Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Cockneys Vs Zombies

Directed by: Mattias Hoene

Produced by: Andrew Boswell
Simon Crowe
James Harris
Matthew Joynes
Mark Lane

Screenplay by: James Moran
Lucas Roche

Starring: Harry Treadaway
Rasmus Hardiker
Alan Ford
Michelle Ryan
Georgia King
Richard Briers
Honor Blackman

Music by: Jody Jenkins

Cinematography by: Daniel Bronks

Editing by: Neil Farrell
John Palmer

Studio(s): Limelight
Tea Shop & Film Company

Distributed by: Aya Pro Company
Shout! Factory

Release date(s): August 23, 2012 (London FrightFest)
August 31, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 87 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: N/A

Box office revenue: $18,205 (UK Opening Weekend)

Another zombie movie was my attitude going in. I love the genre and the George Romero films that spawned it (equally, Shaun Of The Dead is as responsible as any for this particular film!), but I have seen a lot of lacklustre horror films this year. A family of inept crooks play to rob a bank to save their grandfather's retirement home from being demolished, but their plan is scuppered when construction workers smash open a condemned 17th-Century graveyard and unleash a zombie apocalypse. Voulez vous? Let's get crackin'!

The good news is that Cockneys Vs Zombies is a very funny movie. Some of the gags/set-pieces are among the best scripted of the year. A high-speed chase involving a zombie and an elderly gentleman with a Zimmer frame and a zombie incarnation of a London East-End football riot with West Ham and Milwall ("Even when they're zombies they can't stand each other") are among the highlights. It also boasts some strong performances from Ashley Bashy Thomas, Richard Briers and in particular the mighty Alan Ford, whose 'Granda' is one of the funniest characters to come around in the past few years. The songs selected are appropriate, with bands such as The Kaiser Chiefs and The Automatic keeping the ball rolling. Finally, it's a movie with a genuine personality that is handled with confidence.

The bad news is that while it's very good, it's not quite in the top tier of the genre. The central premise of robbing a bank is pretty flimsy, and every time we cut to the retirement village, it reminds me that this is where the movie should be set. Also, it moves in rather predictable ways that you can spot a mile off, which detract from the unique qualities it possesses. 

Yes, it's predictable and the central bank-robbing premie is rather flimsy, but I still enjoyed Cockneys Vs Zombies. There are some unique gags/set-pieces that are very funny and strong performances, particularly from the show-stealing Alan Ford. Also, the soundtrack is appropriate, keeping the ball rolling, and even with flaws, it's a movie a genuinely personality that is handled with confidence.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Playing it sweet (I'm busy in more ways than one, so trying to pace myself!)

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: December 2012 - Argo

The star of the film is unquestionably Ben Affleck, who excels in all of his working capacities as producer, director and actor in his best film to date. It also has a well-established and believeable period mise-en-scene, with the cinematography and editing serving an artistic purpose. Hollywood satire and political thriller come together in this picture; tight, efficient and intelligent, Argo is a jackknife masterpiece.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.3/10

Runner-Up: Life Of Pi - As technically astute a film as you'll get, with a beautiful score and brave confidence from Ang Lee's determined direction.

Honorable Mention(a): Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai - Great lead performance from Ebizo Ichikawa in a controlled, austere and poignant drama that reveals another layer to Takashi Miike

Honorable Mention(b): Chronicle - Low-budget found-footage powerhouse that at best brings to mind Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. Great film

Second-Most Deadly Disease: Rampart - A good film, but it is Woody Harrelson as Atlas bearing the celestial sphere, as it can be a very messy film in parts.

Avoid Like The Plague: John Carter - I've seen a lot worse, but it is an overweight lumbering sturgeon of a movie that takes an age to start. How can I be so bored at this?

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai

Directed by: Takashi Miike

Produced by: Toshiaki Nakazawa
Jeremy Thomas

Screenplay by: Kikumi Yamagishi

Based on: Ibun ronin-ki (Hara-Kiri) by Yasuhiko Takiguchi

Starring: Ebizo Ichikawa
Koji Yakusho
Hikari Mitsuhima
Munetaka Aoki

Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto

Cinematography by: Nobuyasu Kita

Editing by: Kenji Yamashita

Studio(s): Recorded Picture Company
Sedic International
Amuse Soft Entertainment

Distributed by: Shochiku Company (Japan)
Rezo Films (France)
Tribeca Film (United States)
Revolver Entertainment (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): May 19, 2011 (Cannes Film Festival)
October 15, 2011 (Japan)
November 30, 2011 (France)
May 4, 2012 (United Kingdom)
July 20, 2011 (United States)

Running time: 126 minutes

Country(s): Japan
United Kingdom

Langauge: Japanese

Production budget: N/A

Box office revenue (as of publication): $3, 523, 463

Alright there, folks, me again, up to tricks. Given how bloody busy I am with keeping up with films from 2012 and in prominence during this interesting awards season, this is my last full review for the year of 2012 in film. After this, I will do the traditional movie of the month, and for the rest of the year do smaller capsule reviews. I don't like compromising myself, but there's really no other feasible way to address the movies without taking away from my upcoming year-end awards, which, like last year, I actually want to get in on time! So, for less preamble and more movies in capsule format (at least temporarily), keep your eyes posted!

In that regard, I am glad (good or bad) to be finishing off the long format reviews for 2012 with Takashi Miike's Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai. For those of you who don't know, I'm a huge fan of Miike, and even though I have probably seen about ten of his movies, I'm only touching the precipice, as in his now twenty-plus years as a director, he has directed over eighty productions, this being his eighty-third. Despite being known (indeed, notorious) for the depiction of sadomasochism in Ichi The Killer, his Masters Of Horror episode Imprint, which was deemed too disturbing for television, his yakuza films (which have been compared to Tarantino) and Audition, which is for me one of the ten greatest films ever made, he's a director of quite extraordinary range, doing everything from superhero films to westerns to children's movies. In this regard, his recent well-received jidaigeki film 13 Assassins has seen his reputation turn from what Michael Atkinson of Village Voice called a "crap-and-gore, genre-minching Tasmania devil" into "a tasteful, even resonant art house master." Following along this line, we have Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai, another jidaigeki, adapted from a novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi (earlier adapted in 1962 by Masaki Kobayashi), it became noted as the first 3D film to debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. Now, I don't like 3D, but thankfully I didn't have to judge to as such, because I got my copy on DVD and in pristine 2D. Brief plot synopsis, impoverished samurai Tsugumo Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa) shows up at a lord's palace asking for the use of their courtyard to commit the ritual act of seppuku, much to the dismay of Saito Kageyu (Koji Yakusho), who proceeds to tell him the story of a suicide bluff committed by Motome (Eita), the last samurai who expressed the same wish. It's all in the title, and the film unfolds as such that to say more would be to spoil the plot, so, let's get crackin'!

