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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Pyramid


Directed by: Gregory Levasseur

Produced by: Alexandre Aja
Mark Canton
Chady Eli Mattar
Scott C. Miller

Screenplay by: Daniel Meersand
Nick Simon

Starring: Ashley Hinshaw
Denis O'Hare
James Buckley
Daniel Amerman

Music by: Nima Fakhara

Cinematography by: The Cast

Editing by: Scott C. Silver

Studio(s): Silvatar Media
Fox International Productions

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): December 5, 2014 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 89 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: N/A

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $11, 679, 393


Well, because I am a man who refuses to shed his irksome habits, even in light of current events (something about it being 'that time of year' again, or something or other...), whether or not you want it, you're going to get it! The Thin White Dude is still casting his critical gaze over the film world, and will be bringing his reviews to you during this period. Despite being a notorious grouch who develops a migraine at the slightest aural detection in the sound-waves of a hideously bad Christmas song, I went to see It's A Wonderful Life for the first time with my folks at the Queens Film Theatre this week, who have started to make it an annual treat for themselves. Incidentally, has it become Christmas become kitsch all of a sudden, because I saw a lot of hipsters in their skinny jeans with their faux-facial hair wearing ridiculous seasonal sweaters? Anywho, I enjoyed the film immensely, and I think that it is indicative of a film's power that even a grump like me can feel inspired by James Stewart's George Bailey running around Bedford Falls bellowing "Merry Christmas" at everyone, yes, even that crabid old man Potter. Following this review, I'll be doing one's on Birdman, one of the big players in the upcoming awards season, The Zero Theorem, Terry Gilliam's latest film, and Under The Skin, Jonathan Glazer's critically-acclaimed art film fronted by Scarlett Johansson. There'll be many more in coming weeks/months as well, so, for all the latest and greatest according to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is The Pyramid, a horror movie directed by Gregory Levasseur, regular collaborator in various guises (screenwriter, art director, second unit director, producer) of Alexandre Aja, who burst onto the international scene way back in 2004/2005 with his 2003 film (made in their home country of France) High Tension, released here in the United Kingdom as Switchblade Romance. Although not up to the high standards of Pascal Laugier's Martyrs, a masterful film which somehow successfully marries torture porn and the philosophical sensibilities of an Ingmar Bergman movie, Aja's Switchblade Romance is still a great film, and alongside Laugier's picture, 2007's Inside and Xavier Gens' Fronteir(s) are key texts of the New French Extremity film movement. Many of these filmmakers have since went on to make film's in America of a varying quality. Laugier has made one film since Martyrs, 2012's The Tall Man, which got a mixed reception at best, while Gens, after the notorious Hitman (a project from which he was infamously given the boot from 20th Century Fox during post-production due to them not liking his cut), has been labouring to get films made, only putting out one feature and a short on The ABC's Of Death project over the past seven years. Aja, on the other hand, has flourished since coming to america, who with filmmaking partner-in-crime Levasseur and Franck Khalfoun, have slowly, but surely, started up a successful franchise of low-budget horror movies. The partnership of the three produced last year's Maniac which, although neither financially or critically successful, I thought to be an audacious, rather daring film with imaginative cinematography and an excellent lead performance from Elijah Wood. In my opinion, it was last year's best horror movie. So, although I had heard that this film here, The Pyramid, had tanked at the US box-office and was an absolute stinker, I had hopes that I would be convinced otherwise, given my fondness for genre films. Plot goes in this found footage film that a team of archaeologists, led by Dr. Miles Holden (Denis O'Hare) and his daughter Dr. Nora Holden (Ashley Hinshaw), are on the cusp of uncovering a great pyramid after years of work on a site under the Egyptian desert when they are forced to shut it down. Not wanting to go home without anything for the troubles, they send in a robot, who short-circuits inside, and making their way in to recover this expensive piece of equipment, the group get trapped inside, where all manner of nasty things may or may not happen to them. Capiche?

So, to start with the good about the film, of which, it must be said from the off, there isn't much to say about it in terms of positives, that although this isn't the movie to do it justice, this is a good central concept and the hook is enough to garner at least initial interest. The history of Ancient Egypt is a source which has an absolute breadth of material as a prospect for filmmakers to pilfer through. Almost as a default it also brings an interesting presence and mysterious atmosphere which has a lot of potential to bring to fruition a decent picture. Also, with Levasseur and Aja involved, genre specialists who have a proven track record of delivering solid b-movie schlock, they bring to a film largely bereft of ideas some moments which give a hint at the better work that this could have been. Much of the film seems built around a little bit of admittedly gnarly material, such as a nasty bit of impalement and a well-shot (the only well-shot) race against time in the vein of a trap involving a passageway filling up with sand. To my memory, both of these came along in the course of two or three minutes screen-time, delivering an effective wham-bam combination that stands out as the film's highlight. Finally, in the lead role, you've got Ashley Hinshaw, an attractive young model and actress you can tell from the off (with obligatory hint-hint baring of flesh near the beginning of the film), who although clearly out of place in her role as a shoddily-written archaeologist, is the film's designated scream-queen and is the film's stand-out. It's nothing special, being cast after all for what I presume is on the basis of her looks, and perhaps a better movie might have done her a service, but I think that she has potential as a performer and she at least engaged me on that base level.

In the defence of The Pyramid, while it is a movie full of genre movie conventions and is absolute twaddle, it makes no bones to be anything more than it is. I think for a movie to be truly disastrous, there has be a certain degree of passion involved to make it particularly hideous, or efforts to make it seem something that it is not. On this level at least, it delivers, but that still doesn't change the fact that this is one of the worst films of 2014. As a whole, everything about the film's production suggests an abundance of laziness. I went to see this with my buddy over and Danland Movies speculated over how long Fox must have been holding this movie over. They missed the Halloween market this year, which was admittedly full with pictures such as Ouija, Conjuring-spinoff Annabelle and the biggest success story of recent horror cinema, The Babadook, but they also didn't push it out beforehand in the summer when other genre-fare such as The Purge: Anarchy came out. Something tells me that the movie was done and dusted a good while ago, and that they just had this picture on their hands which they knew was rubbish which they'd pumped an $11 million budget into an thought "well, we've gotta do something with this." Aside from the Ancient Egypt concept, the other big 'idea' used in this is the found-footage concept, which has been tried and tested and done to death in recent years, to effectiveness with Paranormal Activity, REC, Cloverfield, Trollhunter and Chronicle, and ad nausea in Project X and The Devil Inside, the latter being one of the worst horror films of recent years. While this isn't quite as bad as that particular nadir, it brings absolutely nothing new to the table. As I mentioned, the film seems written around some nasty death scenes, and that material is of the most lacklustre, patched-together material that could have been stitched together by even the least acquainted of filmgoers. All of this stuff, which provoked at most a reaction amounting to a disdainful scoff or guffaw of disbelief, is the kind of thing that they were making fun of in the sharply ironic wit of Kevin Williamson's script for Wes Craven's Scream. Let us not forget that although Scream was playing around with genre conventions of 1970s/1980s horror cinema, Scream itself is pushing twenty years old, and it really is not enough for today's savvy filmgoers to still be subjected to the same redundant scenarios which lead to stagey dialogue such as "I'll be right back." Lines like this were like red flags decades ago, and it is inexcusable for us to be conversing with the picture saying "behind you" like Jamie Kennedy's Randy in 2014. The ending is also one of those cheap 'ending that isn't an endings' which do nothing to tie up the picture, instead giving only a cheap shock which is as inconclusive as the rest of the film is redundant. Also, I understand that the film is set inside a claustrophobic, deep, dark pyramid, but didn't someone realise that the poor lighting which makes much of the action damn near invisible to the viewer does not equate to atmosphere? I'm always one for defending potentially troublesome aesthetic decisions. A lot of people groaned about not being able to hear dialogue in Interstellar, but there was a purpose, done appropriately, for that choice of sound design/mixing. Here, the only reason the film seems to be lit this way is to hide the fact that there is nothing of interest happening onscreen, and more interestingly, is that for a film which is so visually opaque, it's transparently clear to see that they can't even succeed in hiding this fact! While I earlier gave some degree of praise to Ashley Hinshaw (though praising someone on the basis of their looks probably says as much about me as the film itself), the rest of the cast are deplorable. Admittedly, they're working with less than capable material (father archaeologist complains about nasty "mosquito" bite on neck after fungal gas is released from pyramid near start of film; gee, I wonder does that become a plot point later on?), but by golly do they reek it up. Cameraman Fitzie, probably intended to be the proverbial 'loveable stumblebum,' played by James Buckely, ends up being an annoying little prat whose guilt at his perpetual stupidity does nothing to increase our sympathies, especially when he gets his much-expected 'hero' moment of redemption. I have to feel for the actors, I mean, there is a character whose entire backstory we find out through horrendous pieces of expository dialogue such as "I've done rock climbing all my life" and that she is a documentary filmmaker about halfway through the film. Finally, my last bit of negative criticism has to be directed at Levasseur and Aja. This is a partnership which, even in some of their lesser projects, has at least produced some mildly interesting works, and at it's peak some of the better horror/genre films of recent years. To me, while it is perhaps excusable for filmmakers to have the odd misstep, there's no good reason why people who can come up with fine work such as Switchblade Romance and Maniac are putting out rubbish like this.

