Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Fury

Directed by: David Ayer

Produced by: Bill Block
John Lesher
Alex Ott
Ethan Smith
David Ayer

Screenplay by: David Ayer

Starring: Brad Pitt
Shia LaBeouf
Logan Lerman
Michael Pena
Jon Bernthal
Jason Isaacs
Scott Eastwood

Music by: Steven Price

Cinematography by: Roman Vasyanov

Editing by: Dody Dorn

Studio(s): Le Grisbi Productions
QED International
LStar Capital
Crave Film

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Release date(s): October 17, 2014 (United States)
October 22, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 134 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Production budget: $68 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $153, 850, 826

October finally got out of the way with a well-belated posting of my review for the month there, but even if I've been a bit slower of late with regards to the words on the proverbial page, I've been to the cinema a number of times recently, and can guarantee as such upcoming reviews for both Nightcrawler and Interstellar, and no doubt I will get to see some more down the line. Speaking of movies, of late I've started taking down a little list of movies that I watch in my own free time which I consider to be masterpieces. Recently, I saw Fritz Lang's Metropolis for the first time during the Belfast Film Festival's Sci-Fi Now programme, and was instantly hooked on it. Much as I have admiration for silent cinema, I think it is a natural thing, even for cineastes, to have to make an effort to get into the pictures from the silent era, almost as a default. I did not have that issue whatsoever with Metropolis, which is a two-and-a-half hour long masterpiece of science-fiction cinema, and I was gripped throughout. Call me preemptory, call this a spoiler alert, but I reckon this is going into my Hall Of Fame this year. So, 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 Fury, a war film directed by David Ayer, his third picture over the past two years, and starring Brad Pitt in the lead role. Ayer is arguably at the middle of a creative peak, and Pitt has for many years been farming projects for himself, in that he usually takes only one lead role in a film per year, which makes him less prolific, but I would argue makes him a more lucrative land for the project as a whole, using his star power to raise the picture's profile as opposed to his own. Ayer had the cast undergo a strict regimen to prepare his actors for the conditions of war, a four-month process including a boot camp run by Navy SEALs, encouraging them to spar with one another, and live for extended periods of time in a tank together. On a side note to that, Shia LaBeouf, he of contemporary meta-modernist plagiarist performance art and general douchebaggery, incurred the wrath of cast and crew, for in his 'dedication' to his role, he pulled out his own tooth, cut his face and would refuse to shower "understand what his character would have been through." Speaking as someone who plans on growing a beard and trying to lose some weight for a part in a short film I plan on shooting this coming Spring, I wish I could say I understand, but really I don't. Shia, just stop! Ayer's shoot, which took place largely in the Oxfordshire countryside in England, also caused controversy because a scene being shot on Remembrance Day 2013 featuring extras in Nazi uniforms. So, yes, I'm sure that it was an interesting shoot. Anywho, lets get down to plot synopsis: as the Allies make the final push into Nazi Germany, we follow U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Pitt), who commands an M4A3E8 Sherman tank, christened Fury, in the 66th Armoured Regiment. It's five-man, all-veteran crew of Boyd 'Bible' Swan (LaBeouf), gunner, Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis (Jon Bernthal), loader, and Trini 'Gordo' Garcia (Michael Pena), driver, are one short when their assistant driver/bow gunner was killed in their last battle, and his replacement is a recently enlisted Army typist, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), which causes much tension among the crew, as he initially seems unfit for the job and is deemed unworthy by the crew to fill their recently deceased colleagues boots. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, what Fury does best a whole is present a wholly unflinching depiction of the horrors of war. It is no holds barred savagery that refuses to hold back to typical war film stereotypes. For anyone who didn't like the heroism of Lone Survivor, this offers an alternative viewing suggestion, for there is no sense of glamorisation or attempt to make war in any way look heroic. In their respective departments, regular Ayer collaborators Roman Vasyanov and Dody Dorn attain a distinctive visual look and montage aesthetic as cinematographer and editor. Also contributing to the overall atmosphere is the superb production and costume design. Unlike Child Of God, which was just a nasty looking film, Fury is a picture where everything onscreen seems to have grime, dust, dirt under the fingernails. There are no squeaky clean uniforms (after an interlude in the film when the rookie Norman and Sergeant Collier make the acquaintance of two German village women, it's quite startling the visible change in Pitt after he cleans up) and the tanks/main tank in the film are shown to have all been through the wringer, showing the wear, tear and spoils, if you will, of war. All of this is done with specific purpose and drive towards a goal, which, although nothing new, is a vivid depiction that, yes, war is indeed hell. Also, the choreography of the tank battle sequences, which could have been really dull, are done out with, despite the Shermans and other tanks' slow treading, all the flair of a speeding car chase, the only difference being that the vehicles are fitted with mounted cannons. At these points, the presentation of violence is not dissimilar to that of Sam Peckinpah, unflinching, explosive and very, very Bloody. In particular, the relentless of the final battle sequence is reminiscent of the bombardment and insane camaraderie in bloodshed present in Cross Of Iron (although Peckinpah's film is much more overtly stylised, this is the previous work which Fury most resembles), Pitt's Collier being reminiscent of James Coburn's Corporal Rolf Steiner, which brings me to my next point, in that Fury is a well cast film. I think that Brad Pitt gives a strong sense of pathos to Collier who, although curt and harsh on the surface, is really dealing with deep trauma from his many battles in war. He's also at exactly the right age to be playing the role; he could not have done a part like this in his period of largest prominence during the 1990s to mid-2000s. Although for the past ten years he has not been the go-to matinee idol, he's always been a credible actor, and indeed since Mr. And Mrs. Smith, unlike Tom Cruise, who never seems to age, Pitt's career went a different path which includes the best work of his career. From 2005-2014 you can include Babel, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, The Tree Of Life and Killing Them Softly as quality lead performances, and his work in Fury this is of the same ilk. It's also the best I have seen Shia LaBeouf in quite a while. I cannot remember the last time I saw him deliver such a naturalistic and unforced performance, for in the past he has had a habit of being too showy an actor, someone who visibly tries too hard. There's nothing wrong with trying, that's what actors do, but making the effort 'visible' onscreen is another matter. Acting, getting into character is not about a performance of an actor trying to get into character, but simply being the character. That's is what LaBeouf does here, which is just fine and hopefully it's a sign of better things to come. With Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal and Michael Pena rounding out the central tank crew, they're a fairly likeable bunch. Also, Steven Price, who came to prominence last year with his excellent score for Gravity (for which he won an Academy Award and the Ennio Morricone Award from yours truly), is on board as the film's composer, and he delivers a suitably atmospheric piece of work. Finally, as a director this is quite a work for David Ayer. Deviating from his usual forte of urban crime flicks, Ayer delivers a unique and interesting perspective on the war film. While he may not be saying anything new, he does it with the same confrontational panache that we have seen before in films like Training Day and Harsh Time. He is a perfectionist, both in presenting an authentic truth (Ayer went as far as to get the last surviving operational Tiger I tank for a tank battle) and his own brand of aesthetic truth in presenting the horrors of war. Although it is by no means perfect (which I will get to), Ayer delivers an assured film in Fury which is one of the better depiction of war in the five years since Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. 