Starting with the good here, it is a very well acted film. Each of the principles do a solid job in depicting their characters, but I wish to flag up a few particulars. Koji Yakusho's Kageyu is a determined yet emotionally and rationally conflicted leader, and Munetaka Aoki, who plays the most terrifyingly uncompromising heavy in a good bit, are both strong, however, performance wise, the film belongs to Ebizo Ichikawa. The eleventh 'Ebizo' of the Ichikawa clan of Kabuki actors is the glue that holds this film together. He has a terrifically expressive face, which, in all the restraint that the character shows, ensures that the audience is able to make a connection to all the subtle gestures, furrowing of brows, and the same can be said for his voice, picking up little intonations that tell us more than any screaming over-actor ever could. Also, he is anything less than believable and convincing in his part; it is quite something for a man in his mid-thirties to be able to pull off the part of a veteran samurai ten-to-fifteen years older. This is an effective, versatile and highly subtle performance. Subtlety is a characteristic that defines Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai. The make-up and hair for Ichikawa is equally important in convincing us of his legitimacy as the character. So many make-up jobs are designed as such that our attention is drawn towards it, but here it serves to enhance the performer. Likewise, the costumes and set design, despite this being a relatively low-budget film set in a few locations, are never less than convincing. We do believe in the legitimacy of the film being set in this period and just go with it. Another unique aspect of the film is that it involves a collaboration between Miike and Ryuichi Sakamoto, who composes the score for the film. I'm a big Yellow Magic Orchestra fan (where do you think my Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra got its name?), he's a terrific solo artist, and as a film composer, Sakamoto is known for the lush aural soundscapes on the likes of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and The Last Emperor. What I got was quite different to what I expected, but a nevertheless appropriate and great score. Sakamoto's work here is sweetly minimalist, with some scenes just having a single drum beat, which cranks the tension like a slowly turning vice. It's also a technically solid film in that it does not hog up the proceedings, and I put that down to the wise instincts of director Takashi Miike. I've known Miike for years to be a director who is able to get substance out of the most perverse of films and to be a cerebrally intense filmmaker that injects his films with style and a wicked sense of humour. Here, Miike shows another layer to his immensely textured palette, because while he has always been controlled, he hasn't always been restrained. His Hara-Kiri is an austere, rich drama based on human emotions and behaviour. It's down to Miike that this is the case, with the always unpredictable director delivering one of the best and most interesting in his prolific oeuvre.

Although Miike's Hara-Kiri is for the most part a great movie, there are a small number of deficiencies in the script which, while minor, deny it passage into the upper-upper echelon. The main issue at hand is that while the principals are well-written, I feel that there something lacking in the characterisation of Motome and Miho. Granted, they are realised before the audience in diegetic retrospect, but I do not feel that Kikumi Yamagishi has managed to get all he could out of these characters, who do come across as two-dimensional. Also, while it has a slow crank in terms of pacing that works rather well, I do think a bit could have been chipped off the edges to tighten up the screenplay as much as possible. Finally, while I have tried to do my research, I can't tell if it is down to desaturation of colour due to the stereoscopy, but I think some of the lighting in the film could have been improved.

These things being said about deficiencies in the script and some of the low-key lighting, Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai is a great film. It's well acted, with the principals Koji Yakusho, Munetaka Aoki and especially Ebizo Ichikawa putting on great performances. The mise-en-scene is well-established, with the make-up/hair, costume and production design departments all subtly contributing to the diegesis. Also, in an unexpected but welcome turn, Ryuichi Sakamoto trades lush soundscapes for minimalism in this fascinating and appropriate score. Finally, the wise instincts of Miike-san shine through, churning out an austere drama while revealed another colour in his palette, delivering one of the best in his oeuvre.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (busy week ahead, kicked off with the 2013 Royal Rumble, another great PPV from WWE)

P.S. I grumbled about the 18-certificate rating, but thankfully the brilliant BBFC website was able to give me an explanation as to the rating, which boiled down to the unabashed depiction of ritual suicide. I may disagree, but they explain they're reasoning at least. Unlike Cole Smithey.

P.P.S. Someone tell me to stop watching Cole Smithey's stuff, it just makes me cross!

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Argo

Directed by: Ben Affleck

Produced by: Ben Affleck
George Clooney
Grant Heslov

Screenplay by: Chris Terrio

Based on: The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez

Escape From Tehran by Joshuah Bearman

Starring: Ben Affleck
Bryan Cranston
Alan Arkin
John Goodman

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by: Rodrigo Prieto

Editing by: William Goldenberg

Studio(s): GK Films
Smokehouse Pictures

Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Release date(s): August 31, 2012 (Telluride Film Festival)
October 12, 2012 (United States)
November 7, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 120 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $44.5 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $187, 085, 011

Alright folks, I'm banging on ahead with this. What with us being right in the middle of the awards season, I do have my work cut out for me. I've got this and Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai left before I get into my capsule reviews, among which will be the films (I've seen so far) Cockneys Vs Zombies, Jack Reacher and Django Unchained, the review for the latter of which I'll try not to mention The Emperor's New Clothes (oops! Hey, it's not the review!). So, for the upcoming capsule reviews, an article on the Oscars, another on the increasing running time in movies and my inductions into The Thin White Dude's Hall Of Fame, keep your eyes posted!

Today's (and tomorrow's) movie up for analysis is Ben Affleck's Argo. Since it's release in October, it has been touted as one of the major front-runner's of the awards season, and indeed, it has won many awards, including Best Picture - Drama and Best Director at the Golden Globes, and featured in many critics' top ten lists, with Roger Ebert naming it the best film of 2012. I personally have been a big fan of Ben Affleck since the beginning of his directorial career with Gone Baby Gone, starring brother Casey and one of the finest thrillers of the past ten years, and The Town, which, while flawed, is directed with conviction and is an interesting film. Argo, based on a true story, is set in 1979 during the Iran hostage crisis in Tehran, when the American Embassy was stormed in support of the Iranian Revolution. Tony Mendez (played by director Affleck) is a C.I.A. operative who, with the help of his supervisor Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston), contacts John Chambers (John Goodman), the noted Hollywood make-up artist, who puts them in toucher with film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Together, the group set up a faux 'science fantasy' film production by the name of 'Argo,' which is their cover story to try and rescue six hostages while they 'scout' locations in Iran. Get the story? Catch my drift? Let's boogie!

