Saturday, December 19, 2015

Quick (ish) Critique: Star Wars: The Force Awakens



To say that Star Wars is an important milestone in cinema is a bit of an understatement. Just like there is a before and after Brando for acting, for film there is a before and after Star Wars. Its pop culture ubiquity and effect on how movies are made is so prominent that you could likely re-enact the Original Trilogy without ever having seen a frame of it.

So with the news that Disney were planning a new trilogy after obtaining the rights from George Lucas, the anticipations for new Star Wars movies for the first time in a decade was pretty damn incalculable. Combine that with the returning of the original cast to the series for the first time in over 30 years, and it’s hard not to have a good feeling about this. Despite the mistakes of the past.

It is good to note, then, that ‘The Force Awakens’ is an admirable and entertaining follow up to such a beloved franchise. Director JJ Abrams knows how to shoot a great looking film, showing off the great effects as well as the more practical throwings that fans will breathe a sigh of relief to see. While the action sequences can be dragged out, it has some intense and fun set pieces, particularly with the return of the lightsabre duels.

The strength of this film is its characters. The story seems to service bringing the new guard into the fold, and handles this brilliantly. Every character has their own nuances, dimension and intrigue. John Boyega gives us a pretty funny and likable ‘everyman’ in Finn, while new to the scene Daisy Ridley absolutely blows everyone away as our unlikely hero, the scavenger Rey. The always impressive Oscar Isaac owns pretty much every scene he’s in as smart-assed and playful Poe Dameron, managing to take a very Han Solo-esque character and making it distinctive.

The villains are given less focus, sans one, so it’s hopeful they get more screentime in future outings. Arguably one of the more polarising characters is Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. While he plays a great character, he’s certainly not the threatening force (hah!) that one is expecting and you’ll either love to hate or just hate the guy. He definitely has the most intrigue out of all the cast, and it’ll be great to see him develop as the series goes forward.

The old guard are mostly kept in the background, save for Han Solo and Chewbacca. It’s great to see them in the roles again, and they fit them comfortably, but they don’t exactly pull out their acting chops when compared to the new generation. Harrison Ford in particular falters at certain scenes.

Most of the flaws have to do with story structure and pacing. While the latter brings in a new energy, there are less slow and contemplative moments that could have been used to add character and atmosphere to the proceedings. Also, the movie feels too much like treading the ground of the older films. This isn’t in of itself a bad thing, but it fails to bring anything new outside of a future cast, which easily could have been serviced with an entirely different story.

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is something the fans will adore and general audiences will enjoy. It’s got great action, wonderful characters, a careful blend of practical and computer generated effects, and is a wonderful homecoming for a beloved series. Go out and enjoy feeling like a kid again, and may the Force be with the future.


7/10


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Quick Critique: Love (2015



Provocative French filmmaker Gaspar Noé (‘Enter the Void’, ‘Irreversible’) returns for a rather bold faced look at passion and sexuality. Told from the perspective of Murphy (Karl Glusman), he begins reminiscing about his life with Electra (Aomi Muyock) after getting a phone call from her mother saying that she has been missing for two months. On top of that, it forces him to examine his current relationship with Omi (Klara Kristin), a woman he accidentally got pregnant cheating on Electra with after all three of them had an erotic encounter together.

Noé seems to have two objectives with this story: a personal exploration of how unbridled passions can drive and utterly consume us, and to break down the barriers people have when it comes to sexually explicit content. It has been described as ‘pornographic’ by several people, but it wants to be open and uninhibited with his evaluation of sex and how it defines us. None of the sex scenes were choreographed, and it gives them a more authentic vibe that allows the couple to feel more intimate and explored.

Part of this intimacy seems to be giving it a certain personal touch. A lot of the characters are named after Noé or important people in his life (he even appears in the film). It’s like he shares his characters’ intimacy with the audience and himself. That is probably ‘Love’s greatest strength; even with the flashy images and stunning cinematography, there’s this sense that we are really exploring these people’s sexualities and what it means to them. The title ‘Love’ almost feels like a joke, as our protagonists have a very poor understanding of what love is, if they understand it at all.

Going back to the cinematography, you can’t fault this work for its technical prowess. It plays out of chronological order (a staple of the filmmaker, though not as out there as his previous two films), but repeated scenery and camera work give a sense of connectivity. The music is also great, feeling varied and nuanced, adding distinctiveness to certain scenes (like the threesome).

The film does have a few hang ups. The actors are not very experienced, and while they handle most of the scenes admirably, they do feel stilted and unnatural in certain moments. While the soundtrack is great, some of it can be jarring and strange. There are also one or two moments that feel a bit too forced, like the ‘oops baby!’ scene or the abortion discussion.

Wher you love (hah!) it or hate it, ‘Love’ will likely not leave your mind. While people may be turned off by the, for lack of better term, nakedness, repetitive sex scenes, and uncomfortable moments, it’s one of the more unique viewing experiences around lately and definitely worth your time. Whether you need a cold or hot shower afterwards.

9/10


Oh, and be sure to watch out for the 3D splash effect…


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cork Film Festival: Carol (2015)



Based on the ground-breaking 1952 novel by Patricia Highsmith, ‘Carol’ tells the story of the titular character (Cate Blanchett), who is going through a difficult divorce when she meets toy shop worker Therese (Rooney Mara). Their relationship blossoms, but Carol’s husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) attempts to use their tryst to try to retain full custody of their daughter Rindy.

The story is set in 1950s New York, and rather than attempting to update a 60+ year novel to reflect on social changes and attitudes, director Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven, I’m Not There) chooses to tell it in a rather classic Hollywood style. Emphasis on colour (red pops up frequently), simple camera work, light cinematography, and very well thought out period dressing helps frame this as what it is: a classic love story that just happens to be about two women. This emphasis on simplicity means the film could have been released around the time the book came out, and no one would be any the wiser.

The two leads take up most of the running time, with sprinklings of well performed and necessary supporting roles for Sarah Paulson and the aforementioned Chandler. Cate Blanchett absolutely shines as the leading role, managing to mix class and subtlety in a very natural way. She disappears into the role and has the command and grace to make the rather difficult drama she has to shoulder throughout seem almost easy.

Not to be outdone, Rooney Mara is also quite impeccable. Her character goes through more of a traditional ‘arc’; going from a taciturn, unsure girl into a blossoming woman fully realising her own sense of self. While there could have been the tiniest of more room left to flesh these women out individually, their performances cannot be faulted.

What doesn’t work as well is the chemistry they share. It just never feels as burning, life-affirming and consuming as the actions of the characters are left to imply. It could just be that the actresses didn’t click in that way that classic Hollywood couples do, or maybe the development of their relationship needed a bit more polish, but it just doesn’t have that connection needed to make this story easier to invest into.

It also suffers from a terribly predictable plot. It’s not hard to be seven steps ahead of the film, and while that isn’t in of itself a bad thing, it does remove pivotal moments of their shock value and weight. It’s certainly the direction they wanted to go with, and the story’s focus is more on this couple and not necessarily the ensuing drama, but it just adds to not being able to connect to them as strongly.

