Monday, 27 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Equalizer

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Produced by: Todd Black
Jason Blumenthal
Denzel Washington
Alex Siskin
Steve Tisch
Mace Neufeld
Tony Eldridge
Michael Sloan

Screenplay by: Richard Wenk

Based on: The Equalizer by Michael Sloan
and Richard Lindheim

Starring: Denzel Washington
Marton Csokas
Chloe Grace Moretz
David Harbour
Melissa Leo
Bill Pullman

Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams

Cinematography by: Mauro Fiore

Editing by: John Refoua

Studio(s): Village Roadshow Pictures
Escape Artists

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release date(s): September 26, 2014 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 131 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $55 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $171, 475, 000

Ahoy there, I've been rather prolific this month, with no less than eight reviews so far, and presently I'm listening into Daniel Kelly's (he on Danland Movies) 3some 'Til 3 with Chris Judge and Eoghan Neill, which although making me slightly slower with periodic guffawing, couldn't be a better thing to listen to while reviewing. As mentioned in my last review, I've a good few still to get few with October, guaranteed reviews coming in for Ida, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gone Girl and no doubt some others after this one. So, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is The Equalizer, which is a feature film based upon the television series of the same name from the 1980s starring Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence/espionage officer who dishes out his particular brand of vigilante justice, helping innocent people caught in dangerous circumstances. In this adaptation, reuniting past collaborators of Training Day, director Antoine Fuqua and lead actor Denzel Washington, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for said film, Robert McCall (Washington) is a retired black ops operative living in Boston, Massachusetts and works at a Home Mart hardware store, where he gets on well with many of his co-workers, such as helping one of his colleagues get in shape so he pass the qualification exam to become a security guard. However, his is forced to leave his quiet and stable life behind when he is compelled to act on behalf of his teenage friend Alena (Chloe Grace Moretz), a prostitute who he witnesses getting mistreated by her pimp. After offering to buy off Alena from the pimp, who refuses, he takes him out, along with all of his men. This sets off a chain of events which involves Russian mob kingpin Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich) sending his enforcer Teddy (Marton Czokas) to find and eliminate the culprit. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, Denzel Washington is perfectly credible in the lead role of Robert McCall. Though credibility is nothing new as regards to Den-Zel, he pulls out all his traits as a natural film star to show McCall at the start of the film. He's charming, gregarious and smiles a lot, all of which he does rather well, but he also plays the dark side of McCall suitably. His whole cadence changes; the smile is replaced by an almost bulldog-like expression and his manner of speaking slows down to a lot more deliberate pace. While this not an award-winning part in the vein of his Alonso Harris, the character of Robert McCall caters to all of Washington's natural acting abilities. The Equalizer is also a finely shot movie by cinematographer Mauro Fiore. Even on less than superior projects like Runner, Runner, Fiore's cinematography ends up being a highlight, as it does here. While it is an at times very violent film, it is all shot with a real elegance and grace so that the film constantly looks good even while McCall's doing all manner of nasty things to people. In that vein, I have to admire the tone of the film. It's an R-rated (and I mean hard-R) violent vigilante romp a la Death Wish (in which Den-Zel, in his debut film, cameoed as a mugger), utterly without compromise and inviting viewers to question their own moral judgements as we root for and begin to vicariously achieve pleasure through seeing Den-Zel cause such wanton destruction and chaos for the bad guys. As someone who admittedly has a weakness for this sort of thing, I wallowed in it, and even though I recognise the film's limitations, I'd be denying if I said I didn't enjoy it. There are real flourishes of brilliance in the film, such as a sequence in the climax with Zack Hemsey's Vengenace, a moody and appropriate fit for a terrifically choreographed stage of scenes involving Den-Zel's McCall taking out a bunch of bad guys. Also, I liked the use of Moby and New Order's cover of Joy Division's New Dawn Fades in the film, another case of appropriate use of tracks in this film. Finally, Antoine Fuqua is a game director who we've seen can direct a well-paced film with Training Day. Although this isn't as well paced (which I'll get into in due time), Fuqua's direction has much of the same qualities as Fiore's cinematography, in that he directs this with stylistic flair and grandeur, but also, he's responsible for dictating the film's tone, and makes it clear from the get-go that this is where he wants to take the film. I know this is a personal taste thing, but I'd much rather see an uncompromised film of this nature as opposed to something that has been watered down to get a PG-13 rating. While a lot of critics had reservations regarding the film (extreme in the case of my good friend at Danland Movies), I found myself enjoying this incarnation of The Equalizer.

Now, as I said, I enjoyed The Equalizer, but I mentioned about being a liar as regards to that enjoyment. Well, equally (if you'll excuse the expression) I'd be a liar if I didn't acknowledge that the movie does have problems and some limitations. For starters, I praised the tone and direction of the film, being a uncompromised vigilante picture, but in between these scenes of really palpable violence, there's some scenes of self-important philosophising about the world that these characters live in. I think that the very nature of the film leads people to question their complicity with McCall's actions, we don't need to have it spelled out to us with a lot of self-justification about it being a means to an end or whatever the hell moral conclusions they get the audiences to take away from it. These scenes, written by screenwriter Richard Wenk, are way too wordy and self-serious for what is essentially an exploitation/b-movie with a name star and a Hollywood budget going into it. It borders on pomposity to have a movie that is so indulgently violent lecture us on what is inherently wrong about violence, and with these scenes excised you could have brought the running time down to about a hundred minutes, as opposed to the rather more cumbersome one-hundred-thirty plus mark. I think that some of this issue should also be attributed to editor John Refoua, who lets the scenes drag out way too long. The way they were cut, I sometimes felt like I was watching an old episode of BBC Television Shakespeare, and I don't mean that as a compliment. At times I felt myself wanting to tell the characters to stop telling silly metaphorical stories and analogies and just get to the point. Take into account that this film is roughly the same length of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, perhaps the greatest of all of art's exploration of violence, a film which manages to be both deliriously entertaining (don't tell me Malcolm McDowell's detestable Alex isn't still somehow a loveable rogue) and a masterful look at morality, specifically the definition of goodness. Finally, although I liked some of the choices of individual tracks in the film, I wasn't impressed by Harry Gregson-Williams' score. It's a shame really, because despite the fact he a lot of the time ends up churning these base, murder-by-numbers scores, I know him to be a great composer. Just listen to some of his stuff from the Metal Gear Solid games, and it does make you wonder why hasn't quite captured that sense of scope and scale on the big screen (also, Chloe Grace Moretz deserved better than this rather minimal part).

