Jason Bourne Collection Review

Preface

With the new film in the series, Jason Bourne coming out in the…Jason Bourne franchise, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the series as a whole. The Bourne series’ influence on cinema in the post-2000 scene is massive, everything from Taken to XIII to Daniel Craig’s James Bond owes a debt to Bourne, and it’s still influencing cinema today. The films I will be reviewing are;

  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Bourne Legacy

Review

The Bourne Identity

The start of the series, with Matt Damon in the title role and Doug Liman on directing duties. The film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) a spy for the CIA who is struck with amnesia and hunted by his old firm. We see the start of the themes and notes of the franchise here; the European setting, a sense of realism (distinguishing it from the most recent James Bond film at the time, Die Another Day) and the bone crunching mix of Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali for the fight scenes. And while there are moments of greatness peppered throughout (The bank/embassy evacuation, the Mini chase through the streets of Paris and the showdown with Clive Owen’s Professor) there is a hint of ropey-ness about it all. The fight scenes aren’t well shot and the sound effects are ripped straight from an Adam West Batman episode. The staircase ride, while it starts interesting, also has some video-gamey sound effects, poor CGI and sped-up footage. Apart from that, Chris Cooper is a great villain as Conklin and John Powell’s score is one of the most recognisible themes in all of cinema.

Score: 6/10 A Good start to an action series.

The Bourne Supremacy

Matt Damon returns as the superspy but the director’s chair has moved from Liman over to Paul Grengrass. The story continues two years on, when a shadowy Russian oligarch forces Bourne back into the CIAs spotlight. While this was never my favourite Bourne film, after going back to it, I look upon it more favorably. Greengrass’ signature hand-held shaky style is at it’s best here (and sadly imitated poorly by many other directors) conveying the brutality and speed of the hand-to-hand fight scenes. One fight, between Bourne and the last Treadstone assassin, Jarda, is a brilliant display of improvised weaponry. The hotel/ Neski segments have a nice Traditions Of The Trade feel and help fill in background to Treadstone. The main weak point is the story. Who is Gretkov (the oligarch) and why is he so interested in Bourne? Why does he have the Neski files? There is no clear point to why the main bad guy is setting up Bourne other than to make some money, which is quite poor character development.

Score: 8/10 If it wasn’t for the weak story, this would have been the best one.

The Bourne Ultimatum

The final chapter of the Matt Damon trilogy, with Paul Greengrass returning to direct. Set mere hours after the end of Supremacy, the film follows Bourne as he finally heads after the CIA to find out who he really is. This is the culmination of everything that was great about the first two while taking out the elements that didn’t work. The hand-to-hand combat is better than ever, with a beautiful set piece against a Capoeira-infused Blackbrair agent. The rest of the action set pieces are on par, with a great rooftop chase in Tangiers as well as a shootout in London Waterloo. The story is also leagues ahead of the tenuous link in Supremacy, with it linking back to Bourne as his origin rather than some half-baked scheme about stealing money from the second film.

Score: 9/10 The best of series so far.

The Bourne Legacy

With Matt Damon and Paul Grengrass both said they were not returning to the series, it fell to the previous three film’s screenwriter Tony Gilory to take the directing chair and Jeremy Renner as a new “Outcome” agent Aaron Cross to take hold of the Bourne franchise. Set during and after The Bourne Ultimatum, the film follows another agent, Aaron Cross, as the previous programs are shut down by government bureaucrat Eric Byer (played superbly by Edward Norton) to risk embarrassment of the CIA. Cross is the only survivor of his program, leading the CIA to hunt him down. While Jeremy Renner is good stand-in for Matt Damon in the action scenes, his manner is too cheerful. He’s always cracking jokes, which doesn’t really fit the character of a deadly assassin. His romance with Rachael Weisz seems token and the film ends flatly, obviously trying to set up a sequel that never came. Apart from one long-take of Cross in a shootout in a house and a nifty motorcycle trick near the end, the rest of the action is boring or ridiculous. The story isn’t engaging like the third film and it’s only the barest relation to the Bourne series that made anyone want to go see it.

Score: 4/10 Generic-o fist-punchy, gun-shooty (that means it’s bad).

