Max Payne (2008, John Moore)
It's a movie adapted from a video game.
Oh, you're still here? Right. Well, allow me to qualify. Max Payne is yet another in a long, long, long line of ridiculously disappointing game adaptations - but more so, considering the strength of the game that this one is based on. A film based on a game that borrowed heavily from the likes of John Woo and - the at-the-time new and fresh - The Matrix, it unfortunately suffers greatly from the facsimile effect - losing one hell of a lot of clarity in transmission.
On paper, it should've worked...
Director with at least decent action credentials and a tendency to treat 'adaptations' with the utmost care? Check - see the solidly entertaining Behind Enemy Lines and the remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix for what I mean.
Actor who vaguely fit the role? Check.
Segue of Mona Sax into the story? Check and...eh...another random check.
But unfortunately, nothing fits together particularly well. There are individual bits that work well, but it is infinitely inferior to the sum of its parts, and it's part don't exactly add up to much.
For starters - and for once - the story makes the transition to the big screen almost intact. It goes that Max Payne is a cop who has his whole family murdered by junkies - high and almost invulnerable after consuming a drug called Valkyr - and he's out for revenge on those responsible. After the case dead ends, his partner happens upon a coincidental piece of evidence that ties a seemingly random murder to that of Max's wife, and that sets him on the trail of the Aesir corporation - a large, morally suspect pharmaceutical company. The story is solid and constantly promises to be interesting, but first-time scribe Beau Thorne simply can't capitalise on it properly.
But beyond that neo-noir aesthetic and some rather scathing zingers - both almost certainly thanks to the game's creative director Sam Lake's involvement - there's absolutely nothing to commend the script for. Most of the exposition is under-cooked, and complacency seems to have struck the character development ('His family got killed. Do we really need to develop him more?'). But not only is there absolutely no development of Payne throughout the movie, he genuinely comes across as completely empty, but in the bad way. There is one moment where he is actually properly characterised - a flashback sequence before his wife was murdered - but there's no link between that Max and the Max we have to endure for the majority of the film. The shoe-horning in of Mona as a more significant character is also half-arsed, and the addition of a sister character to try to make us invest emotionally in her is simply useless.
What's more, there's a total dearth of action, and considering that the game was heavily action-orientated, and it was touted as an action-thriller, this is something of a sucker punch that you can't really recover from. What's more, it doesn't even manage to work on a balls-out-action level, seeing as we're force-fed Thorne's half-baked exposition for a good hour before we get to see any action.
The really aggravating film is that when the action does spill out, it's fantastic. Moore has a great eye for visuals - from an awesome tracking shot of a man seemingly committing suicide, only to be revealed to be him being dragged out by a Valkyrie (or perhaps vice versa), to a fantastically shot roof-top showdown, he really does quite a lot with such sparse opportunity. You get the feeling that had this been put in safer scripting hands, Moore could've done a lot more with it.
It's even more of a shame that - shoddy characterisation aside - Mark Wahlberg does actual throw in a decent portrayal of Payne, chewing his way through his lines with suitable grit and determination. Mila Kunis is surprisingly good as Mona Sax - she manages to pull of sexily dangerous, despite her pixie-like construction - and Beau Bridges, though pathetically cast in a the role of someone called 'B.B', pulls of his character with a decent amount of conviction.
In closing, Max Payne the Movie is very much a child of the writer's strike, because in the hands of a more capable writer – perhaps even if Sam Lake himself had taken over entirely - this may well have gone down a treat. As it stands, clumsy exposition and under-cooked characters, along with a total lack of satisfying violence make for a something that doesn’t even register on a guilty pleasure level. But importantly, it isn’t a step backwards for video-game adaps; it’s just disappointing that it so closely flirted with being a forward one.
Last edited by Jayk; 03-12-2008 at 23:51.
W. (2008, Oliver Stone)
Oliver Stone is certainly one of the most divisive filmmakers of our generation, his numerous political polemics (Nixon, JFK ) seeing jubilation and outrage in equal measure. Stone’s last work – World Trade Center – saw him buck this trend, crafting a piece that, save from meting out any political agenda or ideology, was merely a tribute to the lives lost on September 11th, and in many ways, his latest film, W., is a companion piece to that film.
