Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Brooklyn

Directed by: John Crowley

Produced by: Finola Dwyer
Amanda Posey
Thorsten Schumacher
Beth Pattinson
Pierre Even

Screenplay by: Nick Hornby

Based on: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Starring: Saoirse Ronan
Emory Cohen
Domhnall Gleeson
Jim Broadbent
Julie Walters

Music by: Michael Brook

Cinematography by: Yves Belanger

Editing by: Jake Roberts

Studio(s): BFI
BBC Films
HanWay Films
Wildgaze Films
Item 7 Inc

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures (United States)
20th Century Fox (International)
TSG Entertainment/Lionsgate (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): January 6, 2015 (Sundance Film Festival)
November 6, 2015 (United Kingdom & Ireland)
November 25, 2015 (United States)

Running time: 112 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom

Production budget: $11 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $49, 145, 539

Today's film up for review is Brooklyn, an historical period drama which is up for three Oscars, namely Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay this Sunday. Written by Nick Hornby and based upon the Colm Toibin novel of the same name, it stars Saoirse Ronan in the lead role of Eilis Lacey, a young woman from Enniscorthy in County Wexford, whose sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) has arranged for her to find a better future in the United States, immigrating to Brooklyn and getting work and accommodation by way of her sponsor, the priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). Staying in the boarding house of Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters), the homesick Eilis aspires to better things than her department store job and is enrolled in bookkeeping classes, and at a dance meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a young Italian-American man who falls for her and becomes her boyfriend. Got it? Good!

I didn't want to get too much into the whole plot synopsis thing too much because if I had to explain it all I would end up spoiling important plot spoilers, so you'll have to excuse me if I, on occasion, sound vague as I wax lyrical. And wax lyrical, indeed I will, because I loved Brooklyn. On the surface, this is the kind of film I'd normally dislike or dismiss as Oscar-bait were it not for the fact that the film is so sincere and genuine that I can't not think of it in highly favourable terms. For starters, it boasts an excellent lead performance from Saoirse Ronan. Ronan has come a long way from getting an Oscar nod at the age of thirteen in Joe Wright's Atonement, and one can't help but see in the emotional development in the character of Eilis a reflection of the growing talent of the young actor. Over time, Ronan has gained the experience and wisdom of someone twice her age, so that over the course of Brooklyn, Eilis' arc is expressed with great subtlety. It's not like all of a sudden a switch is flipped and she's a completely different person, but in much the same way as is true to life, Ronan, an actor who make the smallest inflections entirely meaningful and significant, inflects Eilis with real tact as we watch the drama unfold, the girl becoming a woman. It's a masterclass in acting; Ronan is fully deserving of the praise, and I hope she has a bright and promising future in the film world. Anywho, enough gushing about Saoirse Ronan, because even though by no means do any of the other performers stand out the way Ronan's Eilis does, the fact remains is that there are a number of solid supporting performances in the film. The three I mentioned, Cohen, Broadbent and especially Walters (whose Mrs. Kehoe is hilarious), are all good, but so also are Domhnall Gleeson (who's good in everything this year), Brid Brennan, Jessica Pare, and right down to the smaller bit-parts, the ensemble is of a largely positive nature. Part of that of course can be attributed to the deftness of Nick Hornby's screenplay. Hornby as a writer has the ability to construct believable and sympathetic characters, but also to have them appropriately fit the world in which they inhabit. Eilis Lacey's journey begins in 1952, and as such the character is designed to fit appropriately with her setting and her background. The same can be said of the other characters, such as Tony, whose Italian background makes for an interesting case of 'mixing the colours,' as it were. This is also helped by Hornby's keen ear for dialogue and the little idiosyncrasies that people have over the course of a conversation. It ensures that there is a sense of authenticity about the characters (I flagged up Mrs. Kehoe because I've seen people like her in my lifetime) while continuing to move the plot forward. Speaking of period, I have to credit the costume, make-up/hair and production design departments, for their successful re-creation of not only early-1950s Brooklyn but also of Enniscorthy in Wexford. Don't get wrong, I'm sure some of the locations (particularly those in Ireland) probably don't need much doing up, but as a whole the film had a look that suggested that it was not only appropriate for the time but that there was an air of nostalgia about them, like looking back on old photographs of your relatives from generations past. Another aspect of the film I liked was the use of traditional Irish music as a means of classical film composition. It makes sense, given that it is a film very much with Irish themes, but it's a testament to Michael Brook's skill as a composer and producer that he is able to weave this flavour into an evocative score which is designed in it's own way to abide by classical film composition techniques. What sets it apart though is how it avoids telling us too much about how we should be feeling at a given time. That balance, which is kept from tipping over on the tightrope by director John Crowley, is what sets Brooklyn apart from many other Oscar-nominated period dramas. To speak from a personal standpoint, I have many relatives of my own who went from the same experiences of immigrating in the 1950s from Ireland to New York, including my grandparents, both of whom met each other and married while living in the United States. So, I brought that personal context to the film, plus the fact that generally I'm not a fan of Oscar-bait period dramas or these kinds of films that usually take up the space of something of greater quality and/or significance. However, Crowley ensures that the film never tips over, and remains on the right side of sentimental, and the fact is is that the film is so genuine, so sincere, and quite lovely I can't not like it. There's a real warmth and geniality about Brooklyn, and I think it's one of the best films of 2015.

