Friday, 25 December 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Death And Resurrection Show

Directed by: Shaun Pettigrew

Produced by: Shaun Pettigrew
Steve Piper

Written by: Shaun Pettigrew

Starring: Jeremy 'Jaz' Coleman
Martin 'Youth' Glover
Kevin 'Geordie' Walker
'Big' Paul Ferguson
Paul Raven

Music by: Jaz Coleman
Killing Joke
Cinematography by: 'Hobe' Brent Abelson
Shaun Pettigrew

Editing by: Prisca Bouchet

Distributed and Produced by: Coffee Films 
ILC Productions

Release date(s): November 16, 2013 (Finland, Rokumentti Film Festival)
May 2, 2015 (Portugal, IndieLisboa)
September 6, 2015 (France)
October 2, 2015 (United Kingdom, limited)

Running time: 150 minutes

Country(s): New Zealand
United Kingdom
Language: English

Production budget: $500,000 (estimated)

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

Rightio, so I've been busy as usual, but what with a bunch of night shifts being cancelled, I've been able to dedicate a serious chunk of time to things that mean something to me, like writing, working on a number of projects and a hefty amount of films watched to review. Every day this week, I've seen a new(ish) release from 2015, so you can expect reviews for Krampus, Straight Outta Compton, Mortdecai, Brooklyn and The Ridiculous 6 at some point in the near future. I've still got to get through five more (including this one) for the September-October-November bracket, so for all the latest and greatest as regards the movies, keep your eyes posted.

Now, with this one here I had to try my best to not go into it completely biased, given that The Death And Resurrection Show is the long-awaited documentary on the band Killing Joke, who are quite possibly my favourite band in the world ever. I don't like to look at any figures or groups of people with any sort of idolatry, but I'd be amiss in not saying that Killing Joke's music has meant a great deal to me personally. It's one of the few things in my life that I believe as representative of a certain form of truth. Their disgust and anger at the world around them is a reflection of my own, and unlike many whole just bitch and groan they, being astute and learned individuals, legitimately posit solutions to these problems, so that we may jump forward to the ultimate goal of transcendence. Anywho, now that I've got that out of the way, let's talk The Death And Resurrection Show! The film chronicles the long and storied history of the band since it's formation in 1978, and has been in production for over a decade, during which time former bassist and beloved brother Paul Raven passed away in 2007, which was the impetus for the original lineup of Jaz Coleman, Geordie Walker, Youth and Big Paul Ferguson to get back together. Already from there you can tell there's quite a story just in the past decade alone. I've seen them perform three times, once in Dublin and twice in London (because no one ever comes to Belfast!), and believe me the atmosphere is somewhere between dionysian chaos and a collective religious experience. Obviously, I went into the screening at the Queen's Film Theatre with mixed feelings, because the fan in me wanted to sit back and enjoy, but as I do with everything I like to take a step back and look upon it objectively. So, shall we dance?

I reiterate, I tried my best not to be biased. However, I loved The Death And Resurrection Show. Of course, the film sounds excellent, Killing Joke's music being the soundtrack of the proverbial apocalypse. Their musical part in the film plays not as much as a greatest hits, but an in-depth exploration into their oeuvre as we follow them through the years. Jaz Coleman's own compositions (primarily from his Island symphony) act as a sort-of compensation for the film's lack of a traditional film score. I suppose part of the upside of developing an independent documentary on talented musicians (Coleman is a respected classical composer outside of his work with Killing Joke) is that there's a chance they'll be more than willing to contribute their services to the production. Big ups as well to the sound department, whose field recordings and mixing ensures that there is nothing amateurish or sloppy with the way things are handled. Perhaps the thing that is most outstanding from a technical standpoint is the editing by Prisca Bouchet. Between all of the raw material, comprising of video footage shot over a span of nearly thirty years, location pickups in different places around the world and talking-heads segments with the band members and various interviewees, this must have been like putting together an indisputably giant jigsaw puzzle. Not only is it superbly stitched together with a seamless flow, Bouchet uses the tools of the trade to pull some interesting tricks. The archive footage in there is more often than not framed by large black sidebars, which has a subconscious effect putting the band members under a metaphorical microscope. Much is made in the film of the influence of magic and mysticism on The Joke, both in their lives and their work, and what Bouchet does is to take the raw material and distort it, not in a gimmicky sort-of way, but something that fits into the larger whole while replicating the magical rituals and seances performed by the band members. As such, it has quite a hypnotic and illusory effect on the entire film, bending your perception of time and creating a mirror to the state of trance. Editing is oftentimes an effective way of changing the way that we define storytelling in documentary films (just look at Catfish, Senna and The Act Of Killing), but I can't remember ever seeing it used in such an innovative fashion. There is also a subtle grace to the cinematography of the film. The DP's are director Shaun Pettigrew and 'Hobe' Brent Abelson, whose own contributions elevate that of the extensive archival footage. Whereas Youth, Geordie and Big Paul are shot full-face and oftentimes are relaxed, whereas Jaz Coleman is rarely if ever seen full-face and the shot composition surrounding him is highly stylised in the footage recorded for the film. Oftentimes depicted in shadow, from behind, or in close-up just his mouth in part of the frame, it contributes to this idea of the man (and by proxy, the band) as myth. Also, there is some really beautiful raw material from the pickup footage that they have collected from the location shooting. Iceland in particular, with the gorgeous scenery and landscape, looks terrific in this. Finally, director Shaun Pettigrew succeeds at the helm of such a momentous task as curator and compiler of Killing Joke. He ensures that the film works as something with a narrative. Beginning with their roots in Ladbroke Grove, he shows the band as they not only go through various ups and downs over the years, but the different paths that each of them lead in their personal lives. Not only that, he sees that the band members, specifically Jaz Coleman, are able to have time to address and confront things that are important to them, most specifically the philosophical, theological, societal and political questions that lie at the heart of their music. Despite myself for much of this film trying to hold back and look at it objectively, it got to a point in the film where I couldn't help myself, and it successfully managed to draw me in on a deeper level. When I saw the footage of the Jaz, Youth and Geordie at Paul Raven's funeral rekindling with Paul Ferguson, who infamously fell out with Jaz over two decades previously, I did start crying. I mean, they had me earlier, but this highly moving scene pulling me in near enough completely. At two-and-a-half hours, it's no small film by any means, but it is a pertinent one. The Death And Resurrection Show is a masterpiece, not only in it's extensive depiction of and testament to Killing Joke themselves, but also as a piece of narrative documentary filmmaking.

