Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Beware Of Mr. Baker

Directed by: Jay Bulger

Produced by: Jay Bulger
Nick Friedman
Julie Goldman
Jeff Sanders
Omar Soliman

Screenplay by: Jay Bulger

Starring: Ginger Baker

Music by: Ginger Baker

Cinematography by: Eric Robbins

Editing by: Will Cox
Owen Rucker
Caitlin Tartaro

Studio: Insurgent Media

Distributed by: SnagFilms (United States)
Artificial Eye (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): November 28, 2012 (United States; limited release)
May 17, 2013 (United Kingdom/Ireland)

Running time: 100 mins

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: N/A

Box office revenue (as of publication): $116, 476 (Domestic Gross only)

Ahoy there strangers, me again. Although things have admittedly slowed up over the past couple of weeks (Lord knows, other aspects of my life have been rather busy), I have been continuing to watch movies, and following this review, expect one's to come up for Star Trek Into Darkness and After Earth. Before we get started, I wish to dedicate this next review to the memory of James Gandolfini. In case you don't know, I'm also someone who watches certain television series', and right at the top of that is The Sopranos. I only just recently finished re-watching the show, and while it is certainly an ensemble effort and the series has a terrific writing team and crew, it was Gandolfini's Tony Soprano who was the apex, and the physical embodiment of everything that is good about The Sopranos. A magnetic screen presence, behind his hulking and intimidating frame lay a gentle soul with a twinkle in his eye, and when he smiled the way only he could, you just wanted to reach and give him a big bearhug. My thoughts go out to his family members, whose grief I cannot possibly fathom to imagine. Rest In Peace, big man!

So, with no stone being left unturned, let's get down to this. Today's review is on Beware Of Mr. Baker, the title of the picture being a reference to the sign that confronts a visitor upon entering the residence of one Mr. Baker. Namely, the legendary Ginger Baker, widely considered to be one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, though he himself (as explored in the film) contends with that label, seeing himself as following the tradition of jazz drumming, and taking in the influence of African music and rhythms. Sometimes preceding his artistry (not unlike the great Oliver Reed), however, are the tales of excess and debauchery during the peak of his fame, which created an aura around him as a bit of a rock 'n roll wild man. Director Jay Bulger, having wrote an article for Rolling Stone on Baker (The Devil and Ginger Baker), uses his established rapport to develop this documentary on the man, who lives in South Africa with his fourth wife. Right, synopsis sorted!

Starting off with the good regarding the film, much of it's strengths derive from the subject himself. Ginger Baker is a legendary figure in music before you even approach him from a documentarian standpoint, and from this position the legend only continues to grow. One of the most unpredictably entertaining interview subjects in a film for quite a while, Baker regularly shows disdain for the set format. Poor Jay Bulger has to ask the questions, and often gets an expletive-laden retort for his troubles. Indeed, the film opens with Baker attacking the filmmaker with his cane over Bulger's intentions to interview those who knew the man. Baker has many brilliant stories to tell, and serves as an appropriately well-informed narrator to his own tale. Also, now in his seventies, Baker's voice has a world-weary quality that gives the film a sense of legitimacy and despite being from London, he has enough of his own personal twang to make the view continue to listen to what he's saying. The film is really at it's best moments when Bulger embraces Baker's contradictions and the fact that the man is essentially in a constant conflict with himself. Despite his being, for all intents and purposes, a horrible man to his family and friends, the refusal to judge this man and view him objectively is to the film's credit. Furthermore, having this conflict gives moments when Baker reminisces about his favourite drummers and about his feeling more akin to his horses and than other humans gives him (and the film) a true sense of pathos. It's a very entertaining movie at times, but most especially when we are being told a straight story with the eponymous Mr. Baker at the centre.