Now, it's been two months since I've seen the film, so I've had a good bit more time to think about it than I might have under different circumstances over the past year. A couple of months ago, I thought that this film was a masterpiece. However, I have seen it again since, and I have to say that while it holds up, I don't feel that it's a masterwork. It comes close, but doesn't quite cross over, and I'll tell you why. It's along the same lines of my opines regarding Carol, in that my problems come down to feeling over anything particularly 'wrong' with the film. The fact remains is that while I loved Brooklyn and it's done rather well, it is still a fairly cliched story which we have seen done before in many different incarnations, most notably as regards to certain plot points and details. Furthermore, and more detracting from my overall opinion, is that it doesn't contribute anything really new or groundbreaking to the romantic film genre (yes, the film is also about romance, in case you haven't gathered!). Take for instance the brilliance of the 'romance' in Robert Altman's 1971 western masterpiece, McCabe & Mrs. Miller. What Altman does, as with many of his films in the 1970s, is take a tried and tested genre, play off of them and put a completely revisionist spin on them. Thus, what he does with the plot featuring the titular characters, though in essence it remains cliche, becomes something new entirely. The same, unfortunately (and I mean that!), cannot be said of Brooklyn.

Despite my trepidations as regards Brooklyn being a cliche film that doesn't offer anything particularly new to the fold, it's still a great film, one of the best of 2015 in fact. It is bolstered by a tremendous lead performance from Saoirse Ronan, a deft screenplay from Nick Hornby, a well-realised mise-en-scene, skilful composition from Michael Brook's and balanced direction from John Crowley. Brooklyn is a sincere and genuine picture that overcomes any of my initial excess baggage and is an emotionally honest work of great craft.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pissed

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Mortdecai

Directed by: David Koepp

Produced by: Andrew Lazar
Johnny Depp
Christi Dembrowski
Gigi Pritzker
Patrick McCormick

Screenplay by: Eric Aronson

Based onDon't Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli

Starring: Johnny Depp
Gwyneth Paltrow
Ewan McGregor
Paul Bettany
Olivia Munn
Jeff Goldblum
Jonny Pasvolsky
Ulrich Thomsen

Narrated by: Johnny Depp

Music by: Geoff Zanelli
Mark Ronson

Cinematography by: Florian Hoffmeister

Editing by: Jill Savitt
Derek Ambrosi

Studio(s): Infinitum Nihil
Mad Chance Productions
Odd Lot Entertainment

Distributed by: Lionsgate

Release date(s): January 23, 2015 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 106 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $60 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $47, 275, 695

Today's film up for review is Mortdecai, which alongside Black Mass makes 2015 a notable year for Johnny Depp, in that Black Mass is his most acclaimed performance for some time, while Mortdecai, for those of you who don't know, was notable for entirely different reasons. A box-office bomb and getting universally negative reviews from critics, it's a film that Christopher Rosen of The Huffington Post back in January 2015 which "seems destined to be rated as the worst film of 2015, and deservedly so." With that context out of the way, plot goes that Depp (who also produces) plays Lord Charlie Mortdecai, an unscrupulous English art dealer and swindler who, along with his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), are in the thick of debt from their frivolous lifestyles. Meanwhile, a painting of Francisco Goya becomes part of an elaborate theft involving murder and intrigue. Inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) is assigned to the case, and recruits Mortdecai to help him snare prime suspect Emil Strago (Jonny Pasvolsky) in exchange for 10% of the insurance money. Only problem is that Martland has been madly in love with Johanna since college, so there may or may not be problems along the way which lead to 'humorous exchanges.' Well, shall we?

I hope that 'humorous exchanges' wasn't a spoiler alert. No wait, actually I don't care. The film has one good thing in it's favour, and that is one good joke. That's it. My ratings system is well-established at this point, so I may be overly generous in giving a full '1.0' for one joke, but in fairness it is a good one. When Mortdecai and his bodyguard/friend/all-round fixer-upper Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany) arrive at a Los Angeles hotel, they are asked if they need any help with their bags, to which Mortdecai replies "No, I do not need help with my bags, I have a fucking manservant." The way in which Depp delivers it and the timing of it in relationship to the formality of the clerk's previous rhetoric gives you an idea of what the film should have been. 