To start with the good about Argo, I've got a lot to say about Ben Affleck. As mentioned, I've been a fan of his directorial work since Gone Baby Gone, and The Town was another solid entry into his canon. Here, Affleck leaves the comfort of Boston and heads to many different locations, but loses none of the finesse and authorial control that distinguished those pictures. Indeed, I think he has outdone himself here, as he displays his instinct for purely cinematic storytelling, heading down the straight and narrow line. Like any film, in the wrong hands, Argo, could have been botched, the film is piloted nigh-on perfectly, hitting every note just right in a seamlessly brilliant directorial role. How he has not been nominated for an Oscar this year is beyond me, because I cannot emphasise enough not just how important his role is Argo's success, but also that he is one of the best working film directors, period! Equally, in the same way that Clint Eastwood became a better actor after he started directing movies, Ben Affleck delivers his finest performance to date as Tony Mendez. Though he has suffered (some justified) negative criticism in the past, this is a spot-on lead role. He carries this in a very understated way, playing the character essentially as a blank canvas who has no emotional investment as is just doing his job. However, playing it in this way gives him the opportunity sketch a detailed portrait of his character. There are certain wordless moments in the film, almost like a silent film, with just music (diegetic or non-diegetic) in particular the 'When The Levee Breaks' scene(s), and Affleck's terrific facial expressions guide our emotions more than words could. It's like his work as a director has opened up a wider perspective on acting for him, and I think this is one of the most beautifully understated roles I have seen in quite a while. Also strong on the acting front are Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Victor Garber, each of whom do a great job of embodying their characters in a way that does not hog up the scenery and drives the film forward, but not without giving their characters three-dimensionality, and each of the actors playing the hostages are solid. Also, this is a technically great movie. Rodrigo Prieto's unconventional camera techniques are put to use in a conventional Hollywood manner, making for a stylistically interesting palette. Prieto's moody lighting, on conjunction with both handheld and on-rail film cameras give Argo an artistic splendour that elevates it above the caper/thriller genre trappings. Also, William Goldenberg's terrific editing is key to adding the necessary level(s) of tension to the proceedings. Absent of the slash-and-cut 'Michael Myers in the editing suite' style, Goldenberg wisely draws out a number of sequences, cutting at exactly the right moments, so that not only does it come across as a genre thriller, but also as high art. The 'Minivan Stuck In Protest' scene (no spoilers, don't worry) is one of the most nerve-wracking moments I can remember seeing in a film recently, and it is the skill of Goldenberg's editing, an exemplar lesson in montage, that this scene works so well. Also, the budget is clearly wisely invested in establishing a believable mise-en-scene. The production designers have done a great job in recreating the late 1970s-early 1980s period. Importantly, while it is a period movie, the designers have done it in a naturalistic way, so that it isn't explicitly saying "Oh, in case you forgot, it's the '70s." It is done as such that it is a setting designed to contribute to the narrative. The same can be said for the costume and make-up/hair departments, who do their work in a very un-flashy subtle way that in effect contributes more to the film than if they went out and made the designs like, say, those for last years J. Edgar. Also, Chris Terrio's script is for the most part uniformly strong. It's quite a task for a script to be able to touch on so many different aspects to this story without losing itself inside it's own complexities, but Terrio manages to keep it tight. Argo is not only a nail-biting thriller and deftly subtle character study, but it's also one of the funniest movies of 2012. Not just the sheer ludicrousness of the central concept, but the execution and development of the film around it are marvellous. Anything and everything is subject to what me and my friends would call 'casual abuse,' and it does come across, particularly in the American scenes as a rather spiky satire on both the C.I.A. and Hollywood. I mean, although I'm not a fan of puns (generally), I'll be damned if someone ever asks me as to the meaning of the title of the film and I don't say, like the characters, "Argo fuck yourself!" Finally (yes, there is a finally), I liked the music of the film. Yes, Mr. Aural Hypersensitivity actually liked not just the music in the film, but a score by Alexandre Desplat at that! There's a bit of hyperbole to that statement, given that he was nominated last year for a Thin White Dude award for The Tree Of Life and I liked his work for The King's Speech, but me and Desplat have had a mixed relationship over the years. I have found on numerous occasions his music (and the use of it) to be full of the compositional equivalent to amateur dramatics, to histrionics that scream "This is a sad scene! Cry!" This time round, the score has his trademarks of brass and strings, but with an interesting potpourri of Middle-Eastern inflected woodwind instruments and the subtle use of synthesisers. Also, the use of his score lacks the undertones that indicate how the audience is meant to feel, and his work here is one of the best scores of the year. Argo is a masterpiece with a huge amount going for it, all of which is siphoned by Benny, The Champion Of The World. Outside of the Roald Dahl reference, I mean Ben Affleck!

So, yes, I liked Argo. However, it's not absolutely flawless. Humour my minor digression, but I want to make abundantly clear that it was Chris Terrio, who wrote this movie, with Joshuah Bearman having wrote the article 'Escape From Tehran' and the real Tony Mendez having wrote 'The Master Of Disguise.' The latter two are the sources upon which the film was based, but they did not write the screenplay. There's a 'critic' by the name of Cole Smithey who asserts that Bearman, "debut screenwriter," wrote the film and not Terrio. The only reason I bring this error up is because he wrote a cretinous review for Beasts Of The Southern Wild, full of verbose statements that lack a genuine argument. His capsule review for Argo (his long reviews are the same with more ludicrous hyperbole) is full of the same nonsense, while spending the other half on plot synopsis'. It just annoys me that a guy who calls himself 'The Smartest Film Critic In The World' gets a platform to run his mouth, and does it rather badly! Anyway, back to the review, the only real issues that I had with Argo was that there were a couple of contrivances in the script and cliches that stick out a bit in this otherwise flawless movie.

Regardless of these little niggles (it really is just nitpicking), I thought Argo was a jackknife masterpiece. It is tight, solid and efficient, down to a solid script by Chris Terrio, technically it's a dapper movie, with the cinematography and editing working to serve an artistic purpose, the mise-en-scene contributes much to the narrative and all-round it's a terrifically well-acted movie. The star of the movie though is unquestionably Ben Affleck, who excels in all of his working capacities here, as director, producer and actor. In an already great career as a director, Argo has worked its way up to the top spot and is his best movie.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Chillin' (Tekken Tag 2 on a rainy day, not a bad deal, eh?)


Monday, 21 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - A Dangerous Method

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Produced by: Jeremy Thomas
Tiana Alexandra

Screenplay by: Christopher Hampton

Based on: The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton (stage play)
A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr (non-fiction)

Starring: Keira Knightley
Michael Fassbender
Viggo Mortensen
Vincent Cassel

Music by: Howard Shore

Cinematography by: Peter Suschitzky

Editing by: Ronald Sanders

Studio(s): Recorded Picture Company
Telefilm Canada

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Release date(s): September 2, 2011 (68th Venice International Film Festival)
February 10, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 99 minutes

Country(s): Germany
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: €15 million

Box office revenue: $27, 462, 041

Alright folks, we're getting gradually closer to the end of my reviews for December (I know!), and following this one, I've got ones for Argo and Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai to finish us out for the long reviews for the year. A review of the month will follow, and after that I will do (for schedule sake) short capsule reviews for January. My year-end awards are coming up, and 2012 has proven to be an interesting year for film, so, for all the shebang, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie is the second (first released) David Cronenberg film to pass before my gaze this year, A Dangerous Method. Now, my criteria is normally that I don't include a movie that was up for recognition last award season, but it only got one major award nomination (for Viggo Mortensen), and frankly, the Golden Globes are to the Academy Awards what The Sun is to The Sunday Times, so I'll make an exception. Also, it came out on February 10th, 2012, so it was after my cutoff point and no way for me to review it, so, as Lee Daniels would say "Shushy!" For those of you who don't know, I'm a huge fan of David Cronenberg, from the body horror period that produced classics such as The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly and Dead Ringers, to his recent work as a dramatist, working with Viggo Mortensen on A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises. As such, even though I'm trying to an objective reviewer, as a fan I was salivating at the prospect of two new films in twelve months. I saw Cosmopolis earlier on in the year, and while it was flawed and rather plodding in parts, it was an interesting and experimental entry into the great director's oeuvre. A Dangerous Method is a historical drama set on the eve of World War I, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) arrives at the Burghozli psychiatric hospital in Zurich as a case of hysteria, to begin a course of treatment with the young Swiss doctor Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). With intelligence and energy recognised by Jung, he allows her to assist him in providing empirical data as a scientific basis for psychoanalysis and to ameliorate a number of the more sensationalistic theories. During this time, Jung gets in contact with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), who, finding in Jung a sort-of kindred spirit, adopts him as the heir apparent of psychoanalysis. There's your 'brief' plot synopsis, and as you can imagine, things get a wee bit twisty and turny along the way, so let's get down to the review!

