Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Counselor

Directed by: Ridley Scott

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

Screenplay by: Cormac McCarthy

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

Music by: Daniel Pemberton

Cinematography by: Dariusz Wolski

Editing by: Pietro Scalia

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

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

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

Running time: 117 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $25 million

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.3/10

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

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

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood

Directed by: Daniele Vicari

Produced by: Domenico Procacci

Screenplay by: Laura Paolucci

Story by: Daniel Vicari

Starring: Claudio Santamaria
Jennifer Ulrich
Elio Germano
Davide Iacopini

Music by: Toho Teardo

Cinematography by: Gherardo Gossi

Editing by: Benny Atria

Studio(s): Fandango
Le Pacte
Mandragora Movie

Distributed by: Fandango
Universal Pictures (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): April 13, 2012 (Italy)
June 10, 2013 (United Kingdom, straight-to-DVD)

Running time: 127 minutes

Country: Italy

Language: Italian

Production budget: (N/A)

Box-office revenue: (N/A)

Aloha, I wish I was saying that from the Promenade in Nice at the end of July, because as it stands, or rather sits, here in Belfast it is getting pretty nippy and what with having just taken down a lot Christmas decorations (every year I forget how much my mother has), I'm glad to get off my feet. Good thing is, aside from walking the dog, I'm not too fussed on leaving the house and quite content to sit in with a cup of tea and a good movie. Speaking of good movies, I attended the annual Cinemagic Mark Kermode Film Night, in which The Good Doctor presents a movie after a Q&A with Brian Martin. The movie: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, something I hadn't seen before, and while my mother loathed (quote: "when the dragons were flying about I thought 'is someone taking the piss out of me?'") but I thought was just great and with a genuinely adventurous sensibility. So, for all the latest and greatest in movies and an assortment of relatively trivial updates, keep your eyes posted.

So, today's movie up for review is Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood, the context of which provides for an interesting (to me, anyway) story. As is regular, I peruse the shelves of DVD stores like a ghost haunting their relatives, forever looking for something to catch me out, always reading the small print at the back for the corresponding year so I can review it. This one I saw sitting on the shelves of HMV being sold on two for £10, and because I had a bit of money, I did my iMDB release date search, which is essentially the factor in okaying a review for me, and so I got this, The Hunt, A Prophet and Dazed And Confused. I knew absolutely nothing about this movie going into it, and frankly I feel that's often how I like seeing a movie the most, going in with a blank slate, so, if you don't want to read the synopsis and watch the film that way, skip to the next paragraph now. This Italian film is set 2001 around the final days of the G8 summit in Genoa, where police committed a night raid on a school on the pretext of looking for black bloc demonstrators, attacking activists and journalists, in what Amnesty International called, "The most serious suspension of democratic rights in a Western country since the Second World War." Got it? Good, let's bounce!

Starting with the good about Diaz, I have to mention that it is one of the most masterfully structured films to come out over the past year. The script is a real thing of concise efficiency, and is a fine example of a classical screenplay. Fundamentally, it is a rather simple three-act structure, but it is utilised to great effect here, each act having it's own purpose and co-existing with the rest of the piece. Also in this regard, the ensemble nature of the film is well-balanced. None of the characters are two-dimensional, nearly all of them being given a backstory of some sort, and also their stories are not done in a basil exposition manner, but told in a discreet manner, keeping their lives firmly entrenched in the moment(s) of the present. It's refreshing to see a movie of this balance, so that it's not some bleeding-heart propagandistic drivel with the noble leftie-beatnik types going up against the faceless forces of oppressive law enforcement, but instead, on both sides, the characters have depth and are empathetic. As such, this gives the actors who are playing the parts a chance to flex their muscles and actually do something with the characters. Claudio Santamaria is terrific as Max Flamini, one of the main policemen involved with the riot squad, depicting his internal conflict (he voiced his disapproval of the raid and is shown to act in the safest most pragmatic manners possible) at doing his job and being surrounded by his colleagues committing horrible acts. Also, Jennifer Ulrich, who plays activist Alma, delivers a fine performance, the violence around her utterly shell-shocking her peace and love ethos. I will not spoil the film by way this, but the final shot of Ulrich's Alma is a moment of utter cinematic revelation that really tugs at your heart. As a whole, the ensemble is reminiscent of the best of Robert Altman, neatly balanced and none dominating the proceedings. Another praiseworthy aspect of the film is that it is a brilliant sounding movie. Often deprived by several filmmakers and studios, sound design is to me a key aspect of the filmmaking process, and here full advantage is taken of it's possibilities. Although entrenched in reality, the sounds of violence and protest come to the fore, with the voices of dissent and angry protesters being accentuated. Also, during the raid, though it is undoubtedly visually vicious, I doubt that the battering that activists receive from the riot squad would have felt so brutal if the sound of the truncheons smashing off their bodies didn't have such a 'thunk!', if you will. In terms of the aesthetic craft of the movie, that too is appropriate and stylistically done well. The cinematography and editing are both of a really high standard, not only done with great panache and depicting the onslaught of the raid with such blunt force, but also telling for the rest of the movie a great story. Earlier in the month, Paul Greengrass released Captain Phillips, a great thriller, but I personally feel that Diaz outdoes Greengrass one, and is reminiscent in it's best moments of Greengrass' seminal picture Bloody Sunday. It's technically very much of that Greengrass mold, who of course was influenced by the likes of Alan Clarke and Ken Loach. Ultimately though, Daniele Vicari, who does a fine job in directing this picture, is of the same tradition of the neo-realists of his home country, such as Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. This is one of the most efficient and solidly directed works I have seen over the past twelve months, and though I have yet to see any of the rest of his filmography, I would be willing to say that Daniele Vicari is a director worth watching out for.