I would like to say that the film should have been funny, but to be frank my imagination, though vast, doesn't stretch for enough to fathom a universe in which Mortdecai is at least a halfway-acceptable comedy. I hate to sound like I'm towing some sort of line here, but the critical consensus on this film. Much of the rhetoric I'm about to use here is essentially my way of expressing sentiments which have already been aired, perhaps even with a greater degree of eloquence, because the only thing of major note about the film is how the film has inspired such a vehement negative reception, and I'll tell you why. For starters, the entire film is laid upon the foundations of an absolutely terrible script by Eric Aronson. I can partly forgive him as it is his first work to make it to the screen. From Lionsgate's production notes on the film I gather that both Depp and director David Koepp, both powerful figures in the film industry had a vested interest in the project (Depp was a fan of Kyril Bonfiglioli's novels from which this is adapted, saying that "They are irreverent and insane in a way I thought would translate well to the screen."), but it doesn't change how bad this script is. With much of the film's 'comedic dialogue' consisting of a plethora of unfunny jokes about Charlie Mortdecai's moustache (incidentally, Johnny Depp had better facial hair in Ed Wood), ensuring that very very early on the film runs out of steam. Since involved was clearly under a collective delusion, they thought they were making a caper with the quick wit of The Naked Gun, only slightly more sophisticated, but it instead comes across as a shoddy sketch cobbled together into a feature film. Indeed, the film's hodge-podge patchwork of a plot comes across merely as a design around which those involved can indulge their inner goof. It's like "alright, Johnny, we get it, you're quirky, right, yep!" Having done that schtick from the 1990s, he should really be looking to do something different as opposed to resting on his laurels and doing a stupid-sounding English Received Pronunciation accent (which thankfully, as Black Mass would indicate, he's making an active attempt to make amends). Mortdecai also has, not only for it's main character, but for everyone else involved, the barest, most blank of characterisations. As I mentioned, there are talented actors in this film, but not one of them benefits in the slightest from having been involved in this project. My emotions regarding their involvement range broadly, from pity to embarrassment, and from sympathy to outright anger. Speaking of anger, I know they're friends and all, but David Koepp is a smart guy and should really know better than to involve himself with something like this. Hey, at least he didn't write the thing! Finally, I know that it's not meant to taken seriously, but you know they are quite clearly being serious about thinking this is funny, or at least trying to convince us that it is funny because the music in the film has the whole "ha-ha-ha, this is funny, you-know-you-want-to-laugh" sing-songy bouncy sound to it, which although an old cliche, is usually an indicator these days of a bad comedy (think Bride Wars). Perhaps they were being serious about making a funny film, but sometimes I also get the impression that they made a film that was deliberately unfunny. It's just that bad. Comedy and horror are the two genres which are hardest to pull off in terms of the differing ways in which we as audiences emotionally receive them, so it's fitting that I'm faced right now with the decision as to whether or not Mortdecai is a worse film than The Human Centipede 3.

I've decided after flip-flopping between both scenarios that Mortdecai isn't worse than The Human Centipede 3. By no means though is that an endorsement for the film, I just have to look at things rationally, which is something that clearly something that everyone involved in this film didn't do unless the rationale included a fat pay-check for zero commitment. Aside from the aforementioned 'one good joke,' which to be fair is a gut-buster, Mortdecai has nothing else to offer. Nothing. As such, I've already said enough about the film, and I am deigning to say anything more about the film. Slow curtain. The end.

"I have nothing to say." - Oliver Hardy

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 1.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Rah!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Straight Outta Compton

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Produced by: Ice Cube
Tomica Woods-Wright
Matt Alvarez
F. Gary Gray
Scott Bernstein
Dr. Dre

Screenplay by: Jonathan Herman
Andrea Berloff

Story by: S. Leigh Savidge
Alan Wenkus
Andrea Berloff

Starring: Jason Mitchell
O'Shea Jackson, Jr.
Corey Hawkins
Paul Giamatti
Aldis Hodge
Neil Brown, Jr.

Music by: Joseph Trapanese

Cinematography by: Matthew Libatique

Editing by: Billy Cox

Studio(s): Legendary Pictures
New Line Cinema
Cube Vision
Crucial Films
Broken Chair Flickz

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): August 11, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere)
August 14, 2015 (United States)
August 28, 2015 (United Kingdom

Running time: 147 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $28 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $201, 634, 991

Today's film up for review is Straight Outta Compton, the long-awaited N.W.A. biopic, which when released opened to both critical acclaim and box-office success. The interesting thing to note in the wake of the recent controversy surrounding the upcoming Academy Awards lack of diversity in it's representation of not only race and ethnicity but also gender and sexual orientation that Straight Outta Compton was perhaps the most notable film representing African-Americans in film that came out in 2015. I for one don't think the problem is itself the Academy voting makeup but rather that Hollywood as a whole needs to step up it's game as far as diversity is concerned in mainstream cinema. You can't vote for people that aren't there. The fact is is that most of the parts in Hollywood are written for white men between the ages of thirty and fifty. It's also racially insensitive to vote for someone on the basis of race as opposed to their talent. Anywho, back to Straight Outta Compton, I went a bit off track there. To give a small preface alongside that mini-opinion piece, while I'm known more for more my punk, metal and electronic music listening tastes, I'm also a big fan of hip-hop (the Straight Outta Compton album being one of the very best), particularly from the period in which this film is set, which saw a surging wave of young black men entering the arts, using them to tell their stories and take the world by storm in the process. Beginning in 1986, Straight Outta Compton chronicles the rise and fall of rap group N.W.A. and the decade-long story of it's members, Eric 'Easy-E' Wright (Jason Mitchell), O'Shea Jackson aka 'Ice Cube' (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.), Andre 'Dr. Dre' Young (Corey Hawkins), Lorenzo 'MC Ren' Patterson (Aldis Hodge) and Antoine Carraby aka 'DJ Yella' (Neil Brown, Jr.). Got it? Good!

