Month: September 2015

Hannibal Season 3

26532In its third and final season, Hannibal took the leap from entertaining and compelling into true greatness. While I enjoyed the first two seasons, particularly the striking art design (which is like nothing else on T.V) and the performances of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, they were flawed. The show felt bogged down in its predictable case of the week format and its very nature as a prequel. The fact that the Hannibal novels, written by Thomas Harris, were so successful and have been adapted into five different films did not work in the show’s favour. I doubt any viewer wasn’t slightly frustrated by how the first season consisted of Will Graham, with the help of psychiatrist HANNIBAL LECTER, hunting down a serial killer who was so obviously Hannibal. Also its sophomore season spent a large majority depicting Will being framed for Hannibal’s crimes. However these detracting elements were dropped as the show moved into the already existing mythology. In season three, instead of a crime procedural, we were treated to two of Harris’ novels beautifully condensed. What was left was a story expertly depicted by series creator Bryan Fuller, with the help of a stellar cast and roster of directors.

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Stills from the black and white opening to Antipasto

Before season three opener Antipasto aired, Bryan Fuller was quoted as stating ‘Every director who comes to the show gets the same lecture….We are not making television. We are making a pretentious art film from the 80s.” This was an accurate statement as evident by the divisive opening episode. The production design, which employs a lot of slow-motion, close-ups of dripping water or food, an emphasis on heavy symbolism and a heavy, hypnotic score, has always been the most alienating aspect of the show. However, Antipasto (directed by Vincenzo Natali of Cube and Splice fame) made me appreciate the visuals Fuller was so proud to convey. Although a slow episode in terms of the pace in which plot is revealed, Antipasto was one of the most gorgeous episodes of television I’ve ever seen. It begins with an exceptional black and white flashback and then never lets up in style especially in its depiction of Hannibal, and his accomplice Bedelia de Maurier’s (Gillian Anderson), new Florentine surroundings. In fact, this season never let up in style all the way to its concluding episode. The latter half of the season focused on the hunt for a new serial killer Francis Dollarhyde or ‘The Great Red Dragon’ (played excellently by Richard Armitage). Directors Jon Dahl (Red Rock West) and Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday) portray brilliantly through cinematic visuals both Dollarhyde’s symbolic, through dreams and nightmares, and physical, through tattoos, transformation into the mythical beast he idealizes.

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Francis Dollarhyde’s (Richard Armitage) transformation into The Red Dragon

However, there is more to Hannibal than just style. Although Antipasto and the following three episodes felt slow in order to establish character and plot lines for the season, they should be read as being the opening act of a long film. The fifth episode, Contorno, ends with an explosion of violence. The slow build up that preceded it only heightened the thrills of one of the most kinetic action scenes of the year. Tony Scott was cited by Fuller as being a huge influence on this season. Although that sounds surprising at first, it actually makes sense once one realises how much fight sequences were present throughout the season, particular the latter half with Dollarhyde being portrayed as muscular, agile and an intensely physical presence. Also Hannibal and Will’s relationship was taken to new levels of homoeroticism. Although never fully explored (despite rumours that scenes were filmed in which Dancy and Mikkelsen locked lips), it is always lurking within the dialogue they share. It’s clear Graham detests Hannibal’s actions, however Hannibal is his raison d’etre. He is the only person who can truly understand Will’s damaged psyche and Hannibal is the physical incarnation of what Will represses.

Caroline Dhavernas (left) and Katherine Isabelle (right)

Caroline Dhavernas (left) and Katherine Isabelle (right)

