Friday, 3 July 2015

REVIEW - TERMINATOR GENISYS (ALAN TAYLOR)


Let's leave aside the fact that Terminator Genisys has no respect for the franchise that birthed it - its peculiar position within that franchise made even more peculiar by its fitful disregard for its fundaments. Let's focus on the fact that Terminator Genisys has no respect for its audience. That's the more brazen of those two traits, which you can merge into an unholy single trait if you're a fan of the other Terminator movies. It's certainly a shame to see a series once at the forefront of technical innovation, a bastion of genre filmmaking, reduced to so conventional a product. Terminator Genisys is a regular blockbuster, careful not to offend or bewilder its audience, hitting predictable plot points in predictable style, mitigating its bombast and portent with highly unflattering familiarity. You're reminded less of other Terminator movies than other recent blockbusters of its ilk, and how much more you enjoyed them. The film almost, and entirely by accident, functions as a thinkpiece on how people cope with their position in time - their memories of the past, responsibilities in the present and roles in a future they can control - almost, because the convoluted narrative hinders such thoughts from ever fully forming; by accident, because such concerns are dropped every time an action impulse kicks in, and we engage in another long, dreary setpiece. The whole film is just action, exposition, action, exposition ad infinitum, and little of it well made; Alan Taylor displays the same cluelessness he did in Thor: The Dark World. At the least, you'd hope that Terminator Genisys could respond not even to its own concerns but to the franchise's overreaching ones, and operate in deference to James Cameron's films, in this age of 'cinematic universes'. But this film achieves neither, and, in what will likely be the final insult to the many injuries suffered by these films, its impact will be negligible, its existence soon forgotten.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

REVIEW - MANGLEHORN (DAVID GORDON GREEN)


On one hand, it makes creative sense for David Gordon Green to direct a script by a different writer - Green's unique perspective on another's version of reality, a new interpretation of life as we thought we knew it, as that writer thought they knew it! On the other hand, it can result in the kind of creative dissonance that is brought about in Manglehorn, a dreary little small-town tale jazzed up by all the wrong techniques by a director who adamantly refuses to know better. One can admire Green's audacity, and indulge in the script's simple charms, but the curious combination of the two, of which Green seems so greatly enamoured, makes the film uneasy to watch. In an obtuse yet effective method of overlapping, Green suggests an atmosphere of unreliability and inertia around his central character, Al Pacino's titular locksmith, whose idiosyncrasies only intensify as his ever-accumulating memories swamp his mind. This story of a life lived, for us, in recollection, is more affecting the more muddled it is - clarity hits Manglehorn the man and Manglehorn the movie both like a slap in the face, and a most unwelcome one too. The narrative obfuscation is abused though, and extended into an overall (yet sporadic) stylistic obfuscation that feels like Green engaging with mannerisms and ideas that overwhelm the film with their ill-judged artsiness (significant blame must also be laid at the feet of the film's composers, Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo). It's rather a shame that the mundane screenplay by Paul Logan, which treads that dreadfully familiar route of the male-centric ego deconstruction movie, emerges as the most tolerable element of this film. Its easygoing pleasures are far more digestible, and also provide Holly Hunter with a chance to prove again just how talented she is, entirely enlivening a conventional character with a beautifully nuanced performance.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

TRAILER FOR THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES REMAKE


The Secret in Their Eyes was a terrific Argentinian film from 2009 that gained international attention when it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film - not deservedly, granted, but not undeservedly either. Juan Jose Campanella's film has been remade by Billy Ray, and it stars an impressive leading ensemble including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman. It's wholly unnecessary, and doesn't appear to make a whole lot of adaptations to the original film's style and/or story, but this looks like the kind of solid, well-acted thriller that I regularly enjoy. Out in the US on the 23rd of October; utterly inexplicably, its current UK release date is listed as the 4th of March 2016.

REVIEW - AMY (ASIF KAPADIA)


Amy is just a redress, just an explanation, for those who knew her only by her swift rise to fame, and her equally swift fall from grace. The film knows her only by such terms - everything is explicated under the shadow of her career and her health, and Amy's character and childhood are otherwise not actively explored by director Asif Kapadia. He doesn't need to - the more one watches Amy, the more one learns about this iconic singer, and most of it through her music. The lyrics - occasionally misprinted, consistently beautiful - are written on screen, but it's their combination with the exquisite tracks beneath them that make these songs so indelible. The film itself can't quite compare to the experience of simply beholding these songs by themselves, on one of Amy's two albums released during her lifetime, but the added depth and detail provided by Kapadia's film is valuable. And, as just an explanation, it is thorough and persuasive, showing us every last facet of the heart and soul of this woman as she presented herself to us, and allowing us to see beyond the presentation if we so desire. The truth expressed through her music, and the truth that lay beneath it. Amy's story may have been sensational, but it didn't have to be sensationalistic, and Kapadia too often strains for the side of the story that he wants: mismatching image and audio makes for powerful watching, but disingenuous watching too. You come to appreciate the film's power, though, and its immediacy (interviewees are rarely seen, usually only heard over archive footage) as it gives insight into the blinkered hedonism by which Amy lived her life, or by which she permitted her life to be lived. In these circumstances, and as Kapadia explains so fully, so clearly, the ending we all know is coming still comes upon us like a ton of bricks, swiftly falling from the blackest corner of our memory.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

TRAILER FOR DOCUMENTARY HE NAMED ME MALALA


This is far from the finest trailer of the year - it's a bit sentimental, and extremely formulaic. But Malala Yousafzai is one of the most important and inspirational international figures of our time, and any documentary about her will be a worthwhile watch, I'm certain. David Guggenheim's film is released in the US on the 2nd of October, and I already hope it'll be a big hit.

