Sunday, February 28, 2016

Quick (ish) Critique: Creed (2016)

The success of the Rocky series is an anomaly for anyone who hasn’t watched a Rocky movie (well…maybe to people who watched Rocky V). The character resonates so emotionally with audiences, that even 40 years later, a new film in the series can come out and people will get hyped for it.

Directed by Ryan Coogler, whose previous film Fruitvale Station was one of my favourites of 2014, Creed focuses on the illegitimate son of the legendary Apollo Creed, who died in Rocky IV. Adopted by Apollo’s wife (now played by Phylicia Rashad), Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) turns away from his affluent lifestyle and steady job to try to make it as a boxer. He goes to Philadelphia to find his late father’s former boxing rival and friend, the legendary Rocky Balboa (the legendary Sylvester Stallone). He agrees to train Adonis, despite going through issues of his own.

What I love about Creed is that it has a completely unique identity; it has the grit and the to-the-bone feel of the previous (great) Rocky films, but it balances that with a driven energy and modern tone. Creed isn’t trying to prove himself in the same way Rocky was in the first one; he came from a well-off background. He has certain baggage due to his father that he needs to resolve, as well as show that he can stand away from the man’s shadow. Essentially, the story is about stepping away from a shadow that hangs over your life, and our lead exemplifies that beautifully. Michael B. Jordan is incredible in the role, charming yet broken and was absolutely robbed an Oscar nod. Here’s hoping a bright future for the guy.

Creed is his own man with his own path, but that doesn’t stop the ghosts from the past from appearing. Eagle eye fans of the Rocky series will notice the constant references to the previous movies, from things like Rocky and Creed’s fight in Rocky III to the turtles. The biggest reminder is Rock himself, and Sly absolutely nails this performance. Thank God he was at least nominated, now go for the gold Sly! We’re all behind you. I could go into how great he is in the flick, but you already know if you’ve seen it. This is one of the toughest times for the Italian Stallion, so see the film if you wanna know if his legendary incorrigible spirit doesn't give up on him this time.

The directing makes it stand out too. Coogler has an amazing sense of energy and inter-connectivity; he connects all the story threads from the previous movie and this one and keeps everything moving at an entertaining pace. He has a very natural yet bombastic touch, tapping into that humanity while also making this feel like an epic story of a man proving to the world his fists can get him through an inescapable shadow. Ryan Coogler can capture the iconography of humanity. He’s one of the best directors working in the mainstream, and like Jordan is truly making his mark. Also the training montage is one of my favourites in the series, and I love how he shoots the boxing matches. You feel like you’re right there in the ring.

The first 10-20 minutes are a tad rushed (also terrible child actor), which made me think this was going to be woeful (thankfully I was wrong!). ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlon is another in the long line of forgettable Rocky villains. Donny’s girlfriend Bianca is given a lot of personality and charm, but she could have been fleshed out a tad more. Hopefully she will in the inevitable follow up (please?). Also Phylicia Rashad does such a great job as Donny’s foster mother that it’s a shame her part is shortchanged like it is.

These flaws are minor, because once the story gets going, it never ever stops until the ending with a certain iconic frame. Creed is a powerhouse of a film, taking the series’ heart and passion and packaging it for a new audience, with wonderful direction, a modern feel and tone and a new character we’ll be glad to follow. Jordan and Stallone are wonderful together, and let’s hope the new Rocky and Mickey can get back into that ring. I hear rumblings of a sequel, but nothing definitive yet! Wanna ring the bell?


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Quick Critique: Room (2016)

So Room is good, huh?

It star Cheese Larsen and a little girl who are kidnap by some psycho and left to live there all their life. Little girl was born there, so he has no idea what the outside world is like. Hahahaha.

Directing is wonderful, almost good as my movie. Abraham Lennyson is director, and he make you feel claustrophobic while also making world get larger as child grows into it. Always keeping on his perspective, yes?

Cheese Larsen gives award-winning performance. What a great actress. She almost steal movie away, if not for Jacob Tremblay as little girl, who should be nominated also. His lack of Oscar nod is tearing me apart!

