Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Starving Games

Directed by: Jason Friedberg
Aaron Seltzer

Produced by: Peter Safran

Screenplay by: Jason Friedberg
Aaron Seltzer

Starring: Maiara Walsh
Cody Christian
Brant Dougherty
Diedrich Bader

Music by: Timothy Wynn

Cinematography by: Shawn Maurer

Studio(s): The Safran Company
Louisiana Production Consultants

Distributed by: Ketchup Entertainment (United States)
Signature Entertainment (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): November 8, 2013 (United States, limited release)
November 11, 2013 (United Kingdom, straight-to-DVD)

 Running time: 83 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $4, 500, 000

Box-office revenue (as of publication): (N/A)

Well, as you can tell (maybe you can't) I've been neglecting the blog over the past couple of weeks. Basically, it was a little thing called Christmas, which normally isn't really that much of a big deal for me, but I have had some work interspersed with socialising with all of my friends, a number of whom have come home from university's abroad, and had a good bit of family time, so, much as I love doing this, frankly I was happy to take the couple weeks off. However, here I am, and in my absence I have been working on a number of different wee projects (more of which in due time), so for all the latest and greatest in movies, along with the odd update about completely irrelevant topics, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is The Starving Games, which, in case you haven't guessed, is a parody film of The Hunger Games, beginning life as a trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins and has spawned into a hit franchise with two high-grossing films (neither of which I have seen) starring Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Katniss Everdeen. Well, as you know, in their great omnipotence, nothing misses the gaze of the cultural trailblazers that are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who thought it would be funny to release their five dimes. For those of you who don't know, I have a history with Friedberg and Seltzer to say the least, so I'll just give you a little recap. After a couple of bad movies, the two went on to make Meet The Spartans, a movie that is extraordinarily bad that it really has to be seen in order to gauge just how rubbish it is. Then they made Vampires Suck which, aside from a genuinely spot-on Kristen Stewart-impersonation by Jenn Proske, is another horrendous movie. Vampires Suck got the dubious honour of joining hands with the likes of Deja Vu, Prom Night and Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (let us never mention that movie again, again!) as winners of the prestigious Thin White Dude Award for Worst Film of the Year. It's also responsible for one of my critical claims to fame, where after posting my review on their Facebook page, I received a number of angry e-mails along the lines of "How dare you such things about our movie?" This massively over-inflated, pompous and self-righteous attitude, led my to the Dick Dastardly-esque manoeuvre, in my great maturity, of mass-spamming said Facebook page and received more angry notifications from Zuckerberg Inc., telling me I was temporarily barred from posting after "abuse" had been reported and that if continued I would be removed from Facebook. Not that I'm intimidated by such matters (indeed, they usually lead me to be more creative), but a large part of my fan-base comes from Facebook, so for that reason I stopped. Still, doesn't stop me from being angry! So, quick synopsis here goes that Kantmiss Evershot (Maiara Walsh), in order to save her sister from selection volunteers to participate in The Starving Games, a gladiatorial battle to the death amongst young people for the grand prize of an old ham, a coupon for a foot-long Subway (SUBWAY! SUBWAY! SUBWAY!) and partially eaten pickle. Look, I could put a bit more effort into a more detailed synopsis, but really this just isn't worth either that or the veil of objectivity.

To start with the good, of which there isn't much admittedly, I have to say that Maiara Walsh does put in a decent performance as Kantmiss Evershot. While much of the acting is bad, she at least, despite the script, displays some sort of awareness about comic timing, and perhaps with a better movie, there could be a chance for her to shine. The only other good thing to say about this movie, and it's not exactly a positive but I'll use it to fill up space is the fact there is no major studios backing this film. It seems that finally, after all these years of having to endure Friedberg and Seltzer stinking up our cinemas, everyone has finally had enough of these two cretins. I can imagine these two pitching this film to Regency, Lionsgate and 20th Century Fox (their regular distributor for many a year), thinking this is oh so hilarious, and finally they've all had the good sense to put their foot down and said "no!" Emphatically "no," they might some money off of a relatively low-budget parody movie, but they spare so many of us from having to sit through these atrocity exhibitions, and that term is not to tie it into the likes of quality art such as the book of the same by J.G. Ballard or Joy Division's Closer, it's just a term that perfectly describes this latest monstrosity.

Right, seeing as how I've already got a head start on the negatives, here it goes officially, because, hey, I skipped to the next paragraph! That makes about as much sense of The Starving Games as a whole. Don't get me wrong, I got to watch it in the comfort of my home because no major studio backed it and therefore, here in the United Kingdom, it only got a direct-to-DVD release, even my inherent masochism that gets me through so many shoddy releases during the course of the year couldn't save me from the exercise in endurance of this picture. Friedberg and Seltzer have written one of their traditional sledgehammer comedy scripts, full of pace and gags and what have you, the problem being that the only ones who seem to find this shit hilarious are Friedberg and Seltzer themselves. They think that they are writing something like The Naked Gun, a movie with a constant barrage of jokes and one of the funniest comedies of all-time. Here what we've got is a bunch of lame references which only seem to exist in the film for the purpose of name-dropping and being in touch with 'popular culture.' So we see Gangnam Style, Fifty Shades Of Grey etc, but this kind of hits the point of absolute absurdity when you have a man dressed as James Cameron showing up saying "I'm the king of the world" as though he said it at this year's Oscar ceremony and not the one in March 1998. Speaking of Cameron and comic timing, Friedberg and Seltzer have this ridiculous thing of on occasion drawing out a gag for two or three minutes too long. There's a whole scene involving a parody of Avatar (cued on by hallucinogenic bee stings and with a sitar playing on the score. Yes, it's a sitar, it must be a hallucination sequence. A sitar, we must put in a sitar. Flower. Power. Sitar. How very very very topically relevant. Ravi, Sitar. Shankar, Sitar. Must, Sitar. Be, Sitar. Turning, Sitar. In, Sitar. His, Sitar. Grave, Sitar. Sitar...) and the whole thing with the hair strands coupling to simulate mating, and this turns into an orgasm sequence with the hair strands going all over the place. It's like a pre-schooler trying to give me a sex education lesson: "the boy's hair looks a penis and the girl's hair looks like a vagina and they put the two together and make love." The other extended sequence that stuck out was this ridiculous scene where, after a preposterously bowdlerised motivational speech about how the people should rise up against this despotic regime and makes the worst Soviet propaganda films from the 1920s look articulate, the masses are placated by a video showing a burger being made, only this burger is just an assortment of food and mess and junk and it lasts for so long that I just want an excuse to make it all go away. Also, I don't know about you, but I am gonna find out the link between Subway and this movie, because I betcha in some form or another, Subway have put money into this and got their products advertised in it, so I'm convinced that they're partially responsible for this. Just about everything about this film suggest laziness to the highest degree. Don't get me wrong, the acting is bad, it's a dully shot movie, the editing is simply horrible, and while Friedberg and Seltzer were rubbish before, you'd like to think that deprived of the resources that are usually available to them they might actually get their heads together and try to make something decent. No, what get is a movie of the same standard we expect from the two, only the production value is of a far worse order. The special effects are that kind matte copy and paste quality that you might see on a twenty-year-old version of MicroSoft PowerPoint, which would lead me to believe that either the animators suck, or that no one on the set could light a decent fire so as to give some illusion that there is something happening here. Also, is it just me or was the whole movie basically shot on location in a field, a forest and some bit of dirt ground with a small stage, microphone, a couple of barrels and a back wall. This is the kind of movie that if extraterrestrial beings in space were to find a copy of in space and watch, they wouldn't watch to come to earth and engage in communications. Finally, ten minutes of screen time dedicated to bloopers that would normally end up on the deleted scenes feature of a DVD are here on display to fill up an eighty-minute screen time. Friedberg and Seltzer are like two very painful ulcers on the inside if your mouth, but they have outdone themselves, and are becoming cancerous ones that you just can't seem to get rid of.

