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There's a black hole swirling at the bottom of Qohen Leth's (Christoph
Waltz) soul. He's waiting for a phone call from God, explaining the
point of it all. Because at the moment it seems like existence is an
erroneous quirk in the cosmic standard of nothingness. Everything will
return to nothing, so why make something of life? Love, in the form of
romance (Melanie Thierry as Bainsley), friendship (David Thewlis), and
parenthood (Lucas Hedges) provides Qohen with the answers, but he's too
absorbed in his work on the "Zero Theorem" to accept it.
There are elements of David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis in Qohen's philosophical quest, in the oddball characters he meets along the way, and his perennial absence of feeling. And in the Zen imagery of a nude Waltz spiralling through the void, there's a bit of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. Both of those films were more coherent and emotionally engaging than The Zero Theorem, although Terry Gilliam's film grows on you, once you accept that it's not Brazil Part II. There are definite touches of Gilliam's 1985 masterpiece here, particularly the awkward marrying of archaic and ultra-modern technologies. But don't expect a script of Tom Stoppard wit, swerve, and clarity.
Waltz is a fantastic presence which is necessary, because most of the story plays out in his home: an echochamber of a converted church, whose baptismal font now serves as a washing up bowl. We see him at work, attempting to order the universe via a 3D game block game, fighting against entropy; against the inevitable demise of conscious matter and with it the question: What does it all mean? The problem is, he's waiting for an answer. The very point is uncertainty, the propulsive force of our species.
Whether all this makes for a particularly cinematic experience, I'm not sure. The Cronenberg and Aronofsky films I mentioned were successful because, for all their vast questions, their focus was narrow and their plots simple. The Zero Theorem is at its best when at its least manic perhaps, its least 'Gilliam-esque' lost in the quiet intimacy between Qohen and Bainsley. Like Wes Anderson's latest, this feels like the film of an auteur fighting against two opposing impulses. The results, particularly when seen as a straightforward study of depression, are interesting, if not entirely successful.
I'm one of about three people in the world who reckon The Life Aquatic
with Steve Zissou is Wes Anderson's best film, although 2012's Moonrise
Kingdom was a return to form after the slightly drab Darjeeling Limited
and the mixed bag that was Fantastic Mr Fox.
All of Anderson's films are mixed bags of confectionery. As he moves further from the relatively terrestrial charms of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, the results are becoming more alien, and arguably less relatable. The Grand Budapest Hotel is beautiful, charming, and meticulous, but as icily cold as an Eastern European winter. The best Anderson films have a central relationship that provides a warm heart amidst the whimsy. Moonrise had first love. Aquatic had father and son. Budapest has hotelier and protégé, but I never got a sense of intimacy between them, only ego and awe respectively.
The hotelier is Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and the protégé is Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). When Gustave's dear friend and lover Madame D (Tilda Swinton) drops dead, distant relatives and vague friends convene (the first of many cameo-tastic scenes), hoping to get a chunk of the deceased's wealth. Gustave is bequeathed a hugely valuable painting, much to the chagrin of the gathered mourners - particularly Madame D's son, Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody), who begins a campaign to imprison and ultimately destroy Gustave, triggering all manner of breakouts, shootouts, and bumbling chases.
If you've seen the trailer you'll be aware of the presence of the usual Anderson troupe, although it almost seems like overkill this time around, with famous faces merely popping up for the sake of a chuckle of recognition.
The action (and ample talking) takes place largely outside the hotel, in cells and trains and leering post-Soviet streets. As a summoning of a time and place, it's Anderson's greatest achievement yet. The use of miniatures is very effective, reminiscent of the model work in Herbert Ponting's 1924 documentary The Great White Silence. There are also references to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, not just in Anderson's camera arranging characters in medium shot, and sliding through bold-coloured corridors along geometrically precise lines, but also in the theme of the passing of time: the way generations feed into each other through stories of intrigue and murder passed down.
This is a melancholy film, made darker by its greedy scheming characters, and as such it feels unusually at odds with its own madcap, absurdist style. Unfortunately (and surprisingly), f-bombs constitute much of the humour; hearing Fiennes curse coarsely is funny the first couple of times, but it becomes tiresome. The scenes between The Author (Jude Law) and older Zero (F. Murray Abraham) work best, showing us the more settled, subtle, sombre film that might have been, and possibly the future of this uniquely talented auteur - but they are also indicative of the film's lack of tonal coherency.