Now, while I think that Fury is a distinctive and interesting war film, I do not think that it is a great film on account of the fact that while it has real strengths, it also has a number of weaknesses which detract from the potential it had. The crux of these problems lies within the script, which was written solely by director David Ayer. It's obvious that Ayer has a specific place he wants to take his film, and while it doesn't say anything new that we haven't seen before, that's all fine and good. However, density and layers have to be developed from the bottom up, and what's problematic here is that while the house might look good and well, the central foundations are weak. Any film, in my opinion (unless it's something abstract like Koyaanisqatsi), has to start with characters, and while they are well-played by a likeable cast of actors, the characters themselves are underdeveloped. You never get the sense of them as people but rather as tropes (I'm so sick of the whole 'rookie/youngster as audience identification point') dragged out for Ayer to explore whatever commentary on the war he wants to make. He can say what he wants to say, but before that I have to have a reason to give a damn about these characters, to have empathy with them in their plight in the midst of a monstrous litany of atrocity exhibitions (wink wink, J.G. Ballard!), and I just can't figure one out. That's not a fault on my part, that's one on Ayer. For instance, in the course of researching for this review, as I do with all reviews, I had Wikipedia open to help me fill gaps, but in this case, it was more so, because I failed to remember a number of the names of the film's key characters. With Oliver Stone's Platoon, which I would say is among the five best films ever made in the war film genre, I could remember the names of the majority of an entire ensemble of characters, right down to minor parts with minimal screen time. Each time we lost a character in that film, we felt the loss of morale of each member remaining in that platoon; here, someone dies, they feel like throwaway, expendable hunks of meat. It's a similar problem to that which I found in Lone Survivor, and to me this is indicative of the fact that it really isn't enough to just say something or have a message: you must have characters and/or a reason to care for a film to fully succeed.

Aside from that issue with characterisation, which I must say is a glaring weakness that detracts in a major way from what could have a really great film, it still remains a very good piece of work. Technically, from a cinematography and editing standpoint, it's astute, and the stunts/choreography has something of the explosive vivaciousness of Sam Peckinpah about it. It's a well-cast film, with the primaries all good in their roles, even if their characters aren't particularly memorable. Steven Price crafts a suitably atmospheric score, and David Ayer as a director has an assured and distinctive vision of his portrayal on the horrors of war. By no means perfect or even great, but still one of the better war films of recent memory. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Chilled (long few weeks of work, this week is looking a lot calmer, which is just fine as the impending insanity of Christmas dawns!)

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: October 2014 - Gone Girl

 As far as a mainstream film goes, we get the genre thrills and twists of the mystery genre, but also the artistry that comes across with the rich thematic content, and the meticulous craftsmanship of David Fincher, his regular collaborators, and the two career-best performances of leads Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Gillian Flynn's book was a literary phenomenon, and judging by the resounding response, both critically and commercially to the feature-film adaptation, the buzz created by the word-of-mouth has yet to reach it's climax.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.3/10

Runner-Up: Ida - Pawel Pawlikowski has a clear and assured artistic direction with this brisk, accessible, engaging movie, and I would be surprised if it didn't remain in my top ten of the year come awards season.

Second-Most Deadly Disease: Child Of God - Admirable in some regards, but inherently flawed in others.

Avoid Like The Plague: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - As it stands, this is the worst film of the year, and it's going to take something exceptionally bad to knock it off that perch.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Child Of God

Directed by: James Franco

Produced by: Caroline Aragon
Vince Jolivette
Miles Levy

Screenplay by: James Franco
Vince Jolivette

Based on: Child Of God by Cormac McCarthy
Starring: Scott Haze
Tim Blake Nelson
James Franco
Jim Parrack
Nina Ljeti
Brian Lally

Music by: Aaron Embry

Cinematography by: Christina Voros

Editing by: Curtiss Clayton

Studio(s): RabbitBandidi Productions
Made In Film-Land

Distributed by: Signature Entertainment (United Kingdom)
Spotlight Pictures (International)

Release date(s): August 31, 2013 (Venice Film Festival)
April 28, 2014 (United Kingdom)
August 1, 2014 (United States, limited)
Running time: 104 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: N/A

Box-office revenue: $39, 324 (domestic gross only)

Right well, I have finally reached the last review for the month of October. In typical fashion, I've been backed up for reasons both within and out of my personal control. After this review, I'll post a review for the month of October and then proceed onto November. If it's any consolation to my untimely, belated takes on the latest movies, Fury and Nightcrawler will be my next posted reviews, and there will be a few others to be looked at before November is over and done with. So, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Child Of God, James Franco's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 1973 novel. James Franco is one of the few contemporary people in the film industry who has managed successfully to build the reputation of a cult figure. Rejecting in many ways the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, he famously in 2006 reenrolled in UCLA as an English major and has continued his education since then, and in his film work has since immersed himself in the palettes the Beat Generation and the great American writers. After starring as Allen Ginsberg in Howl, he has written and directed a biopic on poet Hart Crane (2011's The Broken Tower), two adaptations of William Faulkner (2013's As I Lay Dying and 2014's The Sound And The Fury) and has an upcoming biopic on Charles Bukowski. For those of you who don't know, Cormac McCarthy adaptations and his work on the big screen are one hell of a mixed bag to put it lightly. Billy Bob Thorton's adaptation of All The Pretty Horses was so severely butchered by the studio that at the time he made the decision to never direct again, but then the next adaptation was Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men, a veritable masterpiece and one of the best films made since the turn of the century (and the inaugural winner of The Clockwork Award for Best Film from me, no less!). John Hillcoat's The Road was also a highly admirable and moving piece of work, but then last year we got Ridley Scott's The Counsellor, which was written by McCarthy and was for all intents and purpose a disastrous piece of work. It's obvious that in the case of McCarthy, the right artist needs to be working with the right material in order to bring his distinct flavour of literature successfully onto the big screen. This being Franco's first adaptation (his name has been linked to the much-mooted Blood Meridian adaptation), I bought it out of interest to see what someone else could do with McCarthy's source material. Child Of God is set in 1960s Sevier County, Tennessee, and follows Lester Ballard (Scott Haze), a solitary and occasionally violent young man who exists outside society, with very little human interaction, who recedes inside of himself, descending into criminal acts and personal degradation. It's that simple a premise. Capiche?