Hannibal also benefitted strongly from a shift in focus to its female characters – a triple threat in the form of Caroline Dhavernas, Katherine Isabelle and Gillian Anderson. In previous seasons Alana Bloom was a weak character as she served only as a pawn in Hannibal and Will’s games. However, she emerged from her coma with a new sense of purpose – to destroy the man who flung her from a balcony. Alana was finally given her own plotline, being tasked to run a sting operation organised by her and the lunatic (and also scarred by Hannibal) Mason Verger, a terrific scenery-chewing performance by Joe Anderson. Verger’s sister and Bloom’s lover, Margot is also given a lot more time to develop as a character, no longer being a victim of her brother’s sadism. Katherine Isabelle and Caroline Dhavernas have wonderful chemistry and the scene in which they are shown becoming ‘intimate’ is one of the best examples of Hannibal’s art design. The scene is sexy, kaleidoscopic and hypnotic yet never feels exploitative of the actresses. Gillian Anderson was also added to the main cast this season and is again further example of a character who was previously depicted as trembling in Hannibal’s company and is now given more room to breathe. She is sharp, intelligent, witty and steals every scene. This season of Hannibal was actually laugh out loud funny at times. Characters such as Frederick Chilton (the idiot who thinks he’s smarter than he actually is) and above all, crime scene investigators Jimmy Price and Brian Zeller (Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams) capture the sense of black comedy and grim hilarity in a very deadpan way.

Verdict: 3.5/4

Unlike most shows cancelled prematurely, Hannibal wraps up its third season in a way which feels right. Although, there are hints to perhaps where the story would have progressed, Fuller provides the viewer with an ending which I can’t imagine being any more perfect.

Legend Review

lgd_tsr1sheet5_rgb_0622_5If one is looking for a gritty depiction of The Krays, one should look elsewhere. Although Brian Helgeland’s Legend doesn’t skimp on the violence, it’s certainly a more romanticised view of the gangster lifestyle. It’s not an example of the traditional, social realism of the British crime oeuvre of The Long Good Friday, Nil by Mouth or 2015’s brilliant Hyena. Instead it’s more like the Hollywood films pre-Hays code which idealised the lives of criminals such as Howard Hawks’ Scarface and William Wellman’s The Public Enemy. The film is entitled Legend for a reason. The Krays thought of themselves in that way and the film doesn’t disagree – as evident by the narration by Reggie Kray’s wife which paints them as ‘gangster princes’. Those pre-Hays code films were criticised for glamorising the lives of their protagonists – men who rebelled against authority, men who demanded respect and earned vast amounts of finance on street smarts alone. Legend is exactly the same. Although it covers many of the same topics of the British films mentioned above e.g American wealth being invested in London, domestic abuse, war between police and criminals, its supporting cast for the most part are one-dimensional thumbnail sketches (despite the fact they’re based on real people) and it’s depiction of 60’s London, although gorgeous, is very far removed from reality.

That’s not to say Legend is a bad movie though. There are plenty of other films that I’ve enjoyed which are definitely Americanised views on British crime such as The Departed writer William Monahan’s London Boulevard. Legend is for the most part entertaining but flawed. It features a barnstorming central performance by Tom Hardy. Hardy portrays both Kray twins yet distinguishes between them so well that one often forgets he’s playing both roles. They are equally vicious but in different ways. Reggie is cold, calculating and subtle while Ronnie is the complete opposite. Diagnosed in the film by his psychiatrist as ‘off his fucking rocker’ – Ronnie is a force of nature. The best scenes in the film are when he flies off the handle and the chaos that ensues. The scene in which he berates an enemy for not indulging in a shootout is one of the standout scenes of 2015 in my opinion. In fact it’s Hardy’s performance that ultimately saves the film. Aside from the relationship between the twins the film has very little depth. It doesn’t explore the reasons why they resort to crime or how Ronnie’s homosexuality impacts his life in a masculine profession or even why Ronald and Reggie are so accustomed to violence. Despite this, the mania that the two brothers wreak upon each other and everyone around them is worth the price of admission alone.

Tom Hardy (left) Emily Browning (right)

Tom Hardy (left) Emily Browning (right)

The film does suffer from a very weak narration provided by Reggie’s wife, Frances (Emily Browning, God Help The Girl). Frances is an interesting character in terms of how the audience relates to her. The film begins with her being asked out on a date by Reggie and we, at first, see the gangster lifestyle through her eyes. However, the dialogue that’s spoken over the various montages is clichéd. It aims for Goodfellas cool but is closer to Blake Lively’s ear-scrapingly poor dialogue in Oliver Stone’s Savages with lines such as ‘it takes a lot of love to hate a man like that’. It’s a testament to Emily Browning that she’s still excellent in her role and provides a depth to her character despite the narration. The film is very violent. However, the violence to women is offscreen. I understand that this sort of abuse is stigmatised and is less appealing to viewers but it feels wrong that the film glamorises the Krays so much to the extent that they wouldn’t show certain acts onscreen as it would paint them in a bad light.