Like I said at the beginning of the last paragraph, The Pyramid cannot be considered as something truly disastrous, for there is not enough passion from anyone involved to elevate it above and beyond what it is or bring it down to the depths of a project like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trying to be something it's not. Even still, it still remains that this is one of the worst films of 2014. There is so much potential with the breath of Ancient Egyptian history in this concept, a couple of the traps/deaths are well-executed, and I do think that Ashley Hinshaw probably has a better movie in her. It reminds of how I saw Alexandra Daddario last year in the poor Texas Chainsaw reboot, and how she has since went on to star in True Detective and is in the upcoming San Andreas blockbuster alongside Dwayne Johnson. Hopefully the same happens for Hinshaw, because it would be a shame for anyone to have this as the most notable thing on their CV. I stand by everything I have said in the above paragraph about the film, because the prevailing attitude to most of the crew seems to be an abundance of laziness. They all knew that they had a real stinker on their hands, and thought "well, we've got to do something with it." Personally, I would have preferred that they had either done nothing with it and left it unreleased, or went completely off the wall with it during post-production. If I was looking at this movie as an editor in post, I would've just went "fuck it" and tried to do something along the lines of Luis Bunuel, and just made an indecipherable puzzle-box. Forget what it actually has to say, provoke people into an argument. Hide the fact that it's such a terrible film. I was pontificating on opacity and transparency earlier, Levasseur and Aja can't even manage that. I'd be shocked if they or an audience member could make a strong debate as to why and how they enjoyed this film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 2.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Miffed (work are being 'super-super awesome!')


Monday, 22 December 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Grand Budapest Hotel


Directed by: Wes Anderson

Produced by: Wes Anderson
Jeremy Dawson
Steven M. Rales
Scott Rudin

Screenplay by: Wes Anderson

Story by: Wes Anderson
Hugo Guiness

Starring: Ralph Fiennes
Tony Revolori
F. Murray Abraham
Mathieu Amalric
Adrien Brody
Willem Dafoe
Jeff Goldblum
Harvey Keitel
Jude Law
Bill Murray
 Edward Norton
Saoirse Ronan
Jason Schwartzman
Lea Seydoux
Tilda Swinton
Tom Wilkonson
Owen Wilson

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by: Robert Yeoman

Editing by: Barney Pilling

Studio(s): American Empirical Pictures
Indian Paintbrush
Babelsberg Studio

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Release date(s): March 6, 2014 (Germany)
March 7, 2014 (United Kingdom)
March 28, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 99 minutes

Country(s): Germany
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: €23 million

Box-office revenue: $172, 711, 636


So, being in the midst of all of this hoo-ah, as Al Pacino would say, said hoo-ah being the crazy roundup of 2014. I'm catching up on as many of the releases over the course of the year as I can, and with Oscar season just around the corner, there is going to be a glut of movies, both good and bad I'm sure, to get through in run-up to what is considered, by many at least, to be the big event of the year in the movies. As such, I've always used it as a bookend to my calendar year, and before then, I can guarantee reviews of The Pyramid, Birdman, The Zero Theorem, Under The Skin, Nymphomaniac, Calvary, The Basement and many many more. Incidentally, on the subject of best films of a given year, I picked up a copy of Blue Is The Warmest Colour, one of my favourites from 2013, for £6 in Head in Castlecourt, Belfast today. Head have a fine selection of Artificial Eye DVDs, ranging from art-house classics, contemporary foreign-language features, cult films and independent features, all for affordable prices (many are actually better than that of internet-juggernaut Amazon; the Satyajit Ray collections, fetching for £14-£16 on Amazon are going at £6 each in Head, a bargain for fans of the Indian filmmaker). So, for all the latest and greatest according to the movies, keep your eyes posted.

Today's film up for review is The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest film from indie darling Wes Anderson. Ever since the release of his 1998 picture Rushmore, Anderson has carved himself a reputation as unique American auteur with a quirky sensibility that not only has hipsters frothing at the mouth, but also many critics. Since its release back in March, The Grand Budapest Hotel has garnered significant acclaim, made a not-insignificant $172 million at the box-office (off a modest €23 million budget), and has racked up quite a few nominations in the awards season so far. I can near guarantee that this will be a player in the Oscars, not a major winner (Best Original Screenplay might go to Anderson, mind), but a player nevertheless. The big players, right now at least, appear to be The Imitation Game, Birdman and Boyhood. On a side note, a notable exception was the San Diego Film Critics Society, who went with Dan Gilroy's terrific Nightcrawler (which I still need to review) as their Best Film, notching seven awards, which also included Best Director for Gilroy, Best Original Screenplay for Gilroy again and Best Actor for Jake Gyllenhaal. Speaking of societies, and bringing me back to my point, the Online Film Critics Society declared The Grand Budapest Hotel it's very own Best Picture of 2014, something which my esteemed colleague over at Danland Movies was none too pleased about (that honour, he feels, belongs to John Michael McDonagh's Calvary). Me, well, I'm not done yet, but right now David Fincher's Gone Girl stands as my personal pick. Enough from me about all the contextual stuff; as interesting as I find this to be, it's a bit of a one-sided discussion and I'm probably boring the tits off you, so, shall we commence with a plot synopsis?: rightio, story begins in the present day as a young girl begins to read from a book the memoirs of a character known as The Author (Tom Wilkinson), who in 1985 begins to narrate from his desk about a trip he made to The Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968. As a Young Writer (Jude Law), he meets the hotel's elderly owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who proceeds to tell him his story and that of the hotel. Jump to 1932, when the young Zero (Tony Revolori) is a lobby boy, with the state of Zubrowka on the verge of war, and is under the wing of Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the hotel, who is accused of the murder of 'Madame D' (Tilda Swinton), and much of the plot is devoted to Gustave and Zero working to prove the former's innocence. Got that? Good!

