Friday, 30 November 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Project X

Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh

Produced by: Todd Phillips

Screenplay by: Matt Drake
Michael Bacall

Story by: Michael Bacall

Starring: Thomas Mann
Oliver Cooper
Jonathan Daniel Brown
Kirby Bliss Blanton
Alexis Knapp

Cinematography by: Ken Seng

Editing by: Jeff Groth

Studio(s): Silver Pictures
Green Hat Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date: March 2, 2012

Running time: 84 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $12 million

Box office revenue: $100, 931, 865

Aloha, me back to business as usual, doing my thang (not a G-thang, unfortunately, but a thang nevertheless), reviewing movies and being a nerd in general. On that note, I saw in Queens today a fascinating low-budget Senegalese picture from 1973 called Touki Bouki, directed by Djibril Diop Mambety. It was like an East African El Topo by way of Bunuel, say if you like the sound of that potpourri, check it out. Also, on the topic of literature, I'm finding Clive Barker's Books Of Blood a welcome distraction during my study breaks (along with everything else that keeps me from any form of academic work), so for more info on irrelevant and banal topics, with interspersed snippets of film reviews, keep your eyes posted.

Rightio, so today's film for review is Project X. Now, I know the film came out at the beginning of 2012, but it still counts for eligibility to review, so I'm throwing this one in there. Me and this movie have a bit of an interesting history already. I make no bones to anyone who cares to listen (and those who don't) that I think the lad culture is a syphilitic bacterium that if personified I would hope perishes violently by way of the judas cradle. So, although I (attempt to) maintain a perspective of objectivity, it had that against, and I couldn't be bothered paying to see it any form, so I tried streaming it for free. However, it stopped about half-an-hour in, and so I tried and I tried, and I decided "right, a real critic has to wade through the cesspool, not try to jump over it," so, with great trepidation (believe me, I genuinely horrible for doing so), I paid £5 for it in my local Tesco. Yes, I actually bought and own a physical copy of Project X! I know some of you out there will have been happy to pay for this movie, but I'd lying if I said that going into it I had any semblance of a good feeling about it. I just want to get that out of the way so that if anyone wants to say I was biased beforehand, I can say you're right, and save us both some time. Anywho, short synopsis, Project X follows Thomas (Thomas Mann), Costa (Oliver Cooper) and J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown), who after Thomas' parents give him the responsibility of taking care of the house, decide to earn popularity by throwing a massive and wild party at the house. That's all you need to know, comprende? Good, now sit back and enjoy the ride!

Now, I may as well forfeit any pretence of objectivity, because I'm not being objective whatsoever, okay! That said, there were certain things that I did like about Project X. Certain individual gags in the film work, such as the most intimidating midget perhaps in movie history. Bad things happen, but I can tell you if I wouldn't be messing with that guy, and his reactions to all this stuff is pretty amusing. Also, the climax of the party itself descends into utter anarchy on a level akin The Crazies and any number of post-apocalyptic nightmares. In these scenes, I sat up and paid attention, and it made me think "why couldn't the rest of the movie have been like this?" The accompaniment of Metallica's Battery, Master Of Puppets being one of my all-time favourite records, is also a welcome deviation from the (mostly) banal house/dubstep music that pulsates throughout the film, more of which later. So, there's about fifteen solid minutes in it's favour. Also, I'd be denying if I didn't think at times it was a technically sharp film, and I think the idea of giving out iPhones and various recording devices to extras is an inspired move, and gives the film little details that are fascinating for all their lack of screen time. Finally, I must complement the performance of Jonathan Daniel Brown. In a movie that is so bereft of legitimate character development, both from a writing and acting standpoint, Daniel Brown manages to make J.B. a sweet, endearing and most importantly, three-dimensional character.

