Monthly Archives: August 2013

Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives (2013)only_god_forgives_ver2_xlg

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

 

It is very rare that you only choose to watch a movie because of the actor in it, but this is the case with the majority of Ryan Gosling’s work because his screen presence is scintillating.  Only God Forgives reunites Gosling with his Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn

Gosling plays the role of Julian, a man working as a drug smuggler in Bangkok, but posing as a kick boxing promoter. His brother is killed after being found at the scene of the crime at a prostitute’s murder and his estranged mother arrives in Bangkok and orders him to find his brother’s murderer and kill him. The arrival of his mother leaves Julian in a difficult position and puts his bravery and dedication to his family on the line.

The concept of this movie is simple and the cinematography is breathtaking. The first part of the movie contains little dialogue and relies heavily upon Gosling’s epic screen presence. He can really act without speaking and it’s during these long drawn out bouts of silence that Gosling’s abilities really shine through. The intensity of his performances have got him to where he is today and he ranks as one of Hollywood’s finest actors.

The visualization of the movie really captures the beauty and essence of Bangkok in cleverly filmed sequences relying on heavily shadowed scenes blended with an encapsulation of lights and thin screen shots to really put you in the picture. The story has potential, but then becomes very confusing and pointless in certain terms. The action can get bewildering at times when the storyline mixes with ‘visions’ and ‘dream sequences’ and interspersed with some rather bizarre karaoke shots. There are scenes of extreme violence which may prove difficult to watch for some viewers, but the balance between the violence and combination with these bizarre sequences takes the ‘sting’ out of it. But, it loses the heart of the movie and the potential for a truly great vengeance movie is lost.

Vithaya Pansringarm provides excellent support portraying the role of a corrupt cop hell bent on reprimanding criminals and getting justice in his own mix and blend. Another stand out performance is of Kristin Scott Thomas’ portrayal of Julian’s mother which is outstanding. She provides the correct amount of hate and venom blending the two together to produce a truly unforgettable performance.

Taking nothing away from the performances, which give this movie some credibility, it disappoints compared to the work we know both the actor and director are capable of. The complexity of the storyline leaves you feeling empty and in need of something else to carry the movie through which never comes.

 

Rating: 4/10

Trailer:  Click here to watch the trailer for Only God Forgives

 

 

Advertisements

Maniac

Maniac (2012)Maniac-2012-poster

Stars: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Megan Duffy

 

Frank Zito is a mentally disturbed mannequin salesman who has tendencies of violence and murder spurred on by the memories of his mother who has recently died. During flashbacks throughout the movie we see that Frank’s mother was also a drug taking prostitute who brought clients back to the house. The effect it has had on Frank over the years is evident as Frank’s own sexual desires morph into a psychotic violent streak which at times he has no control of. He stalks and murders women then scalps them and takes their hair to decorate his mannequins at home in a twisted, depraved form of lust and companionship.

Frank meets photographer and artist, Anna, who he develops feelings for, but not the typical feelings that he has experienced during the majority of the film. These feelings are potentially true, real feelings, but can he lead a normal life or will it be dictated by his ferocious behavior?

The casting of psychopath Frank Zito would always be a challenge to an actor and the choice of Elijah Wood in the role was at first a strange choice. Considering Wood’s previous roles (we don’t need to mention Lord of the Rings) it is a movie which is totally different to his usual performances. Played out as a first person the camera “performs” as Frank throughout the majority of the film and Wood doesn’t get a great deal of screen time with the exception of his bruised, scratched hands and a reflection in a mirror or window. On that basis it is hard to judge a performance, but Wood copes with the scarred character of Frank in a role that will leave people feeling quite disturbed.

Nora Arnezeder plays Anna who stumbles upon Frank’s mannequins and unknowingly slowly starts to become a part of Frank’s troubled life. Nora is a French actress whose previous experience has been in French films and TV series until she got her Hollywood break appearing in Safe House.

                The direction of the film is clever and the storyline simple. There are times when the violence becomes over the top. The scenes are disturbing and difficult to act in, so there is credit due to the cast for performing well in difficult roles. But the storyline loses pace during the middle third and the action becomes a bit too similar to the rest of the movie. There is a huge reference to Pyscho throughout the theme of the movie, but it is nowhere near as good.

Maniac is a remake from the 1980’s movie of the same name which was banned in several countries. In homage to the original the remake was banned from theatrical release in New Zealand. I wouldn’t say that the content is worthy of being banned (I’ve seen worse), but if the original is anything to go by this version is tame in comparison.

Elijah Wood has made a brave choice to step into a role so far from his previous performances whether or not it was too distract from his role as Frodo Baggins, I don’t know. It was a choice he made and a choice that in some respects he deserves credit for, but he won’t get the credit or accolades he can usually come to expect from this movie.