Although it must be said that I do have some reservations about the film, namely that it is way too serious and philosophical for what is essentially an exploitation/B-movie, with about thirty minutes of material self-justifying all the violence that could have been cut out. The score was also rather rudimentary and Chloe Grace Moretz' part is way underwritten, meaning that the talented young actress doesn't have enough to work with in order to ply her craft. That said, my opinion on The Equalizer is more positive than negative, and I'd go so far as to say I enjoyed the film. It's a solid star vehicle, who gets to bring all his acting prowess out, putting on the charm offensive early on, then turning into a determined, unstoppable badass later on. It's a well-shot film by Mauro Fiore, who always bring an elegance to his projects. Tonally, it shows no compromise, going for the hard-R rating, not holding back on the violence or any of the potentially troublesome subject matter. There are flourishes of brilliance, such as the scenes in the final sequence set to Zack Hemsey's Vengeance, and another use of popular music, Moby and New Order's cover of Joy Division's New Dawn Fades is highly appropriate. Finally, Antoine Fuqua is a game director here, driving forward from the get go into dark and bold waters. While it may have none of the resonance or greatness of a film like Training Day, The Equalizer is still a perfectly acceptable, dare I say, enjoyable violent vigilante film, especially if you have a star like Den-Zel and director Fuqua working together in these capacities. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good (for all intents and purposes)

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Dracula Untold

Directed by: Gary Shore

Produced by: Michael De Luca

Screenplay by: Matt Sazama
Burk Sharpless

Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Starring: Luke Evans
Sarah Gadon
Dominic Cooper

Music by: Ramin Djawadi

Cinematography by: John Schwartzman

Editing by: Richard Pearson

Studio(s): Legendary Pictures
Michael De Luca Productions

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): October 3, 2014 (United Kingdom)
October 10, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 92 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $70 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $139, 086, 880

Hello there, children (Isaac Hayes' Chef would say), I hope you're all doing rather well. On the movie front, I'm doing rather well, at least certainly in terms of the glut of films I've been seeing. Because of October being slow enough and work seemingly having deemed me expendable enough not to be given more hours, I find myself with more hours free time to do my own thing. Gears are moving forward, as I've completed a treatment for a short film, which will be turned into a screenplay by a common collaborator and stalwart of mine who presently shall remain nameless (brownie points for those who've guessed), so thank you for that! After this, we will have reviews for The Equalizer, Ida, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Gone Girl (yes, I finally saw it) in the coming week or so. That being said, for all the latest and greatest as regards to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Dracula Untold, Universal Pictures' latest film depicting the Count Dracula character most famous as the titular villain from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel. There are a number of notable things involving the production history of the film, foremost being that Universal intends the release of this picture to be the beginning of a reboot of the classic Universal Monsters franchise, which was most famous during the 1930s-1950s with films such as, of course, Dracula featuring Bela Lugosi, James Whale's Frankenstein pictures with Boris Karloff, The Invisible Man, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Mummy and Lon Chaney Jr.'s The Wolfman. Basically, they pitched to writers Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan to do something along the lines of Marvel's highly successful Cinematic Universe and DC's prospect shared universe with Warner Bros. The film is directed by debutante Gary Shore, a commercial director who filmed Dracula Untold on location in various places, such as Roe Valley Country Park, throughout Northern Ireland. I remember it being quite a big deal when the filming was announced. Our First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (wallies!) made a hoo-ha, and Extras NI (who do a great job of employing people on a casual working basis, I might add) sent out a casting call for a lot of people, but of course, not having "swarthy skin," presumably to play the rampaging Turks, because I'm pale as a beluga whale, I didn't get the part. There is something be said about the state of the film industry in Northern Ireland, how it is slowly building up credibility that a big studio like Universal would shoot their entire film over here. Anywho, plot synopsis: Dracula Untold creates an origin story for the title character. Depicting Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), a former child slave for the Turkish army who became a great, feared warrior and later benevolent king of Transylvania. Vlad and his men discover a Turkish helmet, which leads to a cave in the mountains, where a monster kills all but Vlad. The next day, Vlad, his queen Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and son Ingeras (Art Parkinson) are celebrating Easter with their subjects, when a Turkish party unexpectedly arrives, demanding not only tribute but a thousand boys for service to their army. After failed diplomacy with the Sultan, Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), and his refusal to surrender his son, which leads to the death of a group of Turks, Vlad sees no option but to confront the monster in the mountains, a vampire (Charles Dance) who forms a pact with Vlad to transfer his powers to him so as to defeat the Turkish army, making him a vampire for three days if he can resist his blood lust, but for eternity if he cannot. Got it? Good!

Starting with the good here, I think that for the most part Dracula Untold is a technically astute film. It's a picture that has a clear aesthetic look about, and that is reflected in the work of the photographers, costumes and production design departments. Cinematographer John Schwartman's location photography captures the scale and epic scope of the film with distinctive visuals, moodily lighting everything in dark colours. This scale and scope can be seen in the large battle sequences, which in conjunction with the stunts and choreography make for some enjoyable scenes. While it's never going to be anything up to the level of The Lord Of The Rings films, I can at least admire them for trying. There are little things, such as the visual-effects/editing trickery of a minute or so of a fight sequence being seen as a reflection on a sword's blade that indicate flourishes of flair above and beyond what we are given for most of the film. Luke Evans, although by no means anything special, obviously has put a lot of effort into his role. He's a strong physical presence who does the action sequences rather well, and does his best to get over the tragic element that the writers and producers are pushing for with the character. I think he's an actor who just needs to find the right part for him to break out. The thing that's perhaps most notable about Dracula Untold, both to it's praise and detriment, is how absolutely ludicrous the whole thing is. That Vlad might take on a dozen people would be impressive, but you've got to admire the ballsiness of the filmmakers actually trying to convince us that he can single-handedly take out the entire Turkish army, which we are reliably informed by some basil-exposition dialogue numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Yes, it takes away from the suspense vulnerability of the character, but what the hey, I enjoyed it. It's a movie that is either unaware or completely revels in its own stupidity (though I suspect it's the former), either way, the final result is still the same. It takes itself so seriously that it ends up being rather funny, being one of the few films that enters the dangerous territory of 'so bad it's good' and comes out okay. And then you have the final scene, which somehow manages to top the rest of the movie in its overall outrageousness. 

