Monday, 28 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Prisoners

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Produced by: Broderick Johnson
Kira Davis
Andrew A. Kosove
Adam Kolbrenner
Mark Wahlberg

Screenplay by: Aaron Guzikowski

Starring: Hugh Jackman
Jake Gyllenhaal
Viola Davis
Maria Bello
Terrence Howard
Melissa Leo
Paul Dano

Music by: Johann Johannsson

Cinematography by: Roger A. Deakins

Editing by: Joel Cox
Gary D. Roach

Studio: Alcon Entertainment

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures (United States/International)
Paramount Pictures (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): August 30, 2013 (Telluride Film Festival)
September 20, 2013 (United States)
September 27, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 153 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $46 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $101, 527, 401

As I say time and time again, things are happening on this blog, and perhaps that's my way of saying that a wave of change is coming over me personally. I don't know if everyone has had this kind of feeling, perhaps if they have it's described in different words or not even words at all, but I do feel this slow tectonic shift in my being. I'm at a stage of transition which sees the paths in front of me undecided. To bring me back down to Earth from my metaphysical pedestal (and by way of referencing a certain movie - half a brownie point considering how much I go on about it!), "The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves." So, for more existentialist rambles, and the odd bit of chatter regarding the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

So, today's movie up for analysis is Prisoners, which has since it's release shaped itself up as a potential Oscar contender. It has been well-received, and two people who I know personally have recommended the film to me, but, as ever, perception is in the eye of the beholder, so, we'll see what way I fall with this one. Concerning the abduction of two girls, taken during a Thanksgiving dinner in Pennsylvania and the ramifications that this has on the people around it, Prisoners stars Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover, a deeply religious man and father of one of the two girls, and stops at nothing, including the law, in the search for his daughter, and with Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) conducting his own investigation into the crime(s), paths cross, weave and bounce off one another in this procedural thriller. Shall we dance?

To start off with the good about the film, the ensemble cast is excellent. Hugh Jackman is someone, for anyone who'll listen, I hold in high regard, and his performance here as Keller is one of the best of his career. Using that natural charisma that he brings to the table, Jackman draws us in to empathising greatly with his character's plight, which puts us as an audience in a real moral quandary when he starts doing monstrous things in order to catch the criminal involved. Furthermore, the intensity level of his character is at times very shocking, especially given the control Jackman has over the volume of his voice; you can literally hear Keller's heart in his throat, revving up and down like a speedometer. Also terrific is Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as Detective Loki. Acting as the strong polarity to Jackman, Gyllenhaal calm demeanour and attempt's at objectivity bely someone underneath who probably feels hindered by the law yet abides fully by it. Using the most subtle yet telling facial expressions, such as this twitch of a strong blink that seems a force of habit of the character, Gyllenhaal gives this part real depth and complexity. Although those are the two standout performances of the film, I'll just rattle off a number of the other ones that I was impressed with. Viola Davis and Terence Howard are both strong as the neighbours and parents of the other child kidnapped, as is Maria Bello in the part of Grace Dover. Also good are Melissa Leo, Dylan Minnette, David Dastmalchian and Paul Dano, who proves once again that since Little Miss Sunshine he's a versatile actor and force to be reckoned with in his role as the man-child suspect Alex Jones. Each of these actors, no matter how big or small their part, does something important in the overall story, and for that screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski must be praised. This is a real character piece, no one being neglected or standing out as lacking in the piece, and this whole three-dimensionality that we see here is something unique. Furthermore, the way their stories weave in and out of each other structurally, with a scene featuring one person cutting to another, maintain a thematic consistency so that it feels natural to be bouncing between the various characters and that we have appropriate drive of forward momentum. Also, it's a real work of detail, quite clearly the fruit of one's long-term labours and a well-though out writing process, so kudos! The film was shot by the mighty Roger Deakins, one of the inductees into my hall of fame for cinematography. He steeps the picture in this pitch black atmosphere of darkness. This film is in many ways about the possibilities of evil and the inherent sin and corruption of humanity's soul, and Deakins is the one who gets this across by way of his visual language. The lighting is a sort-of DV update of expressionist techniques, and yet despite this it is firmly embedded in reality and never at any point inappropriately stylistic. It's muted, minimalist and yet subtly impressive in contributing to the film's tapestry. The film is scored by Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, whose work I hadn't heard before this, but I will be sure to look up. It's a hybrid work full of the traditional things you might expect from a dramatic thriller, strings and woodwind abound and what have you, and I'm cool with Back/Hendel/Vivaldi-inflected baroque minimalism. However, you've also got this ethereal piece (Falling Through Snow - I noted my ears tuning to this during the movie) that's very close to the sound of a church organ, bringing me back a few years to the more religious years in my trysts with Catholicism, to tell you the truth, and it's a beautifully simple thing built from the ground up like a Philip Glass composition. Finally, Denis Villeneuve shines as a director able to control many different elements of a production. The native Quebecer's first English-language production could have seen his talent for drama being lost in translation, but what we get is a great, old-school thriller with a lot of things going for it.

Now, as you can well tell, there were a lot of things I liked about Prisoners, and I do think it was a great movie. However, there are a number of key issues that deny it from being a masterpiece. While I think that Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach (regular Clint Eastwood collaborators) did a good job of interweaving the various strands of the story, the film as a whole could have been chopped down. Roger Corman always said that most movies could do with about a third of it cut out, and while I don't think it's that bad, 120-130 mins would have suited the film far better. Unlike, say, Zodiac, this is a straight character/morality drama, lacking the sheer weight and meticulousness of David Fincher's masterpiece, and while that isn't an insult, it wouldn't be a detriment to the film to gauge the run time more appropriately. Equally, while I think that the screenplay is tremendous in many ways, some of the scenes drag on too long. If this movie was went through with a fine teeth comb so that nothing but the most stripped down bits of meat could get past, this would be watertight. Unfortunately, sometimes it feels at bursting point.

Despite my reservations regarding the overlong running time, which could have been refined through sharper cutting and fine tuning the script to perfection, Prisoners was a great movie. The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent, with Jackman and Gyllenhaal delivering some of the best work of their respective careers, and even with it's flaws, the script by Guzikowski is a masterfully structured character piece. The cinematography by Roger Deakins injects it with a pitch black atmosphere, almost akin in a visual sense to what Joy Division does for music, the same of which in many ways can be said of Johann Johannsson's score, which is a hybrid of orchestral baroque-inflected minimalism and electronic driven ethereal soundscapes, and director Denis Villeneuve does an admirable job of controlling so many tangible elements. Doom-laden, gothic and pitch black, Prisoners is a complex mood piece dissecting the potential of evil in the everyday lives of real people.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Building (brick by brick...)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Devils Of War

Directed by: Eli Dorsey

Screenplay by: Eli Dorsey

Starring: Jerry L. Buxbaum
Lawrence Anthony
Jamin Watson
Jeremiah Grace
Carly Kingston
Apple Lee
Tim Harrold
Tyler Pesek
Jeff Richardson

Music by: Marcus V. Warner

Cinematography by: Peter Fuhrman

Editing by: Eli Dorsey

Studio: Paradise City Pictures

Distributed by: Automatic Entertainment (World-Wide, all media)
Rialto Distribution (Australia, DVD)
Signature Entertainment (United Kingdom, DVD)

Release date: April 15, 2013 (United Kingdom, straight-to-DVD)

Running time: 72 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: (N/A)

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

Okay there, as you can tell, I haven't been doing as many reviews this week, although saying that I've been imbedded deeply in other film-related nonsense, such as indulging my pedantry by sorting out my movie collection. I surprised myself with the sheer amount of films that I have put it that way, but I'll not get into that. Presently, I'm reading Mark Kermode's new book Hatchet Job, and it's another one full of his astute observations, to use a well-trod term, and like The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex, it stands as proof that the art of legitimate film criticism, with constructed, objective and researched opinion(s) on the movies, is truly alive and well. Typing this as one of the Internet 'bloggers' who numerous critics bemoan for slowly driving the nails in the proverbial coffin of the art, while I believe in the democratisation of the craft, the opinions I respect and believe to be legitimate are those that do what all good critics do, research, develop, opine, qualify, conclude. They're no five rules by any means (I just picked them off the top of my head to be frank), but being as passionate about films as I am I believe it an obligation to not just go out there and talk waffle, something which I fail at rather admirably on a regular basis. I'm just gonna do a brief list of four 'online' critics who I think are doing a fine job at keeping up this tradition:

(In no particular order)

1. Hal C F Astell - Apocalypse Later: (Great writer, helped me out a while back when I was working on an essay on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, cussing out my film studies department on informed academia in the process. A bit inflammatory on my part, but Astell certainly knows his stuff.)

