Saturday, 28 March 2015

Review "Chappie": disappointing sci-fi

Neil Blomkamp - a name that is synonymous to good if not excellent R rated sci-fi infused with clever social commentary. After the interesting and promising debut of "District 9", "Elisium" followed with somewhat disappointing results but the element of intrigue was there. With "Chappie", it seems that Blomkamp was back into the game. "Chappie" contains a mix bag of ideas that at the end of the day, it does not know how to present them and what to do with them. From the heavy theme of self-aware A.I, to the definition of consciousnesses, "Chappie" moves unfortunately left and right without cohesion or dramatic purpose along with a sluggish pace. 

Chappie: The main hero of the film unfortunately comes off as unlikable and annoying with no signs of actual intelligence. For a superior artificial intelligence creation, he sure feels like a failure. The fact that he is committing various illegal acts due to the influence of his "parents" (Die Antwoord) is not surprising but makes us care less about him per minute. When the final climax erupts, I actually forgot that I was watching a film about Chappie and more about the gangsters who are trying to put a big final score. 
Cool design - does not say much
Cast: The cast is solid with Die Antwoord dominating the majority of the screentime even more than the "hero" and the whole film feels like an advertisement for the hip hop band. In a bizarre move, Die Antwoord portray futuristic gangster versions of themselves with lots of promotional material - music, clothes, etc - surrounding them. Usually music artists are kinda terrible in their film debuts but here I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised with their performance. They actually manage to have more characterization than "Chappie" himself. Hugh Jackman is clearly having a blast with his role as a jealous electrical engineer and it is such a shame that he does not get enough characterization as his motives are kinda understandable but when he goes full blown villain for the final act, it feels forced and bloated. Finally Sigourney Weaver is it in for like 2 minutes in a similar move of Jodie Foster's in Elisium. Word to the wise: Blomkamp there is not point of hiring these famous actresses if they have no material to work with or any dramatic substance to support.

Themes: "Chappie" tries to too hard too many complex issues - from the socioeconomic situation of South Africa to computer scientific dilemmas and unfortunately it fails dramatically. Unlike "District 9" where the "prawns" were a metaphor for discrimination and racism and the journey of a miserable man into a "prawn" hero showcased real emotions and drama, here the movie is all over the place. We start with socio-political elements and proceed to witness how "Chappie" can paint, steal and move like a cool person whereas every other more interesting character gets catapulted into cinematic oblivion until the inevitable final act that brings everyone together. The always difficult to answer and even to some extent to discuss subject of self-aware artificial intelligence, gets serious mistreatment without any focus to the consequences or ethics behind it.

Serious flaw: The computer science behind the film is ridiculous at certain points and the whole movie feels like an exercise for Sony product placement - laptops, phones, PS4s used for neurological procedures!? Unlike a movie like "Blade Runner" where AI has been established as a crucial and important element of that world, Blomkamp desperately tries to make everything scientifically fancy with words like "terrabytes" and "programming" used as magic concepts: the premise that a 25 year old or something with only coding experience can actually be an electrical engineer, programmer, software developper, psychologist, neuro-scientist in his free time and he managed to program the human brain and to understand consciousness sure he should be able to reach the level of god, no?...............Right....

Anything good: The presentation of Johannesburg is always excellent under Blomkamp's lens and he seems quite familiar now with cinema in his third film. Also, the action is nicely done, a bit up than the chaotic style of "Elisium" and it feels more organic this time around, bringing some hope for "Alien 5". The acting is good enough to elevate at certain levels the whole ludicrous story and certain ideas can and could be raised if only someone might invest in the bizarre and somewhat predicable storyline.

Although not a terrible film, this is one of the very average ones and considering the talent behind it-cast and crew, "Chappie" could have been so much more and a novel approach for AI for the 21st century. Unfortunately, it will be soon forgotten if this has not happened already.

+ cast
+ especially Jackman
+ good action
+ interesting themes....
- terribly executed
- too many ideas
- predictable plot
- Chappie is not that interesting
- the computer science is just ridiculous here
- gauge your eyes Sony product placement


Sunday, 1 March 2015

"It follows" review: interesting concept, sloppy execution

"It follows" has an incredible fascinating premise. A girl has an apparently innocent sexual encounter only to be discovered that something/someone is following slowly and if it reaches her, she will die. 
Great atmosphere
1. Concept: "It follows" is packed with atmosphere and that is good. Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, the concept of sexual encounter that leads to travesty can be misinterpreted as a STD. The naive? girl  who after her first? sexual encounter feels threatened and constantly tries in vain to avoid something that keeps following in undeniably creepy.