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Paul Bettany

As I said in my opening paragraph the majority of the characters are one-dimensional. Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read (Christiopher Ecclestone), although based on a true character, is portrayed as a bumbling idiot. Charlie Richardson (Paul Bettany), the head of the opposing firm to the Krays is depicted as nothing but a ruthless sadist – torturing people in kangaroo courts a la the Scarecrow in The Dark Knight Rises. Paul Bettany is only in the film for five minutes but almost steals the movie from under Hardy. The scene mentioned in the previous sentence is very A Clockwork Orange inspired and he appears to be channeling a young Malcolm McDowell. These characters, along with the visuals, make the film feel less like a crime biopic and more like a graphic novel. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it seems odd to squander so much true to life information. The only character that appears three-dimensional aside from the twins is their accountant Leslie Payne (David Thewlis, Lupin in Harry Potter). Through him we see Ronald’s disintegration. The two butt heads constantly but when Leslie states he isn’t afraid of Ronnie, we can see in Thewlis’ eyes that he’s lying.

Verdict 3/4

Flawed but worth-seeing for Tom Hardy’s virtuoso performance.

Show Me A Hero Review

Show-Me-a-Hero-Oscar-Isaac-PosterShow Me a Hero boasts amazing talent both on and off-screen – written by David Simon (The Wire, Treme) and William F. Zorsi (story editor for seasons 4 and 5 of The Wire), directed by Paul Haggis with a cast that includes Oscar Isaac, Winona Ryder, Bob Balaban, Catherine Keener, Jim Belushi, Jon Bernthal and Alfred Molina. It’s based on the true story of a white middle-class neighborhood’s resistance to a federally mandated, scattered-site, public housing development in Yonkers, New York, and how these tensions affected the city as a whole – leading to mass demonstrations, death threats, bombings and suicide. The events are mainly shown through the perspective of the young and ambitious Yonkers mayor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac). However, Show Me a Hero also gives voice to the occupants of the poor, predominately black neighbourhoods.

showmeahero03_article_story_largeFilm scholar Linda Williams praised The Wire for the way in which it ‘deftly weaved together the range of forces that shaped the circumstances of the urban poor while exposing deep inequality as a fundamental feature of broader social and economic arrangements’. Show Me a Hero deserves the same praise. David Simon’s great talent is the way in which he portrays big, city and country-wide issues through the stories of individual people. By focusing on multiple characters affected by the same event from all walks of life, whether it be upper class, lower class, working class or law enforcement, city government and journalists, Simon and Zorsi accurately depict the chaos of a city driven by fear of integration between races. The Wire was described by scholars Anmol Chaddha and William Julius Wilson as being ‘part of a long line of literary works that are able to capture the complexity of urban life in ways that have eluded many social scientists” – Show Me a Hero does the same. Although, he had no impact on the script, praise must be given to Paul Haggis (who directed all six episodes). It’s no coincidence he was chosen to direct since his Oscar-winning film Crash covered similar territory – xenophobia depicted through many interconnecting stories. Haggis prevents the show from simply being a retread of Simon’s earlier work. Although there are scenes of drug dealing in the poorer areas of Yonkers which look exactly like what D’Angelo Barksdale was doing in Baltimore in 2002, Haggis ditches the cinema verite documentary style camera work for the sheen of a period drama.