Those were the things I liked. Don't think that the amount of space devoted there means that I particularly liked the movie as a whole, because I most certainly did not: here comes the proverbial boom! Many things have been said in the press about the film's misogynistic look at the female form and the celebration of excessive drug abuse, but I think to get angry at the film in this way is giving the film too much credit. I don't think highly of these aspects of the film, but the argument has been played to death, and I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not a film of disreputable influence because of the 'Project X' parties that have arrived in the wake of it's release. The berks involved already had these 'personality' traits in them, and a movie did not make them do it! Right, sociological diatribe done, lets discuss what's wrong with the film. Aside from the odd gag and the climax of the party, it's a mostly unfunny movie. The first act takes what feels like an aeon to start, and a large portion of the party itself lags behind. I mean, if I was drinking while watching this, I'd be saying "Hurry the hell up, why are you still sober?" Also, the screenplay, aside from J.B. (which I think is more down to the actor) fails to have any character you really sympathise with. Thomas Cub is a two-dimensional protagonist, while Costa is just an outright asshole, and I think in this regard, a few words must be said on the actors who play them. Thomas Mann fails in drawing the audience into his dilemma. He's meant to have us empathise with the fact that he wants a reputation and is suffering from angst and what have you, but he comes across as somewhere between an inanimate by way of whingebag. Now, the might Oliver Cooper manages to play the most annoying character of the year. My good friend at Danland Movies complimented his comic timing, and I agree, his timing is right, but his delivery is all-off. Armed with a squeaky voice and obviously channeling small-man syndrome, Cooper is never funny once, and I spent have half the time wanting to punch this guy. It's scary because I know some people will think Costa is one of the coolest mothercanucker's to grace the screen, but he lacks any redeeming quality where his acting is regarded. Appropriate comparisons have been drawn to Superbad, in that there you have a similar format, but you have three actors, all of whom are great, and a note-perfect script, which makes them three-dimensional. This is just snore-inducing. A final note on the script, it revels in the indulgences of the lad culture, which I make no bones about how much I hate, but if it was consistent I'd accept it for all its bawdiness more freely. Unfortunately, it tries to do an about-face and say "There's more to life than this" and I'm just like "No! You cannot stick your hand of both of the cookie jars!" I'd rather it just stayed it's crass self than trying to tack on this whole nonsensical attempt to say "It's not just about naked bitches, hedonism and drug abuse," especially when they go back on themselves within minutes of doing it. Another thing I want to talk about is the music. Now, I always lay into music in film, but this time I want to make a point. We have occasional interludes into stuff by Nas, D12, Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg, but most of it is banal mainstream R&B hip-hop which has been the victim of a shitty remix by DJ 'Ahem!'Head. This is kind of thing that drives a paranoid, high-strung punk like myself into palpitations. I take allergic reactions to this type of music every time I walk into a nightclub, but I want to make it clear that there are only really two genres of music: good and bad. While I'm primarily into my punk/post-punk music, I am a big fan of hip hop, which I think has a lot of the raw qualities that punk does, but most of this stuff is that crap rap with an R&B side, which is the musical equivalent of applying sandpaper to an otherwise edgy product. Put them into a three-way dance with the club remix effect, many of which have had the dubstep treatment, dubstep being the current fad in dance music, and so what you get is a lot of that wah-wahhing and chaotic arhythmic bass-thumping on top off all those elements. It's a sound to behold, but a thoroughly unpleasant one. I realise I've went off on one with this movie, but there's a lot to be said, but on a concluding note about the negatives, I think Nima Nourizadeh just threw all these things together, because it does seem that there is a real lack of care about making a good film, because at it's heart seems to be a big ringing cash-till that says "Insert money here." There was no artistic control over this picture whatsoever, and ends up being not only an incredibly painful and nauseating assault, but also a superfluous picture. In the end, I'd just recommend going out to a nightclub, because you see enough of this kind of dickhead behaviour on a Saturday night (it's times like these I love working weekends!).

Before I'm accused of using this as a scapegoat, I want to say that Project X does have some good things about it. The gags with the midget are good, and the climax of the party is genuinely insane and creative in terms of it's stylistic execution. In that regard, along with some little gems in the party, there's about fifteen minutes of solid material. Also, Jonathan Daniel Brown is good, and I'd be lying if I said that the inclusion of Metallica's Battery wasn't welcome. However, these qualities do not redeem a bad movie. I'm not going to get my knickers in a twist over the argument as to whether or not it's misogynistic (it is!), because I think to get offended by this movies content is too much to its credit. Sergei Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin is Communo-propagandistic balderdash, but it's still one of the greatest films ever made. This certainly isn't. It's shoddily scripted, with terrible structure, badly written character with no redeeming qualities (Travis Bickle's more likeable than Costa!), who are mostly acted poorly by the way, and then it has the gall, the absolute nerve to try and say "There's more to life than this." I understand they're trying to bring in teenage angst and what have you, this is a guy who 'used' to skulk around the city centre in a Kurt Cobain top and listen to The Cure and Joy Division, but I'd rather that it didn't try to deny how crass it really is. Aurally it's a nearly complete wreck, with the worst combination of rap/hip-hop, R&B and club remixes by way of dubstep, which may as well be white noise considered the mess it makes of your ears and its banal sound. Finally director Nima Nourizadeh just threw all these things together, full of fads and trends (hasn't the 'found-footage' deal been done to death?) with a big ringing cash till at the centre of all this. No control, absolutely nauseating, redundant and superfluous. Just head out to any nightclub and you'll see this kind of behaviour without the circumstantial necessity of having to watch Project X.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 2.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Migrainous (reviewing this movie makes me want work the heavy bag I get that frustrated thinking about it! I just want to be done with it forever!)

