Don’t Breathe (2016), a Review

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Director – Fede Alvarez

Writer – Fede Alvarez

Starring – Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

After being the man hand-picked to direct the remake/sequel to the iconic Evil Dead franchise, the originally named Evil Dead, in 2013, Fede Alvarez had an opportunity to go down in folklore from the out. To a large extent, he succeeded. While some of the more die-hard Evil Dead fans cried foul, most rational horror fans agreed it was an incredibly intense and visceral experience that pushed the boundaries of what mainstream horror can get away with. With a lot of critical praise, expectations were high for his first original horror effort. With an intriguing premise and the star of the Evil Dead remake (Jane Levy), Don’t Breathe looked like what being one of the best horror films of the year. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite pan out this way, and it sadly reeks of a missed opportunity.

Rocky, Alex, and Money are three Detroit delinquents who make a living by breaking into homes secured by Alex’s father’s security company and selling the items they take. However, the person buying the stolen goods from Money doesn’t give them a fair price, and not nearly enough to fund Rocky’s dream of moving to California with her little sister Diddy to escape their neglectful mother and her alcoholic boyfriend. Money receives a tip that an Army veteran living in an abandoned Detroit neighborhood has $300,000 in cash in his house, given as a settlement after a wealthy young woman, Cindy Roberts, killed his daughter in a car accident. The three stake out the house and discover that the man is in fact blind. After some deliberation, they decide to break into the house at night. Predictably, the trained marine ain’t down with this, and things quickly go wrong.

My biggest problem with Don’t Breathe is twofold. Firstly, it makes the same mistakes as Evil Dead did, in falling into the classic trap of having archetypal characters that are stereotypes as opposed to people. We get the reluctant criminal with a moral core, the rebellious girl who revels in the chaos, and the straight up gangsta, who bloody loves it. They’re played decently, and Levy in particular shines, but it’s all very archaic, meaning the first half hour of the film is decidedly dull. By the time anything interesting happens, you may well have turned it off.

Whilst some praise is deserved for taking a slow burning build up, it’s not exactly enthralling, meaning on this occasion, it may have been better to just jump straight in. Unfortunately, when we do get to the ‘horror’, nothing really improves, save for one or two great scenes.

A big issue is the inconsistent characterisation of the central antagonist, the marine vet they are attempting to rob. The first mistake is blurring the lines too much in terms of who is the good and bad guy here. While it’s admirable to have more morally ambiguous characters in your film, it doesn’t tend to work in a horror flick. Whilst Friday The 13th proved there is a certain level of depraved entertainment to be had from watching ethically questionable teenagers being murdered, it’s hard to argue there was any real horror involved at all. For me, personally, true horror can only be achieved if you care about the central protagonists and consequently do not want to see harm befall them.

Here, for the most part anyway, the characters being stalked and hunted are arguably the villains of the piece, considering they’re attempting to rob a blind man, whereas the stalker, said blind man, comes off as a valiant hero defending himself and his property. Now, had Alvarez run the whole way with this, it could be a nifty subversion of the norm, sadly – SPOILER – he ruins it halfway through by revealing the blind vet is a sadistic maniac, ergo flipping the narrative on its head..meaning the thieves are now the good guys,and we support their robbery, I guess.

In any other genre this blurring of lines would be welcome and a refreshing change of formula, ergo I can’t come down too hard on Avarez. However, in the horror scene, you need Good Vs Evil, as it’s a classic driving force of the genre since the early days of its inception.

Another blaring issue is the inconsistent Veteran. There’s a permeating idea in Hollywood that blind people become somewhat superhuman in terms of their other senses, as they desperately compensate for what is lost. That one develops incredible hearing, smell and touch, and become almost more aware than those with sight. Regardless of how accurate a depiction that actually is, here, it’s used very inconsistently. One minute he’s a preternatural being, smelling shoes from across the room and identifying they aren’t his, and hearing tiny sounds magnified. Next minute, somebody’s stood in front of him, he can’t smell them at all, and he’s flailing his arms around like he’s lost. While this may be a more realistic depiction of the blind, it’s not exactly terrifying, often being more humorous than anything else. This means the horror element is nullified from the start.

Now, there are great moments hidden in this sea of missed chances, including one nail-biting sequence when the veteran cuts the lights to turn the tables and create an even playing field. This works, yet, the script has too many issues, and too many occurrences when people could easily escape yet somehow manage to end up back in his clutches.

The acting performances are, in general, really solid. Levy in particular shines, carrying on from being the best thing about Evil Dead. She’s believable, and charismatic enough to shoulder the burden of being the centerfold. If she steers away from efforts like this and parlays into more serious endeavours, she could be a real talent for the future. Lang is also very good as the Veteran, turning in a tragic yet scary performance, that keeps the audience on edge.

Alavarez’s scipt and narrative may be lacking and rife with issues and inconsistencies, but it can’t be claimed that his visual directing isn’t very good. The man knows cinematography, and bring a great visual flair to proceedings. Evil Dead worked largely because it was a visually arresting and visceral experience. Here, not so much. Here, it’s more the polish on the proverbial turd.

Don’t Breathe is, sadly, a missed chance that falls flat. A textbook example of a fantastic premise squandered with iffy execution, a visually magnificent film is held back by erratic writing and characterisation, never allowing us, the viewing audience, to engage enough to truly care. Not a bad film, by any stretch, and there are certainly worse ways to spend ninety minutes, but it isn’t a particular good one either.

 

Final Rating – 3

 

Joshua Moulinie

Ghostbusters (2016), a Review

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Director – Paul Fieg

Writer – Katie Dippold, Paul Fieg

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon,  Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth

When you’re out of ideas, and your studioneed quick dough, who ya gonna call? An unnecessary reboot! And so came, easily, the most divisive and controversial movie of our time. The all-new, all-female reboot of the 80’s classic; treasured by casuals and cinephiles like the world over, destined to forever be remembered as among the greatest blockbuster comedies ever made. That’s the original by the way, not the reboot. The reboot is the most disliked film trailer in the history of the internet, yet if you dislike it, you’re a misogynist who hates women, apparently. At least, that’s the internet would have you believe.  As such, when finally released, it received positive reviews from critics far too terrified to be outed as bigots. So was it honestly any good? Not particularly.

Physicists Abby Yates and Erin Gilbert are co-authors of a research book which posits the existence of paranormal phenomena such as ghosts. Gilbert has disowned the work and become a professor at Columbia Unversity while Yates continues to study the paranormal at a technical college with eccentric engineer Jillian Holtzmann. Gilbert learns Yates has republished the book, threatening her bid for tenureat Columbia. She reunites with Yates and, in exchange for Yates removing the book from publication, reluctantly agrees to assist her and Holtzmann in a paranormal investigation. This leads to the formation of the Ghostbusters. Eventually, they run into Patty, who has had her own paranormal experience, and she joins the film.

First, I feel it appropriate to address the considerable elephant in the room. That elephant being, of course, the decision to go with an all-female band of ‘busters. Now, I’m no sexist, I firmly believe in gender equality, and am irritated when actresses like Megan Fox keep putting serious female thespians out of work for simply being stupidly attractive. I have absolutely no issue with the men being switched for women, other than one. That being the horrible, nagging,  cynical thought that it was nothing more than a marketing gimmick, designed to make the film critic-proof.