W. marks a change of temperament for the controversial director (given his very public derision of Bush); in chronicling the life and times of George W. Bush, Stone has aimed to remain impartial, creating what he terms a “fair, true portrait of the man”. As much as it may therefore disappoint Bush haters, Stone has crafted a restrained and balanced film that concedes Bush’s myriad mistakes, yet channels a resolute sense of humanity through Josh Brolin’s exceptional, Oscar-calibre performance.
Intercutting present-day Bush with flashbacks of his formative years, Stone effectively captures the key moments in Bush’s life, from his years of alcohol abuse, to his tumultuous relationship with his father (played by James Cromwell), as well as his romantic life with his wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks), his conversion to Christianity, and ultimately his political ascent.
Stone’s primary goal here, surprisingly enough, appears to be to humanise Bush, and largely, he succeeds. Stone is fair to note Bush’s mistakes, yet balances this with demonstrating the difficulty of his job, both in terms of competing with his ever-squabbling cabinet, and subsequently having to decipher their squabbling into something tangible the American people can understand.
With a lesser cast, W. could very well have malformed as an unintentional comedy (as the marketing initially suggested), yet Stone’s immaculate roster gives this film unremitting buoyancy. Of the supporting cast, James Cromwell delivers a typically reliable performance as George H.W. Bush, whilst Richard Dreyfuss is almost unrecognisable in his superb turn as leering Vice President Vick Cheney. Particular mention must also go to Thandie Newton, who, in portraying Condoleezza Rice, remains the film’s prime source of comic relief. Jeffrey Wright also demonstrates his acting chops beyond the role of Felix Leiter in the "new Bond" series, and in playing the role of Secretary of State Colin Powell, is easily the most instantly recognisable of Bush's cabinet, accurately replicating the man's presence (as well as his grey hair). In fact, the only unsure or misplaced piece of casting in the entire film is Ioan Gruffud as Tony Blair, yet this scene is brief and none too-distracting from the rest of the picture.
Josh Brolin, however, is the unqualified reason to see W. – whilst he may not physically resemble Bush, even beneath a keg of makeup, he subsumes every other visually and aurally attainable element of Bush’s essence. Brolin came to prominence last year with a number of high-profile roles (Planet Terror, In The Valley of Elah, No Country for Old Men and American Gangster), and in W., Brolin well-and-truly falls through the glass ceiling, giving a performance that is certain to garner him his first “Best Actor in a Leading Role” Academy Award nomination.
Brolin’s performance also benefits largely from Stanley Weiser’s sharp script, which is chock full of witty one-liners that cement Bush’s “Southern charm”, and for the most part, the political hyperbole is kept to a comprehendible minimum. Weiser’s characterisation is nuanced and fair (even making sure to include the infamous “Pretzelgate” incident), although W. sorely lacks a present context - a post-office moment in which he reflects upon his term of Presidency (as is perhaps the result of rushing the film’s release to make award season).
Oliver Stone’s middling stance will inevitably cause much frustration, and one must ask why he did not wait until Bush had left office to add a much-needed coda sequence to the picture. W. is also replete with a healthy dose of visual allegory pertaining to baseball (as reminiscent of the religious imagery in World Trade Center), which is likely to divide audiences, given its spoon-fed, seemingly unnecessary simplicity. Thus, whilst imbued with a certain inertia, W. is a witty and surprisingly sympathetic document of the most-maligned President of modern times that benefits from chameleonic performances from an electic cast.
Last edited by asdasta; 19-12-2008 at 16:57.
Blindness (2008, Fernando Meirelles)
The concept of Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness is certainly of the more fascinating ideas of the year – a blindness epidemic begins sweeping an unnamed city without any indication as to its origin or means of propagation. From the opening moments of terror and confusion, this film has all the makings of a great picture – it is seemingly high-minded, socially conscious, artistically competent, and boasts a stellar cast – and whilst Blindness is certainly a solid thriller, a far smarter, more insightful film was possible inside of this premise.