Starting with the good regarding A Dangerous Method, it must be said that it's a splendidly-acted film. Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen are both chameleonic actors, and they apply their shared trait to Jung and Freud. Never once do you not buy them as these psychologists, and even though not much 'action' happens between them, the conversations between Jung/Fassbender and Freud/Mortensen are full of energy and ideas. Also strong, though in a lesser capacity, is Vincent Cassel, who plays Otto Gross. Serving as a believable foil to Fassbender, Cassel's charisma and presence ensure that the 'character' of Gross is not just a two-dimensional bohemian and that there is a solid bit of weight to his relatively short screen-time. The standout performance of the film however belongs to Keira Knightley. Holding her own against the heavyweights Fassbender and Mortensen, Knightley carries herself with confidence and shows herself once again as no slouch in the acting department. Not only is her diction spot on, her facial expressiveness and ability to manipulate them is quite something. In the opening treatment scene, Knightley looks like she is in the process of separating her own jaw, but this isn't overt acting, as the character's arc is depicted subtly and is one of minute details. Another strong element of A Dangerous Method is the overall mise-en-scene. The movie was made on a (relatively) low-budget, but this doesn't hamper the believability of the period setting. Although the actors' contribution can't be denied, neither can the costume and make-up/hair departments in ensuring that we buy this story. These departments juggle two different purposes, in that not only do they match appropriately the period setting, but also that they serve the purpose of the story. Also, the sets made by the production designers are very good, not feeling stagey, and we do feel as though this fabricated universe does exists. It's quite a testament to the skills of those involved in establishing this mise-en-scene that they are able to combat potential budgetary restraints. Also, Cronenberg regulars Peter Suschitzky and Ronald Sanders' cinematography and editing work well in conjunction with one another, and as such A Dangerous Method is almost always a good-looking film. Finally, no one can ever accuse David Cronenberg of going into a film half-assed. As proved with the good but flawed Cosmopolis, he is a brilliant auteur at a fascinating stage in his career. He knows that even with all the thematic content lying underneath, he has to make an entertaining movie. This, like most of Cronenberg's oeuvre, is under one-hundred minutes, and keeping things as tight as possible is a wise move, as we do not get much of an opportunity to be bored. Cronenberg always directs with conviction, and exudes the control of a master with A Dangerous Method.

Which is a good thing, because although I liked A Dangerous Method very much, it does have a number of key flaws. The major problem is the script by Christopher Hampton. Now, I know it's adapted from his own stage play, but it's not that it feels like a stage play, no, it's that bizarrely it feels like something that should have been made for television to be shown in two or three parts. As a result, it lacks the distinctively cinematic feel of most of Cronenberg's films. Also, criticism has been levelled towards what Cronenberg calls the deliberately "quite clinical" sex scenes, and I must say I agree. He made a very good point, about how they were studying each others reactions even while having sex, but if you look at Cronenberg's back catalogue, it is steeped in eroticism. Indeed, I would present his own Dead Ringers as my rebuttal. In that movie, the protagonist twin gynaecologists Elliot and Beverley Mantle (played by Jeremy Irons) are constantly studying each other's behaviour, yet it manages to feel incredibly erotic and passionate. I know it's an artistic decision, but I feel that this clinical side doesn't work. Also, the arcs, though well-realised by the actors, are terribly cliched and can be spotted a mile off. We've seen this done before many's a time, and frankly, in better movies.

Though it has misdirection in the sex scenes and a flawed script, A Dangerous Method is a solid and consistent movie from David Cronenberg. The acting is uniformly splendid, but in a overall great cast, Keira Knightley delivers the stand-out performance. Also, despite the relatively low-budget, it's a well-established mise-en-scene, with the costume and make-up/hair departments doing as much as the actors to realise their characters, and the production design establishes the believability of the period setting. Regulars Peter Suschitzky and Ronald Sanders (cinematography and editing respectively) work well in conjunction with one another, and while it is occasionally misdirected, no one can accuse Cronenberg of going into a movie half-assed. I mean, when he tackled what to others would be an ordinary crime thriller, we got Eastern Promises. Although it is not an outstanding film, A Dangerous Method is more consistent than Cosmopolis, and is a solid addition into Cronenberg's back catalogue.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bored (I'm the chairman of the board. Hello, Iggy!)

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - That's My Boy

Directed by: Sean Anders

Produced by: Adam Sandler
Allen Covert
Jack Giarraputo
Heather Parry

Screenplay by: David Caspe

Starring: Adam Sandler
Andy Samberg
Leighton Meester
Susan Sarandon
Eva Amurri Martino
Vanilla Ice
Milo Ventimiglia

Music by: Rupert Gregson-Williams

Cinematography by: Brandon Trost

Editing by: Tom Costain

Studio(s): Happy Madison Productions
Relativity Media

Distributed by: Colombia Pictures

Release date(s): June 15, 2012 (United States)
September 7, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $70 million

Box office revenue: $57, 719, 093

Alright folks, for those of you who don't know, I've got this review and three others (A Dangerous Method, Argo, Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai) coming in, and then I'm gonna post a belated arrival with regards to my review of the month for December. The final month for review will be January (my cut-off point being February 1st), reviews for which I will be posting in capsule format and following with a review for the month. My reviews might be belated, but I'm already ahead of the game in terms of the films, having watched Cockneys Vs Zombies, am going to see Jack Reacher tonight, and have Django Unchained and Les Miserables to look at down the pipeline. On another note, my condolences go out to the family of the great Nagisa Oshima, who passed away from pneumonia on the 15th. I'm a big fan of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and Oshima-san was one of the giants of Japanese cinema in the later half of the 20th century. He will be missed. Finally, with the Oscar season in motion, I'm going to also be posting this year's inductions into The Thin White Dude's Hall Of Fame to precede my year-end awards, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for digestion (or throwing up!) is That's My Boy, starring Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg of The Lonely Island. It's the second live-action film that came out in the UK in 2012 starring Adam Sandler. The first was Jack And Jill, the first film I saw back in 2012, which to me felt like the nail in this particular coffin for Adam Sandler. This dude has had one contentious relationship with yours truly, as I love some of his early movies like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy, then went into a kid of inbetweeny stage where he was releasing Anger Management and The Longest Yard, which were decent films, but really Sandler-lite. Then he did Funny People, which was kind of for him what The Wrestler was for Mickey Rourke, his redemption song, his way of saying "I'm an idiot, I made some crappy movies, now I'm going back towards credibility." The problem was he followed Funny People with Grown Ups, a horrendous film in which him and his friends go on holiday, calling each other by different names so it could be released in the cinemas, producing terrible Kevin James movies (yes, Zookeeper) and as I said, the bane of it all. Jack And Jill. It's nearly a full twelve months since I saw that movie, and it's going to take something really terrible to displace it as my worst film of 2012, because it is the shit without the sandwich. Point being with the preamble, I had given up on Adam Sandler, but a certain somebody over at Danland Movies kept banging on about how good That's My Boy was. I won't lie, I was quite trepidatious, because my good friend does like some really silly shit, but then he placed it in his Top Ten of 2012 and that made me think that I should give it a watch. Danland is a great reviewer, and he's one of the few people who liked That's My Boy, because this movie has received a near uniformly hostile reception since it's release. Most of this seems to be levelled at the fact that there is some controversial content involving the comedic portrayal of pedophilia, incest and statutory rape, with Alonso Duralde calling it "vulgar, trite, sexist, misogynist, hacky, tacky, gross, sentimental and stupid, with occasional flourishes of racism and veiled homophobia thrown in to boot."Also, my resident unwitting mentor Mark Kermode despised the film, so I had a lot to contend with going into this one. Plot synopsis here, in 1984, thirteen-year-old Donny Berger (Justin Weaver) has an affair with teacher Mary McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino), and after being caught out, she is sentenced to thirty years in prison, while Donny's family are given custody of the unborn child conceived in the course of the relationship. After a period of celebrity and fame, in 2012, Donny (Adam Sandler) has lost touch with his son, and is an alcoholic who has squandered all of his money. His son, who is no longer obese and has changed his name to Todd Peterson (Andy Samberg), is working as a successful businessman and is engaged to be married to a woman named Jamie (Leighton Meester). Facing prison due to owing $43,000 to the I.R.S., Donny seeks out his son, so he can mooch money off of him, so he can avoid going behind bars. Comprende?