However, that being said, as I mentioned, this madness, completely without irony I might add, is a double-edged sword as much to it's detriment. You can take a movie like Tommy Wiseau's infamous The Room, one of the most preposterously bad movies of all time, but however much it may be enjoyable, you have to remember that it is still absolutely terrible. The same in some ways can be said for Dracula Untold. The film is so self-serious and yet doesn't even manage to go as far as irony or meta (humour is one of the things that made the Marvel Cinematic Universe so successful, incidentally) that you can't help but throw your hands up at the central story. I have no problem seeing Dracula as a tragic or sympathetic figure, Klaus Kinski did it wonderfully in Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, but the melodramatic story borders on upturned chin levels of pomposity, more or less trying to force-feed us into buying into absolute nonsense; Vlad is a good husband, Vlad is a loving father, Vlad is a benevolent leader, Vlad is a noble man, no no no, I don't care. The screenplay is for the dramatic scenes is woeful, with stilted dialogue doing nothing for the actors involved. Poor Sarah Gadon, who I've pipped as a potential future star, an attractive young woman who most importantly can act, comes across like Lina Lamont in the talkie version of The Dueling Cavalier. Also, Dominic Cooper, whose character's only backstory consists of "they were once like brothers" in relation to Vlad, ends up failing to convince as the Sultan in what must be one of the most bizarre casting choices since John Wayne played Genghis Khan in The Conquerer. Not only do we have a screenplay with expository scenes that in no way resemble anything close to real conversations, it's also backed up (in the worst way) by Ramin Djawadi's score. I was shocked to discover that he done the music for this, because in both television and film he has been responsible for some of the better music to go with various productions over the past decade. That the maestro behind Prison Break, Person Of Interest, Game Of Thrones and last year's Pacific Rim came up with something so by the book and dull is quite astonishing in it's own right. What's even stranger is the fact that he left composing duties on Edge Of Tomorrow, a far superior film and one of the best of the year to do this. I think, Mr. Djawadi, a face-palm is in order!

To conclude, I'm not going to spend a lot of time recapping, just saying that I think it's a technically astute film with a good production value, with a bad screenplay that does no service to those actors playing them and a shoddy score. What is to be taken away from Dracula Untold first and foremost though is that it is an absolutely preposterous movie whose own ridiculousness is a double-edged sword. I have to tip my hat to any film that has enough balls to go out of its way to have a superpower-endowed Vlad the Impaler take on the hundred-thousand strong Turkish army singlehandedly, and there is some enjoyment to be derived from that. However, it must be remembered that despite the fact I liked some of the absurdity, it is still a simple and rather stupid film. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sneezy (my damn nose won't seem to stop bothering me!)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Pride

Directed by: Matthew Warchus

Produced by: David Livingstone

Screenplay by: Stephen Beresford

Starring: Ben Schnetzer
George MacKay
Freddie Fox
Faye Marsay
Dominic West
Andrew Scott
Paddy Considine
Bill Nighy
Imelda Staunton
Jessica Gunning

Music by: Christopher Nightingale

Cinematography by: Tat Radcliffe

Editing by: Melanie Oliver

Studio(s): BBC Films
Calamity Films

Distributed by: Pathe

Release date(s): May 23, 2014 (Cannes Film Festival)
September 12, 2014 (United Kingdom)
September 26, 2014 (United States, limited)

Running time: 120 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: N/A

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $7, 008, 058

Well, in case you can't tell, I've been busy on the reviewing front over the past few days (just a bit), which I'd like to attribute entirely to good productivity, some of which it is, but frankly it's also down to just needing to get the stuff done. After all, I just posted there three weeks into October my review for the months of August/September, so that gives you an idea of how backed up I am. However, that hasn't stopped me being busy on the reviewing front, for along with this, I have guaranteed reviews for Dracula Untold, The Equalizer and Ida coming up, and now doubt there will be others in the mix as well. With that being said, for all the latest and greatest as regards to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Pride, the second feature film from Matthew Warchus. Best known for his work in the theatre, having collaborated with the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Welsh and English National Opera(s), and has just this May succeeded Kevin Spacey as the creative director of The Old Vic Theatre Company, Warchus is on something of a career high right now. Unlike his first film, an adaptation of Sam Shepherd's play Simpatico, Pride has been critically acclaimed, done well at the box-office and been notably well received in the gay community, also winning the Queer Palm in the Directors' Fortnight of this year's Cannes Film Festival. The only controversy surrounding the film has been that of the rating issue in the United States, in that it has been given an R-rating, meaning that no one under the age of seventeen can see the film, and I do think the LGBT community have a right to be outraged. LGBT activist Peter Tatchell made a pertinent point, commenting "There's no significant sex or violence in Pride to justify strong ratings. The American classification board seems to view any film with even the mildest gay content as unfit for people under 17." Indeed, this opinion is backed up by Ian Burrell, who wrote an article for The Independent (which I will put a link to at the bottom of this review) detailing similarly how MPAA recently gave Love Is Strange, a drama about a gay Manhattan couple, an R-rating, as they did with gay-themed GBF, yet strangely over twenty years ago the Tom Hanks Oscar-winner Philadelphia received a PG-13 rating. What got me interested was that I am a strong supporter of the LGBT community, a straight ally who sees it as everybody's right to love whomever they please, regardless of gender, creed, religion and/or sexual orientation. However, as with other movies I go into with strong feelings, I have to remember to review the picture objectively. Okay, plot synopsis: based on a true story, Pride depicts a group of lesbian and gay activists who see an affinity with their struggle and that of the miners in 1984's Britain, and start up a group called Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners. When the National Union Of Mineworkers refuses to accept their donations, they instead take their donations to a small mining village in Wales, striking up an unlikely alliance between the two very different peoples of these communities. Got it? Good!