 

Rating:  5/10

Trailer:  Click here to watch the trailer for Maniac

 

 

After Earth

After Earth (2013)After-Earth

Stars: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo

 

The Smiths can certainly boast a conveyor belt of talent. Father Will and Mother Jada Pinkett have produced two children together. Their youngest, Willow, is an actress and pop singer and their son Jaden has followed in his parents footsteps of acting, collaborating in his second feature film with Daddy.

Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, After Earth tells the story of father and son Cypher (Will Smith) and Katai (Jaden) who crash land on Earth, a planet now void of human life and home to the evolution of various species. The planet is deemed unsafe for humans and when the spaceship they are on is damaged during a meteor storm the crew, led by Cypher, have no option but to crash land.  The impact of the crash is devastating, ripping the craft in two and leaving Katai bruised and shaken and his father with two broken legs.  Smith Junior then takes centre stage of the film and has to embark on the mission to rescue the beacon that will alert their comrades of their location and send rescue otherwise they will both die.

What follows is a vision of Earth ravaged and left desolate by mankind’s treatment of the environment and nature around us. It is a world full of greenery and of evolved creatures that are now the dominant species, but there is also something else.  A shell containing an alien life form that was on-board the ship for transportation was in the tail end of the craft with the beacon and leaves the risk that whatever was inside is now out there, hunting. The being has played an important, yet tragic part of Katai and Cypher’s past which is portrayed in a series of flashbacks.

The film depicts a particularly difficult relationship between father and son with son Katai determined to impress his father and become a ‘Ranger’ (a rank within the futuristic military commandment led by Cypher). His father, Cypher, is a leader who is fearless, a height that Katai himself wishes to surpass, but his arrogance and greed get in the way. What follows is a true lesson of capabilities; belief and determination to prove to his father that he does have what it takes.

Jaden Smith acts alongside his father for the first time since 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness with the emphasis of this film being solely on him. It is a big ask of the young actor and he is fortunate to have great role models as parents because although his performance isn’t awful it is just about passable and there is definite room for improvement and he will only get that through experience and through the tutoring of both of his parents. In truth Smith Senior’s performance is pretty average; sometimes slipping to below average in his portrayal of an assertive, un-emotional father and occasionally the performance gets a bit aggravating.

The storyline and dialogue is very comic book. The gadgets the pair use in forms of communication and information seem a bit too simple and takes away some of the belief of the script which limps along in places. On the flip side there are some truly beautiful scenes. Shyamalan’s vision of a new Earth has potential although there isn’t much that we get to see of it. There is little thought that has gone into the scenes and times when your attention is in danger of escaping onto something else and you may find yourself going back onto YouTube to find that clip of Will and Jaden on BBC’s Graham Norton Show. Go on you can click here to watch it. It is brilliant.

To summarise After Earth had potential, but the outshot of the movie was more in regards to the father/son team than the actual film itself and it fell short of all expectations. There was potential for more action, some great cinematography and fantastic performances, but none of the boxes were left ticked in this instance.

Rating: 4/10

Trailer:  Click here to watch the trailer for After Earth

 

 

The Conjuring

The Conjuring (2013)conjuring

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor

 

In 1971 The Perron Family were subject to a haunting by a dark, demonic spirit after moving into a new farmhouse that would change their lives forever. Here their story is told by writers Chad and Carey Hayes under the direction of James Wan.

The action begins in the early 1960’s and we are introduced to paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they deal with the case of three college students who claim their creepy Annabelle doll is possessed and communicating with them via handwritten notes. Their story is told through a series of chilling flashbacks claiming that “Annabelle” is possessed.

The action then cuts to Roger and Carolyn Perron as they move into a new farmhouse with their five children in 1971. The joy and excitement of this new house is evident in all their emotions, but soon things become irregular. At first the abnormalities are minor. Strange noises and doors banging, but soon the changes become more and more disturbing and the terror the family are subjected to becomes unbearable.

Ed and Lorraine Warren conduct seminars at the local university as well as investigating occurrences of paranormal behavior. After one particularly bad experience their services are called upon by Carolyn Perron and they eventually decide to visit the house.

It is evident on arrival exactly what the Warrens are dealing with and they begin proceedings to warrant an exorcism of the house possessed by a dark spirit by capturing video footage for proof to present to the church. During the seminars Ed and Lorraine teach the three elements of haunting, Infestation, Oppression and Possession. When they arrive the family are already at the Oppression stage and the third and final stage of haunting is all too close.