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The Jungle Book Review

With Cinderella last year and Beauty and the Beast next year, it seems Disney is set on remaking their well-known animated classics into live-action. I along with many others, were sceptical if those stories would work through the change. But Cinderella proved me wrong, so now I’m pretty excited about the new films. The newest film to be adapted is the 1967 The Jungle Book. Does the film still work at nearly 50 years old?

The Jungle Book stars Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o and newcomer Neel Sethi and is directed by Jon Favreau. Based on the books by Rudyard Kipling, the film follows young child Mowgli (Sethi) as he has to leave the jungle for fear that tiger Shere Khan (Elba) will kill him.

First off, the animation is superb. While I talked about the attention to detail in Disney’s earlier Zootropolis, it was mainly cartoon versions of animals. Here it’s more like a nature documentary. The animals of the jungle howl and roar and they stalk their prey through the forest with an amazing sense of realism. The environments help. They look photo-realistic and the CGI creations merge with the live-action sections of the film.

The cast is what makes it though. Several strong voices, each giving a top performance. They are so many more than the ones I’ve listed already, Scarlett Johansson (as the now female Kaa, who isn’t in it as long as the original), Christopher Walken as King Louis and Giancarlo Esposito as Akela. Even original Spiderman director Sam Raimi gets a small cameo. It’s a great list and it gets you invested in the film. You don’t care that animals are talking, because they sell the hell out of it. I wasn’t too impressed with Neel Sethi as Mowgli, (he’s better than most child actors, but that isn’t saying much) but seeing as it’s his first film I feel like going easy on him.

The film obviously has to tip it’s hat to the original 1967 version, but it’s in these moments that it lost me. Sure the songs are what have kept the film a well-loved classic for so long, but they feel out of place here. Christopher Walken’s rendition is laughably awful (while adding new lyrics) and Murray and Sethi’s version of Bare Necessities doesn’t have anything on the original. It works a lot better when it deviates from the first film. Kaa’s new version of hypnosis is clever update of the 60s psychedelic wavy lines, and the new design King Louis, as a 12-foot gigantopithecus (a now extinct type of ape) is a sight to behold; he’s no longer the swinging and jiving jazz singer we knew. Hands down, the build up and reveal of the Ape King, as well as the following action scene around his palace is one of the best scenes in the film and will become a standout of Disney’s catalogue. And no, there are no vultures bearing similarities to a certain Liverpool band in this version.

The film as moved from a U rating to a PG. I guess it comes with the territory, with the more life-like creatures and with fighting being a major theme of the story, The Jungle Book is skewing to a much more darker sense. The violence is mostly off-screen or is hidden, but the tone is less child-friendly than the 1967 version. The man-hating Shere Khan (who Idris Elba gives a great sense of menace) has an evil presence over the film, as well as the entire King Louis section, it has a much more intense feel than the original. If you are worried whether you kid will be scared by the prospect of a realistic tiger jumping at them, have a look at the trailer. The trailer does a good job of setting the general tone of the film. If you think that they can deal with it then go for it. Just be prepared for angry tigers and panthers jumping at the camera.

Score: 9/10 A great adaptation and remake that changes the feel for the better.

Cyberbully Review

Preface

For my retro reviews I like to broaden out what types of films I choose to review. Some are old classics that I want to write down my take on and some are complete unknowns. And since I did the short film Qalupalik, I’ve been wanting to branch out into different sorts of films. So for this one, I chose a television film. I introduce to you, Cyberbully.

Review

Cyberbully star’s Maisie Williams, Elle Purnell and Wilson Haagens and is written and directed by Ben Channen. The film follows teenager Casey (Williams) who is tormented by an anonymous culprit online.

Television films always get a bad rap. There is an idea that the word “television” means that it’s cheaply made and isn’t worth your time. It’s not always true, there have been several great “made for TV” films. Studio Ghibli, the guys behind Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro made Ocean Waves for television and that’s my favourite Ghibli creation. But anyway, back to Cyberbully.