Now, as you can gather, despite my perhaps futile attempts at objectivity, I loved The Death And Resurrection Show. That being said, I do have say that there is one problem with the film which, though it be a masterwork, I found to be quite obvious. What it really boils down to is really a production decision on the theatrically released cut of the film. This is an independent picture with a long, arduous production timeline (I mean, for God's sake, Paul Raven died during the course of it's gestation!), and is being independently distributed, so they're obviously going to want to get as many people to see the film as possible. However, the chronological timeline of the picture comes across as lopsided. There's at most in the film's running time about thirty-to-forty minutes of screen time for the sections in the 2000s, the majority of which is devoted to the death of Raven and the reuniting of the original lineup. For anyone who doesn't know film distribution, once a film runs over three hours, unless it's a tentpole studio blockbuster with a huge mass marketing wing, it starts to limit the amount of screenings one can get for their film. The two-and-a-half hour runtime is just right for going into solid detail of the band's epic history, but under that three-hour threshold that would deny it some screenings, plus many audiences are put off by gluttonous running times on films, myself included (I never stop moaning about action blockbusters being in the two-and-a-half hour region). However, while I'm not asking for Shoah or Satantango, I think that an extra forty to fifty minutes, giving the film a runtime closes to two hundred minutes, perhaps would have been appropriate to make it feel less lopsided and to fully enlighten people on the urgency and pertinence of Killing Joke. I have a feeling that come home media release, The Death And Resurrection Show will either have an extended/Director's cut, or be stuffed full of DVD extras.

So, if you're glossing over the wall of text there in the negatives, don't associate that as being indicative of the film's flaws. In fact, it only has one, in that the film does feel lopsided in the chronological narrative timeline and trimmed for theatrical release. It's not the first instance recently of this happening. Take Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act Of Killing, which as you may know has a special place in my heart and I feel to be the most important documentary of recent times. The theatrical release of that film was one-hundred and twenty-two minutes, whereas the Director's Cut was one-hundred and fifty-nine minutes, so while the theatrical cut is still doubtless a masterpiece, the Director's Cut is the definitive chef d'ouevre, as it were. The same can be said of The Death And Resurrection Show. As it stands, the film is a masterpiece. I tried for objectivity, but Lord knows I failed. The sound of the film, from Killing Joke's wide and varied discography to Jaz Coleman's own classical compositions to the overall mixing and editing quality is of a high standard. The real marvel of the film is the editing by Prisca Bouchet, who takes the staggering amount of raw material and stitches it up, not just into a well-put together chronological narrative, but also plays around with it, and not in a gimmicky way, but a subtle manner, replicating the state of trance associated with the magic and rituals performed by the band members. There is also a strong sense of visual photography, from the stylised talking-head segments with Jaz Coleman to the sometimes beautiful location shooting. Finally, director Shaun Pettigrew stands true, doing right by Killing Joke. He not only delves into the philosophical, socio-political and theological thematic content close to the soul of the band's members, but also constructs a powerful piece of narrative documentary filmmaking. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bah, humbug! Only joking, Merry Christmas (take it while you can, you might not get it again!)!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - John Wick

Directed by: Chad Stahelski
David Leitch

Produced by: Basil Iwanyk
David Leitch
Eva Longoria
Michael Witherill

Screenplay by: Derek Kolstad

Starring: Keanu Reeves
Michael Nyqvist
Alfie Allen
Adrianne Palicki
Bridget Moynahan
Dean Winter
Ian McShane
John Leguizamo
Willem Dafoe

Music by: Tyler Bates
Joel J. Richard

Cinematography by: Jonathan Sela

Editing by: Elisabet Ronalds

Studio(s): Thunder Road Pictures
87Eleven Productions
MJW Films
DefyNite Films

Distributed by: Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate (United States)
Warner Bros. (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): October 13, 2014 (New York City, premiere)
October 24, 2014 (United States)
April 10, 2015 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 101 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $20 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $86, 013, 056

Multitasking is a wonder, ain't it folks? As per usual in my preamble, I seem to be rambling on about doing this, that and the other. To say otherwise would I suppose be a falsity. Anywho, I am marching right on through now, especially with awards season just creeping around the corner. The Golden Globes nominations have come in, and some the expected nominees such as Carol, Joy and The Revenant have cropped up, but most surprisingly is that Mad Max: Fury Road is up for Best Picture in the Drama category. It also came up as Sight and Sound's third-best film of the year in their annual poll, so judging by this we could be looking at the possibility Mad Max: Fury Road being a dark horse in the Best Picture race at the Academy Awards. I still haven't seen it, but I do think it's great that a big-budget genre film is getting these kind of accolades. So, for all the latest and greatest as regards the movies, keep your eyes posted.

Speaking of genre films, today's film up for review is John Wick, also critically acclaimed and being hailed as a major comeback to the fore for star Keanu Reeves. Made for $20 million, it also became a bit of a sleeper hit at the box-office, clocking in over $80 million at the box-office, putting it in the unique position that only a few months after release in the United States a sequel was announced, and began shooting in October of this year. Jon Feltheimer, the Chief Executive Office of Lionsgate, the film's US distributer, said during a conference call that Lionsgate "see John Wick as a multiple-title action franchise," so who knows how many of these we could end up seeing. Anyway, the film was written by Derek Kolstad, who developed it for Thunder Road Pictures, and directed by the duo of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, both of whom have worked in the past as second unit directors, stunt coordinators and stunt doubles, collaborating with Reeves in The Matrix trilogy and his directorial debut Man Of Tai Chi. John Wick stars Keanu Reeves in the title role as a retired hitman who seeks vengeance after the brutal theft of his car and the killing of his puppy, a gift from his recently deceased wife. At risk of sounding lazy, that's as much as you need to go going. Really. Got it? Good!

Positives firstoff, I have to say that this is a welcome return to prominence from Keanu Reeves. The character of John Wick himself seems as if it was almost perfectly designed to cater to his strengths. Often (falsely) accused of being a poor actor, Reeves plays Wick as the character is developed, a myth rather than a man. It's one of those rare occasions when a certain degree of two-dimensionality is required to play the part, and Reeves more than follows that through. However, even in the first act of the film, which essentially acts as a prologue to the real crust of things, it's moving to see Reeves emotionally engaging with Wick's tragic nature, and this more than justifies his transformation into the single-minded Babi Yaga he's had locked away inside himself. Also, for a man now into his fifties, he's not only able to portray the ageless quality of the character, but he's more than capable of keeping up with the frenetic pace of the film's terrifically choreographed action sequences. There's a real flair for movement in the stunts here, both in pure fighting and gun fu scenes, that is often lacking in contemporary action movies. The cinematography and editing serves to back this up. There's no stupid shaky-cam nonsense, shots being extended out to accommodate the action onscreen, the cuts being razor-sharp in their precision. Several times I was able to disconnect from the overarching narrative of the film and simply bask in the craftsmanship and physical effort that those involved in these scenes have put into the film. Speaking of narrative, one of the more engaging elements of the film is how it subtly develops it's own universe. While co-existent at times with the real world, there is a deep, rich underworld involving cops, cons and private contractors, all vying for the same, mysterious form of currency, the source or meaning of which wisely isn't fully explained (a la the contents of Marcellus Wallace's Briefcase in Pulp Fiction). Little things like the Continental, a hotel designed as a neutral haven for assassins where no 'business' is to be conducted on the premises, add to this. It's also a movie that is not without fun and a good sense of humour. After the events that lead to John Wick going on the warpath, the perpetrator Iosef (Alfie Allen), a wannabe gangster whose father Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) is the head of the Russian crime syndicate in New York, is punched and thrown out of Aurelio's (John Leguizamo) chop shop after telling him how he acquired the car. Viggo rings Aurelio asking why he beat his son, with the car dealer telling the mobster simply "He stole John Wick's car and killed his dog," to which the reply is "... oh..." Viggo then proceeds to go ahead and beat his son himself for his stupidity. The film is full of moments of jet-black humour like this. Once again, as I mentioned, it also adds to the mystique of John Wick's person. Each of the performances, a number of which are strong in their own right, such as Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe and Lance Riddick, are aware Wick's status as an urban legend and his place (and theirs) in this world. There's a real sense of interconnectedness in the references to past associations between them, and it tickles our curiosity as outsiders to see these characters who all know each other well interact with one another. Finally, I was impressed by the work of directorial debutants Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Although the film is bolstered by a (mostly) strong screenplay, much of it's emotional crux is told through actions and not words. Even amidst scenes of violence and wanton destruction, there's moments of real balletic grace, which can certainly be attributed to the directors' past experiences as stuntmen/stunt coordinators. This is confident, assured filmmaking. Oh, and yes, I liked the score by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard, plus the non-original songs in the film, such as Marilyn Manson's Killing Strangers. 