Also movie moves real fast. It could use about 50 more tracking shots to establish scene, but still really well paced and leaves good decision of keeping story progressing in natural way. No wasting time here, although we need more subplots that go nowhere with cancerous mothers.

No emotional moments are pulled. It very dark and realise the reality of the story without making it too graphic or tasteless. It know how to make you feel emotionally involved with characters without pushing excess and shock value, also while keeping focus on small child who remain pretty innocent. Though it lacks a few ass shots, no?

Writing is very good. It keep book’s original author to write screenplay, so not only does it capture essence and tone of book, but her and director clearly have a symbiotic understanding of the text and how to best express it. Though it should be directed, starred, written, produced, executive produced, and catered by same person.

With all this, Room is worthwhile and a very good film. It’s dark despite not having pointless drug dealer scene, emotional despite it not having someone clueless about being in affair, greatly acted without having me and memorable and timeless despite not having any football playing.

Go see now, unless you’re chicken. Cheap, cheap cheap cheap cheap, cheap!


Hahahaha, what a great story, Emma.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Quick Critique: The Assassin (2016)

Did you ever love a medium, but were forced to face the fact that it’s full of really shitty products and output? That you just wonder, sometimes, just why the hell you love this medium so much? Then you come across something, and it’s so unexpectedly great that you just go ‘That! That is why I love reading/gaming/watching/etc.!’? The Assassin was that for me.

Based pretty loosely on an old Chinese story, The Assassin stars Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), a woman with connections to royalty who was kidnapped when she was a young girl by a Taoist nun (Fang-Yi Sheu) and trained to assassinate corrupt governors. After failing to kill one of her targets, her master forces her to return home to Weibo to assassinate its governor, Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen). This is further complicated by the fact that, not only is Tian her cousin, but she was formerly betrothed to him.

This film is helmed by the legendary Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien, his first movie in 8 years, and he took home Best Director at Cannes last year. All I can say is that it’s well earned. The Assassin is not only achingly beautiful, but the shots and composition is so well planned out. It knows when to pan out and when to go in, never losing momentum or having the moment die. Every shot is interesting, I have not seen a film this aesthetically pleasing since 2014’s Ida. Props to cinematographer Ping Bin Lee and production team. Also shout out to composer Giong Lim, providing a period appropriate score that’s eclectic and haunting, perfectly well used.

What may frustrate people is the plot. From the synopsis, it sounds like your atypical kung fu movie, but it is far from it. The titular assassin even goes a long stretch without appearing, focusing instead on Tian, his family and staff. Most of the plot elements are either teased out, explained by the characters or implied, and this aloofness actually really works for the atmosphere. It’s genuinely mysterious, and the moments of action are not only brutal and passionless (though engaging), but they come usually at the right point in the story. This slowness may bother people, but it allows a lot of subtlety and fascinating subtext to build into the proceedings. It’s a marvellously told film.

There are a few moments of naff acting from an otherwise excellent cast, and some of the dialogue can be a little over-expository to make up for the slow plot, but these problems are minor. Don’t go into this film expecting to find an awesome action flick. Go into it getting a kick ass action flick, a character study, a political and family drama, a tragic love story, a beautiful art piece, and more in between. It’s just mesmerising in its unique style and a credit to a well-celebrated filmmaker.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Quick Roasts: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

Great, another fucking Michael Bay movie.

Oh, AND it’s based on a true story as well?! A really tragic one about the deaths of an American ambassador and soldiers in an assault on an embassy in Benghaz?! Bay can’t handle that! It’ll be all Baysplosions and cheesy dialogue and ugh! This is gonna suck so goddamn hard, man!

…well actually it treats the story with a respectful amount of gravitas. I mean, there’s humour in places, but not that out of place when considering most other movies.

Well, what about the characters?! Bay’s characters are all stock and clichéd, they have absolutely no life with them at all! They’re going to be weakly written shells with no depth!