Starting off with the good, I have to praise the general direction and intent with which the writers, director F. Gary Gray and the producers have taken with the biopic. While criticism has been levelled at the film as regards historical accuracy, spiritually I feel that it captures the vibe and atmosphere surrounding the band. Furthermore, I feel that it doesn't shy away from some of the more controversial aspects in N.W.A.'s history, particularly as regards to the morality behind some of the more violent content of their work, and whether or not they may be not only a reflection of violence against young black men but also the catalyst for equally questionable retaliatory violence. The research behind the film was obviously extensive, and there is a great attention to detail paid to the development of the characters and their arcs. The dialogue feels both familiar and fresh, balancing right between edgy wit and actually having them sound like something real people would say. Speaking of real people, I have to praise those involved for casting largely unknown actors in both the primary and supporting roles. Not only does it mean we have prior associations of back-catalogue baggage to attach to them, aesthetically it reflects how these guys were essentially nobodies coming out of nowhere showing the world that they could do some incredible things. Among the cast, the film boasts four great performances. Of the five primary cast members, Jason Mitchell, O'Shea Jackson, Jr. and Corey Hawkins are all believable and feel authentic in the respective roles of E, Cube and Dre. Each of their parts are three-dimensional and individually distinctive, but also share a chemistry which makes it feel legitimate that these people, through thick and thin, shared a common bond that brought them together. Mitchell is at the right times humorous, charming and indeed vulnerable as Easy-E, Jackson, Jr. (portraying his father) is full of wit and just has this look that says Cube is a pot-boiler of rage under his cool surface, and Hawkins depicts Dre with subtle insight and wisdom. Did I say four great performances? Yes, I did, and that's because Paul Giamatti brings heavyweight-acting chops to the part of Jerry Heller. I like Giamatti anyway, but he just has such a way with words and delivering his lines that his Heller would probably make you believe could literally wield the power of fire if you tried to reach out and grab a flame. He's not exactly what you'd call physically chameleonic, but he's one of those actors with the unique ability to be able to make the way he breathes an important part of saying something about the character and what they're feeling. As such, even when the music stops, as it were, you still want to believe his Heller, even though you know he's a liar. Another thing I liked about the film was the co-operative interaction between the cinematography and editing. Doubtless, Matthew Libatique (a fine DP) must have had some job shooting all of this material and continuing to make it visually interesting, but once again he succeeds in that regard. Also, shot in 2.35:1 format in a crisp, clean style, the location photography is of a consistently high standard. Not only that, but editor Billy Fox had the task and going through all of this material and sifting it down to a manageable length for theatrical release. Finally, it's impossible to talk about a music biopic without talking about the music, and I'm going to talk about it in a positive light. You've got as far as licensed tracks goes not only the catalogue of music by and associated with N.W.A. and their contemporaries, but also that of some of the groups early influences, such as those of the P-Funk period, which would go on to be sampled on countless hip-hop records. Also, as far as film composition, Joseph Trapanese, mostly known as an arranger, conductor and occasional performer, does a great job in the saddle as the man behind the score of Straight Outta Compton. Not only does it fit in well with what is a movie absolutely brimming with music, but it also serves to help tell the story of the characters. 

Now, there's a lot I liked about Straight Outta Compton, and that adds for a vibrant, exciting, entertaining and at times harrowing film. However, I think that while it is a great film, it is not a masterpiece, and I'll outline why I think that to be the case. With the running time being one-hundred and forty-seven minutes, it is a bit bulky, which I don't mind necessarily, but like The Death And Resurrection Show, aiming for the two-and-a-half hour mark seems to be a design for theatrical distribution, as opposed to what suits the film. I said about that other film that I think on DVD an extended cut could be released, which will end up being considered the more definitive document. I think the appropriate length for Straight Outta Compton would either fall between one hundred and twenty/one hundred and thirty mins or between one hundred and sixty-five/one hundred and seventy-five mins. It would mean that certain subplots (of which there are many), some of which feel tacked on, glossed over and/or underdeveloped, could either be excised fully or fleshed out in greater detail. I suppose this was a decision that was laid down to editor Billy Fox's feet by the producers, because the recently released Blu-Ray of the film features both the theatrical cut and an "Unrated Director's Cut," which features an additional twenty minutes of scenes that didn't make the theatrically released film, bringing the running time to one hundred and sixty-seven minutes. I haven't seen it yet, but I have a feeling that this is probably the definitive cut of the film, for while this problem isn't a gaping hole in this cut of Straight Outta Compton, it does create enough issues and inconsistencies to deny it masterpiece status.

Straight Outta Compton has a degree issues coming from the decision to have it's running time kept at bang on two and a half hours, consequently ended up with both too much and not enough were plot is concerned. That said, I thought it was a hell of a blast, and one of the more vibrant and exciting biopics of recent memory. Lacking the turgid mawkishness of most awards-season biopics/prestige pictures, Straight Outta Compton general direction and intent is one of honest intent to reflect the atmosphere and content close to the heart of N.W.A., whilst telling an engaging story. Boasting a terrifically balanced script, four great performances, good cinematography, editing and an amazing aural soundscape, Straight Outta Compton running time may appear daunting, but don't let it put you off because this is a highly entertaining film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Burp (says my flatulent self!)