Now, at risk of sounding like I'm repeating myself, much of what I find to be at fault with John Wick is more on the basis of my own aesthetic feelings about the film as a whole. For instance, I said it's a mostly strong screenplay for a reason, namely that while there's a lot that is fresh, there's also a bit that is fairly run of the mill. It might be done well, but the fact is is that we have seen the retired hitman come out of retirement umpteen times before to go down the path of revenge. Also, it has to be said that I think that this is one of those films that, although it may not have been initially pitched that way, is designed to establish a series, a world in which multiple instalments can exist. You take something like The Terminator, which does such a brilliant job of creating the basis for a franchise, but also exists and operates as a completely cohesive stand-alone picture with a beginning, middle and an end. The fact that I doubt about whether or not John Wick can exist on those terms is indicative to me that it doesn't succeed as well as it could.

Despite those doubts about whether or not the film can exist on it's own terms outside of a prospective franchise and that we have seen the central story of a retired hitman coming out of retirement umpteen times, John Wick is one of the better martial-arts/gun-fu actioners I've seen for a while. It's a part perfectly catered both from a physical and emotional standpoint for star Keanu Reeves. Also, there is a real flair for movement in the choreography and staging of the action sequences, which is backed up by astute cinematography and editing which serves to highlight the human effort involved in the stunts onscreen. The subtle development of the film having it's own universe, an underworld coexistent with our reality, of which John Wick himself is an urban legend, is well established, and directorial debutants Chad Stahelski and David Leitch make this a strong argument for their future in action cinema.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - So much to do, so little time

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Everest

Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur

Produced by: Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Nicky Kentish Barnes
Tyler Thompson
Brian Oliver

Screenplay by: William Nicholson
Simon Beaufoy

Starring: Jason Clarke
Josh Brolin
John Hawkes
Robin Wright
Emily Watson
Keira Knightley
Sam Worthington
Jake Gyllenhaal

Music by: Dario Marianelli

Cinematography by: Salvatore Totino

Editing by: Mick Audsley

Studio(s): Cross Creek Pictures
Walden Media
Working Title Films

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): September 18, 2015 (United Kingdom)
September 25, 2015 (United States)

Running time: 121 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $55 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $202, 221, 858

Right, so at long last I've got that interim period over with. Now we can really get started with this. I've worked my ass off all year, so it's nice to see things coming round for me as regards my own goals in life. Every day I'm getting just that little bit closer to them, and each morning I get up energised ready for what is come in my waking hours. I've had so much to juggle, but the fruit of my labours is coming round, step by step, inch by inch. Anywho, enough pontificating, being that I've been neglected the blog this year, the next seven reviews (Everest, John Wick, The Death And Resurrection Show, The Lobster, The Human Centipede 3 (Full Sequence), Criminal Activities, Black Mass) will cover the three-month period of September, October and November. Come Oscar season though, I will have seen enough by that stage that you can still place a relative amount of faith in my opines over the cinematic scene in 2015. So, for all the latest and greatest as regards the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Everest, a survival film directed by notable Icelandic filmmaker and actor Baltasar Kormakur. Based upon the events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, the film received mixed to positive notice upon release and (much to my surprise!) it has hit $200 million at the box-office. Last I checked it was seriously under-performing domestically and abroad, but it seems to have made a hefty chunk of coin in international territories, so it is now technically a hit. The first time I was meant to see this film myself and my good compadre over at Danland Movies were having pre-drinks which ended up turning into a full Sunday session (as you do), so it took us literally about two or three weeks before we actually ended up seeing the film. A lot of work was put into the production of this, with two notable screenwriters in William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy writing, a number of heavyweight producers, a seemingly rotating lineup of cast members being added to and leaving the project (Christian Bale was originally in talks to play the lead), some coming to the film after production had begun shooting. The shooting itself on location also must been tough. Indeed, sixteen Sherpas were killed in an avalanche while the second unit crew was shooting the remaining scenes set in Everest's Camp II. So, story goes that Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), who first popularised the Everest guided climbs, is the leader of Adventure Consultants, who is travelling from New Zealand with his clients to Nepal, leaving behind his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley), promising to be back for the birth of their child. Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the chief guide for Rob's competitor Mountain Madness, and is also bringing an expedition of clients to Nepal. Worried about crowding on the mountain with two separate expeditions climbing at the same time, Rob convinces Scott to co-operate so as to avoid delays, and they plan on reaching the top and turning around by 14:00, the latest safe time that will allow them to return to camp before nightfall. However, things do not go to plan, and the collective group of both expeditions are caught in a blizzard that strikes the mountain. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, while I may have my problems with the film, which I'll get to in due time, I do have to say that the film is from a technical standpoint great. It must have been a royal pain and challenging to shoot the majority of a feature on location at such high altitudes, but DP Salvatore Totino and his crew manage to make the film both accessible and yet immersive in the atmosphere of such circumstances. The same can be said as regards the sound of the film, which is of a consistently high standard. Hearing this in a cinema, especially in the midst of some of the film's sequences amidst the blizzard, hammers home just how oppressive and exhaustive this must have been for all involved. Both sound and vision together make for some genuinely unnerving and tense moments, and unlike many the gut of many contemporary action/adventure films, it revels in drawing them out. Things like the sounds of a shaking horizontally placed ladder over a deep chasm which we are, with the characters, looking down into it have far more impact than about twenty or thirty explosions in numerous other films. All of the raw material for these sequences are compiled together appropriately by editor Mick Audsley. Most notable for his long and fruitful collaboration with Stephen Frears, Audsley has the unique ability of being able to create the illusion that a film has higher production value (financially, anyway) than it might in the hands of another. Thus, a low-budget feature like Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem looks like a mid-range $20-40 million film, and you'd be forgiven if you mad the mistake that Everest was an $80-100 million picture, given the logistical issues involved. Also, though I think the rest of the movie isn't up to the standards in the film's technical department, I cannot lay the fault at director Baltasar Kormakur's feet. This project would be an unenviable task for any filmmaker, most specifically the location shoot, and there I can say at least Kormakur delivered and as a whole I think I can still say I thought this to be a decent film.