2. Jason Bailey - Fourth Row Center: (At present the film editor for FlavourWire, Bailey is a veteran of fifteen years of film criticism whose succinct, measured yet personal responses are a testament to the medium.)

3. Daniel Kelly - Danland Movies: (What can I say, I'm admittedly biased towards the guy who I've been watching movies with for the guts of ten years, but his way with words, lively and engaging writing keeps you hooked, and the absurdist humour, if there can be such a thing in film criticism, make him a unique presence in the blogosphere.)

4. Roger Ebert - Roger (I know he's not technically a blogger, and the blogging √®lite will be up with their pitchforks as much as traditional print critics, but Ebert was an innovator of the Internet way ahead of his time, and made use of this avenue to it's fullest. You can find over ten thousand reviews on his site, ensuring that his immeasurable presence will forever remain with us)

So, for all the latest and greatest in film, keep your eyes posted.

Without trying to break the line, or rather pretence of objectivity this early into the game, much as I love those four above critics, it could have subconsciously been a diversionary tactic to avoid getting into the review for today's film, Devils Of War. It's another film without a Wikipedia page (not that that's a bad thing, it just seems to be recurring of late as a rule of thumb on this blog), and although I gathered that it was from 2013, there was only one quote on the film I had to go on: on the front cover of the DVD, it reads "A Cult Classic - Iron Sky Meets Outpost." I can't say anything about Outpost because I haven't seen it, but for those of you who don't know, I really marked out for Iron Sky last year, which I thought was a ballsy and audacious sci-fi comedy. However, what struck me was that the quote had no source, as does just about every quote that's splashed on a poster or DVD, so as far as I'm concerned it's a work of self-mythologisation by the marketing department, because, lets face it, everything is a 'cult classic' these days. Speaking of direct quotes, here's one for the synopsis, because I'm conserving my energies for the review: "It's Poland, 1944 and a team of Special Forces soldiers are called up by FDR. Their mission... to stage a daring raid on a fortress where the Nazis are kidnapping women and experimenting with the occult to raise a demon army. Furious and inglorious, get ready to raise hell (the last phrase of which is plastered three times on the DVD case)." So, for an evaluation of this "cult classic" (I use those quote-marks because even if I'm sarcastic they could put my name to it for all their lack of sources!), let's get craicin'!

So, where do I start? I've spent the past five minutes looking at the Wikipedia page of The Room, and it's hard to find fresh inspiration in this film, and while it's nowhere near as ridiculous as that legitimate cult classic, it does have a number of very Room-esque moments. It has numerous little hokey things that are silly and scenes that are quite clearly designed to display the Ilsa-type Nazi woman's prominent cleavage (why not a relative close-up on her bare breasts instead of a medium shot?). One scene however stands out as one of the funniest moments in a film this year. They throw in your proverbial sex scene, but what makes it so absurd is the soundtrack playing some Marvin Gaye alike track on top, because, hey, the dude here is 'Black Hercules' on he's Black and we've gotta keep playing up on his Blackness throughout movie, and then comes well-trod killer line "I'm a virgin," despite the fact the character's played by a curvaceous model and such statements don't hold much validity. So, the only real thing to say in it's favour is that it's a short watch at seventy-two minutes and that it may hold a certain level of comedic value to those in who love the 'so bad it's good films' (although The Room, Battlefield Earth and anything by Ed Wood are the high-points of this ironic batch).

Despite there being the odd thing to get a laugh out of, Devils Of War is still for the most part just an outright bad movie without much of the humour involved in some of those films. I mean, heck, in it's own ways Scanners is a bad movie, but it just so happens to have a master in David Cronenberg and so many other things that give it real personality behind it. Devils Of War, however, is an attempted mish-mash of the elements of a number of different movies, and I don't have a problem with things being referential, but it has no personality of it's own. Obviously, there's invocations of Inglourious Basterds, and by way of that movie that of The Dirty Dozen, The Wild Geese et al, and the editing automatically attempts to conjure up the spirits of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, but does nothing but make them turn over in their graves, particularly with regards to the worst example of vehicular back projection since Garth Marenghi's Darkplace (wink wink!). Writer-director Eli Dorsey's work lacks the unique qualities to make the film stand out in it's own regard. The script is a horrendous piece with some of the worst dialogue I have heard in a long time, the scene and plot structure is all over the place (a local woman wants to shag one of 'The Basterds,' if you will, because she will be subject to the Nazis' experimentation), and any attempt at legitimate conflict or tension comes across as stilted and awkward, with resolutions coming rather too quickly. The acting on all fronts is terrible, Jerry L. Buxbaum's William Baldy the grizzled Richard Burton in the equation, but more akin expression wise to a Haliburton briefcase, Jamin Watson's charisma vacuum that is Black Hercules and Jeremiah Grace's racist hick Jasper doing nothing but leer and pull faces in a poor man's Klaus Kinski (not his fault, I might add.) Furthermore, I'm not German, but why is it that all of the actors portraying Germans have to inject their characters with massive levels of over-pronunciation? It's like "yes, we know that the 'w' is pronounced as a 'v,' but stop going overboard with this, the cow is well and truly milked." Bad, bad, bad, bleats the sheep! The music by Marcus V. Warner is another piece to add to the weave of this tapestry of terrible. Attempting to take a page from the Ennio Morricone-scored spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, the score not only doesn't fit the material, but in and of itself it just a bad bit of work. Full of horrendous incidental cues and themes that only have a consistency in that there will be maybe three-to-five chords played on an electric guitar, it's all over the shop and undercuts what is already a pretty shoddy production. There are a lot of things to be said about Devils Of War, but my conclusion with the issues lies with Eli Dorsey, who in both capacities as writer-director failed to control all the contingent elements that come with the film. These reference points are a splurge of nonsensical bits as opposed to anything of coherence, and if he wasn't too busy taking a page out of Quentin Tarantino's book (Quentin Tarantino has a hard enough time trying to be Quentin Tarantino as it is!), there might actually be something of genuine worth here. 

Devils Of Wars is by no means scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of bad films. There is the odd silly bit to invoke a giggle, and a hilarious sex scene in particular gave me one of my best laughs from a film this year, and as such, I'd be amiss to deny that there will be some who can get a certain level of Room-esque ironic humour from the film. For me though, it's still for the most part a really awful movie. Just about everything, from the script to the acting to the music to the direction and all the contingent elements that make up Devils Of War are just of the lowest order. It tries to riff off of the memory of far greater films, and having no legs of it's own to stand up on, it falls flat on it's face. A basterd-spawn of Quentin Tarantino and Quentin Tarantino (by way of all his favourite filmmakers!), Devils Of War fails in pretty much all regard.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 1.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Hungry (been eating like a horse lately, though thankfully my metabolism hasn't caught onto that one yet, mwahah!)

