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.'