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It is equally political and broadly universal and applicable in its aim of dramatising an unexpected trace of love that might be true and worth following
Carol is an engrossing and understated drama about two women at different stages of their lives that realise through their feelings that they are in love with each other. Their romance is orchestrated by director Todd Haynes, an openly gay independent filmmaker, who often makes films about the subject of gender, sexuality and changing social values. One example of his work was Far From Heaven (2002), which starred Julian Moore as a housewife who tried to befriend an African American man amongst the bigotry of the suburbs in 1950s America. With this film, Haynes has sourced Patricia Highsmith's 1950s novel The Price of Salt to evoke similar themes of changing values. The novel was said to be inspired by Highsmith's own relationships with both men and women. Imagine the controversy it must have arrested at the time. In the 1950s, America's post-war period was deeply repressive of homosexuals as it headed into the Cold War. The Lavender Scares was an example of one of the campaigns used to discriminate and punish homosexuals, often by associating them with Communists, who themselves were blacklisted, imprisoned or fired from their jobs. Carol's recreation of this difficult period is also about today and how the desire to grasp equal rights and representation is still a struggle that runs strong.
However, Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy opt to observe the minor behaviour and attitudes of the period and characters rather than highlighting specific historical moments. The film stars Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Therese Belivet, a young woman that works in a department store. Her main relationship with her boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacey) isn't romantic or interesting to her. She's reluctant to travel with him in spite of his persistence. We see them interacting with their friends, watching films through the projector window of a cinema or getting drunk together in a bar. At one point, one of their friends shows her his office in the New York Times while they drink and then tries kissing her. These are young people who have limited long-term prospects and this complacency propels the uncertainty of Therese's life. The life of Carol (Cate Blanchett) seems equally unfulfilled, despite living under a wealthier social status. She is deeper into her life than Therese, being a mother and sitting in the middle of a divorce from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) and also having more sexual experience given she once had an affair with her friend Abby (Sarah Paulson). She bitterly assures Harge that she and Abby were over long before they were, stressing it wasn't a change in sexuality that dissolved their marriage. As Harge and Carol argue over their young daughter, it is clear that he still loves her and can't let go. But her heart and her eyes fall onto Therese after they meet by chance at the department store. The gloves she leaves on the store counter prompt Therese to return them by contacting Carol and entering her complex life.
The uniqueness of their relationship is that the two women are almost entirely committed by a sense of feeling. The singularity of the connection is a contrast to films that contrive a romantic connection by parallel backstories and personal histories. Carol and Therese are long removed from their experiences in their age (the actors are 16 years apart), their economic status and their understanding of the world. The weight of their relationship, the content and shape of the film, is the generous amount of time dedicated towards these two characters feeling and sensing each other until they realise the binary of their emotions. Initially, Therese is deeply unsure of herself. She can barely decide on her order when the two women eat lunch together and she won't leave her boyfriend even though she doesn't love him. Rooney Mara, with her best performance, beautifully paints the shyness and delicacy of Therese through a quiet, nervous energy that filters through her sad face and eyes. A deep emotional resonance protrudes through her displacement, particularly a sad scene where she helplessly observes Harge and Carol fight and then cries on her way home. Meanwhile, Carol's self-confidence and dry wit corrodes with the realisation that these are feelings of love, not lust, that are infiltrating her life. Given Therese's young age, it is a passage of uncertainty for Carol herself when she concedes with Abby she doesn't know what she's doing. Both women are coming of age, but at different stages of their lives, realising what satisfies them sexually and mentally and having the power of choice, free from the men who disappointment them but regularly prolong their romantic feelings because it's all they understand. These are not terrible men but merely incapable of comprehending the interiors of women. Richard ridicules Therese when they discuss being in love with someone of the same gender, perhaps because people rarely talked about the subject openly in these times, which further underlines the theme of uncertainty in this period.
The Revenant (2015)
Every scene in the film questions one's compassion and empathy on the path to revenge
The Revenant is an ironic tragedy, set in the frontier in the 1800s and featuring a cast entirely of men. Yet it is not about them, their masculinity or an examination of male friendship. The film's Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is employing much broader themes that transcend the specifics of gender and stereotypes. The film could be viewed simplistically as a bloody revenge story on horseback but it inherits complexity through its contrasting themes and images. Similar to Iñárritu's previous film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), it is about different facets of the human condition but differentiates itself through the way these traits are tested through the myth of righteous violence. Whereas Birdman overflowed brilliantly with many different ideas, Iñárritu' has learnt to judiciously select his themes. The film uses its characters to develop a consistent pattern for its thematic and ideological goals, starting with its antagonist. Tom Hardy as the film's villain Fitzgerald embodies the notion of self-preservation, which provides his character with some accessibility to his psychology, surpassing his slurred accent and intimidating nature. He is a man with patches sitting between his long shaggy hair, which makes it visible that he was at some point nearly scalped, an incident fuelling his desire to protect himself before others and survive.
An observant way the film shows how much his wounds trouble him is when he tells someone to stop scraping their knife because the noise reminds him of his encounter with death. The incident from his past ignites his current attitude because although they belong to the same company of troops delivering pelts, Fitzgerald is reluctant to help his fellow traveler Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) after he is mauled by a bear. The other men in the group try caring for him in the snowy woodlands, but Fitzgerald insists on leaving him and also preparing to kill him. The scenes where the men, including Fitzgerald, are carrying his body on a stretcher through the icy terrain are an example of the film creating a broad morality question for its characters about self- preservation through its image and its setting rather than emphasising the physical toughness of its characters. The film is also less scattershot than Birdman in its ideologies and aims. Iñárritu, presumably spurred by the difficulty of the frost conditions, has realised the need for narrative discipline, using the images exclusively rather than dialogue to enhance its universal ideas such as self-preservation. Another example of the film divorcing itself from gender is through its protagonist Hugh Glass, who is not challenged solely by mindless violence and masculinity as some have argued. Rather, he is tested by the weight of his compassion, which drives him blindly towards righteous violence. Every scene in the film questions one's compassion and empathy on the path to revenge, long before Glass can right his young Indian son's death at Fitzgerald's hand, who also left him for dead. The most transparent example of compassion for his child is the physical turmoil Glass experiences to avenge him. Throughout the film, Leonardo DiCaprio shows extraordinary physicality to crawl through the ice and snow. The enormous physical strains, enduring the cuts on his back, having his throat slashed, curling up by handmade fires, dodging arrows and avoiding starvation, become a visual pattern and image system showing the physical endurance a person could pursue out of love for their children. The geography and compositions further compliment and enhance the emotional and physical struggle. The camera zooms tightly on Glass's face to show the strain and urgency of his body but retracts to both wide and extreme long shots to highlight the extremity of the wintery conditions and underline the physical duration he is imposing on himself out of love.
The Revenant also expresses compassion and empathy's problematic nature in a series of exciting episodes, such as the aforementioned scenes of the men torn on carrying Glass's body. Additionally, flashbacks and dreams visualise the murder of Glass's wife and her village being destroyed by officers, which are factors of guilt, love and madness driving him towards Fitzgerald. In another tense scene, he is attempting to steal a horse from a camp but his escape is interrupted by a woman being assaulted, prompting Glass to choose to aid her and blow his cover. Similarly, an Indian helps Glass recover from his wounds but the bond results in the man being hanged and branded a traitor. These are examples of the film questioning the value of their friendship and helping others and whether it outweighs our own wellbeing. Glass also finds compassion in the wildlife because after his horse is destroyed in a terrible fall, he removes its entrails and places himself inside its body to stay warm. It is metaphorical and a contrast to the film's bear attack scene, where the bear launches itself at him to protect its cubs. Being inside the horse is a mirror of when he was crushed underneath the bear, only now he understands the pain of an animal attempting to protect itself. These memorable episodes reflect the film's narrative economics, using the landscapes, the action scenes and character development to divorce itself from gender stereotypes and comment on the physical and mental toll of compassion as one pursues revenge and becomes increasingly dehumanised.
Point Break (2015)
It's a black eye to the fans of the original who might have given this disaster a chance
Point Break marks another blockbuster fizzer from Warner Bros., who after several flops is now in desperate need of a major hit. This is a useless, money-grabbing exercise that rides the name of an already overrated cult film as an excuse to stage pointless stunts. I'll say this once: do not waste your money on this film. If you are a fan of the original Point Break by Kathryn Bigelow, the film where Patrick Swayze played a bank robbing surfer who took Keanu 'I am an FBI agent' Reeves under his wing, watch that film again. If you are in the mood for crazy stunts and set pieces, open YouTube and watch some extreme sports videos on there. These are comparatively sound alternatives to this dreck, courtesy of director Ericson Core who has made his first film since 2006. It might take another nine years and extensive therapy to overcome this stain. The film is so bad and amateurishly composed that it appears someone first listed off a series of extreme stunts and told Core and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (Salt) to write the movie around them no matter how jarring or ill-fitting they may seem. If you're still wondering, the stunts don't work on their own because the script's lousiness makes them boring since there's no investment in the one- dimensional characters and the weak performances of the actors.