Monday, 8 February 2016

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Krampus

Directed by: Michael Dougherty

Produced by: Alex Garcia
Jon Jashni
Michael Dougherty
Thomas Tull

Screenplay by: Todd Casey
Michael Dougherty
Zach Shields

Starring: Adam Scott
Toni Collette
David Koechner
Conchata Ferrell
Emjay Anthony
Stefania LaVie Owen
Krista Stadler

Music by: Douglas Pipes

Cinematography by: Jules O'Loughlin

Editing by: John Axelrad

Studio(s): Legendary Pictures
Zam Pictures

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): November 30, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere)
December 4, 2015 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 98 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $15 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $61, 745, 490

Today's film up for review is Krampus, a Christmas-themed horror-comedy from Michael Dougherty, the writer-director behind the contemporary cult horror favourite Trick 'R Treat. To preface this, I am not a Christmas person at all, however, that doesn't mean that I haven't gotten great enjoyment from Christmas movies like Gremlins, Die Hard or It's A Wonderful Life. Also, I liked Trick 'R Treat, so I went in hoping to be swayed. Based upon the eponymous Krampus of Germanic folklore, it centres on a family and their extended relatives forced together during the holidays, continuing their old traditions despite the fact that they clearly can't stand each other. The young son Max (Emjay Anthony), still believes in Santa, for which he is mocked, and getting upset, yells that he hates Christmas and his dysfunctional family, tearing up his letter to Santa. The pieces of this letter are blown up by the wind into the night sky, bringing about the wrath of Krampus, a demonic spirit who punishes those who are selfish or cruel at Christmas. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, I loved the tone and atmosphere of the film, which I supposed could be put down to Dougherty's direction and the work of he and his fellow co-writers. A successful horror-comedy is something that requires a solid balance between what on the surface are two diametrically opposed genres. Krampus derives much of it's humour in ridiculing the differing reactions of the people inhabiting it's world, and provides for both genuinely humorous set-pieces and sparky, lively dialogues. It also delivers on the horror front though, something for which the production designers should also be credited, because from a purely visual standpoint some of the monstrosities in the film are among the most grotesque things I've seen recently. Speaking of visuals, this is a small-enough budgeted film, and I thought that from the cinematography and editing side of things there was a fair amount of ingenuity. The imaginative colour palettes and use of shadows give the film a good look and the editing (both on film and sound) is clean and precise. The score by Douglas Pipes is something of positive interest. Pipes' work, while doing the job of traditional film composition, is also self-aware, almost self-indulgent. There is something almost perversely in jest about the film's aural landscape, Pipes playing around with our expectations of 'traditional Christmas music,' twisting them around and moulding them to fit the Krampus mythology. Finally, there is a good ensemble cast there to deliver the necessary notes befitting their characters. Adam Scott and Toni Collette are a believable husband and wife, David Koechner is at times outrageously funny as the stereotypically gun-obsessed Southern nut Howard, Conchata Ferrell is a cracking Kathy Bates-esque mad aunt, Krista Stadler's Omi is a real sweetheart of a wise old lady, and some of the child actors (especially Emjay Anthony) are good.

Right well, you can tell I liked Krampus. Now, we do have to get The Big However, in that while Krampus is a very good film, it isn't exactly what I would call 'destined for greatness.' Despite having a lot of good there, there's also a fair amount of filler which lets you onto the fact that as the film moves on it gradually loses it's satirical edge and goes off-track a bit, running out of steam towards the conclusion of the third act. Also, while I like the way it was done, it can't be denied that the plot is nothing new and has been done better before in other films. I don't have a big problem about things being repeated, but when you're aware of it to the point that you're actively thinking of it as cliche, that's when it becomes problematic. 

Krampus isn't a film destined for greatness in the same way a similar-veined films such as Gremlins may be, and indeed at times it does comes across as cliche. As it stands though, it is a very good film. I like the tone and atmosphere, the visual and editorial aesthetics, Douglas Pipes' score and I think that the case are a uniformly solid bunch. Not a great film, but certainly a lot of fun, delivering on both the comedy and the horror.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Getting withdrawal symptoms (need a caffeine top-up and a cigarette)

Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Skin Trade

Directed by: Ekachai Uekrongtham

Produced by: Craig Baumgarten
Dolph Lundgren
Mike Selby

Screenplay by: Dolph Lundgren
Gabriel Dowrick
Steven Elder

Starring: Dolph Lundgren
Tony Jaa
Michael Jai White
Ron Perlman
Mike Dopud
Celina Jade
Peter Weller

Music by: Jacob Groth

Cinematography by: Ben Nott

Editing by: Victor Du Bois

Studio(s): BMP Productions
SC Films Thailand
Thor Pictures

Distributed by: Hyde Park International
Magnet Releasing
SC Films Thailand

Release date(s): November 7, 2014 (AFM, premiere)
April 23, 2015 (VOD and Thailand)
May 8, 2015 (United States)
May 25, 2015 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 95 minutes

Country(s): Thailand
United States

Language(s): English

Production budget: $9 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $1, 242 (domestic box-office)
$594, 026 (foreign box-office, five territories)
$968, 113 (domestic video sales)