Bob Balaban

Bob Balaban

Catherine Keener

Catherine Keener

Show Me a Hero once again proves Oscar Isaac is one of the best actors in Hollywood. At times one forgets that this is the same actor who appeared in A Most Violent Year or Ex Machina earlier in 2015. This subject matter in the wrong hands and with the wrong actors could be dull and uninteresting. However with Isaac as the lead, even the most boring legislation law becomes engaging. In the earlier episodes, Isaac injects his character with an infectious sense of bravado and confidence which one can’t help but root for. However, as the title of the show comes from the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote ‘Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy’ Wasicsko is ultimately a tragic figure. In the final episode even the most hardened person can’t help but sympathise with Isaac’s performance of a man downtrodden by the world. Catherine Keener also deserves praise for her role as Mary Dorman – a woman who at first was against integration but later became an advocate for the plans after witnessing the most appalling forms of racism. A lesser drama would paint her as a bad person, but Keener makes her human. It is apparent early on that Mary just fears what she doesn’t understand and Keener depicts her moments of enlightenment in a beautiful but also very nuanced and subtle way. Bob Balaban is also as dry a delight as he normally is playing the judge who was willing to bankrupt a whole city if they would not enforce his ruling on integration.

Verdict 4/4

Show Me a Hero is a both intelligent and political but also emotional and human.

Gotham S02E01 ‘Damned if You Do’ Review

Pilot Chase Scene

Pilot Chase Scene

Damned If you Do.... Chase Scene

Damned If you Do…. Chase Scene

There’s an interesting moment in the season two opener of Gotham. In the pilot directed by Danny Cannon, Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) chases the main suspect in the Wayne killings through the kitchen of a restaurant. The camera catches him at a unique angle. It’s placed directly in front of his face but is shaking, adding to the tension of the chase. The same scene is replicated by Danny Cannon almost exactly in the premiere of its sophomore season. Except this time, Jim is not a cop and he is the one being chased.

This made me think about how the other characters of Gotham evolved over the first season. Jim’s fiancée, Barbara, in the pilot seemed dedicated to Jim and his mission to rid crime from Gotham City. Now, she’s in prison for killing her parents and is threatening Jim’s current girlfriend over the phone. Penguin, a bullied and weak character in the first episode, is now king of the underworld. Further to this, the characters who were in power when the show began – Carmine Falcone, Fish Mooney – are either dead or fled the city.

downloadSeason two takes place a month after the events of the season one finale. Through a montage orchestrated to Lou Reed’s Perfect Day, we see Penguin executing an enemy, Barbara entering prison and Bullock, after being fired, working as a bartender. As revenge for his actions against Comissioner Loeb, Jim is assigned to traffic duty. While directing traffic, Jim manages to take down a man wielding two pistols and a sword using only his bare hands. For his actions Jim is fired by Loeb for threatening a lazy fellow officer. However, Jim is owed a favour by Penguin. Does Jim make a deal with the Devil by asking Penguin to fire Loeb so that he can reinstated? Other plot lines involve the new character Theo Galavan (James Frain, True Detective, Orphan Black) creating an army of super villains and Barbara joining forces with Jerome a.k.a The Joker in prison. Like season one, this episode feels overly burdened with plot threads. While the first season was enjoyable overall, there were arcs that felt woefully unnecessary such as Fish Mooney being kidnapped by The Dollmaker, The Riddler’s descent into madness or Barbara’s relationship with Renee Montoya. These weaker plot threads often ran side by side with and detracted from the stronger work in Gotham such as Penguin’s rise to power, Jim and Bullock clashing against the corrupt heads of G.C.P.D or the mystery of The Ogre.

Penguin and Zsasz threatening Loeb

Penguin and Zsasz threatening Loeb

Despite the above complaint, this opener feels slightly more confident than the last season. Penguin and Victor Zsasz’s banter feels a lot more natural, as if the actors have settled into the skin of their characters. Jim and Bullock continue to be my favourite odd couple on T.V – the two share a very heart touching moment. While most season openers can actually feel quite dull as they spend the majority of the episode setting up season long mysteries (looking at you True Detective Season 2), Damned if you Do… feels urgent and exciting. This is down to the direction the creators have taken with Jim. By forcing the most moral man in Gotham into making a deal with the biggest criminal, the writers add a new layer of tension to the show. Will there be consequences to his decision? Definitely – but it will be interesting to see how they manifest in the upcoming season. I’m also very excited by the presence of James Frain. Frain always delivers charismatic performances as villains whether it be in films such as Into the Blue and The Front Line or in television shows such as Orphan Black and Agent Carter. This season is dubbed Rise of the Villains and he appears be the one creating them. Therefore, it should lead to an engaging twenty-two episodes.