Now, just from the off it's important to say that there is, well, a lot to be said about The Grand Budapest Hotel, so let's start, as ever, with the good stuff. Ralph Fiennes gives a great performance as the suave, sophisticated concierge Monsieur Gustave H. I've always known that Fiennes is, to use a pun, a fine actor, but this is the kind of part that takes full advantage of his talents. His background in interpreting Shakespeare makes him a natural for translating the ribaldry of Wes Anderson's dialogue to audiences. It simply rolls off of his tongue with the greatest of ease, but most amusing is watching his character, who attempts to be all things to all people (strangely, I was reminded of Richard Gere's Julian from American Gigolo) in ensuring that they enjoy their stay of the hotel, battling frustration at the inferiority of other hotel employees, all the while maintaining this aristocratic air. Much of his wrath is incurred by Zero, played by young Tony Revolori in a breakthrough turn. Acting alongside Ralph Fiennes I'm sure is no easy feat, but Revolori has a natural quality that proves he's more than a match for the senior actor. Some of the film's best moments involve Revolori and Fiennes' chemistry, and it is at times empowering to see Revolori, who has enough strength of conviction to make us believe that Zero could stand up and challenge Gustave. Also, as with other Wes Anderson films, he has a mighty ensemble of a cast, and there are a few other actors whose work I'd like to point as noteworthy; Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum (between him and Dafoe, their short interactions get some of the best laughs of the movie), F. Murray Abraham, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson (whose shouting at his young son gets a good gag) and Owen Wilson. I found some of the absurdist humour of Anderson to be amusing. As I mentioned, Dafoe and Goldblum get some of the best laughs, and that is because the humour is just so outrageous. Being a fan of all things surreal, some of the stuff in the film I dug, simply I suppose for Anderson having the sheer gall to do it. Speaking of Anderson, he's noted as an auteur for the mise-en-scenes of his pictures and I admired some of that aspect in the film. There is a meticulous attention to detail, from the production design to the costumes, right down to the Boy With Apple painting, a mock Renaissance piece commissioned specifically for the film. Say what you will, I have to admire what has been done here to realise this film world. It's also well-shot by cinematographer Robert Yeoman, Anderson's regular DP. Highlighting the world created in the film, everything made is up for show, establishing these big, wide cinematic spaces for the characters to inhabit. Furthermore, much has been made of the use of three different aspect ratios (1.33, 1.85, 2.35:1), for each of the film's separate timelines. It could have been a gimmick, but it works well, getting across a unique visual style for each period, but also in the little pieces making subconscious connections with the audience which a less keen-eyed viewer might not notice. Also, it's the second consecutive film I've had to review with Alexandre Desplat doing the score, and this time around, he delivers. I think when Desplat is at his best is when an auteur challenges him, demanding that he take his classical sensibilities and put them towards something more aesthetically dynamic and interesting. Here, he creates a wonderful little jukebox score that suggests something of the fairy tale quality of the story and the period setting. It reeks of nostalgia, and has a fascinating range of styles and instruments playing throughout. Finally, as perhaps you can tell from the amount I'm writing about, I have to admire the efforts of Wes Anderson as an auteur. He's someone who's obviously trying to make his own unique imprint in the history of motion pictures, and does it with all the sincerity of a toddler with a box full of toys to play around with.

So, as you can see, there was a good bit I liked about The Grand Budapest Hotel. Indeed, during the course of my reviewing of the film, I realised that there was more to admire about the film than I would have thought at first glance. However, as I said, this is one of those cases when there is a lot to be said about the picture, and I think that while there is much good to be said, the things that are wrong with it come in equal measure. This is probably the one review of all I have written this year that will probably get into the most trouble with people for my opines, so consider yourselves duly warned. I understand that loads of people adore this film and that I am in the minority here, but there are a number of reasons for my coming to this conclusion. The first of these is the script. While I admired some of the humour, I did find the plot and the characters both to be wafer-thin, the whole movie and any sense of legitimacy it had felt like it was hanging by a thread. For some reason, I'm thinking on Charles Montgomery Burns, threatening to crush Homer Simpson like a paper cup. If I was Mr Burns, this film would be the paper cup. I personally may not be as frail and weak as that much feared boss from hell, but this film certainly is, and almost threatens to implode upon itself. This is also part of the reason I never want to see a feature-length Mighty Boosh movie: there simply isn't enough plot to carry a ninety-minute movie. No amount of quirky, surreal or absurdist humour is an adequate substitute for story. Also, while I liked some members of the film's ensemble, sometimes it does seem like Wes Anderson is just dragging out a revolving turntable, a who's who of great actors to shove into bit parts in his movie and who are just there for window dressing or the factor of recognition i.e. "Oh look, there's so and so!" As such, you have top-tier quality actors like Bill Murray and Lea Seydoux (who last year won Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role from me for Blue Is The Warmest Colour) completely wasted in small parts, but also others like Edward Norton and Adrien Brody, who are not given characters befitting of their talents. Brody's character in particular is a terrible antagonist, who's neither funny or a legitimate foil to the central players. I also wasn't fond of the film's editing aesthetics. I'm sure the man in the cutting room, Barney Pilling, had Anderson probably in his ear telling him how to slice his movie, but this is where I thought all the little 'Wes Anderson traits' starting to go into overkill. Yes, we get that you're making a little tinkertrain of a movie, woop woop, but it doesn't mean that you go and have your editor do something so scattershot and all over the place. A lot of these decisions just didn't seem to make any sense or have any purpose, and I'm sure people defending the film would say "it doesn't need to" and in the process try to link it Dadaism or something of the sort, but I'm sorry, it does need to make sense. My final note of negative criticism has to be on Wes Anderson as an auteur. I've said it before, but I admire Anderson's intent and what he wishes to do with his picture, especially in his development of his own unique sensibilities and almost self-contained film universe. However, to me a real auteur must also know when to indulge oneself and when not to. They should have the self-awareness about just when to display tact. The best auteurs of recent years, filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Alfonso Cuaron, Bela Tarr, all have very distinct styles that are their own, but what makes them a notch above the rest is that the also know when to reign themselves in. Anderson displays no tact whatsoever here, going completely over-the-top here in what is an incredibly self-indulgent film. I might have enjoyed it a lot more if it didn't feel like such an exercise in overindulgence. It was like watching the fat kid in Matilda stuff himself full of cake. Not to sound like I'm making a cop-out argument, but maybe it's a taste thing, in that I froth at the prospect of anything David Lynch does when a lot of people can't stand some of his movies, but to me, I didn't like the taste of this. Like Quentin Tarantino, Anderson needs to learn how to stop indulging himself and be more focused with making the quality film that anyone with such a distinctive style has in them.

Not to wag the dog, but I think I am safe in saying that if there is one film review that will get me in trouble this year, this'll be the one. I am against critical and audience consensus, and not only that, I'm reliably informed that Wes Anderson fans are notoriously passionate in their admiration for the auteur, so I'm potentially incurring the wrath of an entire devoted fan-base. In it's defence, it has two strong performances from Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori, who have great onscreen chemistry, some of the absurdist humour is funny, there is a strongly established mise-en-scene which well-shot, I liked the score and I have to admire Anderson not only for his meticulous attentions to detail(s), but also for his unique sensibilities. However, what he has put on the table is all of those things, but also an incredibly self-indulgent picture which I feel to be more lacklustre than the hype surrounding it. The plot is flimsy as all hell, the character development for many of the ensemble is nonexistent and the editing by Barney Pilling is too scattershot to have any consistency (though I suspect a little bird may have been whispering in his ear: cough, Anderson, cough!). Anderson may have admirable qualities but having an appropriate gauge as to what to focus on is not one of them here. There is none of the tact or self-awareness presently in the best of contemporary auteurs, and if he wasn't so self-indulgent, we might have got a better film in the process.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (nice to chill, but still, work must be done!)



Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Imitation Game


Directed by: Morten Tyldum

Produced by: Nora Grossman
Ido Ostrowsky
Teddy Schwarzman

Screenplay by: Graham Moore

Based on: Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch
Keira Knightley
Matthew Goode
Mark Strong
Charles Dance
Allan Leech
Matthew Beard
Rory Kinnear

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by: Oscar Faura

Editing by: William Goldenberg

Studio(s): Black Bear Pictures
Bristol Automotive

Distributed by: StudioCanal (United Kingdom)
The Weinstein Company (United States)

Release date(s): August 29, 2014 (Telluride Film Festival)
November 14, 2014 (United Kingdom)
November 28, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 114 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
United States

Production budget: $15 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $21, 599, 005


Needless to say, preparations have been made to get myself ready for the big catchup over the coming months as 2014 closes and we enter awards season. I admit wholeheartedly that there have been a good few notable films that I have missed this year and will probably not get a chance to review. However, I do make a promise that I will try to see as many of them as I possibly can before I do my Annual Best and Worst (eight years running!) before the Oscars. Following this review, I will get round to reviewing The Grand Budapest Hotel, and also having a look at Calvary, Under The Skin, The Basement, Birdman, The Pyramid, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies and no doubt numerous other notables over this coming period. So, for all the latest and greatest according to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is The Imitation Game, which in case you haven't heard about it yet is the critically-acclaimed British-American period biopic of Alan Turing. Already the film has received numerous accolades (including winning the People's Choice Award for Best Film at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was named among the American Film Institute Top Ten Films of 2014) and was nominated for a slew of critics' society awards and picked up five noms for the upcoming Golden Globes in January. I think even at this stage it's a pretty safe bet to say that it will be a front-runner at both the BAFTA and the Oscars once the nominations are announced. It has all the recipe of a British prestige picture (biopic, period setting, centrepiece for actors) that we've seen the Oscars love in films like The King's Speech, Shakespeare In Love, The English Patient (and that's just the Best Picture winners, never mind nominees, which are included in no less than nine of the last twenty years of Oscars noms), and Lord knows that BAFTA, much as I prefer them to the Oscars, love to tote up one of their own. Indeed, I'll go so far as to say right now that I predict that Benedict Cumberbatch will win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He's on an all-time career high and if there's any rules about predictions with the Oscars, it's all about timing. Anywho, enough talking about the awards hoo-ha, let's get on with the movie itself. As mentioned, it is a biopic on Alan Turing (Cumberbatch). At the start of World War II, Turing, a first-class honours student in mathematics and Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, is brought in, alongside a group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers to work as code breakers at the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. The film spans three different periods in Turing's life; his unhappy teenage years at an all-boys boarding school, the aforementioned central story, which sees him eventually lead the cryptanalyst team into cracking Nazi Germany's Enigma Code and helping them win the war, and his later decline as he is convicted for gross indecency due to his maintaining a homosexual relationship. Now, I wouldn't worry about plot spoilers, because we more or less get all of this information fairly early into the movie, and what we really find out over the course of the picture, it's central thesis, if you will, is through the protracted character study of Turing. Got it? Good!

So, to start off with the good, following up on my, some would say, bold prediction that Cumberbatch would win Best Actor at the Oscars, part of that reasoning also comes from the fact that he does deliver a really great performance. It has been widely reported the amount of research that he has done into the part, that is good and dandy, but what really interested me was how detailed his work was. He truly gets inside of Turing, wonderfully portraying in that most Cumberbatch-like of ways the man's physical body, whose language suggests someone who is almost ready to burst at the seams with the endless possibilities of his ideas and theories. Also, his vocal delivery is nuanced, with lots of suggestive little nooks and crannies hidden in the way he chooses to syllabically pronounce certain lines of dialogue. Furthermore, I think it is indicative of Cumberbatch's ability that he is able to make his very awkward, sensitive Turing, a man whose certainty in himself crosses well into the territory of narcissism, still rather, likeable and touching. It reminded me of Jack Nicholson's Oscar-winning turn as the obsessive-compulsive misanthropic author Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets (although Cumberbatch's Turing is more Asperger to Udall's OCD), in that despite being a deeply flawed individual, we are still able to recognise his qualities above all, and that is the skill of a great actor. Speaking of acting, Keira Knightley gives her second solid performance of 2014 in the supporting part of Joan Clarke, Turing's closed friend, confidante and lone female member of his code-cracking team. I think that Knightley does a splendid job of depicting Clarke as a more than capable foil to Cumberbatch's Turing. It's a character that could have ended up being a trope, but I think Knightley elevates what is already well-written characters on paper into something altogether more memorable. She feels like a legitimate voice of reason in the midst of all this, a bastion of strength in the uncertain thrills and chills of the story. Speaking of characters, one of the strongest elements in the film's script (a work of real flair by debutant feature-film screenwriter Graham Moore) is the level of depth and complexity with which these characters have been injected. I've always been of the opinion that while you can get a bad performance out of good screenwriting, it is nigh-on impossible to get a good performance without a good script. There is a well-developed quality to the facets that Moore gives the characters of Turing and Clarke. Also, the characters have a sense of belonging to a certain level of a rational, familiar world (even if we are not at war) because of the rich quality of dialogue on the written page. I've already mentioned Cumberbatch's masterful pronunciation, but I think that his talents are more than backed up by the dexterity in what he has to say. Another of the film's qualities is that it is also very well-shot by Spanish cinematographer Oscar Faura. After making his bones as Juan Antonio Bayona's DP on The Orphanage and The Impossible, as well as numerous other Spanish genre films, it's great to see Faura ply his craft into a major mainstream picture. As with much of his work, The Imitation Game has a crisp, textured quality to it's visuals, not so far as hyper-realism but an enhancement of the colour palette, which works terrifically with the overall mise-en-scene. As we've seen with many of these WWII-based period dramas, they can often look rather drab and ugly, but Faura's work highlights and elevates the effort made towards realising this world onscreen. Finally, director Morten Tyldum does a fine job at the helm of his English-language debut film. The Imitation Game has had a long production process in making it to the screen, topping the Black List in 2011 and having passed through Warner Bros., who reportedly paid seven-figures for the screenplay due to Leonardo DiCaprio's interest in playing Turing. However, Tyldum's picture is a much more modest beast at the relatively low-budgeted $15 million and for the most part it remains a consistent picture that delivers on the right beats.