Now, while the film does not contain enough problems to severely irritate me, there are problems that inhabit the film nevertheless. As mentioned, the film at it's best when a straight story is being told. However, there are certain times in which the film begins to show traits that seem to be inherent in a lot of postmodern cinema. The methods used to tell the larger picture, however, are too multitudinous and do not contribute anything to the film. For instance, the pop art by way of printing press presentation of the Mormon Sex In Chains case covered in Errol Morris' Tabloid may have fit that film, but here, some methods (particularly the animation sequences) go into overkill. What this needs to be is along the lines of Capturing The Friedmans or Gimme Shelter, not This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Ginger Baker is a large and engaging enough figure without the need for him to be dressed up with all these extra frills. This is a problem that, while not necessarily damning a film, has become inherent in recent documentaries, which have this second-nature obsessiveness with transgressive Baudrillard post-modernity. While (as mentioned) not condemning the film, this is the issue at the root of the problems that permeate the film.

In short, Beware Of Mr. Baker is a film that is at times as troubled as it's subject. However, it's troubles come not from the subject, but from issues to do with the methods used to approach it. Methodological research would show that, theoretically speaking, Beware Of Mr. Baker is not a unified, cohesive piece, but instead inappropriately scatterbrained. Nevertheless, even with the issue(s), it is, at it's best, a fascinating, objective portrait of a conflicted man. Baker is never anything less than thoroughly engaging, and he makes for one of the most interesting interviewees I have seen as the subject of a documentary film for quite some time. Although it has flaws, Bulger seems to also recognise the good material, and when Beware Of Mr. Baker tells a straight story of the sign entering the estate of the namesake, it flourishes.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - "Anyone got a compass?" (I need to get my bearings)

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Great Gatsby

Directed by: Baz Luhrmann

Produced by: Baz Luhrmann
Douglas Wick
Lucy Fisher
Catherine Martin
Catherine Knapman

Screenplay by: Baz Luhrmann
Craig Pearce

Based on: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio
Tobey Maguire
Carey Mulligan
Joel Edgerton
Isla Fisher
Jason Clarke
Elizabeth Debicki
Amitabh Bachchan

Music by: Craig Armstrong

Cinematography by: Simon Duggan

Editing by: Matt Villa
Jason Ballantine
Jonathan Redmond

Studio(s): Village Roadshow Pictures
Bazmark Productions
A&E Television
Red Wagon Entertainment

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): May 10, 2013 (United States)
May 16, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 143 minutes

Country(s): United States

Language: English

Production budget: $105 million

Box-office revenue: $301, 298, 103

Aloha there, my pretties! I say aloha because for a change the weather is absolutely fantastic over here. For the past week or so (with the occasional flash-flood), we in The North here have had clear skies, twenty-degree heat (centigrade for those interested) and I'm starting to work up a sweat just lying in bed! Anywho, much as I'm basking in the rays of the sun (I almost forgot what they felt like), I've been seeing a film or two, so after this one, expect a review for Beware Of Mr. Baker, the Jay Bulger documentary about drummer Ginger Baker. As ever, for all the latest blah blah blah, keep your eyes posted!

I'll just have to say from the outset before I get properly started that today's film is a rather unique case. Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby is adapted from the 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name, a book which is (quite rightly) considered among the greatest of 20th-Century literary classics. Fitzgerald's work has been adapted to the screen before, most notably 1974's The Great Gatsby, featuring Robert Redford in the title role, and David Fincher's ambitious but turgid 2008 adaptation of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, but Baz Luhrmann's a different kind of beast altogether. The central story, following Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) in reminiscing his friendship with Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his unwittingly becoming the witness to numerous secrets and lies involving Tom and Daisy Buchanan (Joel Edgerton, Carey Mulligan), sticks very much to the original Fitzgerald source, but stylistically Luhrmann takes a different route altogether. So much so, in fact, that it defies the usual format that I take in reviewing a film. Normally, my third and fourth paragraphs deal with the pros and cons of a given film respectively, but The Great Gatsby is a film of such a strange identity that I'm going to have to break down the wall temporarily in order to truly get across my (oh my) opines. So, the following paragraph will deal with what I see as the 'first part' of the film, up a certain 'turning point,' and the fourth paragraph will look at the 'second part' of the film. Thinking about how I was going to approach this in a review took a bit of time, and I've decided that this format will work best in getting across my views.