For all of Everest's technical prowess, I cannot say that it is a great movie, or even a good film, because there are a number of key faults to denying it that status in this viewer's opinion. The main issue, as with many pictures, arises from the fact that the film's screenplay, as I mentioned, written by no less than two prominent screenwriters in William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, is deeply flawed and could have done with a few more redrafts. While the action sequences are well-realised, the fact is is that none of the film's characters, who are themselves based on real people, come across as more than mere trope. Rob Hall is the protagonist/voice of reason, Scott Fischer is the wild card, Beck Weathers is the stubborn America, Naoko Mori is the token Japanese/foreigner (full of resplendent East Asian stereotypes, being on a journey, bowing a lot and saying "Arigato."), Emily Watson is base camp manager/mother figure, Robin Wright is a wife, Keira Knightley is a pregnant wife... wait a minute! Do I sense a recurring theme here? Yes, pretty much every female character in the film serves as a wife or mother, merely an accessory to their male co-stars. I mean, you've got perfectly capable actors playing those parts, so why reduce them to such a weak onscreen status? Is it necessary to have the cardboard cutouts of 'the fairer sex,' as it were, to convey the plight of the men in the midst of these horrendously trying conditions? What have then coming from this is that the actors are left unable to appropriately convey the emotion necessary for three-dimensional characters, also known as people. Keira Knightley could have had a whole other film herself with the story of Jan Hall, yet all she does is occasionally motivate Jason Clarke in the name of their unborn child and cry. And cry again. I would say it's sexist but for the fact that the men are equally laden with a burden they are unable to overcome. This is a terrific ensemble cast on paper, but for all the good it did, the financiers might as well have cut back on the budget by about $10-15 million and cast unknowns instead.

Everest is one of those films that I have legitimately mixed feelings about. I recognise the fact that it is a technically astute film. Some scenes are simply played out, and end up being full of more tension than a bunch of explosions in a blockbuster. Those working on the cinematography, sound design/mixing and the overall editing of the film have nothing to be ashamed of. The same can be said of Baltasar Kormakur, who seems to handle most of the logistical challenges that come with shooting on location. However, I can't overlook the fact it is also a deeply flawed film. The script could have done with at least a few more redrafts, the characters, who are based on real people and meant to be the emotional centre of the piece, come across as nothing more than two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. This also negatively affects the performances of the actors, and given the credibility of the ensemble cast involved, they should have been given more to do.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Boom! (the ball bounces off the wall!)

P.S. Note to marketing department. Isn't the tagline "Never Let Go" a little too similar to Gravity's "Don't Let Go?"

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month - Interim Period 2015 - Jurassic World

Over the course of 2015, I have not managed to see a great amount of movies. Thankfully, due to the rules I impose myself, namely that I review things right through the Oscar season, I have plenty of time to catch up on a good few of the noteworthy films of the past year. Most of the films I saw during my interim period weren't exactly noteworthy, but Jurassic World was an exception. Granted, it's not perfect and has a big gaping problem to deal with in gender politics, but I still had a whale of a time with a movie. It manages to succeed, both as an homage to the franchise's past instalments and standing on it's own two feet as a very different beast, and is a thrilling, pulpy blockbuster romp. The box-office numbers are indicative that the brand is still strong, and I'm enthusiastic to say the least about the potential of it's future.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.2/10

Runner-Up: Furious 7 - The Fast & Furious franchise continues to be one of the real gems in contemporary action cinema with the turn towards the heist genre. It's also a loving, emotional tribute to the life of Paul Walker.

Dishonourable Mention: The Lazarus Effect - Any initial interest I might have had in this film is null and voided by the way it reduces itself to the usual parlour tricks of jump-scares, bad lighting, characters who live to die and a plot with many swerves of diminishing returns.

Avoid Like The Plague: Terminator Genisys - Changing the rules of the franchise for no reason other than sheer like of ingenuity to follow through on a concept, while Arnie may indeed be back, this mess of a film is easily the worst thing to happen to the Terminator film franchise.

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Lazarus Effect

Directed by: David Gelb

Produced by: Jason Blum
Luke Dawson
Matt Kaplan
Jimmy Miller
Cody Zweig

Screenplay by: Luke Dawson
Jeremy Slater

Starring: Mark Duplass
Olivia Wilde
Donald Glover
Evan Peters
Sarah Bolger
Ray Wise

Music by: Sarah Schachner

Cinematography by: Michael Fimognari

Editing by: Michael N. Knue

Studio: Blumhouse Productions

Distributed by: Relativity Media

Release date (s): February 27, 2015 (United States)
October 19, 2015 (United Kingdom, DVD and Blu-Ray premiere)

Running time: 83 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $3.3 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $64, 110, 728

As you can see, I've been rather slow on this side of things. I'm at an all-time low as regards to the actual numbers, having managed only fifteen at the end of November. I have had one hell of a busy year, and as such haven't been able to dedicate as much time as I want to the blog. I'm literally having to plan my days out now, what with all my different interests outside of this. However, I will see that I keep at it. I've a roundup review for the interim period to follow this one, and for the September-October-November period (I know, terrible) I have reviews for Everest, John Wick, The Death And Resurrection Show, The Lobster, The Human Centipede 3: Full Sequence, Criminal Activities and Black Mass on the way. Also, to start off December I will be seeing the much-lauded Carol, and somewhere down the line I can guarantee that The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, Far From The Madding Crowd, The Look Of Silence (hello to Joshua Oppenheimer) and more will be looked at. So, for all the latest and greatest, keep your eyes posted.

Today's film up for review is The Lazarus Effect, described on Wikipedia as a "supernatural science fiction horror film." Wow, I didn't even know that supernatural science fiction horror was considered in itself a subgenre. Anywho, the film itself received largely negative reviews, but managed to make a not insignificant sum of over $60 million off of a small $3 million budget, so a very profitable film indeed. This is much in line with the formula that Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions have established, most of the films under that banner being in and around the $5 million range and pushed heavily in marketing so that even if they aren't hitting Paranormal Activity or Insidious numbers, they're still highly profitable. So, with The Lazarus Effect, medical researchers Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde), who are engaged to one another, have developed a serum going by the codename of 'Lazarus.' Intended to assist coma patients, it is however shown to be able to bring the dead back to life. With the assistance of their friends on the team, the run a successful trial on a dog. However, the dog behaves differently, its cataracts disappear, it has no appetite and demonstrates other strange abilities. When the dean of university funding the project finds out about their underground experiments, he shuts down the project, but not without them attempting to duplicate their previous success. In the process, Zoe is fatally electrocuted, and becomes the first human guinea pig. She is resurrected, but it is clear to the team that something is wrong with Zoe. Got it? Good!

Starting off with the good, I have to clear it off the table, I like Olivia Wilde's jawline. I'm sorry, I know it's not exactly the best way to start a legitimate critique of a film, but the bone structure from her cheeks to her chin is a painter's dream. It's a face with real character, and at the very least when I was bored I could at least study her face. Okay, now that we've got that out of the way, let's go. Some part of the first act of the film are creepy. I like the way that it's a slow tease and doesn't just go straight in for the gullet. You know that that there is something quite clearly screwed up about the dog, and at the best of times the film can be legitimately menacing. Also the central concept may have been done before, but it is initially intriguing. In much the same way that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (to which I think the film owes a massive debt) intrigued audiences with it's fusion of Gothic and science-fiction, you're dealing with universal themes, one of the greatest 'what-ifs?'; can we beat death? There's also the idea of us, through science and technological advancement, overstepping our bounds. Should we or shouldn't we appease our inherent curiosity? There's also a fair amount of material in there suggested about the character of Zoe's childhood trauma, and how this affects her over the course of the film. These kinds of questions are posed throughout the film. 