That said, while I enjoyed The Imitation Game very much due to it's performances, characters, dialogue, cinematography and directing, I think that there are numerous aspects that deny it from being a great movie. I have no doubts, and neither do most other critics, that it'll be a major awards contender in the coming couple of months, but when I think of 'awards movies,' I think of the creme de la creme, the best of the best. To use a metaphor only a cheese fanatic would understand (but you'll get the point), this is pure fromage blanc without any of the extra cream that makes it so much more flavoursome. The first problem with that is due to the central plot structure. While I liked the dialogue and characters, I feel structurally the three parallel timelines do not entirely work. I admire Moore for trying to do something different as opposed to the straight biopic, but a tale told chronologically may have been more appropriate. I understand it's purpose and how aesthetically it's meant to resemble Turing as an Enigma in his own right, how gradually come to break his code, but I think that it is too much gimmickry in an otherwise strong script. It also has a negative effect upon the editing by William Goldenberg. His cutting, normally reliable and efficient (he won an Oscar for his stellar work on Argo), comes across as a sharp and annoying distraction. Any time we begin to get that transcendent investment in a movie that makes that magic connection between audience and art, we are deprived of this connection. As I said, I understand the aesthetics, but I do not feel it is necessary or recommended to keep the audience at a 'safe' distance. The final negative aspect I have to comment upon is the score by Alexandre Desplat. It's no secret that I have a mixed rapport with the French composer's work, but I have warmed up to him in recent years. Among the most in-demand composers in movies the world over, he is admittedly a highly-gifted classicist in the vein of a Franz Waxman or Max Steiner. However, I find depending on the project and the work that emerges from it, Desplat is a bit of an acquired taste. Here, this doesn't taste too good. His piano is to the fore, but I didn't feel that his work with the London Symphony Orchestra here had the strength to transcend like that in better movies he has scored such as Lust, Caution, The Upside Of Anger (underrated), A Prophet, The Tree Of Life, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Philomena.

Despite there being a relatively large amount of words being written highlighting the negative aspects of The Imitation Game, most specifically the plot structure of the script, which in turn has an affect upon the editing, and the acquired taste of Alexandre Desplat's musical compositions, The Imitation Game is still a very good movie. While not at the level of great prestige biopics such as Serpico, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, Bird, Ed Wood and Gods And Monsters (sorely overlooked James Whale biopic by Bill Condon), it still boasts an excellent lead performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, a strong supporting one from Keira Knightley, both of whom are bolstered up by thoroughly fleshed out characters and dialogue from Graham Moore, who treats his subject with great respect. It's also very well shot by Oscar Faura, who manages to give a bit of life and colour to a texturally drab period, and Morten Tyldum does a fine job in the director's chair. Not up there with the best of the prestige biopics, or the very best of the year, for that matter, but nonetheless a very good picture.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool



Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Horrible Bosses 2


Directed by: Sean Anders

Produced by: Brett Ratner
Jay Stern
John Morris

Screenplay by: Sean Anders
John Morris

Starring: Jason Bateman
Charlie Day
Jason Sudeikis
Jennifer Aniston
Jamie Foxx
Chris Pine
Christoph Waltz

Music by: Christopher Lennertz

Cinematography by: Julio Macat

Editing by: Eric Kissack

Studio(s): New Line Cinema
Benderspink
RatPac Entertainment

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): November 26, 2014 (United States)
November 28, 2104 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 108 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $42 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $62, 070, 934


Rightio, I've got a good enough amount of work on the plate right now, but still enough time to keep on top of this bad boy and fire out a few reviews. As I mentioned in my previous review, I've decided to merge the months of November-December into one bracket, and then I'll be heading into January, which will be a big and busy enough period in it's own right. On another note, I re-watched Drive there for the first time in a couple of years, and I was reminded of everything I loved about it the first time round. If anything, the picture has grown on me and I think better of it now than I ever have. While at the time I commented that Nicolas Winding Refn still had his best movie ahead of him, Drive is full of audio-visual splendour and contains a transcendent poetry in the understated romance between Ryan Gosling's Driver and Carey Mulligan's Irene, striking an emotional chord that many strive for but fail to achieve. With that being said, for all the latest and greatest according to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Horrible Bosses 2, the sequel to 2011 black comedy Horrible Bosses, which was a surprise hit, exceeding box-office expectations and having a mostly positive critical reception, both of which together are unusual for a mainstream comedy. I myself liked the film very much upon it's release, giving it a 7.5/10 rating and one of the better genre pictures in a stand-out year for comedy, including films such as The Artist, Beautiful Lies, The Beaver, Bridesmaids and Rango. With these circumstances in play, we have the sequel. Directed by Sean Anders (his previous film, That's My Boy, was wholly underrated and the best thing Adam Sandler has done in years), HB2, to coin if an acronym (if an acronym can indeed be coined), under-performed at the box-office and has had a pretty bad critical response. In other words, quite the opposite to the original. However, I went into this with an open mind, being a fan of the first picture and That's My Boy, so, let's get going with the plot synopsis: our three protagonists from the first film, Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) are back and have decided to start their own business. Innovating a car-wash-inspired shower head, dubbed the 'Shower Buddy,' the boys have issues finding investors until they are approached by Burt Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his son Rex (Chris Pine). Wishing to manufacture the product themselves, Nick, Kurt and Dale take out a business loan, rent a warehouse and hire employees to build one-hundred thousand units. However, Burt back out of the deal at the last minute, having never signed an official, legal document agreeing to it, planning instead to take their inventory when Nick, Kurt & Dale (the company's name) goes into foreclosure, selling them under the name 'Shower Pal,' and leaving the three five-hundred thousand dollars in debt. Like the good citizens that they are, they form another one of their hair-brained schemes, with assistance from regular cohort Dean 'Motherfucker' Jones (Jamie Foxx), to kidnap son Rex and obtain ransom money from Burt to pay off their debt. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, I have to give praise to the ensemble cast. Returnees Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and in particular Jamie Foxx are good in their parts, but in the supporting category Chris Pine is a welcome addition and undoubtedly the strongest performer in the picture. This is a different sort of part, and he does a great job of playing an absolute weasel of a character. Pine uses his whole self, in terms of physical body language, in order to express the manic, unhinged psychopathy of this occasional-emotional wreck of a man-child. Also, despite the fact we know he's a notorious doublecrosser and backstabber, it's still easy to fall and believe in these elaborate, hair-brained schemes of his. This was definitely one of my favourite supporting performances of the year. Also, as they say, if it's not broken, don't try and fix it, as the three leads, Bateman, Sudeikis and Day retain that same sparkle of chemistry that they had in the first film. Arguably, that was the one feature that made the first film such a hit, as these three different versions of the average joe went about, with varying degrees of success, murdering their bosses. The three are terrific at making all of their dialogue, though improvisational, feel like a conversation of friends bickering and make it very funny. Although they witter on a bit more here than they did in the first, where the film shines is not in elaborate, stagey set-pieces, but rather on the humorous interactions between the three leads. Note that, yes, I said "humorous." My highlighting it is not an act of sarcasm, but a positive indication of my feelings regarding the film. By my own admission, comedy is normally a hard sell on me and because my sense of humour is a bit polarising at times, and I'm usually the first to lambast a mainstream comedy. I have been a stalwart in deriding The Hangover films, the group of movies that Horribles Bosses and this sequel perhaps most resemble, in terms of three Joe Bloggs' ending up in some ridiculous situations. However, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy Horrible Bosses 2 a lot, and even recognising that it is at times terribly flawed, I laughed pretty consistently throughout the film. The dialogue is of a high standard, the driving force of the film, and while I said the set-pieces weren't the highlight, they do provide the film with some very funny situations. The sex-addiction group meeting scene was hilarious, as was the cupboard scene during the guys' attempt at kidnapping Rex Hanson (both scenes involving three men in small enclosed spaces and nitrous oxide, so that probably says a lot about me!). Even little things in the planning of the kidnapping such as the permanent marker and the ridiculous Southern-hick accents they put on. Finally, Sean Anders' involvement is worth noting, in that he took Adam Sandler and managed turn out, with all it's twisted, absolute vulgarity, the comic's funniest film in years. Here, he gets a very different kind of task, taking the helm to an already established formula, and he does a solid job in tending to this and maintaining it. He has proven himself a reliable, go-to journeyman who can be depended on to tend a project and do a worthy job to bring out the best in his stars.

