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Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
uneven depictions of violence and crass humor stifle an otherwise competent film
Jim Carrey's choice to forgo promoting this film in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre is pretty odd from where I'm sitting, he knew what the film would involve as far as the script was concerned so for him to have a spiritual realisation this far into the production process seems just plain rude.
I think it was in Mark Millar's response to these problems that he mentioned Kick Ass actually focuses on the after effects of violence and doesn't fetishize it. I'd almost be willing to agree with Millar as although we aren't privy to the presumed months of rehabilitation the film implies the violence is often shown as brutal and painful even if the major players' bruises heal after two scenes. But where the film likes to hide behind this veil of superiority is the truth that as it's packed with so much of this action and displays it as a source of humour (a scene involving a lawnmower comes to mind) it really does revel in the pain inflicted upon the characters.
Violence aside, Kick-Ass 2 efficiently moves from one set piece to the next without giving you time to stop and consider whether you're bored (which I guess is good ) and provides about as good of an extension to these characters that can be expected after the original film. But where I sometimes enjoyed the originality on display it was brought down by the humor, violence and sex that seemed to come less from necessity to the story but rather a marketing requirement aimed squarely at the teenage male demographic.
But these problems are fleeting and usually an aside to a story about revenge (I guess) and hit girls coming of age that is fairly involving and worthy of the ticket price. Go see this movie if you're feasting for some comic-booky action that isn't restrained by the MA15+ classification coupled with some self-awareness, but don't expect it to rise above any cultural trappings of what is presumed teenagers find entertaining.
Before Midnight (2013)
About a close to understanding an on screen couple as one can get
In Before Midnight and the two earlier films in this trilogy: Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, there comes a moment where the reality that what you're watching a film fades and you begin to accept that this is just two people in love spending time with one another. Perhaps it's the lack of cuts as well as drawn out dialogue scenes that subvert the subconscious knowledge that edits are a part of the cinematic language. The realism could also be attributed to Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke having played these characters twice already and hence thoroughly understanding their inner workings leading to a real continuity of how they behave scene to scene. Whatever it is, Before Midnight is one of those films that feel decidedly unfilm-like and because of this, is able to engage the viewer on a level that one doesn't usually allow films to do.
After hearing of the announcement of this project I was skeptical of what more could be said on the subject of these two characters that hadn't already been thoroughly interrogated in the previous two entries. The film examines the couple 7 years after the events of the second film and fleshes out what happens after the initial thrill of young love has faded and the realities of married life (well, a civil union something or other) come to the fore. And although the film is is structurally the same as the two other films in that they are really just a small collection of long conversations, a strong case is made that these two characters still have a lot of things to say that are worth hearing.
This is a film that's hard to fault and is in many ways superior to the previous two films in the series. The improvement comes primarily from the two actors continuing to understand how these characters' tick as well as Linklater improving as a writer and as a director in how he stages the scenes. I could take issue with sometimes feeling that the dialogue is too clever and long winded to be realistic or that I still don't really buy that Ethan Hawke as an author, but these are minor quibbles for a film that was a joy to watch. I'd recommend watching the first two films before watching this, but if you can't, whatever I'm not going to tell you how to live your life.
Behind the Candelabra (2013)
Fully fleshed out biopic and character study
If this is indeed Steven Soderbergh's last film (as he's gone on record saying) then that'll just be a darn shame because he's one of the few working directors that can turn out films of this standard at a rate of twice a year.
Behind the Candelabra focuses on the life of Liberace (Michael Douglas) for the six years that he spent with his lover Scott Thurston played by Matt Damon. With the exception of the scenes of Liberace performing in Vegas the film isn't too showy and instead uses extended bouts of dialogue and relationship troubles between the characters to propel the film. This works to a degree as Douglas is doing some fantastic work here and the way Matt Damon evolves throughout the film is a testament to how good of an actor he really is. That being said there are moments where the film sags and its episodic nature grows a tad grating throughout the run time.
I can see why the film had to be this long however as it aims to track how the relationship grew out of one based on power and control on the part of Liberace and began to fester after years of this dynamic, but surely there could have been a scene of drug taking or plastic surgery that could have been cut.
As someone who wasn't at all familiar with the story of Liberace I found this film to entertain and enlighten on the subject of the Las Vegas entertainment industry and the closeted homosexuality of public figures during this time. So if you're in the mood for a slow burn character study of some larger than life figures while also witnessing the swansong of Soderbergh (for the time being) check it out.
I still don't know what a candelabra is.
Enjoyable action romp/blunt force political allegory
Elysium is the second feature length effort from Neill Blomkamp whose District 9 was a brilliant debut that covered many of the socio- political issues present in Elysium with a dose more subtlety. It must be said that Elysium is never boring as music cues and startling shots of the space station thingy and an overpopulated Los Angeles do a great job of establishing a back story sans dialogue. However, as effective with pacing as the film can be it has an over-reliance on musical cues during emotional moments and a heady use of metaphors in the dialogue that don't give the audience much credit when it comes to connecting the dots.