That's all I can say really of note about this film as regards qualities. It's not as outrageously bad a film as some of those that I have seen over the years, but don't count that as a glowing recommendation either. After the first act, for all of the short running time, it's a slow, ponderous mess, any nuance or niche the film might have degenerating into the usual jump-scares, 'inventive' kills and plot turns. The script is overly-plotted, in that it is designed purposefully to keep us on our toes by attempting to swerve our expectations about where it is going to go. The thing is is that you can only get away with swerves and twists so many times before the audience becomes emotionally attuned to them and sees them coming a mile away. It's the law of diminishing returns, each turn losing effect every time they do it. Also, none of the characters in the film, bar Olivia Wilde's Zoe, are thoroughly fleshed out. Mark Duplass does his best to hold up the film as the protagonist, but it's damn near impossible to something like that when, to use a Clive Barker-esque metaphor, you have a concrete block dangling from hooks embedded in your block. None of the other characters seem to exist to do anything other than fill up some empty space, say a couple of bad lines, and die in a slightly memorable fashion. Technically too it's an ugly enough film. A lot of what is happening onscreen is badly lit. I don't just mean using shadows and low-lights, I mean just badly, as in I can't see much of what is happening and what I can see looks ugly. Just because it's a horror film doesn't mean it can't be beautiful. Look at older films like Eyes Without A Face, Rosemary's Baby, Suspiria and The Shining, or more recent films such as Audition, Byzantium or Guillermo del Toros's ouevre, there's no reason why a horror film shouldn't be shot to look good. Films with darker lighting like The Exorcist or even the turgid grunginess of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre can keep us visually engaged. Furthermore, I'd like to make a point here, why is it that for every single jump-scare in these films they have to do away with any semblance of aural ambience and crank the volume up to the bloody hilt? If you've done a good enough job at getting me engaged, I will generally react with shock at something you want to be shocking, regardless of the volume. It's such a cheap trick, because most of the time people have a default physical reaction to loud noises which comes from the jolt to our cerebral senses, be it shock, laughter, fear, joy (don't know so much about joy, but you get the point) etc. It's like having someone coming up and yelling in your ear; of course you're going to react to that! It's such a shame that after the first act everyone just seemed to give up reduce themselves to the old parlour tricks. Blumhouse Productions should be admired for their round-the-clock production schedule and marketing drive, and has been responsible for some of the most entertaining and legitimately scary low-budget horror films of the past five or six years; the first Paranormal Activity and last year's best horror film in the opinion of your not-so humble narrator, Oculus, came under the Blumhouse banner, and I have a begrudging fondness for The Purge films, so I know the quality is there. Also, if they can put out films like Whiplash, I know that they can invest in low-budget productions that have a standard of excellence. The Lazarus Effect is nowhere near the quality of film to befit said term.

To give The Lazarus Effect its due, the first act is relatively interesting and suspenseful, establishing the thematic content of the story and doing what should have happened for the rest of the film, slow burn to build suspense. At the best of times, in that first act it can be very creepy and at the worst of times we have Olivia Wilde's jawline to study. However, most of what is good about the film is gone within the first twenty-thirty minutes, as it reduces itself to the same old rudimentary parlour tricks of bad lighting, jump scares accompanied by excessive volume, characters who live to die, and an abundance of plot twists and swerves which abide by the law of diminishing returns. Not excessively bad, just boring and dull as ditchwater.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Insulted (David Cameron has decided anyone who is against airstrike-bombing Syria is a "terrorist sympathiser." I might as well have been declared 'enemy of the state.'

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Terminator Genisys

Directed by: Alan Taylor

Produced by: David Ellison
Megan Ellison
Dana Goldberg

Screenplay by: Laeta Kalogridis
Patrick Lussier

Based on: Terminator characters created by James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Jason Clarke
Emilia Clarke
Jai Courtney
J.K. Simmons
Dayo Okeniyi
Matt Smith
Courtney B. Vance
Lee Byung-hun

Music by: Lorne Balfe

Cinematography by: Kramer Morgenthau

Editing by: Roger Barton

Studio(s): Annapurna Pictures
Skydance Productions

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): July 1, 2015 (United States)
July 2, 2015 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 126 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $155 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $440, 603, 537

Hey gang, just want to let you know that this and my upcoming review for The Lazarus Effect will be my last ones for my 2015 interim period. I'll do a sort of round-up for the interim, and then I'll be shooting on with the month of October from there. A lot of different things taking shape, the blog only just being the one of them. So, with that being said, for all the latest and greatest as regards the movies, keep your eyes posted!

And I said in my last review where have the Sarah Connor's gone? Well here she is! Terminator Genisys is the latest instalment in the Terminator film franchise. For those of you who don't know, I have a more than inordinate fondness for anything Terminator related. Started in 1984 by James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd with The Terminator, a low-budget guerilla science-fiction action movie with big-budget aspirations and ideas (which also just happens to be in my not-so humble opinion the greatest film of all-time), it spawned an entire franchise. This included three film sequels, the first (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) of which I just watched again recently, and I forgot just how damn good a film it is and how well it stands up today with it's incredible pacing, storytelling and action sequences. The two Cameron films were followed by two lesser sequels, 2003's Rise Of The Machines, which was essentially a decent enough extended chase movie, and 2009's Salvation, a film that endured a serious amount of critical derision upon release, but I found to be a good (not great) war movie set within the Terminator universe. Even still, with this and the different problems involving the series' owner Halcyon filing for bankruptcy, Pacifor purchasing and selling the rights, Universal Studios' proposed Terminator packages, the latter of which was picked by Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures (and later her brother David Ellison's Skydance as a producing partner) and Paramount confirmed as distributor, this is only the fifth time the franchise has been brought to the big screen over it's thirty-year plus history. Justin Lin, Rian Johnson, Denis Villeneuve and Ang Lee were among the names involved to take the helm, with Alan Taylor being selected, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger returning the fold in the main cast. So, story goes that in 2029, Human Resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) launches a massive final offensive against Skynet, the artificial intelligence system out to eliminate the human race. Before they can win, Skynet activates a time machine to send back a T-800 Terminator to kill his mother. Seizing the machine, Connor sends back his right-hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to find and protect her. As Reese goes through, he witness a Resistance soldier attacking Connor and has a vision in the memories of his childhood. Upon arrival, Skynet's T-800 has been deactivated by Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and the Guardian (also known as 'Pops', played by Schwarzenegger), a reprogrammed T-800 sent back to protect Sarah when she was nine years old. When Kyle arrives, he is attacked by a T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun). Sarah and Pops join Kyle to destroy the T-1000 using acid, and then reveal to Kyle they have constructed a makeshift time-machine to go forward to 1997, the year Skynet becomes self-aware. However, Kyle in convinced from a warning in his childhood memories that the timeline has been altered, persuading Sarah to travel to 2017 instead to stop Skynet. What a bloody mouthful! Shall we dance?