Now, while I found Horrible Bosses 2 to be a consistently funny movie which I found to be a lot better than the impression one might get from the box-office numbers and critical response, it still has to be admitted that there are a number of central flaws. The first of these, which kind of gets to the crux of all that is wrong here, is that even if Horrible Bosses was a very good film, I don't know if many people were asking for a sequel. Even with qualities, this still counts as one of the most perfunctory, unwarranted sequels of recent memory. The reason we are getting this is because the movie was highly profitable in the United States and the studios/distributor attempting to repeat the formula of The Hangover films. So, for starters, money that was the project's catalyst, never a good sign. The predecessor is not a film whose design lends itself to franchising, and as such the attempts to create a whole new plot around these characters comes across oftentimes as drawing it out too much and rather tiresome. Why is that Hollywood has to try and turn every sleeper hit into a franchise? Less is more. I may have enjoyed Horrible Bosses 2, but I think they have well and truly milked this cow dry, and I never want to see another one. Speaking of drawing the plot out, it's rather a thin one, so we have much of the mass improvisation of Horrible Bosses being stretched even more in this. Although it works in some regards, in others it doesn't. At one-hundred and eight minutes, this is too long, and between all the wittering, you could have cut this to ninety minutes sharp. The thin plot also affects the characters, so that while Chris Pine has a strong part in Rex Hanson, poor Christoph Waltz, who lights up the screen in just about every movie he's in, is saddled with a rather generic businessman who comes across as a poor man's retread of his Colonel Hans Landa. It's like for his scenes, they pointed a camera and said, "You know thing you did for Quentin? Yeah, do that!" It's a shame that he is wasted in an otherwise strongly cast picture. 

Still, despite the fact that Horrible Bosses 2 has quite obvious problems with it (at it's essence, it's needless and perfunctory, thinly plotted out and some of the characterisation is weak, wasting the mighty Christoph Waltz), I still rather enjoyed the movie. I'll never say that the movie is anything special, but I dig the chemistry between Bateman, Sudeikis and Day, and it features a terrific supporting turn from a game Chris Pine. The dialogue, a lot of which came from improvisation, is strong, providing the film of much of its laughs, and some of the film's more overt 'set-pieces' were rather humorous. Finally, it's more proof of Sean Anders as a reliable, go-to journeyman who can be brought into a comedic film project to cater towards and bring out the best of his stars. Completely perfunctory, but nevertheless enjoyable.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Walk Of Shame


Directed by: Steven Brill

Screenplay by: Steven Brill

Starring: Elizabeth Banks
James Marsden
Gillian Jacobs
Sarah Wright
Ethan Suplee
Oliver Hudson
Willie Garson

Music by: John Debney

Cinematography by: Jonathan Brown

Editing by: Patrick J. Don Vito

Studio(s): Lakeshore Entertainment
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment

Distributed by: Focus World

Release date(s): May 2, 2014 (United States, limited)
(Movie was never released in the United Kingdom in cinema or on DVD)

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $15 million

Box-office revenue: $5, 565, 259


As you may have guessed, judging from the recent slackening, I've decided to merge November and December together, at the end of which I will post a general reviews of both months. It's a busy period of the year coming up, and I'm sure that I'll be thoroughly occupied in this regard in the impending arrival of Oscar season. I can guarantee upcoming reviews for numerous movies, including Horrible Bosses 2, The Imitation Game, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Under The Skin, The Basement and Nightcrawler (which I saw before Interstellar but want to see again because in The Strand Nolan's movie was playing in the next screen, occasionally punctuating Dan Gilroy's heavily dialogue-based drama with thunderous noise). There will also surely be more to review along the way, but I want to flag up that last night I once again watched Ingmar Bergman's majestic 1973 film Cries And Whispers. Before I saw this, the prevailing images which I conjured when I thought of the Swedish master were in black and white, but this picture features such a striking use of red, suggesting so many different things. It's an evocative and mysterious picture which, at only about ninety minutes long, is a highly accessible watch. So, with that being said, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Walk Of Shame, a comedy released earlier in the year, written and directed by Steven Brill, a bit part actor, screenwriter and director who I was not aware of but in the course of my research found has a mixed bag that includes scribing The Mighty Ducks movies, and is also an associate of Judd Apatow and (drumroll, please!) Adam Sandler. So far, so meh! His last credit as a director was as one of the many responsible for last year's disastrously received ensemble-cast anthology sketch comedy Movie 43, which admittedly I have not seen, but from my reputable sources I only hear terrible things about. It even beat out Grown Ups 2, which I labelled the worst film I have ever seen in my years as a reviewer, at the 34th Golden Raspberry Awards, and that to me says a lot with another prime contender being the hideous Will Smith/Jaden Smith vehicle After Earth (maybe Grown Ups 2 was so bad it didn't deserve an award?). Anywho, before I get off topic, we have Walk Of Shame here, so let's get cracking with the plot synopsis!: Meghan Miles (Elizabeth Banks) is a reporter who lands an interview for CNB, a big network. After undergoing this process, during which she admits she's "a good girl" with no "dirt" in her past, it narrowed down to her and one other applicant. Unfortunately, her friends go to her house to find Meghan, disconsolate that her fiance Kyle (Oliver Hudson) has left her, which is compounded by a phone call from her agent Dan (Willie Garson) who mentions that CNB went with the other reporter. Not to be let down, her friends convince her to go out and get wasted, where she meets attractive bartender Gordon (James Marsden), with whom she has a one-night-stand. Hungover the next morning, she gets a call from Dan, who says that other reporter dropped out, and that they need her over at the station so that CNB can give her a test run for the job. However, at the wrong side of town and faced with many obstacles, including a race against time, Meghan must brave a walk of shame through numerous scenarios to get there. If I sound like I'm plot spoiling, I ain't, this is the set up to the picture. Got it? Good!

This sounds awful when you're about to start a paragraph on what is good about Walk Of Shame, but this would have been a lot worse of a film if you didn't have two very likeable actors in the lead roles. I've always thought that Elizabeth Banks is a humorous, charismatic and attractive young woman (who am I kidding, there's nearly two decades between us!) who has all the potential in the world to be a major film star. She can do comedy and drama, both rather effortlessly, and she is a perfectly solid anchor as the film's protagonist, even if she isn't exactly being saddled with the greatest of scripts. Also, James Marsden is another case of someone who should have mad it bigger in the movies: handsome and charming, even in the good movies that he's in, he oftentimes gets saddled with the dullard 'serious man' character (I mean, did anyone really want to see Jean Grey remain with Scott Summers?). Last year, he was very good in Anchorman 2 as Jack Lime, and here, as is the case with Banks, he doesn't have much of a script to work with, but he makes the most of what he's got. Also, while as you've gathered that I wasn't overly fussed on it, I'd be a liar if I denied that there weren't two or three good laughs in the film. I think that the scene I found to be funniest was that with the Meghan Miles character ending up in a crack-house. That was a genuinely amusing scene and if the movie as a whole was more along these lines, I think it would have been a perfectly acceptable comedy. The final thing I can say that I found good about Walk Of Shame is, at risk of retreading waters covered by Roger Ebert in his review for Catwoman, I liked Elizabeth Banks' face, I liked Elizabeth Banks' body, and I liked Elizabeth Banks' yellow dress. Right? Rasp! Blah blah blah!