As the blindness epidemic begins to spread, Blindness essentially becomes a depiction of humans reduced to zero – this anonymous metropolis places all of its inhabitants on largely an even keel, whereby most societal differences are, at least at first glance, seemingly eliminated.
Julianne Moore plays a woman immune to the blindness virus, and as such, in a world of the blind, she takes unto herself a Godly presence. Her nameless character is virtuous and kind-hearted, although wary of letting many know of her advantage (other than her husband, played by Mark Ruffalo), and to this extent, Blindness frequently considers the extent of human altruism, as well as noting those forces that can help, but choose to do nothing.
Aside from its concessions towards familial values, Blindness is a very gloomy depiction of the nature of man, yet the film’s interesting food-for-thought is occasionally stifled by some veritably spoon-fed narration by Danny Glover’s character, although fortunately the over-inflated rhetoric appears only in brief intermissions.
It was a sincere hope that Blindness might deviate from the tendency for “disorder narratives” to point blame towards the government, yet this film blatantly lampoons the “powers that be” with the most simplistic of means, lacking in any real moral relativism. Moreover, with its proclivity to represent the blind as a microcosm of society, it does invite certain contrivances – Gael Garcia Bernal’s kleptocratic “King of Ward 3” barely manages to remain within the credible realm, even as delightfully demented as Bernal’s performance is.
The film’s various taglines include “Love is blind” and “Lust is blind”, and ultimately, much of the narrative is driven by sexual power and desire, in an environment in which money and material possessions are of little worth. Sex is perhaps even a more basic need to the blind, and these ideas, given their considerable development, are a sight more unique and intriguing than the politically naïve dialectic.
To this end, the film’s basal depiction of sexuality is immensely horrifying, with more than its dash of tragic irony for Moore’s character who, whilst the only human blessed with the gift of sight, is also the only human subject to the visual terror of what transpires. A misreading of the film would view Blindness as an indictment of male sexuality, but simply, this is a film concerned with the tragic brutality of human nature.
Unfortunately, the film cannot resist some ham-fisted religious imagery, which is lithely slotted in for a five minute segment without a hint of subtlety, nor is it mentioned again in any sort of cohesive whole. The concept of a blindness epidemic as a biblical plague, perhaps a punishment from God, is a fascinating concept, but it misfires both with its heavy-handedness and its uneven development.
It is only too apt that a film concerned with God finds plausibility in a “Deus ex machina” close – that is to say, Blindness ends in very predictable fashion, although this is not so much a problem when considering the narrative punch it could have provided. By its end, Blindness seemed to write itself an ending both uplifting and dangerous, yet the more combative fallout is seemingly disregarded, and such an easily achieved dichotomy of adulation and horror falls upon deaf ears.
Blindness is a B-movie with A-movie aspirations – it is an entertaining thriller work that is likely too high-minded to find a large audience, yet also falters enough that it may alienate more liberal cinemagoers. Fernando Meirelles’ sense for the visual is once again in great abundance (following on from City of God and The Constant Gardener), and the film also boasts some very solid performances (particularly from Moore and Ruffalo), yet Blindness is mired somewhat by its occasional excesses and occasional lack of coherence.
Last edited by asdasta; 19-12-2008 at 17:54.
Frost/Nixon (2008, Ron Howard)
Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard’s first return to the camera since the extremely divisive The Da Vinci Code, is a fascinating film – in the slew of Oscar-baiting pictures emerging, Frost/Nixon is a genuinely exhilarating battle-of-wits between British reporter David Frost and President Richard Nixon, and is certain to earn several nods from the Academy.
Even with his previous successes (namely Apollo 13 and Cinderella Man), Howard’s mastery of the film medium has never been this pronounced – Howard presents much of the film in a documentary format, yet intercuts this between a diegetic document of the Frost/Nixon interview tapes, and the turmoil that bookends them also.
Moreover, the lengths to which Ron Howard has attempted to immerse the viewer is stultifying – an image of Frank Langella replicating Nixon’s exit from the White House is particularly resonant, especially when Howard also endeavours to seamlessly combine this with “real” footage as best possible (such as actual footage of Gerald Ford).