Despite all this negative press (in the time I've been working on this review, someone has tinkered with the Wikipedia entry so that it reads "comedy" film. P.S. If you're going to mess with things, do it properly i.e. - 'comedy,' berk!), I must say that I find myself (only slightly) guiltily enjoying That's My Boy. For starters, I think the return to R-rated comedy has given Sandler and co a bit more leeway where the gags are regarded. People are complaining about the controversial humour, and I used to think similarly, but to get overly moral about something like That's My Boy is most likely what they want you to do. For me, there was some very bald and indeed creative gags that made me bowl over with laughter. It isn't just cheap gags, and they worked in a way that like a good horror-comedy, in that I was laughing heartily and equally disgusted (at myself as much the film) at the same time. Also, the cast were uniformly solid. It's no stretch for Sandler, who's doing 'that voice' again, but he's still a humorous and engaging screen presence, which is something to be merited for given how despicable his character is. Samberg also plays a good everyman in a situation which while we ourselves may never have to find ourselves in, can sympathise with and understand his predicament, being stuck with this dead weight of a father. Furthermore, while these guys may be career comedians, but it is rather brave of Susan Sarandon, Eva Amurri Martino, Leighton Meester, Milo Ventimiglia and Vanilla Ice to so readily be willing to debase themselves in this way. I say that because especially for the young women (Sarandon can get away with anything!) in this frat-boy comedy this could be a potentially career-threatening movie, but they throw themselves wholeheartedly into it and for that they must be complimented. Also, Sean Anders' direction of this Happy Madison production is a breath of fresh air. Dennis Dugan has done a horrendous collection of jobbing directorial duties as of late as one of their regulars, and Frank Coraci's Zookeeper was another mess, so to have a newer director come in and take the reigns was a welcome change. Furthermore, as with many of Happy Madison's productions, it really could have went either way, and Anders' controlled and astute direction manages to reign in some of the usual pitfalls. Although this isn't hard to do, That's My Boy is Happy Madison and Adam Sandler's best movie in years and I'd be denying it if I didn't say that it's a genuinely gutsy comedy that instead of going for the easy lowbrow tries to something daring and different.

With those nice being said, That's My Boy, while a step above many other Sandler/Happy Madison productions, is still a pretty flawed movie in a number of ways. I was going on a couple of reviews back about the length of The Hobbit, believe me, the case is more so for this movie. David Caspe can sure write a good gag, but boy does that guy need beaten with a stick and given the Roger Corman deal of ninety-two minutes or less. This is about as long as the movie should be. I had to sit there for two hours watching this, and while it's funny, it is also at times excruciatingly exhausting. It gave me enough time to figure out most of the final act (including the final twist, I might add), and if this had been parred down to ninety minutes, this would have been a great comedy. Another added irritable thing that comes with this running time is that I have to listen to another cumbersome murder-by-numbers score by Rupert Gregson-Williams. As much a regular collaborator as Dennis Dugan, he fires out what is not necessarily the very same score he has done for other Happy Madison films, but he applies the same, lazy method of sticking by Hollywood scoring conventions. Yes, it's an Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra case, and I'd much rather not be told when to feel and what to think (Chaplin strikes again!) by someone hitting a minor note on a keyboard, which clearly says "This is where I'm meant to feel sad and sympathetic to the plight of these human beings." No, I'm not going to, they're horrible, but that's okay, you don't need to underline it with this saccharine nonsense that rips away a tinge of humorous awkwardness or any semblance of irony. Quiet, you twaddling twit, lest I send Rock Monster Rollins in to show you how to make music by method of bashing one's skull off a desk! Nothing personal, I just no patience for a lack of creativity, folks! Finally, how did the producers manage to spend $70 million on this?    

Aside from these issues involving a flabby script and a terrible score, That's My Boy is a good showing from Happy Madison. Thought it's the textual equivalent of a morbidly obese buffoon, the script has got some genuinely hilarious moments that work on the same basis of horror-comedy, in that you are both throughly amused and absolutely disgusted at the proceedings. Sandler and Samberg are solid comedic leads, while the rest of the cast (particularly Martino and Meester) deserve credit for being brave enough to debase themselves wholeheartedly. Finally, Sean Anders is a welcoming presence as a director, earnestly trying to keep the reigns to control another one of Sandler's untamed beasts, and as a result, we get the best Adam Sandler movie in a good few years. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Relaxed (I've had a quiet week of reading Kafka and Judge Dredd, watching movies, reviewing them, playing Dishonoured and walking the dog)

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Life Of Pi

Directed by: Ang Lee

Produced by: Ang Lee
Gil Netter
David Womark

Screenplay by: David Magee

Based on: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Starring: Suraj Sharma
Irrfan Khan
Adil Hussain
Gerard Depardieu
Rafe Spall

Music by: Mychael Danna

Cinematography by: Claudio Miranda

Editing by: Tim Squyres

Studio(s): Rhythm & Hues
Fox 2000 Pictures

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): November 21, 2012 (United States)
December 20, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 127 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $120 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $451, 679, 852

Alright there folks, me up to usual tricks, especially given that I was stupid enough to sleep in on Monday and miss a potential of three days work this week. Thankfully, I'm technically a private contractor, so I won't get reprimanded, but I won't be letting that happen again, rest assured. Also, I'm at present playing (and rather enjoying) the stealth action-adventure game Dishonoured. I do like my video games, but have started getting back into them with having absolutely ate up Max Payne 3. On a movie note, it's a shame that HMV has gone into administration. My good friend at Danland Movies has written a great article on the topic of the company's potential demise, and I share his sentiments in that it represents the potential decline of physical media. There is a great pleasure in walking around a store in the same way it's relaxing to browse in a physical library, to be surrounded by all this great (and terrible) art. I'm not a fan of digital media and downloading movies off of the Internet, and I only do it a couple of times a year if I'm finding it particularly hard to get a movie to review. I mean, it might seem like something to you, but yesterday I thought nothing of the expense of paying full-price for a copy of Dredd (which I watched and loved again!), not because of the money involved, but because I had now attained a physical copy of the film. Think what you want, but I feel that the weight of movies fades into something akin to uniformity if they're all files on a USB stick, and frankly, it's nowhere near as much fun browsing online as it is in a store. So, for more digressive discussions on the decline of physical media, unrelated art medium(s) and me making a Balzac of myself, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up to face The Central Scrutinizer (hello, Mr. Zappa!) is Life Of Pi. The film has been in development since 2003, not long after Yann Martel's novel of the same name (upon which the film based) was released. I read the novel when I was about fifteen or sixteen, and was mesmerised from start to finish. It truly is an excellent book, and it would be remiss of me to say it didn't deserve to stand alongside Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness as an equal fine piece of literature. The reason it has taken so long to adapt to the big screen is because although it's a well-worn cliche to say it (most reviewers seem to use it in relation to literary adaptations as a lazy buzz-term), but this is a classic case of the proverbial 'unfilmmable' book. At various points, M. Night Shymalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet had been attached to the project, but wasn't until Ang Lee signed on that the ball got rolling. Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan), who had immigrated from India, is living in Montreal, Canada, and a novelist has been recommended by a family friend that Pi's life story would make a great book. To cut the exposition here (because the film tells it better than I do), Pi's is sixteen (Suraj Sharma) when his father sells the family zoo, and when they are travelling on a Japanese freighter to sell the animals in North America, the ship is sunk in the midst of a heavy storm and Pi is left shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker for company. Now you see why I reduced myself to buzz-terms!