To start off with the good, however you feel about the character, it cannot be denied that lead actor Scott Haze throws himself into the part of Lester Ballard. I'm not the type of person to be won over by method acting trickery (Haze, in preparation for the part, lost forty-five pounds and went as far as sleeping in caves, similar to the extremities of Ballard's lifestyle), but Haze immerses himself completely into the skin of Ballard. Haze has clearly worked on a specific dialectical style and vocal delivery, and in terms of body language, his Ballard has a distinctive cadence in his posture, stooped over a little and moving around with slight surges. Even just looking at him, just a wretched and absolutely haggard shell of a man, Haze is never anything less than legitimate in his portrayal of Lester Ballard. I also thought some of the editing was well done. The movie, like the book, is split into separate parts, and bookending them are these very striking title cards which set the scene for what is about to follow. These pop up on a number of different occasions throughout the film, such as the opening scene, with Lester having a dispute over his land being sold during and after a stint in jail. They can have quite a jarring effect when used properly. Finally, in his role as a director I have to respect what James Franco has done here. This is by no means an easy source text, and yet Franco sticks to his guns. He remains abundantly faithful to McCarthy's novel, almost to a fault (more of which in a bit), driving the film forward with conviction and authorial intent. Even with inherent faults, there remains still things to admire about Child Of God.

"Inherent faults" was how I began that last sentence, and it is how I shall begin this next paragraph, because I do feel there are things about this film that would just make it nigh-on impossible to make a successful picture. Part of the problem is the source text itself. Child Of God is one Cormac McCarthy's lesser works, but even still has moments of insight because of the Pulitzer Prize winner's flair for writing. Lester Ballard is an alienating character, but even in his worst moments in the novel, there is a slight sympathy for his self-degredation. Unlike the disturbing activities in the novel, which are merely in our imagination and thus accentuated by proxy, we are forced to watch all of these things. We see Lester take a shit in the woods, at which point I kind of knew I was in for the proverbial long haul, masturbate besides a car where inside a couple is having sex, he himself copulating with a corpse/makeshift bride: I can handle unpleasant material in the movies (I count among my favourite films Taxi Driver, Blue Velvet, Festen and Audition), but this just seemed to overt to be getting across any point that couldn't be done with a little more tact. Also, notwithstanding the subject matter, it's a very ugly-looking film. I don't know if this is an aesthetic thing, Christina Voros' cinematography, the production design or all three, but by God does this film look hideous. I remarked upon the film's consistency, well, in this department it certainly stands out. There seems to be no differentiation between the lighting of interior or exterior scenes, for all have the same tonal palette of banality, almost resembling the most bland of wallpaper patterns. The score as well is also rather a nuisance. Not that Aaron Embry suffers the fate of becoming a member of the EHO (Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra), but rather that the music consists of the most generic retreads of typically 'Southern' folk sounds. Taken alongside the stereotypical characters, such as Sheriff Fate, Deputy Cotton, and Jerry, the leader of a lynch mob played by writer-director Franco in a small part, it's any wonder that there is a continuing perpetuation of the idea that those from the American South are all uneducated hicks and hillbillies!

These things being said, I can't get overly annoyed at Child Of God. It is by no means an offensively bad picture. It boasts a great central performance from Scott Haze, who gets deep inside the troubling protagonist Lester Ballard. Some of the editing choices are also good, used at times to jarring effect. Also, I respect James Franco's strength of conviction to faithfully admit an admittedly tough source text with true authorial intent. Nevertheless, it doesn't change the fact that the movie as a whole is a misfire. The novel's content simply does not transfer well to the screen and brings with it inherent flaws. Notwithstanding the subject matter, it is also a rather ugly looking picture, and the score by Aaron Embry brings to mind stereotypically yodelling hicks and other such crude depictions of the American South. Admirable in some regards, but inherently flawed in others.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Ailohcnalem Lauteprep.

 (Beware of all marketing for this film!)

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Lone Survivor

Directed by: Peter Berg

Produced by: Peter Berg
Sarah Aubrey
Randall Emmett
Norton Herrick
Barry Spikings
Akiva Goldsman
Mark Wahlberg
Stephen Levinson
Vitory Grigoriants

Screenplay by: Peter Berg

Based onLone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell
Patrick Robinson

Starring: Mark Wahlberg
Taylor Kitsch
Emilie Hirsch
Ben Foster
Eric Bana

Music by: Explosions In The Sky
Steve Jablonsky

Cinematography by: Tobias Schliessler

Editing by: Colby Parker Jr.

Studio(s): Emmett/Furla Films
Film 44

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): January 10, 2014 (United States)
January 31, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 121 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $40 million

Box-office revenue: $149, 295, 601

Alrighty then, I shall proceed henceforth into the rest of the reviews for October. Belated as usual, but after this, I only have one left to do (on James Franco's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Child Of God), and I've got ahead and started on November. I mentioned that for this week I wanted to see The Maze Runner, Fury, Nightcrawler and Interstellar, correctly predicting that things would not go to plan, due to a combination of circumstances both within and out of my control. I have only seen one of those films (Fury), because I went on the wrong day to see The Maze Runner, a hasty arrangement with short notice amongst friends curtailed seeing Nightcrawler, and, hey kids, I'm going to Dublin again! "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" Yes, I'm on the road to work the CityWest Hotel and Disney On Ice, la dee da! Ah well, I'm taking the hours while they are there. Thankfully, I've checked ahead on those films, and the only one that presents itself as a problem for seeing is The Maze Runner, so, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Lone Survivor, based on the true story involving a failed US Navy Seals mission, Operation Red Wings, in which a four-man team was tasked with tracking Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. It was later depicted in a nonfiction book by Marcus Luttrell, the titular Lone Survivor, and ghostwriter Patrick Robinson, which is the primary source for this feature film. On a quick side-note, normally I don't review films which have been nominated for an Oscar the previous year (this picked up two noms, for Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, both of which were won by Gravity), but I have decided to make exceptions for those films which it was not possible to see in the United Kingdom before awards season. There has always been a discrepancy between US and UK release (indeed, my friend at Danland Movies has a detailed article just recently published on the matter, entitled 'The Curious Case Of The Gambler - The Woes Of Hollywood's International Release Strategy), and the case can also be the same outside of the States. Indeed, Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises only got a small release in the UK in May of this year, despite having been Oscar-nominated and been out ten months previously in Japan, and Studio Ghibli's other big 2013 release, The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, by fellow anime master Isao Takahata, has still yet to have a UK release date set. So much for a quick side note! Anywho, this film is directed by Peter Berg, who started his career before transitioning into directing the likes of Welcome To The Jungle (very underrated film with Dwayne Johnson and Seann William Scott), Friday Night Lights, Hancock and, erm, Battleship. Starring Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell the hospital corpsman, the rest of the team is rounded out by Taylor Kitsch as Michael Murphy, the team leader, Emilie Hirsch as Danny Dietz, communications specialist, and Ben Foster as Matthew Axelson, the team's sniper, with Eric Bana as their commander Erik S. Kristensen. I would go into plot synopsis, but I already told you that from the onset, so, shall we dance?