Z for Zachariah Review

z-for-zachariah-posterZ for Zachariah is a new film based upon Robert O’Brien’s 1974 post-apocalyptic novel of the same title. That novel revolved around two characters, Ann and Loomis, who are the only survivors of a nuclear war. In this adaption, Ann is played by Margot Robbie (Focus) and Loomis by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) The film has one major change from the book. It adds a third character by the name of Caleb, played by Chris Pine (Star Trek). Like other post-apocalyptic literature and cinema such as The Road or even the Irish film One Hundred Mornings, Zachariah focuses less on the actual apocalyptic event and more on the characters and the strain the situation puts on their relationships. Ann discovers Loomis bathing in a contaminated stream and then nurses him back to health. They develop a relationship but Loomis urges Ann to give themselves more time to naturally adjust. It is only after Caleb arrives and he notices the spark between Ann and the new arrival that Loomis realises that he has feelings for her. But is it too late?

The film is an interesting three-hander and is well-performed by its three leads, particularly Ejiofor as a character who in the same scene can appear both kind and tender but also slightly menacing. Pine, as the third wheel, provides a nice-counter balance to Ejiofor. Caleb’s Texan drawl and every man persona is the complete antithesis to Loomis’ eloquent but booming voice and high scientific intelligence (he is able to construct a dam out of wood from an abandoned church). The film is slow but often develops a rhythm and atmosphere which sucks the viewer in during certain scenes. It’s mode of storytelling is subtle. There are no huge confrontations or scenes of grandstanding by the actors. Even the chilling finale of the film isn’t explicitly shown, leaving exactly what transpired up to the viewer.

Verdict 3/4

Despite a slow pace, Z for Zachariah is often gripping and benefits from impressive work by its cast, particularly Ejiofor, and a very strong ending.

Manglehorn Review

al-pacino-holly-hunter-find-love-in-manglehorn-visual-metaphors-are-plentiful-movies-624137062Both David Gordon Green and Al Pacino are entering periods of renaissance. The former began directing American indies such as George Washington and even collaborated with Terrence Malick on Undertow. He then did a complete 360 degree turn to directing stoner comedies such as the wickedly funny Pineapple Express and then the awful Your Highness and The Sitter. He refound his form recently with Prince Avalanche and the fantastic Joe starring Nicolas Cage. Al Pacino, at one point, was the most consistently great actor delivering brilliant performances in films such as The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon, Heat, Serpico, Cruising, Carlito’s Way and Insomnia just to name a few. However, in recent years his performances began to feel like caricatures of himself. This was not helped by his poor roles in mediocre fare like Righteous Kill, The Son of No One, 88 Minutes or his career low-point Jack and Jill. However, Al Pacino seemed to realise this and as of 2015 starred in Barry Levinson’s very interesting The Humbling and also the critically acclaimed comedy Danny Collins (which I’ve not seen yet). Manglehorn is similar to both Green and Pacino’s recent output. Like Joe, it’s a character study set in the south which focuses on a man with ‘pain in his heart’, and like The Humbling, it’s about an elderly man who has been forgotten about. Although Manglehorn is not as focused as Joe, it’s still an interesting film with some odd but very intriguing narrative choices.

Pacino plays A.J Manglehorn, a reclusive Texas locksmith who spends his days caring for his cat, finding comfort in his work and lamenting a long-lost love. Then enters a kind woman named Dawn (Holly Hunter, Top of the Lake, The Firm) who is interested in Manglehorn and may be the one to make him fully embrace life once again. The film has a very nice structure. There is an emphasis on capturing small and fleeting moments in time – both the humdrum of every day life (Manglehorn creating keys) and feverish moments of horror (the aftermath of a car crash – which pays homage to Godard’s Weekend). These small moments are then interspersed with long and embellished reminiscences and stories from those close to Manglehorn which paint him as an almost spiritual figure. This method of storytelling draws out the narrative but also captures the mysterious atmosphere of the South and also the essence of both Manglehorn and the supporting characters in a very unique way.