Now, I'm just gonna shoot from the hip on this one, because the first part/half of The Great Gatsby is a colossal monstrosity. I know that what Baz Luhrmann is trying to achieve in establishing the outright decadence of the Roaring Twenties, about how despite prohibition being in order, alcohol was arguably easier to access than it was when it was legal, but most of the first part of the film is simply dreadful. Aside from an interesting prologue with Tobey Maguire at the beginning, I found little to no redeeming factors about this section of the film. The cinematography is a big problem, nigh on nausea-inducing. I'm wondering if this is down to the fact that I was watching a 3D film in 2D, but I don't know what they were doing with the frame rate, because I doubt I'm they only one who feels this way. The amount of long zoom and tracking shots are simply unnecessary, and go beyond a stylistic quality, instead infusing it with an illusory sense of gimmickry. Every shot just SCREAMS at me, and even down to the sharpness of the cuts made in the editing suite, I felt like someone was vociferously attacking the negative. The screenplay too is pretty messy. Yes, you can do whatever you want in the process of adaptation, and that Luhrmann's theatrical qualities come across in the final cut, but what they do in these gigantic party scenes adds nothing to the narrative. They could have established the outright decadence, fallacy, the proverbial 'Tears Of A Clown' stuff with about a quarter of the screen time dedicated to these scenes. Also, while I thought highly of the slow reveal of the character of Gatsby, at what point is necessary for every second line of that character to be "... old sport." We already know it's Gatsby and that's his trademark from within a minute or two in his company, don't have DiCaprio jabber on about constantly. It makes the film borderline parodic and undercuts the character if you overtly have gibbering "old sport" as often as the script entails it. The soundtrack/score as well is a screaming honking mess. The original score is by Craig Armstrong, a composer whose work I normally like very much (particularly the subtle minimalism of his contributions to NEDS), but here it is all loudness and has the effect of someone attempting to use the methods of blast fishing, triggering explosives to conjure my brain activity up to it's uncomfortable nth. degree. The soundtrack too, a daring move I must say, is a failed experiment. I have no problem with contemporary urban/hip-hop music being used in this period movie, hey, better to try and fail than to not try at all, but it really doesn't work. Much of the party music ends up coming across as silly, and even the use of George Gershwin fails to fit the mood of the piece. This issue reaches it's nadir with the Emeli Sande cover of Beyonce's Crazy In Love in an atrociously misjudged scene just before Gatsby and Daisy meet again. I know it sounds snobbish and pretentious, but it's use actually conjured a number of laughs from the audience, who were probably just doing so out of not knowing what to do in the midst of such an awkward audio-visual conundrum. I, on the other hand, according to a friend who I saw the film with, continued to sigh and breathe heavily until the scene where Gatsby and Daisy reunite...

... and then, after over an hour of screen time, strangely, it became a movie. (At this point, I've left the review for five-six days, as I'm heading over to Donnington to work at Download Festival and I need my beauty sleep, thank you!) As you might have gathered from what I have mentioned in relation to Tobey Maguire, I was uniformly won over by the film's actors, even when surrounded by the utmost ridiculousness. Maguire plays a great Nick Carraway, whose boyish enthusiasm for the world around him is gradually chipped away. Keeping it in the realm of subtlety, Maguire never goes into melodramatic histrionics to put across the character's arc. Also strong is Carey Mulligan, playing the character of Daisy right down the middle and walking the proverbial tightrope with grace. It's a part that really could have gone either way, with her seeming either too much a moll or an adult waif, but Mulligan does it just right. Once again proving herself a fine screen actress, for all the movie's faults, this remains a memorable performance. Also strong are Jason Clarke (an actor who's gaining my interest more with every role) and Joel Edgerton, whose Tom Buchanan is throughly reprehensible, and Elizabeth Debicki is an impressive Jordan Baker, but some space must be given to Leo DiCaprio's Gatsby. As a physical presence, he fills the shoes of the part very well, even amidst the script's rather overt attempts at self-mythologisation. His part is an example of the second-part tonal shift. He becomes not just a figurehead, but a human being. The whole movie (from a directorial standpoint, Luhrmann begins to have flourishes of brilliance here) improves drastically, and the script almost seems to develop a self-awareness of it's own flaws and the fact that it would be wise to actually make an engaging movie. The cinematography and editing too calms down a bit, and Luhrmann realises that this is a drama and not a Michael Bay film. Even the costumes, which struck me as too bright and forthright, seemed to have their colours muted to an acceptable degree  At it's best moment, Luhrmann's Gatsby can be very touching and heart-rending, which does lead me to conclude "Why couldn't the rest of the movie be like this?" I don't think they needed the first half to be as brash as it was to get that point across, for the second half is a genuinely serene and engaging piece of cinema. A bit of restraint did this film the world of good.