No thought went into planning this narrative. It starts with two motocross riders jumping between rock faces. One of them is Utah (Australian actor Luke Bracey), who watches as his friend falls to his death. The film forwards seven years to when Utah has joined the FBI and is under the watch of Instructor Hall (Delroy Lindo), who doubts Utah's commitment and calls him son a lot. Since Utah was once a motocross rider in the extreme sports circle, he magically has the background information about the activity of the dangerous gang of extreme sports criminals Hall is chasing. It's mega stupid and as contrived as the stunts themselves. The gang, best described as a hodgepodge of philosophers, hippies, extremists and Mountain Dew sports stars, is performing a ritual called the Osaki 8. The Osaki 8 involves eight different extreme sports trials, some of which are criminal activities but others are plain stunts including surfing and mountain climbing. The transition between these set pieces is embarrassing. When Utah bombs out in an early surfing attempt, the gang saves him from drowning by bringing him onto their boat. He's recognised as a famous motocross rider from all those years ago but everyone, at least at this point, is oblivious that this not-exactly-inconspicuous surfer dude has been training as a cop and is allowed to freely explore the boat of the gang leader Bodhi (Joy's Édgar Ramírez). The other members of the gang, including Teresa Palmer as a brief love interest, barely register at all so you won't give two hoots about them and they aren't even smart enough to background check Utah before initiating him. More criminal than the stunts is how Ray Winston as Utah's partner Pappas, a potentially good replacement for Gary Busey's comic relief character, is inconsequential through much of the film except when questioning if Utah is overly enjoying the gang life. But since we don't care about the other gang members, what's the point in blurring the two lines of the law?
Does every blockbuster have to be self-serious now because it worked so well in the Nolan Batman films? Whereas Bigelow's film meshed action and comedy, this remake doesn't have a funny side at all. Instead, Bodhi's long, boring monologues about giving back to the earth (what?) are serious delusions this film has about becoming meaningful. But even watching the film solely for the stunts is futile. The film's marketing has emphasised how the stunts are performed by actual stuntmen as opposed to employing special effects. But given the stunts often have nothing to do with the gang's criminal activities, like the surfing, gliding and snowboarding sequences, we're watching a stunt showcase that's completely aloof from the plot. Similarly, the apparent realism of the stunts is malarkey since some are about as plausible as a Looney Tune's cartoon. Driving down mountain slopes ahead of an avalanche, through a dense forest on bikes and climbing mountains with just his bare hands will make you think that the FBI has really intensified its training or Utah has spent a lot of time with the Avengers. The only good things about the film are its brief reference to the bank robber masks of the original and that this boring pile falls under the two hour mark. It's a small victory for anyone who is foolish enough to pay money to see it. I lied and will reiterate: don't pay money to see this because you're only encouraging movies like this with boring action and such carelessness towards the story. It's a black eye to the fans of the original who might have given this disaster a chance.
Its narrative of individuality and personal sacrifice should not be underestimated.
I found Suffragette to be an unexpectedly moving film given the power and conviction of its highly relevant story and the emotional attachment I felt towards its central character. Although it is about the women of England who demanded the right to vote, it is foremost historical fiction that uses make-believe characters to unveil a portion of history. While I was unaware that much of the film was fiction, the actors and the situations were thoroughly convincing to me. Films such as this are caught in an unfair, irresolvable critical bind, lamented for historical inaccuracies when using a real life subject but equally crucified for also taking liberties. Suffragette resolves the creative dilemma simply by developing a believable character, one encompassing a pastiche of experiences of the women of the period and detailing her as an outsider and then an active political figure so that we understand her evolution inside the movement. The leader of the Suffragettes, Emmeline Pankhurst, is kept at arm's length, which typifies the outside viewpoint but consequently shields the film from accusations of misrepresenting an enormous political figure and allows for a sharp focus point, where one character can become our emotional vessel throughout the story.
Joy is a disappointing reunion, one that ends O. Russell's winning streak of good to great films over the past ten years or more
Even after rewriting Annie Mumolo's script, O. Russell's reach hasn't extended further than a standard archetype or clenched a unique narrative line. His choices are curious given he has rarely made the same film twice and admirably cast star power while refusing to lull on what previously succeeded for the director. Disappointingly, Joy's story arc and themes of individualism and self-determination are curiously blasé and insubstantial, rarely trudging deeper than seeing a younger woman overcome life's burdens through her personal inspiration and self- belief that allows her to stand on her own feet. The narrative is made derivative by predictable obstacles to its goals of confidence, female empowerment and dedication to women, by dodgy business partners, financial problems and moments of self-loathing. The film doesn't achieve the director's usual balance of high drama and hilarious comedy because the laughs grow scarce when confronted by the film's sluggish duration, outstaying its welcome until it shifts from quietly humorous to tedious before the end. Sentimental gimmicks like Joy talking to her inner child and the narration of her grandmother (Diane Ladd) are no aid to the flat pacing. The early scenes show glimpses of the manic energy of O. Russell's recent films, with rants between the characters simmering close to the boil but merely teasing the perpetual madness we crave.
Man Up (2015)
Despite the weak finish, it's not enough to dampen the punchiness and hilarity of an otherwise delightful little comedy
In the British comedy Man Up, Lake Bell (In a World) stars as Nancy, a woman who is sitting in hotel room and reluctant to join a party and socialise. On a separate evening, she rides on a train with the intention of meeting her family because her sister wants her to give a speech at her parents' house since they're having their anniversary. On the train, she's advised by a strange woman named Jessica to read a self-help book. Jessica is meeting a man on a blind date, with the plan to use the book to recognise each other. To help Nancy to change her attitude, she leaves the book with her. Nancy races to return the book but at the train station Jack (Simon Pegg) sees her and thinks she's Jessica. Nancy plays along with this, not telling him her true identity. Throughout the chaotic evening of their date, they accidentally meet people from their past, including Nancy's stalker from school Sean (Rory Kinnear) and on Jack's side, his ex-wife (Olivia Williams) from whom and her new partner.
Man Up is rather surprisingly a hilarious and economical comedy about a chance encounter and the hidden agendas people forge when in relationships. The strength of the comedy and the volume of laughs are attributable to the strong foundations supplied by Tess Morris' script. The plot is a case of mistaken identity and it becomes funnier the more characters try to prevent this situation from unraveling in front of other people. There are two major setups that work extremely well with this comedic farce, which involve the stalker Sean and Jack's ex- wife. Both of these very funny sequences are also thematically consistent with people having to move on from their most hurtful relationships. Though the film also has some colourful words for what it thinks of the past. It's also admirable that the performances are bright and likable. Sporting a British accent, Lake Bell owns this role with her note-perfect comic timing. Her character Nancy is funny but also allowed to be wise too when she has to pull Jack back together. It's a more consistent feature for her than In a World. This is also a good comedic vehicle for Simon Pegg, who has in the past featured in some rather unappealing films. Along with Bell, he consistently made me laugh and most of the audience was laughing frequently too. Furthermore, it helps in the proceedings that the film's director Ben Palmer (The Inbetweeners) photographs the actors in locations populated with extras or the unsuspecting public, ensuring Nancy and Jack's conversations don't unfold in a visually underpopulated vacuum. The only aspect of Man Up that prevents it from soaring is its ending. It's not unreasonable, particularly when a film is this funny and clever, to ask for an ending that doesn't feel like it's recycled from dozens of lesser romantic-comedies. It's a staple of the romantic comedy genre but one that's grown tiresome all the same. Despite the weak finish, it's not enough to dampen the punchiness and hilarity of an otherwise delightful little comedy.
Despite sharing some of the same troubles as its lead character, I found it to be compelling and highly sophisticated in its performances and its visual design
Emily Blunt is terrific in the new crime thriller Sicario, the name of which means "hitman" in Spanish. After starring mostly in romantic comedies, the English actress Blunt has transitioned into the action genre with films like Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Looper (2012). But here, she delves so deeply into her character's confusion and internal angst that the actress recognisable from these films disappears, replaced by a tortured and immersive performance of the highest order. She excels playing FBI agent Kate Macer, a woman with few personal connections, except for her friendship with fellow investigator Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya). Following a raid in Mexico, which unveils multiple corpses and an explosion that kills several cops, Kate and Reggie are enlisted by a shady set of government types who recruit them with a mission to hunt down a drug lord; they use Kate's desire to bring the men responsible for the ambush on her colleagues as emotional leverage. The most prominent of these men is Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, doing some of his best recent work) and the other is the mysterious Alejandro (a tremendously oily, mysterious and unpredictable Benicio Del Toro). Alejandro is the most ambiguous figure, as no one will outrightly say if he belongs to an organisation like the CIA or some other allegiance. Only towards the end of this complex investigation do his motives become more transparent.
The tight relationship between the director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners), cinematographer Roger Deakins (True Grit) and Blunt is unearthed in a number of sequences that show precise visual and stylistic choices. There has been a lot of discussion recently about films losing their visual flair as they look to imitate the dialogue-driven form of television, given to the rise of HBO and similar channels. But thankfully, Sicario lays waste to the misguided notion that films are no longer cinematic or visually inclined. The film is superbly photographed and framed by Deakins and Villenuve, who use the shape, locations and spatiality, rather than words, to convey the thematic ideas in the narrative. One of the most impressive sequences in the film is a set piece where Kate is seated in the back of a car and being driven through the streets of Mexico. In this incident, the big black cars accompanying her vehicle fall into a procession and become indistinguishable from one another. The same is also true of the various police vehicles on the road. Meanwhile, Deakins also employs enormous, sweeping overhead shots to emphasise the anonymity of the various housing blocks and streets throughout Mexico. Through these formal choices and the images, the film creates visual conflict as an extension of Kate's inner most feelings of self-doubt and vulnerability. Like the audience, her destination at the hands of these men is confused; similarly, her surroundings in this hugely dangerous and creepy world, where bodies are strung up in public, blur together into a haze, where the cops and criminals become inseparable. In a standoff in the traffic, the police open fire on gun totting thugs before they even raise their weapons. A police officer also opens fire on Kate, forcing her to dispose of him. The visual anonymity, created by the formal choices, are paired with the action sequence to reinforce how political and moral boundaries dissolve when no one is accountable and their identity isn't confirmed or realised.