I did mainly choose to watch this film because of Maisie Williams. She’s been on a roll since her breakout roll in Game Of Thrones and her performance in last year’s The Falling, a British horror film was nominated for a Clemwood Award. Here in Cyberbully she shows her tremendous range as an actress. At the start she’s carefree and happy, talking to her friend’s like a typical teenager, but soon descends into worry and fearfulness over the messages that the anonymous hacker is sending her. The last ten to fifteen minutes, where Williams breaks down into tears is a extremely effective stab at high traumatising drama and is reason enough to give Cyberbully a watch.

The film is done in real time, which is not a very well explored creative choice. The most well known films to use real time are Hitchcock’s Rope and the Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda (remade as Silent House in America). The real time adds to the sense of immediacy and there are several long takes that Williams takes in her stride. The whole film is set in Casey’s bedroom and for the majority of the film it is just her and her laptop.

While the film’s title evokes ideas of teenage trolls and online bullying, the film instead goes for a more ghostly approach. It reminded me of last year’s Unfriended (although Cyberbully did come out before it) but it works a lot better here. Unfriended had small moments of downtime but mainly relied on jump scares. Cyberbully has a jump scare, which doesn’t really fit, but the rest of the tension/terror is built up through the actions of the anonymous hacker and Casey stooping to his level. It feels like something that Hitchcock would have made if he knew what laptops and the internet were.

The script was written by the director Ben Channen and David Lobatto and to give it sense of authenticity Channen asked both his own daughter and Williams to read through it and take out anything that felt fake. This does mean that the early part of the film where Casey is talking to her friend Meg sounds believable, similar to The Spectacular Now. The rest of the story has many twists and turns over who the anonymous hacker is, and while some moments feel predictable (a moment about someone else who Casey was in contact with is signposted early on), when it looks like the film will fall flat with a reveal it pulls the rug out from the audience and turn’s the story on its head.

Cyberbully is an incredibly taut and on edge thriller. Cyber-based suicides are an all too common story nowadays, and Cyberbully cuts right to the problem with online hate. It’s very easy to find, so if it sounds like something that you would enjoy, then Cyberbully get’s my recommendation.

Score: 9/10 Tense and topical, a very good film.

High-Rise Review

Another film that was meant to come out back in 2015, High-Rise has been in different stages of production for around 30 years, with several tries falling by the wayside. Finally, it’s with us, so it’s about time that I reviewed it.

High-Rise stars Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and Luke Evans and is directed by Ben Wheatley. Based on the book of the same name by JG Ballard and set in an alternate 1970s, the film follows Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston) who has just moved to the High-Rise. He is caught in the middle when all-out war breaks out between the poor tenants at the bottom and the rich at the top.

High-Rise boasts an impressive cast and all of them are doing top work. Luke Evans as Wilder, the instigator of the class war, Jeremy Irons as the wizened old architect Royal or Siena Miller as the temptress Charlotte, they are a great selection of actors. There are smaller roles of Elizabeth Moss (with a rather silly upper class accent) and an unrecognisable Keeley Hawes who are filling in the sides. And since it’s set in the 70s, the men are in flared trousers and moustaches and the women are in mini-skirts, and all of them have bad hair. It’s good costume design and might cause a buzz at next year’s award season.

The standout performance though is Tom Hiddleston as Laing. Laing is an outsider, we don’t know much about him at the film’s start and we know just as little by the end. He’s slimy but also charming at the same time, it’s a bit like Hiddleston’s performance as Loki in the Avengers. There have been rumours that he could be the new James Bond, and High-Rise is a promising audition. Hiddleston can show he’s suave and stylish but also ruthless and shady when it comes to it.

The story is set in motion by power failures on the lower floors while consistent power is running at the higher and penthouse suites at the top. The lower flats are styled in the 70s fashion, gaudy apartments filled with faux-wood and plastic chairs and tables, and are always shown in semi darkness. The top floors are brightly lit, painted all in white and furnished with rugs and extravagant pets. The tenants in the top floors are dressed like it’s the 1800s. They wear powdered wigs and ball gowns and tailcoats, they gorge on canapés and expensive alcohol and they behave like spoilt children. Laing fits right in the middle and is both played and plays for both sides of the conflict.