‘Carol’ is a great showcase of some classical filmmaking and wonderful performances. It would likely be stronger with a more in-depth and engaging script and more chemistry in the two leads, but it’s far from a write-off.

6/10


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cork Film Festival: The Witch (2015)



A Puritan family have their lives thrown into disarray after their infant son is taken. Believed to be perpetrated by the eldest daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is accused of witchcraft, she struggles to maintain her innocence and sanity while her family are attacked by forces living in the wilderness.

There’s really not much that can be said about ‘The Witch’ that won’t ruin what an atmospheric, slow-burning masterpiece it is. Directed by Robert Eggers, it’s one of the strongest debuts all year, combining tension and perfect pacing with creepy horror imagery and a burning sense of dread and hopelessness.

Utilising Eggers' experience as a production designer, what truly sells this movie is its look. Everything, from the religiously pious looking farm, to the creepy and unnerving supernatural imagery gives it a true feeling of a folk horror. There’s one reveal in particular in the woods that’s so impressively done due to its design and performance that it sticks out like nothing else from a horror film all year.

The cast are also terrific. Not a single person is poorly cast or gives a weak performance, even the children. One standout performer is Harvey Scrimshaw, who plays the oldest son Caleb. Not much can be said that won’t spoil the moment, but believe that you will realise how great he is when it comes up.

Dialogue wise, it strives hard to gain authenticity, even taking words and speech patterns from the time period. That makes everything feel very natural, and that little attention to detail truly goes a long way in making the viewer immersed in the experience. If there’s one flaw in the film, it’s that the sound mixing can be a little muffled in places. It can be hard to hear the actors sometimes, and the Puritan dialect doesn’t help with the comprehension issues.

At its core, the story is a battle of nature over nurture, the ‘nurture’ side taken up by devout Christianity and the ‘nature’ battle being ‘Satanic’ witchcraft. The latter is displayed through the use of animals and the fact that the opposing force lives in the forest itself. Part of what tears this family asunder is their Christian values, though never displayed in an insulting way, more how the parents poorly impart them onto their children. This leads to a rather bleak and uncomfortable ending, something truly unnerving horror fiction should strive to.

‘The Witch’ is one of the best horror films to come out in a long time. it’s beautifully and carefully written, wonderfully cast, sharp and impressive first time direction, clever and subtle, and never afraid to be truly disturbing and unnerving. It manages to sell elements that could come off as silly, and is truly rewards its careful build up. At the time of writing this, it has not been distributed worldwide yet, so it is imperative that you catch this gem once it is.


9/10


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cork Film Festival: Queen of Earth (2015)



Alex Ross Perry is one of the directors from the American indie scene on the up-and-up. After his previous film ‘Listen Up Philip’ gained him a bit more notability with a cast of well-known character actors like Jason Schwartzman, Krysten Ritter and Jonathan Pryce. Reuniting with one of his ‘Philip’ cast members, Elizabeth Moss, Perry takes an entirely different approach with his latest film. Shot on film and being placed at a lakeside vacation house, ‘Queen of Earth’ is a psychodrama reminiscent of the works of Ingmar Bergman and Roman Polanski.

‘Queen of Earth’ goes intimate in order to really hone in on this sense of claustrophobic isolation. The story focuses on two friends, Moss’ Catherine and Katherine Waterston’s Ginny. Alongside their lakeside neighbour Rich (Patrick Fugit), who has a romantic tryst with Ginny, they are the only characters to appear consistently throughout.

Beautifully shot, it truly contrasts this picturesque location with the psychological deterioration of our lead. Reeling from a breakup and her father’s recent suicide, the narrative hones in on her last constant, her friendship with Ginny, and the horrible co-dependency they have on each other. Moss’ performance is amazing, ranging from vulnerable to damaged to possibly unhinged, and always managing to be consistent. It’s rare to see a character feel and look that mentally unwell.

There are some absolutely stellar standout moments. Two in particular are a conversation between the two characters talking about former lovers, and a particular breakdown near the end of the film. The former is ranging with emotion and simply shot, focusing in on the character talking and then on the other’s reaction to what they are saying. It truly cements where their friendship is at that point.
So with all these positives, it’s a pity that the movie drags its feet in places. This is mostly build up, and a lot of moments do work, but you go from uncomfortable to lethargic to the entire situation. Building minimalist tension like this is a fine tightrope; one awkward step and everything falls down. It could have done with trimming it down a tad, keeping the lack of action while allowing the pace to run smoother.

Also, outside of Catherine, the characters don’t feel as well defined. Ginny is given a little bit more set up and backstory, but her personality seems to be more set on ‘spiteful bitch’ with no other nuance built into her. Their deteriorating friendship gets more development than why these two like each other. Patrick is similarly mischaracterised, he just randomly turns into a jerk. Though this may be down to Cat’s mental state affecting the way she perceives things, it doesn’t feel like a natural build.

‘Queen of Earth’ could have used some more characterisation, dialogue polishing and trimming of fat, but it’s a decent little psychodrama as it stands. It’s beautiful, intense, and truly unnerving, making you question your own mental state along with Cat’s.


6/10


Cork Film Festival: Toto and his Sisters (2014)



Romanian documentary filmmaker Alexander Nanau (‘The World According to Ion B.’) takes a provocative and daring look into the lives of three children living in the slums of Bucharest: the titular Totonel and his sisters Andreea and Ana-Maria. With their mother in jail and her children (9, 14 and 17 at the movie’s beginning, respectively) being looked after by her drug-addicted uncles, the movie follows the family for 15 months. In this time, Totonel finds a passion in break dancing, Andreea struggles to remove her siblings and herself from their awful home situation, and Ana-Maria sinks further and further into a drug problem.

Shot guerrilla-style and with no onscreen involvement from the director, ‘Toto and his Sisters’ offers an uncompromising and extremely uncomfortable look into the life of a Bucharest family destroyed by drug culture, and trying their best to find a better life. Despite the title, the movie focuses more on Andreea, who acts as cinematographer for several scenes filming parts of the documentary herself. While this can make the film constant shifting to different cameras can be jarring, it allows a genuine insight into the lives of the family. There are moments in here that would not have come off as naturally had Nanau shot the entire film himself.

While not the most exciting, artistically impressive or even well-paced of films, it gets across its message admirably and truly forces you to face the challenges children like Totonel and Andreea face. The children are so well defined, and have such strong personalities you truly feel connected to them. It never fails to be authentic and harsh, delivering moments and scenes that will make you genuinely uncomfortable and question what needs to be done to fix this situation. If we even have the power to help resolve it.

This impersonal manner may rub people the wrong way, as Nanau is directing real life children living in such horrible conditions. However, his goals are admirable and important, and could help families like this one moreso in the long run. There’s a specific scene near the end with Ana-Maria’s drug issues truly comes to light, and it’s so shocking and devastating that it forces you to reflect on the realities these children live in.