There is also a strong use of symbolism. Manglehorn dresses in dark clothes and is often placed against dimly lit rooms and dark places. The colourful supporting cast such as Holly Hunter (the name Dawn is very symbolic too) and Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine’s pimp character are dressed in bright clothes and are painted against bright backdrops. Even the profession of a locksmith is symbolic of Pacino’s character. Manglehorn’s sorrow over his lost love locks him in the past. He doesn’t engage in the present and only lives in his memories. Like Joe, Manglehorn features imagery that lingers in the mind for days after viewing – a pulsating beehive under a mailbox, a child crying uncontrollably locked in a car.

Screenshot 2015-09-13 09.20.13Al Pacino delivers an understated but excellent performance. Manglehorn isn’t a straight-forward likeable character. At times, he is even cruel but Pacino through his eyes, his stance and even the way his voice crackles evokes sympathy from the viewer. The scene in which he confronts Korine’s character is his best acting since Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia in 2002. Hunter radiates warmth and the scenes she and Pacino share are the best in the film. Manglehorn’s relationship with his son, played by Chris Messina, is the film’s greatest flaw as it feels like it belongs in a different type of film – a more straightforward drama perhaps.

Verdict 3/4

Manglehorn’s story may be slight, but the way its presented is the opposite. Beautifully edited and shot, the film is anchored by a wonderful performance by Pacino.

7 Chinese Brothers Review

7CB-POSTER-20x307 Chinese brothers is the new release by independent American director Bob Byington. Named after an R.E.M song, it revolves around a misanthropic alcoholic man named Larry (Jason Schwartzman) who falls for the boss of his new job. Although Schwartzman is often a wonderful screen presence as evident by Listen Up Philip and The Overnight, writer-director Bob Byington doesn’t provide him with enough to do. The film’s narrative feels aimless, the romance is under-developed and we never learn enough about Larry to fully invest in his character.

7 Chinese Brothers is only 75 minutes long. Although the film never over stays its welcome, one can’t help but think a longer running time, in order to further develop Schwartzman and the supporting casts’ characters, would have worked in the film’s favour. The Overnight is also 75 minutes long – however that film’s characters are given adequate enough time to develop and feel like real-fleshed out people by that film’s ending. In comparison 7 Chinese Brothers is a thumbnail sketch which squanders its full potential in favour of quirky and random scenes in which Schwartzman plays with his real life dog.

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Stephen Root

That’s not to say the film is devoid of entertainment, it just feels very slight. Schwartzman is very good at playing prickly and brash characters and Larry is a perfect example of this. He mines far more comedy out of such a minor story than any other actor I could imagine. The brilliant character actor Stephen Root (Boardwalk Empire, Dodgeball, The Ladykillers) steals the film in three hilariously awkward scenes as Schwartzman’s lawyer. Olympia Dukakis is also quite good in the role of Larry’s grandmother. Her relationship with Larry, in which she bluntly states every flawed aspect of his character, is the film’s most interesting aspect. Another frustrating thing about 7 Chinese Brothers is Alex Karpovsky’s character. Karpovsky, who steals every scene in the recent seasons of Lena Dunham’s Girls as Ray Ploshansky, is ridiculously underused. He appears in one scene for about five seconds and doesn’t do anything of worth.

Verdict 2/4

Although I didn’t hate the movie, it felt quite pointless. Despite Stephen Root’s welcome appearance, the film is feather-weight and lackluster. I haven’t seen any previous films of Byington but from the reviews I’ve read, he appears to be an edgy filmmaker. Perhaps, he abandoned this edginess in order to appeal to a wider audience.

The Overnight Review

urlThe Overnight is the new film by Patrick Brice – who earlier this year impressed with his very creepy and darkly funny debut feature Creep. His sophomore effort is similar in many ways to his first film. Both movies’ dramatic tension originates from the social dread of being in strangers’ company. However, while Creep applied this formula to the horror genre, The Overnight is far more comedic in tone and is perhaps the most ferociously funny and unpredictable film of 2015 so far. It revolves around newcomers in L.A, Alex (Adam Scott, Step Brothers) and Emily (Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black) who bond with another couple , Kurt (Wes Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman) and Charlotte (Judith Godreche, Stoker). The four decide to get to know each better through a playdate between their sons. However, when the children fall asleep, crazy antics ensue.