Unfilmmable or not, Life Of Pi is a great adaptation of the source text. Ang Lee's approach to the film, catering the widest audience possible, is a masterstroke. No one will ever deny that Ang Lee knows how to make a great film, but here he enters into new and uncharted waters with the confidence and conviction of a James Cameron, someone who has worked on big-budgets with every film since The Terminator. What's interesting is that Lee's casting of the far-reaching net does not end up going for broke and coming up with nothing, but instead he succeeds in virtually all manner of ways. Life Of Pi is a wondrous film that has the magic of cinema that enchants us when we are introduced to Disney classics at a young age. Having it be a PG-rated film gives so many the chance to see an enchanting film. Also, the PG-rating does not detract from the intensity of Pi's situation. Lee does not shy away from some of the novel's harder material, but he does it in a brilliantly symbolic and textured manner so that it has multiple levels of reflexivity. David Magee also must be given credit for taking Martel's story in this direction, because this could have been a very, very different film. I mean, if Werner Herzog had got his hands on this, we would have got something along the lines of Werner Herzog's Aguirre, The Wrath Of God (which isn't a bad thing), but there are so many places this story could have went, both good and bad, and I think they hit the nail on the head. In regards to this interpretation, Lee has picked a terrific young actor in Suraj Sharma to play Pi. He has expressive features in his face, but without being all facial manipulation, he carries himself with an everyman quality reminiscent of a Henry Fonda. Also, given that the character has to go through so many different states of mind and physical torpor, he never crosses into overdoing things, and is a thoroughly sympathetic lead. Also in the acting department, Irrfan Khan is a weighty, strong adult Pi. Among the other aspects I'd like to praise about the film is that it's one of the most technically astute films of 2012. It's not just a case of a big-budget film winning out on account of the money (look at The Robot Movie(s)), but the fact that the crew do it properly. Rhythm and Hues' visual effects are among the best I think I've ever seen in a feature film. The realisation of Richard Parker as a character is another step forward in legitimising visual effects as an art form. In the past, we've had characters like Gollum, King Kong, Caesar, but the thing is that most of the visual effects characters have had a fair degree of anthropomorphism to them. Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger, and importantly they never forget that. However, we still understand that this tiger has a personality and certain behavioural traits to it, and it is through the craft in the visual effects that we get these. The production design and locations are stellar. The Patel family zoo, shot in Taipei Zoo, captures the atmospheric splendour that a child feels when going into a zoo. Also, the storm sequences, which I only found out in the course of my research was physically shot in a water-tank, are quite possibly the best 'action' scenes in a film from 2012. You cannot tear your gaze from what is going on, despite the sheer onslaught that poor Pi (and indeed, Richard Parker) is going through, and as I said, I found out it was shot in a water-tank. I thought it was all sound-stage, but the skill here is not just the design, but the fact that both the design and visual effects departments are working together and I can't find the crease marks, their collaboration being completely seamless. Also strong is the cinematography by Claudio Miranda. Beginning his career with David Fincher, it's great to see him branch out and what he brings to the table for Life Of Pi is a wise visual eye. All of the technical brilliance and Lee's direction would be for nought if it wasn't for the work by Miranda, who does a stellar job at shooting this film. Finally, yes, I did like the music for this film, believe it or not. Mychael Danna's score is another excellent addition to Life Of Pi's overall tapestry. It's a wonderful compendium of traditional Indian instruments, with the emphasis being placed on woodwind, Hollywood orchestral scores featuring string and brass sections, and a collection of terrific vocalists. I must say that Pi's Lullaby, performed in the Tamil language, is a beautiful piece of work among this great original score. So, as you can tell from the amount I have went on about it, Life Of Pi is one of the richest, most rewarding film experiences of 2012.

However (the big however), much as I loved Life Of Pi, there is one issue involved with the film that forces me to deny it the masterpiece status, and that is the narrative framework. David Magee's script is for the most part praiseworthy, from the standpoint of being able to adapt while remaining faithful to the spirit of the source text. The problem is that some of the things that work in literature do not necessarily work in film. A.O. Scott didn't like the narrative because of the fact that you may doubt, "in the end, you have seen anything at all." I don't share these sentiments, for me, that was part of the thematic content. My problem was that I was so gripped by Pi's story that the switching back and forth between him as a teenager and his telling the story to the writer as an adult detracted from the fluidity of the film. At just over two hours, it's a long enough movie, and what is for the most part well-paced is temporarily put into stasis, and from a storytelling standpoint, I don't think this works.

Despite my issue with the narrative framework, which is a big enough problem to be frank, I still feel that Life Of Pi is a truly great film. It has a terrific lead performance from Suraj Sharma, it's technically one of the most astute films I've seen in a while (cinematography, editing, production design and visual effects are spot on!), and the original score by Mychael Danna is a wonderful compendium. Finally, while David Magee's script is mostly solid, it is Ang Lee and the direction he takes with Yann Martel's original novel that truly makes this film. It could have been interpreted very differently and we could have gotten something like Werner Herzog's Aguirre, The Wrath Of God or this year's own The Turin Horse, but Lee manages to open up all the doors possible, making it accessible to a wider audience without overlooking the darker material of the book. It's a rare achievement to be able to have both hands in two different cookie jars and come up with gold, and Lee has done just that. Fair play to ye, my good sir!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright (not withstanding boredom at a lack of work!)

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - John Carter

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Produced by: Jim Morris
Colin Wilson
Lindsey Collins

Screenplay by: Andrew Stanton
Mark Andrews
Michael Chabon

Based on: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Starring: Taylor Kitsch
Lynn Collins
Samantha Morton
Mark Strong
Ciaran Hinds
Dominic West
James Purefoy
Willem Dafoe

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Cinematography by: Daniel Mindel

Editing by: Eric Zumbrunnen

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Release date(s): March 7, 2012 (France)
March 9, 2012 (United States/United Kingdom)

Running time: 132 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $250 million

Box office revenue: $282, 778, 100

Alright there, folks, it's the resident white dude here, casting down the respective index fingers of my left and right hands on the good, the bad, and the incredibly ugly of cinema. In that regard, I have reviews coming up for Life Of Pi, That's My Boy, A Dangerous Method, Argo, Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai and Amour coming up, with maybe a couple more thrown in there, after which I will come up with my ludicrously overloaded review of the month of December. As for January, I will have to eschew the usual essay-type format for reviewing movies, and have to keep them down to all bone and no meat one-hundred to two-hundred-and-fifty words capsule reviews. This is because I want to keep to schedule, what with the awards season (for which I will be writing an article), my own upcoming year-end awards, so, with regards to yours truly, busy little bee that I am, keep your eyes posted!