TRAILER #2 FOR LEGEND


Twice the Hardy for your money in Brian Helgeland's Legend! The film about famed London gangsters the Kray twins is out in the UK on the 11th of September and in the US on the 2nd of October, and this is the second trailer. Showing off a more comedic side, this suggests that the film may not be the awards baiter that some had expected, though keep an eye out for Tom Hardy - in the prime of his career right now, and impressing on the basis of what little we've seen so far.

Monday, 29 June 2015

REVIEW - MINIONS (KYLE BALDA AND PIERRE COFFIN)


There's mileage in them minions yet! Few places within the film industry are as keen and as capable at expressing cinema's remit to entertain as the family movie sector. Minions may not push the needle much, but it's a blithely spirited piece of tremendous entertainment. It's also an exceptionally simple proposal - whether narratively or tonally, but even in its structure: this chaotic cacophony of silliness is designed to appeal to all ages in one marvellously madcap swoop, the same material for adults and children alike. This is an animated film bereft of intelligence or cultural relevance - it brings to mind the willful stupidity of Aardman's style of slapdash, though without that studio's more layered comic construction. Minions is just one daft gag after another, and how delicious to witness such shameless debasement on screen, and to participate in it with the kind of senseless abandon that only a gratuitous snort and a rousing belly laugh can express! Perhaps due to its immaturity, Minions is hardly a triumph of the screen - yes, it's a knowingly, and rather winningly, daft kids' film, but it's also a film like any other, and even judged against many similar titles (like the aforementioned Aardman Animation's), the prosaic animation style and the spotty hit rate of the jokes don't rule in this film's favour. Better, then, not to compare, and simply to bask in what favours we're offered herein. A particular pleasure comes in identifying the voice talent, and Minions benefits from excellent vocal work from Jennifer Saunders, co-director Pierre Coffin (as the minions themselves), and sublimely juvenile narration from Geoffrey Rush.

Friday, 26 June 2015

REVIEW - THE FACE OF AN ANGEL (MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM)


Every bit the film it intends to be, yet nothing like the film it could be, Michael Winterbottom's The Face of an Angel once again brings this talented filmmaker's taste in scripts, and his commitment to those talents that he possesses in earnest, into unfortunate doubt. An inquiry into the subjective quality of 'truth' from different perspectives, this fictionalisation of the Amanda Knox / Raffaele Sollecito trial has far more promise than purpose, eventually, as it surrenders to trite narrative devices that diminish its potential intelligence. For a film that exalts, quite pompously in fact, the merits of unconventional storytelling methods, The Face of an Angel is lax in its application of them itself, largely preferring to put its philosophical inquisitiveness out to pasture as writer Paul Viragh realises not the inconsequentiality of such a process (since that is entirely the point) but his inability to resolve it in any satisfactory manner. All that remains is a cliched, underdeveloped midlife crisis / artistic ennui picture, in which yet another hopelessly noble, brilliantly gifted (semi-)young, white, male genius is thwarted by a woefully unforgiving world, populated by brutish alpha males and cold women. Boo hoo, but what do I care? They don't pursue the film's dangling existential plot thread much, since I don't expect Winterbottom encouraged them to, but a miscast ensemble rather gives the film some undeserved zip. Cara Delevingne transcends the stereotype she's lumbered with - indeed, it was only after the film had ended that I realised how much of a cliche her role represented, such was Delevingne's easygoing appeal.

EDWARD NORTON TO RECEIVE LOCARNO EXCELLENCE AWARD


Acclaimed American actor, writer and director Edward Norton will receive the Excellence Award Moet & Chandon from the Locarno International Film Festival in August. The 68th edition of the Swiss fest, which announces its official competition lineup on the 15th of July, has announced Norton as the recipient of this prestigious award due to his 'immense talent in giving shape to characters as fascinating and complex as the times in which we live'. Norton was nominated for an Oscar and won an award from the National Board of Review for his performance in this year's Oscar Best Picture winner Birdman. Locarno will host a screening of a number of the star's films as part of a tribute to Norton, which will also include a conversation between himself and festival attendees Locarno 2015 runs from the 5th to the 15th of August.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

REVIEW - LES COMBATTANTS (THOMAS CAILLEY)


An intelligent filmmaker with the right intentions, with genuine human affinity that searches far further than the same old character tropes that define so many romance movies - such a figure is oft to be found in France, and such a filmmaker is oft to be trusted to make a movie much better than so many romance movies. If you'd trust Thomas Cailley, who is such a filmmaker indeed, to do just that, you'd be wise, though Les Combattants somewhat tests the notion that the right combination of intelligence, good intentions and genuine human affinity will suffice to elevate an otherwise conventional romance. Not that Les Combattants is even particularly a romance - its young love is more a byproduct of the gentle, authentic-feeling character development that Cailley makes his concern - it's a largely unclassifiable movie, situated somewhere between genres, serving a variety of purposes. Yet its tone is consistent, the only outlier being an intrusive electronic score that seems only to provide a jolt of contemporary energy that ironically deprives the film of its unique spirit. It's symptomatic of an artistic ambition that Cailley doesn't display elsewhere in such blatant terms, and while one may be grateful of this detail, the laidback plainness of Les Combattants rather years for a few more jolts of stylistic verve, albeit some that coexist with the film's other elements more comfortably. While Cailley is none too eager to pass judgement on his characters, he and his co-writer Claude le Pape, and his unpretentious cast, develop their roles with sensitivity and a fulfilling commitment to gentle idiosyncrasy and subtle complexity, even contradiction. It's here that Cailley's intelligence shows through, in that genuine human affinity. Find an affinity with ambition, and he might make a movie much better than even this one.