Much of the tension in Non-Stop trades off the likability of its star,
Liam Neeson. It's a conceit frequently used by Alfred Hitchcock, from
Henry Fonda to Anthony Perkins. Jaume Collet-Serra's film doesn't mine
the dark psychological depths of Hitch's best output, but it's a lean
and sometimes amusingly mean thriller.
What starts as a high concept mid-90s straight-to-video plot a passenger will be bumped off every 20 minutes unless Air Marshall Bill Marks (Neeson) arranges for $150m to be transferred to the perp's account soon becomes a nail-biting, disbelief-suspending whodunit (or who's-doing-it). The film is elevated above the ordinary by Neeson's depiction of the boozy, grief-stricken Marks: there are moments when we truly share the passengers' distrust of the man apparently going mad in their midst.
Marks communicates with the hijacker via text message. Here, Collet-Serra comes up with a nifty way of presenting these conversations through graphics overlaid on the screen, negating the usual tension-killing cut to a tiny cellphone screen. Incidentally, the bad guy/gal must win the award for fastest thumbs in the English-speaking world.
Superior character actors like Linus Roache and Scoot McNairy provide decent support, although recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o is wasted as a gasping air stewardess. And is there any reason for Julianne Moore to be in this movie? Well, there's always a reason for Julianne Moore to be on the screen. But her character isn't really any more than an extra suspect and an excuse for some agonisingly cheesy and unconvincing flirtation. I guess one could argue she adds "heart" to the movie except this is a movie which is most fun when it's at its most heartless.
The dialogue is lousy; the look is advert glossy; the CGI is poor; the performances are hugely variable; the action is brief and messy; the plot is preposterous (especially the final third). All in all, like Collet-Serra's and Neeson's previous outing, the Frantic-esque Unknown, this is an efficient and enjoyable thriller which will never be lauded as a classic, and never really attempts to make any sense, but further cements its star as the go-to guy for solid, ruffled, old school rough 'n' tumble.
Dallas Buyers Club is unashamedly accessible and formula-driven, while
bringing to the fore various social concerns: ideal, conscientious,
mainstream filmmaking, then. On the surface it looks like a kind of
Philadelphia for the 21st century. But Jean-Marc (The Young Victoria)
Vallee's film isn't simply a film about discrimination; it's also about
the relationship between the public and Big Pharma, the ethics of
controlled drugs trials, and the cooperative human spirit.
Based on a true story, the story begins in 1985. A self-destructive rodeo named Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) discovers he has HIV. Regarding it as a disease for "fags", he dismisses (and defies) the medical establishment's 30-day prognosis. He researches drugs - and alternative drugs. Woodroof becomes a dealer in non-FDA-approved medicines, "smuggling" vitamins and proteins from around the world. He then sells memberships on US soil, giving the pills away for free. Needless to say, a showdown with the FDA looms. Along the way, Woodroof befriends a transgender woman, Rayon (Jared Leto), and a sympathetic doctor, Eve (Jennifer Garner).
The "McConaughnaissance" will be complete with Christopher Nolan's Interstellar later this year, but this is the movie that could (and should) nab McConaughey an Oscar. It's not the best or boldest movie in his astonishing run since 2011's The Lincoln Lawyer, but his is a fierce, detailed, unsentimental performance worthy of recognition. Leto is very moving in the supporting role. Garner, sadly, has less to get her teeth into, largely reduced to a sympathetic sideliner.
Despite its subject matter, the film is not unrelentingly grim, and there are frequent bursts of humour, particularly in the increasingly tender odd couple banter between Ron and Rayon. It's a story with a natural drama at its core: two extremes (the alpha-hetero and the flamboyantly camp) uniting against the weight of an aggressive, punitive institution; a story that can't fail to inspire, provoke, and outrage in equal measure.
This very amusing and imaginative film from the makers of Cloudy with a
Chance of Meatballs absolutely delighted the children in our
auditorium, to the point where one kid cried out, "This is the best
film EVER!" I wouldn't go that far, but in the afterglow of Pixar's
Golden Age, it's definitely one of the better ones.