Now, as you have gathered, I didn't like the film. I cannot say that this was an outrageously bad movie by any means, but as a whole it is a combination of both lazy, unimaginative filmmaking and comedy based upon outrageously outdated social stereotypes. For starters, the whole thing is shot by Jonathan Brown with the most perfunctory of a workman DP's visual aesthetic. The lighting of each of the various locations is overtly suggestive of a given mood or tone, i.e. the news stations have this glitzy glow about them, the boardroom is a cold, intimidating place, the nightclub is all shadows and strobe lighting (with resplendent shots from below looking up at women in tight clothing), the suburbs are hyperreal locales of a comforting sheen, downtown is ugly and murky etc. In short, all rather dull. Then you have the script, which is a rubbish bit of work, the most interesting thing that could come of it would be an interesting article from a sociological perspective. As I said, there is the aspect of laziness (cardboard cutout character tropes, a predictable storyline, etc.), but the most notable thing is that the primary set-pieces and humour are predicated on us buying into ridiculous social stereotypes. During the course of her 'walk of shame,' Meghan Miles encounters prostitutes who harass her for being on their turf, and in turn getting harassed by the bozo policemen (there's a new idea!), bumping into various people of non-white origin, all of whom seem to be drug dealers or junkies, sexually repressed Jews, leery Armenian taxi drivers and Asian masseuses in a massage parlour, which, of course, offers a nuru massage servicing. The only people who might find this kind of thing funny are middle-class, white Anglo-Saxon protestants who find it absolutely hilarious that one of their own is stuck in this outrageous series of situation involving run-ins with the working-class plebs, and I say might because I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and would like to think that they would have a bit more intelligence than that. It would be grotesquely offensive if it wasn't so stupid. The music by John Debney, while nothing overly noteworthy, is of the same lazy cloth I mentioned, in that it is just your typical, run of the mill comedic score with a female protagonist. Why is that any time one of these silly pictures featuring women in the lead roles they have to have these bouncy scores of plucked strings trying to tell us, "ho ho, ho ha, isn't this funny, folks? Here, look, this is funny, isn't it? You're enjoying supposed to enjoying this. Ho ho, ho ha!" The only thing it encourages in me is a severe case of energy depletion with occasional musings of "why am I wasting my time?" Finally, Steven Brill, who as I said, also wrote the screenplay, cannot himself even seem to muster up the enthusiasm for this piece. I don't know the production background on this movie, nor frankly, my dead, do I give a damn, but something tells me that he was hired by the backers on this and told "we're going to pay you x-amount of money to write and direct a comedy," the pitch being left simply at that. Neither Brill or the rest of the crew involved, seem to care much for the film they are starring, and all we are left with is just a boring load of rubbish that is simply not worth your time. 

Walk Of Shame, as I mentioned, is not an outrageously bad film that I can actively get annoyed at. I've thought about this, and I think for a movie to be among the lowest of the low, it has to have a certain agenda and they have to be trying to do something. That's why the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, God's Not Dead and Tammy (which, retrospect, was definitely worse than the rating I gave it) would rank as films in that particular category. Walk Of Shame is too lazy to be anything horrendous, and that infectious laziness is probably half the reason I'm going to use it as a lame excuse for just blabbing instead bringing my review to a legitimate conclusion. Professionalism or not, I just don't think Walk Of Shame is worth it.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.5/10

The Thin White Dude' Self-Diagnosis - Meh (I just want to get this done and move onto different things)

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Interstellar


Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Produced by: Emma Thomas
Christopher Nolan
Lynda Obst

Screenplay by: Jonathan Nolan
Christopher Nolan

Starring: Matthew McConaughey
Anne Hathaway
Jessica Chastain
Bill Irwin
Michael Caine
Mackenzie Foy
David Gyasi
Wes Bentley
John Lithgow
and a litany of others

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Cinematography by: Hoyte van Hoytema

Edited by: Lee Smith

Studio(s): Legendary Pictures
Syncopy
Lynda Obst Productions

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures (North America)
Warner Bros. Pictures (Other territories)

Release date(s): November 7, 2014 (United Kingdom and United States)

Running time: 169 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $165 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $543, 083, 147



So, I got underway with November at long last with my last review of Fury, the new war film featuring Brad Pitt and directed by David Ayer. November's in that strange period just before the Oscars when you see some interesting releases which may or may not become wild cards come Awards Season. As such, I have kept busy, and following this review, you can expect words on Nightcrawler, Walk Of Shame, Horrible Bosses 2, and doubtless many other recent releases. With that being said, here comes the catchphrase: for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film is one of those previously mentioned 'Wild Card' release's, Interstellar, the latest film from Christopher Nolan. For those of you who don't know, I'm a big fan of Nolan. I think that he is the working filmmaker with the most impact in the industry today and feel that he is the best director of the past fifteen years at the beginning of this century. He is a thrice-nominated and twice-winning recipient of my Stanley Kubrick Award for Best Director (in 2008 for The Dark Knight and 2010 for Inception), and two years ago I inducted him into my filmmaking Hall of Fame as a Director alongside the late great Ingmar Bergman. That year was his third nomination for Best Director, but although he didn't win, I reckoned that with five masterpieces under his belt (Memento, in my Hall of Fame as a Thriller, also inducted in 2012, all three of his Batman trilogy and Inception) he deserves higher recognition for his accomplishments. What's amazing about Nolan is that he's also still a relatively young filmmaker at forty-four years old, and that there is a glut of fantastic work from this contemporary master which we have yet to see. Working once again alongside his brother Jonathan (with whom he co-wrote the screenplay), the Interstellar project was actually in development from 2007, with the younger Nolan working on the screenplay as a projected film to be directed by Steven Spielberg, who in 2009 moved DreamWorks from Paramount to The Walt Disney Company, leaving Paramount without a director. So, in 2012, coming off of The Dark Knight trilogy, Chris Nolan was looking for a new project, and Jonathan got officially on board, and now it's finally here. The marketing campaign for this began at the butt end of last year with a teaser, the official trailer coming out in May of this year, so there has been a slow build, up to Nolan and star Matthew McConaughey (the focus of much of the campaign, following his Academy Award-winning role in Dallas Buyers Club) making an appearance at Comic-Con, and Paramount partnering with Google. So, yeah, it's kind of been built as a big thing, as though it could be the second coming of 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of its importance for the science-fiction genre, particularly the subsection involving space exploration. So, let's go, plot synopsis! Well, I'm gonna be a little bit vague at certain points because part of what I most enjoyed about a movie like Interstellar is that I went in blank, not having watching trailers, spots or anything, just watching it unfold. Featuring an all-star cast including said McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley and John Lithgow, the film follows a group of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in search of a habitable planet as things are not going particularly well on earth. Apologies if you feel that doesn't tell you enough, but in a world of spoilers and plot details getting out, I like to preserve some of the integrity of seeing a movie cold with opinion unclouded by others' judgements and analyses. Got it? Good!