This year has been an exceptional one in movie quality. On the one hand, I've got four movies so far (as this will continue til the end of Oscar season) I'd consider masterpieces (The Act Of Killing, Rush, Gravity, Blue Is The Warmest Colour) and many other great movies that display unique energy and genuine diversity, making this one of the more interesting year's in recent film history. However, equally we've had a number of real stinkers, and The Starving Games would have been my worst film of the year but for two reasons: 1. they'd probably consider a badge of honour of some sort, then try to eat it thinking that any physical presentation I give them would be edible like chocolate money 2. Grown Ups 2 had an $80 million budget and with that much talent they should know better. The Starving Games is the second-worst film I have seen from 2013, but this a small mercy based upon the fact that they don't seem to know any better than how to be, like hipsters, parasitical cultural leeches.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 0.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (all set for New Year, new day, new me, woo woo!)

P.S. The second link there is an excellent video review that, while not a good sales pitch for my work, puts it better than my own words ever could.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche

Produced by: Abdellatif Kechiche
Brahim Chioua
Vincent Maravel

Screenplay by: Abdellatif Kechiche
Ghalia Lacroix

Based on: Blue Angel by Julie Maroh

Starring: Adele Exarchopoulos
Lea Seydoux

Cinematography by: Sofian El Fani

Editing by: Albertine Lastera
Camille Toubkis

Studio(s): Quat'sous Films
France 2 Cinema
Scope Pictures
Radio Television Belge
Vertigo Films

Distributed by: Wild Bunch (France)
Sundance Selects (United States)
Artificial Eye (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): May 23, 2013 (France, Cannes Film Festival, premiere)
October 9, 2013 (France)
October 25, 2013 (United States, limited)
November 22, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 179 minutes

Country(s): France

Language: French

Production budget: €4 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $7, 078, 019

Well hello there, my good compadres, as I've mentioned in my last review, although I haven't been watching any more movies than I usually do, I've indulged rather well my cultural addiction this week. I'm still marching through Clive Barker's Imajica, which, after seven hundred pages, I still have about four hundred left to read of this masterful epic, and I went to Black Sabbath at the Odyssey Arena. Not withstanding the surreality of attending a gig in my regular workplace, the fact that I got to see one of my favourite bands, who I believe are responsible (along with David Bowie's Low) for crafting one of the two greatest albums ever released in their seminal 1970 album Paranoid, notwithstanding a back catalogue with a breadth of fine work. These things being said, as usual, I'm working on other things on and outside the blog, including starting to put the works on my seventh annual Best and Worst of the Year, and also before that comes out there'll be the usual Hall of Fame inductees, so, for the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted! 

Today's film up for review, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, brings with it a lot of buzz. Along with the likes of Gravity and 12 Years A Slave, it stands certainly as one of the most talked about films of the year. It won the prestigious Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, which was presented to both the lead actresses and director. With critical acclaim following in it's wake from the likes of Robbie Collin and Peter Bradshaw, and also having the great Spanish director Pedro Almodovar name it one of his favourite films of the year, Blue has also generated a certain degree of negative press. Having taken five months to shoot instead of the projected two-and-a-half, with seven hundred and fifty hours of dailies, the two leads Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos, amongst numerous members of the crew, have said that the shoot was horrendous and would never work with director Abdellatif Kechiche again. Since that interview in The Daily Beast (I'll put a link at the bottom of the review, for it makes a good read), Kechiche has made his opinions felt that the film should not be released, for it has been "sullied" by the negative press going into it, the remarks made by the actresses a breach of trust and that he "felt humiliated, disgraced." So, as you can see, there's a bit of contextual baggage going into the picture, but as I said, it's contextual, and you shouldn't let facts outside of the picture make your mind up for you. So, plot synopsis: Adele (Exarchopoulos) is a secondary-school student who has been dissatisfied with a relationship, and passes by a woman with blue hair, falling in love at first sight. On a night out with a friend, she bumps into the woman, named Emma (Lea Seydoux), and from there unfolds a relationship which encompasses the film. Shall we dance?

So, starting with the good, the acting from Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux are extraordinary. To address the elephant in the room from the bat, the film's long, graphic sex scenes, I have to say that they were tastefully done and that the two actresses made them work. They are erotic, charged, passionate and the fact of the matter is is that they tell a brilliant physical story in the way that most movies use sex as a disposal commodity are for the base arousal factor. However, though these are the headline-grabbers, if you will there is so much more to their performances than the purely physical manner. Throughout, the two maintain this palpable tension, and inject their roles with a genuine three-dimensional quality: these are people who quite clearly exist and the two treat Adele and Emma as such. Every smile, every tear, every twitch and turn of the eye is masterfully depicted. In this regard, the two also have a wonderful script to work with. We begin the film with Adele as a teenager, who is in a stage of transition, discovering who she is in life. Although it is a three-hour movie where, in Hollywood terms, nothing much happens, there is an astonishing level of complexity to the screenplay, both in terms of the subtly of the structure and the central character development. There were whole scenes in the film which lasted ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes, which would have been drawn out in most other movies, and I was hanging onto every bit of dialogue. Though it is at times wonderfully poetic, it is more so engaging because it is real and this is how people talk in the real world. The long running time is no challenge when you've got a movie that is consistently, from scene to scene, this well written and performed by people who put their all into their work. Technically too, while not a big-budget endeavour by any stretch, the film has many strengths. The cinematography by Sofian El Fani is tremendously expressive, capturing every little detail imaginable. Featuring some beautiful close-ups that would give Tonino Delli Colli's work with Sergio Leone a run for it's money, there are also some painterly landscape shots caught that could end up on a postcard. It's not just beauty for beauty's sake, for it importantly contributes to the telling of the story. The editing is something of real subtlety. The two editors (Albertine Lastera and Camille Toubkis) have cut this film in such a way that there is no overt stylistic traits, but if one assesses it closely enough we can see how these decisions affect our experience of the film. The use of Kuleshovian montage technique enables to experience the film not only from multiple characters' perspectives, but also our own, creating this sort-of questioning as to whose side, if any, are we witnessing. At times there seem to be inclinations of the male gaze whenever a male character is attracted to Adele, but also there moments of finer appreciation and also that of pure objectivity. More subtlety also lies in how, while there are no intertitles or other such things to indicate 'five years later' or what have you, there are still clear passages of time, made all the more jarring by their lack of gimmickry. As such, while it is clearly a real world movie with verite qualities, it maintains a fragmentary, dreamlike atmosphere. The film's use of sound also contributes to this. From what I could ascertain, there didn't seem to be any original musical compositions in the film, so when we hear the songs on the soundtrack, there are a variety of aural techniques used. Sometimes they are brought to the fore, as we may experience under the influence of alcohol, or just playing in the background, but all this adds to our cognitive experience of the film. Also, sound 'effects,' if you will, are used brilliantly. We hear every smack of lips, every sniffle, their joy, orgasm and ecstasy, and it is thoroughly engaging to be treated a movie were no one part is deprived and that the whole thing is a wonderful composite. For this, Abdellatif Kechiche should be, and is fully deserving, of any praise that is garnered in his direction. For all the reports of his being a tyrant on set (he's not the first. Just read a few stories about James Cameron.), the proof is in the pudding here. He has ensured that what we get from his picture is a thoroughly enriching, heartbreaking, heartwarming and extraordinary experience. This film has many pieces that comprise to make up this beautiful puzzle. Also, not to overly politicise the movie, I love the fact that, yes, it's a gay relationship between two women, but how Kechiche portrays their love as simply that: love. There is no fetishisation or overt eroticism on the basis of their same-sex relationship, nor is there that pernicious 'gay-scare' attitude that pervades a lot of contemporary cinema to this day. I'm biased, granted, being a straight ally and fervent supporter of LGBT rights, but to see such well-roundedness and open-minded qualities in a mainstream film is an encouraging breath of fresh air. I always consider it to be something of an honour to be able to watch a movie like Blue Is The Warmest Colour, and I came out of the cinema it feeling all the better for having seen such a wondrous, beautiful, majestic picture. 

