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen, a well-intentioned picture that ultimately flounders in style over substance. After this, he did Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole, a departure being an animated family film which I have yet to see. His latest is also a landmark in Snyder's career, in that it is the first time he has directed something he (and Steve Shibuya) wrote, as opposed to an adaptation. Sucker Punch follows 'Babydoll' (Emily Browning), who is blamed for the death of her sister, in actuality at the hands of her abusive stepfather (Gerard Plunkett), and as a result is institutionalised. After orderly Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) is bribed into forging the asylum's psychiatrist Dr. Vera Gorski's (Carla Gugino) signature, Babydoll is next in line for a lobotomy. However, seconds before lobotomisation, she/we enter a fantasy world in which she joins an assortment of characters as the newest arrival at a brothel. Long story short, Babydoll and four other girls decide to make an escape plan.

Starting off with what is good about Sucker Punch, I must mention that Zack Snyder is a visual stylist and as such with every one of his films you are guaranteed a movie that has a number of good-looking moments. Larry Fong's cinematography is good, even if the lighting is a tad too dark, though that might be down to visual effects. Anyway, Fong comes up with some innovative shots, particularly the long-take with the girl's doing their makeup in front the mirrors that really distorts your perception of perspective. Also, I appreciate the music tastes of those involved. Regardless of content, this is a great soundtrack, with some inspired remixes/covers of songs by Eurythmics, Bjork, Jefferson Airplane, The Stooges, The Beatles, Pixies, The Smiths, Mozart and Roxy Music. Like the film or not, this is one fine collection of music, particularly Emily Browning's vocal performance.

Now, before I get suckered into thinking this is a good film, I'll get to what my brain tells me I think of the film. I'll buck the conventional form of analysis, concluding first and providing my argument second. Conclusion: Sucker Punch sucks! Why? Well, the main problem is not the depiction of women, which has had the film labelled as misogynistic, I think to label it is as such would be to give it credit of having a perspective any kind. No, the problem is the fact that the film has no narrative backbone. In the wake of Inception, it seems that every film of every genre has decided they can play limber and loose with film narrative, but the fact is that Inception had a structure, whereas Sucker Punch has the structural flimsiness of a marshmallow. At the moment of lobotomy, Babydoll dreams of brothels, as you do, and every time she dances goes off into battle with the rest of the gang of dolls/molls. It is so flimsy and weak the whole movie collapses within about ten minutes. Also, structurally as a whole, not just in the narrative sense, not only is it ludicrous but it is also repetitive. Look, I bought and enjoyed the opening scene, shot and edited around Emily Browning singing 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).' However, and this not an insult to the music video or video games, which I think is a perfectly valid art form, whenever you repeat the same pattern of 'music video-story-video game' over and over, it gets really boring. I mean, The Wall consists of a rock star's mental degeneration in his apartment, but at least it has a structure (incidentally, it's the best thing Bob Geldof has ever done). Also, this 'assortment' of battle scenes, which essentially are there to indulge Snyder's pet hobbies and dress the girls in different fetish outfits, for all their different backgrounds, are essentially the same ten-minute sequence repeated five-fold. Also, as much as I love the songs, this is a loud and highly overbearing film that resulted in a more resonating headache than something as all over the place (in a good way) than Source Code managed, leaving me feeling like I had suffered a punt to the head (I know what that feels like, believe me) and both emotionally and physically exhausted and overwhelmed. Furthermore, Snyder's directorial trademarks are jacked up to eleven, and with Sucker Punch being his most self-indulgent film, it ends up feeling (and looking) like a grotesque parody of everything that he has accomplished as a director. Furthermore, this is a compromised indulgence: Snyder said that this was going to be an R-rated film, but ended up going for PG-13, opting to release an extended director's cut on DVD. Now, there is no excuse for this when you have final cut on your movie, so if you are going to appease your fetishes Mr. Snyder, you may as well go the full monty. As far I'm concerned Zack, you can take your extended cut, no wait, any cut of this film and shove it up your ass, because I'm not going to sit here and try to swallow this regurgitated vomit that you have decided to call a feature film. Virtually everything about this film made me irritable and disgruntled.