The plot concerns Emmet Brickowski, an everyman (voiced by Chris Pratt) everyfigure? thrust into the role of "Master Builder", on a quest to vanquish the dastardly Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Business, president of Octan Corporation and the world, intends to glue everyone in their place. Emmet and his crew are out to stop him through the power of ideas e.g. building and re-building stuff. It's a modern American story, initially about individualism and entrepreneurism, and later about cooperation; sort of an anti-superhero film, with a light subversive streak.
The plot is fairly generic, but there are numerous surreal interludes throughout the film. Mostly these are enjoyable (I loved the visual allusion to 2001: A Space Odyssey), but there are certain 'fourth wall' scenes toward the end of the film that I found a bit sinister. I mean, obviously the film is an advert for Lego, but is there really a need to make the marketing so manipulative? The "Man Upstairs" scenes unashamedly employ soft-focus sentimentality to associate the product directly with parental love. Obviously young kids aren't going to care much about the ideological use of marketing, but I think the otherwise perfectly laudable message of the film was enough without these overwrought scenes.
Now, back to the good stuff.
I don't know what methods were used to create the look of The Lego Movie, and now I've seen it I don't want to know. It may be all CG, but it has the look of stop-motion. It has a charming jerky grace which is unique in modern mainstream animation. The action scenes are frame-hoppingly chaotic, but I think this works nicely, capturing the way that children arrange their toys in tableaux (although they probably wouldn't use the word "tableaux").
In the main role, Pratt plays the part with dorky charm, while Ferrell channels his best Mugato as the villain. Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson are on rare loose form as Vitruvius and Bad Cop/Good Cop respectively. My personal favourite is Batman, played by Will Arnett as a bitter, self-absorbed bully.
Product tie-ins could well be the shape of things to come, and if they can always be this smart and funny then I say bring them on. Manufacturers have made toys based on films for decades. This time it's simply being done the other way around and it proves that the result needn't be Transformers.
This movie has come in for a bit of stick. Some say it's little more
than a series of beautiful perfume ad images strung together with a
plaintive voice-over. For me, while it doesn't rank with Terrence
Malick's best work, it's hardly shallow. No film that seeks to explore
the nature of love could be. But at the other end of the spectrum,
there are the claims of "pretentiousness" which usually means
ambitious, moving, divisive, passionate, challenging... All the things
Ben Affleck plays Neil, soulful and practically mute, who brings his wife, Marina (Olga Kurylenko), and her daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) from France to live in the US. The adults enjoy playing in the Days of Heaven fields, but the kid hates it. So Marina and Tatiana return home. In Marina's absence, Neil has a fling with Jane (Rachel McAdams). But then Marina wants back in. Romance blossoms again and is destined to sour again. And so the cycle goes on. Meanwhile, local priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) is questioning his faith. While the lovers' passion burns bright then dwindles, Quintana's is already at its lowest ebb, and is gradually rekindled.
In The Tree of Life, Malick charted the lifeline of love, from the birth of empathy to the nuclear family. In To the Wonder, he's looking at love in the modern context. Quintana finds his faith the truth of love in seeking to alleviate the suffering of others. Similarly, Neil and Marina seem forever to be repairing each other with their loving expressions. But what becomes of them when their suffering their isolation is fully alleviated? Malick seems to imply that in order for romantic love to be valid, it must paradoxically justify itself by being destructive; hence the ambivalence of the lovers, and their perennial push-and-pull.
Sometimes Malick's style comes across as a parody of itself. The Silent Warrior and the Manic Pixie Girl (sounds like a bawdy comic-fantasy novel), ecstatic under sunset or framed exquisitely in grief. But there's no doubt that there are few who regard this world in the way Malick does. He clearly has genuine affection for nature, and, crucially, he loves human beings. He doesn't lament us. He doesn't see our species as innately sinful. There's no irony or satire in this film; but there is poetry, tragedy, and a rare and refreshing idealism.
Expectations were low. The trailers were flashy and slick and seemed to
be packed with lifeless CGI but then, watching the finished film, you
realise that's the point. The action is shot with the eye of a modern
gamer, clean and bloodless: this NuRoboCop is a film about
sanitisation; about how we use technology to scrape the dirty human
elements from our pristine institutions.