Now, as you can tell, I loved this movie, and in my opinion, it's one of four films I've seen in this calendar year (the other three being The Act Of Killing, Rush and Gravity) that I can say are outright masterpiece. Au contraire to the opinions of someone like Francis Ford Coppola, who doesn't think there has been a masterpiece made since the 1970s, I see about four or five films every year that I would define as such. However, though I adored Blue Is The Warmest Colour, I'd be hollow and closed-minded if I were to deny that there will be people who do not like this movie. The long running time in the art-house realm, which made it's name with ninety minutes pictures by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, and which today are exemplified by (often) monstrously bloated $200 million action movies, will be a test for some. Even more so, the sex scenes, which I thought were beautifully executed, will probably alienate some members of the audience (though I would suggest that if you possess the frigidity of the giggling balloon-head sitting behind me, a level of uber-masculinity like the bloke to my left remarking "that was quick," or are a heteronormative fool, this perhaps isn't the movie for you). 

Excusing my nastiness regarding audience reactions (yes, I know it can boil down to personal taste, but allow me to surmise!) to the doubtless alienation some will feel due to the sex scenes and the lengthy running time, I though that Blue Is The Warmest Colour was an excellent movie. The performances from Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux are extraordinary acts of virtuosity and the transcendence of truly great acting, the screenplay is among the best of the year, full of the complex development of personal relationships and some brilliant dialogue. Technically, the cinematography is highly expressive and the editing induces very subtly in this real world a dreamlike atmosphere. Aurally too, the film makes appropriate use of it's soundtrack and the sound design/editing contributes to depicting the utter intricacy of the central relationship. It is enriching to get a film so fully realised, and that can be put down also to the direction of Abdellatif Kechiche, who ensures that all these elements make together the composite of a wonderful tapestry. At this year's Cannes Film Festival, the president of the jury, Steven Spielberg said "The film is a great love story... We were absolutely spellbound by the two brilliant young actresses, and the way the director observed his young players." While I wish could make such succinct statements, these are my sentiments precisely, Mr. Spielberg!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Nyar (that was one of the hardest ratings I've had to hand out: to decide between Blue Is The Warmest Colour and The Act Of Killing is a bloody hard thing to do, so I'm calling a temporary tie!)

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Big Wedding

Directed by: Justin Zackham

Produced by: Justin Zackham
Anthony Katagas
Clay Pecorin
Richard Salvatore
Harry J. Ulfand

Screenplay by: Justin Zackham

Based on: Mon frere se marie by Jean-Stephane Bron
and Karine Sudan

Starring: Robert De Niro
Diane Keaton
Susan Sarandon
Katherine Heigl
Ben Barnes
Amanda Seyfried
Topher Grace
Robin Williams

Music by: Nathan Barr

Cinematography by: Jonathan Brown

Editing by: Jon Corn

Studio(s): Two Ton Films
Millenium Films

Distributed by: Lionsgate

Release date(s): April 26, 2013 (United States)
May 29, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 89 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $35 million

Box-office revenue: $35, 770, 721

Hey there, dudes and dudettes (I sincerely hope you do not refer to yourselves as such if you are a frequent reader, because they're horrible monikers!), I've been as usual keeping up to tricks, and because I am an uninventive balloon-head with an inflated ego who cannot begin a review with legitimate introduction, I am going to tell you. Yesterday, I saw this year's Palme d'Or-winning picture, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, and a review will be coming up for that. Other things are in the pipeline as well, don't worry, so as ever, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is The Big Wedding, a romantic comedy that is a remake of the 2006 French film My Brother Is Getting Married, and stars an ensemble cast which features Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams, among others whose names I cannot be bothered rattling off as I'm sure I'll get round to them at some point. The Big Wedding has become noteworthy, if only because it has been one of the worst reviewed films of 2013 and also tanked at the box-office. To be frank, my interest in watching this emerges from a desire to get my five dimes, because as I'm sure those of you who follow the blog are well aware, I like to have an opinion on everything. So, story goes that Don (De Niro) and Ellie (Keaton) were married for over twenty years, having three children before divorcing, and Don is in a relationship with Bebe (Sarandon), Ellie's former best friend. The titular wedding of the title is a reference to that of Don and Ellie's adopted son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), and his fiance Missy (Amanda Seyfried). All seems to be going to plan, but Alejando's biological mother Madonna (Patricia Rae) is coming over for the wedding, and, fearing she, a devout Catholic, would disapprove of Alejandro's non-traditional, non-nuclear family, a plan is hedged that for the duration of her stay Don and Ellie are to pretend to be still married, while Bebe has to make haste and be discreet. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah! Got it? Good!

To start with the good (yes, believe it or not, there is some good to The Big Wedding), there are a couple of funny moments that did incite about two or three good laughs from me. There are many comedies are I have seen (including this year's The Hangover Part III) which are bereft of anything really to laugh about, so at least The Big Wedding has something. Also, I'd be denying it if I didn't find some amusement in various Hollywood a-listers shamelessly degrade themselves by starring in something like this. Furthermore, there a couple of other things praiseworthy about the film. There's a good and genuinely touching scene in the film involving De Niro and Katherine Heigl, who plays his daughter and is sort-of a daddy's little girl character, which shows just the kind of quality that the film could have been if executed well. Also, I respect the depiction of a non-nuclear family in the picture. The fact is is that in society traditional familial structures such as the nuclear family are no longer the norm, nor should they be portrayed as such, above and beyond any other. This is not any endorsement of polygamy or what have you, but I admire how The Big Wedding has this family, which has conjugal elements and extended step-family and what have you, shown as a family, for all it's dysfunctions, just like any other.