However, for all the restraint and genuine qualities of the film's second half (which include a modest, serene script, Luhrmann directing with control, the cinematography and editing working in a manner befitting the mood of the piece, the terrific cast at it's very best), I still find it impossible to get past just how much I detested the first part. The cinematography was overt, too stylistic without any contributing quality to the narrative and genuinely nausea-inducing, as loud visually as the soundtrack was aurally, none of the soundscapes (original score, hip-hop/contemporary jazz soundtrack) fitting in to the narrative. There was an incredible sense of gimmickry, particularly in the party scenes, that was hard to overcome. Even when I did the (admittedly) enjoyable second half of the film, the looming monster that was the first half still prevailed. I'll admit the purposefulness of the direction and that it's meant to be this way, give the devil in Mr Luhrmann his due for trying to do something interesting but it simply didn't work on an overall aesthetic or emotional level. It's a shame, because I did work with this movie, and from a reviewing standpoint it certainly posed a challenge, but ultimately the scales of justice were tipped slightly in favour of the colossal monstrosity against the serene drama. The Hall of Justice has spoken.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good (now that this conundrum of a review is done!)

P.S. As I said, I'll give the devil in Mr Luhrmann his due for trying.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Hangover Part III

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Produced by: Todd Phillips
Daniel Goldberg

Screenplay by: Todd Phillips
Craig Mazin

Based on: Characters created by
Jon Lucas
Scott Moore

Starring: Bradley Cooper
Ed Helms
Zach Galifianakis
Ken Jeong
Heather Graham
Jeffrey Tambor
Justin Bartha
Mike Epps
John Goodman

Music by: Christophe Beck

Cinematography by: Lawrence Sher

Editing by: Debra Neil-Fisher
Jeff Groth

Studio(s): Legendary Pictures
Green Hat Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): May 23, 2013 (United States)
May 24, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 100 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $103 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $199, 240, 908

Hey gang, so I took the weekend off, but you can't say I lack dedication to my craft, if my unconstructed rambles can indeed be considered as such. Despite being absolutely skint (I put Queen's University to blame for that: brilliant minds that they are schedule an exam on a Saturday and I miss £200 worth of work, just sublime), I'm making a brave effort (especially with my computer dogging up) to keep up with all the latest in the cinemas. Thanks goodness for my Strand loyalty vouchers and a QFT membership. So, for as much of the shebang as I can keep up with ('all' is a bit of a strong declarative, methinks), keep your eyes posted!

"And slowly I turn...," and there stands before me The Hangover Part III. I have a bit of a storied history with this series of movies, so here's a bit of a preamble. Admittedly, I was one of the (vocal) minority who didn't like the first Hangover, which was a surprise hit back in 2009. Second time round, same old scenario, bumped up to eleven, The Hangover Part II was a horrible bit of work that would have been banned alongside Lucio Fulci and Ruggero Deodato pictures during the Video Nasty's scare of the 1980s. This time round, The Wolfpack (when are Daddy Long Legs and Kevin Nash gonna start picking up royalties?), after Alan (Zach Galifianakis) loses his father and has stopped taking his medication, reunite to take him to a rehab facility. However, on the way, they become involved in a plot involving the recent escapee Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who has stolen half of a $42 million gold heist from bad dude Marshall (John Goodman), and so the guys have to get in contact with Chow or else one of them (the one who always ends up missing) gets plugged. You get the story, roll the tape!