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2: Revenge Of The Leftovers

Directed by: Cody Cameron
Kris Pearn

Produced by: Pam Marsden
Kirk Bodyfelt

Screenplay by: John Francis Daley
Jonathan Goldstein
Erica Rivinoja

Story by: Phil Lord
Chris Miller
Erica Rivinoja

Based on: Characters created by Judi Barrett
Ron Barrett

Starring: Bill Hader
Anna Faris
James Caan
Andy Samberg
Neil Patrick Harris
Benjamin Bratt
Terry Crews
Will Forte
Kristen Schaal

Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh

Editing by: Stan Webb

Studio: Sony Pictures Animation

Distributed by: Colombia Pictures

Release date(s): September 27, 2013 (United States)
October 18, 2013 (Northern Ireland/Ireland, limited release)
October 25, 2013 (United Kingdom, general release)

Running time: 95 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $78 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $123, 809, 559

It's a historic moment for a movie nerd like me anytime we get a DVD case. It gives us the opportunity not only to slow down and stop buying so many bloody films, but also gives us loads of time to occupy ourselves archiving it and sorting it out. Another thing that comes with the archiving is that I get to reflect upon the many great movies I have seen over the years, and as such I will say this, while it won't be happening until next year realistically, I plan on putting out a top one hundred greatest films list, most likely in my annual post-Oscars hiatus. If there's ever a time to look out on this blog, it's now, because I'm going to be doing a good bit more above and beyond simply reviewing new movies, but, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film served up on the plate is Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2: Revenge Of The Leftovers. The marketing department seems unsure as to what to call the film, so I've referred to it in title by the full name and subtitle, but from here on, I will refer to it as Cloudy 2. The first film, based on the book by Judi and Ron Barrett, was a surprise hit and a real gem, a movie of real invention and outright hilarity, described as Lynchian and Dali-esque by Mark Kermode in relation to just how surreal and bonkers it is. Picking up right where the first left off, after Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) has saved the world, his idol and super-inventor Chester V (Will Forte), the CEO of Live Corp, is entrusted with cleaning the island of Swallow Falls, relocating Flint and his friends to San Franjose, California. Chester then invites Flint to work at Live Corp. After a botched explosion with one of his inventions during a promotion ceremony, Chester, whose cleanup teams have been attacked by monstrous cheeseburgers and various other creatures, tasks Flint with returning to the island and finding his FLDSMDFR invention, which appears to influencing the growth of a new jungle-like environment in the place of Swallow Falls.

Starting the good about Cloudy 2, the expressive ingenuity in the animation that was present in the original is brought over to the sequel. I've always liked the character designs (Flint's dad Tim, whose features consist of a monobrow, a square nose and a moustache, is a personal favourite), but the highlight is the world creating. The flora and fauna of the former Swallow Falls is this amazingly crafted hybrid of vegetation and vegetables, and is crafted in an imaginative and thoughtful way. Furthermore, the fact that they are able to get over what are more or less anthropomorphised strawberries and marshmallows as immensely cute characters is an achievement in and of itself. Many elements of the script too are noteworthy in a positive manner. The food puns, referring to buffaloafs, watermelephants and how Tim has a leek in his boat are resplendent, but never teeter over into tedium, and some of the dialogue is very funny. The way in which certain scenes are structured is intelligent too. For instance, during a scene when Tim talks to Flint, what would normally be your bog-standard basil exposition scene is kept lively by an open door which shows in our peripheral vision the poor monkey Steve being tormenting himself with the task of putting out a candle which won't do so. Also, strangely the movie manages to use the island of food 'monsters' in such a way that they become metaphorical. It turns into a movie about environmentalism, deforestation and the protection of animal rights, with these creatures merely being animals stuck in the middle of the squabbling of petty human beings. It's quite something on the part of the folks involved here that I'm able to get all this out of what is essentially food, and at it's best points, it reminds of some of the thematic content touched upon in Steven Spielberg's often maligned but quite underrated sequel to Jurassic Park, The Lost World: it doesn't who, what, why or how these animals were brought into the world, they're here now, so let's treat them with some respect and kindness. Another of the things good about Cloudy 2 is the voice cast. The returning Bill Hader does a fine job of eulogising the essence of the everyman protagonist, who is also not without his neuroses and eccentricities, not as far down that line as Woody Allen, but along those lines. Anna Faris is also full of conviction as the sassy and spunky Sam Sparks, and James Caan's tersely ironic and dry, yet sympathetic father Tim as I mentioned earlier is a real pleasure. Andy Samberg's Baby Brent is as crazy as ever, and Neil Patrick Harris once again manages to pull off the unenviable job of having to put both a lot expression and no expression into the monosyllabic monkey Steve. Terry Crews does a solid job taking over from Mr. T as Officer Earl, and while I missed Bruce Campbell's Mayor (my favourite character of the first), Will Forte, who in a live-action format is normally a pain, is engaging, believable and whose voice would make it hard to locate a place of origin, which is appropriate for the mysterious nature of Chester V. Finally, it must be hard to follow on from what Phil Lord and Chris Miller did with the first (and I hope they do with The Lego Movie), but Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn do a fine job of not only maintaining a consistent level of connectivity with first, but also establishing their own individual voices. Keeping the outright bonkers level of eccentricity that the original had but making this it's own beast, Cloudy 2 is a very good movie.

Despite the fact I found Cloudy 2 to be a refreshing and engaging animated comedy, it's not perfect by any stretch, and has a number of flaws that while not large enough to really drag it down, all add up to make it a less-than great film. For instance, I mentioned some aspects of the script as praiseworthy, but like A Belfast Story, the central drive of the film, which is essentially a coming-of-age story, is perfunctory and troublesome. The first Cloudy film followed Flint Lockwood in a sort-of bildungsroman-esque story in which he finally grew up, but the second one essentially says "remember how he grew up? He didn't really!" Thus, it does feel like it's at times repeating itself and treading on well-walked waters. Also, much as I enjoyed the dressing, as opposed to the dressing-up, you can put whatever you want onto Cloudy 2 but it is still a nuts and bolts movie at heart. Furthermore, while not an outright irritating the way some music is, the choices made for songs on the soundtrack and the original score are too suggestive of a happy, cheery attitude. Don't get me wrong, I'm not endorsing sour grapes by any means, but I just don't like it when any movie tells me to be happy. I like Mark Mothersbaugh and Devo back to the Mongoloid days, but the score is just too on the fence, and some of the songs, particularly the closing song, La Dee Dee by Cody Simpson, are just too kooky and breezy for their own good. Now, I think Jocko Homo in this would have been the tipping point towards insanity!