Starting off with the good in Lone Survivor, I thought that this was a technically astute picture. This comes out most prominently during the film's long, extended action sequences, which are some of the most intense put to film in recent memory. Shot by regular Berg-collaborator Tobias Schliessler, the cinematography resembles, in a good way, the relentlessness of the assaults one might encounter in a tactical first-person shooting video game. It's an appropriate feeling, given the nature of the film, which depicts this four-man team being surrounded by hordes of Taliban forces. This, combined with the stunt coordination, vividly depicts the trials of the central characters. Jacking up the intensity is the editing in both the film and sound departments. The cuts on film are sharp, but not inappropriately nauseating, and aurally the piece is a sheer battery on the hearing. When reviewing on DVD, I make a point watching on my good Blaupunkt LED backlight television, which, notwithstanding it's amazing specs is one of the best buys I've ever made tech-wise, also sounds terrific, and watching Lone Survivor on that helped accentuate just how good this film sounds. At risk of sounding cliche, you really do get a feeling of the hellish atmosphere of a war-zone with all of the resplendent gunfire and explosions left, right and centre. Speaking of hell, as I said earlier, the central characters go through a trial, and that is also elevated by the makeup and costume departments. These guys break bones, get shot, battered and bruised, cut and scratched, accumulating massive amounts of damage, with the makeup and costumes correlating just the right amount of their respective crafts at the right times. The final thing I'd like to say about the positives of the film is that I believe that in his role as a director Peter Berg directs this film with genuine intent. Indeed, I don't doubt the passion of just about everyone involved in the film. Lone Survivor has received some criticism from different elements of the media and journalistic circles, some of whom have labelled the movie as being xenophobic and pro-war propaganda. I direct you to an article by Calum Marsh on The Atlantic entitled 'Lone Survivor's Takeaway: Every War Movie Is A Pro-War Movie,' which I will link to the bottom of the review. I disagree with these assertions on both counts, for I think that Berg makes a point of addressing the point that not all Afghans are brown-skinned Taliban savages, and on the 'pro-war' front, I think it addresses more the camaraderie and sacrifices made by the men and women in the military. At it's heart, what Lone Survivor is is a simple tale of survival in light of insurmountable odds, and to be frank, one shouldn't read much into the film.

The reason I left the last paragraph on that note because while I thought Lone Survivor was a decent film, strongest during the intense action sequences, I do not feel that it is a war movie of great importance with any message of great profundity. It is just, as a said, a simple tale of survival, which would be fine in itself, but the fact is is that while Peter Berg directs well, his script and adaptation of Luttrell's story fails to match up to the strength of the film in other departments. Lone Survivor is a two-hour feature film which spends much of the first hour building slowly towards the action with the usual basil exposition stuff. Great, I love characterisation, except for the fact that any attempt at characterisation here is underdeveloped. I failed to get a true sense of just who these are personality-wise, and this is troublesome for the rest of the movie, for as these are picked off in brutal, violent fashion one by one, I didn't care enough. That's not being callous, that's just Berg and company not doing enough to convince me to give a damn, for each of the four central characters came across as just hunks of meat. This is a shame, considering you have good actors such as Mark Wahlberg, Emilie Hirsch and Ben Foster (Taylor Kitsch is a give or take really) portraying these guys. Ever worse is Eric Bana's Commander Kristensen, who's just more or less ever other Commander/General/Leader figure we've seen in a war movie before, and the worst example is Alexander Ludwig, who as rookie Machinist Mate Shane Patton is a saddled with a highly two-dimensional part and is actually even worse than the proverbial job description. If there's one thing that always gets people into a war film, even if they are as far removed from the military as can be and regardless of the central message, it's the characters. Unfortunately, here it is severely lacking. At the end of Lone Survivor, there is a tribute of photographs and home videos to Marcus Luttrell and the soldiers in the Navy Seals who died during Operation Red Wings, musically accompanied by Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra performing a cover of David Bowie's Heroes. It's a very moving short piece, and frankly stands as a more fitting tribute to Luttrell and his comrades than the near two-hour film which has preceded it.

Lone Survivor is one of those pictures where there are good and bad things in near equal measure. I think that the battle sequences which take up much of the second half of the film are some of the best I've seen in a good while. It's a technically astute picture which is well-shot with great stunt coordination, strong editing in more ways than one, vividly depicting the battery and assault that the Navy Seals on this botched mission went through. However, it is missing that key human element that makes me care about the characters and the trials they are going through. This lack of appropriate development impacts on the resonance the action sequences, a character's onscreen death, and the actors portraying them. Most actors will tell you it is their dream to play rich and multi-faceted characters, not just to flex their acting prowess, but because they are more like human beings. These guys just felt like hunks of meat. I don't doubt that Peter Berg and all involved are passionate about the story they are telling, but whenever I'm more moved by a four-minute tribute at the end of the film than the preceding two hours, something's not all right.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sweet (listening VAST, a band whose work I've been digging lately)

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Gone Girl

Directed by: David Fincher

Produced by: Leslie Dixon
Bruna Papandrea
Reese Witherspoon
Cean Chaffin

Screenplay by: Gillian Flynn

Based on: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Starring: Ben Affleck
Rosamund Pike
Neil Patrick Harris
Tyler Perry
Carrie Coon
Kim Dickens

Music by: Trent Reznor
Atticus Ross

Cinematography by: Jeff Cronenweth

Editing by: Kirk Baxter

Studio(s): Regency Enterprises
Pacific Standard

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): October 2, 2014 (United Kingdom)
October 3, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 149 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $61 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $303, 992, 483