Now, while it has those things going for it (and, incidentally, I wasn't just trying to fill space, because it's not down there with the worst of the worst), The Big Wedding is nevertheless a poor film. I'm not going to lay the finger on one person for this whole production, but writer-producer-director Justin Zackhan does have a lot to answer for here. In all of his capacities, he is lacking something to elevate this not just to the status of any sort of greatness, but even to that of a decent movie. The screenplay, for all the complexity (or rather, machinations) of the family, is lifeless and you do not get a sense of these characters being real people. It's like Zackhan has gathered up all the tropes possible and just decided to throw them together into a smelting pot so that they become a family. The old saying still rings true: you dress it up all you want, you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig. Also, it is still a highly predictably structured movie, and, like Vic Mackey, you can guess about three steps ahead of everything the movie's going to throw at you. The dialogue too, which I'm sure didn't exactly look good on paper, doesn't exactly lift off the page. It's one of those one's were there is a bit of space after a zinger for a laugh, and I imagine in the cinema all you'd get is an awkward silence punctuated by a cough, sneeze or act of flatulence (yes, I mean a fart!). I had a point I was going to make yesterday, but I have since gone to see Black Sabbath at the Odyssey Arena, and frankly, though I'd like to make it and perhaps it'll come back to me, I can't remember what I was going to say and in that case neither the point nor the movie are worth the time it would take to remember. From this stage I move onto Zackhan's role, or rather lack thereof, as a director. The Big Wedding's not one of those movies that you can get overly angry about, but that's because it is one of the most mundane, middle of the road, no-brainer easy audience movies I've seen this year. There isn't much here to make this in any way a distinguished movie, and while his multiple roles would suggest a certain level of investment in the film, this feels like the work of a director-for-hire. There's no problem with directors-for-hire, heck, Michael Curtiz made an entire career out of it, and Kim Jee-woon has got his foot in the Hollywood door with The Last Stand, but this possesses all the worst traits of a director-for-hire work, a guy who seems to be directing with all the disinterest of a sloth hanging from a branch. Other aspects of this movie are as rotten as Justin Zackhan, including the original score by Nathan Barr. I think to call this music is to do it a service that it does not deserve, because you're supposed to just go with it, to use a term, but here, you are being told what to feel and what to think. This is one of those monotonously derivative scores that's all bouncy and ho ho ho, hah hah hah, prodding you lightly but enough to cause severe irritation, especially if it's being done near continuously for ninety minutes. It got to a point that I just wanted to mute the film and listen to some Gary Numan, but because I give a shit about the legitimacy of film criticism, I stuck it out. Also, although I've dedicated a good lot of space criticising Justin Zackhan, he is not going to be a whipping boy, for the cast that inhabits this film have a lot to answer for. Robert De Niro, one of the most dedicated actors of all time, star of two films that I consider among the top twenty-five of all time (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver); Diane Keaton, who made her name in the seventies in The Godfather films and for working in many of Woody Allen's classic comedies; Susan Sarandon, an actress with a most astonishing range and variety to her film parts with a career that has spanned over four decades; Robin Williams, a man with a tremendous sense of humour and who has carved his craft in the film, television and stand-up mediums; Katherine Heigl, an actress who six years ago got a Best Actress nomination from yours truly for her work in Knocked Up and who could have had a dazzling career, but who every time she shows up onscreen makes you swallow your Adam's apple in anticipation (or rather, dread) of what is going to follow; Ben Barnes, Topher Grace, Amanda Seyfried: all these folks are equally as responsible for this shamefully dull film. 

I admit wholeheartedly to being a hypocrite. I tried not to off on a tangent. Really, I did. I said I wouldn't and in the picture's defence it's not as outrageously bad or annoying as many other movies that have been released this year. However, it doesn't change the fact that this is dullard, middle-of-the-road, unengaged boredom, made relatively merciful by it's short running time. I more or less read off that list of all the people involved in this movie, and call it cheap naming and shaming all you want, but there has to be some sort of accountability and/or responsibility taken for the existence of such a bland film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Fine (as I said Black Sabbath gig, saw Blue Is The Warmest Colour, which I'm looking forward to reviewing, and still reading Clive Barker's Imajica, so I feel like I've indulged well culture-wise this week)

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Philomena

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Produced by: Gabrielle Tan
Steve Coogan
Tracey Seaward

Screenplay by: Steve Coogan
Jeff Pope

Based on: The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith

Starring: Judi Dench
Steve Coogan
Sophie Kennedy Clark

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by: Robbie Ryan

Editing by: Valerio Bonelli

Studio(s): Pathe
BBC Films
British Film Institute
Baby Cow Productions
Magnolia Mae Films

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

Release date(s): August 31, 2013 (Italy, Venice Film Festival)
November 1, 2013 (United Kingdom)
November 27, 2013 (United States)

Running time: 95 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
United States

Language: English

Production budget: (N/A)

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $24, 569, 710

Rightio, another day, another review. These introductions are getting harder every day because, although I'm in the habit of occasionally using florid language, I do not like beating around the bush, which is what most of these intros consist of anyway! This week should be interesting, as I'll be getting into the spirit of Christmas (which really should be interesting, given my reputation as a notorious Scrooge) by dressing up as Santa Claus later in the week and then the next I'll going to see Black Sabbath at the Odyssey Arena. Surrounded by my work colleagues and moshing like a mofo in the workplace to one of the greatest bands of all time should be quite the experience. So, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, with the more than occasional update of the trivial nature, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Philomena, based on the book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, which in turn was based on the true events of a mother's fifty-year-long search for her son. A big part in getting the film made was Steve Coogan, who has credits on the picture as an actor, producer and screenwriter (he and Jeff Pope won Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival), and it has been nice to see Coogan has such a good year, with What Maisie Knew, The Look Of Love and Alan Partidge: Alpha Papa also under his belt this year, and has got Stephen Frears on board in the director's chair. The film also stars the mighty Judi Dench, who turns seventy-nine today, so Happy Birthday Dame Judi. For anyone who doesn't know already, I'm a big fan of Judi Dench, not just for her work as M in the James Bond films (for which she won Best Supporting Actress from my good self last year), but for her eclectic back catalogue as an actress on film and on stage for the Royal Shakespeare and Nation Theatre companies. To bring things back to the ground, Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, a journalist who has just lost his job as a Labour government advisor, and is in a stage of transition, taking up running and contemplating writing a book on Russian history. An editor offers him a job in writing human interest pieces, something which he scorns as sob stories, and he meets the daughter of Philomena Lee, played by Judi Dench, who reveals that her mother confided that she had a son fifty years earlier in Ireland, but because the child was born out of wedlock she was forced into a convent and had to give the child up for adoption. So, the proverbial stage is set for a journey to find the mystery son of the titular Philomena. Got it? Good!