If one ‘addresses’ an issue like feminism in a blockbuster, during an era when everybody, seemingly, and quite rightfully, are crying out for a change in how females are depicted on screen, it creates a special bubble. Feminists, regardless of logic, will furiously defend the film, while critics desperate to appear millennial and PC will be terrified to call it shit, out of fear of being dismantled. Now, I must confess this issue wasn’t made any better by the obvious misognyists, who took issue with women leading a blockbuster. Those guys, however,  were the minority, and quickly, everybody who had an issue with the film were tarred with that brush, of the angry raging woman-hater.

The problem is, switching all the characters for female isn’t all that progressive. It still creates a gender separation, as we go from ‘all guy’ to ‘all girl’. Surely the common sense approach would be to go half and half, with the females as useful as the men, and no romance shoe-horned in between them.

Fiege also  makes a series of cliched mistakes that wouldn’t be out of the place in any other major release. The idea of switching the objectified hot secretary from the traditional female, to a male, in this instance Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth, may appear on the surface to be clever, but, dig a little deeper, and you release it’s not all that clever at all. Firstly, because it’s still objectification, and switching a man for a woman doesn’t eradicate the problem. If anything, it’s pretty hypocritical. Secondly, Wiig’s Gilbert is supposed to be a scientific genius, and a woman of cunning intellect worthy of respect. Yet, around Mr.Sexy Secretary, she swoons and stutters like a twelve year old girl.

So, to get this straight, in a supposedly progressive film, an intelligent woman of science is reduced to a quivering mess around a hot male. This is an issue. An issue that is exasperated by Patty playing the Token Black Woman, all ‘Sugar’ and ‘Patty got attitude’. Honestly, it wouldn’t be out of place in a 70’s blacksploitation pciture.

The script is also lazy, and features a lot of the worse tropes in contemporary American comedy. The ‘She’s gonna say this’ ‘No she ain’t’ ‘Aww damn, she said it’ style of predictable and bland humour that permeates every Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen film. We’ve seen it before, and it wasn’t funny then. Also, side-note, replacing dick jokes with vagina jokes doesn’t make anything any better. They are just as lazy and unaffecting.

Now, not all jokes fail, and there are occasional flashes of something better, but, sadly, like Family Guy, Ghostbusters never knows quite when to let a joke go. In fact, the only thing that made me truly laugh out loud was watching Bill Murray, cameoing as a paranormal skeptic, being promptly thrown out of a window by a vengeful spirit. And that’s simply because Bill Murray is a hilarious guy.

The performances are actually rather good, and three at least bring something decent to the table. Sadly, it’s a case of everybody trying to polish the proverbial turd of a script, so they don’t have a chance to truly shine. The best, for my money, was McKinnon, whose eccentric Holtzmann was fantastically fun. Being a weird guy myself, I could relate.

Wiig is also fantastic as Gilbert, bringing a stout and serious performance for the most part, playing the straight-woman to the more comedic other three. It’s just a massive shame her character was hamstrung by one minute being a strong independent women, and the next swooning over Hemsworth. She does the best she can with what she has to work with though, which, at the end of the day, is the best you can ask for from a performer.

However, I found myself irritated by both McCarthy and Jones. McCarthy simply falls into that category of people who I don’t find amusing or entertaining. After you’ve seen somebody in enough terrible roles, it’s hard to ever take them seriously again. As it was for McCarthy, who just  doesn’t do it for me. Jones simply played ‘a black woman’, which she is naturally, ergo, she didn’t really do acting at all. She’s an offensive and stupid stereotype. Nothing more, nothing less.

The visuals as well leave a lot to be desired. The cinematography is boring, and the special effects are generic and listless. There seems to be a peculiar trope that came about with the rise of CGI, where all ghosts are the same boring neon blue/green spectrum. It doesn’t matter if it’s PG fodder like Scooby-Doo or an adult horror such as Crimson Peak. They all look like the same lifeless unthreatening entities, and Ghostbusters falls into the same trap.

Now, you may have noticed, that as yet, I’m yet to make direct comparisons to the iconic original. That’s because, sadly, there just aren’t any. The plot, while vaguely similar, is far more threadbare and predictable. The leads don’t play off each other as well, and that isn’t a gender problem, it’s a scripting problem, as they are given far weaker materials to work with than the original. It’s not a contest as to which is the better movie. In fact, they’re not even in the same weight category.

Now, that’s not to say that this is a terrible film. It’s average. Entertaining enough without ever being truly enthralling. Yet, the worst thing I could possibly say about it is that it’s forgettable. It’s been maybe a week since I saw it, and I can barely recall most of the jokes or scenarios. This is a crying shame, as the first was certainly anything but forgettable. This is a cynical marketing exercise masquerading as a motion picture, and, financially, flopped as it deserved to. When you need something to watch this Halloween, I suggest you rent the original. I also sorely hope that one day soon we get a truly progressive blockbuster in terms of gender equality, without a vagina joke in sight.

 

Final Rating – 2.8

 

Joshua Moulinie

 

X-Men:Apocalypse (2016), a Review

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Director – Bryan Singer

Writer – Simon Kinberg

Starring – James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac

It’s important to remember, in this new era of superhero franchises dominating the cinematic landscape, the franchise that seemingly started the new resurgence. Whilst we had Batman and Superman movies before, the X-Men franchise, alongside Sam Raimi’s Spiderman Trilogy, can be credited as the films marked the beginning of the ‘Superhero Era’. After The Last Stand failed miserably both commercially and critically, it seemed like the franchise had run out of steam, ergo it was to most people’s surprise when Singer returned to form with X-Men:First Class, and followed it up with the equally successful Days of Future Past. It was stated that Apocalypse would be the culmination of this interesting renaissance. Unfortunately, this feels more like The Last Stand Take Two, and is a horrific misfire.

En Sabah Nuh, a powerful mutant believed to be the first of his kind, rules ancient Egypt until he is betrayed by his worshippers, who entomb him alive. Awakening in 1983, after accidental interference from a CGI agent, he believes humanity has lost its way without his presence. Aiming to destroy the world and remake it, he recruits a Cairo pickpocket , who can control weather, and enhances her power. Eventually, he also picks up a Magneto who just lost his family, as well as two other mutants, before embarking on his attempt to reshape the planet. Of course, as per usual, it’s up to Xavier’s band of merry mutants to shut him down.

Apocalypse should have been, considering the quality of the two predecessors, a good movie. It should have followed the trend of quality, creating an upwards curve. Sadly, it absolutely nosedives said curve, and is, for a lack of a better term, extraordinarily silly, even by superhero standards.

This begins with a very rushed screenplay that absolutely tears through exposition in a desperate attempt to bring the audience up to speed with a film that, despite being two films in the making, had absolutely no build up, other than a post-credits sequence in Days Of Future Past, which hurriedly introduced the character of Apocalypse, and expected us to buy him as the ultimate threat, despite having seen him previously for approximately five seconds. When you label a character by name ‘Apocalypse’, he better be a terrifying force of nature. What we get is Oscar Isaac in terrible pantomime make-up, somehow looking worse than Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of Mr.Freeze in the terrible Batman and Robin.