The spatiality of the interior scenes is also used in interesting ways to convey ideas about the truth and the hidden motives of the characters. In one very confronting sequence, a man is interrogated by Alejandro, who shoves his genitals into his face and then, we assume, water boards him. The way the camera cuts away to a drain in this scene isn't a compromise; it's a continuation of a thematic goal about how the truth is distorted and contained within the film's tighter, closed spaces. When Kate first meets Matt, who wears thongs at a government meeting, Deakins employs a visual motif as simple as a pane of glass between Kate and her colleagues to reflect her distance from their true motives. The interior of the meeting room and the aforementioned interrogation room are cube shaped to again reflect the truth being withheld —a stark contrast to the wider open spaces that invite danger and violence. It is a fine mixture of visual and personal drama, particularly when the film is told from Kate's perspective; the camera tightens regularly on Blunt's face, who is so convincing in using her eyes to stress her character's unease and her failure to understand her situation. Where the film falls short is this same ambiguity, which is often intentional but sometimes not, and it does become slightly convoluted about the true motives of these characters. Meanwhile, some will understandably reel from the amount of violence and its savagery; however, from the film's very first scene, we see the police vomiting and kneeling over from the same horrors we've witnessed. Though it is incredibly tense, calling Sicario a straight action film is a cheap, unnecessary tag to apply to something interested in more than body counts and casual thrills. The film is about someone in search of the truth, pitched against blurring moral lines and anonymous figures, and the convoluted motives of dodgy characters. Despite sharing some of the same troubles as its lead character, I found it to be compelling and highly sophisticated in its performances and its visual design.
The Martian (2015)
The Martian isn't a great film but at the very least it shows that there is still some life left inside of Ridley Scott's directorial efforts
The Martian isn't a great film but at the very least it shows that there is still some life left inside of Ridley Scott's directorial efforts. The English director is seventy-seven now and in the twilight of his career. Some of the films he has made recently have been overblown and disappointing, in spite of the impressive casts he musters. He has returned to space and science fiction, a genre explored in his two most popular films Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Those two films were warnings about the future, technology and dangerous new worlds. The Martian has some of these elements but is comparatively, a more hopeful film. It is generically concerned with American individualism but also what can be achieved through being calculated and accounted for, which is, coincidentally, a positive trait of filmmaking itself by being measured as a director, rather than indulging in excess.
Adapted by screenwriter Drew Goddard from Andy Weir's book, the film focuses on Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon), who is an astronaut and biologist left behind on Mars after his crew (Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara) abandons the red surface and believes he has died. Wounded, Mark uses his skills and resources as a biologist to inhabit and live on the red planet. He uses feces for example as fertiliser so that he can grow tiny plants and consequently, potatoes that he can eat. Whether this is plausible or not isn't up for debate. Rather, it's refreshing how the film makes the action practical for its main character, focussing on his resourcefulness rather than bombastic special elements and fight scenes. This is a gentler blockbuster and also one with an unexpected funny bone, freeing it from the self-seriousness pretensions that engulfed Interstellar—the film to which it's regularly compared.
However, more could have been made of Mark's isolation and the terror of being the single person alone on the planet. Compromises are made which offset the isolation, including Matt Damon's persistent narration to a camera (and the audience) as he documents his journey. Using pop tunes such as Abba from a music collection of one of Mark's crew members is also like an offshoot of brighter sci-fi films such as Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Matt Damon is very charismatic, funny and likable in the lead role but a shade of seriousness and trauma is missing from his performance. Rather than countering the film's commercial elements, such as its humour and its bright tone with a dose of realism and psychology, Mark resorts to jokes and punchlines, which makes him too relaxed for the singular person on the planet. One shot which demonstrates Mark's physical deterioration is late in the piece, when his wilted frame emerges from a shower.
Mark is not entirely alone throughout the film because it also extends into earth scenes, which thematically stress the ethics of media and control. The closest the film has to a villain, there are thankfully no aliens or monsters, is Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels who is excellent), the director of NASA. He is reluctant to tell the crew about Mark still being alive and also stalls a rescue operation because he is more concerned about the pictures being posted, which would reveal the carelessness of the operation. In one sequence, he also opts to skim through a safety protocol to fast-track the launch of a rocket. Whereas Mark rations his food and counts his resources, Teddy is equally calculated in his strategies, opting to take shortcuts if it's more convenient. Is Teddy perhaps representing the over controlling studio boss who wants production rushed and is pitted against the micromanagement and attention to detail? There are other strong actors here, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Sean Bean and Jessica Chastain, who make memorable impressions with their roles and overcome the script's lack of backstory and inner lives.
As a showpiece of spatiality and 3D technology, The Martian is predictably an impressive specimen. The film has generally high production values, expected at this level, but most surprising is the way in which the 3D effects are gently pushed into the frame to enhance the shape of the spacecraft's passageways or the vast open spaces of the red planet itself. The shots of Mark sitting alone in the open are examples of when the film conveys the empty plains of Mars and his detachment from humanity. Once the film overcomes the weight of some of its scientific jargon in the dialogue, which can be intimidating late in the film, it also becomes an exciting rescue mission. The finale is staged with an impressive amount of tension and great skill from this experienced director. It may not be Ridley Scott most impressive film but it shows that after decades in the industry, he remains entirely capable of fine craftsmanship.
Black Mass (2015)
The two lead actors and the complexity of their involvement to each other carried my interest almost entirely throughout an untidy but compelling and gruesome crime opera
The title of Scott Cooper's effective, violent and atmospheric crime drama Black Mass has several meanings. The first is a reference to the Irish-Catholic values of the film's real life subject, the gangster James 'Whitey' Bulger, whose violent actions in South Boston from the 1970s to the 1990s were a terrifying contradiction of his religious upbringing. The second meaning is a scientific and philosophical viewpoint, reflecting how matter or mass can never entirely disappear but becomes invisible to the human eye. Invisibility was imperative for Whitey because according to the film, his attitude was that if no one witnessed a crime, particularly a murder, it never happened. The merciless brutality of Whitey is embodied by Johnny Depp, whose wicked performance and hideous transformation ignites a desperate victory for this once inventive character actor. He is matched by a colourful turn from Australian actor Joel Edgerton, who plays self-interested FBI agent John Connolly, a childhood friend of Whitey. Connolly represents another form of darkness. Money and status encourage him to sweep away the devil's crimes, meaning Black Mass is a film that draws from the Old Testament, warning us about how people of power and status succumb to life's temptations. The two lead actors and the complexity of their involvement to each other carried my interest almost entirely throughout an untidy but compelling and gruesome crime opera.
The Last Witch Hunter (2015)
Maybe the flaws are proof that audiences are, we can hope, becoming better at sniffing out a fizzer and refusing to encourage mediocrity
Someone in Hollywood decided that slaying witches was a strong financial investment and one that befitted the current day Christian and conservative ideologue of the film industry. Christianity's influence in Hollywood and subsequent right-wing values have resonated with audiences in the various superhero films and major franchises like Twilight. A film franchise about a battle between the Church and witches, drawing from a dark chapter of Christian- American history, would surely have tapped into the conservative dialogue and consequently developed a popular fanbase. Adding Vin Diesel to the leading role would also seem like a recipe for success given the popularity of his Fast and Furious franchise and his voice work in Guardians of the Galaxy. His confidence in this very silly mixture of action, horror and magic was evident in his choice to become one of the film's executive producers.
While Hollywood's bean counters worked overtime to calculate a formula of political, financial and perhaps even artistic success, The Last Witch Hunter had a dismal time at the US box office. It has, so far, failed to return half of its $70 million dollar budget. We often scoff at how mediocrity relishes the box office but maybe quality was a factor this time and one that overrode the special effects and star power. After all, this film also features Michael Caine and Elijah Wood, both of whom have contributed to the haulings of major franchises with Batman and The Lord of the Rings, respectively. While acting as an executive producer, Diesel's call to hire Breck Eisner to direct the film is one that's backfired. This is Eisner's first film in five years since The Crazies (2010) and even longer since the action-comedy Sahara (2004). He doesn't bring tension to the proceedings, nor does he frame action pieces, like the opening ambush scene, in a clear or exciting manner, free of muddiness and confusion. Previously, Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, famous for the Night Watch and Day Watch films before he went to Hollywood, was attached to direct the film.
