(Original post by Phalanges)
In order to create a second post for me at the front, - skyhigh - moved a post of mine over from the mod forums where I had quoted you and redated it. Evidently the links came with it, sorry about that.
(Original post by Ape Gone Insane)
Vlad, congrats on moving
Someone may have misquoted you (juggling many threads?) then deleted.
We were told there would be blood and there was blood. Plenty of it. Not to mention the extra blood flowing to your eyes as you try to stay awake during the film. We follow oilman Daniel Plainview’s journey and blood trail in a film which is stretched out longer than it’s needed. The film includes some brilliant scenery and a wonderful music score but that doesn’t compensate for the film’s length. Also, the line “I am your brother from another mother” didn’t particularly sound fitting for the scene that it was in. The film may not appeal to the general masses but if you’re a film buff, you’ll want to watch it at least once.
There Will Be Blood. A phrase that conjures up images of violence, betrayal, revenge and a murderous massacre. A special sense that, just by reading the title, you get the feeling that this will be good. So the question begs: is it a blunder or a stroke of genius? Most critics say its the latter. But what does a real person think?
For starters, the film is about oil. Or more specifically, about greed. Based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!” it tells the story about prospector Daniel Plainview who has discovered oil and will go great lengths to get his wealth. Played by Daniel-Day Lewis, Plainview is a likeable man who does his business, and moves on. But under the likeableness, is a man who is coarse and animalistic, sentimental in matters of love and ruthless in matters where he sees gain. To accompany him is his son H.W. They are then joined by Elia Sunday, who works as a pastor at a local church in the Little Boston area, where Plainview has aquired land and wants to extract oil from it. The real story actually starts from there, since there isn't any dialogue for the first fifteen minutes.
The story involves a tangle of relationships, and the greed that supposedly ruins them. The films actually does a good job of explaining those certain connections, mainly the father and son connection. A bit about two brothers is also thrown in there. Most of the story takes place around the year 1911 in California, at which point Plainview is a successful Oilman. He is accordingly accompanied by H.W. who wonders and learns what his father does, and at the same time is sort of a partner. H.W. is the one gives Plainview the supposed image of likeableness by giving a sense that Plainview is a caring family man. Then one day, Paul Sunday (the brotheer of Eli Sunday) arrives to tell Plainview that he has discovered oil around his family ranch in Little Boston. Plainview then sets off to acquire the illustrious black gold.
When the Oil gushes out of the the desert, Plainview does his bit of pretending like a politician, and promises the local community that they will prosper soon enough. The poor people who dont even have enough water to grow wheat, decide to let the oilman bring them what God promised. Like any politician, he promises roads, education, water and even bread (which the townsfolk think its a luxury). But soon, a number of challenges stand in his way. From there the film starts to gain momentum, and feels like a smooth flow. The real Daniel Plainview soon emerges. The ruthless businessman that once was likeable, only seems to have his eyes on the prize.
There is that sense, that Plainview is actually 2 people. The difference in personality constantly takes you, to and from the charismatic Plainview. You just dont know what this person might do next. The constant change of emotion really makes this film flow. In the latter part of the film however, he becomes drunk and delusional. And Daniel-Day Lewis shows this brilliantly.
But there is more to the film than just Daniel-Day Lewis. Paul Dano who plays Eli Sunday, plays his role wonderfully. Although his role doesnt change at all (unlike Plainview), he actually does a good job of keeping his character firmly on the ground. There is a sense that, God actually has chosen him to be his Prophet.
So the question still begs: is it likeable?
Hmmmm. No. The film is a work of art. But it is only a work of art, to those who like works of art. And I dont like works of art.
It is simple point. You go to an art gallery, and you see pieces of art. The artistic person will stand to look and admire some of the emotions that have gone into making this piece. See the pain, the ambition and the inspiration. Feel those emotions, see the beauty of it. And then finally proclaim that it is wonderful indeed. He might even say its a masterpiece. All in all, it takes about 3 minutes of staring, then some admiration, and then the verdict. A total of 5 minutes.
A not so artistic person will look at the same piece of art; admire it for 20 seconds; shake his head; and then move on.
There Will Be Blood. A phrase that conjures up images of violence, betrayal, revenge and a murderous massacre. A special sense that, just by reading the title, you get the feeling that this will be good. 'There Will Be Boredom' could have been much more suitable if I am honest.
If are the sort that likes films filled with passion and emotion (or artistry basically), then this is definitely recommended. But it you are the sort that has the nagging question that, "should I watch it?" Then for your own sake dont. Even if that question comes up just once, dont watch it. You really wont be missing anything.
Cloverfield cannot be reviewed in any kind of traditional sense. Once deconstructed, there isn’t much going for it. The plot is as old as time, the acting is unmemorable (yet never unbelievable), and everything else is unconventional to the extreme. And yet the film itself is something special. I would go as far to say that it’s one of the most important films to have been made in the last ten years.
The story is not a difficult one. After a title card from the U.S. Department of Defence ominously telling you that the following footage was recovered from an area known formerly as Central Park, you are thrust into a home video of a twenty-something’s going away party, which is then interrupted as something attacks Manhattan. Boy goes to rescue girl, and everyone tries to escape. It is neither original nor inventive. The reason it works is due to two factors; it’s execution, and it’s marketing.
The film is filmed from the perspective of one hand-held camcorder, operated by a contender for world’s stupidest man. You see only what he sees, and you glean whatever information you can from his experiences, other characters or snippets from news reports. You should not expect explanations, but then you aren’t really interested in them; you’re too swept up in the chaos. The special effects are used sparingly and to exceptional effect, constructing flawless graphics that films with a budget five times higher would be lucky to achieve. Most importantly, the film feels real; never have I found a film with such a fantastical premise to be so lifelike. There is not a single shot that breaks the illusion, and it is this that you take away from the film – for 85 minutes, you are in New York, disorientated, confused, and scared. Matt Reeves is a master behind the camera that belies his experience, crafting shots perfectly while managing to make them seem accidental. Pausing to look at a news report, the strange viewpoint as the camera is dropped, the glimpse of a monster as the camera pans, gives this an amateur credibility that a showier director would not have been able to craft. He also manages to layer a 9/11 subtext in seamlessly, mirroring Godzilla’s post-Hiroshima commentary.