…they’re not *that* bad? I mean, okay, I could not tell them apart, but that tends to be what happens with modern day war movies based on real events. These are people and some actually died, so the consequence of paying respect to fallen soldiers and their families consequently doesn’t make them that nuanced. Hell, ‘The Chief’ is a really compelling character, even if most of the nuance more comes from the actor (David Costable, better known as Gale from Breaking Bad).

Alright, fine. This movie is going to be nothing but Baysplosions! Just pointless explosions everywhere with no rhyme or reason.

…nope, the action is pretty well paced, even if the set pieces can drag. All of it makes sense and is appropriate to the action the story dictates.

Well, Libya! It’s set in freaking Libya! Bay’s famous for using racially insensitive caricatures, and this is about an intense conflict in a country going through intense political turmoil! How can they possibly make that wo-?!

It’s honestly not that bad. Okay, there is some racial insensitivity, but for the most part it actually gets across the tragedy and even the absurdity of what these people live with on a daily basis. There’s even a bit of satirical humour thrown in, with locals casually going about their day with chaos going on around them! it’s honestly kind of clever. Hell, one of the most dynamic and interesting characters in the movie is the Libyan interpreter! Compare it to last year’s Academy-nominated American Sniper, and it’s practically a culturally accepting goldmine.

….did I just favourably compare a Michael Bay movie to a Clint Eastwood flick?!

You know what guys? This movie really isn’t that bad.                   

I mean, it’s not perfect. The soldiers are sadly pretty bland and interchangeable, it has some of the most annoying camera work I’ve seen in any movie, the first act is painfully slow, and Bay’s usual fetishism of the American military is on full force here (it’s still a Michael Bay outing with all the trimmings). 

But there’s a real sense of comradery and pathos, a decent amount of tension, the final action set piece is uncharacteristically brutal and unsettling, and it actually takes time to humanise the other side of the conflict.

So yeah. 5/10

A Michael Bay movie released in January is actually not bad? I’m so confused!

Can we go back to Transformers 4?! Things were simpler then!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Counter Critique: The Revenant (2016)

(thanks to Nathan Ryan for the guest review as he gives another view on The Revenant. Read my own review here)

I have now seen this film twice just to make sure I wasn’t jumping the gun upon my first critique of what people many people see as Alejandro Inarrtiu finest cinematic contribution to date (which seems to be the default response to anything the man has released in the past, so you can never go too wrong with the man’s work). I can safely say, without any doubt in my mind, that this film is…grand.

Don't get me wrong, I’m not saying it's a bad movie at all, just a decent one. Not the masterpiece every critic and causal cinema goers has framed it to be and is far FAR from Inarrtiu's best work.

So what works and what doesn't? Well, let’s start on a positive note. Firstly the cinematography is incredible. The collaboration with Emmanuel Lubezki is a truly welcomed return after his masterful work on Birdman, enveloping you into this harsh, unforgiving wilderness that has true depth and scale,  combined with Inarrtiu's signature "one-shot takes" it gives you the full scope of the loud, as well as the sombre. 

Also as a side note, the score is gorgeous. If there is one thing you can always give to Inarrtiu, he knows how to pick'em, and pick'em he did with Carsten Nicolai and especially in bringing back Ryuichi Sakamoto to help give the same amount epic beauty and darkness as he did in Babel.

DiCaprio gives a great performance as the lead and if the Oscar goes to the man, it is well deserved. However, it is Mr. Tom Hardy who steals the show in this picture, adding an uncomfortably human side to a truly despicable character. The supporting cast all give solid work here. Both Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter standing out the strongest, as well as Native American actors Duane Howard and Arthur RedCloud, who both have incredible present on film, I would honestly love to see them in more.

Yet even with all this praise, the movie has one major problem that stops me from revering it, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the main character himself, Hugh Glass. He just isn’t all that interesting or engaging a character, as hard as Leo tries to make him. At no point did I really feel the man’s plight or any strong connection with him, and when you have extended scenes in your film with only this character and the dead of winter and I’m not clicking, you’ve already lost me. Scenes pick up every now and again, but it’s usually when he is with other characters to pick up the slack, otherwise it just drags itself out.  In addition, a lot of the symbolism is incredibly ham-fisted, to the point where it just becomes obnoxious, losing any kind of impact it could truly have.