The distinction, flavour or general weirdness Bekmambetov might have brought would have been most welcome. The film's lore and plotting are stale, with the protagonist said to be inspired by Vin Diesel's love of the game Dungeons and Dragons, which he's played for twenty years. This adolescence is perpetuated by the film's derivative attempts to mirror similarly trash franchises like the dreaded Underworld vampire series. Like Underworld, ancient mythology is juxtaposed with the modern world. The latter is at the forefront here because this is not a medieval story. It merely starts in that time period with Kaulder (Diesel) and his fellow warriors tracking the Witch Queen down in her lair. The moment Kaulder believes he's defeated her, she curses him so he'll live forever. The story forwards to the present day New York, where the film is almost entirely placed, thereby reducing the necessity for elaborate ancient sets and costumes. Kaulder is still a witch hunter but is now living in the city during a truce period between the witches and the Axe and Cross group, whose council who is essentially the Vatican and opting to imprison witches in an underground cave after they've sentenced them. Kaulder's mentor is the priest Dolan 36th (Michael Caine), who advises him to find some company in his life. Dolan 36th dies after declaring his retirement and Kaulder enlists the help of Dolan 37th (Elijah Wood) and a witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie), who runs a bar, to investigate the mystery of his death.
A mild diversion, one of the few drawn from the film, is considering whether it is brutal against witches or not. In an interesting line of dialogue, the only one that resonates in the weak script, is when Kaulder says that the Salem witch trials were "a mistake and those women were innocent". However, it's not much of a spoiler to say that his showdown will be with an old foe, meaning whether or not its progressive is really a moot point. Other lines like "I promise I'll find who did this and break the curse!" are straight out of a generic screen writing template. It's also cringing to see the ageless Michael Caine working with material far beneath him, as he spouts lines about the witch prison or reassuring Kaulder that he's defeated his enemy once and he can do it again! Much of the dialogue is flat because Vin Diesel's baritone voice scrapes each one out and shows no emotional range. He's not as fun or as comically snarky as a comparable actor like Bruce Willis either. He regularly plays men that are anti- heroes but his one-dimensional character, with a dead family of course, isn't embedded into a story with any tension or surprises. It's terribly predictable and derivative and can't even keep track of its main players as it becomes muddled by fantasy flashback trance scenes when Chloe uses her powers to help Kauldel discover what happened in his past. Michael Caine's character only features at the beginning and end of the film and 37 is forgotten for a long stretch, only to return at the end with a ridiculous and underdeveloped twist, shoehorned in between the superfluous special effects. What else needs to be said? Maybe these flaws are proof that audiences are, we can hope, becoming better at sniffing out a fizzer and refusing to encourage mediocrity.
Mistress America (2015)
Sometimes Mistress America is very funny and makes for pleasant company but it is not the most original or deepest film from director Noah Baumbach
Sometimes Mistress America is very funny and makes for pleasant company but it is not the most original or deepest film from director Noah Baumbach. The film continues his fascination with the lives of young people, generational gaps and relationships, which were all themes he explored in his films Greenberg, Frances Ha and While We're Young (which was released earlier this year). As with Frances Ha, Baumbach co-wrote Mistress America with his girlfriend and star Greta Gerwig, who features in a lead role. Another similarity is that this film is again about the comfort women find in each other's company, and undone by a slice of life crisis.
Baumbach knows his limitations as a small-scale filmmaker, which is something unique in modern Hollywood when films are longer and more bloated than necessary and have little to say. He counters self- indulgence by making films only ninety minutes long, which operate on the high energy supplied by the cast. His films also refute how Hollywood panders heavily to young demographics, while only stimulating their minds with pulp fantasies, make-believe and impossible romances rather than observing their behaviour. Baumbach's artistic and commercial strength is therefore making films about the banality of people in their twenties, who might have outgrown The Hunger Games and Twilight, and also pairing the young characters with the older generation to draw in broader audiences.
While the source of this film's energy is provided by Greta Gerwig, whose hyperactive charm and array of quips dominates proceedings, she isn't the film's main character. The story is narrated by Tracy (Gone Girl's Lola Kirke), an 18 year old college student, who aside from seeing her mother potentially remarry, is depressed about her isolation among her peers and a potential relationship gone sour. Her mother encourages her to counter her loneliness by calling Brooke (Gerwig), who is thirty and becoming Tracy's half-sister. Brooke talks without a speed limit, mostly about herself, and in spite of her self absorbed nature and age gap, she and Tracy become friends. One night, Brooke encounters a string of bad luck and she and Tracy are advised by a spirit guide to resolve some tension from her past. What's unresolved is Brooke's war with her nemesis Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind), who she believes stole her fiancé, her cats and her t shirt design. On a road trip to find Mamie-Claire, Brooke takes Tracy and her friend Tony (Matthew Shear) and his disgruntled girlfriend Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones), which causes conflict because Tracy wanted to date him before discovering he had a girlfriend.
In the film's extended midpoint, where Brooke tracks down her nemesis, Baumbach shows how creative he can be with the actors and their dialogue, refusing to fall back on talking heads. He orchestrates the scenes as though the actors are in a French farce. The way the characters walk in and out of rooms and talk over each other in this sequence shows acute choreography, timing and rehearsal on display. At one point, a conversation escalates so quickly the reverse shots barely keep up with the actors, such is the briskness of the editing between them. Through this chatter, Baumbach relies solely on dialogue rather than images and poses some interesting questions. In many scenes, the film asks what age we stop relying on other people, as shown in a pivotal choice as to whether Brooke will borrow money for her restaurant business. It is also about whether it's better to have wild ideas and not follow through with them or none at all because what draws Tracy to Brooke's friendship, filling her void of loneliness, is Brooke's self-belief or overconfidence as some might call it. She has great enthusiasm for her personal ambitions and her interests even if they don't amount to anything or don't seem that special. She is only to be held back by the personal chinks in her armour like her parents divorcing and her prolonged grudge—a continuation of Baumbach's theme of stasis, which he explored thoroughly in Greenberg.
The film itself is not unlike how we perceive the character Brooke. Between the fast quips and gag lines, it's hard not to question the depths or its limitations, in spite of the generosity to different generations. The volume of dialogue in this film and others from the director raises a huge stylistic point: how would Baumbach have fared in the silent era? As the tragedy of films drifting away from their most unique quality continues, the projection of a story through images rather than words, one questions whether Baumbach will ever become more reliant on the visual apparatus as a substitute for his dialogue. And if he does open himself up to new images it might also invites different narratives for him to explore. Some of his themes and ideas are starting to repeat themselves. The arguments about the ownership of Brooke's t-shirt idea are derivative of the conversations from the superior While We're Young, which I felt was richer and had more thematic layers. Together, Baumbach and Gerwig can draw in a more diverse audience than a lot of filmmakers. They're attracting both men and women to their films, which is rather sadly considered a luxury in Hollywood. It might be further encouragement to diversify the type of stories and the themes while people are still looking.
Everest's technical feats aren't matched by a subpar script by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy
This film is based on the true and fatal story of Robert Hall, a New Zealand mountain climber, who along with several others died climbing Mount Everest. Hall is played by Australian actor Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Planet of the Apes) who leads the expedition featuring Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), who is a wealthy American whose vision becomes impaired on the mountain and Dough Hansen (John Hawkes) who has had to take on multiple jobs to pay for the challenge. A drunken expedition leader (Jake Gyllenhaal) is leading his own group and decides to pair up with Hall. At home, Jason Clarke's wife (Keira Knightley) is pregnant and fearful that her husband might not return. One of Hall's major colleagues is Helen Wilton, (Emily Watson), a Kiwi camp manager, who corresponds with the group over the radio. Once upon the mountain, members of Hall's group start to splinter off from each other under the difficult conditions. Some perish and others are fortunate enough to make it off the mountain, in spite of the fiercely icy and deathly conditions. As a character says at one point: "Our bodies will be literally dying." On a technical front, this is a stronger film than some of Icelandic director's Baltasar Kormákur previous work like Contraband. It was filmed in several countries including Italy, Iceland and Nepal. The film on the whole, particularly the breathtaking landscapes and mountain ranges, is handsomely photographed. The snowy conditions raises a question rare in films today where you ask: "How did they film that?" It's something that has often been nullified by the ease in which computer generated images have replaced real, dangerous environments and stunt work itself.
Unfortunately, Everest's technical feats aren't matched by a subpar script by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours). The one philosophical question the film touches upon is: Why? Why are people interested in mountain climbing when it will not only cost them a small fortune to partake in these dangerous climbs but also risk their lives as well? The contemplation was the potential basis for a much deeper movie. But in this cut of the film, thirty minutes shorter than its original duration, that potential thesis question is addressed only briefly through rather corny responses like it'd be a crime to miss the beauty of the environment and Beck announcing that climbing is a cure for his depression. There's no depth to any of these characters, who are merely sketches, perhaps to share the airtime of all of the available stars. It's a splendid cast on paper. But sadly, the only conflict the script allows for is against the elements and terrain rather than building personalities to clash and boil over. There are too many good actors here for one movie, meaning some aren't used to their full potential. Jake Gyllenhaal barely features and Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington and Emily Watson have only small parts. Perhaps the reluctance to allow any of the actors to play the role of a villain, a source of human conflict, was in a bid for realism. But it's an objective undermined by the frequent cutbacks in conversation—an obvious and repetitive technique for building emotion—and which also lumbers the film's pacing to a crawl. Largely, the film is sunk by the difficulty of shaping a real life event into a two-hour narrative. How do you make a mountain out of an anthill of a story? This is not a film with a plot and character but one which tries to exist solely on its crippling atmosphere and conditions alone. Some died horribly and others were wounded terribly but survived—mostly on luck. There's not much more the audience can draw from the story or its coda. It is titled Everest and all the focus lands squarely on the conditions and the mountain itself. I would have cared so much more if the film had taken a personal, microscopic observation before its biggest steps.