When the first cracks begin to appear between the floors, it soon turns to violence pretty quickly. Just imagine something like The Hunger Games if it was set in the tower block from The Raid and you’ll be around the right mark. It reminds me of something like Bioshock or 2013’s Snowpiercer, which was another film that dealt with the lower classes rising up against the upper class, but here we don’t see a lot of the large clashes of violence. We see the small fights but mainly the aftermath; the blood spilled on the floor, the rubbish piling up in the corridors and the household object that had been repurposed as weapons during the skirmishes. Anything and everything is used, scissors, golf clubs and sometimes just bare fists.

They fight over things like fresh food and candles as well as the alcohol, drugs and women that fuel their parties. Even while going toe-to-toe, both lower and higher floors find time to party all night, with the corridors turning into weird, drug-fuelled raves. Cinematographer Laurie Rose captures all of the decadence superbly through a mix of steady shots in the beginning before moving into the handheld camera to get right in the face of the depravity that unfolds.

I didn’t know what to expect when going into High Rise but in the end I was blown away by the sheer craziness of it all. While it does feel a tad overlong, it’s worth every moment just to see the beautiful mess that High Rise becomes.

Score: 9/10 Sexy, smart and sophisticated…while being completely mad at the same time.

The Witch Review

The Witch has been getting very mixed reviews by many different people, some praising it, calling it one of the best horrors films of recent times, while others saying it’s boring and nothing happens during the run time. After a friend showed me the trailer, I decided to go along and see for myself.

The Witch stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie and Harvey Scrimshaw and is written and directed by Robert Eggers. Set in the 1630s, the film follows a family in New England encountering evil forces in the forest next to their farm, not knowing whether they are real or imagined.

While the film is labeled as a horror film, The Witch doesn’t really fall into that category. Horror is more to do with disgust, what The Witch is, is what I like to call a terror film. There are only a few brief moments of blood and mutilated bodies, what we have here is building of tension to an almost unbearable degree.

Most of the shots in the film are long takes, mainly just focusing on the surroundings. The film is set in New England during the winter, so everything has a grey/brown colour to it. Everything around the family is dying, which adds to the sense of foreboding. There are many times when the film focuses on the forest and it’s amazing what the rustling of leaves and the creak of trees can make your mind think up.

The film’s subtitle is A New England Folktale, which says a lot about the film’s story. At the end of the film, on-screen text reveals that all the events in the film were based off several true events and dialogue was taken straight from the record (that’s means the dialogue is all thou’s, thee’s and thy’s, get used to having to decipher Old English). It’s a mishmash of different ghost stories and they all fit perfectly together. The whole story reminds me of stories I was told in my home town about the woods, it does what The Blair Witch Project was doing with its use of the story and setting. The film’s story plays off the idea that this could all be in the characters heads, or creeping paranoia or childish games, until we are as confused and scared as the character’s are. It’s a good way of creeping out your audience without anything scary popping up on screen with a loud bang.

Many movie-goers will see that last point as a deal-breaker on whether they want to go see The Witch. Yes, there are no jump scares, or loud musical stings to jolt you out of your seat. This might have been why it’s been labeled as boring by some critics. Sure, it’s a slow build, but that’s its charm. It doesn’t need to rely on the tired and overused gimmicks of films like Sinister or the Paranormal Activity franchise. It builds to a terrifying conclusion, still holding up its ideas of it being an illusion or reality.

The film covers a lot more than just the horror/terror side of the story. It brings up several themes and has many parallel connections, things like sexuality, religion, persecution, pride, puberty and paranoia, all are explored to some degree within the film. It feels more like a game of chess, with each move of a character to a certain place has some significant meaning to the story or to their development.

Many movie-goers who like their Sinister/Paranormal Activity/Insidious types of films will be disappointed in The Witch. It takes a while to get going, and doesn’t have the same set-piece style scares that those franchises rely on. But for a more thoughtful, methodical terror piece that will haunt you long after you leave the cinema, The Witch is a solid recommendation.

Score: 9/10 A slow build leads to a startling, terrifying film.

The Big Short Review

Wall Street is good theatre. Several films have been set on what is basically the capital of the United States market and economy. In that sort of high-stress environment, good cinema thrives, with films like Margin Call, The Wolf of Wall Street and…well Wall Street. Does The Big Short (nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars) stand with these great films?

The Big Short stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt and is directed by Adam McKay. Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, the film follows several brokers on Wall Street who predicted the 2008 Housing Crisis and decide to bet against the market and get rich.