Well, as per usual I'm backed up slightly and it's looking like my review for the month of October is going to be coming along in the middle of November. After this review, I've got Lone Survivor and Child Of God on the way, so keep an eye out. Also, you'll be happy to know that with a few days off work I'm going shoot right into November. If things go to plan (which they probably won't, to be fair), I should see The Maze Runner, Fury, Nightcrawler and Interstellar this week. As I mentioned in my last review, there are good few things to see in the cinema right now, making it a surprisingly full pre-Oscar season period. So, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Gone Girl, David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestselling 2012 novel of the same name. I think it is undeniable two years after it's initial publication that Gone Girl is something of a literary phenomenon akin in recent years to the buzz surrounding Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy (specifically The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, also adapted by Fincher), Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga and E.L. James' Fifty Shades Of Grey. These days, when so many people are concerned with other mediums, it's nice to see people making an effort to buy a book and engage in conversation about it. Furthermore, having read the book prior to seeing the film, I have to say that unlike some of those said bestsellers, it's actually a damn fine read. Flynn has a mastery of prose, sharp and full of wit, but also wisely constructed so as to balance the tightrope of drawing us into the story, but not give away too much. If you can, I'd sincerely recommend getting yourself a read of the book. With all involved (such as producers Lesley Dixon and Reese Witherspoon) making a point of keeping close to the source, Gillian Flynn adapts her own book into a screenplay. Also, we have director David Fincher, one of the great filmmakers of the past twenty years, someone with a proven track record in genre thrillers with the likes of Seven, Panic Room and Zodiac (for which he won the first ever Stanley Kubrick Award for Best Director from yours truly back in 2007), but also in viable literary adaptations such as Fight Club, The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, all of which though distinctly 'Fincher' films, stick pretty close to their source texts. So, with the context out of the way, now for a quick synopsis: on the day of his fifty wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing. This leads to a media frenzy, as Amy was the inspiration for the bestselling children's books Amazing Amy, authored by her parents. During the course of this, the press interpret Nick's awkward behaviour as indicative of that of a sociopath, and evidence uncovered at the onset of the investigation into Amy's disappearance lead fingers to be pointed in suspicion of Nick as the primary suspect. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, the two central performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are career best's for both actors. I've said it before, but Affleck, through his experiences as a director has become a wiser actor, in much the same way Clint Eastwood began to build more layers of depth after he became a director. Affleck plays off of his good guy image, making Nick Dunne a man who is almost uncomfortable in his own skin. He subtly plays awkwardness to the camera, making the act of simply walking into a room seem like it either isn't worth his time or just too much effort. His ability to give us a constant level of doubt in the character of Nick, a liar and a bit of a jerk, sells us on the possibility that he may be responsible for his wife's disappearance. Obviously Pike's performance is the one that is going to get most attention, but Affleck deserves just as much credit for making this story work. Speaking of Pike, she delivers an absolute powerhouse of a performance as Amy. She has always been a good actress, flip-flopping between the likes of 2012's Jack Reacher and lesser projects like Hector And The Search For Happiness from earlier this year, but this is her first major leading role, and boy does she take the ball and run with it. I'm not going to get into a whole lot of detail, because that would involve giving away key plot details, but she infest herself wholly into the role. It's a highly intricate bit of work, so much so that even just watching little facial expressions and certain inflections on syllables in a line of dialogue become important in the game of human chess. This is one of the great performances of the past few years, and I had the same emotional reaction/recognition with this in the same way I did with Carice Van Houten in Black Book, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler and Natalie Portman in Black Swan. If Pike does not get at the very least an Academy Award nomination for her extraordinary work here, then I vow to eat my hat (and believe me, I like my BMC Racing Team cap!)! Aside from the two leads, the film is also host to a number of good performances from supporting members of the ensemble cast. Carrie Coon is vivacious and spunky as the better half of the Dunne twins, Nick's sister Margo, Kim Dickens is solid as Rhonda Boney and model Emily Ratajkowski is surprisingly effective in the part of Andie Hardy. Also, it's great to see Neil Patrick Harris, an actor known primarily for his comedic work on television, get a major supporting role of this prominence, and I thought he was the standout of this bunch as Desi Collings. Despite his quiet and soft-spoken demeanour, his immaculately-dressed and meticulous attention to detail indicating a darker perversion underneath. Well, with performances done, I better get into the rest of the film, because we've a lot of ground to cover here. The picture is immaculately shot by Jeff Cronenweth, David Fincher's regular DP. His photography here is exemplary, with just the right juxtaposition of moody lighting and textures with his use of focus, a little less than subtle move maybe, but what it registers is is the question as to what we ourselves should be focusing on. The movement of the camera on the long tracking shots is also aesthetically important, in that not only are we, like the camera, flowing through the spider-web of the story, but also that oftentimes when things are happening Cronenweth takes his time before entering a given space to reveal what's going on inside. It operates well in conjunction with Kirk Baxter's seamless work in the cutting room, which is just as responsible for giving the film it's sense of flow. I have more to say about the film's running time and other things later on (in due course), but that was among the quickest two-and-a-half hours I've had at the cinema in a long time. It was so smoothly done that it almost seemed effortless how Baxter made all the pieces in the puzzle, despite time and chronological order at times being eschewed, slot together appropriately. Returning for their third collaboration with Fincher, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have put out another fine score. As far as career moves, transitioning into film scoring was one of the best things Trent Reznor has ever done, for he and Ross put out a rich, textured aural soundscape for the film, matching the emotional pitch every step of the way. Be it contemplative, melancholic, suspenseful, Reznor/Ross have a sound that fits it to a tee, their primarily electronic compositions being reminiscent of Tangerine Dream's film scoring days in the 1980s. Also, they have a strong ability to be able to churn out an incidental theme, something that is just designed to take an expository scene from point-A to point-B. The screenplay too by Gillian Flynn is as good a bit of adaptation as you are going to get of an author translating their own literature to the screen. Unlike Cormac McCarthy, who it seems needs people like the Coen brothers to bring his work to life in film, Flynn has a good idea of what works and what doesn't. Retaining the sharp ear for dialogue that was one of the finer qualities of the book, she also has done an excellent job of compressing her four-hundred page text into a feature film. For instance, in the book we have two detectives, Boney and Gilpin, on Amy's case, but it's obvious reading it that the real tete a tete, the tango if you will, leans towards Nick and Boney, so for the film we have Detective Boney and Officer Gilpin, in a much lesser role than in the book. Smart things like this ensure that the pacing doesn't get too baggy. Also, the labyrinthine web of intricacies, deceits, lies, double-crosses is nigh-on impenetrable. It's as strong a script as I've seen in a film over the past few years. Finally, what you have here is a maestro in David Fincher in the midst of a creative peak. He's got to that stage of his career where he has worked out his formulas, knows what works and what doesn't, and has got a strong source text upon which he can ply his craft. He has a history of literary adaptations which, though faithful to the text, are distinctly his films. Also, with Gone Girl Fincher is responsible for a lot of the more audacious stuff involved in the book making it to the big screen and getting across appropriately. I talked about The Equalizer being bold, but as far as a mainstream cinema goes, Gone Girl puts that film in the pale. There's a lot of sex in the picture, as well as scenes of strong graphic violence, and in the hands of another director, this could have been pure titillation, candy-floss padding out all the dramatic segments. Fincher gets across through the sex scenes not only an incredible eroticism but ensures that each has meaning of some sort to the story and characters, and the violence is never any small, throwaway act, it's high-impact, painful and wince-inducing when it happens. We've also seen Fincher work well within genre confines, and in much the same way Flynn used the mystery genre for her book, Fincher translates all of that rich thematic content to the big screen. It's a highly twisted exploration into the many facets of love, the effects of the economic crisis on contemporary America, manipulation of public image by the tabloid media, revelatory gender politics (the 'Cool Girl' monologue is as pertinent a statement in feminism as anything in mainstream entertainment over the past decade), our perceptions of each other, deceit, lies, and when we pull back at the climax to see this labyrinthine web in all of its glory, the best film of the year so far.