The criticisms that can be thrown at it – the annoying characters, the lack of an apparent story arc, the occasional clunk in the script – are not important, and do not detract away from the experience. In real life, people are generally annoying and unmemorable. In real life, events don’t happen fluidly. In real life, conversation is never perfect. To erase the imperfections from Cloverfield would be to ruin it; it is the little faults which make you believe.
It might seem unusual to talk about marketing in a review, but there is no getting away from the campaign for the film. From managing a closed set until the release – an impressive feat in itself considering the omnipresent insider leaks today – to the ambiguous posters and viral marketing taking in soft drinks manufacturers and deep-see oil drilling the marketing was perfect, building hype perfectly while at the same time allowing you to immerse yourself in their world in the cleverest of ways. It remains to this day the only film I have ever seen in which I rewound a scene five times in order to watch a few blurry pixels travel across the screen, and the only film that I have felt compelled to.
There is so much to marvel at with this film. It was a huge gamble, and yet it stands tall as a showcase for all of the emerging technological creativity on offer. The hype surrounding the film wanted to know one thing; what was the mystery? The answer was simple; there never was one.
Just wrote a review of Blue Valentine. Doesn't look like there's a thread on it sadly. Hope anyone who gets the chance to go see it takes it as it really is a stunning piece of work.
Have another few reviews on my blog and also a campaign to help actors overcome gravity. So I'd love it if some of you got involved with that.
Review - Blue Valentine
It is often hard to put into words sufficient and eloquent enough to describe the joy of art, when even if just for a few moments, captures true emotion. The shared experience of the cinema means that when this rare feat is achieved it is obvious to all in attendance. It is remarkable therfore that director Derek Cianfrance takes crushingly beautiful performances from his two leads Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams and delivers them to the screen untainted. The credits roll and yet no-one moves - taking the extended time in the darkness to gather thoughts and composure for entering the brightly lit box office.
Blue Valentine tells the story of love found and lost as it flicks between the past and present. Dean (Gosling) is a warm, gentle man and old fashion romantic strolling through life with ukulele in hand and finding himself in Brooklyn. While Cindy (Williams), bruised by her upbringing in a loveless home, desperately grabs affection but has yet to feel love. The present shows Cindy, now a mother to 6 year old Frankie, burnt out from the routine of family life and a hectic work schedule. Whilst beneath a receding hairline, glasses and a cigarette, the ever-loving playful Dean is a fragile shell of his former self following daily doses of emotional and physical rejection from his spouse.
On the surface it seems irrational that a woman could reject such a loving husband and devoted father. Yet at the same time in his growing need for her affection and a frustrating lack of ambition, we are able to understand why Cindy could fall out of love with that man that won her heart. It examines the key to happiness and what we all seek in our own relationships. What we hope for and what we get, our ambitions and emotional bonds are all put under the glare of the spotlight. A themed motel acts as the blue lit background to the breaking point. It is here that a drunken night in "The Future Room" leads the pair to the bathroom floor where on either side of the divide is crushing rejection whilst the other skin crawling disgust. It is achingly painful to witness but brilliantly realised by both Gosling and Williams.
At times it is hard to see past a series of sombre and particular raw scenes but Gosling adds a lighthearted edge that make the darker moments bearable. "We're inside a robot's vagina" quickly establishing itself as a front runner for line of the year. Where he demonstrates unerring warmth, Williams shows great vulnerability throughout and the chemistry between the pair is as beautiful as it is melancholic. Both fully deserve Oscar nominations which are no doubt assured.
A soundtrack by Grizzly Bear works perfectly providing both a harmonius warmth to the past whilst a shadowy glumness hangs over the present. Interspersed with the odd ukulele solo, it melds seemlessly with the downfall of the relationship.
It may not be an easy watch at times and leaving as emotionally drained as the characters would not be surprising. However, it is a revelation in terms of capturing the joy and pain of love.
Primer is a paradox in itself. It is both a good and a bad film. Something that should be admired and at the same time disregarded. I would class it both as a must watch, and a film that probably isn’t worth your time. In short, I simply don’t know what to make of it.
I won’t go into too many details of the plot, because I’m not sure I know enough and of the bits I do I don’t think I could do it justice. Suffice to say that it takes one of the oldest, most clichéd concepts in the science fiction genre, time travel, and attempts to rationalise it in the real world. And the result is something never seen before. As the film itself would probably say, they took from their surroundings what was needed… and made it something more.
There are aspects of this film that I greatly admire, and it stands up as a shining beacon of what films as a whole should attempt to be. The idea that anybody with enough passion and dedication can take a story they believe in and craft it into a film on a ridiculously low budget is just brilliant. That the result can show such skill and flashes of brilliance is staggering. The film has a feeling of reality pervading throughout that you latch onto, and which carries you along even though you don’t fully understand what’s going on because you feel the characters don’t either. You feel like a fly-on-the-wall, a privileged eavesdropper. But equally, you don’t feel like you’re seeing a show. Often when shows or films bust out technical jargon, it feels like they’re doing it just to baffle the viewer and hide weaknesses. Here, almost uniquely, it feels right. A bigger budget would only have made this worse – the temptation for set pieces and over-the-top special effects would have crept in, and ultimately destroyed the tone that it has, which is one of it’s major successes.
It does have issues though, chief amongst which is how it deals with exposition. Poorly executed exposition is often maligned in films, where the audience is fed reams of information just to move the plot along. However, in a plot-driven film, it is equally inexcusable to have no exposition. Compare it to telling a joke. A joke won’t amuse you if someone is constantly telling you “this is the funny part”. Similarly, a joke won’t amuse you if it doesn’t have a funny part. The art of telling a joke is to allow the humour to speak for itself. This is how exposition should be treated. It should flow naturally, so that you never question it but intuitively understand it. Here, Primer fails completely. Trying to follow it is like showing a 10-year old a video of brain surgery and then telling him to replicate it; hopeless. And then when you, come back to it days later, trying to piece it all together, it still doesn’t make sense. A film should be self-contained – you should be able to interpret it and enjoy it simply from the information available within it. I couldn’t do this, and for that reason I couldn’t fully enjoy it.