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Directed by: Benh Zeitlin

Produced by: Josh Penn
Dan Janvey
Michael Gottwald

Screenplay by: Lucy Albar
Benh Zeitlin

Starring: Quvenzhane Wallis
Dwight Henry

Music by: Dan Romer
Benh Zeitlin

Cinematography by: Ben Richardson

Editing by: Crocket Doob
Affonso Goncalves

Studio(s): Journeyman Pictures
Court 13 Pictures

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Release date(s): January 20, 2012 (Sundance Film Festival)
June 27, 2012 (United States)
October 19, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 93 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $1, 800, 000

Box office revenue (as of publication): $11, 249, 128 

Right guys, me again, procrastinating with regards to a nasty essay on Friedrich Nietzsche. I think his philosophy is fascinating, but man if it isn't like the elephant in the room I don't want to acknowledge. Anywho, of course I've been busy review wise, but I must say a word or two about a couple of new movies I've saw recently. My first venture into Dario Argento, The Stendhal Syndrome, was a great watch and genuinely nerve-racking in parts, featuring a fearless lead performance from Asia Argento, and The City Of Lost Souls is a fun, Bizzaro-world action-packed love story that is the perfect antidote to the saccharine artificiality of the countless screen romances that foul up the cinema. Anywho, in case you forgot, keep your eyes posted!

Right, so today's movie for review is Beasts Of The Southern Wild. Winner of the Camera d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, an award previously won by Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise and Steve McQueen's Hunger, and also the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film at the Sundance Film Festival so that's a nice endorsement for debut filmmaker Benh Zeitlin. I, however, was unaware of this film's international success. Looking for something to review up at the Queens Film Theatre, I went into this movie on a purely unknowing whim, without any prior knowledge as to the film's content, besides the 12A certificate. I'll just give a brief synopsis, because it's better to go in blank: a storm is approaching The Bathtub, a southern Louisiana bayou community, and we follow six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) through the happenings, if you will, of her people and the events that occur during the course of the film. You've caught the swing of things? Right, let's go!

Starting with the good on Beasts Of The Southern Wild, I want to break from tradition and start with director Benh Zeitlin. He is responsible for creating a film, like this month's earlier Silence, which is wholly unique in terms of aesthetic atmosphere. This most unconventional of children's films does a rare thing of being both atypical and typical to the genre format. Zeitlin's wisdom and control ensures that tonally it never leans too much into one side and that it manages to be as well-balanced as it is. There is an artistic dichotomy created in the relationship between the visual and aural aspects of the film. Visually, Ben Richardson's excellent 16mm cinematography is reminiscent of the grime present in the work of the Dogme 95 (though of course they shot on Academy 35mm). In a style that correlates with the images he is capturing, it has a rawness that draws you firmly into the shoes of the central protagonist: with the camera at low angles, bouncing around and perhaps occasionally tripping up along the way, we are quite literally seeing this world as active participants from her perspective, and more importantly, how she sees it. In contrast to the often brutal (but artistically wonderful in its design) world of The Bathtub, we have the sonic landscape. Dan Romer's score (with Benh Zeitlin) is perhaps one out of this context I might not appreciate, but here it fits like a glove. It conjures up just how magical the world can seem to a child, even when surrounded by such threatening forces. There is a genuine sense of jubilant playfulness to it that one could say corresponds to the inside of our intrepid protagonist's head. This is a film that is sure of itself, so much that it doesn't feel like you're being told how intelligent it is. You just go with the flow and revel in it. At the centre of the picture, for all the film's strong supporting performances, particularly Dwight Henry, is a transcendent performance from young Quvenzhane Wallis. Despite portraying a character who goes through a bildungsroman-esque arc, Wallis carries Hushpuppy with such amazing confidence beyond her years. The filmmakers have let Wallis bring so many of her own qualities to the character of Hushpuppy, and as such we get this miraculous harmony between construction and performer. You never once doubt the legitimacy of having a child at the centre of all this stuff that's going on, and I know this sound like high praise (it's meant to be, but my hyperbole may seem exaggerated), it may well be the best performance I have seen from anyone in 2012. Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a wonderful film that may be tougher than one may expect for a children's movie, but it has all the hallmarks of a great film and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Now, I loved Beasts Of The Southern Wild. It's a film with genuine character, humour, brutality and above all, heart. However, at risk of sounding like I'm looking for faults, I don't think it is perfect or indeed a masterpiece. I'm not going to be like Cole Smithey, who in his review for the film introduced an argument that it was "one of the worst films of 2012" and didn't follow up that statement with a why, but I can sympathise with the like-minded Chris Tookey, who felt similarly to Smithey, but had legitimate weight to his argument. I'd be lying if I didn't say that bits of it are all over the shop and that the script has too many intricacies, in that occasionally the detail of it overwhelms both the audience and, I think, what is good about the script. That said, this was not a massive issue with me, but it was a flaw nevertheless.