For all I liked about Sucker Punch, such as some good visual stylistics and cinematography, and a great soundtrack, I really did not like this film. Zack Snyder reaches Michael Bay-esque levels of self-indulgence/self-prostitution, and his compromised pet project left me annoyed at it's lack of narrative structure and overbearingness. How pertinent that this is a film produced by a studio called Cruel and Unusual Films. I'm happy to note that it barely broke even, because it didn't deserve any paying audiences full attention. It's not my worst film of the year, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't in my bottom ten films of the year. I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone, not least the institutionalised, who I think would feel themselves lobotomised and the whole process a torturous affair.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 2.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (having to reprocess this mess of a film was something akin to a parasite draining my life-force)

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Source Code

Directed by: Duncan Jones

Produced by: Mark Gordon
Jordan Wynn
Philippe Rousselet

Screenplay by: Ben Ripley

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
Michelle Monaghan
Vera Farmiga
Jeffrey Wright

Music by: Chris P. Bacon

Cinematography by: Don Burgess

Editing by: Paul Hirsch

Studio(s): The Mark Gordon Company
Vendome Pictures

Distributed by: Summit Entertainment

Release date(s): April 1, 2011 (United States/United Kingdom)
April 20, 2011 (France)

Running time: 90 minutes

Country(s): United States

Production budget: $32 million

Box office revenue: $123, 278, 618

The ball is still rolling, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little bit of drowziness (damn American English is confusing me, so excuse the typo if there is one!). However, I have been busy, having now seen Sucker Punch and The Iron Lady. Also, Senna is today's itinerary, and while of course Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Artist and The Descendants are more or less guaranteed for review, expect some others in the coming week or two. So, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Alright, so Source Code is the new film by Duncan Jones, who first became a director to watch in the wake of his first picture, 2009's great science-fiction film Moon, starring Sam Rockwell. That film really put him on the map, as Moon, along with other such notables as District 9, Avatar and Inception, are science-fiction films of ideas as opposed to explosions. With his sophomore film Source Code, Jones returns to the science-fiction genre, but applies his aesthetic to Ben Ripley's central concept. Incidentally, I knew nothing about the plot going in, and that is part of the pleasure of the story, as everything is gradually unveiled, so if you, like me, are priggish about plot, SKIP TO THE END OF THE PARAGRAPH: Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train opposite Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan, a woman who apparently knows him, but he has never seen her in his life. Eight minutes later, the train explodes, and Stevens wakes up in an unfamiliar cockpit. Over a PA/screen, Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) tells Stevens that he is part of the 'Source Code,' a military project created by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) so that he can enter an alternate timeline of the last eight minutes of someone's life on the train. His mission is to identify the bomber on the train by going over the same eight minutes, so as to prevent other terrorist attacks.

To start off with the good about Source Code, I must discuss Ben Ripley's script. Now, in the past we have seen different versions of the 'Groundhog Day' concept fail because it all gets repetitive very quickly. With Source Code, this is not the case, for it has a strong narrative backbone and clear structure that has been well-thought out. It is a reflection of the multiple scenarios that the protagonist is going through, with certain consistencies but as many differences. Also, Duncan Jones, working for the first time without his own script, flourishes from a directorial standpoint. Far from letting the film degenerate into sci-fi gimmickry, he maintains control of a project that in many other directors' hands could have been mishandled. Furthermore, he grounds the film in reality, so no matter how far fetched the concept is, we still buy it as legitimate. He is one director with a fine future ahead of him, fast becoming an auteur that can be genuinely trusted not to get lost in his indulgences, and along with Moon, his work is about as good one could ask on the basis of his relatively short career. Also, technically this is a remarkable film. Don Burgess' cinematography is highly inventive and borderline experimental in the way he shoots from angles which we would not normally think of. Importantly though, he too has control over himself, and his work first and foremost tells a story. Also, Paul Hirsch's editing is vital to the audience buying the film's story and concept. The whole ninety-minutes of the film is a thrill-ride, and Hirsch's editing is seamless, without any flab whatsoever. With the way the story is revealed, piece by piece, Hirsch's editing lets us get into the confused mind of Colter Stevens. This effect was so unnerving that I actually thought I was feeling sick, but the fact was that I was simply as confused as the film's protagonist, bouncing between various forms of consciousness and reality. While the script's structure gives this feeling a backbone, ultimately it is Hirsch's editing that visually creates this effect. I could go on and on about the visual effects and production design (which are certainly on shortlists for my upcoming awards presentation), but I want to get down to the acting. Interestingly, for a movie that has been shamefully dismissed come awards season, lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal is as good here as he ever has been. He imbeds the character of Colter Stevens with a genuine sense of warmth and reality. Also, it is one of those performances from a naturally gifted actor, never once chewing up the scenery, instead making Stevens come across as a real human being. Furthermore, I credit the humanity and respect he gives the part the main reason (I'm not kidding) I found myself on the verge of tears towards the end of the film, more of which in a bit. Also good, despite being saddled with less than perfect parts, were Michelle Monaghan, an actress whose work has been of varying quality in the past but is very charming here, and Vera Farmiga, who brings gravitas to the film's 'morally conflicted' character. Finally, as I mentioned, I was near the point of tears, because ultimately this is a film that does have ideas and messages to take away from it, carrying a powerful punch that hit home hard for this reviewer.