There are moments of brilliance. When it all clicks, when you’re swept up and you can see the vision the film is pushing towards, it is a real treat. Ultimately, how much you get out of it is very dependent on whether or not you are inspired to go and read about it once the credits start to roll. And there’s no way of knowing that before it starts.
The best piece of advice I could give to anybody thinking about watching Tron: Legacy is to watch the original or at least do some background reading about it, understand it’s heritage, and then make your decision as to whether you should watch the film based on that. The original is important because it was a technological pioneer in the 80s, and patched over the many cracks in it’s story with good acting and a visual feast. This sequel lives up to it’s heritage.
Tron: Legacy starts 20 years after the original, with Sam Flynn having being abandoned by his father and his company, Encom, a shadow of his dreams. Responding to a mysterious page, he gets sucked into the world of computers, reunites with his father and so starts a race to get out. The actual plot is a lot more unnecessarily complex than that, but once you realise that it’s just a framing device designed to hide the fact that the movie is just one extended chase scene, you lose interest in it. The story occasionally brushes with interesting ideas (open source, duality, that utopia is impossible) but never goes further than referencing them. This may be due to the studio wanting to keep it safe, or more worryingly the creators not being interested.
3D is not an easy technology to get right. The reason there is so much stigma attached to it is because of how many inferior examples are exploiting it to make a quick buck. There was a trailer before the film for the new Pirates of the Carribean that had some of the worst 3D I have ever seen. After that, Tron: Legacy looked even more impressive. The major strength of the technology is not the wow-effect from something popping out of the screen, but the depth which it creates for the viewer. Some scenes in Tron use this beautifully, and people in the distance really do appear much further away in space. It all creates a more immersive world, which benefits the film immeasurably as you’re being asked to focus on the environment more than anything else. The rest of the CG is flawless, from the blueprint building of a lightcycle to the far more small-scale reveal of Clu’s face. The digital de-ageing is also really impressive – it’s not perfect but seeing three Jeff Bridges in one film is a treat.
When a film pays such little attention to the substance of most films, it relies on you to be absorbed into it’s world, or swept along on the ride. Tron does both of these well, but still feels a little disappointing. There’s no epic sense to The Grid, and all of the locations seem very small. At the end of the only lightcycle scene Sam Flynn and Quorra have to escape from a stadium. Just as you start to get excited for a long, grand chase scene, they blast a hole in a wall and that’s it. I was hoping for highway chases spanning cities, but everything felt very contained. The action was still very enjoyable, but I was left wanting more.
The actors do the best they can with the script. Garrett Hedlund is functional as the lead, but lacks the charisma of Bridges from the original. Jeff Bridges, meanwhile, is clearly enjoying himself as he acts out three completely different roles – his original character in Tron, the Dude from the Big Lebowski and a sociopathic perfectionist. Olivia Wilde is pretty believable as the personification of innocence, but Michael Sheen steals the show in every scene he’s in. Looming over the film as part Peter Stringfellow, part insane circus ringleader, he bosses around Daft Punk and creeps out everyone he meets. You can’t help but wish he had a bigger part in it. It’s somewhat ironic that despite all the many cameos he’s had over the years, the best acting performance of David Bowie was done by someone else.
One aspect I deeply disliked about the film was it’s blatant franchise-building. Bringing in the character Tron for 15 minutes felt awkward and, should the film not be recommissioned for a sequel, deeply unsatisfying. It may be telling of the pressures filmmakers face these days, but I feel they should focus on getting the film right before looking to open up avenues to make money. All the abandoned projects are a testament to why this makes sense. Until I’m allowed to postdate the payment of my cinema ticket until the sequel is released, making a film that ends with only half of the story told and no guarantee that resolution will happen is deeply insulting for audiences.
Overall, if you can get to a decent cinema Tron: Legacy is worth a watch. It earns it’s place in cinematic history, like the original, by ushering in a new dawn of technology – digital de-ageing, fully realised 3D and the best CG ever made. Turn up, leave your brain at the door, and enjoy the ride. Just don't go expecting anything more.
Rabbit Hole is a surprising film. Superficially it seems like the perfect recipe for Oscar-bait melodrama, but it manages to avoid clichés and feels both intimate and realistic. It’s an intensely sad film, but never transcends into exploiting the grief of the audience.
Rabbit Hole is a film about grief. Based on a Pulitzer-winning play, it focuses on the lives of Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), eight months after their four-year old son was killed when he ran out in front of a car. By starting here it skips the outpourings of immediate grief that often feel unconvincing and uncomfortable, and the film is much stronger for it. Instead we find the characters stuck in an emotional limbo, not ready to move on but feeling like they should. Neither has come to terms with their loss; Becca avoids the memories of her son by removing his drawings and clothes from sight, while Howie lives in the past watching home movies and trying to preserve the memories. They try group therapy, but neither gets much out of it. Ultimately they both find solace in the company of others, with Becca stalking and then meeting the teenager who was driving the car and Howie smoking pot with a fellow griever from therapy.
A film like this succeeds or fails on the basis of its script and acting. If either is not believable then you are left with a feeling of emptiness. It is to Rabbit Hole’s credit that it excels in both of these. The script is written with care and finesse, bringing emotions sharply into focus without them ever feeling intrusive. In terms of acting, both Eckhart and Kidman shine. Kidman has the role allowing her to impress more with her acting, while Eckhart grounds the film with his performance of a man who experiences things but doesn’t really seem to change. Kidman’s character clearly evolves throughout the film, from a beginning of erratic outbursts to a more calm and measured approach by the end. Both actors take opportunities to showcase their talents, but crucially neither allows it to come at the expense of the film.
The film does not draw conclusions on the nature of grief any more than it recognises that everyone is different, and investigates what happens when everything is a touchy subject. Some may find this disappointing, but many more will be moved by it.
In many ways, Michael Moore and Charles Ferguson (director of No End In Sight and Inside Job) can be considered companion filmmakers. Both play important and very different roles in shaping documentaries and making them as vital as this art form can be. Michael Moore can be considered the father of the modern documentary; it is almost solely thanks to him that documentaries get any kind of noticeable cinematic release and recognition. He has made four of the six highest grossing documentaries of all time, and he serves as a perfect entry point into examination of the issues he is passionate about. But his pantomime performances and humour, while being contributing factors to his popularity, make it far too easy to dismiss his points. It is impossible to maintain intellectual integrity while you’re running into banks asking for the nation’s money back. By contrast Charles Ferguson may seem dour and serious, but it is his examination of events that really resonates. If Moore can be credited with getting documentaries a wider audience then it is Ferguson who really shows why they deserve one.