We Are Your Friends (2015)
An excruciatingly long cocktail of party music, drugs and booze culture.
We Are Your Friends is an excruciatingly long cocktail of party music, drugs and booze culture. Some will wonder how this description could be boring but when the characters in the film are this obnoxious or dully conceived it becomes interminable, even at ninety odd minutes. The film is developed by French company StudioCanal who have hired first time director Max Joseph to helm the film and write the screenplay with Meaghan Oppenheimer. Joseph is an MTV recruit who worked on the television show Catfish. In both its form and content, the film is putrid and adolescent. The pacing is glacial for a revved up film about partying and life in the fast lane and the only major stylistic touches implemented involve the bombastic music, montage images and a gimmicky trip scene involving splashes of animation—whereas the rest of the film is blandly textured with dull white sterile tones. The screenplay preferences the party scenes well before the plot, which is comprised of undernourished story lines, pinched from other films. Adding in how unlikable the characters are and it is an insufferable and sometimes repugnant clunker.
If the film has any purpose it is to prove that actor Zac Efron has left his Disney roots far behind, having started his career in High School Musical. He has shown some promise before in films like Me and Orson Welles (2008). But his part here asks little of him in terms of facial expressions and emotion. It doesn't help that his character Cole, a wannabe DJ living away from home who is trying to make it in California, associates himself with the worst kind of people. His friends are Entourage-like bro dudes—misogynistic creeps—one of whom (played by Jonny Weston) is covered in tattoos and fittingly wears a hat backwards labelled "Lowlife". To ask us to sympathise with these yahoos and root for their success is asking far too much. They're an unlikable and grotesque bunch, who only serve to strengthen the stereotype that young men are solely interested in partying, getting wasted and talking about sex. Their ambitions are low, so why should we care? These layabouts are employed by James (Wes Bentley) to bring girls to a nightclub. It is there that Cole meets Sophie (model turned actress Emily Ratajkowski, from Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines video and recently Gone Girl) who isn't interested in tabling with them. Cole wakes up after a night of partying in the home of James and it turns out—wait for it— that Sophie is James's secretary and girlfriend. Meanwhile, James and Cole become friends and after he listens to Cole's DJ tracks, he tries to encourage his creativity and provide him with work.
The cliché story lines are as such: the temptation to date the boss's girlfriend, a Wolf of Wall Street-like subplot involving working for a shonky guy (Jon Bernthal) who preys on people who have their homes foreclosed by the banks and Cole's quest to make the ultimate music track because he believes that you only need one to be a success as a DJ. It's extremely dull because Cole is a flatly written character with no backstory, except the vague impression he's fallen out with his parents. Sophie is a slightly more sympathetic as she has been forced to work as a secretary since she can no longer afford to attend college. However, she is also treated as a submissive prisoner to both James and the film's dedication to making Cole an honourable white knight who will save her from mistreatment. But We Are Your Friends won't be winning awards for feminism. It frequently contradicts itself in the worst ways. There are no other female characters worth mentioning because they're not treated as people but background decoration to be ogled at by the film's lingering camera within slow-motion scenes. Similarly, in- between its scenes of debauchery, the film pretentiously comments on individualism and the American Dream. Would you believe the characters realise there might be more to life than merely partying? The third act houses a particularly stupid sequence where Cole develops a music track by recording the sounds around him, and compliments this with a useless coda—just in case any aspiring DJs silly enough to watch the film—about only needing one track to succeed in life. Who knew that Democracy and the free world were founded so that people like Cole could live out their dreams of becoming a successful DJ? Max Joseph himself had a single idea—a trashy and poorly scripted film—and it's emerged in terrible fashion.
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Although there are good aspects here it's an untidy synopsis of the group's history.
I used to listen to rap music when I was younger, specifically Eminem. Modern rap music carries the novelty of the artist vocalising the most outrageous, angry thoughts, mostly of young men, and funneling them through an aggressive attitude that is simultaneously tough and funny. Today, I still enjoy some of this music, such as Public Enemies' song Fight the Power from the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing. Eminem's biopic 8 Mile also impressed because it never felt like a vanity project and identified rap music as a dialect between impoverished black and whites in the city of Detroit. But while watching Straight Outta Compton, a biopic about rap group N.W.A, you're reminded of how some novelties, like the aggressive nature of rap music, are little more than a gimmick, the impressiveness of which dwindles with time. While undoubtedly channeling the group's music, the relentless aggression of this film wore me down—from the constant swearing in the dialogue and the verbal and physical confrontations—particularly at the merciless duration of two and a half hours. It's a pity the film's machismo and aggro dominates proceedings because occasionally, but not often enough, some involving elements, counter the film's relentlessness.
The film constructs an interesting historical mirror by characterising the rappers as victims of police brutality. The members including Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), soon to be actor Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube's own son), Dj Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), were according to the film regularly interrogated and bullied by the police in California during the mid-1980s. The scenes at night time are infused with a sense of danger, particularly as the camera of director F. Gary Gray pursues the back of the actors with a tracking shot, like in an exciting open scene where a house is raided. Similarly, the interrogation scenes at night eerily mirror the contemporary events of Ferguson as the police bully and subdue the rappers, which further adds to their story's acute timing. There are also some fine scenes where the film displays the bond between the group and their manager Jerry Heller (played by Paul Giamatti). It's the persuasiveness he instills into the character as he reminds the rappers of the opportunities he can create for them, which brings authority to his character. In the scene where he defends the rappers against the police as they force them to lie on the floor, it shows that, at least initially, they are people he cares about rather than business or pop cultural pawns. But these insights fall second to a structure that is annoyingly typical of biopics like Jersey Boys, where events are ploddingly skimmed over in succession, rather than unearthing the depth and personalities of the main characters.
The film portrays the rappers as an emblem of free speech rather than as people worth exploring, meaning the main rappers lack meaningful distinction from each other. Initially, it is insightful about how N.W.A came to create their most significant song "Fuck Tha Police" because it makes you understand what they went through to develop the song's attitude. The film though is curiously hypocritical, championing individualism and free speech in the face of police brutality, while also glossing over how violent its heroes are to others. In one scene, Ice-Cube uses a baseball bat to smash up the office of a businessman who owes him money. Similarly, in a hotel scene there's no criticism of NWA drawing assault weapons on their enemies and dumping a girl out on the doorstep. This scene also typifies the film's weak view of females, who are cast aside and have little impact on the story. In an early scene, the mother of Dr. Dre says she's worked too hard to have him spinning as a DJ, which is a cliché biopic trope where the parental figure doubts the talents of the subject. Meanwhile, further criticism has been launched at the failure to include Dre's history of domestic violence against women. These qualms would have done little to dispel the enthusiasm of fans at the screening, dressed in their N.W.A gear. The film caters to them to a fault by lumping events on top of each other and sustaining the aggro to the very end. I'd rather see a more disciplined version of the story because although there are good aspects here it's an untidy synopsis of the group's history.
Macbeth is ultimately lacking a clear stylistic identity.
At a screening of Macbeth, an elderly couple cackled to each other when told the name of this website and asked if this film could become a video game. Perhaps Macbeth Effect I thought. This critic's mind isn't full of scorpions. It's a legitimate question about what form Shakespeare's work will take in the future, as it's appropriated to contemporary mediums like modern cinema and video games. These are competing modes and sometimes intertwined in their bid to capture the attention of the broadening mass market. In adapting Shakespeare to cinema, it's not essential to retain the original Early Modern English dialogue but to express the thematic content of the stories within distinct images because cinema is, rather uniquely, a predominantly visual medium. But Australian director Justin Kurzel, who last made the local murder thriller Snowtown (2011) before shifting to Hollywood, has struggled to translate Macbeth into a cinematic form, despite being aided by heavyweight actors Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, playing Macbeth and his scheming wife.
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Oddball is a confused political critique disguised as a mediocre Australian family film
Oddball is a confused political critique disguised as a mediocre Australian family film. It opens with spectacular overhead shots that sweep over the water and the cliff faces. But if it were not for the high production values and the quality of the cast, this would have been a direct to video film. The only interesting aspect of Stuart McDonald's film is its awkward transition between two conflicting political messages. Oddball is primarily driven by a left-leaning environmental green message about protecting endangered animals and remaining highly critical of bureaucracy, red tape and American intervention. Simultaneously, the film is old fashioned in dramatising the techniques of environmental preservation and the way it mirrors American movies should be deemed politically conservative, with the retention of the family unit a chief concern of the narrative and its characters.