Today's film up for review is Skin Trade, the American-Thai co-produced action film featuring the first onscreen pairing of B-movie genre stars Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa. This is a bit of a passion project for Lundgren, who spent a long time researching and developing the film (he co-writes and co-produces, and originally considered directing). Lundgren plays detective Nick Cassidy (not a typical action protagonist name there...), who after his family are killed by a mobster who runs the largest human trafficking network in the world, tracks him down to Thailand to seek vengeance, with his own former colleagues on his tail, meanwhile this causes trouble in Bangkok for detective Tony Vitayakul (Jaa), who is pursuing his own undercover investigation into the skin trade. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, it's a solid enough ensemble cast. Not only do you have the interesting pairing of Lundgren and Jaa, but you've got Michael Jai White, who's a good action star, Ron Perlman, who's good in anything (including his villainous turn here as Russian mobster Viktor Dragovic), and Peter Weller, who plays Lundgren's superior and has in his later years developed a particular way of delivering his lines with a blood-curdling level of underlying malice. Also, the action and stunts choreography is of a good standard. Physically as far as fight scenes, Lundgren and Jaa are two polar opposites, one a big strong oak specialising in Kyokushin karate and the other a lightning-fast Muay Thai master, so between the time they spend onscreen against each other (incidentally, Tony Jaa's the only man you could believe as being able to catch a motorcycle-riding Dolph Lundgren on foot) and separately, there's a good chunk of entertaining screen time. Finally, I do have to say I admire those involved for trying to deal with a more serious subject matter than perhaps many genre fans are used to. Dolph Lundgren's a smart man who's not so vain as to deny his ignorance on certain matters (he turned down the directing gig because he wanted to learn more about producing), and spent a lot of time not only developing the film, but getting financiers, scouting for locations. The sincerity behind the intent and purpose comes across onscreen, for the film's tone and atmosphere has a lot less artifice and theatricality that might lend some of these genre flicks to ironic viewings.

That said, while I do think Skin Trade a serviceable enough action flick, I don't think it quite cuts it as a good quality film. While I admire them for trying to tackle a serious topic, in my opinion the filmmakers do not fully delve into the true horrors of human trafficking. Not only that, but sometimes it comes across as mere window dressing in order to try and distinguish it in some way from the fairly run-of-the-mill action movie that it is. Occasionally when the film goes off track, we are reminded in some fairly blatant way "oh, here, in case you forgot, the film's about human trafficking." There's no reason why a martial-arts action film can't do both at the same time; look at The Matrix and it's treatise(s) on philosophy, or the Bruce Lee film Fist Of Fury, which to a certain extent is a martial-arts equivalent to Hamlet. Also, I know the film is a low-budget production, but there's no good reason why the locations that are meant to be New Jersey look so cheap. The interiors especially look poorly cobbled together. Finally, I know the old philosophy of 'hide the negatives, accentuate the positives,' but once again, I'm getting fed up of low-budget movies using ugly, murky lighting palettes in order to mask any flim-flam. I just find some of it visually unpleasing to the eye, and there's no reason why ingenuity can't work around these things.

Skin Trade is a film I'm in two minds about. On the one hand, I found it to be a relatively enjoyable and serviceable action film featuring a solid ensemble cast, strong action/stunts choreography and I admired the intent behind Dolph Lundgren's passion to tackle a serious theme. However, the other hand also says that the thematic content ended up being window dressing for a run-of-the-mill action film, instead of an equal partner in the equation, that some of the New Jersey based interior scenes looked cheap as hell, and that at times visually it had an ugly lighting palette that was unpleasing to the eye. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Screaming For Vengeance (listening to Judas Priest)

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Carol

Directed by: Todd Haynes

Produced by: Elizabeth Karlsen
Stephen Woolley
Christine Vachon

Screenplay by: Phyllis Nagy

Based on: The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Starring: Cate Blanchett
Rooney Mara
Sarah Paulson
Kyle Chandler
Jake Lacy

Music by: Carter Burwell

Cinematography by: Edward Lachman

Editing by: Affonso Goncalves

Studio(s): Number 9 Films
Film4 Productions
Killer Films

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

Release date(s): May 17, 2015 (Cannes Film Festival)
November 20, 2015 (United States)
November 27, 2015 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 118 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
United States

Language: English

Production budget: $11.8 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $26.9 million

Today's film up for review is Carol, the critically acclaimed (it stands as MetaCritic's best reviewed film of 2015) romantic drama from Todd Haynes. The film has been much lauded, garnering many accolades, including Best Film/Picture nods at the upcoming BAFTAs and the Golden Globes, but surprisingly it didn't turn up as a nominee in the Academy Awards' list. This struck me as odd for there is also a significant word-of-mouth following surrounding the film, and certainly among the four or five most talked-about films of 2015. Anywho, it is based on the novel The Price Of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, and is set in 1952 in New York City, and follows the story of Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), a shopgirl and aspiring photographer, who through recommending a present for her daughter develops a relationship and falls in love with an older woman, the eponymous Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), who is also going through a difficult divorce. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, both of the central performances are terrific. I have to say this, just to clear the air surrounding it, I consider Rooney Mara to be the lead and Cate Blanchett to be the supporting performer. With that out of the way, I'll deal with them individually. Mara proved with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo her talent, and once again she has shown another layer to her palette with her Therese. There's an element of a coming-of-age story with the character, and from the get-go, with an Audrey Hepburn-esque quality, believably depicts this innocent, almost waifish girl, becoming a confident, independent woman. Equally strong in her own way is Blanchett, whose dexterous and multi-layered performance is a masterclass of portraying someone hiding behind a mask of elegant seductiveness to hide her anxieties and fears. Both performances are committed, emotionally raw and charged with tension, for which both Mara and Blanchett deserve due praise. There are a number of other quality aspects of to the film. Edward Lachman's cinematography is a strong example of visual storytelling. A lot of what we see in the film is witnessed through windows, glass, mirrors, cameras, with the attention to the minute detail in the characters' performance being depicted through these extra layers. As we have already got a layer to work through (the movie screen, by default) and those of the characters, what this does is is objectively hone in on the characters so we notice little things, as though looking at blood samples under a microscope. The film's mise-en-scene also helps contribute to this distinctive visual aesthetic, balancing between being respectful of the period setting but also in evocatively having something to say about the characters and the visages (or lack thereof) they put on in public. Earlier on I mentioned the word 'elegant,' a word which I think describes best the score by Carter Burwell. I like Burwell, but I am notoriously grouchy when it comes to classical film compositions. This certainly wasn't the case here. Burwell's compositions are (I am loth to put it this way) textbook examples on how to develop a given piece for a given scene. Beginning minimally, gradually building up before swelling towards their climax, Burwell's score appropriately parallels the action onscreen. Finally, under Todd Haynes' direction, Carol stays a sure and steady path, telling in a real classy fashion the story of a great romance, whilst also saying what needs to be said in terms of the thematic content. Unlike a lot of other filmmakers, who would let their 'message' overcome their story, Haynes is smart enough play it subtle and simply let the story tell itself, as opposed to hammering home the point ad nausea. This is a confidently made film, and good for Haynes playing it that way.