Now, in case you haven't guessed by now (which, if you haven't, to be frank, I ask you to place serious doubts upon your judgement), I loved Gone Girl. A lot. However, I'd be lying if I didn't mention some of my concerns regarding the running time. I know that there is a good bit of ground to cover with this material, but I have a feeling that even though it is still a masterpiece, it could have been a bit leaner cut back to about 135 minutes. At near two-and-a-half hours, it does feel just a little bit like it is starting to scoot around a bit. Shaving that off of the film would have automatically cemented this into GOAT (Greatest Of All-Time) material.

What a pleasure, after reviewing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to be given the privilege to experience such a fine film as Gone Girl is. Aside from my doubts as to the necessity of the significant two-and-a-half hour running time, this was a film that delivered in just about every department. As far as a mainstream film goes, we get the genre thrills and twists of the mystery genre, but also the artistry that comes across with the rich thematic content, and the meticulous craftsmanship of David Fincher, his regular collaborators, and the two career-best performances of leads Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Gillian Flynn's book was a literary phenomenon, and judging by the resounding response, both critically and commercially to the feature-film adaptation, the buzz created by the word-of-mouth has yet to reach it's climax.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Je suis fatigant (I've been finding it hard to wake up. Three alarms and I still slept in. I'm learning so much from my dreams that it's like I've been shot with an elephant gun!)

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

Produced by: Michael Bay
Andrew Form
Bradley Fuller
Galen Walker
Scott Mednick
Ian Bryce

Screenplay by: Josh Appelbaum
Andre Nemec
Evan Daugherty

Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by
Kevin Eastman
Peter Laird

Starring: Megan Fox
Will Arnett
Jeremy Howard
Pete Ploszek
Noel Fisher
Alan Ritchson
Danny Woodburn
William Fichtner
Johnny Knoxville
Tony Shalhoub

Music by: Brian Tyler

Cinematography by: Lula Carvalho

Editing by: Joel Negron
Glen Scantlebury

Studio(s): Nickelodeon Movies
Platinum Dunes

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): August 8, 2014 (United States)
October 17, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 101 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $125 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $464, 067, 000

Ahoy there, I'm back into the land of the living. As you may have noticed (or probably haven't unless you're one my single-digit numbered regular readers), there was a bit of a drop in terms of productivity there, and frankly that was because I was away. I just got back late yesterday evening from the RDS Web Summit in Dublin, which I had been working. After last month's lack of hours, there's no way I'm turning down thirty-six hours guaranteed for three days work, and yes, it was exhausting, yes my feet were sore, yes there were all the usual tedious things to deal with, petty workplace squabbles and blah blah blah, but overall it was an enjoyable enough few days. We were put up in a hostel and with a pub next door there was opportunity to wind down with a couple of pints before hitting the hay and doing it all over again. The madness was reminiscent of the Magical Mystery Tour that was the festival circuit. Anywho, as that is my last major trip work-wise for the foreseeable future, expect to see more activity here. I've got a stack of movies to get through. '71, The Babadook, Fury, Interstellar, Nightcrawler, The Maze Runner and Gone Girl (which I have seen and will be my next review following this one) are all out in cinemas, making for a very interesting looking late-Autumn/early-Winter period before the impending Oscar season. So, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

So, today's movie up for review is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the newly released intended reboot of the film series of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. For anyone old enough to remember, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a pop-culture phenomenon for a ten-year period from the mid-1980s to about the mid-1990s, originating in a comic book series created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, before expanding into a cartoon series, film series, video games, all with the toys, clothing and merchandise you might expect from something like, say, a Star Wars or Star Trek level of franchise. However, in recent years (when I say recent, I mean from about '97 onwards!) it has been out of the mainstream, maintaining a certain cult following, but not to the extent of its glory-days. However, with two well-received television series (from 2003-2009 produced by 4KidsTV, from 2012 to the present after the rights to TNMT were purchased by Nickelodeon) and a previously unsuccessful feature film reboot, 2007's TNMT, the proverbial hat has been tossed in and we have this film. Another notable aspect of the film's production, notwithstanding the storied production history behind the Turtles as a whole, with Laird and Eastman producing dark and gritty material at the same time as the light-hearted humorous television series, partnering with Nickelodeon in the production is Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay and Brad Fuller's production company most famous for undeniably terrible horror remakes.  He and Fuller have also brought in previous collaborator Jonathan Liebesman to direct the picture, and Megan Fox, who presumably is on working terms with Bay after her alleged rude behaviour and comparisons of him to Hitler. Before this film, Fox's career suffered after being dropped from the Transformers franchise in 2009. Since 2010, after the horrendously received pairing of Jonah Hex and Passion Play the former FHM's Sexiest Woman has kept low-key, getting married to longtime partner Brian Austen Green and having two children, only having one lead role in Judd Apatow's This Is 40 and small parts in Friends With Kids, The Dictator and Robot Chicken's DC Universe Special, so this is a mainstream return of sorts. When I first heard that Bay was producing this film, I posted a selfie on Facebook on myself pulling a mock-tearful face sitting in a vest described as looking like Peter Mullan in Tyrannosaur (how flattering!), which, though I was joking, wasn't far from my sentiments. However, I did go into this with an open mind and wanted to like it, as I'll admit, I like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, find their silliness rather charming, and thought, what the hey, it might be okay. So, plot synopsis, April O'Neil (Fox) is a reporter for Channel 6 News who has been saddled with stories that she is not interested in and in her free time has been researching a criminal gang known as the Foot Clan. After questioning a dock worker about chemicals with a potential link, she returns to the dock and witnesses them unloading cargo. However, they are ambushed and taken out by a vigilante, and when April attempts to tell her boss Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg) and colleagues, they don't believe her. Next attacking in a subway station, the Foot Clan attempt to lure out the vigilante, who turns out to be the titular Turtles, Leonardo (PetePloszek/Johnny Knoxville), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Raphael (Alan Ritchson). April records the image on her phone, but the Turtles delete them, wishing to remain anonymous lest they incur the wrath of their master Splinter (Danny Woodburn/Tony Shalhoub). April recognises them, and looking back at one of her old home movies, realises they are her 'pet' turtles that her deceased father and Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), his former lab partner now a famous scientist and business man, experimented on under the name Project Renaissance. From here on we have a story involving April, the Turtles and Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) attempting to expose a plot involving terrorism, corruption, Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and all manner of things. Got it? Good!

It is perhaps appropriate that I follow that long-winded preamble paragraph with a summation of what is good about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the guts of which I think you could make fill up a single post-it note. Call it a pre-emptory spoiler alert, but this movie sucked. Anywho, there are a couple of good things about it, so, here we go. Megan Fox and Whoopi Goldberg share a rather funny scene part of the way through the film, in which Fox's super-excited April explains her labyrinthine theories with great aplomb, talking what seems like a hundred words a minute while Goldberg looks on incredulously. It shows Fox has the ability to be both comedic and deliver good vocals, while Goldberg revels in the head honch, being rather blunt in a part not dissimilar to J.K. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies. Although it's an unimportant scene in the scheme of things, it's the best in the film, catering to both actors abilities. Also, I'd be denying if I didn't find some of the aspects of the action, such as the stunts, choreography and motion capture, to be of a good standard. I have to admire them, it's just a shame that these people, like Fox and Goldberg, are so obviously talented and ended up in this movie.