So, starting out, it's obvious from the marketing of the film that this is very much a buddy film of sorts, the two different people brought together in a common cause. On the acting front, both Judi Dench and Steve Coogan are on top form. Dench, who has made a name in film for playing these ice queen characters like M, Queen Elizabeth and her terrifying Barbara Covett in Notes On A Scandal, clearly relishes the opportunity to play a part like Philomena Lee. On the surface, she's an enthusiastic, bubbly, sweet and good-humoured little lady, but Dench also brings to Philomena a genuine wisdom, intelligence and conviction, so that we find she is indeed a strong woman. There is also something to be said about Dench being just the right age to play the part, akin to the way Clint Eastwood waiting to age into the role of William Munny in Unforgiven. Many of my personal favourite moments in the film were shots of Dench's wonderfully expressive features in closeup. Full of subtlety and legitimate development, this is world class acting. Also, Sophie Kennedy Clark is impressive in the part of the young Philomena. As Dench largely narrates these flashbacks, much of what Clark does involves the physical conveyance of Philomena's emotions, and this she does splendidly, priming herself as an actress to look out for. In this regard, Steve Coogan should not be overlooked. His Martin Sixsmith is at times an incorrigible cynic, but that does not change the fact that portrays him as a three-dimensional human being, as opposed to a simple cypher for the audience. While he has a lot of good sense and wits about him, he also has his flaws and has a tendency to let them get the better of him at times. Coogan conveys these different aspects to the character all rather well. As mentioned, Coogan has credits in three different roles on the film, and he should be praised in good measure for all. The screenplay by he and Jeff Pope, while it has an issue or two (which I'll get to in due course), is bold and daring in a number of ways. For starters, although this is obviously true to the real story, there is a key revelation in the film that completely takes you by surprise. I'll say no more about that, because it'd spoil a great part in the movie, but from this point the picture evolves above and beyond the typical ABC's of this kind of picture. Instead of making this a traditional buddy comedy, weepie or heartwarming tale, the real question asked in the film is regarding the nature of faith. The juxtaposing of Philomena, a devoutly religious woman who still finds capacity for warmth, forgiveness and compassion despite horrendous things having happened to her, and Martin, a staunchly atheist man who constantly harangues the elderly lady as to why she still believes in God after all these years, is one of the most engaging theological debates put to screen in recent memory. Also praiseworthy is the original score by Alexandre Desplat. I have an interesting relationship with Desplat, as for a few years I was critical of much of his output, primarily because of his scores being utilised in a foreground manner that I often found intrusive to the film(s), but since The Tree Of Life, I've found myself engaging with his work. His work on Philomena is something of a serenity, floating about in the wind like that feather in Forrest Gump, a sort-of aural metaphor for us landing in the midst of this story. I've become convinced that Desplat is of that fine tradition of classical film composers like Max Steiner and Franz Waxman and on Philomena he continues along that vein. Finally, although I would have thought it interesting to see Coogan make a stab at directing here, Stephen Frears, a fine filmmaker with a proven track record for making strong character dramas, was an appropriate director to bring on board. 

Now, while I'm sure you've gathered that I rather liked Philomena, it does have a number of issues that deny it from being a truly great movie. As I mentioned, though the script has praiseworthy qualities, there are also cons that come with it. I know that it has been a common criticism levelled at the film, but the two opposing components of drama and comedy do not quite gel, either as one (dramedy) or two parallel entities, and it's a sentiment I share. This does at times lead to some rather awkward moments in which it's not exactly a case of the audience knowing how to interpret a piece of dialogue, but rather that the dialogue itself reads better on paper and onscreen comes across stilted. Philomena's one of those movies that's hard to negatively criticise, in that the problems emerge more from a subjective standpoint. It's an overall rather solid movie, but you do get the impression that much of what unfolds, no matter how extraordinary a true story it is, has been done before in various incarnations. When I ponder on various masterpieces I have seen over the years, even this year (The Act Of Killing, Rush, Gravity), I think of what they bring to the table that's unique to them, and in the case of Philomena, while it has an interesting theological debate, it isn't enough to cut it from the creme de la creme.

So, Philomena has a couple of issues with the script and although it's a purely personal thing, I find that there just isn't enough to make it run with the very best of them. Subjective matters aside though, I still think that Philomena is a great movie. It has terrific lead performances from Judi Dench (who I hope bags an Oscar nom) and Steve Coogan, who also did a fine job of shepherding this production. Alexandre Desplat's serene score is also fine, and much as I think Coogan could have made a stab from the director's chair, Stephen Frears was an appropriate choice for the project. With an interesting theological debate in tow and a genuinely unexpected turn midway through the film, there's a lot of good things going with the ultimately heart-warming Philomena.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bangin' (listening to Kavinsky's OutRun.

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: November 2013 - Gravity

Walking down the stairs of The Movie House, Dublin Road, I was acutely aware of my senses, and continuing on down towards the number 20 bus at City Hall, I heard sounds, I saw sights, the wind was blowing in my face and I felt life. This was when I became truly aware of the film's true power, and it's times like this I am truly grateful for all the opportunities I have to participate as an audience member in the true magic of cinema. Put simply, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is incredible, majestic cinema of the highest order.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.9/10

Runner-Up: Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood - Really took me by surprise, tells a masterfully structured story that has something to say about society and human nature.

Honorable Mention: Captain Phillips - Greengrass is as ever an interesting film-maker who crafts a strong and intense thriller.

Second-Most Deadly Disease: Bullet To The Head - A decent watch that's admirable in some respects, but in others uninventive and murder by numbers.

Avoid Like The Plague: The Counselor - Pseudo-intellectual babble that's as dull as ditchwater.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Bullet To The Head

Directed by: Walter Hill

Produced by: Miles Millar
Alfred Gough
Alexandra Milchan
Kevin King-Templeton
Joel Silver

Screenplay by: Alessandro Camon

Based on: Du Plomb Dans La Tete by Alexis Nolent

Starring: Sylvester Stallone
Sung Kang
Sarah Shahi
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Christian Slater
Jason Momoa

Music by: Steve Mazzaro

Cinematography by: Lloyd Ahern II

Editing by: Tim Alverson

Studio(s): Dark Castle Entertainment
IM Global
After Dark Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Release date(s): November 14, 2012 (Italy, Rome Film Festival)
January 29, 2013 (United States, New York, premiere)
February 1, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 91 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $55 million

Box-office revenue: $13, 751, 117

So, as I mentioned at the end of my last post, I'm drawing up a creative plan for 2014. The blog here has been an outlet for my creative impulses for seven years now, to the point that film reviewing is an extension of myself in some ways. Don't take that tone as some sort of end of an era or anything melodramatic of the sort, because despite my creative plan (which includes working at poetry, spoken-word music, a novella and screenwriting for my very own film projects, more of which in due time), I will continue to devote time to my blogging activities. It's nice knowing that even in periods of drought, drunkenness and artistic blocks I can always come back to this. Film reviewing is my thing, and I'm in it for the long run, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie for review is Bullet To The Head, the film stars Sylvester Stallone in the lead role, and is based upon the French graphic novel Du Plomb Dans La Tete by Alexis Nolent. As you well know (both from my last review and various ramblings over the years), I have a soft spot for action movies, and I am a big fan of Sylvester Stallone. It's been no secret that Stallone has released his fair amount of tripe over the years, and yet I am still able to defend him with great vehemence. Indeed, my good friend over at Danland Movies, no serious man by anyone's standard, shows dismay at my enjoyment of Stallone's 2008 Rambo venture, which was largely derided and is by my own admission genuinely berserk. Indeed, the only Stallone movie I can say I actually dislike is Cobra, which is a horrendously dull bit of work. This film here is directed by Walter Hill, who made his name throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties with male-driven pictures steeped in ubermasculinity such as The Warriors, The Long Riders, 48 Hrs., Red Heat and Last Man Standing, so on paper he's a good fit for Stallone. Short synopsis? Yes, sir, I do think that'd be just cause. Stallone plays Jimmy Bobo, a hitman who after, completing a contract with his partner, is ambushed in the bathroom of a bar, managed to fight off the assailant while his partner is murdered unseen in the lively bar. Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) is the investigating officer on the hit committed by Bobo and his partner. After confronting Bobo, Kwon is attacked by corrupt cops on the payroll of those who both ordered the hit that begins the film and attempted to tie up a loose end in eliminating Bob and his partner. Bobo saves Kwon from certain death, and thus the cop and the con team up to take on the big fish(es) at the top of the ladder. Got that? Good!