‘Toto and his Sisters’ ends on a frustratingly ambiguous note, as the children’s fate are never truly outlined for us, but perhaps that’s for the best. It’s a sombre but hopeful film, never failing to move you, but also to makes you joyful and engaged to everything going on. It’s an intimate documentary with an important showcase on how successful the ‘War on Drugs’ truly is, and will leave you with a pit in your stomach while also not removing hope that this situation could improve.


7/10


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cork Film Festival: Bone Tomahawk (2015)



A local sheriff (the irreplaceable Kurt Russell) of a town in the Old West finds himself in a horrific dilemma after the town nurse (Lilli Simmons) and deputy (David Arquette) are kidnapped by savage cannibals known as Troglodytes. The sheriff rounds up a team consisting of the nurse’s injured husband (Patrick Wilson), an arrogant sharpshooter (Matthew Fox) and the ‘back-up deputy’ (Richard Jenkins) to rescue the two from the caves the savages dwell.

‘Bone Tomahawk’, for its first two acts, delivers exactly what its premise promises: a good old fashioned Western. Filled with showdowns, male egos, beautiful scenic shot, horseback riding, gun slinging and lots and lots of camping, it’s a fond trip down the Wild West and a joy to watch for any fan of the genre. The actors’ interactions are quite enjoyable, the highlight being Jenkins’ Chicory playful bromance with Russell’s Sheriff Hunt. Jenkins is easily the most interesting and best defined character of the film, with his drawn on stories and eternal optimism bouncing perfectly off of Hunt’s dry realism.

Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are very stock. Great casting is what saves Sheriff Hunt, as he’s probably the most underwritten person in the film. Patrick Wilson’s Arthur O’Dwyer is given a bit more nuance, and his dedication to his wife despite his broken leg is pretty admirable, but that’s all there really is to him. Matthew Fox’ John Brooder is probably the most frustrating, as he seems to be the most complex, but the script never really decides who he is as a character. He has some of the best moments in the film, and there are shades of a great character here, but he’s too ill-defined and muddled to really stand out.

Also the cinematography is a little too murky. This happens a lot with modern Westerns, as an attempt to make them grittier and more atmospheric. Classic Westerns were bright and colourful and really added to their adventurous spirit. Speaking of ‘Classic Westerns’, it’s an admirable attempt to make the Troglodytes as distinctive from Native Americans as possible (even bringing in a Native American to explain this), as a way to avoid the awkward racial aspects of those older movies. Their dehumanisation even has a larger purpose outside of misrepresenting an entire race of people, as you’ll find out in the final act.

Without giving too much away, the final act of this movie almost makes whatever issues with the writing worth it. It’s full of tension and shocking moments, and there won’t be much else written on it here, except that if the rest of the movie had been this intense and brilliantly executed, this would be a different review.

As it stands, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is a very enjoyable movie. Some dull cinematography and trite writing choices do not stop it from being an engaging ride throughout. A classic Western tale with some added bonuses at the end.


7/10


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cork Film Festival: Valley of Love (2015)



A powerhouse double act of Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert play a long-separated couple as they explore landmarks in Death Valley, California, as instructed in a note by their son who committed suicide. ‘Valley of Love’ is certainly an interesting exercise in dealing with grief. And one in patience.

What makes the movie work is the two leads. Depardieu and Huppert have an insane amount of chemistry and you instantly believe that these characters have a history. Their subtle ticks and sly references to a shared past make their relationship feel very authentic. This combined with their very fleshed out and three-dimensional individual personalities makes them a joy to watch from start to finish.

The cinematography is also stunning. While director Guillaume Nicloux fails to make his voice really heard (outside of elements that will be discussed later), the excellent use of tracking and landscape shots make this film feel very inviting, despite its subject matter. Grief and death are clearly following these two, and it’s perfectly symbolised in the vast, empty terrains that never go the clichéd route of making them cold and uninviting.

What stops this film from really working is how they handle the spiritualist aspect. While there are subtle hints early on  (Huppert’s character Ellie speaks of visiting a psychic which is dismissed derisively by her co-star), once it starts becoming more and more at the forefront, it feels rather jarring and doesn’t fit the tone at all. Perhaps if it was introduced earlier it would have felt more natural, but as it stands it feels like a very unwanted element in an otherwise natural story of dealing with loss.

There are a few scenes where this becomes extremely distracting, but most of all it makes the ending a tad confusing. Without revealing much, one of the characters comes to a ‘realisation’ they should have come to a lot sooner than they do. On top of all this, it’s just awkwardly written.

The writing shines through when it comes to the dialogue and the clever and funny little bits Huppert and Depardieu throw at each other. However, it’s also got some pretty painfully on-the-nose exposition where characters are talking about what they already know just for the audience sake. Nothing about the story and its attempted deeper moments feel in any way subtle or naturally woven in, and it would have been a greater service to either being a lot more downplayed or just removed altogether.

‘Valley of Love’ is certainly a movie you can just sit back and relax when you want to unwind. It’s got some lush, beautiful cinematography, and two great actors given some biting and potent dialogue they exchange very naturally. However, its deeper elements and spirituality just don’t sit well. Definitely one strictly for fans of the two leads.


6/10


Cork Film Festival: Take the Boat (2015)



Abortion is a topic that has come up with extreme prominence recently, with the events of the ‘Ms Y’ case and Amnesty’s recent campaign encouraging the government to hold a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment. With this incredibly volatile and highly charged topic coming back into the public sphere, a documentary focusing on a specific issue with our abortion laws is quite the necessity.

‘Take the Boat’ is named after an Irish euphemism of women going abroad to get abortions. The film explores these women, taking four stories of people who’ve had to go through this experience (three women and one couple). With their open, frank, and brave discussions about the process, including travelling expenses, hiding it from friends and people back home, and the dangerous return journey after the process, they explore the social stigma of abortion in Ireland, and then explore the more political aspects of this debate.

What’s interesting about this film is that it’s directed by two French women who have lived in the country, Camille Hamet and Serena Robin. Having been raised in a country that has had legal abortion for nearly 40 years, they bring a refreshing perspective to the debate, and are completely unafraid to explore the different aspects that this harrowing experience can have on women. The film is very short, only clocking in at 60 minutes, but it gives a very broad and introspective experience on the ‘culture’ of Irish women going overseas for a termination.

The documentary comes down rather pointedly on the pro-choice side, so those expecting an ‘objective’ view on this matter may need to look elsewhere. However, a view like this is important, as the women being interviewed need this platform to express how they were felt by the laws in this country. It’s a very detailed and nuanced picture of their experience, and focusing on the other side would only really muddle its message and disallow these women a clear voice.

Due to how carefully planned and well thought out the exploration of ‘taking the boat’ is, when the movie focuses on the pro-life campaign and the more political elements of this topic, it feels rather jarring. This is, of course, a necessary element, as the film is a rally cry for a referendum, and it is still quite informative (the speakers give fantastically in-depth information), it just feels a little off considering the rest of the movie. It’s also the directors’ first film, so there are a few technical elements that aren’t terrible up to scratch.