Frost/Nixon succeeds not merely in championing helmer Howard, however – this is an impeccably crafted film that is a robust collaboration, with its austere direction, deep characterisation and nuanced script, all of which turn on the axes of two outstanding performances – Michael Sheen as David Frost, and Frank Langella as Richard Nixon.
Scribe Peter Morgan (who also wrote the original play) presents Frost and Nixon as men from not only different countries, but different words, yet simultaneously paints them as sharing a die-cast sense of slyness and humour. Both men prefer to “keep busy”, and are almost drawn to one another. Moreover, both are seemingly contemptible characters in their own means – Frost is an aloof, air-headed playboy spurred by money, whilst Nixon is an unconvicted criminal, also spurred by money – yet Sheen’s Frost possesses such a suave, infectious charm, and Langella’s Nixon, such a delicious air of dour wit, that it is difficult not to find something to like about these characters.
Howard’s carefully-picked supporting cast also dazzles, particularly Sam Rockwell as the impassioned liberal investigator James Reston Jr., who wishes to give Nixon the trial he never had. Kevin Bacon also gets some much-needed upper-tier elevation as Nixon’s aide Jack Brennan, and plays the uber-conservative straight-man to perfection.
Much of the film’s first half is like a promo show for a boxing match – it is full of vignette and ideological opposition, and a sense of discomfort quietly percolates beneath the surface. As the moment of truth edges closer, Frost and Nixon even each receive their own flashy entrances to the vocal, uproarious crowds - Howard’s sense of spectacle (and more to the point, believable spectacle) is immense.
The film’s second half juxtaposes the tapes themselves with post-fight talking head commentary, and whilst it may sound procedural, it is an utterly compelling mix – Howard knows exactly where and when to cut between his A-roll and B-roll.
Once proceedings begin, Frost/Nixon is an intense sparring match between the two figureheads, as the respective members of the “ring crew” observe from behind monitors, recoiling or cheering as each figurative punch is delivered. Between each of the four “rounds” of recording, the teams converge and advise their competitor on how to proceed, and it is these interludes which illustrate just how much personal stock each side has invested in their crusade, to the point where it seems to subsume the human element of the battle, noted no better than when Frost invites his cohorts to “celebrate”, to which they are utterly dumbfounded, before he protests that it is his birthday.
The unqualified delight of the film is the build up to the final meeting between Frost and Nixon – in a phone call between the two, Nixon taunts and goads Frost, ratcheting the tension levels five-fold. Through most of the film, Nixon is the confident adversary, whilst Frost is the monetarily-invested, outfoxed underdog, and at game time, all of the muck-raking and mind games build to a wonderfully satisfying third act climax.
Ultimately, Frost/Nixon is a sensitive portrait of a man weathered by his myriad political foibles, yet the film never gets away from the heart of the matter, that it seeks to further indict Nixon’s sheer abuse of his position as the President of the United States. Frost/Nixon is an utterly compelling work, combining Academy-worthy writing with Academy-worthy performances (namely from Langella, but Sheen is outstanding also), and Howard’s directorial efforts are arguably the greatest that he has ever produced. Frost/Nixon is one of the best films of the year, and deserves attention whether you are interested in American politics, or simply interested in film.
Last edited by asdasta; 19-12-2008 at 18:50.
yeah your reviews are immense!
(Original post by asdasta)
i could definitely imagine them on the pages of Empire, I assume you want to be a film reviewer?
Last edited by TheLouisVuittonDon; 29-03-2009 at 21:35.
Fast and Furious (2009, Justin Lin)
The Fast and the Furious series is something of a pop-culture milestone, inspiring everything from pale imitations (namely the reprehensible Euro-trash knock-off Redline) to several profitable video game series. Eight years and three sequels later, the series returns to its roots, with the “original parts” – namely a returning principal cast - yet this reunion with our old pals, ingeniously titled Fast and Furious, is something of a half-baked misfire, which stumbles only as much as it succeeds.