If you don’t know the first thing about stocks, don’t worry I’m right with you. Top bond salesman Jared Vennett (Gosling) turns to the camera early on and says, “I know this is boring and confusing, so here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain it.” The film does this several times, with celebrities such as Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain popping up and explaining what several of the market terms mean through simple analogies. It’s incredibly funny and is kept up throughout the entire film, with characters turning to screen to explain how things happened or drawing pictures in thin air. However, don’t think it’s a pure comedy like The Wolf of Wall Street (despite it being nominated in several awards under “comedy”), it’s more of a drama that a laugh-out-loud film.

You have to pay attention throughout, the film will stop and explain a term but it will then set off again and assume you got the gist of it. I missed a couple of lines of dialogue and for the next ten minutes I was confused over what was happening. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to talk about complex and deliberately puzzling exchanges and statistics. Luckily, with the help of those previously mentioned cut-aways to celebrities or a Jenga set to symbolise the housing market, the audience can follow along the winding trail of buying and selling dodgy commodities. It’s a riveting script, and McKay and collaborator Charles Randolph have done a fantastic job of making what could be an intensely boring subject into one of the most suspenseful.

The cast is a major strong point. A lot of the main players are playing against type; Steve Carell is a surly man with emotional baggage, Christian Bale is a doctor with Aspergers who walks around his office barefoot and plays music obnoxiously loud and Brad Pitt is quiet retiree who is paranoid the government is spying on him. Most of these men never meet face-to-face, but they all figure out at some point that the market is going to collapse and the joy comes from their different methods and approaches to how they will get out of it without losing money or their jobs.

By far the best performance is Ryan Gosling. Sure, I might be a fanboy, but in The Big Short he is fantastic. He’s obviously channelling Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort and looks like he’s loving playing the part of a ruthless salesman. The moments where he verbal puts-down his underlings, or clears an entire men’s bathroom so that he can have a private phone call are funny and create an interesting character, and serve as a good distraction in-between the major money-conversations.

As soon as I finished The Big Short, I knew that it had majorly shaken up my predictions for the winner of this year’s Oscar. It’s riveting and often hilarious but it’s painfully fast. When your problem with the film is “there should be more of this”, you have something good. If you think you can keep up with its rapid pace, then The Big Short get’s my recommendation.

Score: 9/10 Thrilling, funny, thought-provoking and totally deserves it’s nomination.

Quentin Tarantino Collection Review

Preface

With Quentin Tarantino bringing out his new, (technically ninth) film soon, The Hateful Eight, I thought it would be good to catch up on the rest of his filmography. So, the eight films I’ll be reviewing today are,

  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Jackie Brown
  • Kill Bill: Volume 1
  • Kill Bill Volume 2
  • Death Proof
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • Django Unchained

With the large amount of films to get through, let’s get started.

Reservoir Dogs

Tarantino’s first feature film, and it definitely shows. While the basis of Tarantino’s later work is featured here (dialogue heavy scenes, excessive violence and constant swearing) it has some odd pacing decisions that drags it from high-octane to super slow. However, the continual one-liners from Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and the infamous ear-shaving scene are reasons to watch.

Score: 7/10 A good place to start.

Pulp Fiction

Widely considered to be Tarantino’s best work, the film follows several criminal characters over the span of a few days. The dialogue is as good as it gets, the violence is toned down enough to not be too offensive and the jokes come a mile a minute. Throw in some of the best work of John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, and you have one of the finest and most quoted films of the 20th century.

Score: 10/10 A film that everyone should see at least once.

Jackie Brown

A similar set-up to his previous film, Jackie Brown (adapted from the crime novel Rum Punch) follows police detectives, gun-runners and the down-on-her-luck stewardess Jackie Brown as each one tries to out-wit the other out of half a million dollars. There are some excellent and memorable scenes as well as some tense lying games, but some Tarantino fans will be missing the violence, language and overt references to genre films. It has some odd editing and a nearly three-hour run time, but it’s good enough to sit through.

Score: 7/10 A clever crime caper.