That said, for all that I liked about Source Code, there are a number of problems. For starters, Chris P. Bacon's score towards the end of the film becomes one of those really overt 'tell, tell tell!' kind of scores that is designed to reinforce the emotions that the audience is supposed to be feeling. I already was feeling these emotions, and as such, to have the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra tease an appearance was an unpleasant surprise. Also, as much as I think Ben Ripley's script is masterful in terms of concept and narrative structure, I think in terms of the characterisation it falters. Regardless of the strong performances from those mentioned, the characters do still come across as cogs inside a mechanical structure. There is a serious lack of three-dimensional quality to them, especially when it comes to Michael Arden's character (who, incidentally, I picked out in the first sequence! Big ups for me!), and it is really only through the strength of the actors that they are salvaged.

Regardless of these problems, I do feel that Source Code is still one of the best films of the year. Ben Ripley's script has a solid narrative structure, while Duncan Jones once again shows his finesse and control as a director. Also, technically, in the editing, visual effects, cinematography and production design departments, the film flourishes. Finally, with strong actors in Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and a terrific central performance in Jake Gyllenhaal, we get, in Source Code, one of the year's finest films.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good (update: I've got a significant amount of films just in. Believe me, I have work to do, so if it comes down to it, capsule reviews might have to suffice)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Way Back

Directed by: Peter Weir

Produced by: Peter Weir
Joni Levin
Duncan Henderson
Nigel Sinclair
Scott Rudin

Screenplay by: Peter Weir
Keith Clarke

Based on: The Long Walk by Slawomir Rawicz

Starring: Jim Sturgess
Colin Farrell
Ed Harris
Saoirse Ronan
Mark Strong
Dragos Bucur
Gustaf Skarsgard

Music by: Burkhard Dallwitz

Cinematography by: Russell Boyd

Editing by: Lee Smith

Studio(s): National Geographic Films
Spitfire Pictures
Imagenation Abu Dhabi
Film Fund Luxemborg

Distributed by: Newmarket Films
Exclusive Film Distribution
Meteor Pictures

Release date(s): September 3, 2010 (Telluride Film Festival)
December 26, 2010 (United Kingdom)
December 29, 2010 (United States)

Running time: 133 minutes

Language(s): English

Budget: $30 million

Box office revenue: $20, 348, 249

And the ball is still rolling, gathering matter like a katamari, enveloping mountains and planets until it is big enough to become a new star in our solar system... excuse me, did I lose my focus? Anyway, work continues as usual. Unfortunately, thanks to the brilliantly inconsistent public transport service that is Translink, I missed today's screening for Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol. However, to compensate, I caught a screening of The Iron Lady, and yesterday (through entirely legal means, thank you SOPA!) I managed to see a version of Sucker Punch. So, with roughly eight days left to go, some serious cramming is in order. For 2012, I will have emerged out of my shell to become a fully-fledged critic with a relatively decent timetable, but in the meantime, you'll have to suffice with this, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Ok, so today's film is The Way Back. Now, before you chastise me for reviewing a 2010 film (admittedly, I did make a blunder with [●REC]²), my backwards province of Northern Ireland only started showing this film in January of 2011, and given the fact it wasn't nominated at any major awards season events, it qualifies under my rules of eligibility. The Way Back is the new film by Peter Weir, who since the release of 1998's brilliant The Truman Show, has only made one other film in 2003's Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World. His latest release is in the similar vein to the 2003 film: it follows Janusz Wieszczek (Jim Sturgess), a young Polish prisoner-of-war, who escapes imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag, and leads a group of individuals on four-thousand mile walk to freedom to India. Don't worry, I haven't spoiled the film for you, it tells you this at the start in the film's introduction.