Right, so today's movie up for review is John Carter, the movie which has been adapted and is based upon Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series, featuring the titular John Carter Of Mars, as he is known in the books. Ever since Bob Clampett approached Burroughs in 1931 about doing a feature-length animated film on the series, various people from Ray Harryhausen to John McTiernan to Robert Rodriguez to John Favreau have been involved in attempted to bring the Barsoom series to the big screen. This particular film is adapted from the first book in that series, A Princess Of Mars, and was going to go under the title of John Carter Of Mars until it was decided in the process of marketing (devil's work!) that the 'Of Mars' was to be removed, purportedly because it was an origin story, but in all reality down to the recent financial implications of the word Mars in film titles (looking at you, Mars Needs Moms!). However, equally, a title like John Carter, with a full name, is a kiss of death for a film, and indeed, John Carter has become a contemporary box-office bomb, barely recouping production costs with a $282 million return off of a $250 million budget (and $100 million marketing campaign). As such, it has been subject to much speculation by box-office analysts as to why it flopped; was it the marketing, was it the critical reception, which could be described as mixed at best, the troubled production, or just an anomaly which audiences just did not care to see. In short, a lot has been said about John Carter (my colleagues, if I may be so bold, Mark Kermode and Peter Bradshaw both absolutely hated this film), but being the egotistical narcissist that I am, the argument isn't finished until I get my five dimes! Directed by Andrew Stanton, Taylor Kitsch stars as John Carter, who after his death, leaves his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) his personal journal, which Burroughs' scourges through to find clues as to his uncle's death. This journal leads us through the story of Carter, who, in the process of dodging compulsory service for the Union in the American Civil War, ends up in a cave with a Thern, which he kills and after taking it's medallion, accidentally transports himself to a planet called Barsoom. That's all I'm doing, not necessarily for spoilers sake but if I was to explain the opening movement of this film, I'd be here 'til 3 a.m. in the morning (put my key in the door, body's laying all over the floor, I don't remember how they got there, I guess I must have killed 'um!), so let's get crackin'.

To start with the good about John Carter (and I must say, there is good about it), with that big a budget, you'd like to think that you'd get something out of it, and what we get out of it is a well-established mise-en-scene. The production design and costumes in the film are suitably lavish, and hope ingratiate the audience into the world of Barsoom. Granted this isn't The Hobbit or The Lord Of The Rings in terms of overall design value, but it looks very good. Also, these details are captured by cinematographer Daniel Mindel, who does his best to display the craft and artistry that the filmmakers have put towards the film. It's crisp, clear and precise, also lacking some of the pitfalls that blockbuster cinematography can fall into. Furthermore, the cinematography and mise-en-scene is complimented by some excellent special/visual effects. They are done to the quality that you don't just see these creatures and action sequences as blobs on the screen, and given that most of the film was probably shot on a variety of sound-stages, you do get a sense of both believability and legitimacy to the proceedings. Finally on the good, it was directed by Andrew Stanton, whose films for Pixar (including a co-director credit on A Bug's Life, and solo credits for Finding Nemo and Wall-E) are among the best in that studio's oeuvre. So, you know that Andrew Stanton hasn't just gone into this half-assed and that he has made an effort to make the best movie possible. He's a filmmaker who genuinely cares about storytelling, art and the craft that goes in making a motion-picture, and I think it is that passion that gives John Carter a semblance of consistency and control through the proverbial grime and the glow (hello, Chelsea Wolfe!).

Alright, so I'm not afraid, despite much critical derision, that John Carter was not as bad as many reviewers are holding it up to task for. However, it is still a mediocre film with a lot wrong with it. The main problem at the centre of all this is a shoddy script. Granted, it gets better in a uniform kind of way once the movie gets started, so at least by that stage it's consistent, but boy does it take a long time to get there. There's just an over-abundance and excessiveness to just how much backstory we are given here. Batman Begins (the template for the 'origin story' upsurge of the past ten years) went from Bruce Wayne's childhood, Melmothian wanderings, training under Ra's al Ghul and emergence as Batman in a little under an hour. John Carter takes about thirty or forty minutes to get from point A to point B. I thought the first part of The Hobbit was unnecessarily long, believe me, this is the real deal: three writers and not a semblance of fine tuning between them. Also, it's a shame given that I've enjoyed his work since he scored the video game adaptation to 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park (a real cult classic which has been the subject of many a late night playing by me and my friends!), but Michael Giacchino's score is awful. It's one of those cases in which it seems as though he is following the textbook of film scoring conventions. Everything is that overt, Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra, rather unsubtly telling you want to think and what to feel (I feel like the barber in The Great Dictator!), and it made me rather cross to listen to. Furthermore, given his genuine creativity, Giacchino seems at odds with his own work, and the aural histrionics come across as a grotesque parody of John Williams. Finally, regular Spike Jonze editor Eric Zumbrennen does not do a good job here and it is a mostly poorly acted film (what the hell is Ciaran Hinds doing here?). I'd like to lay the blame on these three aspects, but I think that there is obviously a bigger behind the scenes story here, and that the producers and studio heads (one of whom, namely Rich Ross, has been fired for his poor decision making) are at fault here for letting the production get out of hand.

John Carter has become in the relatively short time since it's release a monumental cenotaph to non-existent box-office and critical success. However, I personally don't think it's the absolute stinker many others think it is. It's well-shot, it's got a solidly established mise-en-scene, the special/visual effects are excellent and it is made by a filmmaker who has passion for the material. And I liked the dog creature thing! Nonetheless, Stanton's passion is misguided. The producers should have beat this project over the head with a stick when it got out of hand, because John Carter is an overlong, shoddily scripted, awfully scored film with weak editing and poor acting. There are plenty of worse films out there, and it might not even make my Top Ten Worst of 2012, but John Carter is still on the wrong side of good.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (still gonna walk the dog and sit up to watch a movie mind!)

P.S. That certain movie is my brand new and spangled copy of Dredd, which I quite gladly paid a tenner for earlier. In a world (to quote Don LaFontaine) where so many blockbuster-type movies are overlong, it's the epitome of cinematic efficiency!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Produced by: Caroline Cunningham
Zane Weiner
Fran Walsh
Peter Jackson

Screenplay by: Fran Walsh
Phillipa Boyens
Peter Jackson
Guillermo del Toro

Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Starring: Martin Freeman
Ian McKellen
Richard Armitage
James Nesbitt
Ken Stott
Cate Blanchett
Ian Holm
Christopher Lee
Hugo Weaving
Elijah Wood
Andy Serkis

Music by: Howard Shore

Cinematography by: Andrew Lesnie

Editing by: Jabez Olssen

Studio(s): New Line Cinema
WingNut Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): November 28, 2012 (Wellinton Premiere)
December 12, 2012 (New Zealand)
December 13, 2012 (United Kingdom)
December 14, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 169 minutes

Country(s): New Zealand
United States

Language: English

Production budget: $200-$315 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $840, 924, 000

Ookay there, folks, me again, wishing you happy hauntings in your nightmares! Ha ha ha, yes, your resident Vincent Price is here and in full force (what with essays being done and what have you), so you can expect an abundance of posts over the next month. I've got four backed up (John Carter, Life Of Pi, That's My Boy, A Dangerous Method), a copy of Argo and Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai to address, and that's just December! Believe me (as if I'm ever trustworthy) when I say that if ever there is a time to pay attention, now is it, because this has got to the point that it is like a reflex: do me a favour and keep your eyes posted!