Kill Bill Volume 1

The first half of the five-hour epic Tarantino wanted us to watch in one go. While the standout Crazy 88 fight and the anime segment are cinematic gold, the films constant referencing to Hong Kong Cinema get’s a bit tiring after a while. On top of that, the fact that it’s incredibly light on story makes this only one to watch in conjunction with the second film.

Score: 6/10 It’s only good as a whole, not as a half.

Kill Bill Volume 2

The viewers pining for the story in KBV1 will find their needs met, the more action-oriented viewers will find the film lacking. While the film has more of Tarantino’s dialogue scenarios, it doesn’t have the amount of katana fights or gushes of blood. Even the final fight with Bill is underwhelming, but Brandon Liu (brother of Lucy from KBV1) as martial artist teacher Pai Mei steals the entire film.

Score: 7/10 It’s better than the first.

Death Proof

Tarantino’s contribution to the Grindhouse project, it’s sadly his least successful and according to the man himself, his least liked self-made film. Although in my opinion it’s one of his best. Unlike his earlier films, that are filled with movie references, Death Proof is about the art of film, meaning it’s filled with jump cuts, monochrome edits and retro-fitted with scratches and “missing reel” inserts to mimic 70s grindhouse. Throw in psychotic stuntmen, amazing car chases filled with death-defying stunts and a lap dance that inspired the famous “Scene does not contain a lap dance” line from Cinema Sins, you have one great film.

Score: 9/10 Shouldn’t have had the negative response it had.

Inglorious Basterds

A history-rewriting, Jewish war revenge film, the film follows both the titular Basterds, as well as Melaine Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus as they both try and put an end to WWII, one bloodied-Nazi at a time. Starring a stellar cast, with Brad Pitt, horror director Eli Roth and a star-making performance for Christoph Waltz, along with an incredibly bloody and hilarious final act, it’s another cracker from Tarantino.

Score: 8/10 Charming, irreverent and damn funny.

Django Unchained

A western focusing on the worst aspects of slavery in America’s history, this could be one of Tarantino’s most thought-provoking films yet. The violence, while sporadic, is incredibly brutal, with a few moments that I had to look away from the screen. While it has it’s great moments, the films does go one for far too long, with the home stretch after the “Painting Candyland” scene going on for way longer than needed. That being said, there really is nothing else like it in the history of cinema.

Score: 6/10 The length brings down what is a really good film.

Only God Forgives Review

Preface

After my The Raid 2 review, I was thinking “What are my other favourite films?” The usual’s came up, Psycho, The Thing, Gran Torino, on and on the list went. There are many people who have already argued the merits of those films, you don’t need me to tell you they’re good. But one film on my favourites list stood out, receiving both glowing and panning reviews. The retro review I do for you today is, Only God Forgives.

Review

Only God Forgives stars Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm and Rhatha Phongam and is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The film follows Julian (Gosling), a criminal in the Bangkok underworld, who is urged by his mafia mother (Scott Thomas) to kill a local police lieutenant, Chang, (Pansringarm) in revenge for killing Julian’s brother.

While Psycho may have been the film to get me interested in the idea of studying film at university, Only God Forgives was the film that cemented it. And what a film to inaugurate a degree choice with. I had enjoyed the last Refn/Gosling team-up Drive and while Only God Forgives has many similar elements to its spiritual predecessor, it’s by far the stranger film.

I realise now that I have a penchant for neon-infused streets and buildings (see my love for John Wick and Blade Runner) and Only God Forgives doesn’t let down in this department. Both Gosling and Pansringarm walk on the seedy side of Bangkok, full of drinking-dens and barely legal brothels, and all of it is drenched in vibrant blues and reds. It’s breath-taking, and truly shows what a master cinematographer Larry Smith is.

The music, composed by another Drive alumni Cliff Martinez, fits the neon cinematography well, drawing in several different elements. Martinez uses organs, Thai strings and drums and even synths to create weird hybrid that fits all of the films themes. It’s similar to Vangelis’ work on Blade Runner, with a definite 80s vibe running through it.