The film opens promisingly, throwing the viewer immediately into a well-staged action sequence in the Dominican Republic, where Bonnie and Clyde couple Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) hijack some fuel tanks in the most daring of means. However, the conclusion to the scene is, even for the standards of the series, utterly ludicrous, involving an exploding tanker hurtling towards our heroes at an interminable speed, whilst they attempt to drive under it as it flies through the air. If the ridiculousness of it won’t leave you laughing, the shoddy CGI will certainly leave you shaking your head in discontent.
Although chronologically, Fast and Furious is sandwiched between the second and third films, this film’s first scene of drama feels quite elegiac, as though our heroes are tired and winding down from a life on the run. However, this is soon enough thrown to the wind as a familiar cast member is perfunctorily killed off-screen, causing Dom to seek revenge, and in its course, meets up with old pal Bryan O’Connor (Paul Walker), wherein the two form an uneasy partnership to bring down the drug dealers responsible for the tragedy. Bryan, preposterously enough, is able to ingratiate himself with the bad guys, despite being a member of the FBI, and the consequent double-bind, in which Dom and Bryan cannot rat each other out to the perps, is also pretty unconvincing.
The tone then begins to shift all over the place; it is part investigative drama, with Diesel suddenly attaining the mindful eye of the most ardent character from CSI, and part existential meditation, with plenty of shots of people staring, glass-eyed, into the distance. Dom is forced to deal with the death of one of his comrades, yet mere scenes later he is seen flirting with women and downing shots. Perhaps this is a testament to how numbed and immunised Dom has become from our typical conceptions of anguish, but that would probably be giving the film far too much credit.
To its credit, the action scenes, mostly brief as they are, are shot with a bravura style – as Walker chases down a perp over rooftops and tackles him onto a car (which, surely enough, causes the windows to explode) - the chaos is assuredly well-captured, and it is difficult to criticise the production from this perspective, but these brief moments of technical mastery cannot disguise a lackluster, overly serious narrative that takes most of the fun out of the proceedings.
As much as director Lin captures enough money shots for the film’s racing scenes, the hackneyed, disorientating editing style is intensely off-putting, and in the film’s second chase scene, an authoritative GPS system make the racers seem more like kids gripped to their PlayStations than actual drivers. The film leaves you waiting long enough for these races, and then can’t even deliver the visceral goods.
Unfortunately, this trend continue even in the film’s later stages – it leaves you waiting long enough for another chase, and then the payoff is merely a disappointingly brief race through a mine in order to escape detection by the authorities – it leaves you wanting so much more.
To be fair, there are some impressive moments throughout, namely Dom using a rather ingenious method to detonate a row of cars, and a savagely violent kill in the film’s climax, but these moments of trashy genius aren’t enough to resolve the film’s less endearing indulgences. For instance, Diesel is as much his superhero alter-ego Riddick as he is Toretto – he dives between speeding cars and takes bullets in the shoulder without a sign of pain – and such flagrant inconsistency with the film’s lingering approach to the death of one of its characters undoes that sentiment, and takes away the little care the audience might already have for Toretto’s own wellbeing, both mental and physical.
The film’s close almost satisfies, both with its moral agency (although who would expect such in a film like this), and its almost funereal approach, yet Lin closes his picture with the tease of an action scene, as well as another sequel, before promptly killing the picture and cutting to the credits. It is immensely frustrating, given the largely flavourless action preceding it.
Fast and Furious is perhaps a solid enough diversion for booze-filled lads on a Friday night, but there’s a distinct lack of care in a series which has credibility already verging on tenuous. Surely the worst installment in the series, this entry is at times too self-serious, and the desire to attempt to tell a story falls flat, at the cost of taut action and viewer satisfaction. Who thought that a film in this series would leave you wanting for more action? The performances are mostly fine – Diesel is his gravelly, muscle-bound self, and Walker and co. are similar eye-candy (of which there is plenty for both genders). Fast and Furious may well leave you wanting to suck down on a bottle of Corona, and the heterosexual males in the crowd will surely have a greater affinity for tight white tank tops, but this outing shows signs of a series that is, excuse the pun, running on empty.
Last edited by asdasta; 11-04-2009 at 18:27.