He looks less like said force of nature, and more like a gimp, starring in an Egyptian based porno knockoff. In fact, you could make a solid argument that he resembles what you imagine Apocalypse would look like in an X-Men porno parody. It doesn’t help matters that his ‘birth’ that opens the movie looks like it was ripped out of an 80’s Z-Movie. Z-Movie, for those unfamiliar with the term, are films so God-awful they don’t even qualify for the term B-movie, which really, as a reference point, should tell you everything you need to know.

The problem is that, even with the awful dialogue and cheap, cheesy effects, Singer doesn’t play up to this. Rather than roll with it, and give us a self-aware movie, Singer insists on playing it straight, which sadly sets the tone for the rest of the film’s shenanigan.

That’s how the rest of the film goes. Silliness passed off as serious situations with serious stakes, even though the audience stop caring long before. It’s mundane, monotonous, by-the-numbers and redundant, which is a huge shame considering just how good Days of Future Past was. It’s like Singer was building the whole franchise just to hit this point, and then monumentally fucked it.

This isn’t helped by some unarguably awful CGI. I’ve said it before, a hundred times, and I’ll say it again: Any film with a budget over $100 million needs to nail the effects. With that much money, there is absolutely no excuse for atrocious visuals as it drags the viewer from the movie, and makes it impossible to care about. The Hobbit Trilogy suffered heavily from this issue, and, considering the over-saturation of computer generated effects in today’s cinema, it’s a problem that will linger for some time yet. Thankfully, most high-budget productions at least attempt to seamlessly blend the effects. Apocalypse doesn’t, not in the slightest.

It doesn’t help that the narrative itself is threadbare, and the stakes are artificially raised in an attempt to heighten drama, but in reality, the rushed nature of events means that this film exists within a drama vacuum. You just sort of passively observe effects without ever really giving a shit. I call it ‘The Transformers effect’, for reasons that should really be blindingly obvious. In a nutshell, Apocalypse wants mutant domination, and to destroy man’s world. The X-Men aren’t on board with this, and Magneto remains somewhere lost in the middle. It’s stuff we’ve all seen before with different villains.

That’s the major issue, I think. In the comic book universe, Apocalypse was, apart from perhaps Galactus, THE definitive X-Men villain. The one they genuinely feared. Here, he’s relegated to the role of ‘villain of the week’, and is – SPOILER ALERT – conclusively dealt with by the time the credits role. Apocalypse? More like a shitty day. Hell, his plan doesn’t even make sense, really, when you think about it. You’re never entirely sure what he’s trying to do, as if Singer/Kinberg themselves weren’t sure.

There are also some straight up stupid moments; a good example being that Magneto’s entire motivation for joining Apocalypse is that the only family he ever had were brutally murdered by men, causing him to hate them once more. Understandable. Now, Quicksilver, who plays a pivotal part in events, is Magneto’s son. He has the opportunity to tell him, which I imagine would stop him in his tracks, considering it’s a loss of family that sent him down this particular path of vengeance. Instead, for reasons known only to him, he decides not to. It makes, quite literally, zero sense. Even more so when Magneto changes sides anyhow with nothing more than a few words from Mystique, when the ‘I’m your son’ plot thread would have achieved the same outcome, but not hurt one’s brain quite as much.

The saddest fact is that a lot of the acting performances are solid, if unspectacular, and it really is a shame to see so much talent wasted. Now, I firmly believe Jennifer Lawrence to be over-rated, and here she highlights this by half-assing the entire thing. But, Jen-Law aside, everybody else tries against hope to get something good out of this material, which is arguably more tragic than them not bothering at all. Isaac, in his urge to save his role, ends up hamming things up to incredible levels of scenery-chewing, but it’s not enough to breath life into a dead script.

McAvoy and Fassbender do however give good accounts for themselves, primarily because the two actors are so talented it would be hard for them not to. Fassbender in particular manages to turn chicken shit into chicken salad, and puts in the best performance he can with what he has to work with. He is, truly, a mercurial talent, deserved of all the praise he gets.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Wolverine cameo is the most obvious fan-bait you’ll ever see in a film, as the entire segment is completely pointless. Removed, it wouldn’t affect the film in the slightest. It is the most obviously cynical use of the gratuitous cameo I’ve ever seen in my life. It actually disgusted me, as it took us away from the film just as it finally became interesting, and then when we return to action, we’re firmly back to not giving a fuck.

Now, the film isn’t a complete trainwreck, and there are some good points. As alluded to, Fassbender is great. His Magneto is, by far, the most complete and complex character in the franchise. The Quicksilver sequence, while less impressive than Days of Future Past, is still very good, but perhaps could have done with less horrible CGI. I did like the fact he couldn’t save Havok though, as it finally presents at least some minor weakness in his character. He’s super fast, but sometimes, not quite fast enough, an interesting caveat about his character that makes him significantly more relatable. Also, young Jean and young Cyclops aren’t terrible, and watching them develop would be interesting if we ever get a sequel, which in all honesty, should be up in the air right now.

In a nuthshell, a terrifically flat ending to a franchise that just seemed to finally be finding it’s feet again. It derails the good work done in the two predecessors, and sets the franchise back to where it was around 2003. The CGI is atrocious, the narrative is nonsense, and the whole thing stinks of a missed opportunity. Ironically, it seems Apocalypse will achieve his plan of ending the world…..it just might be that the world he ended was the franchise in which he existed.

 

Final Rating – 2.9/5

 

Joshua A. Moulinie

 

The Handmaiden (2016), a Review

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Director – Park Chan-Wook

Written by – Park Chan-Wook, Chung Seo-kyung

Starring  – Kim Min-Hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo

Throughout the course of cinematic history, there have been several movements that innovated and changed the dynamics of cinematc conventions forever. From the groundbreaking French New-Wave of the late 1950’s, to the rulebook tearing of the Danish Dogme movement of the mid-90’s. I think we can say now, with the gift of certainty and hindsight, that the Korean New-Wave movement of the noughties can be added to that illustrious list.

Of this new breed of incredible filmmakers hailing from the Far-East, inarguably the most critically lauded and respected is Park Chan-Wook. Primarily known for his masterpiece Oldboy, as well as the beautiful I’m a Cyborg…but That’s OK, and his English-language debut, during which nothing was lost in translation, Stoker. Here, he returns to his native Korea for his latest endeavour, and, yet again produces an incredible piece of cinema.

Korea, 1930s. Con man Count Fujiwara hires a pickpocket named Sook-hee to become the maid of the mysterious and fragile heiress Lady Hideko, in an attempt to seize her wealth. But the story takes a twist when the lady falls in love with her maid. Cue several plot twists and an unpredictable tale of jealousy, manipulation and delusion unfolds.

It must be prefaced before I continue with the statement that The Handmaiden, like all of Chan-Wook’s works, transcends the medium of cinema, and becomes a work of true art. This is less entertainment, more visual poetry, as every single frame is immaculately composed, and not a single frame could be bettered. Chan-Wook almost always works with the same director of photography, Chung-Chung-hoon, and, while one by now knows exactly what to expect, it still amazes one every single time. It is, at times, mesmeric in the sheer beauty, and nobody in cinema can make a tree look as beautiful.