2. Scare factor: Since "it follows" is primarly a horror movie, we should talk about how much of a punch it has. Well, here things are a bit confusing. Although the film is pacted with atmosphere that bring lots of vibes of the early Carpenter flicks ("Halloween", "Escape from NY", "The thing"), the jump scares despite being old-fashioned and strip from any CGI bullshit they are surprisingly not scary. A reason could be that I have a bunch of losers who did not stop talking well for the entire film. But I reckon watching during the night could be more scary than most of the horror films today.

3. Direction: which brings me to the direction. Mitchell has done a wonderful job of creating atmosphere even in the smallest of room or in a large open area like a lake house. His slow methodological approach for "it follows" manages to create a large amount of tension and suspense with "it" being basically always present and unstoppable. DRM seems to have been taken early notes from Carpenter himself as the jump scares, 360 virtuoso panoramic shots, unnerving creepy figures and synthesized music all point out an evolving filmmakers that really stands out in the horror field.
Maika Monroe is a likable heroine
4. Cast: and this is where things get out of my taste. The cast seems to be simply ok but sometimes they strike as real amateurs trying to act. Although the main characters manages to convey enough emotional to follow her towards her hell journey, sometimes her actions are so off key that you cannot relate with her.

5. Story: how can a film has a story that something is following you and if it catches you die? Well, Mitchell, manages to make the "it" slow but steady so you can escape for a bit but then again in a few hours of days you have to run again. So the entire film become a bit like a chase thriller with some solid scares left and right focusing primarily on the emotions of the protagonist. Having said that, there are some plot holes around that really stand out. Why no one is talking to the police? Or to a therapist? Or to an adult? And towards the end, the film really start to lose focus as more and more characters are involved whereas the story does not get the explanation it deserve or even a bit of mythology to establish its monster as if the writer was rushing to finish his idea or running out of ideas for his... idea. Therefore the last 3rd of the film undermines the entire effort.

Who knows though? Maybe with the next flick, DRM could give some pretty neat horror but for now "It follows" is good enough for a nice night with red wine and pizza. Do not expect it though to be a masterpiece as everyone is claiming it to be.

+ excellent atmosphere
+ intriguing concept
+ great music
+ solid direction
+ no CGI bullshit
- a bit amateurish acting
- plotholes
- sudden ending


"Blackhat" review: serious mis-step for Michael Mann

Michael Mann was once a brilliant director. With an amazing eye for night shots and uber-realism towards the representation of dynamic human relationships, he manages to establish himself as one of the top filmmakers of the 90's and early 00's. Get load of this: "The last of the Mohicans", "Heat", "The insider", "Ali", "Collateral". Then came the lukewarm "Miami Vice" and the somewhat disappointing "Public Enemies". So where does "Blackhat" stand? Is it a return to the top form thriller that Mann has used his audience to or a failed attempt to recapture previous glorious moments?

1. Story: "Blackhat" at its core has a rather interesting story that surely would capture the minds of geeks. Someone not only hacked to a Chinese power station but caused a meltdown as well. Nobody knows why, if this will carry on, if there are demands, etc. This is definitely intriguing but the execution is rather sloppy and frankly boring (more on that later). Man desperately tries to inject realism to the proceedings - from real Linux commands to current systems references (android) but everything else falls apart. The story is too slow, the climax well anticlimactic, there is no pathos behind anything we set our eyes upon. Instead of creating a high octane thriller that could easily make a comment regarding the techno race between USA and China, the plot descends into predictable levels territory with a by the numbers end. Shame because with such an unusual attention to technological detail, a more tight and racing plot could have made "Blackhat" the relevant thriller of the decade.
Do not get excited. Not much is happening in "blackhat"
2. Themes: The continuous cat and mouse of game here between potential hackers could have been gripping but it does not resolved properly and neither it does get the attention it deserves. What is the motivation behind...well everyone minor the governments? The constant streaming of data makes an interesting point that anyone can be found easily but some glaring plot holes particularly towards the end destroy any solid block of realism.