The film is based on the real story of Allan 'Swampy' Marsh, who saved a colony of endangered fairy penguins by protecting them with a Maremma Sheepdog. In the film, Allan is played by Shane Jacobson (Kenny), who has lost is wife but is happily working as a chicken farmer in Warrnambool, a Victorian coastal town. His daughter Emily (Sarah Snook) is working as a conservationist and must preserve up to ten penguins or else their sanctuary will be lost. Emily is not only a single mother to Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies), but also dating Bradley Slater (Alan Tudyk), an American who becomes involved in a development plan that could overtake the penguin habitat. Simultaneously, Allan and his granddaughter are worried about losing their dog Oddball, who is in the eye of the local dog catcher (Frank Woodley), after he is deemed by the local council to be on his last warning if he causes anymore disruptions in the town. Allan and Olivia realise Oddball still has one useful purpose: he is able to protect the penguins from the foxes at night but they decide to keep this a secret from Emily, who doesn't want any further interference.
Oddball's major thematic goal is about challenging the establishment. In the film, the rulings of local government, laws and enterprise threaten to dissolve the Australian family by creating a domino effect over multiple aspects of society. The loss of Oddball, the free spirit and a symbol of a rural-style of protection, would mean losing the sanctuary and consequently Emily, who warns her father its one of the few things keeping her within the town. Meanwhile, her partner Bradley isn't an outright villain but characterised unsympathetically as an ugly caricature of shallow, consumerist American culture, who tries winning Olivia's love with expensive gifts. By accidentally disrupting the penguin's home with an overlapping development plan, he represents how modernity and business trample contemporary green values and families. His suggestion that Emily and her daughter move to New York, which is met with reluctance, typifies the film's strange antagonism to modern life in favour of traditional values and small town favouritism. Despite keeping his granddaughter away from school an alarming number of times, Allan personifies traditionalism. This simple chicken farmer is best summarised by a scene in which he gate crashes Bradley's date with Emily in a fine dining restraurant, dramatising his resistance to modern life and the upper class. While content to share thematic parallels to Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (2007), like the resistance to modernity and land ownership,Oddball's contradicting political trajectory is typified by awkwardly juggling these dual political goals: a contemporary green and progressive message about the environment, on top of a conservative view of retaining the family unit by dismissing exciting new life experiences, such as travelling and re-establishment.
These political and social aims were perhaps lost on the small children at the screening, some of whom grew visibly restless. The political ambitions aren't matched by lasting comedy because it's simply not as funny as one would hope and arguably too talkative for young children. Despite incorporating slapstick humour, a middling family drama, a minor mystery and those arching political goals, it's overly predictable and lightweight. Its greatest crime is throwing the potential of its cast into the wind. Shane Jacobson's Allan is not a fully realised character but a half-written comedy sketch that supplies the occasionally light quip or humorous remark and Sarah Snook's role doesn't stretch her talents as far as we have seen recently. Ultimately, it's the underdeveloped side roles which are most disappointing. Woodley is a hilarious comedian whose comic touch is never used and Debra Mailman doesn't feature anywhere near enough in her meager role as the town's mayor. The character Bradley Slater is a painfully obvious and grating caricature, whose relationship arc is clumsily resolved in the film's closing moments. While determined to tear down the establishment in favour of contemporary ideas and progress values, Oddball mirrors the shape of the Australian film industry itself. Its modern political trajectory is contained by conservative ideological goals that subdue its progressive aims. Along with its predictable, forgettable narrative and its failure to settle on one particular style, the adults in the audience had the right to be as fidgety as the kids.
If a film is dedicating itself entirely to action it must still give us a reason to care about the characters and their perilous situations
If a film is dedicating itself entirely to action it must still give us a reason to care about the characters and their perilous situations. The fifth in the Mission: Impossible series, starring Tom Cruise, is entirely action but also highly impersonal. This was never going to be a deep movie but outside of the rich cast hired to play them— including Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner and newcomer Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules, 2014)—there's nothing distinguishable about the personalities of the film's characters. Some have already named this as the best of the series and the one which cements Cruise's status as high as James Bond or the apex of action stars. Personally, I prefer Tom Cruise films where he's asked to do more than perform elaborate stunts and where his dramatic chops are tested like in Michael Mann's Collateral (2004) and perhaps his most alarmingly dramatic work in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999). There are also smarter, deeper chase movies than the Mission Impossible series like Minority Report (2002).
In Rogue Nation, Cruise resumes his role as Ethan Hunt, a top secret spy whose group the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) is under fire by CIA boss Alan Hunley (Baldwin), who wants to dismantle them. Meanwhile, the group is also attacked by a counter organisation called the Syndicate, which sends Hunt and his team—including Benji (Pegg)—on the run. Helping Hunt escape capture from the opposite team is Ilsa (Ferguson), who is after a disk with the names of agents on it. But she remains untrustworthy and elusive for Hunt as she keeps switching sides. Hunt's ally Agent William Brandt (Renner) is also on the lookout for him, and trying to escape the increasing pressure from Alan, who himself wants to capture Hunt. Hunt's mission to find the disk and stop the Syndicate organisation takes him global hopping and into scenarios like a night at the opera and also a dangerous infiltration mission under the water. It's a very convoluted, crazy plot, which most won't bother to unravel if they're engaged or distracted by the big set pieces and stunts.
Aside from Benji, the characters in the film are boring action figurines, short on characterisation and humanity. Take the newcomer Ferguson, who admirably throws herself into all of the physicality of Ilsa. It's not a part with any backstory or personality and the reality is further diminished by the extent of her resume—including running, sniping, diving, motorcycle racing, general spy stuff, knife fights and disarming a man by leaping onto his head in an evening gown—which makes her symmetrical with video game characters like Lara Croft. Scarlett Johansson would have been worn out by this role. On top of a female lead, was someone worried Renner would further outshine Cruise? He has so little do in the film, which seems like a bizarre omission given he's proved his physicality in action films like The Hurt Locker (2008), The Bourne Legacy (2012) and the two Avengers films. Ving Rhames is the film's one African American character and the only action sequence for him is an amusing gag scene with a vehicle. For someone of Cruise's experience, Ethan Hunt is not a role which tests him outside of the stunts. He's a dull, standard can-do hero, without the personality or the fun of James Bond and no inner life either. His team regularly mentions their friendship with Hunt but there's little downtime to show their bond and any pauses are dedicated towards exposition.
As determined by Christopher McQuarrie—who reteams with Cruise after directing Jack Reacher—the content and the shape of the film further dispel Hunt's believability. There aren't enough spaces between some of the action sequence. In one montage or collage of stunts, Hunt drowns under water, is revived, speeds off in a car, crashes his vehicle in a series of ridiculous flips, and then he escapes from the wreckage, only to speed off on a motorcycle. Compressing the sequences together makes the film like a cartoon and hard to take seriously, which would be one of the aims of the filmmakers and Cruise, who prides himself on the stunts. One point where the film becomes enjoyable is when it reaches a new height of ridiculousness, as Alan gives a speech about Hunt being "the living manifestation of destiny." It's an unintentionally hilarious moment, which had a lot of the cinema laughing including myself, but true to form its proceeded by the weight of another chase scene and a knife fight. Tom Cruise has already reached his fifties and it'll be interesting to see how the backend of his career treats him and whether he looks for roles that will test his range or at least let him utilise his charisma. He needs to catch his breath.
Fantastic Four (2015)
Fantastic Four is a terrible film, a $100 million dollar piñata, deserving of its critical and commercial mauling
Fantastic Four is a terrible film, a $100 million dollar piñata, deserving of its critical and commercial mauling. It's so dire it could become a case study for the contemporary studio system's flaws. But feel for the film's director Josh Trank, whose only other feature was the mildly effective superhero film Chronicle, starring Michael B. Jordon. It cost $12 million dollars and earned over $100 million dollars—a massive return, which would have contributed significantly to Fox's decision to hire Trank to adapt the Marvel comic and reboot the franchise after the two previously dismal films. At a conceptual stage, the negative press was already building. Racist comic book fans rallied against the casting of Jordon as one of the film's superheroes because the character in the comics is white. The Hollywood Reporter site also has insider comments about Trank being uncommunicative on the set, describing him with words like "erratic" and "indecisive". Furthermore, the film underwent reshoots, which is always troubling when this sort of money is involved. Most damagingly, Trank attacked the film and the studio on Twitter, arguing his version of the film that will never be seen. But is any of this rumour and innuendo relevant? Hollywood now hires inexperienced directors and throws big money at them because they believe they'll be obliging. But isn't granting a relatively novice filmmaker top dollars and not expecting trouble playing with fire? No other industry in the world throws money around as carelessly as Hollywood. On this occasion it's burnt a lot of people and potentially ended a career that's barely started.
A better cut of the film wouldn't dispel what unconvincing tripe this is. The technology in this film is ridiculous and treated a bit like that Internet joke "because science"—starting with a boy genius building a mini teleporter in his garage. As grownups, Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) showcase an improved teleporter at a science fair. Reed is invited to join a research group in the city to help build a new teleporter. Half of this dreck is dedicated to building the machine before anyone receives their superpowers. Can the machine forward us an act or two? It's rare to criticise a superhero movie for not having enough action but given how underdeveloped, nondescript the characters are and how boring and lacking in tension the film is, any heat would have been a reprieve. The other characters include Professor Storm (Reg E. Cathey), who has a hilariously deep voice, his son Johnny (Jordon) who drag races so we know he's a rebellious, Storm's adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) who talks like a computer and has one look on her face and Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), who leaves the blinds closed because he's dark and moody—nothing sinister there—and whose original theory has been completed by Reed. Once the real teleporter is constructed, the film becomes monumentally stupid. After a few drinks, Reed, Ben, Johnny and Victor decide the very night the teleporter is completed they'll test it themselves. Let that resonate with you for a moment. And if you were teleported to a mysterious alien plant—while intoxicated no less— would you touch some mysterious green goo? An explosion leaves the kids with superpowers, except Von Doom who is left for dead on the planet.