To start with the good on the film, I've been vocal about this in the past, but I think that Lawrence Sher's cinematography on these pictures contributes to a lot of what people (besides me) seem to enjoy about them. Not only does he handle the camera with grace, doing some great location shooting, he does know how to shoot a comedic scene. There's a real natural eye for how to make the scenes at least 'appear' funnier than they are. The case is no different here, and I hope that he continues to have a fine career. Also, the change in tone of the film to more of a caper/heist genre benefits in the expansion of Ken Jeong's Leslie Chow. In the past, I've found Jeong very annoying in his various capacities as a screen actor, playing the perennial 'crazy Asian' caricature in about eight different films I've had to review. Here though, there is a bit of depth and nuance to the part, and indeed, he's good enough that he threatens (and succeeds) in stealing the show from the wretched Wolfpack. While I didn't laugh beyond the sparse titter or two, most of them were as a result of Ken Jeong, so well done Ken, you now have my curiosity.

This is where we really get going. I've made no bones about the fact that I dislike the first two movies with an avid passion. I would be sitting in the auditoriums weeping and yowling like Tom Hardy in Bronson being surrounded by mental patients dancing to Pet Shop Boys, everyone else laughing while I sat there dumbly impotent in my intolerance to this terror. But my thesis to The Hangover Part III is different. Did I like it? No, same as before. However, the first two Hangover's at least provoked a reaction, one of revulsion, granted, but a reaction nevertheless. In the case of Part Trois, I sat in the auditorium with indifference to much of what was proceeding. Unlike the genre switch of Fast Five, The Hangover Part III's trade doesn't work, the screenplay by director Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin really stinking of lazy and tacked-on. It's like they are wringing the dishcloth until there is simply nothing left to give out, although that ship has long since sank. The movie was predictable as could be, and I must say that I saw must of the 'gags' coming a mile away, of course this thing is going to happen, he's going to do that, he's going to end up with that, it was just such murder-by-numbers material. Christophe Beck's score is rubbish again, being overindulgent and of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra variety, blah blah blah. Everyone involved, including the primary three actors, seem bored out of their minds and frankly, if no one involved is going to make an effort to try and push for the last hurdle, then neither am I. It's a sad moment for a movie when my highlights are hearing extracts from Black Sabbath's N.I.B. and Nine Inch Nails' Hurt, two bands who I'm going to see and who remind of what great art can be. I know I'm going off on one and not making a particularly constructive analysis of the details, but the prospect of revisiting this dribblesome bore of a film makes my eyes start to feel heavy (I'm yawning as I type this) and see an early night sleep as a tempting prospect. There's a shot towards the conclusion of the film (no spoilers, not that it'd make a difference) in which The Wolfpack cross a street from left-to-right in a shot that visually invokes the cover for The Beatles' Abbey Road. I just can't help but thinking this is a shoddy attempt at self-mythologisation, I mean, really? You're going to try and compare The Wolfpack (royalties from which I want a finders fee from 'Big Sexy' Kevin Nash) to The Beatles is simply absurd. This band of ingrates will never rise to the pantheon of the greats in the way that Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr did, and I'm content just leaving it at that!

Frankly, I'm posting this conclusion about two or three days after starting this review. To me, there was little to no effort on the part of much of the cast and crew involved to make this Hanover instalment anything worth watching. It is only through the performance of Ken Jeong, who has finally convinced me, after about nine or ten movies, that he is a screen actor to look out for, and Lawrence Sher's cinematography, which was admittedly terrific, that redeems this from being in the bowels of cinema history. However, it is still one hundred minutes of one of the most outright boring films I can remember seeing for quite some time. The thing about the other Hangover films is that even though I didn't like them, I actively reacted to them. Even if it was a negative reaction, I still reacted. Here, I was in a primary state of indifference throughout, and if someone was to kick me in the head while watching The Hangover Part III, I doubt I'd be roused from my seat, bored to sleep as I was.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 2.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sore (broke my leg press record at the gym yesterday and now glad to have my feet up and not be forced to endure another terrible movie. I'm watching Leon: The Professional today!)

P.S. What in the blue hell did the studios spend $103 million on?