To start off with the good, I have to say that the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to his most iconic role is welcome to say the least. Even though Schwarzenegger is regularly lampooned, sometimes not without justification, there is no doubting that when he's on form he's someone who can, despite his advancing years, be a powerful physical presence and is a natural when it comes to deadpan humour, which is always played to the nth degree with his robotic Terminator depictions. Speaking of Terminator depictions, some great special/visual effects are at work in the film. Between the usual T-800 and T-1000 you've got good stuff, but the real leap is in the T-3000, which is not only conceptually a good idea but is effectively pulled off. There's some extremely complicated matte cell involved in achieving the effect of a mass of living nanomites and it's transformation being developed in successive layers. I this looked up and found out that it sometimes took over twenty hours to render, and is one of the film's real visual treats. Finally, the initial premise of the official timeline of the film being altered is an interesting idea. For starters, the first Terminator film was about a man and a machine travelling through time, the former to prevent the latter from the altering the past but ends up unwittingly playing a part in bringing about the prophecy he seeks to preserve, so not only is it in keeping with the franchise, it gives Genisys a nice starter point to build the foundations of something new and different (a la the alternate reality concept J.J. Abrams' rebooted Star Trek).

Now, I have to get down to the crux of this bad boy, because frankly, much as I htmonths!)tor franchise, this is indeed a bad movie. At least I can say that Rise Of The Machines and Salvation are enjoyable for their pukpish genre sensibilities. In the case of Genisys, while I can admire some aspects of the production, overall it is a dull, unsatisfying experience. Even mustering the enthusiasm to scribe this review has been wanting. As I write, it is nearing six in the morning while I am on night shift and I'm figuring this is about the only decent time to be doing this. The script for starters is an absolute mess. Contributing nothing to the franchise and lacking the distinction to make it a stand-alone work, the story moves in such a scrambled, multitudinous way that it borders on preposterous (while also botching up it's attempt at re-writing the rules of the series), and the characters lack the necessary development to make their arcs credible (woeful dialogue too...). This also has a detrimental impact upon the performances of the actors. Emilia Clarke and especially Jason Clarke are both wasted, while Jai Courtney fails to convince full-stop, and Lee Byung-hun just seems to be there to give the film some international flavour. Even the might J.K. Simmons, fresh off his Oscar-winning performance as the menacing Terence Fletcher in Whiplash, can't seem to give the impression that he's particularly interested in the project. There have been some good composers involved in these films, most notably Brad Diesel but also the likes of Danny Elfman, but Lorne Balfe score to my ears just sounds like audio-filler histrionics with odd motif to invoke Fiedel's iconic groundwork. Also, from the technical side, as far as photography goes, I know it's a big-budget movie, so there's no good reason why the film at times looks as ugly as it does and has such a drab colour palette. Editing wise too it should been sifted through more. You could chop a whole lot of expositional guff (i.e. about thirty minutes!) and still have a relatively coherent film. There's no good reason for this to be over two hours long! Finally, while I like Alan Taylor for his past television work on The Sopranos, he has been saddled with a real Trojan horse of a film to helm. No matter how much you dress it up (and perhaps I'm doing pigs a disservice by comparing them to this film), as the old saying goes, if you put lipstick on a pig it's still a pig. All I got from this was that those in production felt they had to do something with the franchise (having bid for it, Arnie now being available, etc.), but they didn’t have much to do with it to begin with. A good bit more time in development and they might have had something here. All they have here and they're getting from me is a big fat tumbs down. You want my advice? Go watch Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. While it's not perfect (it was cancelled too early to do something special), it does far more justice to the franchise and has enough originality to be something distinctive. It's a hell of a lot of fun and Emilia Clarke’s Game Of Thrones co-star Lena Headey makes a great Sarah Connor.

So there you have it. Arnie may be back (and in good form), there may be some terrific special effects work and the central concept may be initially interesting, but Terminator Genisys is a real dud of a film. The script is a convoluted mess story-wise that botches it's attempt to re-write the rules of the franchise, and lacks true character development to make their arcs believable. It negatively affects the acting performances of just about everyone involved, Lorne Balfe score is just audio-filler histrionics and Alan Taylor is saddled with a complete Trojan horse. This is the only time I have ever been able to say I didn't enjoy a Terminator film, or anything Terminator-related for that matter. That this was the only one to get James Cameron’s seal of approval makes it all the more terrifying!

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis - 2.3\10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright (considering the mind-boggling prospect of my timetable over the next few months!)

P.S. Please excuse the terrible line-spacing

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Jurassic World

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow

Produced by: Frank Marshall
Patrick Crowley

Screenplay by: Rick Jaffa
Amanda Silver
Derek Connolly
Colin Trevorrow

Story by: Rick Jaffa
Amanda Silver

Based on: Characters by Michael Crichton

Starring: Chris Pratt
Bryce Dallas Howard
Vincent D'Onofrio
Ty Simpkins
Nick Robinson
Omar Sy
B.D. Wong
Irrfan Khan

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Cinematography by: John Schwartzman

Editing by: Kevin Stitt

Studio(s): Amblin Entertainment
Legendary Pictures

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): June 11, 2015 (United Kingdom)
June 12, 2015 (United States)

Running time: 124 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $150 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $1, 665, 727, 701

Okay, so there's less reviews going out than there should be. I admit that. The pace may not exactly be quickening, but it sure is going nice and steady. It's nice to be able to go back to my roots as a writer with the film reviewing. As I'm busy with both work and pursuing my own interests, it is a pleasure to take a step away from it all and just bask in the sheer enjoyment of sitting in a dark room watching something unfold. It would be amiss for me to make any great promises regarding this blog, as I've only managed to watch a dozen films so far from 2015 (easily my lowest number since this blog's inception) and have been so far removed from the general scheme of things, but I can say that I'll do my best to cover as much as I can. So, with that being said, for, if not all, at least some of the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted.

