Tuesday, 30 September 2014

On the stairs of Death I write your name, Liberty.

Maps to the Stars (2014)

A tricky one this. A hard film to like for sure, it is elliptical, distant, outlandish (when the main character outlines plot beats that won't get revealed for a while to Robert Pattinson, you assume, like him, she's making it all up, even the stuff you've already seen happen).
But it is powered by a couple of strong, confident performances from Julianne Moore and the ever interesting Mia Wasikowska and has a haunting, odd tone that is distinctly Cronenberg.

*Side note to people who know my increasing wimpiness with regards to tension in movies I almost had to walk out of one scene (similar to a bit in This is the End) but managed to plow through by turning my head away. Sigh, I hate having no control.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Rudeness is merely an expression of fear. People fear they won't get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower.

The Hotel Grand Budapest (2014)

Exquisitely crafted, it seems in no hurry to be wanting to convert non Anderson fans but that confidence and singularity should make it attractive none-the-less.
Much as with his earlier films, it mixes great tragedy and comedy with near reckless abandon giving real pathos to ridiculousness, weight to fluff, and always very, very funny.
The cast is superb with a never better Ralph Fiennes, flexing comedic muscles rarely given exercise and the young Tony Revolori holds his own against formidable talent.
As ever the eye to detail, sheer visual panache and structural inventiveness make it like nothing else anybody is putting out, cinema is far the richer for having such glorious bounties and oddities found within it.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Sometimes a good guy wins

Cold in July (2014)

Great companion to The Guest, recently reviewed on here. A taut, funny, interesting film with compelling leads and sterling work from Sam Shepard in particular though all are good in this.
Starting with a believably uncomfortable home invasion situation and flitting from one set of genre trapings to the next (a tight suspenseful horror set up gives way to a very funny mismatched buddy flick to an exciting action climax) it does so with confidence and gusto, always feeling like a whole piece.
It rather strangely does drop certain plotlines as it moves along, mirroring the way the main character loses track of what it is he wants from the people and events around him. 
Unlike The Guest, which evokes the era but is set modern day, Cold in July is actually period set (indeed plot machinations revolve around a video store) but never forces this issue and feels natural though well defined.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

You just wanna suck the joy out of everything.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Marvel Studios continue their trend of casting incredibly well with interesting faces. Chris Pratt imprints his mark on the legendary Starlord (funny recurring gag is his ego being bigger than people's recognition of him) and is charming, funny and likeable (though this causes a slight problem I will get to shortly).
The movie itself is also very much in the Marvel brand, there is a macguffin to chase, structurally it feels a touch too similar to the others (big flying things crash through buildings in the final act a lot in these) and it has a general lightness of tone that doesn't ignore drama but will err towards the joke (something i very approve of). 
Guardians does a great job of justifying why this lesser known comic property deserves a franchise and even how each of the characters could hold their own movie with the exception of the antagonist, played finely by Lee Pace, who feels completely interchangeable with the villain of Thor 2, and is given only lipservice to any depth of character. Drax is a particular stand out, given a hoary old 'alien' cliche of not understanding metaphor but Bautista exhibits great timing and delivery.
Far more troubling is some of the attitudes towards women. The arc for Starlord is that he starts off as kind of a bastard, womanizing, betraying his friends, generally being selfish before finding a group of misfits he can fit with. But the film never really weighs up the misogynist aspects as something to be that bothered by and in one scene has (a different character) call the main female a whore for almost exactly no reason. That female character, Gamorra, is also let down by the films refusal to give her much of an arc (though this is tied to some of the issues of it being a franchise and story lines are set up to be played with later).
That said there is much to like here, the aforementioned familiar climax is livened by a great gag scored to one of the many cool songs that feature on the soundtrack. It is funnier than most comedies that come out and manages some exciting action sequences (something Marvel Studios have been getting much better at from Avengers on).