3. Direction: Sometimes we do get to see Mann staging some nice (although small) action sequences with realism coming from all sides - bullet wounds, sound effects - but there is nothing here to really makes us care or at least be thrilled about it. Remember "Heat"'s highway gun fight? Not only you cared about both sides - cops and robbers - you were astonished as to how good it looked. Here characters come and go while offering nothing to the proceedings and no matter how many amazing night shots Mann might throw into the mix, there is a veil in front of your eyes and a distant ice bridge between you and the plot.

4. Cast: Most of them are surprisingly wasted - Chris Hemsworth is practically useless in a thankless cliche role and everyone else have zero to almost none character development. In a particular strange role, Tang Wei is proper eye candy and spends the entire time of the film ... looking at screens. Not something you would expect from Mann. The other female lead - Viola Davis - seems to bring some gravitas to her limited role but that's really about it.
Tang Wei is proper eye candy without aiming being an eye candy
5. Action: Not enough action as the majority of the film plays in front of a screen and people typing commands, or observing others at state of the art screens. When the action does fire, is breathtaking but only for a minute or so. Do not expect a shoot out like in "Heat" or even close to that one of "Public Enemies". You will be sorely disappointed.

Is this the first big mis-step for Mann? Of course not as that belongs to "Miami vice". Although the film goes incredible slow and offers nothing more than an interesting plot that gets less interesting by the minute, someone might still have a good time for the various real life easter that have been placed in the movie. Is this a terrible film? No. Is it a disappointing creation from an incredible director? Absolutely.

+ realism in everything
+ some amazing night shots of LA, Shanghai
+ interesting initial premise
- by the numbers climax
- uninteresting characters 
- ... with no development
- very slow pace for a such a speedy concept


Friday, 13 February 2015

"Ex machina" review: interesting take on a difficult subject

"Ex machina" offers plenty interesting and if this is your sort of thing, fascinating ideas for processing and thinking but at the end it comes with a rather disappointing and predictable third act that fails to reach the intriguing levels of the first 2/3s.
Oscar Isaac again dominates the proceedings with an incredible performance
1. Plot: The story involves a young programmer - Caleb - who was been selected by chance to spend an entire week with an eccentric multi-billionaire programmer at his state of the art isolated house. The purpose of this visit is to test a synthetic robot with conciousness? named Eva, designed and constructed by Nathan (the billionaire). A rather intriguing plot if I may add that enables Garland to play with perhaps too many themes that most of uncertain directors would not even dare to approach. 

2. Director: Which brings me to the director. First timer here Garlard, despite having solid flicks under his belt as a screenwriter ("Dredd", "28 days later", "Sunshine"), it is surprising to see him engaging his audience through this computer science and artificial intelligence tale without having to spoon-feed ideas and explanations for every frame, action and proceeding that occurs. He actually displays lots of director confidence with meticulous camerawork applying a Carpenter approach and a photographer of great performances in a rather small plot of three people (or two depending your perspective but more on that later). Absolutely curious to see what his next step is with "Ex machina" surely opening larger budget doors (and hopefully it will enable him to make a second "Dredd" film).
I want to leave in that house, now
3. Themes: It has been quite some time since I saw a thought provoking film regarding robots and artificial intelligence. Although there have been quite a few attempts to commercialize such a difficult subject from terrible ("A.I") to mixed ("I, robot") and great results ("Blade runner") in the forms of various genres (drama, sci-fi adventure, techno noir), none of them really tried to drill down and look this issue with a more scientific, yet entertaining approach. Without shoehorning perspectives and view points, the movie comes truly alive in the verbal exchanges between a shy and uncertain Caleb with a child-like? yet curious Eva. In an underground move, Garlard lets the audience to understand and interpret the proceedings, each one of us with their own spectrum of logic and science that is required to reach a satisfying conclusion as to who is who and what. Cleverly staging the pawns - is Eva telling the truth? is Nathan not to be trusted? what is the real purpose of the experiment? Who is really Eva? - Garland attempts multiple times to misdirect the audience (or not). But what is really fascinating here are the questions (without an answer) that he asks his viewers - what is to be a human? Are we programmed by nature to be psychopaths, to hate someone, to love another one, to be interested in thermonuclear astrophysics or simply to just watch television or it is because a matter of choice? In addition to the following important questions, he is able to provide a bulky amount of confusion regarding our own nature and journey with Caleb, the link in the movie through a rather "Blade runner" scene and at the end he is able to conjure vast theories regarding the complexity and evolution of AI (at what cost and with what point?). All the above bring with them serious ethical considerations and may as well establish the foundation of future science, What I really like here  that this movie does not try to be preachy - we should be technophobic or really pushing the boundaries of science without thinking the consequences - but it allows each participant to think for themselves and discuss a bit further under a nice warm cup of coffee. Others might be disappointed as the numerous floating but really engaging themes might be proven to be tiresome ("who is the villain here?", "what is emotion?", "why create AI?" etc). The lack of definite answers or at least a path that the film should walk and stick to could be fatal and that will show in a couple of years. Whereas others have taken the creation of AI for granted ("Blade runner" and "I, robot" come to mind) and play with the emotions and what makes us different than anything we created, here the constant mixture of ideas could be a lethal dose of pseudo intellectualism.