The first and foremost important thing that I'd like to say about Pride is the way in which the central characters are approached. Granted, I do have to admit I have an agenda on this matter, but if there's one thing I can't stand in contemporary comedy is the 'gay scare' outlook that they have homosexual characters. Actor Stephen Beresford, with his debut screenplay, writes no tropes, no gay-be's, no high-pitched screaming friends who live across the hall or stupid cardboard cutouts representing the gay community. Here, everyone, regardless of creed, race, religion or sexual orientation is on equal terms, and while it most certainly did not shy away from some of the harder material (the mining town's views of the LGSM group is the source of much tension), it is refreshing to see people of all types be treated equally with the same cadence and candour. It makes me shudder to think what would this film would have looked like in America done by Adam Sandler or someone of that ilk. Beresford's dialogue too is sharp, witty, full of inside jokes as pertains to LGBT culture and at many times had me laughing out loud, as it did the large part of the audience in the theatre. There's a line of dialogue near the start of the film when during a Gay Pride march a group of our main characters argue over carrying a banner, and one of them suggests "Give it to the lesbians, they love a banner!," and I thought "right, okay, they've got me, I'm interested." Very often, comedies try to be witty and oftentimes end up sounding like they're forcing out dialogue, leaving a little audible gap as though to say "okay folks, this is where you laugh," but here, it's genuinely punchy and snappy. The central cast, comprised of a combination of young talent and seasoned veterans, are uniformly strong. I think that the standout performance of the film belongs to Ben Schnetzer, who plays the de facto leader of the group Mark Ashton. Schnetzer fills the boots of this role with palpable credibility, not only being able to keep up with the dialogue but also being to convey with enough strength and conviction of this activist group being his brainchild. He's charismatic, energetic and also makes the character three-dimensional enough so it's not just a cult of personality. Schnetzer's Ashton has his own doubts and anxieties, and when the character goes through them, Schnetzer makes us want to see our rock pull through. Also, the strongest of the supporting cast were Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy as Dai Donovan and Cliff respectively. I think it is indicative once again of Considine's acting talents this Englishman from Staffordshire is able to be so chameleonic as to convince us of his legitimacy as a middle-aged little Welshman. Even though it's a supporting role he completely inhabits the part. Nighy too, who also masters a more soft-spoken form of Welsh dialect appropriate to the character, gives a sweet sort of poignancy to the awkward but well-meaning part of Cliff. Also on good form in the supporting cast are Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, George MacKay and Jessica Gunning, who as the future Member of Parliament for Swansea East Sian James is a revelation and potential future star in the making. Pride was also a well-shot film by Tat Radcliffe, and the music by Christopher Nightingale was good, as was the soundtrack of licensed tracks, though I must confess to laughing at a private joke as to whether or not Frankie Goes To Hollywood were going to show up (no points for guessing which one!). Finally, director Matthew Warchus, who although more experienced as a director in the theatre world, brings his tricks of the trade over to film, and delivers us a perfectly fine, entertaining piece of comedy. It's the kind of movie that deserves to have a good solid release, because, although it sounds patronising the way I put it, it's an easy sell and a real crowd-pleaser.

However, while you can tell that I liked Pride a lot, there are a couple of issues that deny it from a great movie in my opinion. As I said there at the conclusion of the last paragraph, it's an easy sell, which is both to it's praise and detriment. While it doesn't shy away from some of the homophobia the characters and people in the gay community would have suffered in mid-1980s Thatcherite Britain, I still feel that I doesn't dig as deep or is as provocative or challenging as other gay-themed films such as, say, last year's masterpiece Blue Is The Warmest Colour, which for me is perhaps the definitive 'gay' film and in it's admittedly long three-hour running time explored every aspect of a gay relationship (although, being straight I'm sure my opinion is considered 'clouded' by some), or Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. Also, much as I was high on the characters, dialogue, and tonal approach taken to the LGBT community, I think that we mustn't forget that the central plot could for intents and purposes been lifted from a bunch of other movies, all of which feature society's rejects (in this case, rejects of the precursor of today's so-called 'Big Society,' the masquerading louts) and down-and-outers banding together all in the cause of the greater good and a dream. Ultimately, as well as it is done, it cannot be forgotten that we get the same feel-good subject matter, a sort of coming-of-age story (especially for audience stand-in Joe, a closeted homosexual who represents the audience venture into this alien, weird and wonderful world), but with a bit of the working-class flavour of The Fully Monty and Billy Elliot, which can of course be traced back to the 1950s/1960s with John Osborne's Look Back In Anger and films like Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, This Sporting Life, Alfie and Kes. As I mentioned, it's done well, but in different incarnations, it has still been done before.

Despite those reservations as regards to the film, for all intents and purposes, being a retread of similar waters we've waded through several times before, Pride is still a very good, entertaining film. The cast, in particular, Ben Schnetzer, Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy are on fine form, actor Stephen Beresford's debut screenplay is for the most part a triumph, with engaging characters and is a comedy that is full of genuine wit and a good ear for dialogue. Finally, while this can also be attributed to director Matthew Warchus, who brings his tricks of the theatrical trade over to film, I admired how the film treated the subject (and subjects) with decency and respect. By no means is it a politically correct movie (anything overly-PC, let's face it, equates to watching paint dry), but it's an open-minded movie, balancing a fine line tonally. While nothing great, this is a real crowd-pleaser that should go down well with audiences.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bangin' (as in dead on, as in cool, etc...)

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: August/September 2014 - 20,000 Days On Earth

We get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Push The Sky Away, but there is also a strong 'narrative' drive that aims to back up the mythology that Cave has developed around himself in his artistry. Cave himself gives a great performance of 'Nick Cave playing a semi-autobiographical version of Nick Cave,' wading through his 'archives' and pondering, contemplating in various guises his life. It's a well-shot picture by Erik Wilson, the music is, of course, terrific, with Warren Ellis also contributing a score alongside The Bad Seeds' Push The Sky Away album, and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have a clear aesthetic direction of where they are taking this, which is to a very good place indeed.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10

Runner-Up: A Most Wanted Man - Driven by the central performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anton Corbijn's espionage thriller is a classy, elegant piece of work.

Honorable Mention: Lucy - An auteur (Luc Besson) at his most outrageous and imaginative, giving the film a delirious sense of playful insanity.

Second-Most Deadly Disease: The Expendables 3 - Not an outright bad movie, but certainly a poor, very weak one.

Avoid Like The Plague: Hector And The Search For Happiness - There's more happiness in Morrissey moaning about ghastliness and being "the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar."

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Maps To The Stars

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Produced by: Said Ben Said
Martin Katz
Michel Merkt

Screenplay by: Bruce Wagner

Story by: Bruce Wagner

Starring: Julianne Moore
Mia Wasikowska
John Cusack
Evan Bird
Rober Pattinson
Olivia Williams
Sarah Gadon

Music by: Howard Shore

Cinematography by: Peter Suschitzky

Editing by: Ronald Sanders

Studio(s): Prospero Pictures
SBS Productions 

Distributed by: Entertainment One
Focus World (United States)

Release date(s): May 19, 2014 (Cannes Film Festival, premiere)
May 21, 2014 (France)
September 26, 2014 (United Kingdom)
February 27, 2015 (United States)

Running time: 112 minutes

Country(s): Canada
United States

Language: English

Production budget: $13 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $3, 231, 619 (certain European territories only)