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Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling (left) and Jason Schwartzman (Right)

To reveal anymore would ruin half the fun of The Overnight. This is a film I would urge people to try to see knowing as little as possible regarding the content. The film constantly wrong foots the audience. At times the scenarios the characters find themselves in are creepy and unnerving, and then later we learn information which makes them understandable and normal. While the material in The Overnight could easily be transplanted into a Will Farrell or Adam Sandler comedy, the script by Brice, is surprisingly layered and full of substance. Gags, that would be throwaway in lesser films, only serve to deepen the plot as the film progresses. The Overnight does not shy away from coarse vulgarity and sex. However, it never feels cheap and instead is very witty. The film should be praised for the way in which no character is defined by their sexual preferences and the way in which Brice depicts moments of intimacy. The four leads share great chemistry – Scott and Schilling are deadpan delights in contrast to the bohemian antics of Schwartzman and Godreche. Schwartzman and Scott share scenes together which are not only laugh out loud funny but also strangely affecting and touching.

Verdict 3.5/4

Intelligent, well-played and above all, hysterically funny. The Overnight affirms writer-director Patrick Brice as a major talent.

Mr. Robot Series 1 Review

Mr_Robot_TV_Series-978107021-largeMr. Robot was perhaps the strongest show during the Summer months of 2015. It was renewed for a second season before the first episode had even aired. It was both a critical darling and a fan favourite with each episode being dissected by bloggers days after airing. It revolves around Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a hacker suffering from depression and a morphine addiction. By day, he works for Allsafe – a cyber security company. By night, he is a member of fsociety, a group led by the mysterious Mr. Robot (Cristian Slater – back on Heathers form), who are dedicated to creating a digital revolution. Their goal is to delete all of E Corp’s (a multi-national conglomerate and Allsafe’s biggest client) debt records.

Although it sounds like a second-rate Syfy show on paper, Mr. Robot features flawless writing, direction, performances and cinematography. Pilot director Niels Arden Oplev (hired off the strength of his own brilliant cyber-thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) sets the template of the show by creating an almost glacially chilling atmosphere. However, it’s Sam Esmail who deserves the real credit here. Mr. Robot is his creation. He wrote the majority of the episodes and directed three. His direction is stylish – the after-credits scene of the final episode features a long tracking shot which rivals the best of Brian De Palma’s work. The cinematography is gorgeous and evokes the almost hyper-realistic sheen of David Fincher’s recent work on the House of Cards pilot, The Social Network and even his own Dragon Tattoo remake.

Elliot

Rami Malek

Although I cannot claim that the show is realistic in its depiction of hackers as I have no knowledge of such areas, it feels the most authentic out of any cyber-film or show I’ve seen. However, the hacking aspect is only the surface of the show. It’s true themes are that of loneliness. Elliot hacks his friends and acquaintances because it’s the only way he can communicate with people. On paper that sounds clichéd but Mr. Robot is so accurate in the way it portrays the world of someone with a damaged mind. At times the show is more concerned with Elliot’s mental state than the actual planning of the hack. There are full episodes where the plot takes a backseat in order to portray the full extent of Elliot’s mental instability. It’s a credit to Rami Malek’s utterly convincing and jittery performance and Sam Esmail’s writing that these episodes feel more like the natural progression of plot and less like filler. These character driven episodes not only contribute to character development, they add an element of unpredictability to the plot. Mr. Robot is the furthest thing from a procedural. Like Better Call Saul, one never knows whether an episode is going to be a character study, a heist or go off in a completely different tangent all together.