Still, ‘Take the Boat’ is an incredibly introspective movie about an important point of debate. Delving into a taboo subject with honesty, clarity and a sense of purpose, it offers uncomfortable but necessary truths about how women are treated by the State and what needs to be done to change this. It is highly, highly recommended you check this out, and give a voice to a voiceless part of our nation.


7/10

(I cannot find a trailer, so please find out more information about this film by visiting its Facebook page instead)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Quick Critique: Spectre (2015)



Bond is back! After the massive success of ‘Skyfall’, Sam Mendes was hired again to direct the follow up and Daniel Craig’s fourth movie as the character. With the sombre and grittier tones the previous efforts had to offer, ‘Spectre’ offers to reel in more fun, globe-trotting adventures of yore while also continuing the storyline that has been running throughout Craig’s tenure. Unfortunately, this was a misstep for the series.

That isn’t to say it’s a complete write-off. There are plenty of set pieces that are amazingly shot and very well spread out. Each action scene has build-up and pacing, so they never feel on top of each other or unwelcome. There is a standout moment on a train which ranks as one of the most fun and creative scenes Bond has done in quite a while.

This is also probably one of Craig’s funniest Bond films. A lot of the wit and biting humour from the pre-‘Casino Royale’ series has seeped back in, and it’s very welcome. Craig pulls this off with effortless class that it never feels off from the grittier character we’ve been used to for the past three movies. Bond’s ‘gifts’ to his compromised associates in particular gets a chuckle.

Unfortunately, while the action is very well paced out, the pacing of the movie as a whole can be kind of sluggish. Clocking in at 2 and a half hours, this is the longest Bond film to date, and while it mostly breezes along, when it comes into its final act, the energy does seriously begin to drain. It kind of gives up in some minor ways, as the final third in of itself feels a lot less enthusiastic or fun as the rest of the film has been.

This also bleeds into the characters, as the weird pacing problems reflect poorly on the story choices. There’s a subplot involving MI6’ merger and eventual replacement of the 00-Programme by Andrew Scott’s Max Denbigh, and it’s so malnourished and undercooked that they resort to being painfully obvious with their social commentary that it causes the whole thing to be entirely disinteresting. Léa Seydoux is our patented Bond Girl, who plays the part admirably but is also underdeveloped due to her importance to Bond’s personal story.

The one who suffers the worst is the villain. Despite Christoph Waltz being great, the character is so underwritten and two dimensional in order to keep up a really obvious and terribly incorporated ‘twists’ that it just robs him of any menace or nuance that he sadly really needed. How these ‘reveals’ reflect on Bond in particular feel forced.

The characters that work the best are the MI6 team. While Ralph Fiennes takes a while to get into his groove as the new M, he easily becomes one of the movie’s highlights.

‘Spectre’ has incredibly entertaining moments throughout, but it fails to reach the heights of ‘Casino Royale’ or ‘Skyfall’. Go see it for a forgettable thrill ride and nothing more.


6/10


Monday, November 2, 2015

Quick Critique: Macbeth (2015)


Putting a new spin on a classic tale can always be an exciting, but daunting task. Justin Kurzel tackles this ambitiously with one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, Macbeth. The violent text about the follies of over-ambition and paranoia are offset in a very naturalistic setting of the Scottish Highlands with some visually striking and beautiful cinematography and a pungent, realistic atmosphere. While this does work to make the text grounded, it loses a lot of the dramatics and wonderfully avant-garde nature that makes the play so beloved.

 A lot of this has to do with the disparaging performances. Experimental Shakespeare productions like this struggle to marry the more theatrical performances with one more befitting the chosen setting. While actors like Marion Cotillard are astounding, they’re more traditional in tone compared to the grounded style of other actors.

At the same time, the dialogue is fitted for those more dramatic actors, which causes arguably the most important element of Shakespeare’s work to come off as flat in the hands of other actors. The more muted voices, and multitude of accents, also makes the dialogue difficult to hear in places and breaks the suspension of disbelief.

While Michael Fassbender is an excellent actor, and on paper he is just perfect for the tragic king of Scotland, his performance leaves a lot to be desired. He sells the subtler moments, but his intensity does not play off well in the more dramatic and violent moments. He’s an actor who excels at being understated and consistently nuanced, making this more traditionally dramatic flair sadly failing to reach that hype.

That isn’t to say that the film is completely without merit, because most of the other elements work wonderfully. The use of dazzling and beautiful imagery really adds to the majesty of the piece, and brings out harsher elements without breaking the tone. There’s an added element of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth losing a child to motivate their later actions. While this may annoy some purists, it really add layers to the characters.

However, some of this artistry can either work for the story or not. There are several moments so out there and strange that it really takes you out of the moment. Examples includes moments showing Macbeth while he’s mentally breaking down, or his actions during the famous ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’ speech. Probably the element that suffers the most is the Witches, while they are muted to fit this interpretation, nothing about them feels memorable, which sorely hurts their motivating factor in the story.

‘Macbeth’ is an ambitious, highly stylised version of the text featuring some standout performances and excellent cinematography. The thematic nuances of the ceaseless cycle of violence and mental degradation are excellently told and really add to this retelling. Had it managed to stay consistent both in the acting and style, this would have been a masterpiece. As it stands, it’s an interesting if slightly off-kilter effort from a visionary and quite interesting filmmaker.


6/10

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Quick Critique: The Martian (2015)



Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left stranded on Mars after he is presumed dead due to an accident while an emergency evacuation was occurring. Left with little food, the equipment on the base and his own ingenuity, Mark has to find a way to survive on Mars until a return mission not due for another three years, while NASA and his crew scramble to rescue him.

What elevates ‘The Martian’ from any other movie in its ‘survivalist’ subgenre is the incredibly dynamic and carefully planned script. The methods Watney takes to save himself feel very plausible, even if some events or ideas make your eyes nearly go out of your skull in wonderment of how the hell he survived them. Thankfully most of this is solid, and perfectly balanced by the fact that there’s a sense of levity layered throughout. The movie is very, very funny, allowing it to feel more human than if it was utterly grim and dispirited, and helping us connect to our lead.

Balancing this script is a constant switching between Earth, Mars and the ship with Watney’s crew. This also allows every actor to get their moment to shine, and the cast in this is so good, not a single member falters. They’re all insanely well written and performed. Particular props goes to Chiwetel Ejiofor, as this movie further proves the man needs to be in more films.

The shining light is Matt Damon, who creates a character not only endearing in his wit, but also admirable in his survival skills and resourcefulness. Despite the humour, there are moments that allow the weight of what is going on to bare down, and Damon absolutely excels in them. It’s too early to tell, but the high brows of the Academy are hopefully going higher.