Despite this flaw, which does take away from the film, Beasts Of The Southern Wild is on the whole a mostly consistent piece. Tonally, it affected as such that throughout there was a sense of dread akin to that of a thriller, but also at times awed me in the way that an adventure film would when I was a child. Benh Zeitlin is responsible for the creative direction the film takes, establishing a rich dichotomy of two polarising elements (the Dogme 95-esque 16mm cinematography/the jubilant Dan Romer score) that are grounded and held in place by a stunning central performance from Quvenzhane Wallis. Not your average kids movie by any means, but a wonderful piece of work.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pensive (don't know quite why, but I'm in a rather thinking type of mood)

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Taken 2

Directed by: Olivier Megaton

Produced by: Luc Besson

Screenplay by: Luc Besson
Robert Mark Kamen

Starring: Liam Neeson
Maggie Grace
Famke Janssen
Rade Serbedzija

Music by: Nathaniel Mechaly

Cinematography by: Romain Lacourbas

Editing by: Camille Delamarre
Vincent Tabaillon

Studio(s): EuropaCorp
Grive Productions
M6 Films

Distributed by: EuropaCorp Distribution (France)
20th Century Fox (United States)

Release date(s): September 7, 2012 (Deauville Film Festival)
October 3, 2012 (France)
October 4, 2012 (United Kingdom)
October 5, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 91 minutes

Country: France

Language: English

Production budget: $45 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $352, 763, 000

Ahoy there, strangers, 'tis I (who the hell else?), The Thin White Dude, come to offer you, the unwashed masses (don't worry, I stink too!) some advice in the matter of "to see, or not to see?" I don't know why, but I just felt like writing that Bizarro opening because I couldn't think of a better way to start the review, being the lazy sod that I am. I've been keeping busy, as this week I have seen the new Twilight movie and Dead Heads, and there will be more on the way for the month of November, because being the ass-backwards goof that I am, I'm reviewing October's movies now. Also, if you happen to live in Belfast, I'd recommend that you make your way to Head, the DVD/record store beside Forbidden Planet, because they are selling Bergman, Takashi Miike (by way of the now out of print Tartan label) and Arrow Films DVDs at a cheap price. £5/£6 might be high-price range, but believe me, I've seen these films fetch at over £20 on Amazon, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted! And just a wee look in at my reviews. Please?

Anyway, today's review (I saw the film about a month ago!) is Taken 2. The original Taken, while by no means chopped liver, was a good, solid exploitation movie that just happened to feature Liam Neeson, an actor who made his name in films such as Schindler's List and Michael Collins, but who since Taken has essentially been redefined as an action film star. After Taken's box-office success, taking in roughly ten times it's budget, we get Taken 2, with Olivier Megaton, of Transporter 3, Colombiana and winner of Best Name That Sounds Like A Transformer fame at the helm. Following on from the first film, Bryan Mills (Neeson) is getting stead work in private security, and suggest to daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen), who's having relationship issues, to join him in Istanbul after he finishes a work assignment. Those of you privy to the first film will have the alarm bells ringing, because unbeknownst to the good folk relatives of those nasty Turks Mills killed in the first movie have declared revenge. You see where this is going?

Starting with the good, I must compliment Liam Neeson for his anchoring of the film. He brings a legitimacy to the proceedings, and I actually find that the scenes with him and his family to set up the action are among my favourites, because they feel real, and Neeson has such a natural screen presence. Also, as far as the action goes, he does that pretty good too. Apparently the stunts took their toll on Neeson during the shoot, but as far as I'm concerned he looked alright to me. Don't forget Charles Bronson was playing Paul Kersey in Death Wish 5 when he was in his seventies, see Neeson is by no means past his sell-by date. Also, his work here is greatly appreciated, because the film does require anchoring more so this time. It's a pretty well-shot movie too, and for that Romain Lacourbas must be credited. Though it is clearly going for that Bourne/DV kind of feeling, the film is lit appropriately, something which many filmmakers shooting in this way seem to have a problem with. Also, Luc Besson's presence on the production is of benefit, because even with run of the mill, nuts-and-bolts action movies, Besson as a producer always ensures that there will be a pace to the proceedings. I mean, Nikita is a movie of the same vein that has a better reputation than befits it, but it too is still a watchable movie. Finally, although Besson could perhaps be called the auteur of the project (he's a producer, writer, and despite directorial changes, there are numerous stylistic similarities), Olivier Megaton does a solid job as a director, and ensures that there is a degree of control and consistency on the project, nailing a (relatively) watchable exploitation flick.