Starting with the good, I thought that Sylvester Stallone and Sung Kang were good in the lead roles. Unlike Arnie, Stallone still takes roles that guys twenty years younger could fit into, but the fact is is that he's still in great shape and physically can pull it off. It's refreshing too to have Stallone play a character who is so thoroughly unrepentant, as opposed to the 'I've done terrible things and I'm haunted' trope that has been his primary M.O. since Rocky Balboa. Also, Sung Kang proves himself more than worthy in standing up to Stallone. Not only does his part bring some levity to the proceedings, but it feels legitimate when he's questioning the moral values of his counterpart. Rounding out the cast, Sarah Shahi brings a strength to the character of Lisa, while Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a fine actor who deserves more and better work, is a solid and mysterious villain. Another praiseworthy aspect of the film is the cinematography from Lloyd Ahern. This is a hard-boiled, bad to the bone, no-BS kind of movie, and his photography matches that aesthetic. Steeped in shadows and darkness, it gives the film this dirty, neo-noir feel. This too is the case with the score from Steve Mazarro. A score with electric guitars driving forward the pace and harmonicas abound, it's interesting in that it sounds very much like a four or five member band just playing in a garage, and yet it still applies to the same rules as classical film scoring. Finally, Walter Hill should be credited for making the film as uncompromising as possible. It is brutal, violent, and the moral barometer of the film is all over the place. There's a brilliant point made by Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly, and I'd like to print the quote in whole: "Bullet To The Head doesn't try to adapt it's star to 2013. It just pretends we're still living in 1986. And for 91 minutes, it just about works." There are no bones made as what this movie is supposed to be and it is what it is. Also, those tattoos Jimmy Bobo has are awesome!

Now, Bullet To The Head has a number of things going for it, but it does have a good measure of problems, and I know I'm going for my usual target, but the script is the major issue at hand here. Written by Alessandro Camon, best known as a producer on films such as American Psycho and Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant, his stab at a screenplay is deeply flawed. For starters, the characterisation for most of the major supporting parts is simplified and undeveloped, not necessarily tropes, but still rather two-dimensional. For instance, the Jason Momoa antagonist Keegan is defined purely on the basis that he's big, surly and has a penchant for bloodshed, and we're supposed to believe that this character is a more charismatic leader than the hypnotic, golden-voiced Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje? Eh eh! Furthermore, I mentioned the noir feel of the film, and the script is one of those whiskey-soaked (Bulleit Bourbon, perhaps) remembrances of "this is a story of how I got mixed up in some dirty business and the shit really hit the fan." So the plot moves in and out, full of betrayal and bloodshed and what have you, but Camon makes it so unnecessarily convoluted. Furthermore, with so many different things happening, it not only lessens the impact of each following plot turn, but it also makes the thing cumbersome and predictable. For a movie that is so bold in many respects, Camon needs to stop trying to write like Ray Chandler and get to the point. Also, although I'm sure that some of this involved decisions made by others, I was not a fan of the editing by Tim Alverson. I know it's trying to be a sort of pulp fiction b-movie type of picture, but it clashes with the raw brutish of other aspects of its aesthetic. The use of stylistic tricks of the editing trade come to naught whenever they aren't used appropriately to any positive effect of a scene, but it also undermines other parts of the film when there's a lack of consistency involved. 

There's no doubt that Bullet To The Head isn't a fine bit of work. The screenplay, with flimsy two-dimensional characterisation and an unnecessarily over-plotted, way too convoluted story detracts from the weight of any potential character turns in the film. Furthermore, the stylised editing, which tries to give the movie a B-/exploitation feel is at odd with the raw aesthetic that is crafted by other departments. However, though it has problems, Hill's film has to be admired on a relative level for sticking to its guns and not be in any way a compromised picture. Stallone, in his best part for a good half decade, is a suitably gruff, hard-boiled anti-hero, and Sung Kang matches up well with him, believably challenging the older man on his moral codes and ethics. Also praiseworthy is the cinematography and music, which both appeal towards a dark, dingy neo-noir aesthetic. Finally, although it's by no means perfect (or that good, let's be honest), Hill delivers a passable and brutish action movie that is firmly rooted in the gratuitous but entertaining bloodshed and wanton destruction of 1980s Stallone Studio vehicles.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Ringing (DJ set last night at T13 killed my ears with bangin' beats!)

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Last Stand

Directed by: Kim Jee-woon

Produced by: Lorenzo di Bonaventura

Screenplay by: Andrew Knauer
Jeffrey Nachmanoff

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Forest Whitaker
Johnny Knoxville
Rodrigo Santoro
Luiz Guzman
Jaimie Alexander
Eduardo Noriega
Peter Stormare
Zach Gilford
Genesis Rodriguez

Music by: Mowg

Cinematography by: Kim Ji-yong

Editing by: Steven Kemper

Studio: di Bonaventura Pictures

Distributed by: Lionsgate

Release date(s): January 18, 2013 (United States)
January 24, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 107 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $30 million

Box-office revenue: $48, 330, 757

Well guys, despite having a busy week of work in various places, for a change I've actually managed to keep my promises in getting some movies looked at. Along with this, I will one for Bullet To The Head, A Good Day To Die Hard and at least one other film looked into before November's over and I do my review of the month. With the Oscar season more or less here, I've to start getting to work on my own Best and Worst of the Year, which be out before the Academy Award ceremony in February. During this time, I will also be posted a variety of articles, including one on Dario Argento, a favourite 'coming-of-age' films article and this year's selections for my hall of fame, so, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted.

Today's film under the knife (surgical purpose or edible substance, pick your metaphorical poison) is The Last Stand. The film was released in January of this year, and was notable for being the first lead role of Arnold Schwarzenegger since 2003's Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, for aside from a cameo in Sly Stallone's The Expendables, he was busy with duties in his eight-year tenure as Governor Of California. In the past, I've made my feeling known about action movies from the 1980s, how I have a real fondness for anything resembling them, and the fact that Arnie played to the title role in The Terminator, which I feel is the greatest film of all time. Also, The Last Stand is the English-language debut of Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon, who made his name in his home country with the likes of A Tale Of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, The Good, The Bad, The Weird and I Saw The Devil, the latter two of which I reviewed and won a couple of awards from me over the years at my annual Best and Worst ceremonies (if I may be so bold to call them as such). So, plot synopsis, Schwarzenegger stars as Ray Owens, the Sheriff of Sommerton, Arizona, a small and quiet border town that doesn't see much activity, aside from the odd cat getting stuck up a tree and what have you. However, when a local dairy farmer misses his delivery and is discovered murdered, the trails lead to a parallel plot involving FBI agent John Barrister (Forest Whitaker), who is on the tail of escaped international drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega). All loose ties end up in Sommerton, where Cortez is heading is cross the border by way of a bridge being built by his henchman Thomas Burrell (Peter Stormare), whose gang is building a bridge over a narrow valley for Cortez to escape to Mexico. Get it? Shall we dance? Voulez-vous? (Shut up, Callum...)