The film isn’t without its flaws. The opening goes by so fast, it’s hard to feel any connection Watney and his crew may have. While that doesn’t kill the believability in any way, it would have helped to cement the importance of the crew’s bond, especially as they spend a good chunk of the start not onscreen. There are also some moments that feel convenient and written in to solve plotting issues. An example is Donald Glover’s character, and while he does a great job at being a bit-too-realistic lab geek, he has the grand total of two short scenes before he barges into the movie and gives us our denouement plan, and then leaves until one brief moment until the end. He’s the nerd MacGuffin. A NerdGuffin, if you will.

‘The Martian’ truly is an impressive feat in cinema. Beautifully shot, making Mars look tranquil and wondrous as well as terrifying, it’s also held up with an excellent script, a whip smart sense of humour, one of the best ensemble casts of the year, a cleverly imbued soundtrack and an accessibility that makes this a crowd pleaser and a sci-fi fan pleaser. One not to miss.


8/10


Monday, October 12, 2015

IndieCork: The Wanted 18 (2014)



In the 80s, a boycott on Israeli goods and taxes was implemented in Palestinian territories. In order to sustain themselves under this boycott, the small town of Beit Sahour purchases 18 cows off Israeli farmers. After learning how to farm cows and produce milk, it was a rounding success and becomes known as ‘Intifada Milk’. However, the cows are declared a threat by the Israeli state, and efforts are made to remove them.

‘The Wanted 18’ tells a story of a rather unique rebellion in a pretty unique way. The movie is comprised of live action interviews, shots on Beit Sahour in present day, archived footage, comic-style drawings, and what stands out the most is the claymation sequences focused on four personified cows. It allows the plot to be told with several different angles, and gives it a sense of levity and drama probably not reached otherwise.

What makes the movie works is not only do these styles blend together, they never feel too cumbersome or flat. The fact that they can find humour in such a horrible crisis allows it to hit home a lot better. Not that there isn’t drama or tragic moments, and each point of reference helps build everything up to its rather dour conclusion.

Not that the movie is defeatist, however. While most of the interviewees talk about how it was all for nothing, that rebellious fire and defiance to unfair authority is very potent and lights a pretty hopeful picture. Helping to capture that mood are the drawings that reference or parody famous comic book panels, including a rather wonderful homage to Action Comics no.1, the first appearance of Superman.

Everything is shot in a way to get across this comic-style, and it truly works to the film’s betterment. Even the recreated scenes are shot in a way to get that feel. It makes the story feel more mythic and epic, and allows for the more unnatural elements like the talking cows feel more relevant and impactful. The best example of this is the ending which, without giving it away, blends reality and myth and shows why a marriage of both can be so important during times of hardship or despair.
If the movie has any flaws, it’s not as tightly paced as it could be. While all the elements work really well together, they could have been chopped down a bit to help the film run more smoothly. Plus, some of the recreations feel too unnatural. It’s hard to pinpoint why, but they never feel authentic enough and can take you out of the experience.

‘The Wanted 18’ is a fair and heartfelt portrayal of a rebelling country and how stories can inspire us. Everybody works together (including an Israeli military leader) to give it the weight and context it needs, and it is helped along with humour and pathos. It is a tale definitely worth the telling.


8/10


Sunday, October 11, 2015

IndieCork: Theeb (2014)



Theeb is a young boy named after his father in the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War One. Together with his brother Hussein, they help an English soldier and his guide reunite with his unit, and ultimately set the course of a harsh and unforgiving adventure that will change Theeb’s life forever.

Probably one of the best things about ‘Theeb’ is its unpredictability. Every turn and twist the story took you don’t see coming, and it really helps rank up the suspense. Because of this, the movie is hard to discuss for fear of spoilers, but it may also turn people off because to keep up this structure the narrative is flimsy and very lacking. While the Jordan deserts are beautifully shot and striking in their harshness, the cinematography is not atmospheric or varied enough to keep your attention throughout.

This is a shame, because everything else about ‘Theeb’ works extremely well. The characters are fleshed out and defined enough that you feel a sense of urgency and connection when they are put in perilous situations. There’s not a single bad performance in the main cast, which helps sell the authenticity of the setting. Special mention goes to Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat who plays our eponymous hero. He carries a lot of the weight of the film on his shoulders and does it admirably, especially for an actor of his age.

The movie chooses to be more minimal and briefly worded, particularly due to its lacking plot. Because of this, there are a lot of subtleties and small touches that really add to the world building. The struggle with the Ottoman Empire and how this small province has fallen into anarchy over the rail line is present, but mostly kept for a few brief conversations and images. This adds to a lot of symbolic moments and gets across that Theeb’s coming-of-age is also the same for this region coming into modernity, being scarred and dragged along in certain respects.

It’s the unforgiving nature that truly defines this movie, going back to its unpredictability. The gun fights are given quasi-realistic status (outside of the fact that it does take a while for them to need to reload) because people will get killed and stuff will go wrong. Rather than being a trite and predictable story about blending old traditions with advances in living, it shows that these ways will be crushed and pushed aside as the new makes its way through. This is both in practical application of living and the values and beliefs that people live by.

If there was more narrative meat or if the cinematography gave us more of a visual striking motif, ‘Theeb’ could be a masterpiece. As it currently stands, it’s a very strong movie that values subtlety and a sense of reality over flashier storytelling. The characters are memorable, the setting is dense and you’ll be wondering where the movie goes right up to the credits.

8/10

Saturday, October 10, 2015

IndieCork: Coming Home (2014)



‘Coming Home’ deals with the aftermath of the release of Angel Cordero. 13 years prior, Angel was wrongfully accused of attempted murder and sent to jail. He served the full sentence, even after the real culprit confessed to the crime years after. Now with prison behind him, and under parole, this documentary follows him in his first few days as a free man, settling down with a woman he married whilst behind bars, confronting the man whose crime he served time for, and trying to connect to his distant and conflicted daughter, who was only 3 when he went away.

Beautifully shot with excellent and vibrant camera work, ‘Coming Home’ doesn’t feel like a documentary so much as a feature. This helps audiences feel more engaged in the story, as it’s being told to you rather than explained. This method not only keeps the momentum up, but it allows you to connect with the people a lot easier.

Angel Cordero is a very magnetic personality. You truly feel for his lost time, yet he doesn’t let it defeat him or strip him of his humanity. Despite his daughter’s reservations to fully allow him in her life, his determination to get through to her is incredibly endearing. He never truly acts like a victim of circumstance, and his candour and positive attitude just makes him a delight to watch.

Probably the greatest strength of the film is that it chooses not to judge or become bitter, just like Angel. Some of the most powerful material is the confrontation with Dario Rodriguez, the real culprit of the stabbing. Forthright and laid bare, there is no venom or bitterness shown as the two men discuss what happened and why Rodriguez didn’t turn himself in sooner. Nothing about the interactions between the people involved feels artificial or forced; it’s purely authentic. A stellar example of this is a conversation between Angel and his wife Michelle whilst the former contemplates a move that could jeopardise his parole.