East-Asian cinema is usually beautiful in terms of depicting nature, yet,  Chan-Wook and Chung-Chung take it to the next level, making even the most simple shot look absolutely delicious to the eye. It is truly a visual feast, and instantly elevates the film beyond most contemporaries before one discusses narrative, characters or dialogue.

Of course, if those aforementioned elements didn’t match up, we’d be left with a beautiful yet pointless endeavour. Fortunately, they do, and the results are a joyous triumph. The narrative is at first glance very, very simplistic, your classic honeytrap, designed to rob a naive heiress of her inherited fortune. The only difference here, of course, is that the honeytrap was never intended to be sexual, yet quickly heads down the alley, and what unfolds can best be described as an homoerotic psychological thriller.

However, what appears to be a pretty basic set-up, has the rug dramatically pulled out from under it’s feet around the half-way mark, as everything we thought we knew about the story is tipped upside down. After this, we’re then treated to a lot of what we’d already seen, but from a different perspective, and what is traditionally quite a difficult writing task to accomplish, Chan-Wook pulls it off with consumate ease.

This twisting and turning narrative and the multiple aspects idea draws strong comparisons with the work of Alfred Hitchcock. We, the audience, are forced to re-evaluate everything we’d seen before and are, literally, forced to see things from a different perspective. What seems like a con, almost becomes a tragedy, and the film heads down a very dark path of deception and manipulation. It’s a tangled-web of dishonesty, but out of this deceptive darkness shines a bright beacon of hope; genuine emotional love. It’s clear the two leads, despite their ulterior motives, fall for one another in a sincere manner despite their reservations.

Seeing two characters who, having began trying both to manipulate the other, despite all of this, eventually falling into genuine love, will, I assure you, melt even the iciest of hearts. This is, primarily, down to the fantastic writing that steers away from any potential cheese, and also down to the absolutely electric chemistry between the two leads, Min-Hee, and Tae-Ri. Their affections, even down to the minutest body movement, are utterly convincing. What I particularly loved about the writing, was that neither character ever, at any point, explicitly stated they were homosexual. In fact, it was almost as if neither character knew, and only discovered it via their attraction to one another. It’s the most beautiful depiction of spontaneous romance I’ve seen since, funnily enough, Chan-Wook’s own  I’m a Cyborg…but That’s OK.

Because of the nature of the twisting and deceptive narrative, and the fact that both are effectively playing con-women and victim simultaneously, Tae-Ri and Min-Hee have a chance to show a very layered and complex performance, playing both hunter and prey. While the chemistry between the two as mentioned is electric, the individual performances are equally so. One fascinating note about East-Asian cinema, is the convincing nature of the subtle, yet powerful, line-delivery. At times, they often whisper, but in a hypnotic manner that causes you to keep constant attention.

Something that certainly keeps attention is the elongated yet powerful sex scenes. They are, for a lack of a better word, borderline pornographic, extremely explicit and yet never tasteless. The Handmaiden is everything Fifty Shades of Grey Wished it could be, without ever even trying to be, as we have a grand total of two full on sex sequences in the film, but both are incredibly powerful, stimulating and convincing. They will almost certainly turn you on, but the actresses never feel exploited. In fact, this is arguably a celebration of female sexual independence, and for that it should be commended.

If I have any tiny gripes, it’s that this is, while still good, probably the weakest score of a Chan-Wook movie yet. It’s still extremely good, but never quite reaches the heights of Oldboy or Stoker, two of his finest. The film will also potentially alienate the less mature, who may giggle at the sex scenes. Other than that, there’s nothing I would change.

Once again, the iconic Chan-Wook has laid down his marker as, arguably, the finest filmmaker of the contemporary age. Breathtaking in its visual execution, this visual poetry is a work of true indisputable art. In a landscape of tentpole Blockbusters and reboots, we need works like this, as they remind us of what film can be when it’s not interested in figures and spreadsheets, but rather in moving us. It also manages to be, in my humble opinion, a feminist’s dream; as it explores sexuality via the female eye, as men are cast in a less than desirable light, yet, sadly, a light that is all too accurate. This is a film that we need to see, to remind us of what true cinema should be. Chan-Wook continues to chisel his face into cinema’s mount-rushmore, one masterwork at a time.

 

Final Rating – 5

 

Joshua Moulinie

 

Pandaemonium (2000), a Retrospective Review

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Director – Julien Temple

Writer – Frank Cottrell Boyce

Starring – Linus Roache, John Hannah

A friend and I were recently discussing the power of art: its ability to expand the mind, and widen the purviews of one’s imagination. He was lamenting the current passive approach to art – that a person can watch a film, be entertained by it, and then dully walk away from it without it leaving any real effects upon their person.

My response to this observation was to say that we get out of art what we put into it. When confronted with any work of art – whether it be a film, a poem, a book, or a painting – we can either espy it in bland disengagement – or we can see that work for what it is: a portal into another world.

The question then is – are you brave enough throw yourself through that portal?

Or will you just look through its window, passively, for a few moments . . . then dawdle off to do something else?

This little introductory discourse is all by way of illustrating why I loved Julien Temple’s Pandaemonium so much. I am a poet, and so the opportunity of watching the lives of two of Britain’s greatest poets, simply could not be missed.

The film episodically traces the volatile friendship of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, predominantly whilst they were working on the collaborative book that made them famous – the Lyrical Ballads. For those of you who are not familiar with these men, Coleridge was the genius who penned ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner;’ whilst Wordsworth is best known for his two epic poems ‘The Excursion’ and ‘The Prelude,’ and his ‘lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey.’

They were completely different poets – Coleridge dark, gothic, fantastical, strange – Wordsworth, a sombre and nature-loving transcendentalist.

Temple and the actors portray this divergency – and rivalry – beautifully.

Linus Roache as Coleridge is the undeniable hero of the film: with absolute conviction and commitment, he depicts Coleridge as an incredibly charismatic, yet tormented character – a man whose passion and vision has the power to both uplift and upset those around him. However, as the film progresses, and the genius poet becomes more dependent upon laudanum and opium for his poetic inspiration, he is tortured by the difficulty of living in two worlds – the corruption of reality – and the nightmarish brilliance of his fevered imagination.

In contrast, is John Hannah as William Wordsworth, who readily dramatizes all that I have read about the man – dour, taciturn; an egoist, who, in one critic’s words ‘was unwilling to tolerate any genius but his own.’ Initially his friend, the director gradually transforms him into the film’s extreme antagonist as he manipulates the psychologically vulnerable Coleridge, and tries his best to quash the genius he so fears will outshine his own.

But, as these poets would have been nothing without the women who inspired them, so the film would have been nothing without the actresses who portray them. The film is lit up and electrified by the astonishing Emily Woof, who portrays Dorothy Wordsworth – (William’s Sister) – with such vibrancy and vivacity, I struggle to understand how she isn’t one of the most vaunted actresses of our age.