Just on a quick side note before I really get into the thick of things, in the process of writing this review, I have been listening to Kraftwerk and Bjork and reading Thomas Pynchon's V, and although these are all very different people what unites them is a consummate artistry which not only distinguishes their work but elevates it: there is absolutely nothing artistic about this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles picture. For starters, the screenplay is absolutely horrendous. Notwithstanding that there are entire scenes lifted from other/better films (the Turtles' first ambush of the Foot Clan is ripped right out of Batman Begins), the characterisation is woeful. The Turtles themselves, who admittedly have always been a wisecracking bunch, are annoying and tiresome. Each have been given their own distinct 'personality,' as in Raphael's is the brooding one, Donatello wears glasses etc., but these so-called traits are base qualities that do not get down to the core of what they are about, making them two-dimensional. Also, the film is full of 'snappy' dialogue and (to be frank) a rather retarded sense of humour. Poor Will Arnett is reduced to a babbling idiot with his Vern Fenwick, and it's one of those movies were you can tell where they've left in the pauses for people to laugh, or that every scene, no matter how serious, finish on some silly line or other. Call me a sanctimonious grump, but some of the material is borderline offensive, especially considering that this is a movie that is being marketed towards children. Jokes in the direction of Megan Fox's ass and using a Victoria's Secret billboard (another Michael Bay product placement plug) to hide are retrograde and moronic. Also, there's a part in the film when the Turtles are given Adrenaline injections in order to revive them, which for all its subtlety, with them going crazy and all jittery due to the effect, all the while with a machine screaming "Overdose Imminent," they may as well have shoved a bag of cocaine into their faces. Furthermore, the plot was predictable, the 'twist' if you will was correctly guessed by my good self in the first scene of a character in the film. Yes, the first scene, about ten minutes into the picture. Other aspects of this film are also noteworthy in terms of their overall shoddiness. It is also a terribly edited film. I often use the Michael Myers analogy as regards to the ridiculous fast cuts used in contemporary action sequences, but since there were two editors on this film (the equally to blame Joel Negron and Glen Scantlebury), I'll just say that it is as though ten different sequels to Freddy Vs Jason all took place inside of the editing suite. What a shame these two had no Ash to show up with his boomstick and blow their brains out. I would have enjoyed the action sequences if it weren't for the fact I spent half the time nauseated by the editing. Also, you two are responsible for the aforementioned pauses in the dialogue scenes, so screw you for that too. In the composing department, I know he's a regular target of mine, but I'm just about fed up with Brian Tyler. That man is one of the most in demand composers in both the film and video game industries, and I for the life of me can't figure out why. I've said x-number of times how he showed promise at the start of his career but has instead settled for wallowing in mediocrity, and I think with this film he has delivered his worst score to date. It just sounds like any old generic action blockbuster from the past ten years, a bit of Hans Zimmer here, a bit of Steve Jablonsky there, but the problem is is that, while clearly it's nothing near the quality of Hans Zimmer, to say that it comes across as the work of a poor man's Jablonsky is a serious put-down. Although it's quite popular, I admit to not liking what Jablonsky put out for the Transformers films, but this makes me almost want to listen to those vainglorious histrionics (not really, of course. Give me Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard's Now We Are Free any day!). Finally, I have to lay the overall blame here at the feet of the production and direction on the film. Obviously, with Michael Bay and Brad Fuller involved, there are certain things which are almost to be expected, to the point that it's almost just going through the motions as opposed to being actively annoyed. That said, it doesn't change the fact that their involvement consists of a butchery, an utter Bayification of Eastman and Laird's creations to the point that they no longer resemble anything of what made them distinctive; the Turtles are merely a conduit for Bay and Fuller's formula of profiteering off of other peoples work. However, the entire blame cannot be laid at their feet, because the helmer of this monstrosity is Jonathan Liebesman, who on the basis of this film and his previous work is really carving himself out as among the worst working filmmakers today. I don't know what it is that he does, but every project he goes into just seems to be done with the least bit of passion towards the material. Everything seems to be done with this workman-like mentality were this art that we call filmmaking is merely a job, merely something that pays the bills. Since the inception of the medium, film, like literature, like music, like painting, has intrinsically always been about artistry, free and unclouded from the concerns of monetary gain. We have seen great art produced on minimal budgets by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog, and equally on the other end of the spectrum Christopher Nolan, the best director of this generation, working with $150-$200 million budgets, making commercial films which are still artistic and wondrous. TMNT cost just $35 million less than Inception, and has nothing of the artistic qualities that come with that picture. There's got to be a point when someone realises that they are doing something wrong, that it isn't just one or two bad pictures, it's a whole litany, and Liebesman has not only given us an annoying, dull, vacuous piece of work, but also succeed in taking away much of what we loved about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I detested this film. 

When it comes to a film this bad, I look back through my archive so I can gauge just how strongly I feel about it. I do this with every film, but for most I only have to go back to last year to see how I felt about a movie. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I went back to 2011 to try and level out my emotional temperament. I ended concluding that it was worse than Swinging With The Finkels (terrible sex-comedy with Martin Freeman the year before the first Hobbit film came out) but not quite as bad as After Earth. I'm not going to sum up all the things I felt about the film, because I just want to bury this in a pit and be done with it. As it stands, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles even with qualities, is still the worst film I have seen all year and although there's a chance something exceptionally bad will knock it off that perch, it's going to take quite a feat to do so. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 1.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright (cool to be chilling after long week of work)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Ida

Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski

Screenplay by: Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Pawel Pawlikowski

Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska
Agata Kulesza

Music by: Kristian Eidnes Andersen

Cinematography by: Lukasz Zal
Ryszard Lenczewski

Editing by: Jaroslaw Kaminski

Release date(s): August 30, 2013 (Telluride Film Festival, premiere)
October 25, 2013 (Poland)
May 2, 2014 (United States)
September 26, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 80 minutes

Country(s): Poland

Language: Polish

Production budget: N/A

Box-office revenue (as of publication, United States only): $3, 704, 612

Hey, what do you know, I'm Mr. Prolific this month! With my review for The Equalizer there, I have clocked nine reviews over the course of the month, and that extends to just my activities as regards to analysing movies. I've been the proverbial busy little bee, and as for following this review, I've got ones for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Gone Girl guaranteed in the works. I had a lot to catch up on, so to be only two movies back as opposed to six or seven is a nice feeling that takes a lot of the weight off of your shoulders. So, for all the latest and greatest on the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Ida, a Polish film by director Pawel Pawlikowski, which has been slowly developing buzz on the festival and independent film circuit over the past year. After premiering at the 38th Gdynia Film Festival in Poland, it has since went on to play the Toronto International Film Festival (where it won the FIPRESCI prize in the Special Presentations section), took the Best Film award at the Warsaw Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Listapad in Minsk, Belarus, Gijon, and at The Eagles, the Polish Film Awards ceremony which is comparable in the Polish film industry to the Academy Awards. Speaking of which, Poland have selected it as their official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the upcoming 87th Academy Awards, and out of eighty-three potentially nominees being whittled down to five, I see Ida having a good chance of getting there when it comes to the Academy making their decisions. Not having seen the most of these films but judging by the climate, if you'll indulge I'd like to make an early prediction for the prospective nominees in this category:

Belgium, for Two Days, One Night - Dardenne Brothers film starring Marion Cotillard: directed by twice Palme d'Or-winning filmmakers, features past Oscar-winner in lead role.