My gripes with the heavy handedness aside, projects such as this that set out to insert messages about other political issues such as overpopulation within the confines of a studio system is something worth commending. These issues may often fall by the wayside as the focus is often drawn to fetishizing the action into making it look as cool as possible, but the action never fully dilutes the political messages and remain quite cool to watch.
I wasn't a huge fan of the gutter mouthed Sharlto Copley as the antagonist who's over the top nature and South African accent shone a light on how bad some of his dialogue was. Added to this I found his dialogue so riddled with swear words that my fragile ears could simply not permit it outside of the context of a dockworker stubbing his toe.
Matt Damon's performance was one of my personal favourite's I've seen from him and the film had me pondering issues and stuff during and after the run time which is damn fine value for $12 on a student discount. I'd recommend seeing Elysium, but there's a lingering sense that it could have been executed far better in some easy to fix areas.
Prince Avalanche (2013)
A quaint and well-handled light comedy
Prince avalanche gains much of its personality from the fire damaged forests that it takes place in. Despite the characters fairly trivial and base dramas that occur in their lives the film likes to remind us of the natural beauty that can be found in the remnants of what was once a community but is now being rebuilt by these two bumbling characters.
There's not a great deal of plot compelling Avalanche forward at times and often scenes will consist primarily of Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch spraying new road surface lines followed by extensive hammerings in of poles. Although the film may appear slow I quite enjoyed the meditative state in which the film exists as the occasional bursts of personality were punctuated more by the peace that preceded it. The film is also often quite funny in my opinion but it's a very low key humble humor that won't have you in stitches but feels natural within the scene.
I also really enjoyed the truck driver character and subplot (I guess you'd call it) involving a woman who lost her house. I guess why these elements work so well is that you're constantly searching any one frame or scene for something that will advance the plot and although these elements appeared before my patience ever wore too thin, they're still quite few and far between. There also a scene which involves Hirsch and Rudd getting drunk and doing whatever one does drunk this deep into the woodlands which I found very funny and a definite highlight.
The film doesn't achieve any great heights and probably doesn't land as much humour or inject enough drama to justify its length I still enjoyed my time in the theatre and would recommend watching it if you're in a chill enough mood.
The World's End (2013)
Solid comedy, and even solid der conclusion to the cornetto trilogy
The premise of The World's End fits comfortably into where the filmmakers find themselves at this point in their career. Wright, Pegg and Frost have all had successful in films despite the absence of one another and here they are reuniting to close out the trilogy and try to recapture the fun of their earlier work. While I'd say the film on the whole is less successful than Shaun of the dead and Hot Fuzz in its execution and hilarity, I still enjoyed watching it unfold in the presence of these three talents (even if nostalgia was a big part of that).
The films premise is essentially an Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario transplanted into rural England, a setting which I've always loved about Wright's films of this sort. This element continues to be a great source of humor as no matter how outlandish the situations become, there's a small-town simplicity and bewilderment towards the events that grounds the film and gives way to some great regional-specific jokes.
Although the film works as a whole it falls short is in comparison to the earlier two entries in the trilogy which felt more immediate and fresh. Where Shaun of the dead came from a genuine love of zombie films and wanting to satirize them or Hot Fuzz's clear reverence for the cop films it was taking off, World's End often feels like closing the trilogy was more of a duty than a necessary venting of creativity.
That comparison aside I did enjoy the film's themes of growing up and how people change as it provided a nice emotional resonance to propel the comedy within it. So all in all I really enjoyed The World's End, but I'd hesitate to chuck it in on instead of the first two entries.
Pacific Rim (2013)
A Darn Good Time at the Movies
Within the opening 15 or so minutes Charlie Hunnam's voice-over establishes the reality of a future where monsters (the Kaiju) repeatedly invade earth, to stem this humans have created giant robots (Jaegers) to combat them in increasingly badass iterations. This opening does a great job in conveying the scope of a film which is big, not just regular big, but like, Jason Biggs in 1999 bigg. entering the cinema from a world where these events rarely occur is initially a lot to throw at the audience, but it's handled so effectively and without tongue in cheek that it quickly becomes a world I had a blast experiencing. Maybe it was the incredible effects shots of robot related destruction used as a throwaway shots, but what I think really sold the opening sequence and the film as a whole is the enthusiasm Del Toro clearly has for the story he's telling.
The cast is essentially a rogues gallery of TV's better dramas playing variations on roles they've nailed in the past (see: Elba, Hunnam and Klattenhoff) and some inspired casting of It's Always Sunny's Charlie Day who, as should be expected provides some effective comedic relief. Added onto this the score comes courtesy of Ramin Djawadi who's masterful use of themes on Game of Thrones is carried over to this film for some great emotional cues and many a rad motif courtesy of Tom Morello on guitar.