4. Climax: Garland is spot on at asking and poking the right questions and even better at having not a certain answer for them. Having said that, his climax is rather anti-climactic with multiple theories being thrown into mix - who is manipulating who? and the rather subtle solution destroys any previous idea and clues that you might had and ends in a rather poetic irony. There are some plot holes towards the end that cannot be ignored and leave a strange cinematic taste as why? You were so meticulous building your set up only to finish it really fast.

5. Cast: With mainly four actors in his hand, Garland is able to extract great performances particularly from Oscar Isaac. The man has been giving a string of compelling performances each year ("Robin Hood", "Sucker Punch","Inside Llewyn DAvis","The two faces of January","A most violent year"). Bulky and beardy, Isaac is utterly unrecognisable as the warm/cold eccentric programmer who drinks a lot and considers himself the epitomy of scientific awesomeness. Isaac is playing him with a straight face even in the most subtly scenes as the man who seems to always have an ace in his sleeve. Holding up against him to their own right, Domhnall Gleeson - son of Brendan Glesson - and Alicia Vikander are both great to their roles especially Vikander who manages to be sweet, gentle and mistrusting at the same time and that requires some skill as it is not an easy thing to pull it off.

6. Design: The production design in the film is flawless. Mark Digby who has work in all of Garland's films as the lead production designed, deserves credit here. As mentioned above, the minimalistic principle applied with state of the art touch/neon technology gives life to a house that probably is simply a wonder to set your eyes upon. Like a zen garden in the middle of the jungle, each room consumes the screen with so much character and nicely implemented design ideas that is irresistible to ignore.

Summary: So this is "Ex-machina". I really liked the first 2/3s of the films with well written dialogue scenes and strong suggestions that this could be a film that twists the knife next to the bone (if that is making any sense let me know). However, no matter how good the intentions of its writer and director are, it is miles away from "Blade runner", a film shot in the 80 and still packs more punch than anything today. "Ex machina" is good but it is not a masterpiece and definitely not "I, robot" or "AI".

+ interesting story
+ Oscar Isaac again, exceptional
+ well written dialogue and good computer science (finally!)
+ nicely integrated themes and ask thought provoking questions until...
- the climax which is a (huge) let down
- some gigantic plotholes
- throws many ideas, does not pick one


Friday, 6 February 2015

"Jupiter ascending" review: ambitious but deeply flawed sci-fi

"Jupiter ascending" could be described as a cooking metaphor. Remember the first time you tried to bake a cake and you used everything in the wrong doses, made a mess in the kitchen with the final result being tasteless or so sweet that could cause diabetes. 
Adequate action but is it enough?
1. Plot: You gotta give them to the Watchowskis. They do ambitious projects after the Matrix curse and here they are trying - maybe too hard - for original content. However, not matter how much ambition "Jupiter ascending" carries, it unfortunately fails spectacularly. The main theme of it - it is not what you do but who you are - gets lost in countless scenes of action chaos whereas any dramatic tension between certain key scenes is being sucked off with extremely fast pacing - accompanied by pompous music. More interesting are the space politics of this confusing tale of monarchy and the rivalry between three aristocratic siblings with their lust for power rather than the search and rescue thread that is repeated at least 6 times here! At the end, no matter how political and existential the background might be, we have a shoehorned love story that absorbs the joy of embracing the serious nature of this deeply ambitious sci-fi.