Canada, for Mommy - Xavier Dolan: fifth film by actor, writer, directing prodigy, who was also a past prospective Oscar nominee.

Poland, for Ida - Pawel Pawlikowski: has garnered a lot of buzz in independent, festival and critical circuits.

Russia, for Leviathan - Andrey Zvyagintsev: past Golden Lion winner, highly acclaimed film.

Turkey, for Winter Sleep - Nuri Bilge Ceylan: winner of this year's Palme d'Or, regarded as the masterpiece of a widely acclaimed director.

If I was to bet a winner out of that bunch, I'd probably go with Two Days, One Night or Winter Sleep, but hey, knowing my luck, it'll all probably go up in smoke. Anywho, enough of all that blabbing, let's get down to business, that business being a plot synopsis: in Poland during the 1960s, Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young nun who is told by her prioress that before taking her vows she must visit her family. Travelling to her aunt Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza), a heavy-drinking judge and former prosecutor associated with Stalinist regime, the aunt reveals to Anna that her real name is Ida Lebenstein, the daughter of Jewish parents who were murdered during the Second World War. Deciding she wants to find their resting place, Ida and Wanda set out on a journey, to use a cliched term, which may or may not also reveal certain truths and secrets regarding their lives. Shall we dance?

To start off with the good, it's fronted by the twin peaks of two tremendous central performances by the Agata's Trzebuchowska and Kulesza. The way in which the characters have been written is that they operate as diametric opposites, but really are in fact two sides of the same coin. Trzebuchowska gives a subtly complex turn as Ida, managing to have both a beautifully innocent naivety about the world and yet a wisdom beyond her years. The same complexity can be said for Kulesza's, although it couldn't be described as subtle. She is the more expressive, emotional and even at times boorish of the two, and Kulesza does a terrific job of convincing us that for all of her advanced years on Ida, Wanda is really the troublemaker of the two. Similar to the work of the Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux in last year's Blue Is The Warmest Colour, the two performances are individually works of great quality, but together back up and accentuate each other. In that regard, as a film this is first and foremost a character drama about people, and in that regard I have to give praise to the screenplay by director Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz. There is a textured level of development in Ida and Wanda which is lacking in many other films, so much so that it can't help but be refreshing. Also, the dialogue has a rich quality to it, walking a fine line between being very conversational and deeply profound. At times, the film in essence is like an unconventional buddy film, being surprisingly funny in parts, but also revelatory in terms of the explorations of human nature, behaviour and spirit. The film is also features some stunning black-and-white photography from Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski. Rightfully winning the Spotlight Award at the 2013 American Society Of Cinematographers Awards, Zal and Lenczewski employ a lot of long takes, both moving and static, to depict the naturalistic and meditative tone of the film. Not only is that a smart idea from the aesthetic side of things, but it's also tastefully done so that it never becomes a gimmick. Once again, the Arri Alexa crops it's head up, showing the true versatility of that camera. Zal and Lenszewski's close-ups make faces like landscapes, allowing actors to ply their craft, and their framing is immaculate. Certain things are excised from our view, and yet are able to fully interpret their weight to the story and the characters. Also, there are shots, such one where Ida is framed at the top of a staircase in a small hotel, listening to a jazz band playing on the bottom floor: will the saint descend from the heavens towards temptations and decadence below? Decisions such as this make Ida a very distinctive film from director Pawel Pawlikowski. As far as a piece of auteurist cinema, this reminded me a lot of the kind of film Ingmar Bergman would have made in the early-1960s like The Silence or Winter Light, when he was churning out great films which had a strong thematic content, rich characters, most importantly, were highly accessible films. Ida has all of those traits, and those are qualities that should be attributed Pawlikowski. This is an assured, confident piece of work, and at the brisk running time of eighty minutes, we are left with a lot of food for thought by the time the credits roll.

Now, as you can tell, I was a big fan of Ida, and I would be lying if I didn't say it was a great film. However, I do have to state that I do have a few reasons as to why I think it is a great film and not an outright masterpiece. I made a point in mentioning The Silence and Winter Light as regards to Bergman because during that period of activity, Bergman released consistently great movies, but not all of them are masterpieces. In a fifteen-year span (1957-1972), he released eighteen movies, of which I have seen eleven, and five of them are masterpieces (The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Virgin Spring, Shame and Cries And Whispers). Long story short, it's very rare for even an artist such as Bergman to make consistent outright masterpieces (only Kraftwerk with the five-album span from 1974-1981 with Autobahn to Computer World achieved that!), and Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida is of the same vein. Also, while the whole story is done rather well, especially the exploration of the central characters, but the crux, the central driving force concerning Jews who have been murdered during Second World War, has been the subject of so many artistic works in the years since. As such, while it's obviously sensitive material, in the same way as the recent movies concerning slavery, I feel that this has been done before and that I didn't learn anything new or come to another kind of enlightenment on the subject matter. To me, it felt like a plot device to explore the thematic content brought to the table by the pairing of the two central characters, and to me, the Holocaust should not feel like a plot device.

That said, while I do not feel like Ida has that extra level of profundity, it's sensitive topic matter has been done before and that it feels unfortunately like a plot device, I will not deny that Ida is a great film, certainly one of the best of the year, and I would be surprised if it didn't remain in my top ten come awards season. The two central performances by the Agata's Trzebuchowska and Kulesza are tremendous, two sides of the coin which become greater with the presence of the other, the screenplay giving the actresses richly developed characters and an abundance of rich dialogue which straddles the line between conversational and profundity. The beautiful black-and-white cinematography by Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski on the Arri Alexa is a highlight, poetic, suggestive and tastefully done so that it never becomes a gimmick, and director Pawel Pawlikowski has a clear and assured artistic direction with this brisk, accessible and engaging movie. When I mentioned Ingmar Bergman in relation to this film, believe me, that's high praise coming from my good self!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - AP (autopilot: I've got work as well later!)