Joel Kinnaman plays Alex Murphy, the decent cop left for dead by a mob hit, but then brought back to 'life' with the help of a sleek metal exoskeleton. The scene in which Murphy sees what's left of him not much is quite chilling. There are various forces fighting for or against the acceptance of a robot enforcer on the streets of America. There are also those who worry about how much of Murphy is really human, and how much is just a human face. Thematically, the film probably bites off more than it can chew, but that's preferable to a film without bite.
There are a lot of dialogue scenes, many of them straightforwardly debating the ethical dilemmas at hand. Remember that lunch scene in Jurassic Park, where the only guy in the room to support Hammond's vision is the "bloodsucking lawyer"? RoboCop has half a dozen such scenes, always relevant, never dull or dry. It's a smart movie.
Samuel L. Jackson is the narrator for this tech-age tragedy: a Fox News-style conservative tubthumper, espousing the value of social discipline at the expense of the values of humanity. Michael Keaton is brilliantly slimy and charismatic as the appropriately named Sellars, a corporate emperor controlling every ingredient of his snake oil. Between Sellars and Murphy is Gary Oldman's Dr Norton, a sympathetic Frankenstein with Murphy's best interests at heart, but who's too busy watching his tree grow to see the forest burning around him. And there is also Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley), a military man who fears he'll no longer have the chance to scratch his itchy trigger finger.
There are a few flaws. As I said, the film touches on many themes, asking pertinent questions along the way, without exploring in great depth. Perhaps it could have been more focused. The music other than the classic theme is bland and characterless. Speaking of characterless, poor Abbie Cornish is wasted as a cypher again, reduced to holding back tears and defiantly swallowing grief as Mrs Murphy. The scenes between Murphy and his family are far less engaging than the banter between Sellars and Norton. And finally, the iconic ED-209s are disappointingly underused.
At the risk of incurring the wrath of fans, this is one remake which improves on the original in many ways. It may lack the boldness and humour of Verhoeven's satire, but it also brings the story into a new era, with its concerns about drone technology, the perception of law enforcement in the context of competing 24-hour news, and the blurred role of government-approved media. It seems like the critical consensus on RoboCop is quite cold but let's be clear, this is no lazy reboot like Clash of the Titans or Total Recall. It's a film that deserves to be taken seriously on its own merits.
I know nothing about the folk music scene in early 1960s New York, yet
I found this film engaging, funny, thought-provoking, and moving. The
Coen Brothers can be a bit arch at times, and there are hints of
clever-clever in Llewyn's (Oscar Isaac) fraught relationship with Jean
(Carey Mulligan), but in the end one is left with the sense of a
serious and intelligent story with plenty to say about the nature of
the music 'biz' back then and now the Moebius strip narrative
structure is there for a reason.
The title character is a struggling musician, recently forced to become a solo act following the suicide of his buddy. Homeless in winter, despondent about his existence yet passionate about his craft, he sofa-hops his way from day to day. He wants to be taken seriously, but no one seems to understand him, inside or outside The Business.
The Coens lucked out with their lead man. Isaac is a talented musical performer and a subtle actor. From Barton Fink to The Man Who Wasn't There, the brothers like to throw their ostensibly passive protagonist into a Mad Hatter's Tea Party of a world, and obsess over amusing minutiae whilst alluding to vast themes of fate, integrity, and free will. Here, Llewyn is drawn toward his destiny by a runaway cat called Ulysses. Along the way, we encounter a variety of cameos, from the likes of John Goodman (obviously), F. Murray Abraham, and Justin Timberlake. I had the sense that each represented a different aspect of the essential conflict at the heart of Llewyn's journey: between personal integrity and simply making a living.
Crucially, the music is fantastic, and each song whether a ballad from the man himself, a comedy pop record, or a quartet sea shanty is given time to play out in full. It never feels like the Coens are sniggering at the perceived quaintness of the period.
On the outside, this film has the qualities of a comedy; but it's an absurdist humour which leaves a tragic aftertaste. Don't expect the screwball madcap of Intolerable Cruelty or Burn After Reading. Inside Llewyn Davis is closer in tone to A Serious Man except this the more accessible film, and probably the brothers' warmest film to date.