Ryan Gosling seems to be channelling his earlier Refn role from Drive, but somehow even more quiet and awkward than before. While Gosling’s lines in Drive added up to around five minutes of film when collected together, his lines in Only God Forgives would be less than a sixty seconds. Julian has only 17 lines in the film, with one of them just screaming like a madman at his favourite prostitute. While some might call it pretentious, I believe it’s a master-class at showing a character through his actions rather than his words. Vithaya Pansringarm turns in a very good performance as Chang, who probably has less lines than Gosling, but manages to have an ethereal presence over the film, since Chang is playing what Refn called the “Angel of Vengeance”. According to sources, before starting a take, Refn would whisper in Pansringarm’s ear, “You are God”. This tactic seems to work dividends, as you can almost see the power building up behind Pansringarm’s eyes as his dishes out punishment or forgiveness all over Bangkok.

The standout role however is an unrecognisable Kristen Scott Thomas as Julian’s mother Crystal, a mafia matriarch who flies to Bangkok to find her son’s killer. Crystal seems to be a mash-up of several different people, equal parts Lady Macbeth and Donatella Versace, making for a truly terrifying and antagonising female presence in the film. With her bleach-blonde hair, cigarette always in the corner of her mouth and wearing the tightest and brightest clothes known to man, it’s a far cry from Scott Thomas’ earlier work. And once you add all of that to the expletive ridden dialogue she has, it makes for one hell of a character.

When I first finished Only God Forgives, I didn’t think too much of it. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I wasn’t a fan. I watched it again the next day and when the credits came up I had completely switched minds. It’s a film that you have to go away and think about before knowing if you like it, but on the way to finding out whether you like it too, you’ll have a whirlwind of a film.

Score: 9/10 One of the strangest and most compelling things put to film.

 

Brooklyn Review

The nominations of the British Independent Film Awards came out recently, with many films I’ve already covered like Macbeth, Ex Machina and Amy being nominated in several different categories. One film that kept appearing was called Brooklyn, and as it happens, today was its opening day in cinemas. Does it deserve it’s nominations, let alone the awards?

Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters and is directed by John Crowley. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn follows Irish immigrant Eilis (Ronan) as she must pick between two potential lives and suitors, one in New York and one in Wexford, Ireland.

One of the factors that drew me into watching Brooklyn was that the screenplay is written by Nick Hornby. Hornby is the famed writer behind film hits such as High Fidelity and About a Boy, making him one of the more well known screenwriters today. And just like the two films I mentioned, Brooklyn has a terrific script. The conversations between the several characters are a joy to listen to (and not only because of those excellent Irish brogues). As Eilis emigrates to the USA, the film is full of conversations on being homesick and the struggles of trying to fit in, all of which are conveyed excellently by Ronan. Hornby manages to find many great snapshots of a life outside of your home country in Brooklyn, as well as several charming moments of silence between our leading lady and her suitors, with Ronan showing the strings of anxiety and excitement tugging below the surface. And like many good writers, Hornby keeps the audience on their toes to the very end, giving us two favourable suitors that Eilis would be happy with, but ultimately has to break one of their hearts.

Saoirse Ronan has been is several hit films before, such as Atonement and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but here as Eilis she shows off her wide range of acting abilities. In the beginning when she first goes to America she is worried and alone, but as she starts to settle in she becomes a much more upbeat and carefree. Her two suitors, played by Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson are both very good, giving us two characters that Eliis would have a hard time deciding to choose between. Gleeson, while his character is still rather reserved, thankfully manages to step far enough out of the “socially awkward” role that he had been stuck in for a large portion of his earlier film roles. Two small roles for Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters are fun little distractions, with Broadbent being a priest who helps Eilis settle in and Walters being a nosey, old landlady.

My only real problem with the film is that is it does feel a tiny bit overlong. With Eilis going back and forth between her suitors in letters and in person, there are some scenes that feel quite redundant. This might be due to the fact that we have to watch Eilis fall in love twice within the run time of the film so scenes might start to have an odd sense of repeating themselves. But apart from this one small nitpick, there really isn’t much else wrong with the film.

Hearing the summary for Brooklyn‘s story, or watching the trailer could have easily turned off a few potential viewers. It sounds too sweet and sugary, another bloody Nicolas Sparks-style adaptation, despite no-one either wanting or asking for it. But, mostly down to Saoirse Ronan’s outstanding acting ability, managing to look calm and sensible on the outside but able to convey to the audience her insecurities and fears, Brooklyn elevates what could have been a schlocky sentimental period piece to a much higher standard. And, if you’re anything like the audience in the viewing I was in, you’ll be bawling your eyes out by the end credits.