Now, while I do think this movie is great, I don't think it is quite a masterpiece, and it's not because it has any glaring faults or weaknesses, but rather a collection of little things that stuck out. For instance, though I do not think the music by Toho Teardo is not itself of a poor quality, and his music is perfect for the final shot, some of it's use during 'dramatic' scenes is unnecessary, for the absence of music is in and of itself rather jarring. Also, while I think it's a symbolically great image that establishes the film in thought-provoking fashion, I don't think that we needed to keep going back to the bottle being thrown in order to get what was going on and the movement of the film's timeline: the audience is far more intelligent than 'reminders' like that. 

Despite these little things that detract from it and interestingly I've been reading reviews for the film, which range from those thinking it's a great, bold piece of filmmaking and those who think it is bland and self-indulgent. It's a film that had a real mixed bag in terms of reception, and seeing as how I'm certainly not on the fence on this one, I have to fall in the category of the former. Diaz really took me by surprise with how strong a movie it is. The script is a classically structured, well-balanced work that is Altmanesque at it's best and the ensemble cast performing it are uniformly solid. Also, technically it's a stylistically interesting film, with the sound design, cinematography and editing harking towards the best of Paul Greengrass. But furthermore, the tight direction of Daniel Vicari is of the tradition of the neo-realists De Sica and Rossellini, telling a classical story that has something to say about society, people and human nature. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (literally speaking: I am detesting this change of temperature)

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - American Mary

Directed by: Jen Soska
Sylvia Soska

Produced by: Evan Taylor
John Curtis

Screenplay by: Jen Soska
Sylvia Soska

Starring: Katharine Isabelle
Antonio Cupo
Tristan Risk
David Lovgren
Paula Lindberg

Music by: Peter Allen

Cinematography by: Brian Pearson

Editing by: Bruce MacKinnon

Studio(s): American Mary Productions
Evolution Pictures
430 Productions
Twisted Twins Productions

Distributed by: IndustryWorks Pictures
Universal Pictures (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): August 27, 2012 (London Frightfest Film Festival)
January 11, 2013 (United Kingdom)
May 31, 2013 (United States, limited)

Running time: 102 minutes

Country: Canada

Language: English

Production budget: (N/A)

Box-office revenue: (N/A)

(Second shot at the first two paragraphs - blogger went screwie louie last time!) So, I haven't been too busy on the blog front the past week, the first reason being that I had a whack load of work at the weekend (fifteen-hour shift from six a.m.-to nine p.m. on Saturday), but I am still also pondering over Gravity. I know some of you are perhaps sick hearing so much about the movie, but it is a monumental achievement in filmmaking and deserves to be seen. Despite this, I have a number of different movies in the line-up for review, with this one being followed by Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood, and there will be definite reviews for Stoker, Oblivion and A Hijacking coming up, so, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is American Mary. The film is directed by the Soska sisters, Jen and Sylvia, who made their feature debut in 2009 with Dead Hooker In A Trunk. They have already after one feature and numerous shorts got a reputation for very violent exploitation movies, and this, their sophomore feature, is along the same lines. Starring Katharine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps fame, Mary Mason is a medical student preparing to become a surgeon. Facing with numerous issues, most notably the financial dilemmas that come with student life, Mary applies for a job at a strip club, and while there, is roped into stitching up a man who has been tortured. Carving out herself a niche, this serves as a gateway for her to ply her skills to taking high-paying clients from the body modification community. Voulez-vous?

Starting with the good, it's got a strong lead performance from Katharine Isabelle. Her Mary Mason is a sympathetic and believable character, and the fact that Isabelle does not rely on amateur dramatics to convey her character's status (or rather stasis) in life is intelligent. Furthermore, what is most surprising is the subtlety with which she depicts the character's arc. It's rather startling seeing just the stoicism and practice with which she goes about her deeds (by this time she's become known as Bloody Mary), and yet it never feels less than legitimate when a whole bathroom of women empties when she enters. Also impressive is Tristan Risk, who plays Beatress, a women who has modified herself to fit the profile of Betty Boop. She has this squeaky little voice that gives a little bit of a twang to the dialogue, which is rather funny when she's spouts the odd obscenity. Also, for all the character's eccentricities, Beatress is still a sweet and endearing one, and Risk does a great job of physically and vocally portraying the part. Certain critical elements yammer on about the misogyny of horror films, but in my experience, women are often given more opportunity to flex their muscles in this genre than most others. Much as this can be said about Katharine Isabelle's acting, the same can be said about the Soska sisters. I don't want to focus on the fact that it's a horror movie directed by two women, but that may have implications on the density and exploration of the film's thematic content. In that regard, it is interesting seeing men who are so outright misogynistic it's borderline parodic, but I think that's the point. The use of body modification as a metaphor for embracing yourself and your personal desires of transformation ties with the exploitation of women-as-object by lecherous men seeking to penetrate in more ways than one. While I could go into further discussion about the themes of the film, I don't think that a subjective matter like that is my job in an objective review, so I'll just say that the rich thematic content of American Mary not only gives it a satirical edge, but also ensures it stands out from the pack in terms of genre film. Also, for a movie that is so much about modification and transformation, you'd like to think that the make-up is of a good quality, and that it certainly is. There are members of the body modification community in the film, but there are some who are subjected to more make-up than others (Risk's is entirely convincing), and the make-up is done in such a way that you are unable to tell the difference. It also gives you a sort-guessing game anytime someone comes to Mary, trying to figure out just how much surgery has been done previously. The Soska sisters (who also cameo in the film as a pair of twins from Berlin soliciting Mary's services) are two firecrackers who direct their picture with real oomph!. Carved from the same cloth as the likes of David Cronenberg, who masterfully used body horror as societal metaphor, the Soska's are well on their way to becoming great directors. They have a literary sense of depth, and like Cronenberg (and others such as Romero, Craven etc.) they respect the genre's grounding in a good story.