Martin Wallstrom

Martin Wallstrom

However, Elliot is not the only character. We also have Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) – interim CTO of E Corp (even the people who work there dub it Evil Corp). Wellick is part American Psycho and part Macbeth. We see him in one early scene pay a homeless man so that he can then savagely attack that homeless man for some sort of twisted cathartic release. His wife Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen) is the most Lady Macbeth-esque figure since Robin Wright in House of Cards. Like the Underwoods, they are the type of people who would do anything in order to advance in status. They are the perfect counter-balance to Elliot. They signify everything Elliot and fsociety rail against – people who control the world and have no regard for who they hurt, protecting their own investments first. Mr. Robot is the furthest thing from a thinly veiled critique of the modern world. Like Fight Club, it is an angry response to the consumerist world in which we live.

In Mr. Robot every character, no matter how small a role, feels like a fully rounded person. Shayla Nico (Frankie Shaw), Elliot’s girlfriend and morphine provider, is a kind but ultimately tragic character who adds a real warmth to such an overwhelmingly icy atmosphere. Even the villains such as Fernando Vera (a truly disturbing and repellent Elliot Villar), Shayla’s drug supplier, never fall into caricature.

There is strong violence in the show. However, at times the true violence lies in the characters’ speech. In episode seven, there is a moment of physical violence. However, the scene in the same episode that lingers in one’s mind the longest is that which Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday), Elliot’s childhood friend and work colleague, and Terry Colby (Bruce Altman), former CTO of E Corp, share. Colby threatens her in perhaps the most overtly repugnant way possible yet he does not lay a finger on her. Mr. Robot is filled with scenes like this.

Verdict 4/4

Angry and subversive, Mr. Robot is essential viewing.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E Review

manfromuncleposterlargeAlthough superhero movies have dominated the box-office, it’s been a great year for spy movies. Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation have all been both critically and commercially successful. Does Guy Ritchie’s adaption of 60s TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E fare in comparison to the films mentioned above? The answer is a resounding yes. The film revolves around professional thief turned CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill, Man of Steel) and borderline psychopathic KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, The Lone Ranger). Although enemies, the two are forced to team up in order to extract Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina) from East Berlin. Teller’s father, a Nazi scientist, has resurfaced in Italy working for Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby).

Alicia Vikander

Alicia Vikander

In my overall positive Mission Impossible 5 review, I stated that the film lacked an auteurish stamp and that although stylish, it was without substance. In the case of The Man From U.N.C.L.E, the style is the substance. The majority of the enjoyment comes from the constant nods to television and films from the 60s. For instance, Gaby walking into a Roman fountain for a glass of water evokes memories of Anita Ekberg in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Ritchie’s visual aesthetic suits the material. Like in Snatch or even his Sherlock Holmes adaptions, there is a strong use of escued camera angles, split screens and time shuffling which only add to the 60’s nostalgia. Like Ritchie’s previous films, there is a strong emphasis on the comedic elements. The script is filled with double entendres and humourous vignettes amongst the action. The film is refreshing in the sense that it does not rely solely upon huge action set-pieces in order to entertain.

Hugh Grant also excellent as Waverly

Hugh Grant also excellent as Waverly

While the plot is engaging and features some twists which I didn’t see coming, it is the banter between the three central characters which truly entertains. Cavill, who I’ve never been a big fan of, is actually quite brilliant in the role of Napoleon Solo. His voice and the way he holds his body project confidence and gravitas. However, the show is stolen by Armie Hammer, who one can tell is having a wonderful time in the role of Kuryakin. He not only masters a Russian accent but he also adds a lot of heart and charm to his damaged character. It is mentioned throughout the film that he is prone to fits of violence. Although, when provoked Ritchie focuses on clenched fits, it may have been better just to focus in on Hammer’s eyes – which convey the inner turmoil so much more effectively and subtly. Hammer and Cavill share a strong chemistry which, at times, resembles Holmes and Watson from Ritchie’s previous films – which is high praise. Alicia Vikander excels yet again in a role which requires not just beauty but brains and Elizabeth Debicki’s droll delivery as the villainous Vinciguerra (win the war – one of the films sly gags) is immensely entertaining.

Verdict: 3.5/4

Gorgeous to look at and well performed by its leads, The Man From U.N.C.L.E is the best possible example of style over substance.