So with all that in mind, The Revenant is fine film, just not the mind-blowing powerhouse everyone is calling. Beautifully shot, beautifully acted, but sadly let down by an average script and an uninteresting lead character.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Quick Critique: The Revenant (2016)

(check out the counter review to this movie, written by Nathan Ryan, here)

Before we go any further, there is no bear rape. The bear does not rape Leonardo DiCaprio. He climbs on top of him to try to eat him. So if you’re not seeing this movie because of that, relax.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a director that keeps on challenging himself. After starting his career with his ‘death’ trilogy, a series of hyperlinked films, he then went on to do a taut and sobering look at terminal illness, and then a sardonic comedy that focused on the darker and narcissistic aspects of show business. This one sees him stripped down the most in terms of story; an incredibly loose adaptation of fur trapper Hugh Glass, who was left for dead after being mauled by a bear but managed to survive.

What makes The Revenant work so well is just the sheer raw grit of the piece. It’s brutal, relentless and very natural, helped of course by its celebrated use of natural light. This really gives a beautiful natural glint to the proceedings, adding that sense of isolation and dread as you go on Glass’ obsessive quest of survival and revenge.

There’s a lot of Oscar buzz for DiCaprio’s performance here, and he’d legitimately deserve it if he wins. When he’s dying after the attack, he really is reacting like someone would in his condition. There’s a sheer drive and intensity to DiCaprio that really makes him compelling, though sadly that isn’t the case of his characterisation. In fact, his co-star Tom Hardy steals the show from him simply because he has the meatier role of the driven and survivalist John Fitzgerald. Despite how selfish and cruel he is, he feels like a real person, helped by what a nuanced and engaging actor Hardy is. It’s been a great year for him.

Sadly what drags The Revenant down is that it’s a bit on the nose in places. The main theme is the lengths people go to reach survival, which is handled mostly well and weaves naturally into the story in places. The subplot with the Natives adds to this dynamic, though they feel largely superfluous outside of giving the mountainside a bit more of a threat. But there’s a lot of talking and pontificating that doesn’t weave into the dialogue that subtly, as well as some pretty forced moments of symbolism. On top of that, the climax is a bit too dragged out and ridiculous for how realistic the staging was beforehand.

The Revenant is a wonderfully constructed movie about survival in the harshest of worlds. Topped off with some great performances and beautiful cinematography, it carries you through with a haunting minimalist score and some expert camera work and rough staging. You feel the harshness the cast felt when filming it, and while it’s not Inarritu’s best, it’s certainly a work only a filmmaker that honest about his craft can produce.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Quick Critique: The Forbidden Room (2015)

The Forbidden Room is the latest movie from celebrated Canadian ‘silent movie fan’ filmmaker Guy Maddin. It was partially inspired by his installation project Seances, though both should be treated as separate entities. Maddin (along with co-director Evan Johnson) take roughly 17 different narratives and frames them in this Russian nesting doll style, one story breaking away to another. It’s stylised in a highly absurdist way, and the filming techniques are used to get across the feel of classic movies.

We open up with a speech of a man telling us about bathing. After that, a crew of a submarine are trying to save themselves from blowing up due to their cargo becoming unstable. Then a lumberjack randomly appears, giving them hopes to escape. As they try to find their captain, the lumberjack tells us a tale as he tries to remind us why he’s there. Also they’re conserving oxygen by inhaling/eating flapjacks.

This leads into various other stories. Stories that include a man being lobotomised so he can stop being obsessed with asses (told through song, of course), mutated banana vampires, a moustache trying to comfort a grieving widow, a volcano that gets sacrificed tapioca, a doctor being hustled by women in skeleton outfits to sign on a convoluted life insurance scam, stories that are connected via a volcano’s memory and a woman’s pelvis, and Udo Kier. Really, if you continued reading after ‘banana vampires’, I’m proud of you.