Now, while I think American Mary has a lot going for it, there are a number of key flaws to the film that deny it from it's potential status as a great horror film. The intrinsic problem, though it is the root of many of the film's praiseworthy attributes, is the script. For me, a script has two layers: that of the basic structure which moves through the acts, getting a story from a-to-b, and the second of them is that of the exploration (or lack thereof) of the thematic content through various ways such as metaphor, satire et al. While American Mary has that second layer in great density, like The Purge, it neglects that of the basic structure. It's all good and dandy to have strong themes to talk about, but you've got to have some sort of structure or else it's all going to collapse. For the most part, it works well, but the final act is one of those cases where it seems like it wasn't thought out well enough. I don't know if it was intended to be an operatic thing or the whole "you reap what you sow" theme, but with all that's come before it feels rather deflating. Furthermore, (I'll do my best not to spoil) the deus ex machina that wraps up the film is rubbish, especially with all these other elements kicking around. Don't get me wrong, perhaps the Soska's designed it that way, but for me the denouement felt really poxy and I wanted the movie to go on, not because it wasn't the ending I desired (hey, I still think Arlington Road has a great ending), but because it wasn't the appropriate one. 

Despite these issues with the script and the fact that with a much better structure, which buckles under the weight of its thematic content (and getting rid of the whole deus ex machina ending), it really could have been a great horror movie if it was just given a bit more honing, American Mary is still a good horror movie. Katharine Isabelle's lead performance is strong, and Tristan Risk's Beatress is a welcome addition to the fold. Also, the make-up is great, as is to be expected about from a movie so much about body modification, a theme which is used well to discourse on misogyny and exploitation. Finally, while this is by no means refined work, the Soska sisters are clearly a force to be reckoned with in the near future.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Busy (little bee!)

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Gravity

Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron

Produced by: Alfonso Cuaron
David Heyman

Screenplay by: Alfonso Cuaron
Jonas Cuaron

Starring: Sandra Bullock
George Clooney

Music by: Steven Price

Cinematography by: Emmanuel Lubezki

Editing by: Alfonso Cuaron
Mark Sanger

Studio(s): Esperanto Filmoj
Heyday Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): August 28, 2013 (Venice Film Festival, Premiere)
October 3, 2013 (Australia)
October 4, 2013 (United States)
November 8, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 91 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $100 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $476, 442, 205

Hey hey hey; perhaps a strange way to start, but what can I say, I've gotta start somewhere? On a more serious note, this particular review, which I think rather appropriate given the coincidence of circumstance, is dedicated to one of my personal heroes, Eddie Guerrero, who passed away on November 13, 2005. He is sorely missed, though his legacy lives on and continues to inspire me and many others to achieve their goals in their lives to the best of their abilities. Viva La Raza, Mi Compadre!

Today's film up for review is Gravity. In case you haven't heard (by now, I'm sure you have, but alas...), Gravity is perhaps the most talked-about film of the year so far, having garnered critical praise that is really quite overwhelming, and has seen it garner comparisons to the likes of canonical science-fiction classic as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien. More surprisingly, it has taken the box-office by storm since its release, with an intake close to $500 million showing that there is an audience demand for this sort of thing. As with my last review, Captain Phillips, there is a bit of contextual stuff to get out of the way, so here comes the proverbial 'brief' digression. The film is directed by Alfonso Cuaron, most famous for his defining 2001 film Y Tu Mama Tambien (one of the best films of the naughties, bar none) and his 2004 entry into the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner Of Azkaban, arguably the most acclaimed of the series (though my personal favourite is Deathly Hallows, Part 1). Most notable, especially the context of my time as a film reviewer, his last film, 2006's Children Of Men, stands as the only movie about which I can say outright that I was dead wrong in my opines. The first time I saw it, I was largely nonplussed, and would go so far as to think it was dull, however, since then, it has grown on me to the point that I think it is a legitimate masterpiece, and only seems to get better every time I see it. Other historical points with regards to reviewing include the fact that two of the primary players, George Clooney and Emmanuel Lubezki are both former Thin White Dude awards winners (Best Actor for 2010's The American and Best Cinematography for 2011's The Tree Of Life respectively), so there's a lot of talent clearly on the cards. Now, with that out of the way, here's the brief synopsis (I mean brief this time!): Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney) are two astronauts who survive the destruction of the space shuttle they are working on and their attempt to return to Earth. That's all you need to know, and I wouldn't say I told you so, but...