Starting with the good, Interstellar has two really outstanding things going for it which, in terms of quality control, you're probably not going to find in any other film released in 2013: the first being that it's scope is incredibly far-reaching, and that it's one of the most technically accomplished pictures I have ever seen. I'll deal with the latter first, not to be contrarian, but just because it feels more appropriate. In just about every technical department, the film excels greatly. Replacing Chris Nolan's regular DP Wally Pfister, who earlier this year released his directorial debut, the poorly received Transcendence, Dutch-Swedish cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who first became noted for working with Tomas Alfredson on Let The Right One In, is a deft hand. He plays that fine line of being shoot a picture that is appropriate to the mood, muted and tactful during the expository scenes, intense during the thrilling scenes. Alongside the marvellous visual effects, supervised by Nolan regular Paul Franklin, van Hoytema's cinematography is gorgeously picaresque both in the depiction of interstellar space travel and the various worlds our characters come across. This is accentuated by Lee Smith's (another Nolan regular) film editing. This is someone who knows how to cut a movie, and he brings a quality that adds to the excitement of some of Interstellar's more spectacular scenes. Not to make it sound clinical, but it is a strong exercise in storytelling through montage. Speaking of editing, the sound design/editing of the picture is also a highlight. The team of engineers Gregg Landaker, Gary Rizzo, and editor Richard King, who between boast seven Academy Awards, construct an aural landscape of absolute splendour. There have been complaints from both critics and audiences as regards to some of the inaudibility of the dialogue, and I personally find them to be unfounded. It reminds me of some of negative criticism directed towards the mixing for Robert Altman's masterpiece McCabe & Mrs. Miller. A lot of Altman's picture is set within crowded interiors, be it a tavern or the eponymous characters' brothel, and some of the so-called 'inaudibility' is wholly appropriate to the setting. I find that to be the case with Interstellar, and I imagine that in order to depict what is happening onscreen correctly, there would instances of a lot of loud things going on. Furthermore, in the cinema you can tell they make use of the potential of sound, reaching the highest and lowest level frequencies so that you can, notwithstanding the visual side of things, sonically get an idea as to the extremity, the gravity of the situation(s). Speaking of great sound, the mighty Hans Zimmer is on board and, matching the heights that the Nolans try to strive for, he hits it out of the park with one tremendous score. I've made no bones about my long-standing admiration for Zimmer, and think that he is right up there among the upper crust of all-time great film composers. Last year, he had three great scores, for Man Of Steel (the best thing about that film), Rush and 12 Years A Slave, and I would argue that his work here trumps that of all of those three films. This is a different kind of Zimmer than we've ever heard before. Indeed, I would say the closest thing that matches it is perhaps Philip Glass' score for Koyaanisqatsi, and at times it's hard not to hear the aural resemblance. However, that is no insult, indeed it's a compliment to the versatility of Zimmer as an artist that he's able to move so seamlessly between different scoring methods. A blend between keyboard instruments such as the piano and organ, string sections, a choir and some beautiful woodwind sounds, all tinkered around with on synthesisers, this is a wonderful work that matches some of the majesty of the film itself. Notwithstanding the brilliance of the technical side of things, there are some praiseworthy performances in the film itself. Matthew McConaughey is a great anchor for us in the main part of Cooper. As the audience's primary identification point through the characters' extraordinary journey, Cooper could have been a mere cypher, but what McConaughey brings to this is a warmth, a genuine and legitimate sincerity that boasts no showboating. Displaying his wide range and emotional palette, McConaughey is gives perhaps the best lead performance in any of Christopher Nolan's movies. His character goes through a lot over the course of the picture, and McConaughey never feels anything less than legitimate in the part. Jessica Chastain, one of the best female actors of the past ten years (and a previous Thin White Dude award winner, for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role for 2011's The Tree Of Life), is very good in her part in the film. I won't divulge too much about the character because it would involve a plot spoiler, but she brings credence to the part. Also strong, and undoubtedly the most pleasant surprise of the film, is young Mackenzie Foy, who plays Cooper's daughter Murphy. Her character is not only key to the plot but key to getting the human element of the film down, and with that comes a certain level of responsibility, and despite her younger years she nails it with all power of a veteran. Among the most moving scenes of the picture involves the chemistry between she and McConaughey, more than matched by his juvenile co-star. There is a real sense of a rapport here, and the relationship between the two is really quite touching. There is also an extended surprise appearance from a well-known actor at one point which is a great little bonus for those who go in cold. So, as I said from the get-go, having dealt with the technical side of things, the scope of Interstellar is quite incredible. The Nolans, both Christopher and Jonathan, deserve to be given credit where it is due, for daring to dream and take us on a journey quite like no other. It is a conceptually daring, rather audacious picture which is burgeoning with imaginative ideas and concepts. Even though I do not think it is a masterpiece up there with the very best of Christopher Nolan's work (more of which in the next paragraph), it further cements his status as the greatest director of the past fifteen years. Nobody has dared to jaunt this far, and even with faults, there is much food for thought and distinction to make this a unique and outstanding film experience.

Now, as I'm sure you gathered from the tone at the end of the previous paragraph, while there were aspects of Interstellar I enjoyed immensely, I do not feel it to be a masterpiece in the manner of many in Christopher Nolan's back catalogue of works. There are a number of issues, but not unlike the same issues I found with David Ayer's Fury, they emerge from one central problem, and that is the characterisation. Conceptually and from a theoretical standpoint, it is a work of genius, but before you give a movie all the window dressing, the furniture that makes up the house, there has to be people inside the house. While I think that there are some strong performances in the midst of this, there has been people there to dust off the cobwebs and turn on the light-switches to truly bring this to life. For instance, as I said in relation to Fury, I know some might find this silly, but once again I was forgetting the names of many of the central characters, a number of whom, incidentally, don't seem to serve a huge amount of purpose other than to get across some thematic content. Anne Hathaway, like Chastain,  is one of the best working female actors, winner of the Alfred Hitchcock Award for Player of the Year in 2012 (kinda like my equivalent to an MVP/most valuable player award), and yet her talents are wasted on a character whose only noteworthy moment is delivering a speech about love that would be tongue-in-cheek if it wasn't serious. The other two astronauts' are barely able to manage to fit the label 'trope,' and other characters such as Cooper's son and his father-in-law are deprived and lacking in legitimate development. Furthermore, is it just me or does anyone else see at the crux of it all an uncanny retread of the plot of Inception? A group of people (and in the case, with two robots) on an extraordinary mission (in this case travelling through a wormhole, in Inception, through the world of dreams)? A father working through insurmountable odds so he can return home to see his children? Michael Caine playing the father figure/professor? The power of three? Alteration of time? All these things are resplendent in that previous film, and while like before it is spectacularly well-made, the fact that these aren't exactly original can't be denied. 

After all of that there, you'd be forgiven for thinking I'm going to be rather derisive of Interstellar, and that is far from being the case. The characterisation and certain plot elements are noticeably weak, creating a number of problems which for just about any other picture would have taken away from it much more than it already does. However, flaws and all, while not reaching the heights of some of Christopher Nolan's other pictures, Interstellar remains a great picture. What is does right it does so spectacularly well. Technically in nearly every department, from cinematography to editing to visual effects to sound and production design, it truly is awesome to behold. The score by Hans Zimmer is an incredibly evocative bit of work not dissimilar to that of Philip Glass on Koyaanisqatsi, and it features some strong performances from McConaughey, Chastain and Foy. Finally, even though I feel they should have done more for the people that are to inhabit this labyrinthine house, I have to admire that Jonathan and Christopher Nolan dare to dream, crossing bridges over deep, dark valleys, venturing where most others never even conceive of going, never mind actually taking these concepts and going out to do them. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright