Month: March 2016

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Batman-v-Superman-Trinity-Wonder-Woman-Ben-Affleck-Henry-Cavill-Gal-Gadot.jpgBatman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is a strange film. Unlike many of the recent Avengers movies, it feels like a singular vision by its director Zack Synder (300, Watchmen). Despite being written by Chris Terrio (who wrote the phenomenal Argo script) and David S. Goyer (screenwriter on The Dark Knight and Blade trilogies), everything within the film feels like Synder being let-loose to indulge in his own fantasies. It is experimental. There are five dream sequences which appear to be outtakes from Synder’s previously whacked-out Sucker Punch. It has a music video aesthetic (Batman’s training montage). There are nods to Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick. However, what is lacking from the film is depth, a coherent story and, for an alarming amount of time, a sense of fun.

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For those of you who do not know, the plot begins during the closing moments of Man of Steel in which Metropolis is destroyed by Clark Kent / Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod’s battle. In the opening and best scene of the film, we see the fight from the perspective of Bruce Wayne / Batman (Ben Affleck), who is attempting to save people from the Wayne Enterprise building located in the city. Many of his employees are killed or injured amongst the 9/11 inspired sequence, leading Wayne to harbour resentment for Superman. Meanwhile villainous businessman Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) uses this growing hatred as a means of achieving his goal of destroying meta-humans such as Superman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)

When I use the word “fun”, I do not mean jokes every few minutes. I would consider The Dark Knight a fun film in the sense that it is edge-of-your-seat engrossing entertainment. The problem with Batman vs Superman is that there are a lack of things to be engaged with. The audience is never really given a glimpse into Superman. Synder resorts to Neil deGrasse Tyson and various other “bloggers” appearing onscreen to tell us what Superman means to the masses. Yet we never understand how Superman himself feels about being a God amongst men or about being coerced into siding with the American Government. This lack of voice causes him to become a bland and boring central character.

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Two examples of the film’s striking visuals

Also, the film barrels through an alarming amount of plot at such a speed that it becomes incoherent. This film is not just Batman vs Superman, its Batman/Superman vs Lex Luthor, Batman/Superman with Wonder Woman vs Lex Luthor, its Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman vs Doomsday, its Birth of Justice League and Suicide Squad 0.5 (there are three Joker references). I believe that this story can be told in a way which makes sense in 150 minutes. Yet Synder adds in dream sequences so one doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not – further confusing matters. Also, he dedicates 60 of those 150 minutes to a final battle which betrays one of the only good things about the film – it looked good. There are striking visuals within the first 90 minutes, but the last act is a CGI eye sore. With this overabundance of plot, I found myself constantly questioning characters morals and motivation.

images.jpgIt is not all terrible. Ben Affleck is one of the best Batman’s onscreen to date. While Christian Bale’s decadent Bruce Wayne lifestyle was a charade in order to mask that he was Batman, Affleck’s heavy drinking, womanizing and world weary view feels like an extension of his angry Batman alter ego. I should note that Affleck’s Batman is a more experienced and haggard view of the character. He is beginning to question whether his heroics are of any good and is taking out his frustration on his targets (torturing, as well as straight-up murdering, them at points). Gal Gadot, with limited screen time, displays an effortless cool which has me excited for her Wonder Woman solo film. Also this will be polarising, but I found Jesse Eisenberg’s decision to play Luthor as if he’s just snorted three bumps of cocaine before every appearance enjoyable.

Verdict: 2/4

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mess. Although Affleck and Gadot’s performances will excite many for future films in the DC Cinematic Universe, they are plagued in this film by poor storytelling, bland central characterisation and an awful final act.

Hail, Caesar! Review

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Hail, Caesar!, the 17th film directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, is exemplary of the duo’s sensibilities as filmmakers. It displays their fast-paced and witty dialogue (Fargo, The Big Lebowski), their gift for creating wonderfully crafted and unpredictable stories (Barton Fink, Blood Simple) and their uniquely quirky take on certain types of cultures (A Serious Man, Intolerable Cruelty). Those unfamiliar with the Coen’s style may be left cold. However, fans of theirs can rejoice in the glorious lunacy that is Hail, Caesar!

Max Hermann points out how many of the duo’s films centre upon “an average Joe who gets involved in a complex scheme that appears to be simple at first, but, in all reality, is totally beyond them”. Their latest is no exception. The average joe in this case is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), head of film production and fixer for studio “Capitol Pictures” in 1951. When Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) the star of the studio’s latest epic, “Hail Caesar: A Tale of the Christ”, is kidnapped, Mannix is tasked with finding him. In the meantime, he is also responsible for the casting of European director Laurence Laurentz’s (Ralph Fiennes at the peak of his recent comedy renaissance) latest art-house drama, “Merrily We Dance”. Laurentz is forced to work with Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenrich, Tetro), a skilled actor in cowboy-themed musicals but not suited for his new director’s precise instructions. Mannix also suffers from his unmarried leading lady DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) becoming unexpectedly pregnant and is also forced to dodge Tilda Swinton’s Hilda Hopper inspired rival twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker.

download.jpgWhile this clearly sounds like a gross over-abundance of plot, Hail Caesar! deftly juggles its various stories with gusto. In fact, the plot is almost of secondary importance as the film succeeds like all great comedies by delivering hilarious scene after hilarious scene. Whether it be the inter-faith dialogue arranged by Mannix in order to not offend anyone with his depiction of the lord and saviour, the fact that Clooney is never seen in the film without a full gladiator costume and sword or Channing Tatum’s campy Gene Kelly-esque dance routine, Hail Caesar! is a riot.

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However, it is also a film which I believe is trying to say something important. Mannix, throughout the film is constantly considering a change of career as his current one alienates him from his wife (Alison Pill) and his children. He is offered employment for life by an American Aerospace company working on a hydrogen bomb – greater pay, less hours. The company’s head hunter stresses to Mannix the unimportance of the film industry. However despite his hardship, Mannix cannot quit because he believes in the beauty of cinema and the Coen’s do too. Hail Caesar! consistently puts it’s plot on the back burner for the sole purpose of delivering homages to bygone genres of Hollywood. This is perhaps best evident by Johansson’s Esther Williams-like synchronised swimming routine, gorgeously realised by the always ace cinematographer Roger Deakins (Sicario, No Country for Old Men). While the Coens, who have always been outsiders in Hollywood, portray the inner-workings of a Hollywood studio as an anarchic circus, there is an unmistakable adoration for the end product in their latest work.

BN-ML463_0204Al_G_20160204140814.jpgWhile Brolin is an excellent straight-man and Clooney acquits himself with the same entertaining grin he brought to his previous collaborations with the Coens, the true star of the film is perhaps the least known. Alden Ehrenrich gives one of the best comic turns in recent memory, managing to charm as perhaps the most kind and amiable character, while also delivering each line with a tone perfectly in line with the film.

Verdict: 4/4

A brilliant return to comedy for the Coen Brothers following the darker fare of A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis. Hail, Caesar! is a delight from start to finish.

Hap & Leonard S01E01 “Savage Season” Review

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Sundance TV’s 80’s period piece Hap & Leonard, based on Joe R. Lansdale’s tremendously entertaining series of Texan-set pulp novels (read Rumble Tumble if you have not), tells the story of a bromance between amiable ex-convict and white working class labourer Hap Collins (James Purefoy) and his African-American homosexual Vietnam-war veteran friend Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams). After being fired from their jobs picking roses on a plantation due to “a whole batch of Mexicans rolling in”, ergo “cheaper labour”, the duo are recruited by Hap’s ex-wife Trudy (Christina Hendricks, Mad Men and Drive) to retrieve a substantial amount of money from the bottom of a river following a bank-robbery gone wrong.

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The pilot “Savage Season”, written and directed by creative team Jim Mickle and Nick Dimici (who adapted Lansdale’s novel Cold in July for the big-screen), succeeds at capturing the sweaty, swampy atmosphere of the novels on which it’s based. Whether it be the shimmering Texan sun, the constant chirping of crickets or the muddy and sandy banks of the river during the opening scene, Hap & Leonard establishes the world of its protagonists with panache.

It also serves up a central relationship in which it is easy to invest. Purefoy and Williams share terrific chemistry together. Instead of words, it’s their naturalistic portrayals that give the impression to the viewer that these characters have been best friends a long time. While Williams is reliably great, having played the similarly homosexual but hyper-masculine role as Omar Little in The Wire, the real standout is Purefoy. The British actor, who is perhaps most famous to audiences as campy serial killer Joe Carroll in The Following, is terrific as Hap – thus proving once again that the English are the go to for authentic American accents. He also adds a world-weariness to the character which never feels forced and makes him instantly likeable.

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Pollyanna McIntosh as Angel

Hendricks is also well-cast, although she is given little to do. Instead, the female character who remains in the viewers’ mind after the pilot is rising-star Pollyanna McIntosh’s Angel. With about a minute of screen-time, which closes the episode, the psychopathic Angel and her equally crazy boyfriend Soldier (Jimmi Simpson, House of Cards) leave a lasting impression on the viewer. They add a wild-card element to the proceedings which will have its audience itching to tune-in to the next episode.

Verdict: “Savage Season” is a promising opener to the six-part Hap and Leonard which serves to establish the show’s potent atmosphere and its central duo’s relationship.

Hitchcock/Truffaut Review (ADIFF Premiere)

download.jpgKent Jones’ Hitchcock/Truffaut takes its inspiration from French director Francois Truffaut’s book of the same title, which is essentially the minutes for an eight day exchange between Truffaut and the legendary Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, Vertigo). Truffaut (director of The 400 Blows and writer for influential cinema magazine Cahiers du Cinema) aimed to prove with the work that critics were underestimating the genius of Hitchcock’s directing. For cinephiles, the text is essential – providing a great insight into the work of Hitchcock (who is frank and candid throughout the interview) and thus, of cinema itself. Jones’ documentary details how these two filmmakers came together, the importance of the work in terms of film criticism and how Hitchcock and Truffaut remained friends up until their deaths (Hitchcock in 1980 and Truffaut in 1984).

While the film does provide some rich backstory into how the two men began their correspondence and later conducted the interview (despite Hitchcock unable to speak French and Truffaut unable to speak English), the genius of the documentary is how it focuses on Hitchcock’s work – the basis for the original book in the first place. Through the documentary’s terrific talking heads – David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, James Gray to name a few, one can see how Truffaut’s argument was correct. Filmmakers and scholars are still fascinated and influenced by Hitchcock – a director once regarded as an audience favourite rather than a critics, until Truffaut.

hitchcock-truffaut-2015_t658.jpgThe film is worth recommending just in order to see a vast array of scenes from multiple films’ made during Hitchcock’s fifty year career on the big screen. While the documentary focuses mostly on the famed Vertigo and Psycho, the audience is treated to clips from Easy Virtue, The Lodger, The Man Who Knew Too Much (original and remake), Marnie, The Birds, Topaz and The Wrong Man – resulting in a far more cinematic documentary then most. As these scenes play out, we hear each director’s unique interpretation, delivered with intelligence and insight.

41e2UAdtFqL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgKent provides an almost “greatest hits” in terms of Hitchcock’s quotes from the book. There are a dozen gem lines such as “The Lodger is the first movie where I exercised any style” or how Psycho plays the audience “like an organ”. While the English director’s personal controversies have been well documented and dramatized (see the Toby Jones starring BBC Drama The Girl), the documentary highlights Hitchcock’s charisma and charm and at the film’s end provides a moment of real humanity in the letters he sent Truffaut following the publishing of the book.

Verdict: 3.5/4

Essential for film fans, seek this intelligent, witty and cinematic documentary out and then read the book on which it’s based.