The heart of the story, however, is Angel’s fractured relationship with his daughter, Sarah. Again, there’s no judgement or misgivings about how Sarah rejects her father; she has some legitimate issues with him. Most of the film’s narrative revolves around his attempts to connect with her, and it is as sweet as it is heart-breaking. Without going into it too much, the resolution of it is bittersweet, as you truly grow to care for these people and want the best to happen to them.

‘Coming Home’ may lack focus in places, but its strength in filmmaking and character pulls it through. Angel Cordero is as great a protagonist as you can ask for, and the situation is given an honest reflection without bias seeping into the proceedings. It’s a heartfelt and sobering documentary about the struggles of life after prison.

Oh, and the soundtrack is awesome.


9/10


Friday, October 9, 2015

IndieCork: The Last Show (2015)


(as an aside, I saw this at it's world premiere! Kind of exciting to review a film most people have not seen yet)

Celebrated theatre director Damien Dowd (Brian Fortune) brings the cast of his upcoming play to a country house to rehearse separated from the world. However, egos and hidden dramas threaten to undermine this production as the anxiety-laden director finds himself unable to control the situation or his own fragile mental state.

The concept of this ensemble house drama is quite intriguing: take a theatre troupe with their own unique personalities and hang-ups and see how they implode within the setting. What really helps with this is that each character is given their own voice and personality. While there are a few characters more prevalent than others, the script is smart and precise enough to give every person there their own story and background. Each one feels distinctive.

The setting is very well utilised as well. While the entire movie takes place in a country home, it uses its surroundings smartly, and each location inside and out breathes fresh life into the story and stops it from getting stale. Helped with this is some excellent camera work, with a nice variety of shots and compositions to keep the eye engaged. This was a deliberate choice from writer/producer/director/actor Rita-Marie Lawlor, and it very much pays off.

If there are any problems with the movie technically, they’re very minor. There were a few glitches in the sound mixing that catch you off guard in certain moments, but they’re not frequent enough to be too bothersome. Similarly, there are a few awkwardly framed scenes that didn’t seem timed well, including one moment where a character tries to attack another. Again, these are infrequent, and it’s a credit to the skill of the production team that there are very few hiccups like this.

What makes this story work is that it doesn’t divulge into melodrama or convoluted storytelling at the start. It’s all cleverly built up, and really prepares the audience for the ending. Little moments or lines of dialogue actually do pay off with later revelations, and the cast is so good that it never feels too weighty or forced.

Unfortunately, the problem with the final act has more to do with the tone. It goes to such a dark place that it feels way too jarring with the rest of the story. To make it more consistent would sacrifice how much fun and relatable the first two thirds are, but it may have been needed for the finale to hit home.

‘The Last Show’ is a movie about how ego and selfishness can blow up something great and tear people down just too far. Its darker undercurrent is excellently offset by an enjoyable screenplay and a really dynamic and fun set of character. Despite the dramatics played throughout, it never gets too heavy until the final third. If it had made that final gutpunch hit more naturally, it would be an incredibly solid movie, but for what it is, it’s very entertaining and playfully dark with an excellent cast of fine Irish talent.


7/10


Thursday, October 8, 2015

IndieCork: A Kind of Sisterhood (2015)



‘A Kind of Sisterhood’ is distinctive from a lot of documentaries about the Troubles in Ireland as it focuses on female political prisoners. Going through two and a half decades of events leading up the 90s, it tells the tales of women locked up in Armagh and Maghaberry gaols, a focus which was largely ignored by the media.

Presented as a ‘work-in-progress’ by its directors, it’s hard to say what works and what doesn’t with the film due to it not being the version they want to leave as the finished product. What it lacks in technical prowess due to its next to nothing budget, it makes up for in powerful interviews with the women who were political prisoners during these difficult times and people associated with them.

Probably the smartest narrative decision was interweaving well-known events linked to the Troubles. Examples of these include the loss of political prisoner status, the no-wash protest and the hunger strike; one of the three women who took part in the latter was interviewed. Along with the women discussing their sentences, it blends archive footage and newspaper clippings to give a full scope of the story they were a part of while also highlighting what minimal focus they were given.

Rather than getting too bogged down in the politics of the matter, it uses the women’s own testimonials that allows for a more human focus. While these are from largely republican prisoners, there is a loyalist also interviewed with a portion looking at her own struggles. The film’s intent isn’t so much to get you to pick a side, rather it wishes to tell these accounts that were overlooked at the time.

Unfortunately, the lack of budget can hurt the presentation. A lot of the audio is echoing and hard to hear, and the camera work can be inconsistent in parts. These technical issues may be fixed with the planned reedit of the piece, but unfortunately it can be hard to hear people or keep focus on the proceedings.

Also, the ‘sisterhood’ doesn’t feel that well defined. While elements of it are naturally there, and the women’s individual stories are compelling enough to not need it, it doesn’t capture that scope of comradery and togetherness that the filmmakers may have wanted.

‘A Kind of Sisterhood’ is well worth seeing to get an unsung voice heard on a terrible part of Irish history. It keeps your attention with some fascinating accounts, which never pull away from the horrific or the disheartening. It’s a human story of struggle and mistreatment, and while it may not have the focus it desires, it’s worth watching for anyone interested in recent Irish history or a woman’s place in a predominantly male-focused event.

6/10


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Quick Critique: 45 Years (2015)



Andrew Haigh’s previous cinematic outing, ‘Weekend’, is one of the best relationship dramas released in the last 5 years. What made it work so well was its sense of authenticity; the actors get so absorbed in their characters that they feel like real people, and a lot of the scenes are just conversations between the leads you can picture yourself having. While a bit more of a cinematic experience than its predecessor, his new movie ’45 Years’ also gives us this sense of realism and has proven to be one of the best films of the year.

The story is set in the week leading up to the 45th wedding anniversary of Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, respectively). After Geoff receives news about a past event he kept from his wife, her trust in their marriage slowly begins to unravel as the days count down. This framing device actually works really effectively of giving a day-by-day account of how the couple deal with this news, particularly Kate. What’s more interesting is that their moods and opinions go up and down throughout the week, very much like people react to shocking news.

Both actors are absolutely wonderful, and give two of the best performances of the year. Rampling manages to be introspective and understated without being a pushover and very subtly joyful in certain moments. Courtenay makes Geoff but quirky yet accessible; he’s not an overly strange man, but he’s both restrained and temperamental, having odd reactions to certain scenes. These characters complement each other and allow their conflict to fester from differing viewpoints, adding a lot of nuances and strengthening their bond. They are possibly the best couples onscreen this year.

As with ‘Weekend’, the music is minimal, almost non-existent, and it creates a stark and dry atmosphere. This actually works in the movie’s favour as it fleshes out the story being told. As stated above, there are certain cinematic moments in the film, like a scene being colourfully described in order to get its symbolic meaning across, or an interlude where Kate plays the piano. However, they’re very few and far between and can help rather than hinder it. It builds up the narrative weight of their marriage, leading to a fascinating denouement that plays against expectation and is richer for it.