Cloudy 2 has its flaws in a script that repeats itself (particularly with regards to the coming-of-age story) and that it is a nuts-and-bolts story at it's heart. Also, the score and soundtrack are too suggestive of a jocular attitude, and I don't appreciate being force-fed happiness. That said, Cloudy 2 is a very enjoyable film. The animation is of a high standard, especially in the creation of the flora and fauna of the jungle world that has taken over Swallow Falls. There are moments of intelligence in the script, in the use food puns that actually work, the layered jokes that often have more than one thing happening at once and the fact that it's fundamentally a movie about environmentalism, deforestation and the protection of animal rights. The voice cast are of a consistently high standard, and the directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn do a good job of taking the reigns with the Cloudy story. An engaging and layered enviro-kids comedy.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sweet (got a nice package from Amazon there featuring said DVD-case, CM Punk: Best In The World, Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind, My Neighbour Totoro and Hatchet Job, the new book by Dr. Kermode)

P.S. The Paul McCartney song, New, is good

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - A Belfast Story

Directed by: Nathan Todd

Produced by: Shelly Jackson
John Todd

Screenplay by: Nathan Todd

Starring: Colm Meaney
Malcolm Sinclair
Tommy O'Neill
Patrick Rocks
Damien Hasson
Susan Davey
Maggie Cronin
Tim McGarry

Music by: Nick Glennie-Smith
Mac Quayle

Cinematography by: Peter Holland

Editing by: John Wright

Studio: Adnuco Pictures

Distributed by: Kaleidoscope Entertainment

Release date(s): September 20, 2013 (Northern Ireland and Ireland)
October 25, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 99 minutes

Country: Ireland

Language: English

Production budget: (N/A)

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

Alright there, proverbial preamble by yours truly, yadda yadda yadda. Slow weekend with work (again!), but I suppose that's the nature of the beast in private contracting: peaks and troughs. Still, it has given me plenty of chance to see new movies and old, and as such I can promise reviews for plenty of films this month and I'm gonna putting that article on Lucio Fulci's Gates Of Hell trilogy soon. Also, I watched Suspiria for the first time yesterday, and I have to say it was a mind-blowing assault on the senses. I'm not gonna get too much into it, but as an Argento fan I have to say that nothing could have prepared me for what I saw, and it was a tremendous bit of filmmaking. With that in mind, an article on Dario Argento will be posted somewhere down the line. Although the primary topic on this blog is reviewing contemporary films, I'll try on occasion to put out articles on different subjects within the realm of film, so, for all the latest (and greatest) in film, keep your eyes posted. 

So, today's review (and the second movie in a row without a Wikipedia article for reference sake!) is A Belfast Story. With a name like that, you'd think, and of course it is set in Belfast, a little place in Northern Ireland that has at times a shoddy international reputation but has since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement moved forward significantly into a peace process. It's just not being gone about the right way, ahem! It also happens to be the place on this planet I call home, and looking at the UK release date for the film (October 25th), it seems we've got the film a month early. The film is written and directed by local debutant Nathan Todd, it stars Colm Meaney as a weary detective on the hunt for the murderers of ex-IRA paramilitaries, the Chief Constable (Malcolm Sinclair) anxious of the possibility of retaliation and the reigniting of regular terrorist activity (and yes, I will use the word terrorist!). Writer-director Todd caused a stir in the press packet he sent out for the film, which featured duct tape, a bag of nails and a balaclava, losing PR film Way To Blue and having Kaleidoscope (the distributor) come out and say they had nothing to with this. Now, while plenty of bleeding hearts are bleating about insensitivity and being offended, they probably need to release that they are being played like an accordion, because nothing drums up publicity like a moral stir, with words like 'controversial.' Best to leave all judgement of character aside, and just get to reviewing the movie. Like so!

Starting with the good about A Belfast Story, I must say that it is an interesting way to start the movie with an animated title sequence involving a visual history of the conflict(s) in these parts. Not only is it something which has been neglected of late in terms of opening a film (the only title sequence that stands out in recent memory is that of David Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), but it sets up the historiography and thematic content of the movie. As far as the acting goes, Colm Meaney is the obvious highlight. He is well-cast as the dreary detective, groaning and drawling with great eloquence. I talked about being able to listen Malcolm McDowell in Sanitarium, believe me, Meaney could have been talking nonsense and I still probably would have listened to it. Also, in the physical sense, his burly frame and slumped shoulders make for a character as aged and world-weary as the tired old squabbles themselves. Perhaps the most interesting thing that the movie does is that it actually tries to challenge the politics of the nation and propose a thesis of sorts. This isn't the type of Belfast-minstrels that you get with many of these IRA-glory baiting movies; it actually has the gonads to take a stand and say, well, perhaps these guys deserved what they're getting. It's posing questions and moral quandaries ("Nobody is ever happy until their grieving again.") that A Belfast Story does best. Also, in the murders there is an intelligent element of black humour, playing up each of the victims' history and their past transgressions, creating a really gallows sense of irony. It's also a well-shot film, with DP Peter Holland clearly employing his skills in lighting, showing Belfast in all its drabness. Unlike all the ridiculous Our Time, Our Place advertisements, which do nothing to inspire confidence in our cultural identity, Holland's Belfast is appropriately full of dark shadows and alleys, giving it, at it's best moments, a noir feel. Whatever way Holland has shot it, it has just the right level of neutrality in the lens' used and the lighting. Finally, Nathan Todd as a director keeps A Belfast Story on a consistent line throughout. From a directing standpoint, it's a solid debut, carried with relative conviction from the beginning to it's conclusion. 

However, despite there being good elements to A Belfast Story, there are perhaps an equal amount of negative things to be said about the film. As I said, I respected the fact that it poses moral quandaries and has a gallows humour, but despite this, it is a relatively uninventive film. Despite his solid role as a director, Todd's script has numerous deficiencies. The characters are more or less cyphers for the moral arguments, and the fact is you just don't get any real impression of them being people that inhabit the film's world. Furthermore, it is for all intents and purposes a run of the mill, murder-by-numbers thriller at it's heart, and brings nothing new to the table. You can put a pink bow on it (or in the case of the poster, a shamrock), but it's still pretty ugly, turgid work. The ending too is sloppy, ditching it's objective stance for clear Q&A "we'll pose the questions and tell you the answers" mantras, giving the characters no sense of conclusion and a horribly rushed deus ex machina when taken into the context of the conflict. In most other movies, you could go "what the hey!", but the fact is they're the ones who bring up the context, so it's their own fault! Also, while we have Colm Meaney doing his earnest to convince, a number of the featured players are terrible, seemingly plucked out of the Eisensteinian school of acting, which consists of "you, that face! You, that face!" In particular, Damien Hasson and Susan Davey, who are given nothing roles for a start and are supposed to be a sort-of representation of the younger generation, are woeful, lacking any genuine conviction, coming across as lacking in the necessary tools to convey any real feeling. Also, Nick Glennie-Smith and Mac Quayle's work in the music department undercuts things way too much. I appreciate the many folk and musical traditions of my country, but there really is no need for all the fiddles of the world to be played in moments where silence is golden. It's in that classic vein of music force-feeding the audience, and speaking of dressing up, you can give them any instrument you want, but I'll still recognise the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra (EHO) when I hear 'em. 

The greatest irony about the cultural depictions of Northern Ireland is that it is people from outside this country who have done the best at portraying it. Sure, there's been In The Name Of The Father, Mickeybo & Me and Hunger, but the fact is is that the best films about the country and/or The Troubles are Paul Greengrass' Bloody Sunday and Alan Clarke's devastating Elephant, for my money the definitive word on The Troubles. If the Dutch Paul Verhoeven can direct the definitive word on eighties-America (RoboCop), why can't Englishmen do the same for us? Unfortunately, for all the title sequences, Colm Meaney's, moral quandaries, strong cinematography and solid direction from Nathan Todd, A Belfast Story does nothing to add to the cultural depiction of Northern Ireland. The script is murder-by-numbers, with a preposterously ill-timed deus ex machina, and some of the acting is terribly lacking in conviction, with a score that tries to force-feed the audience their emotions way too much. Despite this, the movie must be judged as it stands as a movie alone, and it's a decent one somewhere down the middle, however flawed.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Anticipating (a box of Pringles!)