The romance of words and poetry that exists between Coleridge and Dorothy is one of the most agonizingly inspirited I’ve ever seen. The frisson and passion between them when they’re onscreen together is almost unbearable – the romantic tension vamped all the more by the knowledge that this great dalliance of geniuses could never be consummated. Samantha Morton, as ever, does a great performance as Coleridge’s wife – but no one can compete with the chemistry and tragedy of these two powerful leads, who hiss and ferment like an alchemical collision of worlds in an alembical torrent of fate.

Because the film is of famous men who lived strange and dangerous lives, the episodic narrative heightens the drama of the film – it means there is never a dull moment. There is so much variety of emotion and urgency packed into every scene that is almost kills you, and it would take a book to praise and extol them all.

And the script! Ah the script! How delightful to hear a script that flows naturally with the cadence and inspiritorial brio of the poets who are to speak it! Dorothy and Coleridge both get the best passages to speak; and, needless to say, plenty of poems are recited and referenced, which can’t help but light a fire in the heart and minds of those that love them.

And I do love them. I was completely in the thrall of this movie, bent forward on the sofa, almost crippled, emotionally and physically, by its brilliance – crying tears of sadness and empathy that I don’t think will ever leave me.

And this is what I mean about putting yourself in a film. As I watch the dramatized lives of my poetic ancestors, they live on and are reborn within me. Their blood beats around my veins with a ferocity, so present, its collapses all the illusory walls that keep us from the past, revivifying them with a pulse and breath that pants here and now.

Will somebody who loves these men and women as I do, love this film as well?

I don’t know.

All I can say is: have the bravery to put yourself completely into a film, and you might find your spirit changed.

 

Final Rating – 5/5

Reuben F. Tourettes

Hardcore Henry (2015), a Review

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Director – Ilya Naishuller

Writer – Ilya Naishuller

Starring – Sharlto Copey, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennet, Tim Roth

For years people have been crying out for a decent video-game movie, that film that would truly capture the essence of gaming and translate that seamlessly to the cinema screen. Finally, that film has regaled us with it’s glorious presence, yet ironically it isn’t based on any pre-existing video game franchise at all. Rather, what we get is merely an action film that looks and feels exactly like a FPS (First-Person Shooter to those of you who have better things to do than play video-games in your twenties.) An adrenaline fueled joyride from start to finish, Ilya Naishuller may just have revolutionised the action genre with his first-person triumph, Hardcore Henry.

Waking up in a tank of water inside a laboratory on an airship, Henry recalls a gang of bullies from his childhood. A scientist, Estelle (Haley Bennet), greets Henry and says she is his wife, and that he has been revived from an accident that left him amnesiac and mute. After replacing a missing arm and leg with hi-tech cybernetic prostheses, a group of mercenaries led by the telekinetic Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) raid the ship, claiming all of Estelle’s research is his corporate property. Eventually, Henry fights his way out and runs into the mysterious Jimmy (Sharlto Copey), who leads him down a violent rabbit hole into insanity.

Quite obviously, what stands out instantaneously from Hardcore Henry is the fantastic use of the first-person perspective, achieved by strapping a go-pro to the lead actor’s head. It’s a unique idea, as it allows the benefits of a first-person view without the annoyances that come from the ‘found footage’ genre; I.E, jittery and shaky camerawork. In this instance the camera is fully stabilised, meaning while we get the twists and turns that accompany first-person in terms of visuals, we don’t get the sickening jitters that come with a shoulder-cam. It means we’re put right in Henry’s shoes, enjoying every crunching punch and every crippling gunshot with him, but we never feel like we’re on a particularly unstable plane, feeling cripplingly naesous, Ala Cloverfield.

One could easily state that Hardcore Henry is to action films what Maniac (2013) was to the slasher genre. It is, for better or worse, depending on your opinion, at least revolutionary, and deserves acclaim for trying something new. Thankfully, it works a treat, and once one gets over the initial bemusement of the format, you find that it places you into the action in a way traditional cinematography never could. Every punch is felt, every fall as well. It is, as alluded to earlier, like watching a live-action video game. Right down to the insane plotline involving telekinetic billionaire terrorists and cybernetically enhanced super soldiers.

And the narrative is insane, and potentially off-putting for the more pretentious among you. Personally, I loved it. It was relatively simple, yet had enough twists and turns to keep you engaged, and it just seemed to be perfectly enigmatic. Sure, it’s certainly threadbare and takes some suspension of disbelief at times, but no more than any other film within the traditionally over-the-top action genre.

The action itself is absolutely incredible; perfectly timed, wonderfully executed and magnificently choreographed. I can tell you, having directed several music videos, that pulling off these elaborate fight sequences must have been a gruelling and thankless task, and kudos to Naishuller for bringing it all together beautifully. It’s ultra-violent, yet cartoony enough to never cross into disturbing, and hits the perfect comedic nails that the likes of Evil Dead 2 mastered years ago. It’s as tongue-in-cheek as you can get without crossing into full parody territory, and is legitimately hilarious in places. You will, without doubt, fist-pump the air at least twice.

The video-game aspect permeates it all, as you can probably tell, from the story to the visuals to the narrative flow itself. The film follows a clear pattern of expositional dialogue, action, more dialogue, action etc that matches your classic video game shooter template perfectly. It also falls into Todorov’s theory quite neatly; Henry the silent hero, Estelle the princess, Akan the villain and Jimmy the dispatcher (AKA, ‘The Gandalf Role’). It’s simple for an audience to follow, yet intelligent enough to stimulate, with Henry’s mute status allowing him to almost serve as an avatar for us, the audience.

The performances are also stellar, with Coper as always impressing highly. Since his breakout in District Nine, he’s become an extremely versatile and talented performer, a a personal favourite of mine. Here, he once again highlights this, performing Jimmy’s multiple personalities and avatars. Throughout this, he displays a wide array of varying mannerisms and accents, and again reiterates the idea that he is among of the finest thespians performing today in cinema.

The rest of the cast is solid, as well, though Henry never gets a performance so to speak. Due to injury and other factors, multiple people donned the go-pro and ‘played’ Henry, including Naishuller himself. So it’s a strange enigma, that the protagonist in a good movie gets precisely no dialogue and no performance to speak of, yet, it doesn’t hinder the film at all. It’s just another beautiful quirk in a vary unique movie.

The sound is always thumpin’ as well, a fun electro-rock soundtrack that, unsurprisingly by this point, would not feel remotely out of place in a video-game. It’s nothing particular special, but is merely another finely woven piece of textiles in the tapestry of the film.

Hardcore Henry marks a potential evolution of both the first-person film, a type of film arguably not tried often enough to it’s full potential, and the action genre itself. Naishuller has crafted the closest thing we’ll ever see to a video game on screen, and, while not perfect, it deserves a place in the annals of cinematic history for it’s sheer balls and insane genius. Copey is fantastic as per usual, and the whole experience is so bizarre and stand-out that any self-respecting cinephile should try it once. I have a feeling it will go down as a ‘love it or hate it’ kinda movie, but fortunately, I loved it, and can only hope you do as well.