Allo, allo, allo! Basically, because work made an undisputed balls-up of my shifts, costing me twenty-four hours and a wad of dough, I now may have no work until Saturday, and as such it has freed me up a bit of time to potter around and get a few other things done. I'm firing in an application for a PGCE so that I can gain the necessary qualifications to be able to teach in the United Kingdom, amongst (hopefully) a myriad of other things to occupy my time. Of course, this includes the movies (my ever constant!), and as such I will be following this review with a belated round-up for August/September, and then shooting into October. Already I've seen Pride, Dracula Untold, The Equalizer and Ida, and I'm sure there's more to come, so, for all the latest and greatest on the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Maps To The Stars, the latest film by David Cronenberg. For those of you who don't know, I'm as much a Cronenberg fan as I professed to be a fan of Nick Cave in my previous review for 20,000 Days On Earth. In the first half of his career, he explored his thematic content through genre films, mostly in the 'body horror' genre, of which he is seen as an informal godfather, with the likes of Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly and Dead Ringers, before transitioning in recent years into more stately thrillers and literary adaptations such as Naked Lunch, Crash, A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises. Originally wishing to be a writer (indeed, at the tender age of seventy-one, he's just published his first book, Consumed), his films have the same literary qualities as the likes of Philip K. Dick, using genre fiction as a starting point to create metaphors and allegorical tales to get across what he has to say about society and the world we live in. A couple of summers ago, Cronenberg came a cropper of the fanboy/hipster community (probably the same ones who block-vote their 'favourite' films into iMDB's Top 250) when comments, not untrue but certainly taken out of context, made by him questioning a journalist's assertion that superhero comic book movies "'have shown to rise to the highest level of cinematic art.'" When Cronenberg argued that Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy was "still Batman running around in a stupid cape" and that Memento was still his best film because anyone who has to work within the studio system "has got twenty people sitting on his head at every moment," the Internet exploded with articles such as "David Cronenberg Slams Superhero Movies, Calls 'Dark Knight Rises' Boring" (he was referring, incidentally, to The Dark Knight, said Hollywood Reporter), with comments from users labelling him as "pretentious," "pompous" and an outright "wanker." All things aside, whatever way you look at it, he's still one of the most relevant of contemporary working filmmakers, and Maps To The Stars is a notable first, given that it is actually his first film to be shot in the United States. Plot synopsis: Maps To The Stars is a satirical drama based around Hollywood, following the stories of Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a famous but fading actress gunning for a role in a remake of a movie made famous by her mother Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon), an iconic Hollywood actress that died tragically young in a fire and occasionally makes appearances in daughter's weaker moments, who gets a new personal assistant in a girl by the name of Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman seemingly obsessed with Hollywood and ropes limousine driver and struggling actor/screenwriter Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson) into her plans, and the Weiss family, headed by high-profile TV psychologist Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), who is Segrand's personal physio/psychotherapist, his ambitious and controlling wife, Cristina (Olivia Williams), who manages the career of her son Benji (Evan Bird), a teen sensation trying to get his career back on track after a stint in rehab. Got it? Good (that may be the single longest sentence I have ever written!)!

Starting off with the good, Maps To The Stars brings with it perhaps the best overall ensemble cast in a film this year so far. All seven of the principals are on form, and I'll go through each of them one by one. Julianne Moore delivers a powerhouse performance as Havana Segrand. In a multi-faceted part in which she manages to both intimidating and vulnerable, oftentimes playing off of entirely opposites on the emotional spectrum at the same time, Moore plays it just right, never teetering over too far into melodrama or parodic caricature. The character manages to conjure different feelings towards her from the audience; at times, I found her to be very funny and charming, others wholly deplorable. It's a credit to Moore's talents that she can pull that off. Mia Wasikowska proves once again (after Park Chan-wook's Stoker) that she can do a good job hinting at underlying menace in her performances. Even though on the surface Agatha seems to have this air of innocence, Wasikowska suggests a deep dark intensity inside of her. John Cusack gets his best role in a long time in Stafford Weiss, the character on the written page playing to all his ticks and eccentricities as an actor, doing right by convincing us of that Weiss is convinced of his own deluded conviction (I love doing those quibblers!). Olivia Williams has a bit of a Mommie Dearest thing going in as Cristina Weiss, forever doting upon son Benji in a loving manner, but not forgetting that she's projecting her financial investment. Sarah Gadon, who in her third Cronenberg collaboration is proving herself a strong candidate as a rising star, gets an interesting small part as Clarice Taggart. She does a great job acting out as a creepy projection of her daughter Havana's insecurities and anxieties, her ghostly conscience. Alongside Moore, I'd highlight Evan Bird's performance as Benji Weiss the standouts of the picture. Bird's Weiss is arrogant little douchebag with his head up his ass, to put it lightly, however, Bird's smart enough to let us know that what this all stems from is deep trauma. Like Moore, this is a multi-faceted performance, as we see him in the midst of his existential crisis struggling to fit back into the LA party scene after his stint in rehab, grimacing behind an energy drink after turning down an offer to do drugs. As far as the film's attempt at satire, this caricature of child stars gone wrong (not dissimilar to what's happening with Justin Bieber of late) is where the razor-sharp humour works best. Even Robert Pattinson, who it must be said gets the short end of the stick character-wise out of the principals, manages to break out and suggest at the shattered dreams that Hollywood imposes upon people. Now, while I do have problems with the script (which I will get to), I do believe that part of the reason that the actors were able to get out these great performance was because of the characters created by Bruce Wagner. On the written page, they are wonderfully realised, fully three-dimensional and completely buck the possibility of there being such a thing as a trope or stock character in the film. It's refreshing to see such a large ensemble today for the most part not being deprived in any way character wise. Also, while at times the dialogue in the film seems rather stilted, when taken as a whole, having seen the overall film, you do come to understand the hidden nuances as these seemingly awkward and nonsensical moments. This is the kind of movie which I'm sure would benefit and reveal more from a second viewing, but I have to go with my first time reaction. Also, this being a David Cronenberg movie, many of his regular collaborators are involved in the production, something which does serve to benefit the overall picture. Peter Suschitzky lets the cameras roll with a lot of extended long takes throughout the film, which lets the actors do their thing and give the best performances that they can. He makes it a visually stylish and impressive looking piece with a specific look that also accentuates the artistic direction of the film and the production design. Also, while it is oftentimes used very minimally in terms of screen-time, Howard Shore's score, in harmony Suschitzky's photography provides the film with some it's best moments. Taken aside from all the wiffle waffle in the script, Shore's score, which takes a lot of it's beats and instruments from fast-paced tribal-styled rhythms, lots of percussive hand drums and string instruments like cellos, with a keyboard melody in the background. All diegetic sound is muted in these scenes, such as the scene with Wasikowska's Agatha dancing by herself, and they are just shut off from the rest of the picture, wonderfully transcendent in their own way. Finally, Maps To The Stars proves once again that David Cronenberg, one of the greatest directors in the history of the medium, is still in his seventies taking on challenging and provocative pictures. Although the results have not entirely been successful, on the basis of this and his last film Cosmopolis, it seems that Cronenberg is going even further down the narrative rabbit-hole, daring us to follow him in his quest to explore ourselves and the world we live in. Regardless of your opinions on the films or the man himself, one can't deny the pertinence of David Cronenberg's artistry, and this quality is present in Maps To The Stars.