Inside Job tracks the events leading up to the current financial crisis and the resultant fallout. Very few people truly understand what happened, and it is not in the interests of many that do to make it clearer. Inside Job manages to convey its message perfectly and clearly without ever appearing patronising. It methodically goes through and explains concepts that are often parroted but are usually meaningless to the general public, such as securitization, credit-default swaps and CDOs.
One of Ferguson’s main strengths aside from his storytelling is his interviewing. While there are notable absences from the film, he generates maximum value from those he has, asking intelligent and searing questions. Nobody is given a free ride. A particularly interesting issue approached in the last half hour is the corruption of academics, and many of those he assembles clearly do not expect to be cross-examined for their possible implications.
Inside Job is a shining example not just of its genre but of all films. It has the capacity to educate, to enlighten, to sadden and to finally infuriate. It has the potential to change the world. Watch it.
When was the last time you were truly swept up in a film, where you forgot everything outside the world of the screen and were surprised when the credits rolled by and you realised that two hours of your life had just passed you by? Such experiences don’t come around very often. The Social Network is one of them.
The year is 2003. After a quick-fire break up that sets the tone of the rest of the film, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) retreats to his Harvard dorm and does what all bleeding hearts do; gets drunk. In a moment of self-pitying revenge he creates a website allowing students to compare and vote on the attractiveness of their female classmates. It’s shallow, misogynistic and bitter. And by 4am it’s so popular it crashes the servers. From these humble beginnings, the story is born. We are introduced to Marks’ best and only friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), experience the fallout and infamy gained from his Facemash stunt, and meet the Winklevoss twins (Arnie Hammer) who want Mark to recreate his image by building them a website. And then, we’re introduced to the idea of Facebook. What follows is a frenetic tale of its highs and lows. The on-the-fly coding leads to the site’s launch and is met with massive popularity that brings them to the attention of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). From here the seeds of a corporate monolith are sewn, and Saverin begins to get left behind and isolated. Framing this story is two concurrent court cases involving Zuckerberg; one with the Winklevoss twins suing him for stealing their ideas and one with Saverin for shutting him out of the company. It’s a great way of rooting the story and as your understanding of the story grows with the film you find your opinion shifting from your initial allegiances.
There are many great aspects to this film. Key is the story, and it is brilliantly told. There were those who dismissed this upon release as being “just a film about Facebook”. It is no more a film about Facebook than Raging Bull is a film about boxing. It is a parable about the loss of innocence, the corruption of self, the bonds of friendship, and what happens when it all goes wrong. It’s a theme few films tell, and fewer tell well.
David Fincher, after a slight misstep with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is back on the top of his game here bringing this script to life. It’s a more restrained style than we’re used to seeing from him, focusing more on talking than action, but he paces it in such a hectic, full-tilt way that it feels more active than it is.
This is all complemented by the acting performances. Jesse Eisenberg, who for a while seemed to be headed for being typecast as the other Michael Cera for the rest of his career, really shows maturity and subtle complexity in a role that definitely showcases the potential he has for longevity as a top actor. Arnie Hammer is slightly terrifying in scenes where he argues with himself, while Andrew Garfield brings in the personal element as a normal guy in over his head and struggling to keep up.
A biopic about a man still in his 20s will always bring up questions about ethics and accuracy. From my point of view the film does not do any of the real-life people a disservice. It doesn’t demonise or turn them into caricatures in the way that many aspects of the media have with impunity. As for accuracy, that is more questionable. I think it would be better described as a reimagining of events rather than a recreation (as let’s face it, any story involving website code probably isn’t that marketable as a blockbuster). Mark Zuckerberg’s main criticism of it is that the film seems to be searching for a hook to hang his motivations on, whether it’s a desire for popularity or a feeling of elitism. He says that Hollywood can’t understand the idea of making something just for the purpose of doing it. While superficially it certainly does seem like the film is eager to attribute reasons, I think Eisenberg’s portrayal subtly undermines them. There’s an underlying theme running throughout his performance that he feels the real star is facebook, and it is only that to which he is answerable. Everything else is baggage.
The nuance of the characters is a real draw of the film. While no conclusions are drawn, it is clear that everyone has played both positive and negative roles. Zuckerberg was blinded by his own ambition. Saverin wasn’t in any position to run a company as big as Facebook became. The Winklevoss twins didn’t like it when things didn’t go their way. In short, they are all flawed beings, just like all of us. For such a cutting edge and calculating film, The Social Network is surprisingly human. It’s a snapshot of our generation, and a reminder that there are two sides to every story.
In theory, the genre of romcoms should serve up a wide variety of films, encompassing the huge scope afforded to both comedy and romance films. In practice though they are sadly narrow, routinely serving up the same derivative stories devoid of imagination. They focus only on the proven formula of financially successful films (often starring Julia Roberts or Richard Gere) and in doing so sour the genre in the minds of many people. And then every once in a while a film comes out which reminds you of the potential that romantic comedies have. 500 Days of Summer is a shining example of this.
As the opening voiceover tells us, this is a story of boy meets girl, but it is not a love story. By announcing this upfront it handily sidesteps the most interminable cliché of films of it’s genre, which is the insistence to pretend that it’s events are in any way surprising when the audience knows precisely how the film will play out by the end of the opening credits. This feeling is further diminished by the madcap narrative structure; instead of playing chronologically the film jumps around throughout the 500 days showing us snippets of the events that happened to create an overall picture. The result is a film where you know the ending, but don’t know how it’s going to get there.
Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a greetings card writer and a hopeless romantic, waiting for the day he will fall in love. When Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) starts working at his office, he knows instantly that she is the girl of his dreams. And yet she is just looking for fun. So begins a semi-relationship of the sort that in traditional movies will end with a big white wedding and everyone being richer for the experience, but in real life can only end in disappointment. While the cast give strong acting performances throughout, and are a vital part of allowing you to connect with the situations you see, it is the direction that must be praised.