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Sanitarium

Directed by: Bryan Ramirez
Bryan Ortiz
Kerry Valderrama

Produced by: Rick Carillo
Remy Carter
Alok Khera
Amanda Rubio Ramirez
Kevin Stanford
Kerry Valderrama

Screenplay(s) by: Crystal Bratton
Scott Marcano
Bryan Ortiz
Kerry Valderrama

Created by: Kerry Valderrama

Starring: Malcolm McDowell
Lou Diamond Phillips
John Glover
Robert Englund
David Mazouz
Lazey Chabert
Chris Mulkey
Mayra Leal

Music by: Douglas Edward

Cinematography by: Philip Roy

Editing by: Paul de la Cerda
Justin Malone
Bryan Ortiz

Studio: XYZ Films

Distributed by: Signature Entertainment (United Kingdom)

Release date: June 24, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 108 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: (N/A)

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

Alrighty so, as I have mentioned in pretty much every freakin' review that I've done over the past week or two, Halloween is just around the corner and I've got a whole load of horror movies that I want to get reviewing, so be all ears for that. Also, it being my equivalent to Christmas round this period, I do plan on doing an article on Lucio Fulci's Gates Of Hell trilogy (City Of The Living Dead, The Beyond,  The House By The Cemetery) and I'll see about getting another one in there. Last year I done an article on 'Alternative Halloween Movies' (a link for which I'll be running at the bottom of each review for the next couple of weeks), so with that covered, I might just do one on Dario Argento or something. So, for all the latest in cinema, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie, which does not have it's own Wikipedia article, is Sanitarium, a horror anthology film released over here in the United Kingdom straight-to-video (I know it's DVD, but doesn't video sound better?). What sold me on the movie was the involvement of Malcolm McDowell, who plays Dr. Stensen, the sort-of Vincent Price figure linking the three stories in the film together. Furthermore, it was £3 in my local Tesco, and horror anthology films, even at their weakest, are oftentimes more engaging in their short-film-format than their feature-length counterparts. It had a lot to live up to, because this year we've been spoiled and graced with the presence of two great horror movies, Evil Dead and Maniac, but even more strangely, they're horror remakes, which are usually a real thorny no-go in my side. The film has three directors (Bryan Ramirez, Bryan Ortiz, Kerry Valderrama), each directing a segment ('Figuratively Speaking', 'Monsters Are Real', 'Up To The Last Man' respectively) on the topic of the mentally ill, the protagonists each patients in Malcolm McDowell's frame story/plot device of the eponymous Sanitarium. Incidentally, I had to get the title's of the individual segments by consulting my personal DVD copy, because nowhere on the Facebook page or the non-existent website does it mention them, and I didn't know it was an anthology film 'til midway through the film, so for the cock-ups, congratulations to the distributor for undermining the film before people have a chance to even watch it!

So, starting with the good, even though it's quite obvious that he's there to pick up the paycheque for about three day's work, Malcolm McDowell is always a welcome presence. He has one of those voices like a Vincent Price that is perfectly suited to voiceover narration, and even if he's reading the telephone book, you could listen to McDowell all day. He has obviously aged over the forty-five years since he graced the screens as Mick Travis in Lindsay Anderson's If..., but in the voiceover and onscreen, there is still the odd flash and twinkle in the eye of what once was. Also, the third segment, Kerry Valderrama's 'Up To The Last Man' is, as a whole, a very solid piece. The director does what those making a short in an anthology film do best, taking the central concept and working on it from the ground up. The paranoid atmosphere with which the segment is imbued is palpable throughout, with some good set design and a surprisingly affecting performance by Lou Diamond Phillips ensure that we believe in the legitimacy of the concept. Despite having two pieces preceding it and more or less following the same "it's all in their head" format, 'Up To The Last Man' still manages to plant the seeds of doubt and, while nothing new, is a strong riff on the end of days concept. Also, there are glimpses of talent in 'Figurative Speaking.' Featuring John Glover in a good performance as Gustav, a troubled artist who looks somewhat like a dreadlocked Alejandro Jodorowsky, there's some interesting use of montage editing techniques to implicate the increasing mental instability of the character as his creations 'speak' to him. As a whole, Sanitarium is a film that has one really strong segment with another decent middle...

of the road one, and another which is absolutely rubbish. While 'Figuratively Speaking' isn't much to talk about, it's still done with relative skill and one can see it for what it's worth, but the second segment of the film, 'Monsters Are Real,' is only frightening in just how boring it is. Featuring a young boy (named Steven. Alice Cooper reference? No, too much.) whose defining feature seems to be massive glasses ("see him there, huh, huh, he has glasses, he's the troubled one."), it's a poor treatise on domestic violence wrapped up in the marauding guise of the horror genre. Furthermore, the plot development, not to spoil anything, involves a boy who is being harassed by a malevolent creature that only he is aware of, and the story moves in such a way that it doesn't end up making sense at all. I'm sorry, I'm open to everything and benefit of the doubt, yadda, yadda, yadda, but this was the one where I just put my foot down and said there is no narrative coherence here, and I've been through Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Last Year In Marienbad et al (both excellent head-scramblers), and you're completely lost on me. Thankfully, we had the Valderrama segment to pick the whole film up again, but 'Monsters Are Real' was one of the worst pieces of horror cinema I've seen in a long, long time. Other things throughout the film are niggles, such as stilted dialogue being performed by hammy actors (a conversation preceding the 'Monsters Are Real' segment involving a student researching for his paper and a security guard is just horrible) and the collective scores by Douglas Edward are textbook horror movie compositions 101. It's like he just read the script and took the incidental cues off of his experience watching just about every other horror movie: that's not how it works. Finally, I know you guys were shooting on sets, but will some tell DP Philip Roy to LEARN HOW TO USE LIGHTING PROPERLY! It's either too bright to be believable or too dark to see, make up your mind at least!

Sanitarium is a film that doesn't come without merits. Malcolm McDowell is always a welcome presence, however minimal his part, and there are glimpses of talent with the use of montage editing technique in 'Figuratively Speaking.' Furthermore, Kerry Valderrama's 'Up To The Last Man,' the film's highlight, is a legitimately strong example of a psychological horror short. The production design of the primary set, the surprisingly effective performance by Lou Diamond Phillips (and the sound design, which I forgot to mention earlier) create an intensely paranoid atmosphere and an interesting riff on the end of days concept. However, despite this, I've still gotta take Sanitarium as a uniform whole, and in that case it's a primarily negative film. 'Figuratively Speaking' is a decent watch, but the second segment 'Monsters Are Real,' is a poor treatise on domestic violence wrapped up in the marauding guise of the horror genre. The only thing scary about it is just how frighteningly dull it is and just how lacking in narrative coherence the short is (this is someone who thinks Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Last Year In Marienbad are coherent movies). I have an open mind, but with 'Monsters Are Real,' it's one of the rare times I've put my foot down and just admitted I was lost because it made absolutely no sense whatsoever. There is some stilted dialogue performed by hammy actors, the collective scores are taken straight from the horror textbook by Douglas Edward ("insert incidental cue here...") and someone needs to tell DP Philip Roy to LEARN HOW TO USE LIGHTING PROPERLY! As I said, there are merits, but it's more bad than good.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (how do you sleep through three alarms?)

P.S. A new addiction of mine is, so check out my profile and threads at  TTWD2708

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Rush

Directed by: Ron Howard

Produced by: Ron Howard
Brian Grazer
Andrew Eaton
Eric Fellner
Brian Oliver
Guy East
Nigel Sinclair
Tobin Armbrust
Tim Bevan
Tyler Thompson
Todd Hallowell

Screenplay by: Peter Morgan

Starring: Chris Hemsworth
Daniel Bruhl
Olivia Wilde
Alexandra Maria Lara

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Cinematography by: Anthony Dod Mantle

Editing by: Daniel P. Hanley
Mike Hill

Studio(s): Exclusive Media
Relativity Media
Revolution Films
Working Title Films
Imagine Entertainment
Cross Creek Pictures

Distributed by: Exclusive Media
Universal Pictures (United States)
StudioCanal (United Kingdom)
Pathe Productions (France)

Release date(s): September 13, 2013 (United Kingdom)
September 20, 2013 (United States)

Running time: 122 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
United States

Language(s): English

Production budget: $38 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $70, 095, 674

Okay there, for reasons which I will get into during the course of the review, I had to take some time to contemplate my opines there, but in that contemplation (and assisting the process), I managed to see two other movies, Sanitarium and A Belfast Story, and in case you don't know already, I've got plenty more on the back burner, especially with Halloween and Oscar season being round the corner (a lot of horror movies being looked at this month). 