So, to start with the good, I must once again (am I ever done?) compliment Jim Sturgess in his lead role (here comes a quote, 'Jim Sturgess Online!'). As a man who is still a young actor by the film industry's standards, it is admirable that Sturgess can legitimately carry the film on his shoulders. His character is the typically dull leader, for you always find the meatier roles with more quirks are in the supporting roles, particularly the 'Kikuchiyo' stock-role that appears in these films. However, Sturgess gives Janusz a genuine sense of credibility and a three-dimensional humanity about him. Also good are Ed Harris, who himself plays a stock role, but gives the part a credibility not unlike the same qualities that Sturgess brings to the table. Colin Farrell is also remarkably convincing as Valka, the 'Kikuchiyo' role in the film. Playing a Russian covered in tattoos, Farrell is a far more versatile actor than most people give credit, and you do buy him in this part. Also, technically the film is very well made. Lee Smith, one of the best working editors, applies his suitably fine craft to the film, and contributes a lot to the development of the atmosphere of sheer exhaustion and effort that the characters are having to make. Furthermore, in conjunction with Russell Boyd's strong cinematography, it's obvious Weir and co. have spent a good bit of time researching the movie, as there are some fantastic locations here. As such, we are able to believe the idea that we are witnessing these characters go on a journey. Finally, Peter Weir is nothing if not a director who thoroughly cares for every project he works on. This is a film where you can feel the passion of those involved, and this is only a good thing for The Way Back.

However, passion or passion, a movie has got to have some substance, and while being a good, admirable film, it isn't entirely up to snuff. The central element that causes issues is the script, for with the script arise a number of problems with the film. For starters, the characters, while being well-acted, are more or less stock parts. While some actors are able to get away with it, others such as the normally reliable Mark Strong aren't, because the characters are treated as tools in an overall structure that comes across as designed merely so Weir can tell this story. Also, there is a serious tonal inconsistency. Now, I have no problem with the audience being given room to breath, but it is infuriating to bounce so freely between Darwinian 'horrors of war,' to highly indulgent tones consisting of "isn't this all very brave? Look he's crossing a river, how brave!" Furthermore, the tone of bravery, courage, yadda, yadda, is hammered in by Burkhard Dallwitz' score, which is far too overt. If anything, what this film needs is a bit less score and more diegetic sound of the wind blowing or something of the sort. It gave the film an air of contrivance, and honestly, with the whole recurring 'bravery' themes (brought to you courtesy of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra), I was half expecting an explosion into the great Jerry Goldsmith's Rambo theme: we know these people are brave and courageous, you don't need to keep telling us!

So, with regards to The Way Back, if with a hint of trepidation, as some of it's problems are very notable, this still remains a good film. There are some strong performances, particularly from Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris and Colin Farrell. Also, technically it is a sound piece of work, with Lee Smith and Russell Boyd each applying their respective crafts in the editorial and photographic departments. Furthermore, with a director like Weir, you're guaranteed at least a movie by a director who truly believes in what he is doing. Even if isn't Come And See or Platoon, if you able to get past a flawed script, inappropriate score and the fact that the film is at least twenty minutes too long, you'll enjoy The Way Back.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (but this ball is going to keep on rolling until it's over. The metaphorical 'it,' of course!)

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Kill List

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Produced by: Claire Jones
Andy Starke

Screenplay by: Ben Wheatley
Amy Jump

Starring: Neil Maskell
Michael Smiley
MyAnna Buring
Emma Fryer

Music by: Jim Williams

Cinematography by: Laurie Rose

Editing by: Ben Wheatley
Robin Hill
Amy Jump

Studio(s): Rook Films
Warp X
Film4 Productions
Screen Yorkshire
UK Film Council

Distributed by: Optimum Releasing (United Kingdom)
IFC Films (United States)

Release date(s): March 12, 2011 (South By Southwest Film Festival)
August 20, 2011 (Espoo Film Festival)
August 28, 2011 (FrightFest)
September 2, 2011 (United Kingdom)
February 3, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 92 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Budget: £500,000

Box office revenue (as of publication): $142, 697

This time I was right! I'm gonna ride the lightning while there's thunder still in the air, so as well as reviewing this, I've reviews for The Way Back and Source Code coming in. On a side note, I said that I was going to see The Artist, but unfortunately (through no fault of my own. No, really!), I couldn't. I showed up at the Queens Film Theatre twenty minutes before the 19.30 start time, and the place was bunged, between people coming in from the previous 17.30 screening and those looking to get in for the next one. So, I got to box office, and lo and behold, the screening was sold out, so ended up having a solitary pint in the Students Union and going home. While I was disappointed, I have to say given the circumstances I am happy to see that there is such an audience interest in silent film. Regardless of what they think about it, in the end, people are paying their hard-earned money to see the film, and it shows the level of just how openminded audiences are when they aren't being fed assembly-line balderdash from Hollywood like battery hens. I might not have got to see it, but I believe it will be coming out soon in multiplexes, so, keep your eyes posted!