Now, this is the part where I get negative feedback for not properly going through the film as far as negative criticism. I liked Carol. I would go so far as to say it is a great movie, and there are so many things going for it. Indeed, I think in ten-twenty years time, this is going to be a film with the reputation of a contemporary classic, and it might grow on me as well. However, I did leave the cinema feeling that having seen Blue Is The Warmest Colour a couple of years ago that I personally preferred it to Carol. Why? Well, it's one of those cases of me having to base my conclusions on my own personal preferences as regards aesthetics. Carol aesthetically views it's characters objectively, so you feel slightly removed watching the drama unfold, and as such it feels colder. While I admire and respect the intent behind these aesthetics, it is the complete opposite of what Blue Is The Warmest Colour does, which is to subjectively view the characters from the perspective of protagonist Adele, so there's a great feeling of intimacy and warmth resonating off of the film. This is not an explicit criticism of Carol, but I've got to go with my gut on this one, and I just think Blue Is The Warmest Colour tackles a similar story in a manner I find more personally preferential.

Despite my feelings as regards preferring the aesthetics of Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Carol is still a great movie with a lot going for it. Boasting two terrific central performances from Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett, it also features deft digital cinematography which has a way of adding another layer to the drama, has a balanced and evocative mise-en-scene, an elegant score from Carter Burwell and a sure and steady path carved out by Todd Haynes. Overall, a strong and well-developed piece of work.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright (keep on rollin', baby, you know what time it is!)

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month(s) - September/October/November 2015 - The Death And Resurrection Show

Admittedly, I'm more than slightly biased, being a huge Killing Joke fan. That said, I went in with an open mind, and despite that invested interest in the band, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed The Death And Resurrection Show. It's an extensive chronicle of the history of the band members, their personal philosophies and their work. With a superb musical soundtrack including both Killing Joke's music and Jaz Coleman's own compositions, plus some of the most imaginative use of editing I've seen in a documentary recently, Shaun Pettigrew's film has so much to offer, both for fans of the group and those who have yet to experience them. Really a terrific labour of love.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.1/10

Runner-Up: The Lobster - Great oddball, surrealist comedy from writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos, with a unique sense of overall direction and intent, featuring Colin Farrell's best performance to date.

Dishonourable Mention: Everest - For all of the technical prowess, the filmmakers fail to engage us with it's characters or their plight.

Avoid Like The Plague: The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) - Avoid Like The Plague? This is the plague!

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Black Mass

Directed by: Scott Cooper

Produced by: Scott Cooper
John Lesher
Patrick McCormick
Brian Oliver
Tyler Thompson

Screenplay by: Jez Butterworth
Mark Mallouk

Based on: Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neil

Starring: Johnny Depp
Joel Edgerton
Benedict Cumberbatch
Rory Cochrane
Kevin Bacon
Jesse Plemons
Corey Stoll
Peter Sarsgaard
Dakota Johnson

Music by: Junkie XL

Cinematography by: Masanobu Takayanagi

Editing by: David Rosenbloom

Studio(s): Cross Creek Pictures
360 Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): September 4, 2015 (Venice Film Festival)
September 18, 2015 (United States)
November 25, 2015 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 122 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $53 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $95, 075, 678

Et toi! The second film up for review today is Black Mass, Scott Cooper crime drama biopic which follows the criminal career of Boston's infamous Irish-American criminal James 'Whitey' Bulger, who is played by Johnny Depp. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, this is Johnny Depp's best performance in quite a long time, certainly since 2011's Rango and his best live-action role since 2007's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. Of course, the make-up and hair add to the overall look of the role, but Depp believably carries off the physical presence of Bulger. Indeed, between the tone of his voice and his superb elocution, there are times when he is legitimately menacing, which is really something when you think about how charming most of Depp's other onscreen characters are. The film is held up entirely on the power of this performance, for which Depp deserves a lot of praise. Two other aspects of the film are also praiseworthy, namely the cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi and the musical score by Junkie XL. Takayanagi has brought his smooth, crisp approach to cinematography to Black Mass, giving the picture a distinctive look, a rather interesting look at South Boston. As for the latter, Junkie XL, who has been racking up quite a few films as a composer lately, takes on Black Mass with classical film composition methods, but does them it that little bit differently to add a subconscious feeling that something is off-kilter. The way it interacts with Depp's performance creates some of the best scenes in the film, and warts and all, makes for some good cinema at it's best moments.