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been here

The Guest (2014)

A terrific, funny, offbeat effort. Playing like a cross between those invited invaders films of the 90s (Pacific Heights, Unlawful Entry, Hand that Rocks the Cradle) and Universal Soldier, it shifts gears between acts making it a neat companion piece to the splendid earlier in the year effort Ice Cold in May.
Stevens is very good, mixing a charisma with inherent creepiness, playing an interesting line in the fact that people are drawn to him not just because of his polite mannerisms but also an underlying danger they are flirting with. The rest of the cast are good, such as notable bit-parter Leland Orser and Lance Reddick but the movie possibly wouldn't work without the strong performance Maika Monroe gives as the credible 'final girl' and delivers a killer last line.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Word is, the Americans are taking an interest

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

One of the last movies to come out with the incredibly dependable Philip Seymour Hoffman, it's certainly not his best but he is, as ever, a compelling force on screen.
Small scale espionage (as opposed to unrealistic James Bondian antics say) can be tricky to pull off on film, where action is more heavily weighed than contemplative processes and A Most Wanted Man doesn't quite make it's case successfully. The stakes are never really that high, because the threat is so nebulous. No-one knows what this guy might do, no one knows if he will do anything at all which leaves the plot dramatically inert though not without interest.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Eventually things get tragic enough and then they circle around to comedy.

Wish I Was Here (2014)

Filled with wanna-be profundities every bit as cliche and rote as the quote above, Wish I Was Here aims for heart felt comedy and humour tinged drama but fails at delivering anything but facile clock watching. A wasted cast (Joey King is continuing to be an interesting actress even saddled with trite dirge) elevate the material slightly, but nothing really means anything, the jokes frequently don't land and a cancer storyline feels second hand and lacking in definition. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

I paid them but they killed her anyway

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

I'm going to get to my main problem with Neeson's latest in his continuing quest to be Charles Bronson for the 2010s (remember when he did films like Nell?) after dealing with this review as if that wasn't a factor.
Scott Frank brings a solid but unspectacular eye in this well crafted detective thriller. No sequence quite stands out after the opening shoot out (which has some nice details like how in his drunken state he drops his gun - which keeps him alive) but generally good performances and a less action orientated bent to proceedings keep things interesting. We have a nice sense of him working the case, knocking on doors and just watching people (best bit is interviewing people over a possible abduction they have seen and getting different, conflicting details) and things build in a fairly lean economical way (though a sub plot involving a boy having sickle-cell anaemia doesn't really go anywhere) though a climax featuring an off screen death you kind of just have to take on faith is a touch weak.

However, all of this is on the back of some pretty annoying, pretty horrid exploitation stuff. A nasty credits sequence is played over the abuse and murder of a woman, in a strangely perverse way - shooting in tight close ups and seeming to dodge at it being a sex scene before revealing she is bound up and tortured. 
There is almost exactly no women in this film at all barring the victims, who get no personality, no depth. Ones potential infidelity is even off handly dismissed by a male, claiming responsibility and not even allowing this off screen moment of agency to be. They are trophies and nothing more. 
Over and over again, these kind of stories say they have no place for women. It's tiresome

Saturday, 20 September 2014

There's ghosts in every building

Devil's Tower (2014)

*A note. I consider the writer of this movie a friend and know a couple of the people who worked on it, including the director. I am going to write this review as if I did not, and did not know some of the behind the scenes info. 

Devil's Tower is probably the lowest budgeted movie I've ever reviewed on here, and this certainly suffers in a number of places from lack of time and funds. The sound quality is off in some of the scenes and, particularly at the end, it can't quite make the action/carnage beats work in a way that feels dynamic and interesting.
That said, there's some fun to be had here. It expresses a number of interesting ideas (most of which get a touch lost in the scrum) in an attempt to have something to say beyond counting down the seconds till someone has their throat torn out. A central theme feels very Kim Newman-esque, with the evil force controlling events in the Tower Block using teevee as a medium and filtering it's plan through the lens of film. A stand-out sequence has the Evil 'rewrite' a scene as a 1940's Hollywood piece, and it's a shame more wasn't made of this idea, barring some metatextual references in a confused rooftop climax.
Roxanne Pallett generally is not interesting enough to shoulder the dramatic weight put on her, though she too - like the film - shines in the 40s pastiche section so it's too bad she doesn't get to flex much outside of the kitchen sink drama direction the film places her in. Much more fun is Jason Mewes who has an impish charm and Jessica Jane-Stafford who is a bundle of energy and often a shot in the arm just when the film needs it.
Most of the sly film based commentary and creepy (though never especially scary) vibe is gone by the messy zombie (because of course) ridden last act that seems choppy with little sense of geography, though gore fans may find a little joy.