However, while I found much to like in Maps To The Stars, it unfortunately is, for a number of reasons, not the great movie that it could and perhaps should have been. As I've mentioned, David Cronenberg is gutsy as hell, taking on such challenging projects, but part of the reason that this film has been so polarising is because, frankly, it's not an overly accessible film to watch. I know this sounds like an awfully patronising thing to say, but most audiences will not be eating up this particular blend of satire and drama. If you want to look at satires which have a tone which have a more easily engaging nature and do great jobs of sending up Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole, look no further than Singin' In The Rain, Nashville, This Is Spinal Tap or Team America: World Police, because not only are they savage indictments of the business, they're also very watchable features. Speaking of satire, Bruce Wagner's script, while featuring great characters, is stuck between two different central theses, that of the sendup of Hollywood and the bizarre familial relationships of Havana Segrand and her mother Clarice Taggart, and that of the Weiss'. A great film would be one where both are not only dealt with equally, but both of a similar quality, so one does not diminish the other. The satirical side of the story is lacking in true depth, basically saying things that have been said so many times before, that Hollywood is an incubus (I would say succubus, but the suggestion here is towards a male-dominated industry) screwing itself to death with it's inherent vice, it's fundamental instability pushing it towards a downward spiral of deterioration (though I think I put it better than the movie in one sentence!). Also, while the familial story is better written, it is also more distinctly Cronenbergian territory and I think as an artist he subconsciously leans more in this direction, and as such this dynamic is what I felt ended up being more interesting that anything the film had to say in the way of polemicising Hollywood. It's a wonderfully twisted little play at work, but it does serve to highlight what's wrong with the movie as well as right. Furthermore, with this extra material that does seem like padding, it's also about fifteen to twenty minutes too long. I think editor Ronald Sanders could have displayed a little more vigilance in fine-tuning the picture and cutting it down to a reasonable ninety to one-hundred minute running time.

Now, with all the space I've spent in this review on what I found wrong with Maps To The Stars, you'd think that I found it to be a five out of ten movie. Quite the contrary, I did find it to be a very good movie with a lot of favourable attributes. It features the best ensemble cast I have seen in a film this year thus far, with terrific performances all round but particularly from Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Evan Bird. While the script has issues, what Bruce Wagner has done right is writing characters and dialogue different little nuances to it. Cronenberg regulars Peter Suschitzky and Howard Shore's work comes across as operating in tandem, harmony, in their respective departments of cinematography and musical compositions. What you take away from Maps To The Stars is an artist in David Cronenberg, who despite having been making films since the mid-1960s refuses to compromise himself, continuing to be challenging and chasing the white rabbit. However, remember to take it with a pinch of salt, for when the film tries to straddle what it has to say about the family along with Hollywood satire, the latter side of the equation flounders. Also, the movie could have had a decent amount shaved off of it's running time by editor Ronald Sanders. Audacious and daring, no doubt, but not essential viewing.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pleasantly tired (satisfied in the knowledge that much work is being done!)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - 20,000 Days On Earth

Directed by: Iain Forsyth
Jane Pollard

Produced by: Dan Bowen
Alex Dunnett
James Wilson

Screenplay by: Iain Forsyth
Jane Pollard
Nick Cave

Starring: Nick Cave
Susie Bick
Warren Ellis
Darian Leader
Ray Winstone
Blixa Bargeld
Kylie Minogue

Music by: Warren Ellis

Cinematography by: Erik Wilson

Editing by: Jonathan Amos

Studio(s): Corniche Pictures
Pulse Film

Distributed by: Drafthouse Films

Release date(s): January 20, 2014 (Sundance Film Festival)
September 19, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 95 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: under £2million (estimated)

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $192, 108 (domestic gross only)

Aloha, aloha! That review for A Most Wanted Man was meant to be posted on Thursday or Friday, but for complicated, stupid and rather boring reasons, I didn't get it sorted until yesterday. It was quite the annoyance, considering Blogger freezing on the 'Insert image' window before it had loaded the exit button meant that I lost two paragraphs of good material. Anywho, the march goes on, and after this, Maps To The Stars finishes out August/September (finally!), and then I get onto October, for which I have already seen Pride, Dracula Untold, The Equalizer, and will be going to the Queens Film Theatre for Ida later on. So, for all the latest and greatest involving the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is 20,000 Days On Earth, which has become known in the art-house and festival circuits as 'the Nick Cave documentary.' For those of you who don't know already, I'm a rabid Nick Cave fan. Notwithstanding his incredible work since the seventies as a musician and songwriter (being a member of The Birthday Party, Grinderman and the eponymous Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, the latter group's The Firstborn Is Dead and Your Funeral My Trial being among my favourite albums), he is also an author (And The Ass Saw The Angel, The Death Of Bunny Munro), screenwriter (John Hillcoat's The Proposition), film composer (The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, The Road) and occasional actor (Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire, Ghosts... Of The Civil Dead), so, yeah, I like Nick Cave. A lot. However, as I mentioned in relation Philip Seymour Hoffman, one must not be swayed by positive feelings towards a given figure, so I will remain as unbiased as possible here. The film is written (alongside Cave) and directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, and when you see 'written' in relation to a documentary, is automatically makes you go, "hmm?" because, after all, aren't written screenplays the realm of fiction, not reality? However, Forsyth and Pollard, who have worked on short films commissioned by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds covering all of their albums, decided instead to focus on Nick Cave, the Myth, as opposed to Nick Cave, the Man, "because he still has that mythology intact, we felt a real urge of 'Fuck, let's protect it! Let's not chisel away at that.'" The central concept is that we follow Nick Cave through a fictional twenty-four hours of his life, very meta and all, Forsyth saying that "There's a truth and honesty in the film, but it's not a biological truth." Truth I think is key to both documentary and fictional film, but Werner Herzog differentiates between "facts" and "truth," arguing that he's more interested in the pursuit of "an ecstasy of truth, a much deeper stratum," than sticking to the typical drawing board, even it means using narratives and things more associated with fictional film. It's an interesting philosophy that certainly justifies Forsyth and Pollard's film in terms of theory and aesthetic approach, but does the film itself stand up on it's own two feet and put theory in practice, execution? Let's find out!