Now, you can gather from the above that there were things to like about Taken 2, but equally there are things to dislike. I'm going to get the music out of the way, because, let's face it, I hate the music in nearly every movie, so you're probably bored stiff hearing about it. Nathaniel Mechaly, whose work outside of these films I am not familiar, may as well be filling in as a vessel for the spirit of the very same conductor of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra, who continues to haunt me with every movie he plagues. Every time there is a scene that is denoted as 'stirring,' we get 'stirring' music, every scene denoted 'action,' we get 'action' music. There's no attempt to challenge any orchestral conventions, and furthermore, if you don't want to challenge the conventions, at least make the music a good listen, because this is just the stuff of dullards. Also, it's obvious that Besson and co. have seen Drive, a film which in the short time since it's release has a cast wide net of influence. Salivating at the prospect of an homage to Nic Winding Refn's masterpiece, we got a nod to 'A Real Hero' playing on an iPod, and a whole scene is structured around the Chromatic's track 'Tick Of The Clock.' Both of these pieces weren't written for Drive, but they fit in perfectly, with Taken 2, you can't get away from the fact that they do nothing to elevate the proceeding and that it reminds you of a better film. Moving swiftly on (ramble on music done!), the script deserves a word or two. Turning the story upside down does not make it a different movie. This moves in the same not-so mysterious ways of the first film, and while I'm not against following the basic three-act structure, with so little to make it distinctive from the first, it feels like superfluous cash-in. Furthermore, the fact that the rating has been brought down to a 12A and a conscious decision has been made to tone it down, makes it feel like the brash dignity of brutality of what is essentially an exploitation flick has been castrated. There's no sense of legitimate danger! Moving on again (don't think the music was the worst thing about it because I denoted more words to it: the script definitely is!), I have a real problem with the editing. I know that aesthetically they are trying to establish how frenetic the action is, but doing what feels sixty or seventy different cuts for a thirty-second scene is simply ridiculous. There are far creative ways of editing a movie than letting Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface have an all-out, last man standing battle to the death in the editing suite. Note to editors: fast cuts do not mean good cuts. They just mean people suffering disorientation, headaches and failing to follow what is going on for no reason other than your sheer laziness, you berks!

Don't get me wrong, Taken 2 is superfluous in the extreme and completely nonsensical balderdash (as is my use of big words!), but it is a decent, watchable exploitation flick. Granted, it lacks the kicks that the original had, but we have the strength of Luc Besson's production and his hiring of director Olivier Megaton, both of whom ensure the film has a pace and consistent level of control, and that it is a pretty well-shot movie. Finally, it features the mighty Liam Neeson, whose presence seems to bring about credibility in even the worst of projects (this is not among them), and I know, he's the star, but the film would be nothing of any significance of he were not here. Box-office figures show that Taken 2 has more than made it's money back, so we'll probably get at least one more. Just don't take it to Taken 9, with Liam Neeson on his deathbed, mumbling, "I wish I was dead. Oy..." 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Procrastinating (I've a horrible essay on Nietzsche I've been putting off!)

P.S. Rade Serbedzija's, last seen as the best thing Renny Harlin's horrible 5 Days Of War, is pretty good too.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Silence

Directed by: Pat Collins

Produced by: Tina Moran

Screenplay by: Pat Collins
Eoghan Mac Giolla Bride
Sharon Whooley

Starring: Eoghan Mac Giolla Bride
(Others As Themselves)

Cinematography by: Richard Kendrick

Editing by: Tadhg O'Sullivan

Distributed by: Element Pictures Distribution

Release date(s): February 2012 (Ireland)
(Rest of information unavailable)

Running time: 84 minutes

Country: Ireland

Language(s): English

Production budget: (Unavailable)

Box office revenue: (Unavailable)

I think I should abide by the title of this upcoming film and just shut up, because any time I start going on about how many reviews I am going to do, it just comes back to bite me in the ass! Anywho, I'm clamping myself down to my desk, so as to force myself to work on a horrible set of essays, but realistically, I know much time will be invested in doing my film reviews, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted! Enjoy The Silence!

So, thirtieth film review for 2012, and a good excuse to throw out a Depeche Mode reference, here's Silence. I saw this film on a pure whim as part of the Green Screen Film Festival promoted by the Queen's Film Theatre. I knew nothing about it going in, and was pleasantly surprised to see that this was an introduced screening with the film's lead actor/writer Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride curated by my former Film & Sound lecturer Liz Greene. In Silence, he plays a man by the name of Eoghan, a sound recordist who is returning to Ireland for the first time in fifteen years. That's all the plot you need to know going in, and that's all you're going to get!

The first thing I would like to praise about the film is it's overall tone. As I said, I went into this blank, and as such the way in which the film is designed makes you wonder whether or not this is a documentary. It's a delicately balanced element that works well into the finished piece, which comes across along the lines of meta-fiction, in that you are clearly aware at times of the illusion, but still come question it, especially given that a lot of the details in the script are autobiographical in relation to Eoghan's (the actor playing the character Eoghan's) life. He himself, a non-professional actor and writer by trade, delivers one of the most naturalistic performances I can remember seeing in quite a long time. There's clearly a lot of him in the character, but in the same way I bought Bruno S. as Bruno Stroszek in the Werner Herzog film, I accept Mac Giolla Bride as legitimate in this context. He injects a lot of passion and obsession into the character, and makes him exist, in this fiction, a real human being. Also, being a movie about sound, you'd like to think that the sound design/editing was good, and in this respect it certainly pays off. In the same metafictional approach taken to Eoghan as character/actor, the filmmakers play around with our perception of the diegesis. Whether or not we are made aware of it alternates at various points, and sound wise the whole picture explores an appropriate, wide variety of medium and approaches so that it becomes in more ways than one a transgressive experience. Interesting in relation to this transgression is Richard Kendrick's cinematography. It has an illusory dream-like quality in its approach, some of the construction of the shots resembling something akin to Tarkovsky's Mirror by way of 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. Mixing this with so-called 'documentary realist' elements, such as archive footage and talking-heads interviews, nearly all of which  are filmed with a digital camera, blur the lines between documentary film and fiction film, while also falling somewhere along the lines of experimental film. Director Pat Collins, who has worked on and directed several Irish documentary productions, can be praised for this. Like a great fisherman, he has cast his line into deep waters, and has come up with a catch that's one of those rare films that stands as a wholly unique experience. Silence is a great piece that I'd thoroughly recommend.