Starting with the good, I like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I've always liked Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I still like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it a pleasure to see him back on the big screen. As we can see in his work as Sheriff Owens, what separated him from the rest of the action stars of the 1980's is that he had a sense of humour and didn't take himself too seriously. He brings the same charm and good wit to this part that he always does, but most importantly, Arnie has aged, and with that comes its own nuances. He's a bit slower, a bit more haggard, and carries a not insignificant paunch, but the fact does not change that he is still Arnie. Frankly, I like this Arnie who is one of the few action stars that, like Clint Eastwood, acts his own age and not like a thirty year old renegade. The movie, while nowhere near the quality of something like Eastwood's Unforgiven, has that same element of playing off of the mythology created by Arnold's onscreen persona. When Owens talks about having seen too much bloodshed, it's hard not to remember him hunting Sarah Connor like a shark, wrecking havoc in Val Verde and covered in mud, roaring into the forest night like a primeval beast. Also, he makes reference to his own status as an immigrant, having been known for many a moon as the Austrian Oak, which is a nice touch. If I sound like I'm fawning over Arnie, it's cause I am, okay, so you'll have to excuse me if you consider that a transgression of sorts. In the acting department, although their roles are far less significant in the bigger scheme of things, you have a solid part from the mighty Forest Whitaker (who can gain your interest in just about any part), an amusing one from Luis Guzman and a manic one from Johnny Knoxville. Also praiseworthy is the direction of Kim Jee-woon. As mentioned, this is his English-language debut after a two decades working in Korea. While this is for all intents and purposes a director-for-hire work, Kim still brings his trademark flair to the table. Although he's not an overt auteur in the way, say, his contemporary Park Chan-wook is, the genre-hopping Kim has always been a director with a terrific sense of timing, and The Last Stand is a good addition to his back catalogue that is stylistically reminiscent to The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Typifying Kim is his sharp pacing of a movie, among the best in contemporary cinema, and helping with that is the tight editing by Steven Kemper. Also, Kim Ji-yong, a past collaborator of Jee-woon, is in the mix as this film's cinematographer, and gives it a crisp, clean look that goes well with the editing. Finally, the movie, like it's director and star, does not take itself too seriously. This is the first time in recent memory (apart perhaps from said Good, Bad, Weird and White House Down) I can remember seeing a really kitschy and camp kind of action movie, when they used to be abound every month or two for about a decade. It's a good piece of b-movie schlock that reminds you how fun an action movie can be.

Now, getting to criticisms, because while I enjoyed The Last Stand, I must say that problems do exist. Lets start with the first, but not the worst issue, and that is some of the production decisions. I've no problem that this is quite obviously a studio-shot cardboard backlot movie, if you will, and that goes well with the camp sensibilities of the picture. However, though this is meant to be a quiet small town, I'd expect this small town to have some sense of life and more vibrancy to it, as opposed to the occupants of a diner, an old cat lady whose craft seems to be knitting or embroidery and a dairy farmer (played by Harry Dean Stanton) who's shot within a minute and a half of being onscreen. I know I've criticised Lorenzo Di Bonaventura in the past, but another $5 million on the budget would have done wonders for the film. Also, I know it's not meant to amount to much and just be a silly action movie, but the script is a weak point. As I mentioned, the idea of any sort of population inhabiting Sommerton is nonexistent, but even in the characters that do exist, they are all (bar Schwarzenegger) the basest of the cardboard cutout tropes that you can find. The only reason that there are other actors in this film is simply to maintain a quota that this is a basic narrative piece, as according to some people a Samuel Beckett-esque one-man modernist piece with Arnie wouldn't be interesting (yes, I would watch it, and yes, I've lost my mind!). The movie also has some poor basil exposition dialogue that does nothing for the movie. Furthermore, when it comes to one-liners, zingers that the big man has made iconic entries into the lexicon of popular culture, the most that we get in that regard is "Welcome To Sommerton." There's an unbearable silence after this quip, which presumably is there as an audience cue to laugh, but instead it was like I had fallen down a deep chasm.

The Last Stand undoubtedly has problems. I mean, the script is highly generic and middle of the road, both in terms of nearly nonexistent trope-based characterisation and bland dialogue. Also, the production itself probably needed a bit more effort in terms establishing a personality for Sommerton. When I think of well-established film worlds, I remember my awe at first seeing Jill McBain's arrival in Sweetwater in Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West, at that wonderful crane shot, watching her pass through the train station, moving over the top and with the swell of Ennio Morricone's score, witnessing such a vibrancy and life to the film. These things being said, I still enjoyed this movie a good bit. The return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the big screen is more than welcome, delivering a strong performance in the part of Sheriff Ray Owens. Furthermore, what Kim Jee-woon brings to the table, with his collaborators, is an impeccable sense of timing, delivering what is a well-paced and entertaining film. It's camp as hell, but it's nice every now and again to see an action movie that doesn't take itself too seriously and is just a lot of fun. The Last Stand is no Leone masterpiece, but I still say it's a damn fine yarn.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (for all intents and purposes. Working on a plan for 2014 creatively, so believe me, as they say in France, c'est interessant.)

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Counselor

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Produced by: Ridley Scott
Nick Wechsler
Steve Schwartz
Paula Mae Schwartz

Screenplay by: Cormac McCarthy

Starring: Michael Fassbender
Penelope Cruz
Cameron Diaz
Javier Bardem
Brad Pitt

Music by: Daniel Pemberton

Cinematography by: Dariusz Wolski

Editing by: Pietro Scalia

Studio(s): Scott Free Productions
Nick Wechsler Productions
Chockstone Pictures

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): October 25, 2013 (United States)
November 15. 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 117 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $25 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $46, 816, 402