In his first feature film, Marc Webb’s direction is crammed with creativity. In one particularly memorable scene, the screen splits in two to show Hansen’s expectations and reality playing out simultaneously. It is remarkable to watch, a completely novel technique and yet instantly, intuitively relatable to the audience. Similarly, the structure of the film reflects perfectly the human memory. When we remember a relationship, we don’t remember it neatly and linearly. We remember the good times altogether, before peeling back the layers and recounting the bad. We excitedly think back to how it all began, and then try and piece together what went wrong. And only once we’ve finished can we get closure and move on. That ultimately is what 500 Days is about. It’s the cathartic retelling of a relationship. There are flourishes that don’t work as well (a narrator is introduced and then promptly forgotten, while a black-and-white fadeout just breaks the immersion) but in this stagnant genre it’s so refreshing to see a film even attempting these things that they can be forgiven.
Ultimately, the distinct indie feel of 500 Days of Summer is what makes it so endearing. It’s the complete lack of cynical motivations that allows you to overlook its flaws. There’s no studio looking to guarantee a profit, no superstar just looking for the next payday, and no tired director going through the motions. Everyone involved is making the film to the absolute maximum of their abilities purely for the joy of making it, and it shows.
Limitless is disappointingly limited. It should be so much better than it is. Attempting to please all-comers by being a full-throttle action flick with depth, it fails on both fronts. Sorting through the film is not an easy task; for every enjoyable moment two more unsatisfying events demand attention. It’s not a film that is entirely gratifying in the moment, but on reflection it doesn’t hold up either.
Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) is the archetypal movie “loser” – a writer unlucky in love and incompetent at his job. From a chance meeting with his ex-brother-in-law he is given an experimental drug known as NZT-48, which is purportedly able to allows humans to access all of their brains instead of the standard 20% (a stupid scientific myth propagated by lazy writers). Eddie tries the drug and his life changes; he's motivated, he writes well, he gets laid. Inevitably, it’s not long before he’s back begging the dealer for more. Unfortunately, soon after their second meeting the dealer is killed and his apartment ransacked. Eddie finds the stash of NZT and makes a hasty escape. From then on we are swept up into a world of high-flying success mixed with danger from rivals and gangsters.
While the plot sounds initially like it has potential, it’s spoiled by the complete lack of ambition and creativity from the writers. A deadly side effect is introduced into the mix and for five minutes the film looks as if it is going to change into an interesting drama about addiction, but then it’s forgotten about immediately and everyone goes on taking the drug without it ever recurring. The story is so sloppily written and without any care or thought that trying to piece it together is almost impossible. Take the way in which Eddie finds out about NZT. It’s very much a chance event with the dealer. However later in the film we find out that the dealer’s sister stopped taking the drugs two years earlier due to deaths related to it’s usage, which the dealer obviously knew about. This presumably means that his initial gift of the pill was a cynical way to exploit money from an acquaintance. And yet at the second meeting the dealer is aware that Eddie has no money and is just going to use him as his errand-boy for the drug, which is completely baffling. This lack of cohesiveness runs throughout the film.
All this could be forgiven if the film’s action was enjoyable. There are some great moments (a fight scene flicking between the action and the memory that triggered those actions, such as a Jackie Chan film, is brilliantly executed) but ultimately it feels flat and cluttered by too much editing. Neil Burger strives to give the film as much visual creativity as he can manage, but ends up just reverting to looking down streets with a fisheye lens.
A special mention must be made of Robert De Niro. An actor with undeniable talent, he is wasted in this. Supposedly playing one of the most powerful businessmen in the world he comes off more as a middle manager, lacking power, charisma or screen presence. It’s sad, and slightly painful, to see an actor who has clearly just turned up for a payday with the minimum amount of input. It’s left to Bradley Cooper to try and save the film, and he proves to be it’s biggest strength. He’s intensely likeable, and so it’s fun to watch his rollercoaster ride unfold, even despite the flaws.
Limitless is fleetingly fun but ultimately forgettable, save for an abomination of an ending that ranks among one of the worst I’ve seen in recent years. I left the cinema feeling cheated and unsatisfied. There’s the seeds of an interesting idea in here, but they’re ignored in favour of a visually slick but vacuous film.
AS Coursework reposted from my blog, which doesn't get updated often enough. Certainly the following is horribly mediocre, re-reading it now (at least compared to some of the quality stuff in this thread!). Currently reviewing The Social Network, though, which I will have hopefully finished soon...
The Hurt Locker
IF the phrase “Groundhog Day” scares you in the slightest, then at around the one hour mark in this film you may be visited by a sudden urge to stick your fingers in your ears, shut your eyes and begin humming away as loudly as possible.
For while The Hurt Locker accomplishes many things, it does not manage to avoid that which was this reviewer’s cause of concern from the beginning. The setup is worryingly simple: a three-man bomb defusal squad, consisting of Will James, Sanborn and newbie Elridge, go about their duty in Iraq, locating and defusing or otherwise removing hostile explosives. It seems then, that to put it simply, The Hurt Locker is more a collection of vignettes than a continuous story; there is an auspicious lack of an overarching narrative. While this may simply be down to the content – the film is, after all, following a unit in their everyday duty and therefore it can be expected that the same style of scene may be witnessed more than once – it nevertheless makes for a jarring experience, with no real flow between each event. Luckily, all is not lost. The story finally shifts when James discovers a body of an ally and puts himself to the task of delivering justice upon the attackers. This is when you take your fingers out of your ears.
Because, while the first half of the film may feel as if it is slightly tedious and repetitive, it is perfectly executed to simply become a front for what the film is truly about: the relationship between these three men. If you take the time to see the film for what it is – an emotional and captivating story of three brothers in arms – rather than any preconceptions you may have of it being ‘just another war film’, then you may be pleasantly surprised. The Hurt Locker is far more Saving Private Ryan than Bridge on the River Kwai; a gritty, emotional gut punch. It is not just a war film. It is war poetry.