The way the film collapses from this point is both sad and unintentionally hilarious. The film's disjointed shape—a result of those reshoots—is painfully evident in the gaping plot holes, time lapses and incoherent story threads. For example, the film forwards a year to when the characters are under military supervision and only then does Johnny's father—slow on the uptake—tell his son he's worried what the military will do to him. Trying to make this film dark and serious in tone also falters horribly, not only because there's a talking rock monster but because von Doom makes for a laughable villain. This cut of the film tries hiding him as long as possible. In his short appearance, the bad von Doom stares at people until their faces explode—except the heroes—and he sneaks in clunkers like: "there is no Victor anymore, only Doom!" His showdown is appalling rushed, perhaps mercifully for the audience. However, it's meaningless to throw anymore fuel onto this disaster. It's an awful movie but it's important to remember that inexperienced directors like Josh Trank are made the scapegoats for big studios and corporations that gleefully overspend with the wrong people at the helm and then cast the first stone when the project fails. It just can't continue this way.
Ricki and the Flash (2015)
The struggle for older actresses to reach the largest mainstream markets might explain why more was not be made of Streep's new film
Forbes recently listed the highest paid actresses in the world. All the actresses in the top ten are under fifty years old, with the oldest being forty-seven. At the top of the list is twenty-five year old Jennifer Lawrence, who recently earned fifty million dollars. While Meryl Streep is arguably one of the greatest actresses of all time, the sixty-six year old only ranked thirteenth on the list, earning a meager eight million dollars. Though not a criticism of Lawrence—an immense young talent—the imbalance is indicative of Hollywood emphasis on the young demographic. Lawrence's biggest earners for example are still The Hunger Games and the X-Men films. The salaries stipulates how much harder it is today for older actresses to stamp a major financial imprint—even if they are Streep—when they're not appealing to the teenage markets.
The struggle for older actresses to reach the largest mainstream markets might also explain why more was not be made of Streep's new film Ricki and the Flash. It allows her to have fun by dressing up as an ageing rock guitarist, who is estranged from her family, including her grown-up children, one of whom is played by Streep's daughter Mamie Gummer. The film is directed by Jonathan Demme, whose most famous films include The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Rachel Getting Married (2008), which were both very edgy and dark works. Similarly, the screenwriter is Diablo Cody who based this on her grandmother and has in the past written subversive works like Juno and Young Adult. The latter shared a similar premise to Ricki, as it was about a woman out of her time who returns to her old life and relationships. But someone has evidentially put the brakes on Cody's black sense of humour, of which there are some traces, and also a unique direction for the story because the film's trajectory is safety first, failing to venture into new or even interesting territory, perhaps to retain its broad commercial appeal. But like Ricki's music, it's a cover song of modern and old records we've heard many times before.
As the ageing rocker, Ricki (Streep) left her wealth husband Pete (Kevin Kline) behind to pursue her dream as a musician. Now she's broke, singing in bars and working at a checkout in a grocery store. Her only significant relationship is an on and off one with one of her fellow band member Greg (Rick Springfield), who is growing impatient with her. When she learns that the marriage of her daughter Julie (Gummer) has ended and that her daughter has gone to pieces, she decides to fly over to meet her at her ex-husband's mansion and stay with them. Pete's current wife, who is African American, is momentarily absent as she attends to her sick father. Ricki does her best to repair her relationship with her daughter, who is still angry and very brittle to her for not being there for her, when instead she opted to pursue her music career. She also learns that other people in her family have drifted away from her. One of her sons is gay and she learns might not be invited to the wedding of her other boy. As a conservative, who openly says she didn't vote for Obama and who is still grieving for her brother who died in Vietnam, will Ricki adapt to the modern times?
There are two strong things about this film. One of them is, unsurprisingly, Streep. Even in a mediocre film like this, it is difficult not to sit in awe of this actress who on a yearly basis changes her appearance her mannerisms in major and subtle ways. She learnt to play the guitar for this role and is highly charismatic with her crazy laugh, half braided hair and dry humour. In one scene, she nervously twitches her hands at the thought of becoming reacquainted with her two sons, which is an example of the attention to detail and the angst this actress can draw from her character. She also sings and the music is spectacular and toe tapping, especially in the film's finale. But unfortunately, the plot comes to a halt well before the end of the film, throwing out sizable threads of conflict that seem to be building. Instead, the tension is replaced by a liberal fantasy wedding where everyone resolves their differences and learns to be civilised. Aren't movies these days so polite and so full of hot air? An actress of this calibre—who some argue is the best they've ever seen— deserves richer material that can take her and her character into new places and surprise the audience. After all, this film is about a relic being brought deep into the future and proving her self-worth.
Terminator Genisys (2015)
Beneath the skin of the Terminator franchise is a complex web of cultural, historical and political ideas
Beneath the skin of the Terminator franchise is a complex web of cultural, historical and political ideas. The franchise started in 1984, after director James Cameron had a dream about a robot with knives and developed the first film as a horror movie. It was a major role for Arnold Schwarzenegger's career, given the part transcended the limitations of his acting range. Made on a paltry budget of $6 million dollars, the film was about a woman named Sarah Connor who was pursued by the Terminator T-800, a robot from the future determined to kill her and her unborn child John Connor. She was protected by another robot named Kyle Reese because in the future her son would lead an uprising against Skynet, the corporation responsible for the Terminator machines and enslaving the world. Being made and set in the year 1984 cast Orwellian and Huxley-like paranoia over the film about the over-empowered nature of corporations, like their ability to surveillance, repress and eliminate people through technology.
Full review: http://www.impulsegamer.com/terminator-genisys-3d-film- review/
The provocation, involving the industry and personal relationships, is fascinating to behold
After watching Cobain: Montage of Heck, the documentary about Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, and now this absorbing commentary on the late Amy Winehouse, it's challenging to determine what separated their experiences. Both singers died at the age of twenty-seven from substance abuse. Kurt was addicted to heroin and she was embroiled in drugs and alcohol before perishing from alcohol poisoning. They were young, extremely gifted, surprisingly disinterested in fame and unprepared for the success in their early years. They were also both individuals who were difficult to condition to what record studios might deem a generic image or personality for a music label. Most importantly, both their deaths were arguably preventable by the people around them. The accountability is what makes Amy an angrier, more focused and richer documentary than director Asif Kapadia's previous film Senna. Senna was about the fate of Formula One racing legend Ayrton Senna, whose death held an air of mystery surrounding it. Without Senna Kapadia may not have been able to make this film. The targets and the accusations are bigger and with this it has inevitably upset more people. Any documentary conjuring these reactions from its subjects isn't playing it safe and the provocation, involving the industry and personal relationships, is fascinating to behold.
Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
An exquisitely photographed period film which engages through its performances and classical storytelling
Thomas Vinterberg's Far from the Madding Crowd is an exquisitely photographed period film which engages through its performances and classical storytelling. There's been no shortage of film, musical and play adaptations of Thomas Hardy's 1874 novel, including a 1967 version starring Julie Christie. This version features Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, a hard working farm girl in Victorian England who turns down the proposal of a sheep farmer named Gabriel (Rust and Bone's Matthias Schoenaerts). In an incredible reversal of fortunes, Gabriel loses everything in his life when his flock of sheep escapes and tumbles over a cliff. Bathsheba though inherits an enormous farming property and takes it upon herself to organise the workers. Gabriel becomes one of the men employed on the farm. Entering Everdene's life are two other men from different backgrounds. One is the wealthy and persistent William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) who is determined to marry Everdene even though she dismisses his proposal. The other man is Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), whose partner (Juno Temple) failed to arrive at the right church on time to marry him. Frank is initially the only one out of the three men to win Everdene over and arguably the worst choice for her.
In an interview with TimeOut London, Carey Mulligan recently lamented the state of the film industry as being "massively sexist" and stated: "There's a lack of material for women. A lack of great stories for women." These limitations and frustrations are visible in Mulligan's own filmography. After drawing comparisons with Audrey Hepburn when An Education (2009) was released and strong work in Never Let Me Go (2010), she's been relegated to side roles of differing quality. Shame and Inside Llewyn Davis were strong films but her parts in the Wall Street sequel, Drive and The Great Gatsby marginalised her input. Fortunately, as Everdene this is one of her very best performances to date and one which shows the full extent of her range. She gives a superb, highly charismatic turn, building Everdene as a symbol of female independence through her resilience, while also showing a great deal of emotion with only her eyes. It was important that the central casting of Everdene was strong because the character and her personality encompass the narrative's central theme of individualism. What's at stake in this story is foremost Everdene's very independence as a woman in a male dominated community and then, and only then, her relationships with the three men. The order of these two elements is imperative. Much like in An Education, Mulligan is again playing a character whose understanding of herself and her strength is tested through her relationships with men who aren't always right for her. Perhaps the endurance of Hardy's original story is because of its liberal values, which have sustained as people today continue be drawn towards feminist attitudes. The film is stylistically old fashioned but contemporary in its principles. It's an adult rebuttal to so-called modern romances like Twilight which are aimed squarely at American teenagers and unrealistically dictate women's unflinching loyalty and debt to men.