Right, with the messianic delusions out of the way, let's take a look at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Much has been said in the press about the film with regards to the forty-eight frames a second high rate, but there's much more contextual crap than just this. Back in 1995, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh envisaged The Hobbit as the first instalment of a trilogy, which would include The Lord Of The Rings as the second and third parts. Well, in case you have been under a rock since the Y2K hysteria, that didn't happen, with Jackson and Walsh realising The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, a monumental achievement in moviemaking which studios try to emulate but can never quite match the majesty of. In development since 2007, when Jackson signed on as Executive Producer, the studio has went through issues with The Tolkien Estate (quite rightly) over royalties. Then, after working since 2008 on the project, original director Guillermo del Toro left in 2010 due to the numerous production delays, with Jackson later that year taking over in the director's chair for the two movies. Then, after production went from March 21, 2011 to July 6, 2012, 266 days in total filming, Jackson announced in 2012 that The Hobbit, despite being shot as two films, was now going to be released as three movies. Then we get to forty-eight frames. Many critics have been vocal about their criticism of the high frame-rate of the film, especially when working in conjunction with the 3D technology, which irks some (myself included) badly enough as it is. I must say for honesty's sake that when I saw the film in The Strand, it was a matinee at two-twenty in the afternoon and a 2D version, so I will not be addressing forty-eight frames in relation to 3D, but as it stands by itself. So, contextual crap out of the way, here comes a plot synopsis: set sixty years before the events in The Lord of the Rings (and some of which is adapted from The Return of the King's appendices), An Unexpected Journey tells the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who gets convinced by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to join a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on a quest to reclaim The Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon. Thanks, Wikipedia, I've read the book on more than one occasion (which I love, incidentally), but I still needed that! Let's get crackin'!

To start with the good about the first instalment of The Hobbit, which I have a lot to say about, it is a splendidly established mise-en-scene. As with The Lord Of The Rings, the production design is just extraordinary. I'm sure I'm not the only one who got goosebumps when we made our return to The Shire, but once we set off on the adventure, you just buy and believe in every place they go to. This is Middle-Earth, but the sets are so well done that despite the fact that we are in fantasy land you can just accept it as a reality. Also, the costumes and make-up/hair departments have done a terrific job in designing and distinguishing the characters. I mean, I'm a big Jimmy Nesbitt fan, and for most of the film I couldn't tell that it was him playing one of the dwarves, and only started to recognise him because of his voice. If you can do that to an (at least I think!) eagle-eyed film critic, you're doing something right. Also, I think it's time that visual effects are seen as part of the mise-en-scene, because they're are as important as establishing this world as any 'physical' construction. Of course, the motion-capture is as good as expected, and likewise for the battle scenes, but the visual effects help make the world, and compliment the production design. There are certain things which are obviously effects because they're outside the realm of possibility in reality, but for the most part, the lines between the physical and digital constructions are very much blurred. In other departments, it is a technically sound film. It's very well edited by Jabez Olssen, who given the amount of different things that are going on here, manages to make it feel like a consistent piece. However, I'm actually going to come out and say that I liked Andrew Lesnie's cinematography and the forty-eight frames. While I wouldn't use it for every movie, especially if Mr. Motion Sickness Inducing Wobbly Bits is brought into the equation, but in distinguishing this from The Lord Of The Rings, it gives the film a unique visual splendour. As I said, I saw it in 2D, so the forty-eight frames was fine in that format, and the thing about Lesnie's cinematography, from Babe to Lord Of The Rings, is that his work focuses on the overall artistry of the piece. So many cinematographers have seen The Bourne films and think that because Paul Greengrass' crew did it well that they have the liberty to go crazy in actions movies with the camera. I have seen set videos on Star Trek with J.J. Abrams literally shaking the camera (he used it well, incidentally), so I can only imagine how others do it. The point is that Lesnie does not go nuts with the camera(s) to give the impression of a frenetic atmosphere, but does do a terrific job of highlighting just how much work went into the film. With much of this film comprising of the same crew of The Lord Of The Rings, it's appropriate that composer Howard Shore is back on the film. One of our greatest living composers, who made his bones working with David Cronenberg, is a welcome returnee to the franchise. Hearing Concerning Hobbits again is a wonder, but this is no nostalgia trip where music is regarded. Shore has come up with a mighty suite that has motifs from the previous films, but at it's crux is based around the Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold song from the Tolkien text. It's a far more musical film, with the dwarves singing at various points, and hearing Misty Mountains sung with the vocals brought to the fore is simply wondrous. Also, while the whole ensemble is praiseworthy, I'd like to mention certain actors specifically. Richard Armitage is a strong Thorin Oakenshield, carrying himself with suitable weight and presence. Also impressive from the dwarf contingency was Ken Stott as Balin, who made the character immensely likeable and came across as worldly-wise. Now I'll get onto two motion-capture roles. I thought that Barry Humphries' Great Goblin was hilarious, but, of course, the show-stealer (again!) is Andy Serkis' returning Gollum. It really is quite something how this journey that we are going on with this company, which we have sat through for about two hours already, takes a complete tonal shift on account of Serkis. Frankly, upon arrival, you kind of suddenly sit and become engrossed from the utterance of the first syllable. I've always been a big fan of Serkis' devilishly brilliant Gollum, and seeing him play this character again just reminds me how good he is and how motion-capture performances deserve to be judged alongside 'live-action' performances. Also great is the returning Ian McKellen, who's Gandalf is as ever just a screen wonder made so by the brilliance of the actor playing him. Finally on the acting front, I was a fan of the casting of Martin Freeman, and I cannot say that I was disappointed. He carries the movie with his abundance of charisma, and we know he can do comedy, but his transitions between being comedic and serious were flawless. He has aways been a talented actor, but having seen him in utter rubbish like Swinging With The Finkels, a film which consisted of him doing what I (and Danland Movies) have labelled 'The Martin Freeman Look' (something between bemusement, embarrassment and surprise), I hope The Hobbit trilogy will open up a lot of doors for him. And finally on the positive front (told you I had a lot to say, and more!), Peter Jackson has done a terrific job here as director. Considering this time round he is also working as the executive producer, it's quite a testament to his stamina, patience and capabilities that he can work in a number of different capacities and still keep a level head on the proceedings. He gives the film pace, weight and consistency, which is what a three-hour film needs really to keep it's audience engaged. 

However (the big however!), much as I think that this first instalment of The Hobbit film trilogy is a monumental achievement in filmmaking, and I got a great degree of personal enjoyment from it, I cannot deny that the script is very flawed. It's not a rubbish script by any stretch, but it's nowhere near up to the standards that we are expect from this crew. I mean, The Return Of The King was released with a fiercely bold two-hundred minute running time, but I was engaged from start to finish, and it quite deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Picture among a bevvy of others.  In the case of this, An Unexpected Journey, it's about a one hundred and sixty minutes, and while it's consistent, you could have cut at least thirty minutes out of it. There's really no need for this to be near three hours long, and the use of the appendices of Tolkien's Return Of The King does come across as padding. Also, some sections of the movie do drag themselves rather poorly, which is quite a shame given how much is good with the film. I know some of you who are reading this might think my final judgement on the film is false, especially given that I liked so much about the film and that there is only one real flaw. With that being said, I can't deny that this flaw (the script) is a major one that is the equivalent of having a knife plunged into the back of a beautiful Aphrodite.

Look, there is a major flaw with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with it's script, but despite this, it's a very good movie. The mise-en-scene is tremendously established, it's a technically astute movie and I had no problem whatsoever with the forty-eight frames. Also, Howard Shore delivers a great score, with Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold and it's related motifs being highlights, the ensemble cast, particularly Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman, was strong, and Peter Jackson's direction has passion and it's quite an achievement given how much he is doing in the creative process of creating this film. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (chillin' and grillin')