2. World building: As I mentioned before, the Watchowskis are at their best when it comes to creating new worlds. Just like the Matrix, it is really impressive to see them fleshing out an entire imaginary cultural history with some mere lines of dialogue. Therefore, this infuses us with desire to see more (be careful what you wish for though - see "Matrix revolutions") of that world and their habitats. Add on that colorful characters and how significant theoretically humans consider themselves in the mere universe territory and you have an actual thinker in your hands.

3. Characters: Remember how distinctive the characters were written in the Matrix (and at a lesser degree in the sequels)? Here, nothing resemble the siblings' previous efforts. Jupiter - yep that is really her name - is such a wooden character that does not even remotely comes closely to a human one. She is undeniably hot with constantly perfect make up and her reaction to the overall proceedings of  explosions, shout outs, splices and universal exploration seem to burden her rather than expand her mind. Mila Kunis could use better character development and the fact she needs rescue every 20 minutes is a joke and an insult. Of course not all female heroines have to be absolutely kick ass but her arc comes to nowhere, she learns nothing and returns to her original point without any dramatic thought or transformation. Others fair slightly better with Sean Bean being Sean Bean and Channing Tattum spending a solid half an hour shirtless even in space! The big saving grace are the three siblings - proper bastards each one to the own right that they definitely require more shots. Not only every moment they appear, we cannot take our eyes of them but their enigmatic nature along with the tendency to hold their hidden aces in the hole and shifting alliances manage to create tension in the dialogues. Having said that though, the second you think that we might have a versatile exchange between intellectuals, the movie cuts off to wonder scenes and special effects. Shame.
Add caption
4. Acting: Not much to say here - no one is terrible but everyone is pretty much wasted. With the exception of Eddie Redmayne who hams it up to 11 and creates an interesting persona yet one dimensional persona, the cast is nothing more that the stereotypes in each archetypical sci-fi. The traitor, the lone hero, the reluctant one, the naive one, etc. 

5. Special effects: Integrated with all the space intrigue, romance, action, philosophy, destiny and fate, we have state of the art effects and hopefully this could be recognised in the future. Almost perfect in each frame, the siblings present their new world in amazing detail even though it overwhelms the eye at certain moments - see finale.

6. Action: which brings me to the action. There are tones and tones of action but to be honest it is nothing like we have never seen before. Is that a bad thing? No but considering the money spent and the attention to detail, you would expect to have at least a set piece to make your heart pumping along the ride. No matter how much technical expertise these scenes required, I never experienced a thrilling cinematic feeling. There are fist fights, shout outs, air chases and more but nothing that made me truly wonder. Despite some nifty camera shots and spectaculry staged mayhem, the film ends with such an anti-climax and cliffhanger that establishes the first film of a new trilogy somehow.

7. Designs: A plus point is the over the top costumes that showcase a similar and more serious style of those witnessed in "The fifth element". Each frame is dazzling with top notch design although a couple lean towards the side of "Flash Gordon" with kitsch latex and colour intensity. However, the production design and the overall layout of ships is truly a sight to behold upon. A combination of Ancient Greek architecture with Egyptian and Arabic touches - massive pillars, golden statues floating as the saluting entrance of a vast spaceship huge enough to hold a metropolis - would display raw cinematic beauty a rarity these days.

Despite some very ambitious ideas and amazing presentation, JA drowns itself under the weight of a clumsy fairly standard plot with no surprises and wooden characters that contain no dramatic depth. It brings back memories of the "Matrix reloaded" - too many threads left and right, not enough screentime for each one, zero or barely noticeable resolution, exquisite special effects and digital cinematography.

+ brilliant production design (and not only)
+ great world building
+ intriguing ideas and thoughts
+ witty special effects
+ 5th element style costumes
+ space politics
+ aristocratic rivalry never looked so vast in scale
- too many ideas
- wooden characters
- clumsy execution
- standard action scenes
- massive anti-climax
- damsel in distress overkill!