As could be expected with the subject matter, the feeling experienced most during viewing is that of utmost tension. In such a war, filth and poverty ridden city as Baghdad, anything could happen – and that it does. Heart-stopping roadside shootouts and risky defusal operations are matched perfectly with the camerawork, which director Kathryn Bigelow must be praised for; shaky-cam Cloverfield style shots intersect with focuses on insurgents, creating a frenzied atmosphere that only increases the tension further. However, intense sequences are often broken up by simple distractions; tumbleweed rolling past or a cat digging through rubbish. This sudden and often brief shift in shot type marries perfectly with the usual rapid movements and zoom techniques to great effect, delivering edge-of-the-seat cinematics. The ‘distraction’ sequences also successfully manage to give the impression that the inhabitants of Baghdad are accustomed to this way of life - they continue to go about their lives every day with the risk of potential slaughter. Through this the film sends home an important message to the viewer, especially that of the importance and bravery of the troops to put their lives on the line to save these people, who, unlike us here in Britain, face terrorism as a constant threat, and have to live every day with the paranoia of it being their last.
The relatively lesser-known cast of The Hurt Locker put in an exceptional performance; protagonist Will James (Jeremy Renner, of 28 Weeks Later and The Assassination of Jesse James Ford) is suitably cocky in attempts to prove his worth, and his emotions are perfectly believable – we can easily empathise with his feelings when a young boy he knows is killed by insurgents. And on that note, we come to the actual plot of the film; the events setup by the first half to introduce our characters and allow them some admittedly rather impressive development. Rather than the usual ‘unit go out, unit defuse bomb, unit argue a little, unit come home’ structure we’ve become so accustomed to by this point, we’re treated to something slightly (whisper it) different. James’ attempts to avenge the death of a small boy he had befriended ultimately lead to an albeit not-very-surprising climax to the film. This sudden shake-up throws off the possibly now sleeping viewer, giving a sudden wake-up call that events out of the norm do occasionally happen now and then.
But the plot is not the focus here. If you can overcome the lack of story in the first half of the film and concentrate on the more emotional and deeper aspects of The Hurt Locker, and look at it as not simply another war film, but as war poetry, you may be amiably taken aback by what you find in this valiant story of three brave war heroes serving in Iraq.
For a film that looked to be a mindless, ridiculous yet awesome action-romp, I'm left with a fair bit to think about. Having watched some of the behind-the-scenes material and interviews, you could say I was expecting something from this film...
The most salient aspect of the film I felt was characterisation. Apart from the initial voiceover intro, the montage at the start contained no dialogue. The story was told with actions, though it's fair to say that the premise wasn't particularly riveting. The cast however, managed to convey mixed feelings through expressions and body language. After noticing this at the start, I couldn't help look out for it throughout the movie and I wasn't disappointed. When you combine the actors' and actresses' ability to eminate their feelings with Zack Snyder's directing (namely the way he's able to position a shot where all content in view is there for a reason, while isolating what we should feel), huge emphasis is placed on the characters. The characters' relationships develop as expected through their actions and attitude, but I enjoyed the way that the 'real' world and 'fantasy' world acted as mirrors in this context.
The story wasn't anything special, though I appreciated the way it kept the mind awake, even if it couldn't force you into becoming lost in thought. It was as if the film was a collage of answers painted over a canvas, while giving no real suggestions to the questions the audience should be asking. Sucker Punch began with great ambition, building up with a familiar pace. One-third way through it felt as if it hit a climax, and from then on swung from climax to climax. The became somewhat numbing, similar to Transformers 2 I would say. It did not follow that path for long, as the train of plot derailed in a way that shocked both the characters and the audience, becoming evident to all that it was time to make or break and just wing it. Some would say the movie petered off here, but personally I felt that this was a more subtle 'climax', because we were now able to see what the characters were really made of and if their previous efforts had paid off.
I absolutely love the title, 'Sucker Punch'. The opening scene was a sucker punch that left the audience reeling, while the initial twist, the transition between real and fantasy, was also a sucker punch; literally half the cinema raised their hands questioningly as if to say, "Wait, what?!" It then became apparent we'd be surprised many more times, between traditional giant samurai pulling out rocket launchers and miniguns and Nazi-robot-steampunk-zombies and dragons; a gamer's wet-dream (all the action scene s were awesome by the way, as expected from Snyder). There's a moment where the characters hit the traditional slump and you expect a comeback soon after; instead, there was another sucker punch. Each time you don't expect it, it seems to throw something different and new at you. The characters themselves also experience the sucker punch effect, and from the start to the end the film is about how they react to each one in order to survive, both literally and metaphorically.
You may be able to tell from the way this review's been written that I've rushed this. The fact that it's more of a messy stream of consciousness than structured review is largely due to the fact that I'm still not quite sure what I've just seen. It's strange, and I feel dizzy, and I'm still reeling from Sucker Punch. I'm sure you're sick of the damn cliché by now but it's simply the clearest way to express it. Overall, the film's a bit of a jumble but you can tell it was never meant to follow typical blockbuster structure. It's a very flawed film, yet I think the fact that it doesn't all just click together the way you expect it to works in it's favour. I can see why many wouldn't like it, it's like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle but you don't know what it's supposed to turn out like and you don't know how many pieces there are.
It seems to me as if too many people have oversimplified some of the concepts - just ebcause it's basically a video-game film doesn't make it a bad one. If you pay attention, you might end up with too much to think about like me. I was expecting something from this film, but it wasn't what I got. It's not necessarily disappointed me, it's left me dazed and I'm still sorting through it in my head. All I know is I enjoyed it, and it's made me want to have an opinion to express, to talk about it with others, to sit at my computer on a friday night and throw together a hashed review just to get others interested. For me, that counts as a success...
I’m going to assume, for the purposes of this review, that you, like most of society, have a Facebook account. It is a curious coincidence that The Social Network, a film based on the prototypical example of precisely that - and its troublesome inception - suits its subject as a metaphor so well.
Take, for instance, the characters. At some point in your Facebook history, you’ll undoubtedly have gone through your ‘friends’ list on a mass genocide of contacts, effortlessly removing people from your virtual life with the click of a cross in an all too easy process. Now imagine, at the start of the day, your friends list compiles solely of the cast of The Social Network. One hundred and sixteen minutes later, and you’ll soon be known as the loveable loser with just one friend. That friend is Andrew Garfield; here playing Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, he’s David Fincher’s only character you won’t grow to detest in some form or another by the closing credits.