Starting with the good, Sandra Bullock delivers an understated and subtle, yet in many ways rather complex and virtuoso lead performance as Stone. Bullock, who was great alongside Melissa McCarthy earlier this year in The Heat, shows us the other side of her acting palette. Eccentricity and nervousness are replaced with this sort-of quietly controlled performance, appropriate for her character's almost purgatorial status of existing as a purely functional being. Without hamming it up or going through the wringer of typical histrionics, she suggests a deep-rooted sadness and a lonely soul with nothing but her work. Clooney, is of course great as Kowalski, nobody delivering sharp-witted charm and motivation quite like him, but Bullock is just brilliant. Also, the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is extraordinary. Having collaborated with Cuaron before, stylistically the similarities can be drawn to the long takes used on Children Of Men, but this trait is pushed to the outer limits on Gravity, with the mobile camera giving us not only some genuinely beautiful photography, but also replicating the feeling of zero-gravity and weightlessness. The Arri Alexa-shot cinematography serves the purpose of telling a masterful story while also giving us some images which could stand alone as moments outside of a particular time-space and tickle our subconscious mind. Perhaps I am a bit bold of rhetoric, but I don't think I am amiss in saying that I think this is the best cinematography I have seen in a movie since Roger Deakins' work on 2007's The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. In the visual regard, I must also comment on the seamless interaction between the cinematography and visual effects. The visual effects and computer-digimation on this film are of such a quality that you are unable to tell the difference between the two. That's a highly commendable achievement, for what we have here as a result is something that you don't necessarily acknowledge as standing out, but simply sit back and let your breath be taken away, and let me tell, that happened on several occasions. Not only is a treat on a visual level (the 3D, incidentally, is the most immersive and intelligently used in a film to date), but it sounds terrific. The sound design/editing is appropriate both from a storytelling standpoint and that of a scientific one, for the obvious silence of space becomes an aural metaphor for a sort of void and absence. Also, some of the noises involving air pressure are genuinely startling, to the point that you almost have to adjust your hearing after. The score too, by Steven Price, is great. Of a transcendent nature akin to the great Klaus Schulze's space operas, it touches you on a deep, emotionally resonate level, and yet if you actually listen to it, is rather experimental. Full of pulsating synths and ebbing beats, there is something of an almost drone sound to it, ensuring that it maintains a truly otherworldly and intimidating sound to it. It also has a lot in it's design of simulating the atmosphere (or lack thereof) of space, with these sharp sounds quickly ascending and descending in volume. It's another one of the aspect to this simply breathtaking movie that shows off the collaborative nature of cinema. However, while it is a collaborative medium, one cannot overlook the power of this projects resident auteur, Alfonso Cuaron. Seemingly going from strength to strength, this is a director quite clearly operating at the peak of his artistic powers, and what he has given us in the fruit of his labours is really unique. On the one hand, you have what at time aesthetically feels like a b-movie, being a genre pic at a snappy, efficient ninety minutes that is watertight, and on the other, for all of it's massive budget, this is like a $100 million art-house movie directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Liv Ullmann. Comparisons, though complimentary, are perhaps a disservice to Cuaron and the film itself. Cuaron has made two masterpieces already in Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children Of Men, and thematically this continues along that same long, hard road of the searching for self-discovery and a meaning in life: it doesn't matter if he's working with $5 million, £49 million or $100 million, the results, though differing, are intrinsically of the same vein. Wholly accessible as a rollercoaster thrill-ride and a simple yet effective philosophical piece, Gravity is one of those pictures that comes along and does just about everything right.

Now, as you can gather, I absolutely loved Gravity, and during the course of my immediate musings on the film, I tried to think where I would put this in terms it's ranking as a masterpiece. Since it's 2010 release, Toy Story 3 has been the standard bearer of my seven-year career as a film reviewer, for I feel it is a perfect movie. While Gravity is up there, and I can get past some of the things that would ordinarily stand out as sore thumbs, the fact is is that they still exist and I have to look at it as such. Story-wise, it's nothing particularly new that we haven't seen before in a number of other movies. Also, some of the dialogue is fairly cliche-ridden, and it does spell out a bit too much at one point what the movie is getting at thematically: When we (when I say we, I mean me) already get the underlying theme of the picture, you don't need to say it in those exact words. 

Normally, those things would stand out as major script issues and downgrade the movie, but the fact is that it is done in such an engaging and innovative manner. To say Gravity's redundant is akin to saying Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ is superfluous because The Crucifixion has been depicted countless times in the near-thousand years since The Four Gospels. I'm not going over the same points again in recounting my admiration for the movie, so I'll just throw in an anecdote: walking down the stairs of The Movie House, Dublin Road, I was acutely aware of my senses, and continuing on down towards the number 20 bus at City Hall, I heard sounds, I saw sights, the wind was blowing in my face and I felt life. This was when I became truly aware of the film's true power, and it's times like this I am truly grateful for all the opportunities I have to participate as an audience member in the true magic of cinema. Put simply, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is incredible, majestic cinema of the highest order.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Awestruck (one of the few times I've left with my mouth open, breathless, and in tears, all at the same time)

P.S. At the time of this review, I have only seen the film once, but in my rating I'm taking into account that the subtleties of Cuaron's far-cast fishing net may well have escaped me and that there is much more at play than the sheer exhilaration of experiencing it for the first time.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Captain Phillips

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Produced by: Michael De Luca
Dana Brunetti
Scott Rudin

Screenplay by: Billy Ray

Based on: A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea 
by Richard Phillips

Starring: Tom Hanks
Barkhad Abdi
Barkhad Abdirahman
Faysal Ahmed
Mahat M. Ali
Michael Chemus
David Warshofsky
Corey Johnson
Chris Mulkey
Catherine Keener

Music by: Henry Jackman

Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd

Editing by: Christopher Rouse

Studio(s): Michael De Luca Productions
Scott Rudin Productions
Trigger Street Productions

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Release date(s): October 11, 2013 (United States)
October 16, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 134 minutes

Country: United States

Language(s): English

Production budget: $55 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $145, 994, 044