So, today we have Kill List, a British film that debuted in the United Kingdom to a warm reception at the 2011 FrightFest. It has been picking up a significant amount of buzz from various other festivals as the scariest horror film of the year. Interestingly, like last year's "Best Horror Film" (source: me!) Tony, this is one of those horror movies which is set in the real world and involves people as opposed to ghouls. Jay (Neil Maskell), a former British soldier based in Kiev, is shown as having marital troubles, particularly in the financial department, with wife Shel (MyAnna Buring). So, when friend and fellow contract killer Gal (Michael Smiley) comes to him with a contract promising a big payoff, he agrees to join him. I'm not going to get into too much detail with regards to the story, as it is one of those one's that it is better to go into blank.

To start off with what is good about Kill List, I must compliment the film's overall atmosphere. Throughout, there is a highly unnerving sense of dread, even whenever it is just an interaction between Jay and Gal. Speaking of which, both Maskell and Smiley give very believable and naturalistic performances as their respective characters. Because of the film's cinema verite nature, they come across not as characters but instead real people, and this adds to the overall picture. Also, as characters they are well-written and I thought that the dialogue (whether improvised or not) was excellent and the two played it with great timing. Ben Wheatley, the film's writer-director, has a good handle on the material and, for the most part, remains consistent in his solid direction. Also, Laurie Rose' cinematography is inventive and subversive, but also rather varied in terms the range of shots and approaches to shooting the film. Given how low-budget the picture is, Rose' contribution to what works about Kill List cannot be underestimated. Similarly, Jim Williams' minimalist score is subtle to the point were you might not remember what it is, and in terms of film theory I always espouse 'less is more,' as in less scenes in movies should have a score over the top of the scene, but those rules are made to be broken. In this case, Williams' score is consistent throughout, and while I like my films to be rough and raw, I doubt that the lack of score would have made Kill List as intense an experience as it is, and this score had me feeling very uncomfortable (in a good way) throughout much of the film. Finally, I have to commend Wheatley for making a realist horror film that is set in the real world and lacks the traditional trademarks of a 'horror' film, yet still remains an uncomfortable, claustrophobic experience. It is for the most part a genuine triumph.

Now, I did like Kill List, but these kind words said, I don't think it is a great movie for a number of reasons. The script by Wheatley and Amy Jump, which has well-written characters and dialogue, is structurally messy and falls apart in the final act. For me, I felt that it should have stuck to it's guns, and without spoiling anything, it was already nightmarish enough without having to throw the audience into unnecessary horror film histrionics. Also, I don't think that the film was as well edited as it was shot, and in the final act, excluding one particularly unnerving scene, I thought that it did degenerate into horror film gimmicky. It reminded me of that rubbish final act of Sunshine, which was all the more disappointing given how much I was into the film. I hate to use that rhetoric about Kill List, but that is how it made me feel!

That said, even with these problems, in a rather lackluster year for genuinely good horror films, Kill List is a stand-out. It has some very good, naturalistic performances, strong cinematography, (mostly) consistent direction, with well-written characters and dialogue and a subtly intelligent score. Furthermore, it has a wholly unique atmosphere of genuine uncomfortableness that should be commended. As a film with it's flaws, it still stands as a really good horror film with a number of commendable qualities.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Amped (the ball's still rolling!)

P.S. Oh, I forgot MyAnna Buring is also very good in this film. Appologgies!

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's 3rd Annual Acknowledgements For Contribution To Cinema Hall Of Fame

Hey gang, the reason for my lack of activity is down to a combination of laziness and an excess of English work hanging over my head in university, so needless to say I'm glad that is over. This is the second year of my Hall Of Fame preceding the posting of my Best And Worst Of The Year, so consider this a little teaser for what is coming up in the next month. The running for every award is still an open playing field if I see a certain movie before the 1st of February. Also, I have been watching movies, so expect a new review every day or two, this being my busy period of the year after all, so keep your eyes posted!