Today's film up for review is Jurassic World, the fourth entry into the Jurassic Park film series. Returning to the big screens after a fourteen-year gap involving a long period of development hell, Jurassic World opened right in the midst of blockbuster season and became an astounding box-office success, standing right now as the highest-grossing film of 2015 and the third highest-grossing film of all-time. I for one was expected it to do relatively well, but I don't think many could have predicted the final outcome, and it just shows how much love there is this franchise. As a boy I saw the first film and instantly fell for it all: there was something just so wondrous and brilliant about those dinosaurs, and it amazed me that these beasts once walked the earth. For a long time, way before I started styling myself as an artistic enfant terrible, it was my great dream to become a palaeontologist. Yep, I wanted to earn a living and live my life on archaeological campsites digging up dinosaurs. I don't look back with hindsight and scoff at my younger self's ambitions. Indeed, I admire them, because I'm still to a degree digging up dirt, exploring and looking for answers to all of life's great mysteries. The first Jurassic Park (and the 1997 sequel The Lost World) have a special place in my heart, so thank you Mr. Spielberg (and of course Mr. Crichton for his terrific novel). Now, let's get on with the synopsis: twenty-two years after the events in Jurassic Park, a fully functioning dinosaur theme park under the name of Jurassic World has been operating successfully for ten years on the island Isla Nublar. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the operations manager of the park, is a workaholic who is too busy to recruiting new sponsors with a new attraction, the genetically modified synthetic dinosaur known as Indominus Rex, to spend time with her visiting nephews Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins). Before the attraction opens, park owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) wants resident Velociraptor expert and trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to evaluate the enclosure. However, when it seems that the Indominus has escaped, Owen and two staff members are ambushed by the dinosaur, which then escapes further into the island. With Zach and Gray having ignored the evacuation order while on a gyrosphere ride, it is up to Owen and Claire to save the boys from the rampaging beast, whose escape has had a tumbleweed effect causing all sorts of havoc, and restore some semblance of order to the park. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, I have to say that Jurassic World is a blockbuster which delivers it's big-budget spectacle in stacks. Notwithstanding the fact that the film is looks good and is edited well, the special-effects on the film reaches the standard of excellence set by the previous films. Computer graphics have come a long way since 2001, and it's a fitting tribute to the work of the late great Stan Winston that his alumni at Legacy Effects and Industrial Light And Magic, with the likes of Phil Tippett and Dennis Muren back on board to bring the franchise up to contemporary speed. The use of motion capture is also a welcome addition, ensuring the seamless flow of movement in the dinosaurs. With all of these elements of a high standard, it means that we can sit back and wallow in the sheer awe at watching these creatures, but also on the edge of our seats with some of the film's terrific action sequences. There is a brilliant sense of size and scale involved in the scenes, but most importantly, they maintain the essential fear factor involved; these are big, scary beasts, and chances are they the ones doing the hunting, not the other way around. All of this culminates in one of the most outrageously destructive and totally awesome fight sequences I can remember seeing in a film for a good while. There are also other things to admire about Jurassic World. Like the original, it is ultimately a precautional commentary on the ethical question of man playing god. Science and the advancement of technology brings many great things, but there are some stones best left unturned. While it's a tried and tested trope, those behind Jurassic World are smart enough to ensure that the movie has it's own thing going. It's the first post-9/11 Jurassic Park film, and there are clear implications involved with the shadow that that event has left upon our collective consciousness. The idea of the intelligent Velociraptors being trained is a genius bit of thinking (and which reminds me of the turn of the Vortigaunts in Half-Life 2), because not only do you get to have dinosaurs on the side of the humans but you also get the ethical considerations involving InGen's Vic Hoskins designs to see them trained for military use as weapons of war. As regards thematic content, Jurassic World succeeds. Also, while some may mourn the absence of John Williams as the film's composer, we can celebrate the fact that Michael Giacchino is on board here and that he delivers one of his best scores to date. While I'm not usually the man for what I call 'orchestral histrionics,' Giacchino is an exception, and this contains many pieces of work which are quite clearly trademark 'Giacchino' themes, but also are creative, thrilling and at times beautiful. Furthermore, there is a synthesis between this and his homages, echoing the iconic Williams themes, balanced perfectly and never overstepping their bounds. It's a score that works on many different levels, merging sound and vision into moments were time seems to stand still. I wouldn't be surprised if it remains one of the best scores of the year come awards season. It is this synthesis I mentioned, between respectful homage and distinctive creativity that stands out at the heart of Jurassic World. Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver were handed the reigns to bring a much beloved franchise back to the big screen, something which they do successfully. Maintaining a balance between the homages (the Jurassic World employee wearing a Jurassic Park t-shirt being told off for being in bad taste) and taking the property to new places, Jurassic World is a confident, respectful and highly entertaining blockbuster which assures that once again, life has found a way for this franchise.

So, as you can gather, I liked Jurassic World. Scratch that, I really liked Jurassic World. However, much as I found the film a hell of a lot of fun, there is a central problem to it which means that while it is a great movie, it's no masterwork. That problem lies in the characters. Despite the fact that you have quality actors like Chris Pratt and Vincent D'Onofrio playing these parts, they remain themselves two-dimensional tropes with no viable arcs. Pratt can make paint drying somewhat watchable, but his Owen Grady has none of the development or depth that his recent protagonists Emmet Brickowski and Peter Quill have possessed. None more so is this prevalent in Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire, a part which is indicative of the poor state of affairs regarding the lack of viable female parts in major Hollywood films. Claire is a strong and at times intimidating authority figure to her employees at Jurassic World, but all of that cool demeanour goes out the window when it comes to the rugged charms of Chris Pratt. I know that's a spoiler but tell me you can't see that a mile away! I mean, for God's sake, she even acknowledges a previous tryst with the man as "a mistake." Is it really necessary for every major female character in a blockbuster to fall for their leading man? I'm not suggesting a standardisation of platonic relationships or something, but isn't demeaning to suggest that powerful women who are successful are lacking something 'inside' (hint hint, wink wink) and hollow vacuous shells unless they go head over heels for their male co-stars? Whatever happened to the Ellen Ripley's, the Sarah Connor's or the Clarice Starling's? Because of this lack of character development, these arcs weren't appropriately justified, and I found some of the sexual and gender politics involved here to be quite troublesome.

Right so, taking that away my problems with the characters, which I hate to, being the ethical mother that I am, I still think that Jurassic World is a great movie. This is a big-budget spectacle which delivers in stacks. The cinematography, editing, sound and special effects are of a very high standard, and the well-scripted action sequences are among some of the most exciting around. Also, for all the lack of character development, there is still a rich amount of thematic content. Michael Giacchino also gives us one of his best scores, quite clearly his own while steeped with gestures towards the work of John Williams. The same can be said for much of the film. It's quite a step-up for Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, but they succeed in delivering a film that is a synthesis between something that is a respectful homage to the history of the franchise and an original move forward for its future.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Produced by: J.J. Abrams
Bryan Burk
Tom Cruise
David Ellison
David Goldberg
Don Granger

Screenplay by: Christopher McQuarrie

Story by: Christopher McQuarrie
Drew Pearce

BasedMission: Impossible by Bruce Geller

Starring: Tom Cruise
Jeremy Renner
Simon Pegg
Rebecca Ferguson
Ving Rhames
Sean Harris
Alec Baldwin

Music by: Joe Kraemer

Cinematography by: Robert Elswit

Editing by: Eddie Hamilton

Studio(s): Bad Robot Productions
Skydance Productions
Cruise/Wagner Productions
China Movie Channel
Alibaba Pictures

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): July 30, 2015 (United Kingdom)
July 31, 2015 (United States)

Running time: 131 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $150 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $679.8 million