So with that being said and a little bit of fuel, courtesy of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the movie up for review today is Rush, the latest film from Ron Howard, depicting primarily the 1976 Formula One season rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). I've always thought Ron Howard an underrated filmmaker, for despite his work as a young actor in the sixties and seventies as Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham (and being subject of numerous ginger jokes courtesy of South Park. Incidentally, CopperCab's a fool), he's a fine director, not without the odd pitfall, but who has made great movies such as Apollo 13, Ransom, A Beautiful Mind (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director) and Frost/Nixon. Rush reunites him with the latter's screenwriter, Peter Morgan, who has many times before proven himself adept at writing an engaging screenplay involving real-life figures. Also, this is the second major theatrical release in the past few years following on from Asif Kapadia's archival-based masterful Senna, so, with the benchmark for F1-movies being set by that picture, Rush has some big shoes to fill. Brief synopsis, Hunt and Lauda are two highly skilled drivers but polar opposites in their aesthetics, Hunt being the proverbial playboy extraordinaire, drinking heavily and sleeping around, driving hard and aggressively on the track, while Lauda is a low-key, meticulous and calculated, planning every part of his race with the utmost precision. Starting out their rivalry in Formula Three in 1970, the film comes to a head when the focus beams onto the 1976 Formula One season, when Lauda is the defending world champion for Ferrari and Hunt has landed a position with McLaren. Got it? I would say good, but I don't care, so keep pace!

Starting with the good about Rush, although I praised Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy earlier this year for The Heat, I would say that the combination of Hemsworth and Bruhl are about as good an onscreen duo as I have seen in recent years. I spent a while trying to think about whether or not there was a better actor in the equation, but I came to the conclusion that one can't be discussed without the other. Both men play the polar opposites well enough that the audience is directed towards neither over the other, giving one the choice if they wish to favour Lauda over Hunt, or vice versa. Also, Hemsworth and Bruhl work together intelligently, acting as the two Pong paddles bouncing the ball back and forth off of each other in this highly entertaining game of one-upsmanship which gets across every facet of their relationship which, though complex, is simple to define: even though they may at times absolutely loath one another, they both have a drive and determination to be the best at what they do, and both recognise and mutually respect this quality they possess. It's like that old saying (brownie points time!), "You and me are destined to do this forever." Like the onscreen Lauda and Hunt, Bruhl and Hemsworth's performances cannot exist independently of the other, and their extraordinary onscreen chemistry brings out the best in both of them. Another reason why the relationship of Hunt and Lauda works so well is because of the watertight script by Peter Morgan. This is the kind of movie that with the wrong writer could have been overly schmaltzy and full of expository nonsense, but Morgan gets down the core and crux of the characters, more so even than his previous work with Howard, Frost/Nixon, a movie I think very highly of. Also, structurally the design is pure textbook, and I mean that in a good way, for it's the kind of default script that would be worth looking at for budding screenwriters. The first act to set up the film is about thirty-forty minutes, then we spend the next hour or so on the 1976 season, with the third act building to a climax and tying up the film. Just a brief mention that although this is, acting wise, Hemsworth and Bruhl's film, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara and Christian McKay are deliver solid supporting performances. The film must also be praised for it's technical accomplishments. Anthony Dod Mantle (when is he ever not praiseworthy?) never ceases to amaze me as a cinematographer, and the way that he captures the visual language of the story is quite something. He's a man who, for all his innovation in digital cinematography, understands how to tell a story in an accessible and imagistic manner with sharp, clear precision. Furthermore, the way he shoots the F1 racing sequences, with first-person POV shots and shutter speeds that create these blurs which really makes you feel a part of the action. There were several times I was grinding my teeth and gripping the arms of my seat in the cinema. Also responsible for this high drama and tension are the editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill. As many editors have proven in the wake of the Jason Bourne movies, the use of digital cinematography shaky-cam methods is often taken as the cue to go all Michael Myers in the editing suite and not action cut a scene with any semblance of sequential coherence. Hanley and Hill though walk the tightrope with skill, cutting the racing scenes so as that they remain thoroughly intense, but also not forgetting that their duty, first and foremost, is to tell a story. I mentioned the imagism in relation to the cinematography, and the same can be said for the editing, because even if this was a silent movie, you'd still get it as a result of the intelligent use of montage putting over to the audience the metaphorical aspects of the Hunt/Lauda dichotomy. Another of the things that make Rush such a great film (and I will use that term already) is just how well the movie sounds. The sound designers, editors and foley artists have done an excellent bit of work to get us into the atmosphere of the racing scenes. When you're in these scenes, all you're getting is the sound of the engines and the wheels going round corners, and hearing this from the perspective of the drivers is really quite overwhelming and powerful. Many films neglect the art of sound design, but this is one movie that not only respects the medium, but also uses it to contribute to the overall drama of the film. Also, in the non-racing scenes, the score by Hans Zimmer is another one of his many great achievements as a composer. Sometimes it's hard to describe Zimmer, because listening to his work you just outright feel and understand it more than words can do justice. He builds things from the ground up with minimalism, for instance, with a single electric guitar and a few violins, followed by the arrival and a bass and an additional electric guitar, then a leitmotif is played a single cello, which becomes a melody, and the brass starts to come in, followed by percussive instruments, and the whole thing builds towards a glorious extended crescendo, returning to the leitmotif and gradually fading out. Excuse the gross, overly-descriptive blah blah there, but there is nary a composer (besides, perhaps, Howard Shore) who understands the musical of aesthetics of storytelling between than Zimmer, and this is another classic case of his majestic work. Finally, although he's made great films in the past, I feel that this Ron Howard's best film to date as a director. He has always been good at delivering a drama, but what I admire the most about how he handles Rush is that he manages to ensure that all the tangibles are consistently the part of one unified piece. All of his various collaborators do some terrific work, but Howard ensures that their contributions are all part of the same weave that is Rush, no one element overriding the other. On a personal note, I saw this last week, and the reason I'm taking the time is because I was in the cinema by myself (I went to an early screening) and for a while I was sure I was watching a very good movie, but by about halfway through I was convinced of its mastery. I cried at several occasions and was hooked throughout during racing sequences, and because of Howard's intuitive prerogative to make Rush all a consistent piece, it works as both a poignant human drama and as an intense action movie. 

Now, the criticisms. As you've gathered perhaps from the above praises, this section isn't going to be as thorough as most other movies. Just the occasional thing stuck out as awkward. For instance, although I think for the most part they did a fine job (I'll use this moment to flag up the collective work of those on the mise-en-scene), but there are times when the special effects do look like special effects. Also, though Morgan's script is for the most part flawless, there are at times little bits of dialogue which stick out, not quite as the proverbial thorns in the side, but more mildly irritant. 