 

Final Rating – 4.5/5

 

Joshua Moulinie

Cafe Society (2016), a Review

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Director – Woody Allen

Writer – Woody Allen

Starring – Kristen Stewart, Jesse Esienberg,  Jeannie Berlin, Steve Carell

 

Woody Allen, like most of us, is at his best when elaborating on a subject he loves. We all wax blandly when lumped with a theme uninspiring to us. But, when offered a chance to digress on something we love, our once palsied tongues ignite with operatic fury, and we are soon lost in the elaborations and divagations of eager, enthusiastic invention.

Woody Allen’s great love is The Golden Age Era of Hollywood – the films and Jazz of the 1920’s and 30’s. Many of his most charming movies have been period pieces – Bullets Over Broadway, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Sweet and Lowdown, Midnight in Paris. So, on learning that Cafe Society was also to be set in this most cherished era, any fears I had that this might be one of his weaker efforts were considerably lessened.

The story follows Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) who is sent to Hollywood from New York in the hopes that his high-powered, film-producing Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) will be able to get him some work. When his uncle’s secretary ‘Vonnie’ (Kristen Stewart) is asked to show him around to make him feel at home, Bobby almost instantaneously falls in love with her, captivated by her unaffected charm and simplicity in a town of bedazzled pretension.

However, this love is stymied by the fact that, unbeknownst to him, Vonnie is already having a secret affair with his uncle. As the story progresses, partners are gained, switched, and lost; marital alliances forged; and secret romances continued. Bobby becomes the charismatic owner of a ritzy nightclub – and the narrative is complicated and brightened by interludes regarding the exploits of Bobby’s Jewish, and haphazardly gangster-affiliated family.

As a romantic, the first thing that appealed to me about this film was the direct simplicity with which it stages the delights and dramas of love. We all of us, at some point, will meet someone whom we love so much that it torments and exalts us . . . and be forced to contend with the ever-lurking complications of life, always conspiring to puncture something that would otherwise be paradise. Allen beautifully depicts all these very human experiences without ever being overwrought – employing a lightness of touch he has refined in his later period.

Though they might seem ill-met on paper, Stewart and Eisenberg make a perfectly gracious couple onscreen – Jesse charming with his oddball mixture of awkward, neurotic discomfort later giving wing to a plain-spoken, pushy charisma – and Kristen, with her melancholy, poetic eyes, husky voice, and untutored beauty and manner.

The music is the typically buoyant early jazz of which Allen is so fond; and, in the lightness of the film, often gives the effect that the actors’ dialogue is like the improvisation of jazz soloists, finding their sweetness in space and rhythm. The camera-work, too, is completely unpretentious. No longer having to prove himself after the virtuosic homages of earlier Fellini/Bergman-inspired films such as Stardust Memories, Allen is quite happy just to let the Californian and New York skylines speak for themself, making great use of natural lighting, and the richness of the art deco architecture the film abounds in.

As an actor, I found myself philosophizing over Allen’s choice of Jesse Eisenberg and Steve Carell as the two male leads. It struck me as an act of mildly intuitive genius. Compared to the excessive self-torture and transformation of modern day method actors, who are not content unless they are unrecognisable in every new feature, one of the powers of Classic Hollywood actors is that they had the power of just being themselves. Cary Grant was always Cary Grant. James Stewart was always James Stewart. The power of their personalities was so immense, that they didn’t have to do anything. They simply had to stand in front of the camera and be themselves.

And, while not being as canonically larger than life as the two aforementioned giants, it struck me that Carell and Eisenberg both belong to this tradition – that both of them are masters at being themselves onscreen – and that their respective fields of presence are fine enough arenas of expression in which they can dramatically manoeuvre. And besides, majestic as method actors might be, few of them know how to be funny – and Carell and Eisenberg are both more than competent at that.

Anyway, such deviations aside, Cafe Society is a joyous and delicately dreamy romance, true to life, with plenty of gentle humour. Like a sweet-smelling candle in a cosy room, it burns just brightly enough to inspire a melody, congenial to the unbroken hum of the heart.

Final Rating – 4/5

 

Reuben F.Tourettes

The Neon Demon (2016), a Review

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Director – Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer – Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham

Starring – Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves, Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote

Nicolas Winding Refn, the latest Dane to break out of the Copenhagen film scene and trailblaze his way across the worldwide cinematic landscape, is one of a very select crowd of established directors who can claim with some honesty to have never made a bad movie. Whilst the quality of his work ranges from the magnificent, Drive, to the great-but-flawed Only God Forgives, he’s yet to make a film that isn’t worth your time. After Drive’s success transformed him into a cinematic deity, every move he makes now is watched with great interest. Ergo, The Neon Demon‘s Cannes Debut was highly anticipated. While, predictably, the crowd there would split evenly between boos and a standing ovation, this particular reviewer was not split. This is another wonderful work of pure cinema by the great Dane.

Sixteen-year-old aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) has just moved from small-town Georgie to Los Angeles. Her first photoshoot, done by Dean (Karl Glusman), features Jesse glammed-up and sprawled on a chaise lounge with fake blood dripping from her neck. In the dressing room she meets makeup artist Ruby (Malone), who takes her to a party at a club where she introduces her to fellow models Sarah (Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). Quickly, jealousy begins to spring it’s head as Jesse achieves more and more success, whilst simultaneously growing more and more narcissistic.

When one sits down to partake in a Nicolas Winding Refn film, there are three major components one can expect; Characters being pushed into situations that force them to become cold monsters in order to survive, an incredible soundtrack and quite possibly the best visual elements in the world right now. Everything he makes, everything he touches, is less a piece of cinematic entertainment, more a work of visual poetry, designed to inspire feelings via ambience, as opposed to tell you a straightforward narrative. Often, this means that when one describes what happened in a Refn film afterwards, your audience will look at you with an expression that screams ‘Really? Is that it?, because on paper, the narrative is often deceptively simple.

The Neon Demon is no exception to the rule, and actually, one could go on to make a strong argument that the story, for the first seventy minutes at least, breaks absolutely no new ground and doesn’t tell us anything about the fashion industry that those clued up would not know. You get the seedy photographers, who use their important status to intimidate and degrade the models, even going as far as to molest them. You get the manipulative agents, caring only about image and in no way considering the emotional/physical well being of the clients. And, of course, you get the models themselves, an obnoxious concoction of insecurity and narcissism, jealousy and ruthlessness, and a insatiable appetite for eating each other alive.

However, the true nature of these characters is left ambiguous for a large amount of screen-time, as the screenplay leads you in one direction, before beautifully pulling the rug out towards the end. What it does magnificently, is that it drops a huge amount of abstract clues, less ideas, and more images and sequences that at first seemingly make no sense, but, if one pays close attention and remains patient, is all paid off entirely with an end sequence that is absolutely phenomenal in both its darkness and execution. Every character is a piece of a larger enigmatic jigsaw; everything said is meticulous and tells you about who this person is, whilst never slapping you in the face with obvious exposition.

There are occasions where one could argue the dialogue is somewhat on-the-nose, but it does little to dampen your enjoyment of a screenplay that leads you to a conclusion you honestly do not expect, but is very cleverly foreshadowed via dream sequences, sequences that are both disturbing, yet absolutely seeping with a macabre art that cannot be denied. Often, this resembles a Salvador Dali painting more than it does a motion picture, as Refn continues to stake his claim to being the bastard love child of David Lynch and Dario Argento.