The Conjuring offers an insight into another disturbingly true story of possession. Fortunately director James Wan opts to use pure imagination for the scares during the movie’s first period of hauntings without applying the Hollywood technique of the overuse of CGI. A family inspired game of Hide and Clap, whereby one person is blindfolded and has to find the other players by requesting them to clap only three times to guess their location, is cleverly used to bring insurmountable fear during one particular scene and the theme plays out again in another chilling moment.

The movie doesn’t bring anything new to the horror genre. There are countless movies whose themes centre on possession and exorcism so it was down to the direction of James Wan to try and bring a new kind of anxiety to the audience. Unfortunately the marketing team on the movie has opted for the use of “audience reaction shots” during its trailers which would only suggest that the movie isn’t actually that terrifying as they are relying on oversell. There are suitable scenes in the film that can be used to entice the die-hard horror fans and to further attract a new audience to watch the film, especially the use of the doll of Annabelle which plays out in many of the movie’s truly terrifying scenes and is far more terrifying than the actual doll from the true story.

The fact that this movie is based on a true story does make for some agonising “screen avoiding” scenes where you know what is coming, but is made all the more terrifying by the fact that it actually happened. With a stellar cast of actors, some of which are used to acting in this genre (Patrick Wilson starred in Wan’s Insidious and Taylor appeared in the revamp of The Haunting) and some truly excellent direction, The Conjuring will definitely leave you avoiding eye contact with the screen and reaching for the pillow. It isn’t brilliant, but it does what it sets out to do. Scare.

The story of the Perron family is intriguing, but not as much as the fact that film doesn’t venture into their lives after the exorcism for the family were haunted by a further nine ghosts which could possibly create the setting for a sequel.

 

Rating:  7/10

Trailer:  Click here to watch the trailer for The Conjuring

 

 

Premium Rush

Premium Rush (2012)premium-rush-poster

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dania Ramirez, Sean Kennedy

 

“I can’t work in an office. I don’t like wearing suits. I like to ride. Fixed gear, steel frame, no brakes. The bike cannot coast. The pedals never stop turning. Can’t stop. Don’t want to either. There are 1,500 bike messengers on the streets of New York City. You can e-mail it, FedEx it, fax it, scan it, but when none of that shit works and this thing has to be at that place by this time, you need us.”

This is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character of Wiley delivering the opening narration to set up the film and to explain why he does what he does. Wiley is a bike messenger in New York. A low paid, high risk job that he thrives off. So much so that he doesn’t have brakes on his bike as he claims they are more dangerous than anything.

During one particularly busy day Wiley is assigned to collect a letter from a university that requires delivery to an address by 7pm. Not long after he collects the letter he is approached by a peculiar character (Michael Shannon) on the university grounds who asks him to return the letter to him as there has been a mistake. Wiley refuses and sets off to deliver the letter, but finds out that he is being pursued by Shannon’s character setting him off on an action packed ride through deceit, deception and the truth.

David Koepp has taken the action genre and transferred it to two wheeled vehicles in this excellent movie. The direction and use of CGI mapping styles add impact to a great and yet simple storyline.  We see Wiley program his route into a Blackberry phone and the filming becomes a route planner with a bird’s eye view of Manhattan showing the destination. The camera drops down and the route map then becomes the action as we join him on the dangerous maze through the concrete jungle. There are times during the film that Wiley comes across a situation and the action slows so he can judge his options. Here follows three possible routes through the tangle of cars and vans two of which don’t fare well for our hero, the third being the safest and pain free option which he unsurprisingly takes. It’s a clever use of filming.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt can turn his hand to anything and what you receive is a stunning performance in whichever guise he is playing. His cockiness and disregard for danger really shines through in his performance and encapsulates the role of Wiley as his own.

Michael Shannon plays Bobby Monday who is out to stop the delivery of the letter that Wiley holds by any means possible. Shannon brings a new version of a bad guy to the screen with a slightly disturbing nature. He really emphasizes the imbalanced characteristics of a man desperate to intervene the dispatch and with it brings his own schizophrenic balance possibly through emotions that were unscripted.

The cast is balanced nicely with two of the other characters in Wiley’s life. Dania Ramirez plays Vanessa the love interest alongside the rival and ‘friend’ Wolé Parks who plays Manny. Manny is a character always out to best Wiley and be better and faster than he is. Parks is a relatively unknown actor who grips the opportunity to shine in this role.

The transaction of action movie to the fast paced world of bicycle couriers is a new theme, but one that ultimately pays off leaving us with a truly gripping action movie that ticks all the boxes of this genre.

Premium Rush will definitely leave you on the edge of your saddle.

 

Rating: 8/10

Trailer:  Click here to watch the trailer for Premium Rush