What makes ’45 Years’ such a masterpiece is its focus on the characters and the thematic substance of their tale. Ideas of intimacy, trust, how well you really know someone and how your world view and life’s structure can so easily fall apart are all explored here. What’s even better is that we’re never given an easy answer, leaving the movie on a powerfully ambiguous note. It’s a seminal drama, wonderfully acted and produced, and creates a fictional relationship with pathos, history, poignancy and despair.  


9/10


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Quick Critique: Manglehorn (2015)



David Gordon Green is one of the most versatile and fearless filmmakers of his generation, willing to mix up his material and challenge audience’s perception of him. Al Pacino is rightly considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, who has constantly made daring and fascinating performances in his career spanning over four decades. A combination of the two seems like a match made in heaven and a film worth watching. What we got with ‘Manglehorn’ was something confused and ill-defined.

This film is part of a conceptual trilogy where Al Pacino explores different facets of old age. The rather abysmal ‘Danny Collins’ looked at the regrets an aging rockstar has towards the path he took in his life. ‘Manglehorn’ focuses on the titular AJ Manglehorn as he pines for a long-lost love while ignoring or taking for granted all other aspects of his life.

The film starts off rather solidly, delving into the depression and ceaseless loneliness of our protagonist. He tries to snap out of his ennui by fraternising with a man he used to coach baseball named Gary (Harmony Korine essentially playing himself), trying to reconnect with his son and granddaughter, and even attempting to start a romance with kindly bank teller Dawn (Holly Hunter). All of this is offset with Green’s clever eye for finding visual metaphors in rather mundane objects.

The problem is that the film doesn’t really do anything interesting with these stepping stones, if at all. We are delivered a story full of missteps, false starts, moments that go nowhere and incredibly forced monologues simply there to sing the praises of our lead.

The cast give it their all, but there’s simply not much to them. Manglehorn’s son is painfully one-note and his relationship with Pacino is textbook ‘daddy issues’, Harmony Korine is just slimy with no real hidden depths or actions that make him in any way interesting, and Hunter suffers the worst being forced to play way too nice and divine so the audience can get it hammered even further how obsessed Manglehorn is with his lady love.

There is a lot to admire with ‘Manglehorn’ and some of the scenes really work. The problem is that its way more preoccupied with speaking about its protagonist and giving him repetitive, insanely grating voice-overs than actually sufficiently exploring him in any great depth. Because of this, the script has really nowhere to go and just prods on with moments of no significant weight, occasionally broken up with the romance with Dawn desperately trying to add life to the beast.

What’s even more of a shame is that this is probably the best Pacino has been in years, and is under the helm of a director who is clearly fishing for profound brilliance but just doesn’t catch anything.

For diehard Pacino fans only. I hope ‘The Humbling’ fared better.


5/10 


Friday, September 11, 2015

Quick Critique: Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)


The teen sex comedy is a pretty frequent subgenre we’ve had to endure, though in more recent years it’s somewhat moulded into the rather repellent ‘party’ comedy. Still, the narrative remains about adolescent males trying their best to get laid and the (debatably) hilarious endeavours they get into in order to achieve said goal. This does bring up the fact that sexuality for younger girls isn’t given the same kind of exploration, be it in a serious context or not. Diary of a Teenage Girl provides exactly that kind of spotlight, while also managing to be funny as well as dramatic and profound.

The film, based on a play by writer/director Marielle Heller (the same dual roles she took for this adaptation), based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloecker, which is semi-autobiographical, explore the sexual awakening of 15-year old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) in 1970s San Francisco. Said awakening occurs after she has an affair with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) much older boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), which provides much of the drive for the story.

While these themes are controversial, the tone of the movie is a lot lighter than you’d expect while still taking the events seriously. This is due to the framing; it’s from the perspective of Minnie’s diaries, so we’re getting her insight into her life. While we are examining these sordid sexual escapades through the eyes of adults, we are told them from the language of a teenager, thus allowing the proceedings to have a youthful and fun-loving energy to them. It helps that Minnie, played wonderfully by Powley, is very confident and self-assured. While this doesn’t take away from how inappropriate some of the movie’s scenes can be, they don't feel as insidious as they could have been.

Helping this naturalistic tone is how the younger characters communicate. Even if you can’t relate to the actions they take, the language they speak in has a universality that teenagers can click with. Offsetting this is how irresponsible the adults are; in a sense, they have left the 60s in an adolescent state despite their ages. Alexander Skarsgard revels in how pathetic and underhanded the hebephilic Monroe is, while Kristen Wiig gives a career-best performance as the somewhat unlikable but very human Charlotte.

Further characterising the movie is Minnie’s interest in comic style art, which will frequently break out in her beautifully rendered and uniquely stylised drawings. It’s used to show a very different side of our heroine, as well mix various movements and ideas that were taking shape at the time. San Francisco becomes a character in of itself, beautifully realised through the cinematography, and coming of age in the same way our lead is.

Diary of a Teenage Girl is one of those films that reminds me why I love film. Provocative but relatable, it speaks in a language that will click with you while exploring elements of female sexuality all too ignored. One of 2015’s strongest entries.

9/10



Friday, August 28, 2015

Quick Critique: A Doctor's Sword (2014)



There’s always the worry about making what is essentially a ‘pub story’ into a film. A fascinating tidbit you tell your friends over a pint that seems like it’d be made into a great watch until you sit down to actually watch it. Due to the historical context, the incredible struggle behind it, and the deft human spirit running throughout, ‘A Doctor’s Sword’ transcends the pub story into a fantastic documentary.

The main focus of the story concerns a samurai sword owned by Aiden MacCarthy, a Cork-born doctor. In his youth, he served as a medical officer for the RAF during World War 2. This led him to Singapore where he was captured by the Japanese and kept as a prisoner of war. He managed to survive this for four years, as well as the bombing of Nagasaki, the only Irish person to do so. 70 years on, his daughter Nicola found a photo of a Japanese officer with the sword and a note presenting the weapon to her father. Armed only with the photo, Nicola headed to Japan to try to track this man down.

The sword has served as a source of wonder for many a Cork person, as it can be seen at the family-owned MacCarthy’s bar in Castletownbhere. Doctor MacCarthy himself has written an autobiography and did an interview about his ordeal, the latter of which was aired just before he passed away. This is the first attempt to make a documentary on this incredible story, which has been a source of fascination for producer Bob Jackson who spent 13 years trying to get it made.

The narrative is split between Nicola’s travelling to Japan and Doctor MacCarthy’s time in war, told through animation. Beautifully illustrated in sepia colours, it gives the proceedings a very quaint and atmospheric tone, while never underscoring the horrors the good doctor faced. Equally as impressive is the editing, which makes this film move smoothly and allows the transitions between animation and real life footage incredibly seamless.

On top of everything, the story really shows a sense of humanity and connection in a brutal and cold situation. The way it reveals why Doctor MacCarthy received the sword is humbling and extremely touching, also that he remained a rather grounded and empathetic person. More than being a very well made documentary, it’s a tale of an extraordinary man, one that should be celebrated proudly as a pure blooded Corkonian. 