These kind things being said (what is good about the film is quite extraordinary), there are a few key flaws that keep it from the status of being a masterpiece. I'd be lying if I said that the script wasn't quite choppy in places. Don't get me wrong, many of the individual parts are quite wonderful, but as an overall piece some of them just don't fit in correctly. Because the film retains a fluidity despite being a controlled construction, these bits stick out like sore thumbs, but I don't want to discuss in detail because it involves giving away elements of the plot. Also, the script calls for some stylised elements, and I think some of the stylised elements feel over-stylised in the context that this is uniformly minimalist and 'un-stylistic' if you catch my drift. For instance, the score, which is minimalist in the Philip Glass sense, is very good, but the overall film itself is minimalist and thus the ultimate approach would be to have as little score as possible. In parts, it works, but in others, it intrudes.

Silence is a film with fundamental flaws that would with most others detract significantly from the finished piece. However, what is done well is done as such that it still remains a great picture. The central 'performance' from Eoghan Mac Giolla Bride is supreme in its naturalism, Richard Kendrick's cinematography gives it a real sense of transgression, and director Pat Collins has carefully crafted a unique and interesting metafictional experience. I don't know when you will all be able to see this film on wide release, if at all, but it is well worth the effort seeking out. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (about to sit down and watch The Stendhal Syndrome, my first venture into the mind of Dario Argento!)

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Mercenaries

Directed by: Paris Leonti

Produced by: John Adams
Luc Chaudhary

Screenplay by: Paris Leonti

Starring: Billy Zane
Robert Fucilla
Kirsty Mitchell
Rob James-Collier
Vas Blackwood
Geoff Bell

Music by: Haim Frank Ilfman

Cinematography by: Philip Robertson

Editing by: Anthony Willis
Iain Mitchel

Studio(s): ABC Films
Angry Badger Pictures

Distributed by: Kaleidoscope

Release date(s): May, 2011 (Ibiza Film Festival)
January 27, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 90 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language(s): English

Production budget: $1 million (estimated)

Box office revenue: (Unavailable)

Massively overhyped and grossly overrated, it's The Thin White Dude's Reviews, with your host, here's The Thin White Dude! Once again, I gab on about how busy I am reviewing movies, blah blah blah, and how there's going to be loads more activity when in fact I know in my heart of hearts, that I will be a lazy mothercanucker and do sweet f-a! Regardless, I have been procuring a log of movies to review, and starting with this one, I'll review Silence, an Irish film that I saw at a screening of the QFT's Green Screen Festival, Taken 2, Beasts Of The Southern Wild and Project X, which I will follow with a review for the month of October. Also, I have copies of Dead Head, Rampart, Chronicle, Iron Sky and I managed to find a nice cheap copy of Takashi Miike's latest, Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai, so, while I try and maintain a pretence of objectivity while reviewing these films, you lot keep your eyes posted!

Right, so today's movie is Mercenaries, another one of my endeavours into the cheap DVD territory. Apparently the film received a limited UK release on January 27th earlier this year, but premiering on DVD less than two months later on March 5th would lead me to believe that the distributors probably just put it in the cinema for a few days, just so it could qualify for a festival run and get a few reviews for publicity sake. Also, the fact that it's appearing in my local supermarket for £5 would lead me further down the path of my distribution theory, which is neither hear nor there in relation to discussing the film's plot synopsis. Story follows a group of mercenaries (surprise, surprise!), led by ex-S.A.S. serviceman Andy Marlow (Robert Fucilla), who have been recruited 'off-the-record' by US military personnel/UN peacekeeper Colonel Torida (Billy Zane), on behalf of the US government, to rescue the American ambassador and his aide from nasty Balkan revolutionary/terrorist forces, led by Olodan Gragovic (Anthony Byrne). You get the point? Let's get on with the review then!

Look, I'll just shoot straight from the hip and say that there really isn't that much good about the film. Robert Fucilla's performance is strong enough in the lead role. He doesn't get much to play around with, but he does his earnest with it. Uniformly, it's well-enough shot, even if you can tell that they are working around the low-budget and doing their best to make it look like a bigger budgeted film. Furthermore, although it's just designed around the action scenes, these scenes are choreographed well-enough that you do pay attention to them when they're going on. If I sound like I'm trying to find things, it's because I am! It's not an outright bad movie in the way Rock Of Ages or Jack And Jill is, it at least has a relative degree of consistency throughout. I suppose director Paris Leonti could be thanked for that at least.