It has a huge cast of well-known and established character actors. As well as Kier, we have the Charlotte Rampling (who’s up for an Oscar), Roy Dupuis, Mathieu Amalric, Geraldine Chaplin, amongst many, many others.

And I’m pretty much gonna leave it here. Partially because I need to pick my brain back up, partially because if this sounds like your thing, please go see this. It’s original, surreal, humourous, very cleverly realised, and inventive in a way that defies comprehension.

If you’re not into film that’s challenging and experimental, good lord avoid this like the plague, and the length can be punishing, but I loved it and would absolutely recommend and film fan give it a watch.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Quick(ish) Critique: The Hateful Eight (2016)

So Tarantino seems to be retreading Western grounds with The Hateful Eight. Which I don’t really fault him for-the Western is a surprisingly versatile genre, and Django Unchained was more of a slavery revenge flick anyway. Plus, the premise is a really interesting one, trapping eight people in a house by a blizzard where things don’t just seem too right. I guess less is more for the iconic filmmaker, because this trapped house epic is nearly a masterpiece. I absolutely loved it.

What really makes this film work is what the maestro of cinephiles really does best: the style. This may not seem like a huge compliment, but it is when you remember that film is a visual medium. Everything in the crisp, beautiful cinematography just radiates old-school Westerns, and it realises that slow and steady is just how they start up. A lot of the opening is four of our cast members just shooting the breeze in a carriage, and everything just makes this work. From the blocking, to the cast, to Tarantino’s legendary use of dialogue, they set up a lot and make it feel natural and foreboding.

Another Tarantino staple is his handling of actors. Old favourites like Samuel L. Jackson do a great job as always, while Kurt Russell just feels right at home. Tim Roth pretty much steals every scene he’s in, and Bruce Dern further proves he can make any character sympathetic. It’s Jennifer Jason Leigh, however, who steals the show. Her character is the most dynamic and fascinating one, and her energetic and manic performance make her shine brightly amongst the rest. It’s a physical and gripping job, and earned her a well-deserved Oscar nod (take home the gold, Jen!).

I mean, as much as I can gush about this film (and I will, thank you!), it’s not without its fair share of problems. The transition to explain the mystery is very tacked on and doesn’t flow that well with the main narrative; one of the man’s very overdone tropes is non-linear storytelling and it’s really clunky here. Also, the use of THAT word (you know the one) tires out so much that it stops being edgy or offensive and just comes off as tiresome. It’s like he’s showing off how much he can use it.

Despite all this, The Hateful Eight is the most Tarantino-y Tarantino has Tarantino’d, and it’s a joy to watch. His patented use of violence is on point, while the slowly burning mystery as well as picking up the racial barrier from post-Civil War America are expertly handled and show that there’s more to his work than killy killy bang bang. It’s a dark, funny immersive tale about a bunch of horrible people in this blizzard-struck cabin, and the chaos that emerges is really goddamn satisfying.

If you like your Tarantino, you’ll love this. If not, fuck off, as you’re not wanted ‘round theses here parts.


p.s. Jackson may have topped his Pulp Fiction monologue…

p.p.s. Ennio Morricone's score just adds such beautiful weight and majesty, but anyone with ears could tell you that

p.p.p.s. I can’t describe this movie in 500 words or less!!!! THERE’S SO MUCH GOOD!!!!!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Quick Roasts: Lazer Team (2016)

In this new section, let the rage fly high for something you just could not stomach. Guest reviewer for this post is Cillian Wilcox. Thank you for your contribution!

We’re lazer team, bitches!

Rooster Teeth, game exploiters and Lets Players extraordinaire, are the behind the legendary web series “Red Vs Blue” and their loud-mouthed improv Lets Plays. They have now tried their hand at making a feature-length movie.