As I've mentioned, I'm going to try my best to be as unbiased as I can, but I would be a liar if I said that I didn't go into this with a certain level of excitement as a Nick Cave fan, and I my positive expectations were duly confirmed. We get the behind-the-scenes look at the making of Push The Sky Away, the most recent Bad Seeds album, the recording of which, when shot by Erik Wilson, who oftentimes simply lets the camera roll in extended long takes, provide for some genuinely beautiful film moments. Taken away from the 'narrative,' these songs unfolding before are like little encapsulations kept separate from any particular moment in time. Also, we get Cave going through his 'archives,' looking into his past and we get a myriad of stories and anecdotes, with both a psychiatrist figure and the likes of Warren Ellis, who in himself becomes a strange sort of figure of humour throughout the piece, recalling Nina Simone terrified everyone in her path, requesting "some champagne, some cocaine and some sausages," and keeping the chewing gum she stuck onto her piano before her performance. Speaking of figures, Cave does an interesting bit of work as 'Nick Cave playing a semi-autobiographical version of Nick Cave.' Buoyed up by a script that serves to preserve the mythology that he has created around himself through his work, Cave's twenty-four voyage enables us, through him, to be able explore all the facets of his 'character.' He's meditative, contemplating the time he has spent and the life he has lead, and it leads to a fascinating exploration of the personal philosophies that have brought him to this point, such as his constant digesting of information ("I'm a cannibal looking for someone to cook in a pot") and his eulogising on the transformative power of art and music. Interestingly, despite his talking about all of this "important shit," Cave never once comes across as a pretentious, artsy-fartsy oaf, more than willing to be able to realise his limitations and is charmingly frank in recalling his past troubles with drug abuse and exploring his relationships over the years with genuine earnestness. There's an old saying that you should never meet your heroes because they will only disappoint you, but this hero is one that most certainly will not. Even if you are not a fan of Nick Cave, there much enjoyment to be found from 20,000 Days On Earth. The aforementioned Erik Wilson shoots a good-looking picture, giving it a crisp quality which a lot of other docs are lacking. So many films, never mind documentaries, have an ugly digital photography look which dims the colour palette, but here, Wilson uses the Arri Alexa, surely one of the best digital most picture cameras, to it's fullest. He always seems to have a right mind as to how to moodily light the film, the archive scenes in particular, almost reminiscent of the shadowy rooms in Citizen Kane and Blade Runner, suiting the general atmosphere of the film. Also, the script is intelligent enough that although this is a 'fictionalised documentary,' it balances the line between reality and fiction so finely that it keeps the viewer guessing. Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, Kylie Minogue, various people from Cave's life pop up in his car over the course of the day; are these projections of Cave's own consciousness as he drives from station to station (not back to Dusseldorf City, but rather Brighton!)? Finally, as much as Cave is the author of his own mythology, I think that Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard deserves a lot of credit for bringing that across to the big screen. Quite clearly, now is the right time unleash this beast upon the world, and over the course of the film's ninety-five minutes do a fine job of keeping us engaged in the narrative. Earlier on, I mentioned earnestness in relation to Cave, and the same can be said about the honest portrayal of truth from Forsyth and Pollard. The film would have come across as outrageously pompous and self-serving if there wasn't such a sincerity to it which I found to be thoroughly touching at times.

Now, while I had a lot to admire in 20,000 Days On Earth, there was one issue that I found contention with. It's one that has afflicted a number of different documentaries of recent years, and that is the multimodal approach towards the editing. The film isn't as deeply affected by multimodality as, say, Debtocracy, Collapse or Beware Of Mr. Baker, but it still has a negative impact on the overall picture. Making it a multimodal piece is at odds with the 'narrative' concept of the picture, ensuring that it lacks the consistency which makes a great documentary become a masterpiece. When I think of the best documentaries of the past five years, things like Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, Burma VJ: Reporting From A Closed Country, Restrepo, Senna, Into The Abyss The Act Of Killing, all of these films have a central concept that drives it forward, and they through with it right to the bitter end. Don't get me wrong, I think that a lot of the time editor Jonathan Amos does a fine job cutting the film, so I wouldn't lay it at his feet, but Forsyth and Pollard obviously decided to include these digressions, which, while on paper maybe seem appropriate, in execution work to quite the opposite effect. It's a shame, but that is the case here, and detracts this from being a better film than it should be.

That being said, despite my issue with some of the multimodal aspects of the film, which I do think detract from the overall piece, 20,000 Days On Earth is still a great documentary, be you a Nick Cave fan or not. We get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Push The Sky Away, but there is also a strong 'narrative' drive that aims to back up the mythology that Cave has developed around himself in his artistry. Cave himself gives a great performance of 'Nick Cave playing a semi-autobiographical version of Nick Cave,' wading through his 'archives' and pondering, contemplating in various guises his life. It's a well-shot picture by Erik Wilson, the music is, of course, terrific, with Warren Ellis also contributing a score alongside The Bad Seeds' Push The Sky Away album, and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have a clear aesthetic direction of where they are taking this, which is to a very good place indeed.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Itched 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - A Most Wanted Man

Directed by: Anton Corbijn

Produced by: Andrea Calderwood
Simon Cornwell
Stephen Cornwell
Gail Egan

Screenplay by: Andrew Bovell

Based on: A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Rachel McAdams
Willem Dafoe
Daniel Bruhl
Nina Hoss
Robin Wright
Grigoriy Dobrygin

Music by: Herbert Gronemeyer

Cinematography by: Benoit Delhomme

Editing by: Claire Simpson

Studio(s): Demarest Films
Potboiler Productions
The Ink Factory
Film4 Productions

Distributed by: Lionsgate (United States)
Roadside Attractions
Entertainment One (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): January 19, 2014 (Sundance Film Festival)
July 25, 2014 (United States)
September 5, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 121 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $15 million (estimated)