Booyakasha, it's me again with one of my perfunctory (and completely lacking in originality) introductions to the review. I am working at an article on Dario Argento and though I said I'd do one on Lucio Fulci's Gates Of Hell trilogy, I'm gonna put that one off until I see some more of his films. It's always been a view of mine that you can't have an opinion on a director until you see at least three of their films, and that you can't deliver any form of expert critique until you see at least five (although in the case of someone like Bela Tarr or Terrence Malick, rules are made to be broken). Having seen the Gates Of Hell movies (City Of The Living Dead, The Beyond, The House By The Cemetery) and New York Ripper, I'm one shy of my self-imposed rules of expert opines, so I'll abide by my own confines (terrible rhymes, I know). In other, more contemporary movie news, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity has been making waves as arguably the most talked about and acclaimed movie of 2013, so, expecting a look in at that one and others, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is the action thriller picture, Captain Phillips. Another of this year's sure-fire Oscar contenders (especially in the wake of last year's Best Picture winning Argo being a thriller), it's directed by Paul Greengrass, a director who I admire very much (and this being the sixth movie of his I've seen, according to my rules I know a thing or two about him). Having made his bones on British television, his breakout movie as a director was the powerful 2002 drama Bloody Sunday, which I consider (along with Alan Clarke's Elephant) to be one of the two best films made about Northern Ireland. After that, he took over Doug Liman's directorial chair on the latter two Jason Bourne films, arguably redefining the contemporary action movie, and in between both he made the harrowing United 93, taking his realist/cinema verite style to it's ne plus ultra aboard the confined space of one of the planes hijacked during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Three years ago, he re-united with Bourne collaborator Matt Damon on Green Zone, a troubled yet incredibly gutsy Iraq war political thriller. I know this isn't an article on Greengrass, but when I know the history in the artistry of those behind the film, I like to give the contextual aspect to the review a little more oomph! Anywho, Captain Phillips stars Tom Hanks in the title role, who, although you could hardly say is in the middle of resurgence akin to Robert Downey Jr. or Mickey Rourke a number of years ago, has been busier in the past few years, with Larry Crowne (which he also wrote and directed), Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, Cloud Altas and Saving Mr. Banks all under his belt. Not forgetting, of course, that Hanks is one of the greatest film actors of the past twenty-five years, with Big, Turner & Hooch (a personal favourite), Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, the Toy Story trilogy, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Cast Away, Road To Perdition and The Terminal ("Viktor Navorski from Krakozhia") all the better for benefitting from his immeasurable talents. So, yeah, those two factors should get the context out of the way, 'kay? Good, short synopsis: Tom Hanks' Captain Phillips is a merchant mariner who takes command of the MV Maersk Alabama at the port of Oman, with order to sail through the Gulf of Aden to Mombasa. During the process of this venture, the ship is hijacked in the Indian Ocean at the hands of Somalian pirates, led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi). That's all you need know, and anything more would be giving to much away, so there!

To start with the good, Tom Hanks is simply terrific in the lead role. He has always had something of this everyman charm to him, that is more or less a given, but he is at exactly the right age and the right time of his career to be playing such a part. Although he's never been a hulking leading man, he's not the thirty-year-old man-child of Big, and as such Hanks' age and awareness of the things that come with that process give Phillips a legitimate and believable vulnerability. Also, his way with words ensure that Billy Ray's script becomes lively and engaging, and furthermore, as his character has to go through a lot of pain, both psychological and physical, his performance, full of strength and resilience, mirrors the trials and tribulations of Richard Phillips. However, not to take away from Hanks (without whom the movie would not have succeeded), I feel that the real standout performance is that of Barkhad Abdi, who plays lead pirate Muse. Abdi's character could have been written by another person to be a typically nefarious villain trope, but the fact is is that Abdi (and Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali) is given a strong part, takes the ball and goes with it. Physically, his "Skinny" look is not that of a typical villain, but he has an extraordinary range of facial expressions, subtly suggesting that beneath his relatively unremarkable frame, is a fire-breathing dragon, and the way he uses his eyes tell you that this is the face of rage fuelled by years of poverty, oppression and exploitation, that there is a dangerous combustable element to Muse. Like Hanks, he has a real way with words, flowing seamlessly between Somali and English, having a great sense of timing and diction. Furthermore, not only is he is intimidating, Abdi has the gall (in a good way) to make this villain a character we can sympathise with who, unlike his comrades, listens to reason in a measured way and gets across the nature of the situation to the audience that although it could be made personal, the hijacking is strictly business. With a role of this complexity, I would certainly hope that Abdi's in line for Oscar nomination, as he's a front-runner in my books at the annual Best And Worst Of The Year. Also to be praised about Captain Phillips is the technical direction and atmosphere created by the conjunction of the cinematography and editing. Tried-and-tested Greengrass collaborators Barry Ackroyd and Christopher Rouse are a winning formula responsible for some of the stylistic traits involved with the director. Ackroyd's hand-held cinematography firmly entrenches the film in a prescient reality. Also, we are inside the intimate space of the characters, and thus we feel involved in the unfolding drama. As regards to editing, Rouse, whose frenetic cutting intensifies the film's atmosphere, is another key part to this story. His work makes it feel almost as though what we see the viewfinder is from that of a character, POV-esque in a very subtle way. The work by these Ackroyd and Rouse on Greengrass' Jason Bourne movies has been lifted horribly by numerous people in the film industry, but it has rarely been legitimately replicated, and their craftsmanship is once again of a high standard. Finally, although I'm sure you've gathered I'm a Paul Greengrass guy, I feel that this is another one of those situations where he has outdone himself. Somehow, someway, he's able to ply his craft to a variety of different stories, using it appropriately to serve the project and not the other way around. Captain Phillips is, for all intents and purposes, another recognisably appropriate addition to Greengrass' back catalogue, but also stands on it's own two feet as a strong and intense thriller.

Now, while I'm sure you gathered that I had a lot of time for and liked Captain Phillips very much, there is a central problem which ensures that, while it is a great film, it does not ascend to the status of a masterpiece. The script is written by Billy Ray, a scribe who has a real understanding of character development and interaction, something which he has shown not just in his screenwriting but also as a director with the overlooked pictures Shattered Glass and Breach. However, his screenplay, while strong in many regards, I feel is neglectful of developing a larger socio-political discourse than could have been achieved. This is an even larger problem than it would have been in other films, as the initial set-up of the Somalian case and the characters is unusually three-dimensional, so it's a shame that this aspect is left by the wayside. In this regard, it bears comparison to Green Zone. What Brian Helgeland did with that film was give it an excellent and bold socio-political discourse but neglected the storytelling fundamentals, ensuring that the central structure itself was rather bland. Here, it's the other way round, although the results are a lot more consistent and not as spectacularly opposed to one another. 

Getting past that problem (and it is one; just because it exists outside the boundaries of traditional technicalities of film/film criticism doesn't mean the point isn't valid), Captain Phillips is still a great movie. The performances from Tom Hanks and especially Barkhad Abdi were excellent, with Billy Ray's understand of character's and the interplay of dialogue coming to the fore, giving a three-dimensionality to these people. Also, the winning formula of Barry Ackroyd and Christopher Rouse in their respective roles as cinematographer and editor ply their craft appropriately to the project, and Paul Greengrass is as ever interesting and intelligent filmmaker, who crafts a strong and intense thriller that stands well on it's own two feet. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bored ("I'm the chairman of the board. I'm a lengthy monologue, I'm living like a dog...")

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Lords Of Salem

Directed by: Rob Zombie

Produced by: Jason Blum
Andy Gould
Oren Pell
Steven Schneider
Rob Zombie

Screenplay by: Rob Zombie

Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie
Bruce Davison
Jeff Daniel Phillips
Ken Foree
Patricia Quinn
Dee Wallace
Maria Conchita Alonso
Judy Geeson
Meg Foster

Music by: John 5

Cinematography by: Brandon Trost

Editing by: Glenn Garland

Studio(s): Entertainment One
Automatik Entertainment
Haunted Films
IM Global
Blumhouse Productions

Distributed by: Anchor Bay Films

Release date(s): September 10, 2012 (Canada, Toronto International Film Festival)
April 19, 2013 (United Kingdom, London)
April 19, 2013 (United States, limited)

Running time: 101 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $1.5 million

Box-office revenue: $1, 165, 882

Aloha, what's been occupying me for the past couple of days is drumming up a new Curriculum Vitae. It's been a while since I've actually had to do one, and the fact is I surprised myself how much I've got done over the past few years. Looking at it, it's like "hey, I've actually got the qualifications prospective employers are looking and now, despite all those years of hard work to attain gainful employment, they're still going to turn me down, so thanks for asking!" Cynicism aside, one of the things that doesn't change is the fact that I'm fanatical about films, and so, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted.

Today's film up for thorough digestion (why I always use food metaphors when my diet is way out there is beyond me) is The Lords Of Salem. The latest film from Rob Zombie, it came out in the United States in 2012 but was released on these shores in Spring of this year, and therefore I can review it as a 2013 film. For those of you who don't know, I'm a Rob Zombie guy through and through. Having been a fan of both White Zombie and his solo work as a musician for many years, I'll admit though to not being too privy to his filmography. House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects are unfortunate blips in my many years of movie watching, and the only film I have seen of his is the 2007 remake of Halloween, half of which is a bold retelling of the Michael Myers mythos, the other half a tired remake of the original film. However, with Zombie there is something about his aesthetics that even in it's weaker incarnations agrees with me, so, with that being said, here comes the plot synopsis: in Salem, Massachusetts, Heidi Laroq (Sheri Moon Zombie) works as a DJ at a hard-rock station with her co-workers Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman (Ken Foree). She receives a wooden box addressed to her in real name, which contains a record that when played, causes Heidi to experience horrific visions and from this point on, all manner of strange things start happening. That's not me being lazy, by the way, I just prefer for people to discover it themselves. If you want to know the whole plot going in, there's Wikipedia for that!

So, starting with the good, as I've mentioned, aesthetically I'm very much in sync with Rob Zombie, but I have to say I maintained objectivity throughout. Despite this, I think that from a directorial standpoint this is a bold, audacious horror picture that operates with a unique identity, not holding back from any current trend or tradition operating in much of the scourge that is contemporary horror cinema. Zombie also has a respect for the art form, and there are clear steps towards the grandiose vision a la Ken Russell that I believe he will achieve at some point with his filmmaking. Obviously, with the central plot, it invokes the likes of Suspiria, Witchfinder General, Haxan and various films of the like, and most clearly it has similarities with the folk devils and moral panics of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. However, instead of a socio-politcal picture, Zombie goes for a cerebral rain of blood, immersing us completely in the atmosphere of the story. In this regard, the movie has many strong points. Some of the editing techniques, oftentimes simplistic by design, are surprisingly effective. The use of freeze-frames and intertitles, presented in stylistically basic black and white, make the film feel like something very unadulterated and with a prescient sense of dread. Also, the sound editing of the movie is interesting, the mixing playing with you on a level that ensures the audience has an awareness of it, but it is subtle enough to work on an almost subconscious level. In this way, it conjuncts well with the musical score by John 5, so that you are (appropriately) unaware of what is the score and sound design/editing. The most interesting thing about the music in the film is that it does operate on a traditional composition level, but that the sounds are different, with much of it being a drone-based work, voices being tweaked in the editing suite and instruments such as the guitar being altered so dramatically to the point that not only is not near unrecognisable, it's downright alien aurally. Also, The Lords' theme itself is a genuinely demonic bit of work, reminding atmospherically of the atmosphere that comes with the band Painkiller, in terms of inducing a palpable sense of real nastiness. Finally, some praise must be garnered on Sheri Moon Zombie in the lead role as Heidi. In terms of a physical embodiment of a character, she moves around with a power that gives Heidi a legitimate credence and presence. The character has to go through a lot, and she (as an actress) keeps in sync with all the movements rather well. It's a believable and genuine performance.