Despite those little things and a bit of sour grapes after looking up Cole Smithey's tiresome drivel, neither of them can ruin the fact that Rush is one of the best films of the year. Not to go off on the old summary schtick again, but this is a movie that comprises of so many more elements that make up the masterwork. Film is a collaborative medium, and Rush is one of those pictures that is proof of the efforts of many people coming together to make the best movie possible. It delivers drama and action in equal doses, and will give the audience about as good a mainstream film that ticks the boxes as they're likely to see this year. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good good (not even Kojak Smithey can make me grumpy)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Filth

Directed by: Jon S. Baird

Produced by: Jon S. Baird
Mark Amin
Christian Angermayer
Will Clarke
Stephen Mao
Ken Marshall
Jens Meurer
Celine Rattray
Trudie Styler

Screenplay by: Jon S. Baird

Based on: Filth by Irvine Welsh

Starring: James McAvoy
Imogen Poots
Jamie Bell
Eddie Marsan
Jim Broadbent

Music by: Clint Mansell

Cinematography by: Matthew Jensen

Editing by: Mark Eckersley

Studio(s): Steel Mill Pictures
Film i Vast

Distributed by: Lionsgate (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): September 16, 2013 (Old Taito International Comedy Film Festival)
September 27, 2013 (Scotland)
October 4, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 97 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: (Not Available)

Box-office revenue (as of publication): £250, 000 (Scotland; first weekend receipts only)

Land ahoy! At least, the metaphorical landscape on the horizon of the mind. You doubtless already know, Halloween is just around the corner, and as such, although I'm sure I'll get to the cinema, I've made contingency plans in case I'm too afraid to walk the streets and bump into Freddy Krueger, never mind the McDonalds on the Newtownards Road! I've got copies of Sanitarium, The Lords Of Salem and Stoker (courtesy of Danland Movies), and also a copy of a film called Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood, which I know next to nothing about and am going into blind. So, for all the latest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Although certainly not classified as such in genre terms, this film is something along the lines of what Alexander DeLarge would describe as "real horrorshow!" Filth is adapted from the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, and for those of you who don't know, I'm a huge fan of Welsh's literature, and I feel that I he is among the best writers of the past twenty-five years. His debut novel Trainspotting, a literary masterwork, was of course adapted into a cinematic masterwork in 1996 by John Hodge and directed by Danny Boyle, and while there have been other Welsh adaptations (1998's The Acid House, 2011's Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy), Filth has some big shoes to fill with the former film hanging over it. However, it is a very different kettle of fish to Trainspotting, and in terms of the material, having read much of Welsh's work, I would say it's his most transgressive and troublesome book, given the scale of the protagonist's misanthropy. James McAvoy plays Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, a cruel Machiavellian who treats everyone around him like dirt, habitually indulges in copious amounts of cocaine, alcohol and is involved in a number of sexually abusive relationships. In the midst of all his off-duty (and on-duty) activities, Robertson is involved in a murder investigation and engages ruthlessly in dirty one-upsmanship against his colleagues in order to advance his pursuit to gain the new promotion spot open for Detective Inspector. Now you see, yes?

To start with the good, James McAvoy gives an absolutely superb performance in the lead role. Having read the book, I won't lie, I imagined a different kind of actor in the part, more of a burly, Ray Winstone type, but McAvoy gets it spot on. Also, it's a very hard role to get over to the audience, as the character is so thoroughly loathsome, but McAvoy makes him so entertaining to watch. Completely immersing himself in the part, McAvoy not only looks every bit the part, but has all the appropriate facial expressions, tics and eccentricities that make up Bruce Robertson. His delivery of the lines in what is a pretty full-on script is note perfect, both with regards to his knowing how to play the timing of the dialogue and maintaining a fast and furious pace. Finally, although I'm sure I could go on and on about how great this performance is, McAvoy is able to make this loathsome character engaging enough to be consistently humorous, but also somehow manages to have the repugnant Robertson be sympathetic and full of pathos when the shit hits the proverbial fan for him. Also, although this is James McAvoy's movie, it's a solid ensemble cast, with Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent, Kate Dickie, Gary Lewis, Emun Elliot and Brian McCardie all putting out good work. Writer-director John S. Baird also must be praised for going all out and balls to the wall with this one, as the source is tough as hell, and this is the kind of adaptation that could have ended up really watered down. However, Baird sticks to his guns, translating the Welshian Edinburg Scots dialectical qualities with real strength, and proving himself a formidable scribe, the dialogue and situational comedy being among the most gross-out and outright hilarious things I have seen in a film all year. In a comedic climate that features films like Grown Ups 2 and The Hangover Part III, Filth's many belly-laughs are a real pleasure. Furthermore, and this is a praise for him in his capacities as director and writer (plus producer), as I said, when the shit hits the fan, it really does, and Baird has enough strength of conviction to depict the serious issues of his protagonist's character and follow it through to it's natural conclusion. It is equal parts comedy and drama, and at certain points, it gels the two together into this bizarre and surreal black tragedy. Another aspect of the film that is praiseworthy is the score by Clint Mansell. One of our great contemporary composers is most of the time a pleasure, and he maintains the pace of the film set out by Baird's script. Where he really shines however is in the downward spiral scenes, many of which are played out as mostly-silent montages, not only meaning that we have a lack of basil expository nonsense, but also that Mansell can, with the use of his strings and minimalist keyboard notes, immerse us in the psychological space of Bruce Robertson. We know that Mansell can do absolute descent's well, but here he touches another plateau. The final major aspect of the film that I'd like to point out is the excellent editing on the part of Mark Eckersley. Hot off the heels of his work on Dredd last year, Eckersley makes what could be a scatter-brained mess of a film a wonderful pop-art tableau, mixing the colours together and forming a seamless picture. There are so many different aspects that could have been passed around like a hot potato, but Eckersley caresses them and ensures that they all slot in perfectly. In just about any other movie, they wouldn't fit, but the fact is is that they do, and Eckersley deserves to be praised for this.

In case you haven't gathered, I liked Filth. Heck, I'll even go so far as to say I loved it and had a great time. Nevertheless, I've gotta say that while it does so so much right, it unfortunately is not a masterpiece, great though it may be. My explanation defies traditional aspects of reviewing, for the approach I will be taking is far more subjective and requires a certain material comparison. If you put Filth (the text and the film) alongside Trainspotting (text and film), there's a key difference: you connect on a far deeper emotional level with the story of the latter than that of Filth. The journey that you and the characters go on in Trainspotting involves essentially a coming-of-age story of a bunch of aimless young men who happen to be stuck in a rut with heroin addiction, whereas here there's an element of Bruce Robertson winding on a downward spiral of his own creation. There's a wonderful element of reflexivity as the character of Robertson is clearly aware of this, and thus it is blackly tragic, but the fact doesn't change that while it's an excellent character, you just don't care about him as much as the Skagboys. 

I wouldn't consider my completely subjective approach to reviewing the film as a condemnation, for while I certainly feel that Filth does not reach the heights of Trainspotting, most movies don't, and it doesn't change the fact that this is still a great movie. James McAvoy gives one of the best performances of the year, and completely immersed in creating the physical and emotional embodiment of the character, while the ensemble cast are uniformly solid. Also, writer-director Jon S. Baird sticks to his guns and refuses the water down the toughness of the Welsh source, delivering one of the funniest and well-balanced scripts of the year and a film with real strength of conviction. The Clint Mansell score too, particularly in the montage sequences, injects into our heads to the psychological landscape of Bruce Robertson. Finally, the editing by Mark Eckersley mixes the colours and makes the film, which could have been a scatterbrained mess, is instead a beautifully seamless pop-art tableau. And you'll never look at Billy Ocean's Love Really Hurts Without You the same way again!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Meh!

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month(s): August/September 2013 - What Maisie Knew

What Maise Knew is an intelligent drama and a masterclass in acting, most especially from Onata Aprile, who plays the eponymous Maisie in a performance of innate foresight that holds up the entire film. The script is tightly structured, and the deconstruction of conventional family dynamics is very interesting, and the majestic cinematography does much in putting across the child's-eye perspective. Finally, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel control all the tangible elements and deliver a PG-rated movie that is proof that, much as I love exploitation cinema, that it's not necessary to fill the BBFC checkbox to make a great film

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.2/10

Runner-Up: Blackfish - Relatively unimaginative, but effective and genuinely poignant subject matter that works as both a genre thriller and a documentary.