Black Mass manages to be a somewhat good film, getting over primarily on the strength of Johnny Depp's performance, but it can't be denied that the film is a bit of a mess, particularly as regards the script. The argument could be made that the dialogue is decent, but that's down to Depp's level of investment in the character, but the direction of the story is absolute hokum. No one else's character in the film is fully developed, a total waste of the ensemble cast, which includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton and Kevin Bacon. The plot itself also comes across as filler around which Depp could give a great performance, but one great performance does not maketh a great movie. I went to see the film with my good friend over at Danland Movies, and I don't think either of us could recall the plot. It was a really bizarre case of filmic amnesia; we almost completely blanked out the film. Scott Cooper does not enough control of this mish-mash story and affects his performance as a director. Perhaps if he wrote the film, as he did his two previous works, the case would have been different, but unfortunately it didn't turn out that way. Alongside The Departed and The Town, this seems small fry.

Black Mass manages to be a somewhat good film primarily on the basis of Johnny Depp's well-rounded and legitimately intimidating performance. Also, the score and the cinematography are strong points. However, it reminds of the case with Rampart, which boasts a superb turn from Woody Harrelson but doesn't have the rest to back it up, and as I said earlier, a great performance does not maketh a great movie. Scott Cooper's direction lacks the assured quality required to deliver the film that status, and the film's story is in no way anything more than a tedious re-hash of themes done better in other films. It's as well it can boast Depp's performance, otherwise it could have been a stinker. As it is, it can get over as a good enough film to be considered at least watchable.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Criminal Activities

Directed by: Jackie Earle Haley

Produced by: Howard Burd
Wayne Allan Rice
Micah Sparks

Screenplay by: Robert Lowell

Starring: John Travolta
Michael Pitt
Dan Stevens
Jackie Earle Haley
Edi Gathegi
Rob Brown
Christopher Abbot

Music by: Keefus Ciancia

Cinematography by: Seamus Tierney

Editing by: Alex Marquex

Studio(s): Capacity Pictures
May Day Movies
NeeNee Productions
Phoenix Rising Motion Pictures

Distributed by: RLJ Entertainment
Image Entertainment

Release date: November 20, 2015 (United States)

Running time: 94 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $7 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $34, 460 

I've decided to bring back the capsule reviews for certain films because frankly my time is getting more and more occupied with other things, and though I'm not able to dedicate as much rhetoric to certain films, I would still like to cover them.

Today's film up for review is Criminal Activities, a crime thriller starring John Travolta, Michael Pitt, Dan Stevens, and also featuring and directed by Jackie Earle Haley. Pitt, Stevens, Rob Brown and Christopher Abbot star as four men who at the funeral of their friend decide to make a risky investment together, which goes tits-up and puts them in the debt of mobster Eddie (Travolta). In order to pay off their debt, Eddie employs them in a job to kidnap Marques (Edi Gathegi), the relative of a rival gangster, to extort off their debt by way of ransom. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, I'm not sure how Jackie Earle Haley got the directing gig here (maybe a previous director dropped out or they couldn't get one and he was already there as a cast member?), but he delivers a competently made film. Haley understands that the film is ultimately a small-scale morality play, and for the most part the film does not overstep it's bounds as far as genre conventions, which is fine. The film also boasts a couple of solid performances. Michael Pitt's Zach is a suitably intense, bleary-eyed Wall Street yuppie with a coke habit, balanced well in terms of his emotional flip-flopping. Seeing this mad me wonder why Pitt isn't in more high-profile films. Also, you've got Dan Stevens in there as the twitchy and neurotic Noah, delivering a performance that bounces between his character's bumbling attempts at being 'the man with a plan' and the fact that Noah is inherently a nervous wreck. This is Stevens' eight film in three years, and shows another layer the man's versatility. I look forward to seeing him alongside Emma Watson in Bill Condon's Beauty And The Beast. Finally, as far as the technical side of things, it too is also done competently. The film looks decent and the editing is fine.

Criminal Activities has enough things going for it, but it is one of those odd films that despite being made well enough, never really strives to be anything better. Note that the rhetoric I've used includes neutral language such as "competent," "fine" and "decent."It's not negative criticism by any means, but it isn't exactly praise. The work of the screenwriter, the late poet Robert Lowell, who died in 1977, is updated by Haley, but after all of the darkly humorous "average guys get knee deep in shit" plots that we have seen in films since the 1990s, this seems old-hat. Also, it might have passed for a good film if it wasn't for the bungled, overly-convoluted third act, which gets way ahead of itself and attempting to be way too smart with it's twists and turns. I don't want to get overly on the case of John Travolta either, but Eddie is the kind of part that isn't exactly much of a stretch for him. He gets to show up, do between five and ten days tops, with all the low-angle 'hero' shots of the day, get paid and go home. I like Travolta, but it's the kind of thing that could have been done by another actor but they needed a 'name' in the film, and it just seems an awful waste.

Criminal Activities is a competently-made morality play, kept in good direction by Jackie Earle Haley, solid technical qualities and strong performances from Michael Pitt and Dan Stevens. However, competence does not equate to quality, and the film gets too big for it's boots, overly convoluted, and fails to strive to be anything more than decent.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bleh!