Well, without further ado, it's..... (drum roll please!)

The Thin White Dude's 3rd Annual Acknowledgements For Contribution To Cinema Hall Of Fame

Class Of 2011 To The Thin White Dude's Hall Of Fame 'Individual Contribution' Wing

The 5th Hall Of Fame Inductee For Contribution To Musical Composition

Jerry Goldsmith

Planet Of The Apes, The Omen, Alien, First Blood, Gremlins, Total Recall, Air Force One, L.A. Confidential, The Mummy: these are but a few of the many great film scores that Goldsmith contributed to cinema. One only has to look at the range here and understand the variety of orchestration that Goldsmith composed in his lifetime. Always adapting his trademarks to suit the project, Jerry Goldsmith is one of the best of the best in film composition.

The 4th Hall Of Fame Inductee For Contribution To Editing

Conrad Buff

Buff has proved himself as one of the most technically adept editors in film history. From working on films such as Arlington Road, Training Day and 2011's Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, to his expertise in selling James Cameron's most daring projects (The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic), his proficiency in the editing suite has contributed immensely to creating the atmosphere that his films require.

The 5th Hall Of Fame Inductee For Contribution To Cinematography

Tonino Delli Colli

Those extreme close-ups in Sergio Leone films, those wide shots in Pasolini's work, those images that have been imprinted on the minds of many a film fan are due to extraordinary cinematography of Tonino Delli Colli. Adept at changing shooting style, the consistent element of his camerawork is exquisite use of the Technicolor format, creating some of the most beautiful images in cinema history.

The 5th Hall Of Fame Inductee For Contribution To Screenwriting

Ingmar Bergman

Although more famous as a director, much of the reason for his films' success were his note-perfect scripts. He would not have been able to successfully get across his thematic content if it weren't for his well-rounded and fully believable characters. Also, he was a master at writing dialogue, and the way he structured his screenplays left much open for interpretation, inviting an audience's participation with his films.

The 4th Hall Of Fame Inductee For Contribution To Female Acting

Liv Ullmann

One of Ingmar Bergman's muses, Ullmann was the greatest of all the actresses he ever worked with. Her naturalistic performance style fit Bergman's films to a tee. In films such as Persona, Shame, Hour Of The Wolf and The Passion Of Anna, she almost becomes a part of the mise-en-scene, the subtlety of her acting elevating the legitimacy of the world's Bergman created.

The 5th Hall Of Fame Inductee For Contribution To Male Acting

Klaus Kinski

No one portrayed onscreen madness or the lust of impossible dreams like Klaus Kinski. His collaborations with Werner Herzog saw him cast to perfection, Herzog drawing from the actor an extraordinary range of performances in Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, Nosferatu: The Vampyre and Fitzcarraldo. His wonderfully gargoyle-like face saw him cast in a number of English-language films, such as Doctor Zhivago, and a regular in Italian westerns, such as For A Few Dollars More and The Great Silence.

The 4th Hall Of Fame Inductee For Contribution To Producing

Roger Corman

The man whose assembly-line low-budget filmmaking gave a number of our finest filmmakers their start in the film industry. Corman proteges include Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Dennis Hopper, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson. When one thinks of the impact these people had in film history, one must look back and appreciate the necessity for people like Roger Corman, who were willing to take the chance on them that no one else would.

The 5th Hall Of Fame Inductee For Contribution To Directing

Sergei Eisenstein

It is a personal opinion of mine that no one had a greater understanding of the power of cinema than Eisenstein. Despite only making eight feature films, two of which were released after his death due to his run-ins with the Soviet authorities, Eisenstein's is no mere blip in the film world: his silent 'trilogy' (Strike, The Battleship Potemkin, October) elevated the propaganda medium to the level of high art, and the same can be said for his later work, including Alexander Nevsky and Ivan The Terrible Part's I and II.

Class Of 2011 To The Thin White Dude's Hall Of Fame 'Films' Wing

Okay, so the 'Film' Wing is starting to take shape in its third year. This year, I've introduced an eight category specifically to highlight the importance of the short film medium. The films selected here went through a process of shortlisting, from which they were chosen out of a final five deemed suitable for induction. The only rules I have are that animated films, while being a legitimate medium, do not have a category, and are considered for induction into all other eight categories. Also, I apply the National Film Registry rule of a film having to be a minimum of ten years old to be eligible for induction.