Score: 9/10 Heartfelt, emotional and compelling, a serious contender for the Awards season.

Macbeth Review

William Shakespeare is one of the most adapted writers in history, with an estimated nine hundred films based on his plays. In my opinion, I would say Macbeth is his mostly widely adapted. I’ve seen versions of it set in Soviet Russia, in the back streets of London and even one done with Team America-esque marionettes. But by far the best adaptation of the infamous play is the 1971 Roman Polanski version. Can the new adaptation, starring Michael Fassbender reach the heights of the much watched 1971 version?

Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis and Paddy Considine and is directed by Justin Kurzel. Based on the William Shakespeare play of the same name, the film follows Macbeth (Fassbender) as three witches tell him he will one day become King Of Scotland.

The cast for Macbeth is spectacular, Along with the four top actors I named in the introduction, the film also features such great actors as Elizabeth Debicki (last seen in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Sean Harris and Jack Reynor (who we last saw in the woeful A Royal Night Out). It’s a stellar cast, and all of them perform Shakespeare’s lines with passion. The script hasn’t been modernised or updated, it’s a simple transition from stage to screen. In fact, the film feels more like a play than it does a film, with long takes of the actors performing their soliloquy’s out loud. It’s nice to see a film that isn’t afraid to keep the meddling of Shakespeare’s material to a minimum and just let the film play out.

The standout actor of the film though has to be Michael Fassbender. The man brings an entirely new take on the classic character, giving a much more battle-scarred approach to the role. The action scenes, which seem to all be performed by Fassbender himself is making me very excited to see him in next year’s Assassin’s Creed. Macbeth could almost be his audition piece, as he glares menacingly at his foes (in that assassin way) before coming in with his dual swords or his nifty twin daggers that are strapped to his arm.

This version of Macbeth is rooted much more in the battles than the supernatural elements that other adaptations have been based on. The very first scene after the title credits come up is of the battle that the play opens with, and it’s brutal. Fassbender roars like a madman as he races towards his enemies and just as the two opposing sides clash the film drops into slow motion, similar to Zach Snyder’s 300, and lets us watch the blood soaked action unfold.

The Director of Photography is Adam Arkapaw (the guy responsible for the six-minute long take in the first season of True Detective) and just like his television credentials, Macbeth looks stunning. I’ve already talked about the long soliloquy takes and the wide shot battle scenes, but just the establishing shots of the Scottish Highlands are incredible to look at. Another scene worthy of mentioning is the final battle that is surrounded by burning trees. The film basically becomes one giant red haze, with only the silhouettes of the actors outlined amongst the flames. It looks like something out of Dark Souls or The Cursed Crusade, and it’s awesome.

Jed Kurzel (brother of the director) returns to a Michael Fassbender production after their collaboration on Slow West and provides yet another amazing score. There are no stereotypical bagpipes here, it’s mainly violins and battle drums, each perfectly encapsulating the misty highlands and the war-centric story. I remember several times sitting in the movie theatre with a massive grin on my face when Kurzel’s music kicked in, punctuating certain scenes and bringing them to a higher level of filmmaking.

I did find some problems with Macbeth. For some bizarre reason, nearly every line of dialogue is spoken in a half-whisper by the cast. It’s like a weird game of Chinese Whispers, and it sometimes gets to a point where you are struggling to hear the actors speak their lines. Second of all, the first act simply drags on for way too long. I know that the first half is crucial to the story progressing but there was two times within the space of a minute where I did nod off for a couple of seconds. Luckily just as I was falling asleep an incredibly violent stabbing took place on screen (I don’t care if the play has been around for almost 400 years, still no spoilers) and it was the perfect remedy to wake me up for the rest of the film.

In summary, Macbeth is one of the greatest hack ‘n’ slash films since Gladiator. If you think you would be put off by the fact that it’s a true Shakespearian script don’t be, otherwise you’ll be missing out on quite possibly the most epic film of the year.

Score: 9/10 Dark, brooding, moody and blood-drenched, everything you want a Shakespeare play to be.