However, for Leonti it is not to be all compliments, as he also wrote one of the year's worst screenplays. It's not like there are scenes that are written badly in a ludicrous sense, but it is scribed in an incredibly lazy way that follows like someone reading from a screenwriting manual as they are going along. That's not to slag screenwriting manuals, anything by Syd Field is a great, informative wealth of knowledge, but rules are made to be broken and worked around. Here, uniformity and complicity to the dullard, tried-and-tested methods are the name of the game. It reads like an action-film cliche checklist: protagonist with a dark past that at an appropriate will reveal his secret, check, nasty left-wing revolutionaries, check, thinly-vieled legal loopholes that challenge the idea of a peaceful United Nations and assert American imperialism, check, and worst of all, straight from the Sylvester Stallone book, the noble peasants. Yes, once again, those scruffy ragamuffins that have suffered such atrocities who seem strangely more adept at handling guns than the actors playing military servicemen, they're back. I'm sick of this collective scourge of 'The Noble Peasants' (who will be referred as such from now on: they are that much of a cliche!) popping up in movies all the time! We'll get the crap out of the way quick, I didn't like the music. It was once again a case of my Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra popping up, doing their schtick, and completely devaluing any legitimacy that the film's more 'emotional' scenes try to achieve. Moving swiftly on, it is also a terribly edited picture, in more ways than one. For instance, the muzzle flashes from the guns in the film look like a retrograde, primitive form of CG-animation, and take away any pretence of danger that these weapons might have. Also, the sound editing, while synchronous with the visual action, does not fit what is going on. Aurally, some of the foley effects in particular sound exaggerated and you can tell there is no effort being made when the majority of them you can identify from different sources and better movies. As far as cutting is concerned, Anthony Willis and Iain Mitchel, two heads without good sense between them, decide to let certain scenes/shots last too long, and often cut at the wrong moments, and the film would become farcical and amusing were it not so dull. When Billy Zane steps out a car, and the film cuts to give him a brief hero shot so that it can be established that "Hey, it's Billy Zane!," I knew I was in for a long haul.

These things being said, and don't get me wrong here, Mercenaries is a rubbish film, but it is one of those movies in which there is a lot wrong with it, but that it is done rather consistently, that you stop really caring too much about how bad it is and go with it. If you'll notice, I haven't attacked the actors, not because they aren't bad either, but because I see the poor sods as mere pawns in this ugly chessboard. I'm trying to write this in a way so no fan forum misrepresents how I feel and tries to quote me on this (it has been done, believe me!), but it is such a uniformly bad movie that follows the numbers so much that, instead of being like Jack And Jill and Rock Of Ages, the two movies this year that have really made me mad, I just ignore it for the dullard that it is.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 2.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Autopilot (lots of Uni work, I'm being a hermit aside from set-dancing and cinema trips this month!)

P.S. The 2.9 rating is another private joke at the expense of Danny Dyer. Major brownie points if you are able to figure out the gag! (Hint: not the size in inches of his AHEM! or the Stanley Knife he wrote his articles with in Zoo magazine. Man, that was a dig!)

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - ParaNorman

Directed by: Sam Fell
Chris Butler

Produced by: Travis Knight
Arianne Sutner

Screenplay by: Chris Butler

Story by: Arianne Sutner
Stephen Stone

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee
Tucker Albrizzi
Anna Kendrick
Casey Affleck
Christopher Mintz-Plasse
John Goodman
Elaine Stritch

Music by: Jon Brion

Cinematography by: Tristan Oliver

Editing by: Christopher Murrie

Studio: Laika

Distributed by: Focus Features (United States)
Universal Pictures (International)

Release date(s): August 3, 2012 (Mexico)
August 17, 2012 (United States)
September 14, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 92 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $60 million

Box office revenue: $95, 549, 164

Ahoy there, strangers. As you can see, I haven't posted for a couple of days, but frankly that's because I am a busy mofo right now, although there are certain entities on the face of this earth (including myself) who often claim that I am, rather baldly, a lazy bastard. That said, I have continued seeing movies, including a nice little gem by the name of Silence as part of the Queen's Film Theatre Green Screen Festival, celebrating Irish film, so, by all means, follow the tradition, assume the position and keep your eyes posted!

Right, so today's movie is ParaNorman, which is the latest film from the Laika animation studio, whose first feature film Coraline I was a big fan of. It was an old-school, stop-motion animated feature that was not only highly entertaining, but also challenged it's viewer in a respectful way, with it's dark subject matter. However, in 2009, Coraline's director Henry Selick, who had also made (with Tim Burton) The Nightmare Before Christmas and James And The Giant Peach, and as such, the young studio lost an industry veteran who was a valuable stablemate for the studio. So, after Selick's departure, and many staff lay-offs, particularly in the computer animation department, screenwriter Chris Butler directs ParaNorman with Sam Fell of Flushed Away and The Tale Of Despereaux fame. ParaNorman follows the story of a young boy by the name of Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is bullied as a result of (as if his name wasn't enough!) his coming across as strange to those who do not believe in his genuine ability to communicate with the dead. He's isolated from everyone in his family, except his dead grandmother (Elaine Stritch), until he becomes friendly with Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), also a loner because he's fat and eccentric. However, after the swift arrival and departure of Norman's similarly-afflicted uncle Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), he is appointed the task of performing a ritual from a book at a grave site to curb the impending entry of the undead into his town, as a result of the Witches Curse on the town three hundred years previously following an execution. Blah, blah, lots of synopsis, hopefully not too many spoilers: let's delve, shall we?