Of course, it must be conceded that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had very little room to manoeuvre. Based on a true story, The Social Network is replete with the limitations you might expect of any such film; while some creative license is obligatory, Sorkin could have put it to far better use than simply to draw apathy or even contempt for the majority of the cast. You’ll leave the cinema (lounge?) not knowing what to feel; even Garfield’s character only manages to draw feelings of pity and the less sympathetic viewer might discard his role much in the way his colleagues manage to throughout the course of the film. While an interesting concept, this leaves the audience unsure of their position, and while normally this might result in cries of intellect and ingenuity deep in the script, here it belies such presumptions to the end that it might not require another view to understand, but will certainly leave you confused and disoriented.
If you’ve ever sat and stared at your Facebook profile, longingly hoping you could inspire some ounce of colour in its bland features, you might feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu in the visuals of The Social Network. Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography hastens to reflect the apparently melancholy milieu of Harvard University; browns and greys spatter across the lens in a sea of haze and despair. Perhaps an act of pathetic fallacy, but one that complements a bitter mise-en-scene that furthers the audience’s bewilderment to the approach and resulting tone of the film.
It would not be unwise to assume that there also exists a point in your life where you might have read through your news feed only to ponder why your virtual acquaintances feel the need to inform you of every minute detail of their lives, no matter how mundane it might be. When watching The Social Network, similar feelings of apathy are apparent not only in the characters and cinematography, but equally so in the story. To explain: Todorov’s theory of equilibrium appears not applicable here. There is no clear resolution; instead, a film rife with bland and aggravating characters - who spend most of their time enjoying extravagant lifestyles at the cost of one another in an equally bland and uninspired story - ultimately fizzles out into an abrupt and nonsensical ending. A few facts are levelled at the reader through the use of titles with the outcome of the concurrent court cases that run alongside the main plot, telling the story. It’s almost as if Fincher ran out of time or money and simply decided to resort to a literal storybook (or news feed?) ending - reading words off a page (or in this case, screen).
Allow us to leave the Facebook metaphors aside for a moment, however, to consider the acting standard of The Social Network. Far and away outside the entirety of the crew’s efforts, the majority of the cast put in performances that alone might make The Social Network almost worthy of its hefty pile of awards - but almost is the key term here. Jesse Eisenberg is suitably socially awkward; the film opens with a lengthy conversation between Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, played by Eisenberg, and his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend, who proceeds to dump him for his apparent superiority complex. In this first scene alone Eisenberg displays what I assume are all the qualities of Zuckerberg himself - though I wouldn’t expect to see Mark in a film anytime soon, judging by the staleness of his character. Eisenberg makes the most of what he is given, but it’s Garfield as Saverin and Justin Timberlake’s surprising turn as Napster founder Sean Parker that steal the limelight in the acting field, as the pitiful pushover and crafty consultant, respectively. Combined with a stellar supporting cast, The Social Network’s actors and actresses make for a formidable force in a somewhat under-par film.
Because while the acting quality might be up to scratch, much less can be said of the production itself - and this is inexcusable in a plot that’s already so marred with difficulty. Fincher’s choice to adapt such a tale of animosity and acrimony was the first mistake; Sorkin and Cronenweth’s representations of the personas and locales merely the icing on the cake. Whilst you might argue - and I am sure to find arguments in The Social Network’s legion of fans falling over each other to heap Oscars and BAFTAs on its already laden plate - that labelling a true story as ‘uninspired’ is in itself nonsensical, it is simply in reference to its suitability for the cinematic world (insofar as its complete lack of). Intending to impact, enlighten and stimulate a response from its audience, but succeeding merely in showcasing a fine set of acting talents, The Social Network is an exercise in storytelling that ultimately fails to deliver.
If there’s one thing to take away from Sucker Punch, it’s that director Zack Snyder is a deeply conflicted person. The creator of testosterone-fuelled 300, he clearly is a man who likes to indulge in visual cinema, the world of the over-stylised and ultra-violent. And yet running throughout Sucker Punch there is this feeling that he is craving legitimacy, to be appreciated as a serious filmmaker.
In his first original feature, he has created a film where, like Inception, you will spend several minutes trying to wrestle the plot into some kind of coherence. However, unlike Inception you quickly realise that it’s not worth the time or the depth of thought required to decipher it. The film opens with the backstory explaining why the protagonist Baby Doll, played by Emily Browning, winds up incarcerated in an institute for the “mentally insane”. It’s a strong opening, and a lack of dialogue paired with visual creativity builds the oppressive atmosphere well.
Once at the prison she creates fantasies to cope with her surroundings – the prison morphs into a burlesque company, with the warden (Oscar Isaac) becoming the owner and the arrival of the lobotomising doctor (John Hamm) turning into a visit from the “High Roller”. From this she then escapes into mystical worlds whenever she dances to embark on a quest led by the Wise Man (Scott Glenn) for her freedom.
If this sounds too confusing, there’s no need to worry. Save for a couple of interesting touches (such as the goals of characters in the Burlesque and mystical worlds mirroring each other) there’s little depth or meaning here, rendering the plot as little more than a thin foil for the action scenes, which could be reshuffled without difficulty. Any attempt at substance falls well short, and by the last act the film includes cameos of previous characters purely as nods for the audience. Films that stand on the merits of their story do not have to resort to actions like these.
None of this would matter, of course, if the action scenes were enjoyable. Few people would go to this film for the dialogue. Before the film I never knew how bored you could be while watching the slaughter of Steampunk Nazi zombies. The action feels completely separate from reality, thanks to the liberal use of CG and the editing, and consequently there is no substance or weight to the fighting. After the first episode it quickly descends into what feels like the procession of a special effects showreel, and it is impressive on nothing more than a technical level. Snyder’s obsession with slow motion has long been apparent, but here it is in such rampant use that by the final sequence the film is so lifeless you’re just waiting for it to end, devoid of enthusiasm or interest.
Above all else, Sucker Punch is a disappointment. It’s a film that promises so much, yet delivers on so little. It was billed as an action film empowering women, yet in reality it just provides a series of untalented yet beautiful actresses barely clothed for teenagers to leer over. It suggested intellectual merit, yet is intent on shoving every symbol of vacuous cool it can into it. This film was a chance for Zack Snyder to prove his critics wrong and show that he can marry substance with his obvious talent for style. He failed.