While I will gladly heap praise on certain aspects of The Lords Of Salem, it is deeply problematic in other regards, which do drag it down from being the horror masterpiece it aspires to be and Rob Zombie could quite possibly have achieved. The first of the two major issues I have to flag up is the script by Zombie. Don't get me wrong, he is a director with a real vision, but the fact still remains that the script is pretty dire. The plot moves in rather predictable ways, going into the proverbial mouth of madness without a shred of deviation from the formats we have come to expect (perpetual awakening from dream-states tend to lose their effect five times over). Furthermore, the characters are not thoroughly fleshed out, with their arcs lacking something really meaty and the sense of the conflicting forces in the film just acting as serviceable tropes to get the film from point A to point B. This is a real shame, given that the final movement is a wonderful example of pure cinema, but you have to get through a lot of boring, perfunctory scenes to get there. Rob, I love your work, but I can't help but think what someone like Clive Barker would have made of writing a screenplay from Zombie's central story. Furthermore, although I loved the final movement, much of the film is badly lit. The cinematography by Brandon Trost is, ever during the daytime, shot as though The Turin Shroud has been thrown over the top of the camera as a lens filter. Don't get wrong, there's darkness films to create atmosphere, but not only does it already have that, this film is so dark that a lot of the time though you feel something, you can't tell what it is that's there. This was a problem of Trost's present in This Is The End, and it translates over unfortunately to The Lords Of Salem. Finally, although I think at times cinematic space is used well, the design and set decoration feels small, not in the sense of claustrophobic but rather boxy and weak.

Ultimately, because of a combination of it's praiseworthy qualities (direction, sound design/editing, musical score and central performance) and some inherent problems (script, cinematography, boxy production design and set decoration), I came out of The Lords Of Salem with mixed feelings. Zombie describes the film as "if Ken Russell directed The Shining," and while I have to admire him for his audaciousness, Zombie never reaches the heights of said film and Russell's masterwork The Devils, which the movie is clearly in dept to. An atmosphere will only go so far without the fundamentals of a solid structural base, but as it stands it's a decent enough work. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Flagellating (my brain. Listening Painkiller's stellar Guts Of A Virgin/Buried Secrets EPs)

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: October 2013 - Rush

Rush is one of the best movies of the year, comprising of so many elements (the cinematography, the editing, the screenplay, the music, the mise-en-scene, and, of course, the extraordinary lead performances by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl) making up the tapestry of this masterpiece. The collaborative nature of cinema is proven many times over by the efforts of those involved making the best film possible. Rush delivers drama and action in equal doses, and is about as good a mainstream film that audiences are likely to see this year.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.2/10

Runner-Up: Filth - A beautifully seamless pop-art tableau, Filth is one of the ballsiest films of the year and boasts an immersive lead in James McAvoy.

Honourable Mention: Prisoners - Doom-laden, gothic and pitch black, Prisoners is a complex mood piece dissecting the potential of evil in the everyday lives of real people.

Second-Most Deadly Disease: Sanitarium - There are merits ('Down To The Last Man' is a memorable short), but unfortunately this anthology horror has more bad than good.

Avoid Like The Plague: Devils Of War - At moments outrageously bad, Devils Of War fails as a movie in pretty much all regard.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Purge

Directed by: James DeMonaco

Produced by: Michael Bay
Jason Blum
Andrew Form
Bradley Fuller
Sebastien Kurt Lemercier

Screenplay by: James DeMonaco

Starring: Ethan Hawke
Lena Headey
Max Burkholder
Adelaide Kane
Edwin Hodge
Rhys Wakefield
Tony Oller
Arija Bareikis

Music by: Nathan Whitehead

Cinematography by: Jacques Jouffret

Editing by: Peter Gvozdas

Studio(s): Platinum Dunes
Blumhouse Productions
Media Rights Capital
Why Not Productions

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): May 2, 2013 (United States, Stanley Film Festival)
May 31, 2013 (United Kingdom & Ireland)
June 7, 2013 (United States)

Running time: 85 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $3 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $87, 043, 336

Well, it seems that my little Halloween errand of watching specifically horror movies has gone a bit belly up, for I haven't watched that many, so the fact is is that I am going to bump them over to the month of November. After this review, I will do a review of the month for October (in terms of overall quality, it's the best month I've had so far this year), and proceed on with great diligence to the task ahead of my articles on Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. As I've said before, I'm gonna be spicing this blog up a bit, so keep your eyes posted!