Right, to start with what is good, I must praise certain individuals of the voice cast, who as a uniform whole were pretty good. Kodi Smit-McPhee, one of the best young actors working in film, translates his talents into the lead vocal performance as Norman, and anchors the film well. It could have been an over-acted, over-melodramatic moody part, by he manages to play it at just the right tone, so Norman remains interesting instead of irritating. The same can be said for Tucker Albrizzi, whose Neil could have been a massive pain, but is a good source of fun and wit. Casey Affleck, who probably has one of the most distinctive voices in cinema, exaggerates himself a bit with his part, and makes Neil's older brother Mitch a unique character. From an audio-visual standpoint, it is amusing to see this massive guy who's built like a brick shithouse speak with such soft-spoken tones. Finally on the voice cast front, I thought Elaine Stritch's Grandma Babcock was one of the most charming things about the movie. Something about the way she captured that character's honesty struck a chord with me, and the relationship between her and Norman was completely legitimate and endearing, never once feeling contrived and phoney. Relationships are a key part to what made this movie feel like something of depth, and the script, although it has issues (more of which later), builds the interactions between different characters strongly. For starters, they are well-written and each has their own personality traits, so that's a good base to start with in terms of building their relationships. When this happens, they are revealed as three-dimensional, and whenever we get down the central crux of the film, the message it is sending and what it is trying to get at, it feels legitimate and human. Also, praise where praise is due, here in plentiful quantities, because the film's animation is splendid. As I'm sure I've mentioned in relation both to stop-motion and anime, I love the physicality, weight, and the idea that someone has actually went out and created these things. That is not a sleight on CG-animation, Pixar are the best animation company in the world, but it is a unique stylistic choice and it's use in this film is appropriate. The animation, in conjunction with cinematographer Tristan Oliver, achieve a terrific synthesis, operating in harmony, as not only are the characters wonderfully designed, the film is lit and shot intelligently, so as to display and highlight the craft of the Laika animation studio. Just on a final note with the good, the tone of the film invokes Arthur Miller's The Crucible and George A. Romero's Dead trilogy in terms of what is trying to get at. I have to respect the fact that a kids movie actually decides to challenge it's audience and take inspiration more from these sources, while keeping everything pretty clean and accessible. Most kids will remember the films, like The Lion King (Mustafa's death haunts me to this day!), that challenge them and hit home hard, and I think the filmmakers realised this and play a great balancing act of making a thoughtful, engaging, unpatronising and most importantly, hilarious horror-comedy, designed for kids, but accessible for everyone.

Now, I did love ParaNorman and think it was a great movie. However, it ain't a masterpiece, and there are a couple of specific reasons for that. I'll get this one out of the way because everyone will groan once they see it: I wasn't fussed on the music. There was a nice synthesizer theme associated with certain characters (no spoilers!), but for the most part Jon Brion's primary instrument is the acoustic guitar, and I don't think that it fits the project. Watching it, I couldn't help but think how something along the lines of the post-punk of Joy Division or The Cure a la Charlotte Sometimes would have fit the supernatural/gothic atmosphere of ParaNorman. Also, while I respected the complexity of his characters, Chris Butler's screenplay does have a few issues. The story is nothing new, but it is done with such flair that I can't complain about that. No, the main issue is that some of the film's thematic content and the messages it is trying to send are too easy to get. I like what it says, but it says it in such an overt way that it is kind of like waving a red flag at a bull, and I of course am going to latch onto that stuff, so they don't need to keep hammering it home. That is the primary niggle, as I think given how unpatronising the film is, that is an issue.

These things being said, ParaNorman is a great movie. You already know what I think was good about it, so I'm just going to tell you a brief anecdote that masquerades as a summary. I went to The Strand in East Belfast (my local and favourite cinema) for six o'clock screening, and it had been out for some time, so I paid five pounds to see the movie in a screening that had an audience of one, namely me. As such, I got free choice of seats and just sat back and watched this wonderful movie unfold. I laughed consistently throughout, and besides the gypsies in The Turin Horse, haven't been as scared at the cinema this year. I encourage you all to go and see, because although it ain't perfect, it's a damn sight better a comedy and horror movie than most films out there.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (off for reading week. I work better solo, so not having to go into Uni really means I get more work, from employment, studious and hobby standpoints done. Also, being a minor Film Studies student, trips to the cinema count as research!)