The film makes you understand each of Everdene's suitors, what they offer her and why her attachment to them shifts. She rejects Boldwold's wealth and persistence as it would compromise the test of her own stability and independence as an employer of men. While Gabriel is the most sympathetic, to marry him prematurely would result from pity given the reversal of their fortunes. Her eventual relationship and marriage to the obnoxious, arrogant Frank stems from the danger and risk he brings rather than the labour or materialism she already possesses. The action of Frank swinging a sword in her face directly aligns with Everdene's desire to test her own personal endurance in a man's environment and ultimately fuels her attraction to him.
Her journey to realise her strength in the face of a terrible ordeal is conveyed in the right tone. The film is serious and melodramatic but not overly stuffy or artificial and there's some humour, like the forwardness of Boldwood's first proposal which had some of the audience laughing. Maybe it's the old fashioned formalities that people aren't accustomed to which made it funny. The authenticity of the film's period setting is further enhanced by Charlotte Bruus Christensen's magnificent photography. She shot the director's last film The Hunt and using 35mm format she doesn't waste any part of the frame. On a large screen, the full depth of the image is used to show the deep rolling hills of the English countryside and the various fields where people are farming. While it's not as brutal or challenging a film as The Hunt, and some might be thankful for that, it's a solidly performed and visually impressive adaptation of an old fashioned period story. Any number of positive elements impress, including its progressive values and Mulligan's excellent lead performance, who rather fittingly proves she can stand tall.
Love & Mercy (2014)
A quartet of impressionable performances strengthens the film's insights and lasting power
Love and Mercy is director Bill Pohlad's first film in twenty-five years and he succeeds where more prolific filmmakers have failed. All cinema is about the boundaries of time and the careful selection and omission of events. It's a challenging process given filmmakers feel obliged to be respectful of real life subjects and it's this inclusiveness which thins out the material. This biopic of the Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson resolves the problem of chronology through two contrasting, overlapping portions of his life which become complimentary in theme and psychology. Creative authority and personal control are the film's most reoccurring themes. The dual timelines dramatise Brian as a young man in the 1960s who at the height of his creative powers is an artistic and musical genius but also when he's older, broken and brainwashed by his obsessive therapist. The older sequences outclass many biopics, like Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys, because rather than blandly laying down a succession of events the screenplay by Michael A. Lerner and Oren Moverman (the director of The Messenger) develops a compelling plot between the relationships of the characters. A quartet of impressionable performances further strengthens the film's insights and lasting power.
What a cast and what a disappointment
What a cast and what a disappointment. Aloha has featured minimal coverage or early previews and reviews because it is frankly a huge misfire for its director Cameron Crowe. He has wasted an embarrassingly rich cast on a boring, confusing story and a weak love triangle. Watching the trailers for the film, you would never know that Aloha is actually about military contracts and a satellite which might be housing weaponry. Bradley Cooper plays military contractor Brian Gilcrest, a former American soldier wounded numerous times in Afghanistan and who has now landed in Hawaii. He is overseen by a hyperactive fighter pilot in Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who begins to fall for him. They strike a deal with one of the Hawaiian tribes and arrange a blessing ceremony, which also ties into launching the satellite. He is working for billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) and has left his military boss General Dixon (Alec Baldwin) behind. Brian also visits his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who is now married to one of his military colleagues (John Krasinski) and has several children with him.
Cameron Crowe has made some interesting films like Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky and lighter family comedies such as We Bought A Zoo but Aloha, in spite of its cast, will not be a career highlight for anyone involved. The plot, shifting between the military contracts, the mythos of Hawaii and the character relationships, is so convoluted that I lost touch with it early on and never recovered. The film isn't particularly witty, dramatic or romantic, and will fail those expecting a romantic comedy as it's been marketed. It's terribly disappointing that Crowe hasn't directed these fine actors with any consistency either. Bradley Cooper looks far too happy as someone supposedly wounded in combat several times and who has a disfigured toe. He spends much of the film with a grin on his face when we know what sort of intensity he can generate. Any interesting information about Brian, including him skimming money in his war days, isn't dramatised but addressed only through exposition. Emma Stone, normally delightful, shows that in spite of her comic charm she needs good direction. Resorting to a hyperactive, twitchy persona is a mannerism she doesn't sustain throughout the whole feature. Rachael McAdams has very little do in the story, though a letter she reads towards the end suggests how so much more could have been made with this film. It could have focused on being a redemption story, about choosing to move on before affecting other people's lives. Those signs are there and it could have offered more, but it's hopelessly bogged down by the impenetrable and imbalanced contractors plot. Other great comedic actors like Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin and Danny McBride are only making up the numbers. The dull characters and muddled plot aside, the writing for this film was said to be on the wall at least two years ago when it apparently didn't screen well for test audiences. This is why it has been hidden away in both Australia and America. When the cast is this rich and no one wants to know about it, it's very telling. As a comedy-drama about Hawaii and slice of life relationships, Alexander Payne's The Descendants is an infinitely superior film. It has something more powerful than just a star-studded cast: a strong script.
Slow West (2015)
The narrative of John Maclean's first film Slow West never entirely convinces
While stylistically unique in imagery and tone, the latter wavering between gritty and darkly comic, the narrative of John Maclean's first film Slow West never entirely convinces. It is possibly due to the minor running time of barely eighty minutes long. Set in America in 1870, the film is about sixteen year old Scottish lad Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a well educated, multilingual and determined fellow who's out of his depth in the violence of the West. While Indians are being slaughtered by Americans and their camps are being burnt to the ground, Jay searches for Rose (Caren Pistorious), the girl he loves. Rose and her father escaped Scotland after an accident involving Jay. After walking through the woods and being held at gunpoint, Jay is rescued by Silas (Michael Fassbender), an outlaw who shoots a soldier dead while still holding a cigar in the corner of his mouth. For a fee he escorts Jay across the countryside to find Rose and is surprised by the boy's optimism. His voice-over states: "To him we were in a land of hope and good will. The way I saw it, kick over any rock and a desperado will knife you in the heart." Their contrast in attitudes to the West reflects their life experience. Meanwhile, Silas' former gang, led by Payne (Ben Mendelsohn), continues to stalk them.
After making a short film with Maclean, Michael Fassbender opted to star and produce this debut film to guarantee its financing and exposure. There are however noticeable problems with the context of Maclean's script. An early twist in the piece is that Silas is using Jay to lead himself to Rose. There's a bounty on the head of herself and her father that Jay doesn't know about. The twist builds dramatic irony because we wonder if Jay will discover Silas' intentions. But it's contrived and implausible the West somehow knows about people all the way from Scotland, including having them on a wanted posted, and that Rose would be wanted dead or alive for something that wasn't her fault. Similarly, how Silas came to discover Jay's whereabouts is sketchy, hastily explained through the voice-over which says he's been tracking him. The weak exposition and geography of the characters continues into the bloody finale. Rose is living with her father and an Indian in a cabin in an open field, which isn't secluded for people in hiding. She is also more world-weary and skeptical of people than her father and a crackshot with a rifle. Even though this is a movie about adaptation, the story shapes Rose not through progression but as it pleases. Additionally, the brief flashbacks to Scotland show how Rose and Jay are from different classes of family, and how she only sees him as a brother, which is another good twist, but the brevity of these scenes suggests this was a longer film cut right down to size.
Some will argue Slow West isn't a film to be judged on authenticity or realism. It was filmed in New Zealand, which proves an attractive substitute for a typical Western location. The woodlands here, photographed through wide and long shots, characterise the narrative as a fairytale where a young man finds himself in the physical danger and metaphor of the forest. The film is aiming to become a semi-comic, tragic love story and a Darwinian examination of those adapting to the West. Jay meets a writer in a travelling caravan who tells him it's a new world for them and the Indians. Like the Indians who die, some will not survive the brutality of the West where money and personal ambition leads to uncontrollable violence. But adding surrealism is an obtuse stylistic goal, only for art-house posturing. There are strange unexpected shots in the film like a low angle to the sky where Jay aims his gun and makes the stars appear and weird episodes like Jay's encounter with the travelling writer. Also bizarre is a dream sequence with Rose and a baby, where I wasn't entirely sure if the dream belonged to Jay or Silas or both men collectively. While you appreciate the originality, it feels showy or lacking in purpose and meaning.
The two lead performances aren't hugely stretched by the minimalist dialogue and characterisation but work best in close-up shots. Smit-McPhee is a good young actor and while it's not a role that shows a huge spectrum of emotion, it's in the tighter shots like when he is being interrogated by Payne that he shows nervous energy in the character. Michael Fassbender is a solid presence whose best technique here is acting without dialogue, using his eyes, but there aren't that many close-ups in the film to give him the opportunity. His character changes, unlike Jay who doesn't have an arc but persists with his goal. Even a desperate immigrant he kills in a strong early scene is superfluous to the emotion or the interior of his character. The climax of the film robs him of learning anything or reaching a point of understanding about the West. The ending is also implausible and convenient, adjoining two characters who barely know each other. Could it be another dream? Maybe it's a case of the film being too brief because while it touches on immigrants, adaptation and change, it doesn't always seem credible.