(Those are getting harder to write all the time: it's like I'm starting to jinx them) So, today's movie up for review is The Purge, a horror movie released earlier in the year that made $87 million off of it's $3 million. Going in, the hooker for me was definitely the central concept (more of which in synopsis), which sounds interesting on paper, but what's not so interesting is the fact that the film was produced by Platinum Dunes, a production company that don't have a track record for making great horror movies but instead taking the ideas from them, remaking them dirt cheap and getting a big cash profit off of them. I personally am dreading their upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Synopsis time: the year is 2022, with the United States having become 'a nation reborn' with crime and unemployment at an all-time low, a phenomenon attributed to the eponymous Purge, an annual twelve-hour period during which all criminal activity is deemed legal. Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a wealthy home security salesman who lives in a well-off area in San Francisco, California, along with his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and their two children, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder). However, things go a bit awry, when during their lockdown for The Purge, Zoey's older boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) has snuck into the house, and Charlie lets a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) asking for help into the house. A group of Purgers led by a polite man in a business suit (Rhys Wakefield) show up the house, demanding that they return to them the homeless man, or their house and they themselves will become part of The Purge. Voulez-vous?

Starting with the good here, I've already mentioned it but I'll go into detail about the fact that I like the central concept of The Purge. The concept harks back to a time in the late 1960s/1970s when horror filmmakers like Tobe Hooper, George Romero, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg and John Carpenter were making nasty little low-budget movies that were intensely political and a reflection of the times around them. The Purge's central concept challenges us with a simple but effective moral quandary, played out by the familial interactions and whether or not The Purge is indeed a legitimate catharsis for Americans or if there is something very amiss. Furthermore, although I don't think it's a perfect performance in either capacity (more of which later), I have to express some sort of admiration for writer-director James DeMonaco for actually trying to make an intelligent horror movie that expresses something above and beyond a cheap scare. Don't get me wrong, I love horror movies, but I think that DeMonaco shows more respect for the genre and it's capabilities than most. Also, in his debut as a DP, Jacques Jouffret, who has worked as a camera operator on numerous films of Platinum Dunes cohort Michael Bay, gives the film an interesting array of lighting techniques. On the one hand, it has this sheen that empathises the wealth and good-living lifestyles of it's protagonists, but at various points the movie is well-lit in near darkness, something which is balanced out very well in that the atmosphere is retained while you are still able to get what is going on. The best thing about The Purge as a whole though are the actors playing the family. Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder are really good as the children, and Lena Headey is convincing as ever as Mary, especially in putting over the moral argument of the film, but the big land of the film is Ethan Hawke. Despite always being an understated actor and a great screen presence, Hawke is at the right age to play the part of Sandin and is nothing if not perfect for the role. The position he is in in the story means that he is the one who does most of the basil exposition. He does it well, and because his character has made the decision to endorse The Purge and reap the financial benefits of it, Hawke has the tough job to pull off of a guy trying to convince himself of his own bullshit as the sanctuary he has built around him and his family, ultimately an illusion, comes crashing down because of the world he and many others of his kind have made reality. It is through Ethan Hawke that we are able to ascertain all these ideas of good and evil, the potential monstrousness of humanity and what have you, and his performance here is the highlight of the movie, not unlike Woody Harrelson last year in Rampart, an Atlas carrying the celestial sphere upon his shoulders.

Now, while I do hold a sort-of admiration for The Purge because it is a horror movie that is about people and tries to something, ultimately in execution I feel it is not as successful as is intended. As I perhaps indicated earlier, while DeMonaco attempts to hark towards the tradition of social horror films, it is nowhere near as pertinent in achieving it's aims as something like Night Of The Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Shivers etc. Also, a lot has been made in the press about the film's violence, in particular I'd like to point you towards an Observer article by Rex Reed entitled Brainless Brutality. Not to be au contraire, but I feel personally that they didn't go far enough. There is something about it that feels restrained, as though the message is being suffocated by the cliches and predictabilities Platinum Dunes want to fulfil their production quotas. It's a shame, because I think that the right direction for this to go would be along the lines of 1972's The Last House On The Left, a movie of great savagery but of a pertinent social message, making the movie on the fly as opposed to operating under the banner of Platinum Dunes. At risk of sounding like a nostalgist, but there was a time whenever movies could genuinely shock, stir up controversy and still contain an important message. I can't remember a horror movie that felt really dangerous. It's has been six long years since The Mist and The Orphanage came out around the same time, and five since the last horror masterpieces in Let The Right One In and Martyrs, so please excuse the rant, but I expect more! Another issue with The Purge is the 'original' score by Nathan Whitehead. It's interesting that given his previous work in video games, a medium that requires a good bit of incidental music, that the incidental music in this movie is some of the most turgid and uninspired I've heard this year. I make no bones about my hypersensitive hearing and about how it has effect on my judgements, but at what point did it become acceptable to just roll out the same tired aural cliches over and over, nigh on repeat? It's like "yes, I see the strange person on the camera, I don't need the volume cranked up to eleven in order to establish a credible level of tension!" Whitehead has just taken the worst cliche book of horror movie scoring and just copied it out near word-for-word, and as much as I think the movie as a whole is compromised, Whitehead's loathsome score is enough to give someone with my strange sensitivities a tin ear. 

The Purge has it's problems. It's a movie that for me doesn't go far enough in pushing its social message, feels compromised, and is quashed and undercut by a horrendous score from Nathan Whitehead. However, despite these issues, it's a relatively serviceable horror movie. I admire writer-director James DeMonaco for actually trying to do something in delivering a horror movie with a social message. Furthermore, it's well-shot and the acting, particularly that of Ethan Hawke, is of a quality standard, and this elevates what would be a banal genre movie into a decent watch.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzin' (voracious activity abound!)