Rightio, so, I have a variety roadshow of different work spots this week, so the reviews will be a bit more sporadic, but I'll still be putting in time to see the movies, so don't feel I'm depriving my work here. On another note, I have the absolute pleasure of having begun another Clive Barker book, Imajica, and though it is a thousand-page plus behemoth, I'm marching through it like a trooper. Barker is a writer of such great prose and has an amazing imagination, with his explorations of spiritualism and sexuality, all done within the context of the horror and fantasy genres, are entire worlds ahead of most. Speaking of Barker, if he ever does a full feature length movie again, I would be first to welcome him back into the fold with open arms. So, for all the latest and greatest in gushing over Clive Barker (and the odd movie review), keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is The Counselor, a film that developed a bit of a reputation, both before it's release and after. Of course, any film directed by Ridley Scott, visionaire extraordinaire, brings it's own weight to the table. First and foremost though is the fact that it is the first original film screenplay by novelist and playwright Cormac McCarthy, whose work such as Blood Meridian, The Border Trilogy and The Road (in my opinion, one of the greatest novels ever committed to paper), and The Coen Brothers' adaptation of No Country For Old Men won four Oscars, including Best Picture, at the 80th Academy Awards. Not only that, but you have a massive all-star cast assembled around this, and whatever one's opinion is, it can't be denied that The Counselor is a film event of sorts. Speaking of opinions, most shocking perhaps is the critical reception of the film, which has been described as mixed at best, but primarily negative best describes it. With that said, there have been some critics who have stood out from the fold, notably Richard Roeper and Manhola Dargis, while Scott Foundas of Variety wrote an article entitled 'Why The Counselor Is One Of Ridley Scott's Best Films,' so the film does have its defenders. So, context done, brief synopsis: Michael Fassbender plays the titular Counselor, leading a cast including Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt, as he gets over his head in a drug deal along the Juarez/Texas border area, and as things go awry, themes of greed, death, good versus evil and things such as Darwinism, sexuality and what have you are explored. If I sound lazy in explaining that, then good, because I'm not wasting space analysing subjective matters on this column, so shush, and let's ride!

Starting with the good, Ridley Scott is a filmmaker who has, over the course of his lengthy career, had a keen visual aesthetic that has been striking even in his lesser works, and here is no exception. In terms of the atmosphere generated by the lighting, this is more along the lines of the Thelma & Louise's and Gladiator's of the spectrum. Dariusz Wolski, who on Alex Proyas' The Crow and Dark City, and also Scott's own Prometheus, showed he could work well with soft lighting, and here, with sun and sweat abound, Wolski makes this landscape of dust and tumbleweeds fit the mood of the piece. Say what you will about The Counselor (more of which in due time), but I think it would be hard deny that it is a beautifully shot picture. Another little widget I liked about the film (and it's the only thing praiseworthy about the screenplay) is the use of wires in the film. These wires are used in macabre Poe-esque manners, leading to some really gruesome but admittedly ingenious ways to see people die onscreen. Also, though it has problems (again, more of which...), the cast does have their moments. Michael Fassbender is one of those guys who could make watching paint dry seem fascinating, Javier Bardem is always a charismatic screen presence, but the one who stands out here is Cameron Diaz, who is often overlooked as a talent, but gets to do something decent as the proverbial ice queen of the film. Aside from the main cast, you've got others such as Rosie Perez, Natalie Dormer, Edgar Ramirez, Bruno Ganz (a personal favourite actor of yours truly), Toby Kebbell (who really needs more to do) and John Leguizamo all putting up appearances, so even if they don't get significant parts, as in the case of Kebbell, you at least get the pleasure of hearing these talented actors try to make the most of the material they've got. 

I finished that paragraph on an appropriate note, because the fundamental problem with The Counselor, I hate to say, is Cormac McCarthy's script. When McCarthy sold his first spec script, which became this  film, everyone was chomping at the bit, clamouring to work on this potential gold mine by way of the association with the acclaimed author. While I don't doubt people's faculties of judgement, I find it hard to believe that there were that many people who all thought highly of the script. I mean, the dialogue is absolutely horrible, and when most of the movie consists interplays involving this babble, that is a serious issue. Most of the dialogue is written without any pinch of salt and it the movie as a whole carries this excess baggage of something so immersed in it's own sense of self-importance, "oh, we are discussing philosophy in the midst of a drug deal, oh, how profound!" Also, McCarthy's 'exploration' of sexuality is rather inane and simplistic. "Men are from mars and women are from venus, let me tell you a story of how one tried to ride my pen -" is such a poxy thesis, and is another layer to the movie's pseudo-intellectural tomfoolery. Attempting to steep the movie in a brooding atmosphere of eroticism, it culminates in a sequence involving solo masturbation that has to be among the most outrageously stupid things to grace the screens in quite a long time. Indeed, and I make no bones of the fact that I am going to be very rude here, but The Counselor doesn't have it's head up it's arse as much as commits a two-hour long gross act of auto-fellatio. Furthermore, though this is an all-star cast, a lot of them are not really needed in the film and just seem to be throwing their hats in on this one. Penelope Cruz, a very talented actress who has been doing great things in movies in the twenty-plus years since her debut in Jamon Jamon, is given nothing to do but look pretty and be occasionally consolatory to the title character. As mentioned earlier, the mighty Toby Kebbell makes a brief appearance and could pass for an American if it weren't for the fact I knew he was from Yorkshire and it does make you think that if he's making all that effort, surely there should be something meatier in it? While this is a collective mess, I think that some questions should be asked of director Ridley Scott. Say what you will about some of his movies (I've personally reviewed two before this, neither of which were good), he has made some of the most breathtaking masterpieces in Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, and even in his shortcomings and failings Scott has compromised himself. Here, I believe he has bowed down to the will of McCarthy, and what this movie needed was the guy who ran roughshod over the set of Blade Runner, breaking the back of cast, crew and executives, because, hey, while there was tension making the film and it took a while, Ridley turned out on of the greatest films of all time. Although the image of two men with the combined age of one hundred and fifty-five is ludicrous, Scott needed to rap McCarthy on the knuckles to produce a more concise draft, as opposed to soliloquy after soliloquy after soliloquy after soliloquy after soliloquy... The movie ends on a similar note to There Will Be Blood, both in terms of tone and dialogue, and the line is perhaps one of the worst examples of self-reflexivity in recent memory, given that it not only invokes a great movie and contemporary masterwork, but also the line itself describes, in little words, just how you feel coming out of The Counselor. 

Don't get me wrong, The Counselor is by no means an absolute stinker. It's an undeniably well-shot movie by Dariusz Wolski, who at least gives it some sort of a hot, seamy, sweaty atmosphere, there are some Poe-esque moments of the macabre involving wires, and though it doesn't add up to much, there is a novelty factor in seeing some great actors come onscreen and do a relatively interesting dialogue. However, it is still a rubbish picture, with the key problem laying on the buckled base that is Cormac McCarthy's script, a muddled piece of pseudo-intellectual babble and a befuddled thesis on eroticism and sexuality, with many of the great cast members not being given a whole of character to play around with. It goes on and on and on, and Ridley Scott has put out some not especially interesting movies in the past, but I've never seen him deliver something so compromised and sloppy as The Counselor. The Scott Foundas article I mentioned earlier (which I will link at the bottom of the article) makes reference to how Blade Runner was received on initial release. While I will respect his opinion, I feel that in the case of Blade Runner what we got was a compromised version of the film at that time, and when the real (more human than human?) '92 Director's Cut came out, it was rightly recognised as a masterpiece. Unless a massively different cut of this film emerges ten years down the line, I don't see The Counselor being remembered for anything but a curiosity at best, but perhaps more likely an anomaly with all the pedigree that turned out to be dull as dishwater.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Grateful (this review is finished. It took two or three days because I found it hard to confront this again!)

P.S. On a side note, The Odeon Cinema in Belfast's digital projector failed much of the way through the film. All I have to say is that if it was a 35mm projector with a fully-trained operating projectionist it would have been a minor blip in a frame, as opposed the the whole furore caused by ON tripping to OFF. I rest my case...