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

"Kingsman: the secret service" review: a blast from start to finish

Matthew Vaughn, the creator of such unorthodox films like "Layer Cake", "Stardust" and "Kick ass" has delivered a film grenade. Not only he takes the formulaic spy formula, spins it around and kicks it in the balls, he manages to do it with enough panache and suave that you would not even notice. If of course you are fan of this style of filmmaking.
Colin Firth. Who would have thought that he could be a totally amazing ass kicker?
1. Plot: While we all can say that the spy genre has nothing new to offer, especially after the 2006 Bond reboot and the presence of the Jason Bourne franchise, "Kingsman: secret service" manages to bring a whole new pie at the table with the same ingredients. Sure it is has lots of elements recycled from older Bond films (particular from the 70's) - a megalomaniac villain, creepy henchmen, secret lairs, outrageous gadgets, potential love interests - but with a new twist. Despite having seen before multiple times the recruitment of an unlikely hero/ine under the wrong or right circumstances ("Nikita", "Leon", "Storm Breaker" , "Agent Cody Banks", etc) with bad, mixed or good results, KSS offers plenty of humour and a rather fresh take on the every day plot of the villain and some genuine twists that will leave you second guessing.

2. Tone: ...which brings me to the second point. The tone of the film. Everyone on board are for an over the top ride and this can be seen from the coolest credit opening sequence since "Watchmen". Vaughn and co know that the spy genre is a dying old species pummelled down by CGI infested blockbusters and ridiculous romantic melodramas (e.g., "Twilight") so he applied his previously controversial "Kick ass" formula with gratuitious violence (but not very gory), one very British one liners, slow mo, frantic camera movements and glorious soundtrack that may turn certain (or more) viewers off. Those who enjoyed the carnage and the tongue in cheek humour (remember the princess) provided by "Hit girl", rest assured they are plenty of moments here that will leave a grin on your face. Only though if you are up for the ride and not taking political offence at the proceedings!

3. Cast: Get load of this: Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Mark Hamill(!!!), Michael Caine, Samuel Jackson - awesome! And they all seem to have a blast with their roles having to keep a straight face while being surrounded by the ongoing outlandish environments and plot points. Credit has to be given especially to Colin Firth who seems to be the least convenient choice to play a totally kick ass spy. The man has charisma, displays how to wear a suit and looking posh while showcasing that kicking all types of ass in a ridiculous fashion can look so cool. Not since "Kill Bill" I have not felt that way when Uma Thurman sliced and diced her way through the Crazy 88 with her yellow suit. Samuel Jackson seems to have the time of his life portraying a lisp not so crazy as you think billionaire that aims to destroy? the world in a surprisingly well written role. 
These three are having a blast with the script.
4. Hero: Taron Egerton is totally convincing as the troubled but yet charismatic youth who is having a hard time to choose his own way and it is great to see such a young actor holding his own against megaliths like Firth and Caine bringing when necessary believable vulnerability.

5. Action: Sure all the above sound nice and far fetched but does the film deliver the goods? Vaughn seems to be a filmmaker who keeps evolving with each movie. Despite a slightly above average attempt at the superhero franchise ("XM:FC"), here he takes his time to establish characters, villains, settings and some rather very unique action sequences. Particular stand outs are two major set pieces that involve Colin First a) teaching a lesson to some rather nasty punks in a traditional London Pub shot with such style and visceral energy that will leave you breathless; b) and a free-for-all match in a hate spitting church in the US where what happens in that church stays in that church and to talk more about it, will be the spoiler of one of the greatest scenes in the cinema history. Vaughn has managed to find the best use for Lynard Skynard's "Freebird" since Rob Zombie's "The devil's rejects" and it is entirely sure that you will be remembering this for years to come. On top of that add, dangerous missions, shout outs and a deadly face off with Jackson's main henchwoman who has blades instead of legs that lead to some rather creative kills and moves.
Egerton holds his own against Michael - freaking - Caine!
6. Message: It is fascinating to see a mainstream(?) movie proposing a warm, simple and clear message regarding the true identify of a person's oneself. In a cinematic era where everyone talks about grey morality issues or emphasing the political correctness for all the wrong reasons, sometimes going via simpler route helps. The fact that a gentleman is not defined on his moment of birth or by his money status but for his actions and manners is a welcome addition. Sure we have seen it a billion times before, but since the characters are so nicely drawn and written, it is hard not to accept and root for the fate of the protagonist.

7. Anything bad? A minor complaint could be that Taron Egerton's character feels sometimes a secondary presence in his own vehicle. Perhaps because there are way too many indviduals left and right (and may be more interesting?) that the writers never spent time to really flesh him out. Sure we know his social environment is not the best, that he will never betray anyone due to his own morality values but we are not really certain as to what makes him tick and choose this assignment. It is not a major flaw particularly in a tremendously fun film like this and at 150 minutes, you probably say that length of this ride is enough. Secondly, some unconvincing effects appear to have been edited last minute and they look rather odd in a movie of this magnitude.