Refn’s films are always visual masterclasses, each shot drenched in atmosphere, with the vibrant neon lighting meshing seamlessly with the perfect cinematography. The Neon Demon continues this trend, and I’m willing to put my neck on the line and say that you will not see a better looking movie anywhere this year. Every shot is perfect, and while it may seem strange that I’ve said very little about what is, without doubt, The Neon Demon’s best component, that’s because my words simply cannot do justice to the brilliance of it all. You have to see it for yourself, but if you thought Drive and Only God Forgives were visual masterpieces (they were), you haven’t seen a damn thing yet.

The performances are a bit strange, and I imagine most mainstream cinema-goers will be put off somewhat. Refn favours his characters speaking dialogue in the same off-beat manner David Lynch deploys, a manner that is deliberately jarring, and leaves you as a result often bemused for the first ten minutes or so, before you brain catches on to what is being tried here and decides to play ball. It’s as though the conversations in these films are supposed to feel more like genuine human interaction; stilted, with natural pauses and delivery. Unfortunately, our brains are so conditioned to the cinematic speech types we see deployed in most films, that this does throw us off at first, but if you’re willing to roll with it, you will be rewarded.

With this said, most of the performers do very well, if it’s all a bit off-kilter. Jena Malone is impressive as Ruby, who is easily the film’s most complex and intriguing character. Her gradual transformation from mild-mannered and insecure, to manipulative and bewitching, is intriguing and works on all levels. Other special credit must be given to Abbey Lee, as her character Sarah evolves from airhead to terrifying psychopath, the latter being uncomfortably convincing. I have to say though that seeing Keanu Reeves of all people stumble into this was at first over distracting, as you just do not expect an actor like Keanu to be in a place like this, other than Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, which seemed more of an anomaly than anything else. Still, he does well and convinces, he’s just seemingly an odd choice to add to the mix.

Elle Fanning is simply incredible as the lead, Jesse. She begins very shy, and quiet and somewhat blank in her expression, and Fanning puts this across inch-perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that I considered if it was a bad performance for a while, as she seemed somewhat wooden, before it dawned on me that was the entire point. However, as she heads further down the rabbit hole of the fashion industry, she becomes more self-assured, which in turn leads to fully fledged narcissism, a narcissism that would cost her everything.

The transformation is startling, and those who wrote reviews about this film stating that ‘There was no character development’ clearly were not paying attention, as this is less development, and more of a complete transformation. The tragic part is that you still root for her, long after she’s fallen madly in love with her own hype, as you have seen yourself how she was forced to become this merely in order to survive. It’s not hyperbole to claim it’s almost Shakespearean. The transformation is, crucially, entirely believable, as Fanning changes every microcosm of her behaviour to mirror her character’s growth. Her posture, demeanour, and facial expressions drastically alter as she goes through her journey, meaning that we believe it and buy in. In terms of kinetic acting, it’s almost a masterclass. If Fanning can keep working with directors of Refn’s quality, she could go on to have an incredible career.

The soundtrack is, as expected, an incredible work of electro pop, once again composed predominantly by the fingertips of Cliff Martinez. Honestly, in terms of the soundtrack, if you’ve heard one Refn soundtrack you’ll know exactly what to expect, as the director clearly leans towards ambient electro, which is an incredibly ballsy juxtaposition of ideals, a juxtaposition that the great Italian Dario Agento first pioneered way back when. If Agento pioneered it though, Refn has perfected it.

Sia also provides an original soundtrack piece that could in time match Kavinsky’s iconic Nightcall from Drive. Wave Goodbye is an incredible little piece of electro pop, a genre that Sia seems to excel in, and if given a wide mainstream release could easily be a number one hit. There’s also a great little number from Sweet Tempest, Mine, which again could be a huge chart hit if released that year. Refn seems to have an incredible talent for dragging the best out of directors of photography, actors and even now pop stars.

I’ve often said on this site that no film is without flaws, a statement that has become my get out of jail card when I want to transition into negative points about a film that I’d already declared as incredible and near flawless. On this occasion though, other than perhaps some stilted dialogue, and an ending that is both absolutely jaw-dropping and oddly feeling like it could have been the start to a sequel as opposed to the end of a film, neither of which cause any major issues in terms of your viewing pleasure, I can’t think of many flaws. No film is perfect, yet, as far as audio/visual assault on the senses go, this is pretty close.

Often resembling a Salvador Dali painting more than it does a motion picture, as Refn continues to stake his claim to being the bastard love child of David Lynch and Dario Argento, The Neon Demon is another masterwork by a director who can’t seem to put a foot wrong. Some way view it as a pretentious mess, wrapped up in its own self-importance, but that would be somewhat missing the point. This is not cinema that holds your hand and guides you gently towards the ending, no. This is cinema that, like an abusive partner, leaves you bemused, confused, perplexed and disturbed, yet is simultaneously beautiful and irresistible. An immaculately composed and directed enigma of a film, that builds to a surreal crescendo that leaves your jaw firmly planted to the floor, and your eyes wide open, whilst taking you into the foul and depraved belly of the beast that we call the fashion industry. The Neon Demon is a film that demands you see it, and Refn is a director that demands you respect him.

 

Final Rating – 5/5

 

Joshua Moulinie

The Throne of Forgotten Dreams

The renegade,

He trailblazes, alone,
Lost, in a forgotten valley,
Surrounded by those two,
Most haunting, most troubling,
Most harrowing and tauning of words,
WHAT IF?

The maverick,
He smokes, alone,
Sits and ponders, those days,
Remembered to him,
Forgotten sadly,

But she who he holds dear.

The neurotic,
He sits, alone,
Upon his throne,
Of broken promises,
And those upon whom he stamped,
In his reckless hatred,
For those, who hate him also.

The broken,
He loves, alone,
His love tainted,
By the hate,
The apotheosis of all disdain,
That haunting siren,
The wailing of a crushed desire.

The abuser,
He hurts, alone,
But once not so,
It was her, who he touched,
Her love, perplexing,
Her tongue cannot be true,
So he stamped out,
That, which he could not fathom,
In even his wildest dreams,
In slumber that so often eludes him.

The king,
He rules, alone,
In his world of twisted fantasies,
Yearning, for the return,
Of the fire, that once burned,
So bright, within the young he,
Who still hoped, still dreamed,
And was yet to surrender to,
The demise, of his fractured cerebrum.

 

The Misanthrope,
He plots, alone,
The resurrection of,

He, who once he was,
And will be again.
His cold, callous nature,
And desire to rule,
Can be balanced,
Brought into check,

And perhaps,
Perchance,
Once more,
Within her embrace,
He shall dance.