It's appropriate Del Toro has a Frankenstein adaptation lined up as a follow up project as Pacific Rim can at times can feel stitched together from all the sources of inspiration the film has. This comes from many areas such as Japanese manga, the personalities of the actors from previous films and the imagery of robots destroying buildings which transformers ran into the ground. But Del Toro succeeds time and time again at allowing these disparate elements to fit together believably by way of some very confident filmmaking. I could easily take issue with the oft hammy dialogue and macho relationships but where the film succeeds in other areas and revels in creativity trumps the dissatisfaction one could take from these scenes. I also found Hunnams character a tad lacking in charisma and internal conflict but whatever, it's not the end of the world. Oh wait, yes it is hahahaha
The films successes go beyond its imagery and continued invention within battle scenes as the script is very economical when it comes to pacing. The films battle scenes are so engaging and exciting due to clearly established stakes present which left me devoid of the "action fatigue" transformers loves to throw my way. And although the Kaiju battles seem to never be in short supply, the film essentially follows the rule of three when it comes to battle sequences and left me oh so satisfied.
In conclusion, I give it points for being one of the funner summer blockbusters in recent memory, for being an original property and for its sheer tenacity to exist which all amount to what is just a darn good time at the movies.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
It's been said numerous times elsewhere but zero dark thirty really feels like it should have been made 20 years from now. The film employs an objective observational style to some highly contentious and prescient issues still at the forefront of America's political and military conscious.
This film seems to have jazzed everyone off with the conservative right proclaiming it as pro-Obama propaganda and many on the left stating that the way in which torture is depicted is dangerous and morally wrong to even be shown. That first point I won't touch on but I've read pieces from people such as Alex Gibney who I respect highly attacking the film for depicting torture as more effective than it actually is. I strongly disagree with this as no effective information is ever really yielded from the interrogations, and although there is a greater statement to be made about the wider reality of "advanced interrogation techniques" yielding extremely little and unreliable information on high ranking members of Al-Qaeda, that simply isn't the story the film is telling. In fact I feel these sidebars and themes that get pushed into the background in the hunt for Bin Laden heightens the drama on display showing the lows a country was willing to sink to in its hunt for revenge (I'm not opposed to him getting capped, rather delighted actually).
The film is divided into 4 sections and all offer different yet important aspects of the whole operation while remaining a cogent whole. My personal favourite scene in the film is a conversation between Mark Strong and Stephen Dillane discussing the statistical probabilities involved in the assault compared to those that justified the invasion of Iraq which is masterwork, mad props to Mark Boal on that one.
I feel the movie kind of negates the need for other films on this subject matter through its exhaustive attention to detail for the entirety of the 11 or so years it takes place in and should be viewed as a reliable text on a lot of what America meant to the world for this period in history.
Quickly, Jessica Chastain and pretty much the entire cast are awesome, the night raid sequence is tense as all hell, the score is quickly becoming a personal favourite (if a little derivative of Desplat's past work on Syriana) and the direction and writing meld superbly. I wish Kathryn Bigelow was up for a second Oscar on this one but I'm sure this film will be remembered for many more years than whatever does win for 2012.
I dislike biopics. However, this film only focuses on his life during the making of psycho. So I guess it isn't a biopic. Jolly good.
But that being said a lot of the residual trappings of a biopic seem to have been retained including the habit for the actors to come across as mere impersonations rather than fully formed humans.
The film is pretty inoffensive from beginning to end with interesting facts about Hitchcock becoming major aspects of the film such as his obsessions with female leads, morbidity and his mother. I see this as problematic because to understand these themes you need a pretty good knowledge of Hitchcock's personal life, which is fine, but assuming you do know these things the film doesn't really do anything with these personality traits other than put them out there and expect you to be enthralled by how quirky the man is.
It's an OK movie but I've spent literally no time thinking about it in the weeks after seeing it. That being said mum absolutely loved it, so if you're a part of that demographic prepare yourself for a thrill ride with some golden stars of yesteryear.
Compliance starts with the title card "based on true events" and after doing some research into the actual events the film was based on it seems the reality of the situation may have been even more disturbing than those shown in the film.
Compliance depicts an incident that occurred in a McDonalds in America where a man posing as a police officer phoned in and asked members of staff to perform increasingly humiliating acts upon a female employee who he informed them had been caught stealing.
I'm of two minds about this film because for one I did not enjoy watching it and I don't think I can recommend it to anyone let alone watch it again. During my screening I'd estimate 40% of the crowd left the film before it had finished which I would attribute to their inability to comprehend the stupidity being displayed on screen. But that aside and viewing it with a base knowledge of the Stanley Milgram experiments, I found it to be one of the most thought provoking movies I've seen in recent years and one which led to more conversation than I usually get from a film.
If you're interested in seeing bad things happen to stupid people or looking to have a viscerally sick reaction to some very disturbing real life events this film is for you, if not, never watch this film.