Alrighty there children! After a quiet enough week there (aside from the odd twelve-hour shift), a new one begins, and what better way to begin than to write. If there's one thing that I have rediscovered in the past number of months, before I started the blog back up, is that I do derive such a great amount of pleasure in the simple process of writing, creating. Call me mad, but it's at that semi-mystical point now where I refuse to see myself any longer as a sentient being whose thoughts process and put together stories but rather a vessel that channels unharnessed energy around it, and thus guiding these stories to tell themselves. Anywho, getting away from my (possible?) delusions of grandeur, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, the fifth and latest instalment in the Mission: Impossible film series, starring Tom Cruise as Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent Ethan Hunt. For those of you who don't know, I'm a big fan of Tom Cruise. Recently myself and my good film compatriot talked about how Cruise is the last of the big film stars, something that doesn't exist quite as much any more (stars don't sell any more, it's franchises that sell). Following his incredible leading role in 1983 as Joel Goodson in Paul Brickman's Risky Business, he went to megastardom with 1986's Top Gun and hasn't looked back since. Rain Man, Born On The Fourth Of July, A Few Good Men, the Mission: Impossible series, Jerry Maguire, Minority Report, Collateral, War Of The Worlds, this is not only a star, but an actor of true range and depth. Right up to the present day, with 2013's Oblivion and 2014's Edge Of Tomorrow, he's continuing to give great performances, and not only that, he has to be one of the few actors who remains credible with leading man status playing roles that could easy have been filled by people twenty years younger. I mean, he's already three years older than Jimmy Stewart was in Vertigo! Does the man ever age? However, since the previous M:I instalment, Ghost Protocol, Cruise's past four films, Rock Of Ages, Jack Reacher, Oblivion and Edge Of Tomorrow, did not exactly set the box-office on fire, leading many to question as to whether finally the Cruiser's star had finally waned. Well, this film has grossed $679 million off of it's $150 million budget, but you have to wonder now can he continue have a hit outside of the M:I franchise and do people want to see Cruise if he isn't Ethan Hunt. The two other major players involved in the production of this film are Christopher McQuarrie, the film's writer and director, who has been a regular Cruise collaborator since 2008's Valkyrie, working on him on both the M:I films, Jack Reacher and Edge Of Tomorrow, and J.J. Abrams. 2015 is going to another one of those years where J.J. Abrams is everywhere. When the new Stars Wars film, The Force Awakens arrives, it will be huge at the box-office, and hopefully it has the same effect that Abrams has had on other franchises, such as Star Trek and M:I, doing the J.J. Abrams thing and reinvigorating them with new life. After years of terrific work on television with Felicity, Alias and Lost, he was selected as director for M:I-3, which is a real blast of a film that remains the best of the franchise, and now that he has come into the fold as a producer, his imprint remains all over them. But enough contextual details, let's talk plot: Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is convinced that he can prove the existence of the Syndicate, an international criminal consortium which the CIA does not believe exists. Hunt is captured by the Syndicate, but escapes from a torture chamber led by member Janik 'Bone Doctor' Vinter (Jens Hulten) with the help of MI6 agent and Syndicate operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). The IMF, meanwhile, faces great trouble, in that without a secretary in charge, Field Operations Director William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), is forced to defend their controversial and destructive methods before a Senate committee. Unfortunately, CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), succeeds in having the IMF disbanded and absorbed into the CIA, while Hunt is cut off from the IMF and follows his only lead: a blond man in glasses. Got it? Good!

Starting off with the good, I do have to once again mention Tom Cruise. While the Ethan Hunt in this film does not go to the depths which we have seen previously, Cruise is still a delight in the part. He's convincing in portraying the grit and determination of the lead character's idealistic pursuit of unveiling the truth. Furthermore, it is a wonder that the man at his age is still able to perform in such a physical level of film. I mean, the man must be mad in the head, doing some of the things that he continues to do in these films. That opening sequence, used in the promotional material for the film, that's Cruise legitimately hanging five-thousand feet in the air! This brings me to the stunts, which once again are of a very high standard. The previous instalment, Ghost Protocol, featured that already iconic Burj Khalifa climb in Dubai, and while nothing quite reach that level of awe, there's still genuinely nerve-wracking and great stuff here. A fight scene in the swinging rafters of a Viennese opera house, a silent sequence in an underwater turbine tank, followed by a ludicrously bombastic car chase, M:I-5 has plenty going for it in that regard. All of these sequences, and the movie as a whole, look terrific, with DP Robert Elswit working on the film. Certainly one of the best contemporary cinematographers, his trademark crisp quality which makes everything he works on look good, but not only that, he gives the action sequence a real classy kind of flair. Although some of these scenes feature wanton destruction, there is a certain level of elegance with what Elswit does here. The final thing I'd like to praise here is Chris McQuarrie, as regards his work both as a screenwriter and director. The Cruiser obviously used his clout to get his regular collaborator on board, and quite clearly it was the right choice. McQuarrie writes some of these sequences right down to a tee, with an eye for detail and little things to make them memorable. He understands the pulpy humour and sensibilities involved with the franchise, delivering a film which is at times very funny, and is also successful with film's central antagonist(s), building the Syndicate over an extended period of time as a powerful organisation that exists almost as a superpower with enough weight behind it to topple governments. It feels like a legitimate threat to Ethan Hunt and his IMF team. As a director, McQuarrie handles with care, but is not afraid to go out there and do something interesting with it. This was McQuarrie's first film as a director on this scale or production level, so it's great to see that after Cruise and Abrams (plus their producing partners) put their faith in him he was able to back it up. No doubt because of this film's success, McQuarrie will get another gig or two in major films as a writer-director, which is something I'd be quite happy to see. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is an exciting actioner which is solidly entertaining popcorn fare. 

Now, as no doubt you've already gathered I enjoyed myself with M:I-5. But now comes the time of the proverbial 'however,' because despite this I do not feel that this is by any means to be considered a great movie. The only real flaw in the classical sense that could be pointed out to the film is that the turns of the plot later in the film end up in the realm of the overly convoluted and at times border on preposterous. Yes, we get the whole 'who's conning who' and double-agent routines of intrigue which are so much a part of the spy film genre, but here it all starts to get a bit silly, and to use a tried and tested term, it did start to jump the shark. The other problem with the film is one of those ones that is more about my own personal feelings than anything in particular. While it's a pulpy thrill ride, it contributes nothing of real importance or value. This is something that has always been a recurring issue with the Mission: Impossible film series. Just because it's a genre film doesn't mean you can't do something with meaningful depth and resonance. It doesn't have to be one or the other. Just take a look at Chris Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy or some of the recent James Bond films with Daniel Craig (namely Casino Royal and Skyfall) and you see that it is quite possible to do both successfully. Mission: Impossible III was the closest this franchise has got to achieving both. Rogue Nation only succeeds in one of them.

Even though I think that the plot becomes overly convoluted and that the film as a whole is of no major importance or significance, I still had a good time and think that M:I-5 is a very good bit of popcorn fare. The Cruiser shows no signs of stopping and is on fine form here, proving once again that he is more than adept at keeping pace with the film's meticulously crafted action sequences. All of this is shot with elegance and classy flair by Robert Elswit and Chris McQuarrie does a solid job at the helm in both capacities as writer and director. Solidly entertaining popcorn fare.

The Thin White Dude's Diagnosis - 7.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good

P.S. I have to note that Ving Rhames' totally obese moment of Luther struggling and breathing heavily to get about ten yards through a crowd in the London Underground to Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust was one of the most unintentionally funny moments in a film for quite some time. I was in stitches for about ten or fifteen minutes.