The 3rd Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Comedic Film

City Lights (1931) - Charlie Chaplin

In 1931, regardless of the advent of sound cinema, Chaplin stubbornly refused to leave the silent film medium, and in doing so gave us one of his best films. While at heart being a (very) funny comedy, Chaplin also has City Lights comment on the Great Depression, and has one of film's most touching and moving screen romances. A greater success than most comedies ever dream of being, Chaplin's Little Tramp brings you to tears and has you in stitches in equal measure.

The 3rd Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Science-Fiction/Fantasy Film

A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Stanley Kubrick

Hypnotic and disturbing, Kubrick's masterful adaptation of Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel is as ahead of it's time now as it was forty years ago. The subversive and charismatic Malcolm McDowell gives one of cinema's greatest performances as Alex, while Wendy Carlos' Moog Synthesiser adds to the film's darkly satirical style. Also, Kubrick's directorial prowess, in the wake of 2001: A Space Odyssey, truly came to fruition, and in the process created one of cinema's masterpieces.

The 3rd Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Horror Film

An American Werewolf In London (1981) - John Landis

Never before and never since has the fine line between horror and comedy been balanced. John Landis' pet project for over a decade saw the script having a long gestative process, and during that time it was perfected. With a stellar soundtrack including 'Bad Moon Rising,' a cast whose performances, particularly David Naughton, exhibited excellent timing, and Landis' direction, you'll never have as much fun being scared.

The 3rd Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Thriller Film

Psycho (1960) - Alfred Hitchcock

After having made thrillers for Paramount such as Vertigo and North By Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock decided that he wanted to do a different project. So, after much negativity from the studio, who hated the source novel, Hitchcock shot Psycho in black-and-white and kept costs for the film under a million dollars. As a result, we got the privilege of enjoying one of the most shocking and intense thrillers in film history, that shower scene, and one of cinema's most memorable characters in Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates.

The 3rd Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Drama Film

The Seventh Seal (1957) - Ingmar Bergman

The film that established Ingmar Bergman's reputation as cinema's great philosopher. There is not a single boring moment in this film, a supreme example of film efficiency, with so much density in a film that is essentially short at ninety-six minutes. From this point on, Bergman went to make some great films, but The Seventh Seal, with it's religious themes and the knight Antonius Block's attempts to defeat Death, is the best place to start in your Bergman pilgrimage.

The 3rd Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Action/Adventure Film

The Battleship Potemkin (1925) - Sergei Eisenstein

I know some of you will argue with me on this, but it is impossible not to see the action film aesthetics of Potemkin. Eisenstein's interpretation of the 1905 Potemkin mutiny set the structural template for future action films. Furthermore, with many memorable scenes, particularly the Odessa Steps sequence, which for my money is more intense than most 'action' scenes in films to this day, Eisenstein constructs one of the finest films ever made.

The 2nd Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Documentary Film

My Best Fiend (1999) - Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog's touching elegy to the late Klaus Kinski is one of the finest examples of the documentary medium as a portrait of a certain individual. Entertainingly constructing his own interpretation of one of cinema's most enigmatic individuals, Herzog presents a well-rounded Kinski, who is shown to have a tender and humorous side, as opposed to the 'raving madman' public image. Also, it shows two men, bound by love and hate, who just happened to make great films.

The 1st Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Short Film

The Music Box (1932) - James Parrott

One of the greatest of Hal Roach's many Laurel and Hardy productions, like many of their films, begins with the simple concept of the boys moving a piano up a flight of steps. Of course, being Laurel and Hardy, things don't go as planned, and we bear witness to some of the greatest gags in film history. Also, it shows us the importance of the short film medium, as this concept would be drawn out too far in a feature, and so tightness and efficiency are among the qualities of this often overlooked medium.

Well, there you have 'em! I would sincerely recommend that you get down to watching some of these films, if not all of them. They are for my money excellent examples the medium of film. Critics and scholars sometimes have a tendency to separate film into two categories: 'art' and 'entertainment.' Now, I disagree with this categorisation, but in fairness, I too have two categories that I work by: 'good' and 'bad.' If you get a really 'good' example of film, such as those above, you get all the art and entertainment you could ever ask for, and thus it renders the separation between the two null and void. There is no such thing as 'art' and 'entertainment,' only 'film,' and every picture above is a 'good' example of film. This is The Thin White Dude signing off (for a few hours), and I'll see you soon, so keep your eyes posted!