‘A Doctor’s Sword’ may not give you huge insights or reveal hidden truths about the war, but it does show you a sense of humanity and historical connection between two families that had never met each other. Nicola, her sister Adrienne and her late mother Kathleen all contribute to the doc. to bring their husband and father’s spirit and memory to life, and show just what a remarkable story this sword symbolises. Definitely worth the watch.

9/10


(more information on this documentary, including showtimes, can be found at http://adoctorssword.com/)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015)



So, does it suck? Yes. Absolutely. I have no idea who this movie was made for, but regardless of what you are expecting out of this, you will not get it.

Is this an unfathomably terrible piece of shit so revolting and poor that it’s deserving the critical mauling it’s receiving? No.

Don’t get me wrong: Fantastic Four (or Fant-four-stic) is a bad movie. It’s a really bad movie. But to call it the worst superhero film ever is a stretch too far and seems to be built on this weird hype of hatred this movie accumulated long before its release.

Would I ever see it again? Probably not. But, at the same time, I’d much rather watch it over something like Batman and Robin, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, or Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Hell, I don’t even think it’s one of the worst film that came out this year. I’d so pick this over Self/Less, Mortdecai, 50 Shades of Grey, The Gambler, The Boy Next Door, Chappie or Unfriended, to name a few.

I don’t really need to state what makes Fant-four-stic not work. Most people know that by now, either through scathing reviews or shit-slinging think pieces. But here’s where I think it actually works in places, because I do think this film was highly ambitious in places...

The Good:

-The premise is really clever. The original Fantastic Four origin was set very heavily in the space race going on at the time, but-spoilers-that was over by the late 60s, so any future adaptation would have to deal with that. Having it be scientific progress is a nice modern day spin, and while they could have picked something more relevant than teleportation, it resonates a lot harder than if it did not.

-While most of the effects look terrible, the stuff they use to incorporate the Four’s powers are actually really well done. I particularly love how the Human Torch looks.

-Pretty much the body horror stuff is excellent. It’s well-paced, has great tension and looks appropriately horrific and brutal. This stuff completely tonally meshes with the rest of the narrative, and it doesn’t last very long, but I get the feeling that this is what director Josh Trank wanted to make free of studio interference and fan pressure. Everything from after the guys come back to earth until the time skip is the only stuff in the film that’s fully solid. I also love how a lot of the debris and energy that attacks them helps form their powers, that was a really nice touch

-It never drags. It’s only 100 minutes long and it flies through everything (I’ll get back to that), so while I was bored by the thing, it’s not because it dragged.

-Reg E. Cathey is the only actor that seems to be trying, and he does a pretty good job, even if his character may as well be called Moralise O’Speechify. I also like that his son is played by a fellow Wire alumni, even if their characters never interacted or were even on the show at the same time.
That’s it. That’s all that worked. Now, while everybody had already talked about the bad, let’s talk about…

The Bad (spoiler warning):

-One of the biggest faults is that it’s just a massive drag. The incompetent script drags the origin to 100 minutes, but it doesn’t do anything interesting with them. While it is well paced, everything is so rushed an unfocused that it’s impossible to care about anything that happens, so not only does its pacing work for it because it’s thankfully over pretty quickly, it’s also a problem as I do not have any idea about these people or their relationships. This is mostly due to:

-Good lord, the acting from the younger leads is *awful*. It’s a shame, as they are a solid cast, but they’re not given anything to do, and are just lost. Miles Teller seems to not know who his character is (neither does the script), Jamie Bell looks lost, Kate Mara is not given anything to do. Even Michael B. Jordan, who has been wonderful in previous work (including the director’s first film Chronicle) seems to phone it in. There’s only one performance that beats them all, but I’ll get to that.

-The set-up is ridiculously stupid. Reed Richards is discovered by this prestigious and well-funded inventor looking around what looks like a school science competition, none of the scientist are actually really defined with what they bring to the team, outside of ‘scientist’ and ‘sciencer scientist’ and ‘scientist lacking a chromosome’, I have no idea why Johnny is there, Ben gets called to be part of the team in the middle of the night for no reason, and the main impetus for the journey that gives them their powers is caused because people wanted space explorers to be take the journey and the team got 
drunk. If this all sounds dumb as hell, then I’m not emphasising just how stupid this is.

-Yes, there is a scene where Ben’s brother smacks him and says ‘It’s clobberin’ time’. It’s about as stupid as you think. I have nothing against them making this darker from the source material, but not when it’s this contrived.

-The Thing’s resentment of Reed is a great element from the source material they emphasise at one point and it’s just dropped. Seriously, Reed says he’s sticking around and that’s it. Conflict over. They could have seriously played this up, and it could be a great way to add drama and weight to the proceedings that was faithful to its comic book source. This really goes to show you how haphazard and confused everything in this movie is, no element they add is developed or thought out properly.

-Speaking of, we have that tired and overused anti-government spiel once they become agents of this military base for…reasons, and the movie NEVER shows how or why these guys cannot be trusted outside of the main guy being a little overbearing. Like, if you’re going to have characters say they’re manipulating other characters to do their evil nasty military bidding, don’t have the characters ‘manipulated’ completely and enthusiastically do said bidding without much convincing.

-Characters appear and disappear at random. Considering it’s a team-up flick with very little action, this is a problem.

-What the fuck happened to Doom? I mean seriously. Toby Kebbell has proven to be a competent actor in other movies, but he is just awful here. Completely without depth or displaying the smarts they need the character to have. The less said about how DINO (Doom In Name Only) comes across at the end the better. Why in all living hell do you take on this nihilist ‘destroy the world’ attitude when the character is only slightly miserable and isolationist in the first third of the film?! Also his powers make no sense. He has telekinesis for…reasons.

So that’s the bad, now because I’m a dork...

The Ugly:

-Considering Josh Trank managed to do more with the use of camera movement and shots in his found footage movie, this should go to show you how lifeless a lot of the direction is. None of the film has any energy or momentum, and the conversations are shot as spirited as a reality show that has one guy holding the camera.

-While some of the scenic shots of the not-Negative Zone are nice, and the effects on the team can be good, most of the effects are awful. Particularly on Doom and the alternative universe they travel to. I’ve seen more convincing worlds in N64 games.

So there you have it, this movie is bad. I just don’t get why the hatred is piled onto it. Why this movie? Is it just due to the pre-release hype (or hatred), the fact that they wanted to do something different from the source material, that people want Marvel to get the rights back, or is it all of the above? I don’t know, but I guess I can add to the crowd who says this movie sucks. I just don’t think it’s the trainwreck that people are making it sound like.

Fant-four-stic is weak, but it is ambitious. A movie that tries and fails will always have my respect more than a film that clearly didn’t try at all.

But yeah, no. It’s not exactly clobberin’ time with this, unless you’re directing it to the idiots who produced it.


4/10