To me, Natalie Portman is Padmé Amidala. The whiny Queen-before-her-time wife of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, she always represented that which I hated about the resurgence of the saga: the demystification of one of the greatest villains of all time, Darth Vader. No more was he the symbolism of pure evil who found redemption for his sins (by throwing his master down a two hundred and fifty thousand feet shaft directly into the core of the second Death Star).
No, now he was the whiny child, the hopelessly emotional teenager and the arrogant pilot with powers that certainly wouldn’t cause any suspension of disbelief. All this circled around Portman’s character - yes, Star Wars had become a love story. Admittedly the original trilogy had the Han/Leia thing going on, but it wasn’t central to the ongoing fight between good and evil. For me, Portman’s character epitomised all that was wrong with the Star Wars prequels. She was, and always would be, Amidala, that which tore apart a classic saga bit by bit at the hands of George Lucas. Until Black Swan.
To say she’s come a long way in the past six or so years since the last Star Wars film would be a bit of an understatement. Slide The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones into your DVD player (sadly the saga hasn’t yet been released on Blu-ray, though come October this will change) and remind yourself why: Padmé Amidala, effectively a plank of wood with different faces scrawled on. Of course, the writers must take some of the blame; she was never the most well-written character and her role was translucent at best, never quite fully fleshed out as a trigger for Anakin’s turn to the dark side. But Portman was fairly fresh on the acting scene, and wasn’t about to start picking up Oscars any time soon. Come 2011, and she’s back in full form, starting with Black Swan; a tale of a ballerina, but one that you won’t need any liking of dance to enjoy.
The dance, of course, is Swan Lake; Portman’s character, Nina Sayers, the Swan Queen - or so she wishes. Her problem comes in the form of the dual role; the split personality - perfection lies in the White Swan, but Nina struggles to lose herself in the other half of the role, the voluptuous, darkly sensual twin, in the form of the Black Swan. Over the course of the one hundred and eight minutes screen time, Nina’s paranoia of usurpation by her understudy ultimately takes its toll, with hallucinations (both drug-induced or otherwise) and the struggle of attempting to lose herself in the Black Swan leading to an ever-darker psychological spiral, that only falls further down.
Her character is an intriguing one; overshadowed by a controlling mother who attempts to live out her failed dreams through her daughter, Nina’s involuntary self-harming - fuelled by hallucinations, but also whilst unconscious, be it asleep or otherwise - highlights a deep psychological torment; one that only grows with the pressure of the role. Mila Kunis’ character, a cocky, confident Lily, spends the duration of the runtime subtly undermining Nina, for better or worse, as her motives become less and less clear - is she really out to usurp Nina, or is it just Nina’s paranoid frenzy of suspicion that causes us to accuse Lily of such mutiny?
The narrative is no less complex than the characters. Nina’s many hallucinations are infused almost seamlessly with her real-life actions and the events that run through the course of the film, to the extent that the two become blurred over time - and it is no longer clear what is real and what is not. Thus the point of the film: the devolution of Nina’s psyche, and her struggle to comprehend reality against the extent to which the testing role of the Black Swan consumes her whole. And this narrative is supported fantastically by the depth of the characters, and the cast that portrays them with beautiful vigour: Portman takes all that Director Darren Aronofsky throws at her, clearly in her stride, while Kunis’ devil-on-the-shoulder is acutely sinister. The supporting cast are no less seized in the moment; Vincent Cassel as instructor Thomas Leroy is formidable in his role - a man who knows what he wants, and has no hesitancy in seizing it with both hands So yes, the acting quality, production values and script are all top-notch. But it doesn’t end there. Black Swan’s choreography is matched perfectly with the cinematography of each scene, while the film’s soundtrack is predictably astounding.
An achievement by all involved, Black Swan is no less than a modern masterpiece, and by far the best film of 2011 yet seen by this reviewer - but one that also acts as a fine showcase for the timely blossoming of Natalie Portman into the Oscar-winning actress she has become. It’s a long way from The Phantom Menace.
Sherlock Holmes is one of those seemingly timeless properties. Almost every member of the audience is familiar with him, yet few truly know him besides the obvious facts. This recognition combined with a certain amount of creative license excites studios enough to recast him time and time again, and with over 40 adaptations he is arguably one of the most prolific characters in cinematic history. This version from Guy Ritchie is his first foray into modern action, a surprising choice for a seemingly reserved thinker.
One of the most challenging aspects for any adaptation is to convert the thought processes of the eminent rationalist from the page and onto the screen in a visual format that is understandable, intriguing and yet never patronising. In this manner, the film excels. Scenes are deconstructed, broken down step-by-step while narrated by Holmes’ internal monologue, and then pieced back together before playing out just as he planned. It’s a superb flourish that feels at once both refreshing and relatable.
Aside from this, Ritchie’s Holmes is almost indistinguishable from the traditional view. He lives in squalor, has lost his deerstalker, and while he still resides at 221B has become an absent-minded Renaissance man akin to Da Vinci and an alcoholic. It’s a role that suits Robert Downey Jr. so perfectly you have to wonder if the casting came before the script. Playing opposite him is Jude Law as sidekick Watson. The two share such screen chemistry that it’s their pairing which elevates the movie beyond a simple action flick into something more substantial. The same cannot be said for Watson and his bride-to-be (Kelly Reilly), although that situation does lend itself to some nice sparring between the men.
The film opens with the capture of Lord Blackwood (a strangely otherworldly Mark Strong) and his hanging for murder. Soon, though, he is seemingly resurrected, and the game’s afoot. We are led breakneck on a procession of set pieces culminating spectacularly by the finale at such a rapid pace you can scarcely believe two hours just flew by.
The sets look fantastic, capturing the essence of Victorian London perfectly without romanticising it. This beauty makes the liberal use of CG all the more of a shame. After such rich scenes to be transferred to a fight on obvious green screen feels cheap and cold, shattering the illusion that the film works so hard to build.
This is Holmes for the modern man, warts and all. It’s one hell of a ride jumping from place to place as if scared of losing your attention, and it’s certainly enjoyable. Whether or not the sequel can add a little more depth behind the fun and make this a version to remember remains to be seen.