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $17, 946, 584

Hahoy there, children, me again with the obligatory preamble paragraph! I've been keeping myself busy in general, back to tricks with the Scouts, security work and what have you, but because I've a little less on the plate as regards the latter, I've been able to get a bit more time to see movies, which I think is necessary, given that there's a few movies I've to see. Now, I'm not making any promises, in case I miss any, but right now at The Strand they're playing The Boxtrolls, The Equaliser, A Walk Among The Tombstones and Gone Girl, all of which I plan on seeing. Hopefully, I'll get to watch all of them, but there's always the chance I'll miss one or two. Anywho, as I am want to always mention, I have a good lot guaranteed, for I'll follow this with reviews for 20,000 Days On Earth, Maps To The Stars, rounding out August/September, and then I'll shoot onto October, starting off with Pride, Dracula Untold (which I saw at a matinee at the Dublin Road Movie House) and try to also put in words on Lone Survivor, Child Of God and Under The Skin soon enough. So, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is A Most Wanted Man, an adaptation of the 2008 John le Carre novel, whose work has been the source of film adaptations for nearly fifty years since 1965's film version of The Sky Who Came In From The Cold, plus several television production and radio plays based on his work. The film is perhaps most notable in an unfortunate manner due it being the last completed film released in the lifetime of the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, the picture's central actor. Just to say a few words, Hoffman was in his lifetime and retrospectively is regarding as among the most admired and versatile actors of the past twenty years. His rich filmography, incredible for a man who died at the untimely age of forty-six, leaves one to only imagine what he could have done with another ten, or even twenty years. However, as beloved as Hoffman was and is, it's important to not let one's judgement be clouded by the positive sentiment at his vast body of work. The film is directed by Anton Corbijn, best known for a long time as a photographer and music video director, collaborating with the likes of the Art Of Noise, Echo & The Bunnymen, U2, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Nirvana, Johnny Cash, Danzig, Rollins Band, Metallica, Coldplay, Arcade Fire and many more too numerous to put down here. Over the past decade though, he has carved himself a fine reputation as a feature filmmaker, his first two fiction features in Control and The American being outright masterpieces. Notwithstanding that both saw Corbijn's bring his trademark keen eye for beautiful photography over to the medium, but he also displayed a natural's ability to bring the best out in actors. Both of the leads in those films, Sam Riley and George Clooney, won Best Male Actor in a Leading Role for their performances as Ian Curtis and 'Jack' in 2007 and 2010 respectively. So, as I mentioned in relation to Hoffman, I was looking forward to this film as the third Anton Corbijn feature, but I can't let my good will cloud my judgements on the film as a separate work in itself. So, with that basil exposition out of the way, let's get down to the real plot synopsis: Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a refugee from Chechnya enter Hamburg, Germany, illegally. Learning of Karpov's presence by CCTV footage and confirming from Russian intelligence that he is considered to be an extremely dangerous terrorist, German espionage agent Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman) leads his team to investigate the man, taking them into a labyrinthine plot involving suspected funnelling of terrorist activities, money laundering and all sorts of things that make up for a potentially engaging espionage thriller of intrigue and mystery. Shall we dance?

Starting off with the good, as before in Corbijn's feature films, he gets a terrific central performance from his lead actor, as Philip Seymour Hoffman immerses himself into the character of Gunther Bachmann. Mastering the German accent and all the personality traits, such as the persistent smoking and drinking, not dissimilar to Humphrey Bogart's characters in that regard, he's fully believable as this driven individual, determined to crack this case. Not only that, but physically Hoffman is in synch with Bachmann, even right down to the heavy breathing with which he inflects him, suggesting the character having the weight of the world on his shoulders. It's not an Oscar-bait, show-off, "Look at me, I'm acting" kind of performance, but seeing as how Hoffman was always more interesting in playing people, it's a fine swansong to his career and life. While Hoffman delivers the key performance, there are also some other good ones. I thought that Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Nina Hoss, Willem Dafoe and Grigoriy Dobrygin were all solid in their parts. McAdams and Dobrygin share a number of strong scenes together, both idealists who believe in their respective goals, and there are a couple of twists and turns along the way which make their relationship move in mysterious ways, to use a term, adding a great level of tension to the plot. This point here brings me to the film's script by Andrew Bovell. For the most part, this is a masterful, tightly wound plot, which is kept interesting and full of tension throughout. Bovell subtly adds layers of density and intricacy, building up all of our questions and interest in the story, right up until the ending, which I won't get into detail about, but I have to say is perhaps the best executed one I have seen all year so far. The dialogue too displays a good ear, in that we have all of the intelligence terms of reference and glossary mixed in with the basil exposition, so that the plot drives forward while feeling suitably realistic. The conversations in the film are engaging and generally poetry to the ear. It reminds me of something that would go down well on stage; after all, much of the movie consists of, and derives it's tension from people talking. As I mentioned, there are a lot of questions brought up in the movie, and it's a constant guessing game as to who's working with who, who's conning who etc., giving it a very paranoid atmosphere. It's also splendidly shot by Benoit Delhomme, whose photography gives A Most Wanted Man an elegant, art deco look. One of the recurring traits of this film is a sort of minimalism, which is as prominent in the cinematography as, say, in Herbert Gronemeyer's score. There's nothing overt about the movie, and it does not force itself upon the audience. It's an example of classical film storytelling being done rather well. Finally, Anton Corbijn, although delivering what is perhaps his most straightforward film, proves once again that he is a talent to be reckoned with. Having already done one of the great rock biopics and an art-house inspired thriller, it's interesting to see Corbijn ply his craft to the espionage thriller, and from what we see here, he's more than up to the task, for this is an intelligent, edgy and classy thriller.

However, much as I liked A Most Wanted Man, I think that it would be dishonest to overlook a few of the film's flaws that deny it from entering the upper echelons. The last film I reviewed was Lucy, a film which I deemed could not be a masterpiece on the basis that it was not designed to aspire to this level of greatness, whereas A Most Wanted Man's issues fit in with that of most other pictures, as in obvious flaws which the filmmakers did not purposefully introduce. 

(At this point here, Blogger decided to once again play it's hand in excising some of my critical arguments by freezings on it's 'Insert Image' window before it had managed to load up the option of cancelling out or closing the window so it was impossible for me to select the 'Save' option: thanks for that one guys! It doesn't happen often, but I would like to be able article write my articles without having to lose two paragraphs worth of material because an error outside of my control! Back to A Most Wanted Man. In a nutshell, what I said was wrong with the film was that while Bovell's screenplay is strong, some of the characters are underwritten and that this flaw crossed over into the acting department. As such, a talented actor like Daniel Bruhl plays a nothing role whose shoes part could have been filled by anyone. I then concluded by saying that despite these issues, I found it to be an intelligent, classy and edgy thriller. Grounded by a terrific central performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, who's surrounded by a mostly on-form supporting cast who are buoyed by a largely solid screenplay. I also found the minimalist photography by Benoit Delhomme to be very elegant and art deco inspired, following the 'less is more' aesthetic philosophy, but that good cinematography should be no surprise considered Anton Corbijn's involved. My final note was that Corbijn was more than poised to deal with this material, which to say is his 'worst film' does it a disservice, considering Control and The American were masterpieces, and that he is one of the most interesting auteurs of the past ten years.)

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sniffly, phlegmy, sneezy (after working in too much cold weather, I'm sure I look like a hillbilly version of Wendell from The Simpsons)