Friday, 29 June 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Turin Horse

Directed by: Bela Tarr

Produced by: Gabor Teni

Screenplay by: Bela Tarr
Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Starring: Janos Derzsi
Erika Bok
Mihaly Kormos

Music by: Mihaly Vig

Cinematography by: Fred Kelemen

Editing by: Agnes Hranitzky

Studio: T.T. Filmmuhely

Distributed by: Cirko Film
Maskepp Alapitvany

Release date(s): February 15, 2011 (Berlin Film Festival)
March 31, 2011 (Hungary)
October 13, 2011 (New York Film Festival)
June 1, 2012 (United Kingdom and Ireland)

Running time: 146 minutes

Country: Hungary

Language: Hungarian

Production budget: (Not available)

Box office revenue (domestic gross only): $50, 975

Well, a few days off won't kill anyone, now will it? Anywho, it's batten down the hatches time over here in East Belfast. Our fantastic local climate has decided that early-summer now means monsoon season. We've got sandbags on our front door now, as we got close to flooding last night. As every day goes by, I more and more start to believe Terence McKenna. However, I have seen The Dictator, and also hope to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Rock Of Ages, The Avengers (will I ever?), Rogue River and Chill at some point, so keep your bloody eyes posted (assuming, of course, you've had a pencil rammed into one or both of your eyes)!

Rightio, what we've got here is The Turin Horse, the latest (and billed as last) film from Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr. One of the few genuinely daring filmmakers in existence, films such as Damnation and Werckmeister Harmonies confront, through the medium of cinema, human nature and existence. In that vein, he's probably the most appropriate director to assume the controls of this story. Debuting at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, The Turin Horse is based on the oft-repeated tale (which may or may not be fictitious) that Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed the flogging of a horse, which is purported to have led to his mental breakdown. "Of the horse... we know nothing" ends the opening monologue. From this point we follow the immediate aftermath of this event and the lives of the horse, its owner and hansom cab driver, and his daughter. That's all the exposition you need, and it's all you'd get, as I can't say much more full stop!

Starting with the good of The Turin Horse, I must mention director Tarr. He is a director in the vein of Terrence Malick, in that he follows his artistic intent with absolutely no compromise. Making no bones about the sheer uncommercial nature of his work, he deconstructs what is on the level a very simple story and injects it full of depth and complexity. Also, he displays the most control as a director I have seen since The Tree Of Life. The fact that The Turin Horse is such a singularly made film, which follows through with convincing strength of intent is down to the meticulousness decisiveness of his direction. Also to be credited is the cinematographer Fred Kelemen. It's one thing being able to set up a long-shot, but it's another being able to do it. Composed of thirty takes, The Turin Horse looks like a series of beautiful moving paintings thanks to his camerawork. Like his director, he exhibits great control, and there is something to be said about the movement of the camera. His viewfinder becomes an additional character in the film, as we observe these characters and the monotony of their lives. We go beyond the level of voyeurism and into active participation in the story. Also, when things recur in the story, they are shot from different angles, so it's not (too) monotonous, and most the story is told in a wise, visual manner. Complementing this is the score (if it can be called that) by Mihaly Vig. Consisting of one recurring four-minute piece of music, it induces a feeling of tension and nausea upon its appearance in the film. The slow string instruments create a horrible noise, and there's a keyboard motif which has a genuinely demented carny theme to it. This piece recurs what feels like fifty times, and it gets to the point where even in the silent moments, you're unsure if you're not just convincing yourself that you hear the music. Agnes Hranitzky's editing of the film, more so in conjunction with sound than image, is handled well. Obviously, the score is non-diegetic, but there is a sharp, jolting transition (particularly when cutting from end-of-shot to start-of-shot) between the non-diegetic score and the sound of the film's diegesis. The acting must be credited, for it is so subtle and naturalistic that one might have a tendency to glance over it. Janos Derszi and Erika Bok perfectly encapsulate their characters. The way they interact has an honesty and truth about it, and you legitimately buy them as a father and daughter. Derszi's father has an extreme level of underlying tension and anger about him, and his stiff, jolted movements, accentuated by the fact that his character is physically disabled, suggest towards the untamed animal-in-man. Also, Bok presents a purity and instinctive intelligence, although her acting suggests that so much is left unsaid, and that she understands the futility of her awareness of their circumstances. Around half-way through, Mihaly Kormos comes in and delivers a terrific monologue, which like most of the film, gets to the heart of Nietzsche's philosophical concepts and humanity's own part in their ultimate destruction. However, without sounding too po-faced, it comes across as general conversation, thanks to Kormos and Laszlo Krasznahorkai's excellent dialogue. At risk of sounding silly, credit where credit is due, Ricsi The Horse is great. Notwithstanding the fact that they couldn't have got a more decrepit looking horse, if it is possible for a horse to intelligently underact, then it certainly done so. The fact that it never reacts and seems to have a genuine absence/indifference of feeling is indicative Nietzschean ideas of godlessness. It is a literal manifestation of everything the film is trying to get at, what Tarr calls "the heaviness of human existence," and the bestial savagery of the universe.

The Turin Horse is in no uncertain terms an excellent film. However, there is a minor quibble, one that does not bother me much at all, but must be flagged up. Tarr is a challenging filmmaker, this is unquestionably his most challenging film. Now I loved that, but I went to see it with a friend who was really troubled by the film. An open-minded chap, he didn't like it for all the reasons I did like it (which just made me like it all the more!). The Turin Horse is a rare occurrence of marmite in cinema, a film that pushes the boundaries of the medium so much that it will genuinely divide people. Also, I can't help but think whether or not the film could have achieved its goals with a shorter running time. Still, it works with the purpose it tries to achieve.

It's no secret from the tone of this review what I thought of the film. In nearly all respects, I find myself defending it and arguing it as a legitimate work of art. Completely mesmerising, strangely inviting and utterly full of dread, The Turin Horse is a singularly powerful masterpiece. Every little piece of this large puzzle is slotted together to make an extraordinary jigsaw, all held together by puppet-master/filmmaker Bela Tarr. Even with regards to the running time, I will argue in its favour. I went to the toilet twice during Prometheus, but didn't budge at all during The Turin Horse, and while the credits rolled, I felt I could have sat there another hour. Majestic cinema of the purest form and the highest caliber.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Very well (a pleasure to review such a film and have such passion towards a work of art)

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Dark Shadows

Directed by: Tim Burton

Produced by: Richard D. Zanuck
Graham King
Johnny Depp
Christi Dembrowski
David Kennedy

Screenplay by: Seth Grahame-Smith
Story by: John August
Seth Grahame-Smith

Based on: Dark Shadows by Dan Curtis

Starring: Johnny Depp
Michelle Pffeifer
Helena Bonham Carter
Eva Green
Jackie Earle Haley
Jonny Lee Miller
Chloe Grace Moretz
Bella Heathcote

Music by: Danny Elfman

Cinematography by: Bruno Delbonnel

Editing by: Chris Lebenzon

Studio(s): Village Roadshow Pictures
Infinitum Nihil
GK Films
The Zanuck Company

Distributed by: Warners Bros.
Release date: May 11, 2012 (United Kingdom and United States)

Running time: 113 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $150 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $210, 753, 107

Due to Blogger's new user profile interface, I've for the first time become privy to the fact that a good few people actually read the blog. So, for those of you who read the blog, whether you care for my opinion or not, thanks a bunch. Also, if you are on Blogger, take the time to comment or suggest a film, as I'd be interested to hear some feedback from y'all. Finally on the cheap pop front, don't forget to check out my Facebook page at (). The support is much appreciated.

So, the film subject to scrutiny today is Dark Shadows. Adapted from the television soap opera of the same name, the latest film by director Tim Burton stars Johnny Depp (in his eight collaboration with Burton) as Barnabas Collins, a two-hundred-year-old vampire who emerges from the coffin in which he was imprisoned in 1972. He returns to his family's mansion, now inhabited by his descendants Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michele Pfeiffer); her brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller); her teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz); Roger's son David (Gulliver McGrath); Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), David's psychiatrist; caretaker Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley); and Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), the newly-hired governess and the reincarnation of Josette du Pres, Barnabas' long-lost love. The witch who cursed the Collins family and caused the death of Josette, Angelique Bouchard, is still kicking around, as head of a successful fishery. Barnabas decides to challenge Angelique's fishery, and sets about re-establishing the Collins' fishing business. That's a mouthful on the plot summary, so I'll just give a small bit of context before I get cracking with the review. Director Tim Burton is in a bit of an artistic rut right now, in that he hasn't directed an original project since 2005's Corpse Bride. Also, since his terrific adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd musical, he just seems to have been settling into projects that studios have been marketing as 'a Tim Burton film.' So, to be frank I wasn't going into this with high hopes.

Notwithstanding my initial ambivalence, I was impressed by numerous aspects of the film. Johnny Depp, fresh off his barmy (and TTWD award-winning) voice acting role in Rango and Hunter S. Thompson adaptation The Rum Diary, is probably the best guy to get to play eccentric, and he does so pretty well. Also, he has this real lithe physicality about him, with his actions easily speaking as loud as his words. His intentional awkwardness makes for the film's best moments. Eva Green is terrifyingly seductive as Angelique. We clearly sympathise with Barnabas' plight, and Angelique is, in no uncertain terms, a hateful bitch. However, beyond her beauty is an unmistakable charm and a genuinely believable motivation for her character, all of which she conveys superbly. Although a nothing part, Chloe Grace Moretz is reliable in the 'sulky teenager' stock part of Carolyn. Likewise, Helena Bonham Carter and Jackie Earle Haley are good in their small roles. Also, the film, like many of Burton's has a strong visual style. Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography is a treat to behold, with every little detail in the image crisp and clear. The contrast of the colour palette in the lighting is varied, and as such, the contrast between warm, vibrant colours and the dark, grainy tones interesting: the image of Barnabas holding the dead Josette amongst the stones and crashing waves is among the most beautiful and tragic of all of Burton's oeuvre. Also, it is a wonderfully designed film. In the Collins house, you get a genuine sense of space and an idea of just how old this house is. Furthermore, the design of the house and its relative desolation speaks for its inhabitants. The costumes too fit in this department. Everyone is appropriately dressed and in good costumes. From a biased perspective, I have to applaud some the tracks chosen for the soundtrack. Nights In White Satin by The Moody Blues is an awesome choice for the opening credits, while appearances from Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, The Stooges and T. Rex bring a smile to my face. Finally, the film works at its best whenever it plays off Barnabas' culture shock, archaic language (the 'posterior' line is great) and the dark black humour that occasionally pops up.

With that being said, much as there is good about the film, like Men In Black 3 and Prometheus (perplexing to have three like this in one month), there is nearly as much wrong with it. For starters, as I mentioned, it works best with black humour and culture shock, but the movie jumps all over the place genre-wise. Many films balance genre out well, but this does not, as you have a domestic drama going on and moments that are played as horror. As a result, too many things going on has a dampening effect on its overall tone, even where it works well, and some of these moments fall flat as a result. Seth Grahame-Smith's script is all over the shop, unable to decide what genre the film falls into, but also features poor plot and character development. You don't get the sense of the Collins family (or the residents of Collinswood for that matter) as people, but instead cardboard cut-out stock characters masquerading as real human beings. Also, and this I understand is a personal gripe, it features the most cringeworthy sex scene I have seen in yonks. I mean, this is Johnny Depp and Eva Green we are talking about here (no spoiler: it's in the wretched trailer so shut up!), Depp a twice-former 'Sexiest Man Alive,' and Eva Green's Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale is widely considered one of the sexiest characters of all-time. I have no problem with sex being played for laughs, but godammit, this is terribly unfunny! I mean, this should be a rapturous high point for the film, but the smashing up of things for three minutes is shoddily executed and overlong. On top of that, we have the completely cliche choice of Barry White's My Everything, which is just horrible. I heard the same song last year in Zookeeper, and I swear if I hear Barry White again I'm going to go to his grave and ask him to take his song back! It was neither sexy nor funny, end of! Right, sex scene rant done, I have two more gripes. Danny Elfman's score is disappointing and uninspiring, two words that can said also regarding director Tim Burton. Now, in case there are any Tim Burton fans out there who are going to hunt with an assortment of misshapen objects lifted from his movies, I AM ONE OF YOU, hear me out! Burton has fallen down the creative void like Vincent hearing his zombie-slave Abercrombie. He has for over a half-decade continued to work on dullard projects marketed as 'a Tim Burton film.' No, stop right there! The Tim Burton I want is the bizarre genius who made Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, Sweeney Todd, Batman et al. This is an evil doppelganger copout Burton with no sense of control, and it hurts to say this, but the man has lost his way.

Dark Shadows is quite the treacherous film. Masquerading as an accessible picture, it delivers this in some regards. The acting is all round strong, particularly from Johnny Depp and Eva Green, the cinematography is stunning, the soundtrack is great and the production design and costumes are highly commendable. However, the script is all over the place, the sex scene is rubbish, Danny Elfman's score a perfunctory matter, and Tim Burton has lost his way. I just hope to God that he comes out of this and makes a really great ORIGINAL project, because he's getting bogged to deep in adaptation. I mean, he has adapted Frankenweenie (his 1984 short film) for Christ's sake! Hopefully this is an indicator that the cycle of adaptation is coming to a close. I'll keep an open mind for Frankenweenie 2012, though judging from the evidence of Dark Shadows, I'd be lying if I said I had high hopes.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzed (again. Though this time It's because I've finally procured a DVD copy of Cannibal Holocaust: gorefest tonight!)

P.S. I said upon seeing the poster the film was going to be a flop: well, no to say I told you so, but...

P.P.S. How the hell did Zanuck let that sex scene pass?

P.P.P.S. I don't normally applaud user reviews on the Internet, but TheCultureSlut on Imdb's summation of the movie as "just 2 hours of blah" is spot on!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Prometheus

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Produced by: Ridley Scott
David Giler
Walter Hill

Screenplay by: Jon Spaihts
Damon Lindelof

Starring: Noomi Rapace
Michael Fassbender
Guy Pearce
Idris Elba
Logan Marshall-Green
Charlize Theron

Music by: Marc Streitenfeld

Cinematography by: Dariusz Wolski

Editing by: Pietro Scalia

Studio(s): Scott Free Productions
Brandywine Productions

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): May 30, 2012 (Belgium, France & Switzerland)
June 1, 2012 (United Kingdom)
June 8, 2012 (North America)

Running time: 124 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Budget: $120-$130 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $227, 182, 938

Aloha folks, up to my usual nonsense. I'm just back from The Strand cinema having seen The Dictator, so expect a review up for that soon. Also, as mentioned, I've got reviews for Dark Shadows and The Turin Horse coming up, but also to horror movies on DVD, Rogue River and Chill (released in 2008, finally getting a UK DVD release). Needless to say (notwithstanding other projects on the go) I'll be pretty busy! On another note, I'd be grateful if any of my readership could recommend films to watch. I'm always on the hunt, so keep your eyes posted!

Right, this next movie up for analysis is one that has been lighting fires out of the backsides of fanboys crapping themselves in excitement. Yes, it is Prometheus, but you already knew that (there's one for the Alberto Del Rio fans!). I first heard about this a while back, and I thought that it would be interesting to see Ridley Scott return the science-fiction genre. Lest we forget (though I doubt we will), Scott directed the first Alien film (to which Prometheus has a few ties) and Blade Runner, which is for my money his best film and one of the top ten ever made. Also, with Gladiator to his name, Scott is a director who when he is on form, creates some of the most engaging and immersive films of all time. However, he has a proven track record as a double-edged sword: work such as the painfully dull Body Of Lies would make one unfamiliar think it was by a lesser filmmaker. So, going into Prometheus with a heavy heart, I was thinking "I hope it's good, but he might just disappoint me again." I might be last person to review the film, but I understand people might want to see the film, so I'll do my earnest to be hush-hush as possible on the spoiler front.

Starting with the good, technically the film is the work of wizardry. Big props to the special-effects team, who has done an excellent job in contributing to the physical mise-en-scene. Also, many of the film's best moments are down to the believability of the effects. These effects would not look as good though without the wise cinematography of Dariusz Wolski. It is truly beautiful looking, and the use of soft lighting gives a sense of weight to its atmosphere. Also, the production design of the physical sets is terrific. Arthur Max, who worked on Gladiator, has outdone himself here. Not only is the presence of physically constructed sets a pleasure, but they are a marvel to look at and admire. In this regard, one must credit the original Alien designs by H.R. Giger. The lasting power of the great masters art is further proven by its presence in Prometheus. The costumes and the props too, particularly the space-suits, add to the overall feeling of the film. In another department, Marc Streitenfeld's original score is a talking point. The haunting chorus of voices that are the score's motif are very unsettling and ensure that, even in underwhelming moments, there is a genuine sense of unease. As director, Scott, like The Angels' Share director Ken Loach, directs like a man half his age, and for him to be able to maintain a relative degree of control over this chaos is admirable. Also, there are some genius set-pieces in Prometheus, including one sequence that deserves to be viewed in the same light as Alien's chest-burster scene. Finally, the performances of Noomi Rapace (who subtly steals this movie in a virtuoso turn) and Michael Fassbender are wholly admirable, and elevate their characters to a status beyond what is on the written page.

Which brings me nicely to a few points I want to make abundantly clear. For starters, if you are going to pack your cast full of credible 'name' actors such as Jared Leto, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba, don't give them 1. bit-parts 2. bit-characters. It's a disservice to just saddle them in those roles. This is just one of the problems with the script. There's an air of artificiality in the characters' motivations, and we're trundling along with them from one of a mixed bag of set-pieces to another. It's like this is just an excuse of a script to tie up to the Alien saga. Credit where credit is due once again to Rapace and Fassbender for what they bring to the table, but their characters are, like the rest, cliches in one big cliche-laden script. The same way I look through a nice window and see the miserable Northern Ireland weather, the film's transparency means I can see through the cracks, and its problems are very much in the open. Structurally too the script is a mess, with the ending most of all coming across as real copout, given that we are meant to feel like we've been on quite the trip. (I'll be careful here) There's a big difference between homage and going over the same ground, and this is a poor excuse for a conclusion. Finally, and the nail in the coffin on this argument, I simply failed to connect with the material.

Conclusively, I can say that Prometheus, like it's director, is a double-edged sword. What is good about the film is wholly admirable. The mise-en-scene, Streitenfeld's score Scott's relative degree of control, and strong performances from Rapace and Fassbender are awards/nominations worthy in regard to their quality. However, it is hampered by the wasted use of talented actors, and one of the most troublesome and problematic scripts in a mainstream film for quite a while. It reminded me of Sunshine, in that every time I watch that film, I can't help but be reminded of what is wrong with it. Prometheus is even more so the case. Neither a bad movie or a good movie, but crushing in the sense that as much as I may want to admire it as a whole, I simply cannot.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzed again (too much of Alan Clarke's The Firm methinks!)

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Angels' Share

Directed by: Ken Loach

Produced by: Rebecca O'Brien

Screenplay by: Paul Laverty

Starring: Paul Brannigan
John Henshaw
William Ruane
Gary Maitland

Music by: George Fenton

Cinematography by: Robbie Ryan

Editing by: Jonathan Morris

Studio(s): Sixteen Films
Why Not Productions
Wild Bunch

Distributed by: Entertainment One

Release date(s): May, 2012 (Cannes Film Festival)
June 1, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 106 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom

Language: English

Don't take my lazy day off yesterday as a sign that I'm slowing down. Oh, hell no, I'm two (technically three) reviews into the year, and I've got plenty more to go. On a side note, I'm perfectly fine rambling to myself and not having anyone comment on my posts, but if you are posting, I'd prefer if you didn't post about Air Ambulance, washing machines etc. And here's a call-out: 'adamminh89,' posting hyperlinks under the name 'hfgxhgh,' looks to be a dirty rotten scammer. I've did my homework, and this S.O.B. joined at least ten different sites on the same day. On virtually, a 'service' is offered for a price of $5. Basically, this is a cheap and easy was to get into people's bank accounts and get a little at a time. I've commented to this 'person' before, and they've never got back, so I've come my conclusions. Piss off of my blog, you dirty scamming bastard! Wow, just looked back, didn't realise my rant went on that long!

Anyway, dirty laundry aired, lets get down to the movie. The Angels' Share is the new movie by Ken Loach, which debuted at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and went home with the Jury Prize. Once again teaming Loach with regular screenwriter/collaborator Paul Laverty, it sees the two return to Looking For Eric territory after his previous film, the thriller Route Irish. Opening with the drunk Albert (Gary Maitland) nearly getting hit by a train, we follow the lives of a number of people, most notably Robbie (Paul Brannigan), who have been sentenced to community payback. Under the supervision of Harry (John Henshaw), he decides to reward good behaviour with a trip a whiskey distillery, and from here, they become involved in a plot involving a cask of priceless whiskey. I'm cutting it off at that for want of a lack of plot spoilers.

To start with the good (of which there is a good amount), Loach always seems to have a good eye for casting. As with many of his productions, many of the actors are non-proffesionals, yet seem to their roles to a tie. Paul Brannigan is highly likeable as Robbie, anchoring the film and legitimately inviting the audiences sympathies. It's a raw, naturalistic performance, and he conveys an appropriate range of emotions that are relevant to what his character is feeling. Also good is John Henshaw, who is a thoroughly endearing surrogate father-figure for Robbie's character, and makes the most of his screen time. Many of the actors in minor roles are good, but Gary Maitland's Albert, who could have been comic fodder in another picture, is a raucous character, talking dribble and getting up to all sorts. Maitland elevates him beyond the stock character level and makes him memorable. Paul Laverty has a way of making these 'characters' seem like real human beings, and whenever that is spliced with Loach's casting of amateurs, it works to great effect. Also, tonally The Angels' Share is an interesting work of Laverty's. He is a fine judge of the line between comedy and drama. The tone remains entertaining and funny throughout, yet the social realism hits home hard and is surprisingly tense and effective. Finally, Ken Loach is a director who exhibits control. Handling the reigns well and ensuring that the film maintains a brisk, energetic pace, with the cinematography and editing benefitting from his presence. It is a testament to his skill as a director that he is able to stay relevant and make such a youthful film.

The Angels' Share is a raucous and wildly funny film, but it has a number of flaws which deny it from being a great film. George Fenton's score, though bouncy and charming, is most definitely overused. There are a number of scenes where silence would indeed be golden. Instead of letting the actors play out the scene and the things that they are (successfully) trying to get across, we have repeated interjections with acoustic instruments. I wouldn't quite call this an appearance of the EHO (Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra: too low-key for 'Orchestra), but there is a bit too much of telling me how I should feel. Also, Paul Laverty's script, though engaging and entertaining, has issues. The film is concluded way too quickly, and (not to give too much away) it has the feeling of a rushed, poorly judged deus ex machina. If the audience is to be taken on this emotional journey, give us some time to appropriately register the film's denouement.

Despite being hampered a badly judged and rushed deus ex machina and an intrusive score, The Angels' Share is a very good film. I had two ulcers on my top lip, so laughing was rather painful, but I found myself doing it nevertheless. It's a highly likeable film with a likeable cast, particularly Brannigan and Henshaw. Also, while the ending is a botch job, Laverty knows how to make a social realist story very entertaining. Finally, the great Ken Loach directs with such youthful vibrancy that one can't help but be charmed by this film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Stuffed (so says my nose)

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Men in Black 3

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Produced by: Walter F. Parkes
Laurie MacDonald

Screenplay by: Etan Cohen

Based on: The Men in Black by Lowell Cunningham

Starring: Will Smith
Tommy Lee Jones
Josh Brolin
Jemaine Clement
Michael Stuhlbarg
Emma Thompson

Music by: Danny Elfman

Cinematography by: Bill Pope

Editing by: Don Zimmerman

Studio(s): Amblin Entertainment
Parkes + MacDonald
Imagenation Abu Dhabi
Hemisphere Media Capital

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Release date(s): May 23, 2012 (France)
May 25, 2012 (United States/United Kingdom)

Running time: 106 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $215 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $544, 326, 558

I'm gonna keep going while the balls still rolling. It's near one in the morning on a typically miserable night in Belfast, and so the circumstances for quelling my boredom are about as good as they get. Throw in The Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks, and I'll be metaphorically bouncing around the room. As mentioned, I have been busy, and so there will be a good bit of reviews coming in. I can confirm incoming work on The Angels' Share, Prometheus, Dark Shadows and (finally) The Turin Horse. Others will be on the way, but those are the certainties, so in that regard, keep your feckin' eyes posted!

Todays review is for Men in Black 3, the latest instalment in the MIB franchise. To put us into a bit of historical context, fifteen years ago the first MIB film, based on Lowell Cunningham's comic series, was a great sci-fi action-comedy with a genuinely bizarre sense of humour. Furthermore, the casting of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith is about as good a pair of actors to play off each other as you're going to get. This was followed by the oft-maligned Men in Black II, which frankly I don't remember much about (its been ten years, gimme a break!) apart from Will Smith talking gibberish to aliens in a post-office. In 2012, Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are back for another mission. Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes The Moon's LunarMax prison, and goes back in time to kill Agent K, the man who put him away. Thus, a time paradox is created, and in the present, K never existed. With the wheels in motion, J himself must go back to 1969 to prevent K's pending murder. However, J must once again contend with himself being subordinate to the younger Agent K (Josh Brolin), who is tracking the 1969 Boris' activities as the 2012 Boris is on his tail.

Right, with all the hoo-ha out of the way, let's get the cracking with the real shebang. I'll start with the casting. Will Smith is always a reliably entertaining lead, and he firmly anchors the film. The real highlight though is Josh Brolin. Initially I was against the idea of there being another actor playing Agent K, but Brolin's casting is a stroke of genius. Going beyond doing an (excellent) impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones, he brings gravitas and energy to the part of Agent K, snapping up most the best lines like nobody's business. Also, Danny Elfman's returning MIB score is an enjoyable listen. Using the original theme as a starting point, Elfman works from the ground up and develops a good soundscape to the film. Don Zimmerman does a fine job as editor, while much credit must be given to those establishing mise-en-scene. The film's production design and make-up in particular, as expected with MIB films, stands out, and provides weight to some of the film's more memorable sequences. Finally, Barry Sonnenfeld ensures that the film remains consistent and faithful to the tone of the MIB series, directing with conviction throughout.

For all these good things though, there are almost as many problems. Etan Cohen's script is a troublesome piece of work. The plot is pants, don't get me wrong, but it's competent enough to justify another film. However, it is pretty dull, and while Smith and Brolin get served well, others do not. The new villain of Boris the Animal is more or less perfunctory. By the time he said "It's just Boris," which wasn't funny the first time, for the umpteenth occasion, I was grinding my teeth to hold back swearing in front of children. Having tittered once or twice, I more or less sat through most of the film in a state of general indifference. Also annoying is the cinematography. Poor Bill Pope, who shot The Matrix films, is forced to work with the marvel of 3D, and the format is incredibly annoying here. The version I saw was 2D, yet I was still able to tell what moments were the '3D gimmick shots.' Why is it that no matter how many things smash, are thrown etc., the object always seems to be dead-center of shot in 3D? Also, whether this is his fault or not I don't know, but there is way too much deep focus, with everything being seen 'loud and clear' in a manner that is very distracting. Finally, if you have Tommy Lee Jones in a movie, DON'T just get him in there to bookend the film and seem a waste of space!

All in all, MIB 3 is neither a disappointment or a pleasant surprise. There's enough in it, from good casting (particularly Brolin), editing, production design and direction to make it a decent watch. However, there isn't enough to make it stand out from the pack, as it suffers from a troublesome script, a perfunctory antagonist, cinematography clamped by (not literally) cheap 3D gimmickry and an overdose of deep focus. Furthermore, Tommy Lee Jones' considerable talents are wasted. In this regard, I'll use a bit of space to plug his 2005 directorial debut The Three Burial of Melquiades Estrada. One of the top ten films since 2005 (the year I got really serious about the movies), it's a powerful, incredibly atmospheric western, with Jones directing himself to his finest performance. That's how much I care about Men in Black 3!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Up and about (cocaine's a hell of drug!)

P.S. Just kidding, it's energy drinks!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Into The Abyss

Directed by: Werner Herzog

Produced by: Dave Harding
Amy Briamonte
Henry Schleiff
Sara Kozak
Andre Singer
Lucki Stipetic
Erik Nelson

Screenplay by: Werner Herzog

Narrated by: Werner Herzog

Music by: Mark Degli Antoni

Cinematography by: Peter Zeitlinger

Editing by: Joe Bini

Studio(s): Investigation Discovery
Creative Differences
Werner Herzog Filmproduktion
Spring Films
Revolver Entertainment

Distributed by: IFC Films
Sundance Selects

Release date(s): September 8, 2011 (TIFF)
November 11, 2011 (United States)
March 30, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 105 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Box office revenue: $223, 880

Aloha, I'm back from my yearly break. They keep seeming to get longer. That said, I've been building up a lot more sources by which to view a film to review, so even if the break has been longer, ultimately I'm getting more work done. On a digression, Blogger's new posting interface is causing me to have to get my bearing, which is putting it lightly. I feel like I've got sea legs just looking at this browser! Anywho, I have been busy, and following this review will be ones for Men In Black 3, The Angels' Share, Prometheus, Dark Shadows and many more, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Right, in appropriate fashion, given that Cave Of Forgotten Dreams was my first reviewed movie of 2011, Werner Herzog's latest film Into The Abyss is my first (technically second) movie for review in 2012. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Herzog and consider him among the creme de la creme of filmmaking. Interestingly, though he has always been a prolific worker in both fact and fiction, Herzog has become one of the most internationally respected documentarians, and is actively being offered projects now. He was given special permission by the French Minister of Culture to shoot in Chauvet Cave, and is now filming work for Discovery Communications. The same project for which he filmed the television series On Death Row has produced this feature, Into The Abyss. Herzog has for many years wished to make a film exploring the moral implications of capital punishment.

With a title like Into The Abyss, subtitled with 'A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life,' most other filmmakers would end up coming out with the most pretentious piece of work ever. However, Herzog is one of the most engaging of documentarians. Whenever you see one of his films, it is like a Morgan Spurlock or a Michael Moore picture, with the 'documentarian as character' trope imposed in their films. Herzog though as an interviewer takes his subjects into challenging territory. Asking a pastor, "Please describe an encounter with a squirrel?" might seem a bit left-of-field, and it is funny to hear him say this, but it forces him to ponder the meaning of life. Also, his approach, which is one of direct honesty and absurdism, is terrifically well-balanced. Documentary film has certain sociological implications, and this is sensitive subject matter. Herzog displays sublime tact and never crosses into over-imposition. He lets his subjects play out their story on their terms, as opposed to forcing it out of them. It makes for a far more fascinating story. Furthermore, as a piece of investigative journalism, Into The Abyss is up there with The Thin Blue Line. Gathering together a variety of sources, it questions both the crime and the nature of crime itself. 'Who is responsible for the crime? What is responsible for those responsible for the crime?' Also, through the one case study of Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, we are able to get to grips with many different perspectives on the case. Joe Bini's editing is sharp and precise, ensuring that the film doesn't digress. It is also nice to see a documentary that doesn't have the popular multi-modal method of cartoons and photoshop designs popping up at me constantly. I admire films like Catfish, but the multi-modal method in many documentaries feels like they're trying to convince me of their argument by way of bombardment. Finally, Mark De Gli Antoni minimalist score is very good. The use of recurring motifs and the nuts-and-bolts feel of the score has an essence of purity. It is chilling and ethereal, the bare-bones nature complementing the subject, and letting the audience decide for themselves what their opinion is.

That said, much as I loved Into The Abyss, there are a few little problems with it. I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't drag on a bit too long. I feel that much as there is to say on the topic of capital punishment, it could have been cut down by another ten minutes I reckon. At least it drags consistently, so it's not as bad! Also, as mentioned, that multimodality that is popular in documentaries of late is not present as much as others, but it is still there to a certain extent. I'm all right with some of the crime scene video footage, but things like the typewriter create a (small) layer of artificiality, a shame really, given how raw and poetic the film is.

Nonetheless, as a whole Into The Abyss is a great movie. As mentioned, in any other filmmakers hands this could have been highly pretentious, but in Herzog's it is a thoroughly engaging, honest study on capital punishment. Herzog has made his mind up, but has enough tact and wisdom to let his subjects and audiences make up their own minds. As such, Into The Abyss, while being 'A Werner Herzog Film,' carries a feeling of authentic objectivity about it. A thought-provoking, truthful and chillingly direct work from one of cinema's great masters.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzed (I'm working again! Woop woop!

P.S. The keyboard warriors of Rotten Tomatoes strike again. I disagree with Robbie Collin and James Berardinelli on this film, but just because they didn't like the film doesn't make them stupid or, as the 'eloquent' Sungho S. puts it "the worst critic among here." Every time I go on Rotten Tomatoes or, I get more and more convinced of Armond White's arguments, problematic at times or not. If you're going to make a contrary argument have enough confidence and conviction to say something more than 'the critic is an idiot' bullshit!

P.P.S. I'm now putting trailers on my reviews. I don't watch them myself, but if people wish to do so whack away it!