It sucks. Hard. It sucks hilarious amounts of balls. If I were to tell this movie to eat a bag of dicks, it would already be roasting them on a grill before I could finish my sentence. It is an obnoxious, badly acted comedy piece of shit. It’s full of filmmaking clichés and I wasted nearly 5 hours watching it! (It’s got a 90 minute run time, it’s just that my internet decided to try and warn me the movie was shit by loading it really slowly)

The group kickstarted the project, and it was picked up by Youtube Red team and broadcast on the service yesterday, released digitally worldwide at the same time. Lucky backers were given a copy of the film and permission to broadcast it on big screen projectors in their town. I’m hoping nobody actually did this, because then they would have subjected their friends to years of therapy sessions and who wants to be known as “the guy who showed me Lazer Team”?!

This movie is bad. It’s really bad, and the reason it’s bad is the same reason that makes Rooster Teeth so good; the writing. It’s generic, full of cringe “comedy” moments like “watch how long a girl says hey!” and social media meme’s like “no way, it’s got 1200 likes and the last time that happened I tweeted my dick ‘by accident’”. Good God the writing is truly awful.

The direction is lazy, the editing is lazy, the effects are lazy, and the plot twist is lazy. This is the movie version of Jabba the Hut. No effort was put into spending the 2 million dollar budget.
There are youtubers with less money, less backing, and a smaller audience that make better work than these people ever could. If you stumble across any channels like that, turn off adblock and click a few videos because those people deserve the CPM.

Look, don’t get me wrong, I’ll spend a few hours a night watching them on their Lets Play channel, but I will never give them my money because this was a poor attempt at film making by a group that has so much potential.

Burnie Burns, please stop trying to make films. Also, you suck at acting. 2 million you fuckstick and you wasted it on casting yourself! RT, big love, but holy shit fire that guy.


Quick Critique: My Skinny Sister (2015)

Ice skaters be tripping, yo.

This Swedish film focuses on Stella (Rebecka Josephson) who both looks up to and is extremely resentful of her older sister, Katja (Amy Deasismont). Katja is a successful figure skater who gets adored on by her parents. Stella tries to mimic her sister to gain that attention, as well as the affections of Katja’s coach Jacob (Maxim Mehmet). However, things take a much darker turn as Stella discovers that her sister has a severe eating disorder.

What prevents this from being an overblown PSA are two things: the focus being on the Stella and the amount of subtleties in the filmmaking. They’re careful to actually develop the sisters’ relationship. Katja doesn’t start off as mean or manipulative to hide her problems, she’s playful and tries to help Stella. Both actresses have wonderful chemistry and really anchor what could have been a pretty melodramatic story.

The mother and father (Henrik Norlén and Annika Hallin, respectively) are also great. They give strong, subtly characterised performances, giving their larger prevalence in the final act weightier. Honestly, the weak link cast-wise is Jacob. He’s just…odd, weirdly mean at times and not very well defined. It’s nothing against the actor, he just doesn’t do a lot.

Other subtleties are included mostly in the production. There’s a really great shot in the opening of Stella dragging flowers her sister handed to her for safekeeping on a gate while walking behind her out of focus parents. It’s says a lot about their relationship. Also her bug collection is great symbolism; Stella is trying to capture Katja’s natural talent by force. 

Honestly, the only thing bringing it down is that the script isn’t amazing. Some of the moments near the first act feel like they come too soon (Katja freaking out in the kitchen) and would have been better placed later on. It’s odd considering how well the dinner scene works. One or two editing things stand out, like the shaving scene. It looks like she moved it in order to cut her lip, not accidentally! There’s also an effect later on that’s really fake looking.

Also, I did not give a shit about Stella’s friends. It’s nice that she’s not some shut in or whatever, and it could contrast that Katja doesn’t seem to have any friends, but they don’t really add much and I was nodding off when they were onscreen. For some reason, though, the boy reminded me of that bully in Let the Right One In.

My Skinny Sister is a heartfelt and honest movie about an eating disorder that manages to be uncomfortable as well as humourous in places. With a stronger script, this could have been a movie I raved about. As it stands, it’s a really strong film that handles its themes and message admirably. We need more stories about serious topics that don’t feel like we’re being shouted at, but smartly and subtly talked to.