Second-Most Deadly Disease: Diana - Not as bad as it's cracked up to be, but terribly middle of the road, with all the edges sanded off and frightfully dull.

Avoid Like The Plague: Grown Ups 2 - It would be more interesting to spend a hundred minutes rolling around naked in a landfill. The single worst film I have seen in the whole of my seven years as a film reviewer. El fin?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Diana

Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Produced by: Robert Bernstein
Douglas Rae

Screenplay by: Stephen Jeffreys

Based on: Diana: Her Last Love by Kate Snell

Starring: Naomi Watts
Naveen Andrews
Cas Anvar

Music by: Keefus Ciancia
David Holmes

Cinematography by: Rainer Klausmann

Editing by: Hans Funck

Studio(s): Ecosse Films
Film i Vast
Filmgate Films
Le Pacte
Mahla Filmes
Scope Pictures

Distributed by: Entertainment One

Release date(s): September 5, 2013 (Premiere)
September 20, 2013 (United Kingdom)
November 1, 2013 (United States)

Running time: 113 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Langauge: English

Production budget: (Not Available)

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $2, 230, 489 (United Kingdom only)

Alrighty then, with the rate of reviews coming in fast and furious now, this will be the last review of this bracket, and then I will be doing a summary of the month(s) of August/September much along the lines of my usual review of the month schtick. I just had to pile the two together because I saw bugger all in the month of August. I've already gotten started on October, having seen Filth on the Friday opening night (more of which in due time), so for all the latest at the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Diana, the latest in a long line of Oscar-baiting biopics about a British person. I'm sorry, I don't mean to be cynical, but The Yanks at the Academy love giving awards out to people playing famous Britons. Indeed, twice in the past three Academy Award ceremonies have acting honours went to this small group, Colin Firth of course for his brilliant performance in The King's Speech as King George VI, and Meryl Streep for playing the now well and truly deceased Mrs. Thatcher. Now, it's no secret that Diana has been savaged in the United Kingdom by the press, and not just the odd bad review, uniformly negative opinions have been shared regarding this picture. Naomi Watts herself indicated an awareness of this reception, as seen in the interview hosted by Simon Mayo, during which she was on the defensive and cut it short by two minutes. However, despite having heard these things, I think very highly of Naomi Watts as an actress, working in films such as 21 Grams, King Kong, Eastern Promises (a movie that deserves rediscovering), last year's The Impossible, and her breakthrough role in David Lynch mesmerising 2001 film Mulholland Drive. Also, the director Oliver Hirschbiegel is a talented, poised filmmaker, having made for BBC Two the Northern Ireland-set film Five Minutes Of Heaven, starring Liam Neeson and Jimmy Nesbitt, and is also responsible for Downfall, the extraordinary biopic of the last days Adolf Hitler, starring Bruno Ganz, and not only one of cinema's great biopics, but one of the best film's of the noughties. With those credentials and context sorted, lets talk synopsis: focusing on the last two years of her life following her divorce from Prince Charles, it depicts primarily the eponymous Diana falling in love with Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), a heart surgeon who wishes to stay out of the limelight, and, of course, being in a relationship with one of the world's most famous people creates complications. Shall we dance?

I'll go off on a different note perhaps from the highly derisory reviews by pointing out that there are good things about Diana. There are some instances of fine cinematography by Rainer Klausmann. Having worked with Hirschbiegel before and also Fatih Akin on Head-On and The Edge Of Heaven, Klausmann brings his unique photographic style (which involves a very expressionistic form that highlights the strength of an actor's performances), and some parts of the film, particularly the opening scene following Naomi Watts' Diana from behind through various rooms, are strong. Also, Naveen Andrews pitches his performance as Hasnat Khan right down the middle, playing out the mixed emotions of the surgeon rather well. A charming and sympathetic screen presence with a wonderful delivery of lines akin to that of Jeremy Irons, Andrews also carries the weight to necessary to get across the emotional conflict of Khan, and makes for the film's best performer. The standout scene in the film is a terrific bit of work when Diana and Khan head off into the country and walk along a beach with Jacques Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas playing over the top of it. Perhaps it isn't a good thing to say about the movie, but for the brief couple of minutes this was going on, it was a poignant little music video of two people in love, Watts and Andrews both at their best performance wise. Some of the silent montages in the film like this, and also one that reveals itself as the proverbial 'second-act dramatic tension scene' unfold rather well, and hint at the direction Hirschbiegel probably should have taken the film.

Now, as I said, the film has received more or less scathing reviews of people just savaging the movie, and while I don't feel quite as bad as some, and Diana isn't what you think of as a typical 'bad movie,' but the fact is is that it is the most generic, bland and simply dull film I have seen this year. It just plays down the line of this middle of the road picture that does not dare to do anything overly challenging with Lady Di or any of the material they had at their disposal. I mean, Hirschbiegel's Downfall had the gall, the audacity to simply look at Adolf Hitler from an objective humanistic perspective, but this is so teeky and has any/all of the edges to it sanded off. The screenplay by Stephen Jeffreys is saccharine, full of this kind of earnestness and respect for Diana that shows them as far too much in awe of the subject. Also, the dialogue is absolutely woeful, with this overtly staged dialogue that does nothing but suggest to the audience that nobody in any world or realm of the living actually talks like that. It is so artificial and clunkily-constructed that it turns the Tyrell Corporation's "More Human Than Human" slogan into "Less Human Than Human." It would be satirical and humorous if it wasn't so pathetic and disappointing at the same time. Also, the structure and arc of the plot, if I am so bold to use the word 'plot,' cops out completely on any source of tension that could be derived of Diana's relationships with Khan and Dodi Fayed. It just says essentially that Dodi Fayed was essentially just rebound off of her relationship with Khan, and you're just like "No, life is more complicated than that!" Furthermore, in the title role, much as I admire her extended work as an actress, Watts fails to convince in the lead role in the same way the likes of Colin Firth did in The King's Speech. I think that more time should have been spent on getting across the emotional drive of the character, as opposed to playing around with an accent that ultimately still sounds like a cracked Naomi Watts. She is a talented actor with all the poise and instinct for the art in the world, but she fails to truly get inside what the filmmakers' are trying to put over on the audience. The movie is also way too long at nearly two hours. If it had been about ninety to a hundred minutes, it might have been acceptable as a decent film, but it goes on and on, the scenes dragging out past their natural conclusions. I saw the film with my mum and at one point I got chastised by her for starting to nod off in the third act. Much as I don't actively dislike the film in the way others this year, such as The Hangover Part II, After Earth and (the worst film I have seen in seven years of reviewing films) the nadir that is Grown Ups 2, if the movie is consistently dull enough to cause me to fall asleep, then it mustn't be anything worth seeing. (And the music is abominable: EHO/Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra 101!)

Diana isn't as bad as it's all cracked up to be. Rainer Klausmann provides some fine instances of cinematography, particularly in conjunction with director Hirschbiegel's use of silent montage in certain scenes. It also contains a strong performance from Naveen Andrews, and the scene involving Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas is a poignant highlight, though it does tell us more or less how the movie should have been made. Unfortunately, though not as actively loathsome as some films, it has a saccharine script from Stephen Jeffreys, which has terrible characterisation and structure, and the dialogue he has scribed sounds like no one in the world, ever! Also, Naomi Watts, talented as she is, fails to convince in the title role, and the movie drags itself on for far far longer than is necessary. As I said, not actively loathsome, but terribly middle of the road, with all edges sanded off and frightfully dull.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good good (relaxing Sunday, reading Dragon Ball, WWE Battleground PPV tonight, listening to Billy Idol's Eyes Without A Face)