 

Joshua Moulinie

Captain America:Civil War (2016), a Review

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Directors – Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Writers – Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Starring – Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, Daniel Brühl

It is safe to say, with almost certainty, that no franchise has had a bigger impact on contemporary cinema, for better or worse, than Disney’s juggernaut, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Inspiring countless imitators, and being almost solely responsible for the rise of the shared cinematic universe, a trope now copied by several major franchises, whilst in the process making an unprecedented amount of money, this franchise has left a mark that will long be felt in the halls of cinematic history. With that said, this latest effort was supposed to be the biggest and best since Avengers Assemble, designed to transition into the next phase of the project. With critics the world over praising it for being the greatest film yet in the series, and having destroyed the box-office to the tune of a cool $1 billion, I thought it was high time I checked it out. I have to be honest, and say I was somewhat disappointed, as for me personally, it fell remarkably short of matching the hype.

The plot meanders somewhat, and is quite extensive to place into a neat synopsis, but the basics are as follows; In 1991, Bucky Barnes (Stan), known also as The Winter Soldier, a brainwashed Hydra agent, is seen committing an assassination. Years later, roughly a year after the events of Avengers:Age of Ultron, the world’s governments are fed up with the Avengers and their reckless ways. U.S secretary of state, Thaddeus Ross, informs them that a new charter has been drawn up, known as the Sakovia Accord. This would cause the Avengers to register officially with the government and be sanctioned. Captain America (Chris Evans) disagrees, because freedom and liberty, I guess. Whereas Iron Man, or Tony Stark (Downey Jr), believes, due mainly to his own guilt at having created Ultron and caused the Sakovia event, that they should sign. Naturally, this leads to a division in the ranks, and to the titular Civil War. Meanwhile, The Winter Solider blows up a U.N meeting, at the behest of Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), leading to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) declaring he will take his life, as other heroes are brought into the fray.

The story was far more convoluted than it ever needed to be. All we really needed was the straight tension between Iron Man and Cap, based on the accord. That would have led to a more contained narrative that didn’t factor in so many characters and variables. In fact, when one considers all the different players in this movie, it quickly becomes apparent that the ensemble was just too big, and not everybody gets the screen-time they deserved.

Off the top of my head; Spider-Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Black Panther, Captain America, Ant-Man, Zemo, Crossbones, Falcon, War-Machine, Vision, Scarlet Witch ALL appear in one movie, and there was no way in hell McFeely and Markus could ever hope to find some balance in there. In fact, one could argue that the only characters really necessary to the story are Cap, Iron Man, Zemo, Vision, Witch, Winter Soldier and Black Panther. Everybody else is there merely to drum up the ‘war’ idea.

A war idea, may I add, that is a bit of a false promise. This is less Civil War, and more a minor scuffle. Nobody dies, nobody is irreversibly changed and nothing feels THAT different at the end. Sure, a few major plot points that have hung over the franchise are revealed, but I never felt like they were questions I needed answered. In particular, the fate of Tony Stark’s parents, who, up until recently, had felt like irrelevant background characters. It’s also a mighty convenient plot point that – SPOILER ALERT – The Winter Soldier took their lives. It feels like it was added last minute to drum up more dissention between Cap and Iron Man, but was it ever really needed? Maybe it was, but I couldn’t honestly say I was shocked, moved, or even cared.

And that’s the biggest problem with this film, and the Marvel universe as a whole. When your screenplays, traditionally, had consisted primarily of ‘hilarious’ one-liners, and after Joss Whedon turned everyone during Avengers Assemble into sassy teenagers, akin to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, it’s extremely difficult to buy that Civil War is supposed to be serious and have serious stakes, as it’s so out of tone with the rest of the franchise. Simply put, you don’t believe anybody is ever going to die, so you cannot buy into the stakes. For all Batman V Superman’s supposed flaws, at least it’s tone was consistent with Man of Steel, and ergo felt like a logical continuation within the same universe. This however, does not. It also doesn’t help that during a supposedly high-stakes battle sequence, Spider-Man is flying around dropping quotes and zingers. I get that Spider-Man’s thing, and always has been, but here it just seems out of place.

It’s not necessarily the writer’s issue, as they have to continue with Disney’s outline, and ergo are hamstrung in terms of what exactly they can do. It means that you never expect anyone to come to serious harm, and they don’t. There are no stakes whatsoever.

Again, I don’t wish to make this a contest between Batman V Superman and Civil War, but, considering my peers in the critics sphere decided to chastise it, whilst praising Civil War to the rafters, I feel this point needs to be made. That point being, that Civil War had no control over pacing. Whereas Batman V Superman built slowly to the big fight, meaning that when it finally happened, you couldn’t wait to see them kick lumps out of eachother, Civil War fucks this royally by having a fight sequence seemingly every five minutes.

What should have been, and in all honesty is, a cool sequence at the airport, where all the major players arrive and kick lumps out of eachother, is tainted somewhat by the fact that we’ve already seen multiple combinations of these characters slap each other about for the whole film. There are so many damn fight sequences, by the time the final one comes about, I found I no longer cared.

The screenplay was also sadly inconsistent, at times surprisingly good, at times, horrifically woeful. One line in particular, that was meant to be poignant, had me in hysterics. ‘My family are dead Stark. And I blame you.’ I defy you to read that line in your head without slipping into your best Trey Parker voice. It sounds like a line that he would write to satirise action movies, and not one that’s in one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. Although it must be stated that, outside of Hakeye, Ant-Man and Spider-Man, the sassy quips are cut down a lot, so the script is certainly an improvement on Avengers Assemble.

The biggest disappointment for me, personally, by some distance, were the visual elements. The colour scheme is bland, boring and almost looks as it came straight from the raw footage without much grading work. The cinematography is no better than that of a student filmmaker, and the CGI was horrifically noticeable in places. Spidey’s suit was not well cut around the neck, as there was a clear distinction between Tom Holland’s real head, and the clearly not real suit. The entire airport was green-screened, and it looked it. And somehow, someway, Iron Man’s suit looks worse now than it did in 2007. For such a massive film, with so much money behind it, it should have not have been that noticeable.

Now, I may have appeared somewhat harsh thus far, so I feel the need to make some disclaimers. First of all, this is not a terrible movie by any stretch. In fact, if you’re the kind of passive movie fan who doesn’t wish to think whilst being entertained, and merely wish to absorb and enjoy, this will probably be right up your street. There are plenty of fun moments, and the plot is meaty enough to enjoy, without being silly or contrived.

Downey JR’s performance, as per usual, is fantastic (even if he is just playing himself.), and the rest of the cast do very well for themselves, with the exception of Chris Evans as cap, who is clearly the most limited actor involved. It’s certainly not Michael Bay-esque nonsense, and is worth a viewing. It’s just that, after Batman V Superman was hailed as one of the worst blockbusters of the decade, and this was praised to the rafters, I expected a lot more, and I don’t think that wasn’t a reasonable request.

Civil War is, in my opinion at least, an average Blockbuster that is afraid to take any genuine creative risks, for fear of serious backlash. In their desperate desire to make as much motherfucking money as possible, Disney/Marvel aim at as many denominators as plausible, ergo playing it as inoffensive as they can. I mean, kids ain’t going to toys if the character actually dies, right? Marvel have become the vanilla ice-cream of the cinematic world. We all know and like vanilla, we know it’s the safe option and what to expect. But, vanilla never has, and probably never will, wow and amaze us. It’s decidedly meh, decidedly safe, and somewhat boring. Civil War? More like dis interesting punch-up.

 

Final Rating – 3.6

 

Joshua Moulinie