Cracking cast. Evocative setting. Brooding atmosphere. Archetypal
themes. So why isn't Scott Cooper's film an American classic? The clue
is in last year's Prisoners. That was another blue-collar drama filmed
in drained autumnal tones. It was also genuinely thought-provoking,
casting the viewer adrift in an enormous moral grey area. Out of the
Furnace, meanwhile, goes out of its way to portray the good (Christian
Bale's Russell Baze) and the evil (Woody Harrelson's Harlan DeGroat) in
run-down Braddock, Pennsylvania.
Russell's brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), is flitting between the US and Iraq, becoming more and more unstable with each transition. He's in debt, fighting for cash, but he's dangerously proud, so reluctant to take a fall. His gruff mentor and debtor, John (Willem Dafoe, sporting an astonishing trouser-line), puts Rodney in touch with Harlan DeGroat, a mountain mobster who we've already seen choke a woman and beat a guy half to death. All the while, Russell is trying to persuade Rodney to live straight and work at the mill. But Rodney wants "one last fight". And in film language, we all know what that means.
Out of the Furnace is a recap of a lot of ideas we've seen before, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it excels at none of them. It's a stone-cold average thriller elevated by A-list performances, particularly those playing the Baze brothers. Bale still has that reckless energy that made his performances in Rescue Dawn and Harsh Times so compelling, while Affleck's murmuring rage is used to excellent effect.
Harrelson is properly threatening in the bad guy role the film's best scene is when Russell and his uncle (Sam Shepherd) visit Harlan's home: a caricatured den of iniquity reminiscent of Se7en and Harry Brown. There are nods to The Deer Hunter also, in an extended hunting scene, and in the smoke-plumed townscape of the degraded industrial East. And let's not forget Winter's Bone, which depicted a similar descent into the moral mush of mountain folk, except with greater originality and less eye-rolling machismo.
Overall, there are individual elements to admire in this film, but they don't add up to a satisfying whole. It feels more like a Greatest Hits of 1970s American Cinema than its own thing. Which is a pity, because it is undeniably well made on a technical level, and driven by excellent performances across the board.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Martin Scorsese's latest retains all of the energy that is his
signature, but fails to fill its overgenerous duration with enough
substantial content. The emptiness and lack of ethical backbone holding
up U.S. capitalism in the eighties is explained in the first fifteen
minutes, with Matthew McConaughey's Mark Hanna telling us it's nothing
but "fairy dust" - empty promises - to the unknowing customer, but hard
cash to the stockbroker. Half an hour in, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo
DiCaprio) is a multimillionaire... and we're only a sixth of the way
through the movie.
The rest is an uneasy mix of gross-out and slapstick humour and bellowing domestic drama. In Goodfellas, we cared when Henry's and Karen's marriage was collapsing because we empathised - we'd seen Henry's rise from brutalised child, to errand boy, to made man. Belfort starts as a self-confessed greedy misogynist, and then we watch him swell his turgid aspiration, with all the coke and hookers this entails. Belfort isn't a million miles from DiCaprio's Gatsby - except there's no tragedy here. He's repellent from start to finish, with barely a mote of humanity for us to cling to. Unfortunately, in terms of character and theme, this greaseball and his greed are all the movie gives us. Terence Winter's script is full of incidents, most of which are drawn out and light on significance, and only occasionally funny.
DiCaprio is brilliantly broad yet nuanced as Belfort. Jonah Hill is amusing as his horse-toothed sidekick, Donnie. Scorsese's style is in abundance, the camera rarely still, like a living creature snuffling in the muck. But Thelma Schoonmaker needed stricter instructions in the editing suite. Do we really need to see another tiresome orgy? Is the sight of DiCaprio crawling into a Lamborghini really funny enough to consume five minutes of screen time? It would be okay if there was some profound moral conclusion awaiting us at the end, but what we actually get (or appear to get) is the cheeky verification of Belfort's assertion that deep down we all wanna be richer, right now. If it's Winter's and Scorsese's intention to make me feel indignant at this, and make me hate investment bankers more, then fine. But it's a tough watch for such an easy target.
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