Did I enjoy this? I really did and left with a smile on my face. And these days sometimes, this is all that matters. A fun ride.

+ fantastic cast
+ ...Firth is exceptional
+... and so does Jackson
+ one liners
+ "Freebird"'s great use
+ Vaugh delivers the action goods
+ fresh and entertaining take on the spy formula
- hero feels sometimes a bit of a second character
- CGI looks sometimes out of place


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

"A most violent year" review: interesting take on an intriguing subject

Oscar Isaac delivers the good in any scene he appears.
"A most violent year" unlike the suggestion of its title is not very violent. In fact it rarely shows any violence and the point of the film is not the violence itself but rather we tend to spend almost a year with an upcoming a-class family in the early 80's and their plan to make it big. 

Story: The plot involves Abel, a New Yorker who is selling oil in the cold days of early 80's with aspirations of doing everything within the boundaries of the law. Problem is Abel's company has great expectations that tickle the DA office, other competitors, his own employees and a group of sellers to who Abel has submitted a rather large deposit to buy their property and final achieve the ultimate goal of the American dream. A couple of hijacks of his oil tracks start beginning a whole avalanche of problems that threat the aim of Abel. Although this sounds convoluted, it is not really. We follow the already rising Abel in the ranks of the oil business as a legitimate person and a good family man. The problem is in this type of business he has chosen the wrong approach. Although he is not an angel himself, he is not the scumbag that you would usually encounter in this sort of flicks. He cares about his employees, he has a strict code of ethics and his efforts indicate a humble but quite ambitious person that wants it all (for probably no particular reason). Is that enough to make us hate him? In fact we at some degree could relate to him. Maybe his ultimate life goal is to reach that hedonic state that most of us do when we buy a car, move into a fancy house, date a hot supermodel. Maybe his aim is to own it all (in the oil business) and wipe out the competition.

Characters: The film is populated with a palette of shady characters in every turn. From the DA to even his own wife with a gangster past that remains untouched for the entire film (good move) and to the sellers of the "hot" property, each one of them could be the potential threat to Abel's dream. It is interesting to see that JC Chandor (who also directed the film) did not reside into creating caricatures but rather actual human beings. Although they do not share quite the screentime that they deserve, Chandor is wise enough to have shots that convey at least sharp characterization and from one perspective it is sufficient.

Era: Having such a story set in the 80's is a clever way to reconstruct this period. Costumes are nicely done and the set design thoughtful without reaching flamboyant status. Even the cinematography gives the film an extra advantage of old school filmmaking with a grain like tone (unless that was the cinema's fault) and the difficult to spot special effects make this NY, an authentic one (look out the two towers from a car window at the background).
JC is good enough in the film, but she needs a scene or two to shine
Performances: Oscar Isaac is truly Abel, the man who is searching an honest way in a tough field. Especially when he lets his rather big eyes to do the work, he genuinely comes across as a legitimate and caring business and even has the means to make you believe. Jessica Chastain, I wish though she was more and to have one-two scenes where she can showcase her acting talent. Despite being excellent, I would like to see her more and Albert Brooks is almost unrecognisable as Abel's lawyer and brings enough gravitas to his role.

Direction: JC Chandor is showing some real promise here with a rather interesting take on the oil issue in the 80's. It is commendable that he has avoided melodramatic and unnecessary elements but I would like to see a bit more in the psychosynthesis of our protagonist - what makes him tick? What doesn't? How this constantly evolving situation keeps changing inside and outside? What about the rest of his circle? Things like these makes us less aware of the present problem and forces us to take a seat as viewers rather than as participants on Abel's journey. In addition, there are some issues with the pacing as for a two hour movie it feels quite lengthy at some point with a handful unnecessary scenes that add nothing to the proceedings. Of course we cannot have everything but as the follow up the excellent "All is lost" it is not bad. In fact, it is a worthy addition to Chandor's filmography.

+ thought reconstruction of the early 80's
+ Isaac nails that role
+ good supporting cast
+ interesting story
+ sharp characterization
- but not enough character development for anyone