Thursday, 29 January 2015

Were you rushing or were you dragging?

Whiplash (2014)

Astounding. Perhaps one of the best action films in years. It does what great action should do. The heart pounds, you bay for blood. It is an uncomfortable experience. 
You want to revel in the violence, yet are turned off by the grotesque monsters.
Like Damien Chazelle other music based script Grand Piano Whiplash doesn't really have a foot in reality. Indeed the film's foundation, core theme, is based on a lie about Charlie Parker. But it is filled with telling small details that, to this music illiterate at least, read as true and interesting. A focus on the minutiae of performance. Yet it never feels didactic or condescending.
J.K. Simmons is, of course, terrific. His music teacher just a shade removed from moustache twirling cartoon villainy but it's that shade that makes the difference. The film attempts a couple of scenes to show him as more three dimensional but it has no real interest in redeeming a totally reprehensible arse..
Indeed the climax of the film is a thrillingly complicated, ambiguous full stop on the film's debate over the cost of perfection.
It is a virtuoso display of drumming, seen as both a fuck you and a thank you to the Simmons character but Paul Reiser get a heartbreaking shot as he knows his son has lost during this moment of exhilarating triumph.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Did you program her to flirt with me?

Ex Machina (2015)

There can be a tendency for a more high brow minded creator to think they are reinventing or saying something new, genre tropes when they take them on. But instead the use the same ideas any number of hacky B movies have done for years but add a dull solemnity. Winterbottom's Code 46 for example. Garland has perhaps been a little guilty of this with his collaborations with Danny Boyle but escapes the trap mostly (for one because Boyle is a canny and humane director who fills the screen with warmth) and again here touches on nothing particularly new but has a witty and interesting approach.
Essentially a four hander (most reviews seem to be focusing on the three main characters but Sonoya Mizuno gives a great silent performance and is an important part of the film) set in a single location it can be a little didactic but never feels stagey. The film is crisply shot, shorn of exposition for vast chunks, and well played by all, though Gleeson's accent sounds a touch weak. Vikander's A.I. robot is a marvel of special effects raised several levels by a terrific performance.
The film may not have anything new to say about A.I. especially (it tries to tie it all into social media not entirely convincingly) but really the film seems to be about the way Men approach technology and sexuality. It seems to condemn the one sided nature of gender in tech (though not without issues of it's own as a fair amount of female nudity is on display for the viewer here) without ever bringing that subject up, making it incredibly timely and more than just an exercise in 'is Deckard a replicant or not?'.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist.

Foxcatcher (2014)

Boring is such a hollow pejorative as much as nice is a terrible descriptive. Yet they have their uses. A review is nothing but a snapshot of what one person thinks, arbitrary, tainted by not just personal preference but by whether they had a good meal that day or where squirming through a film needing the toilet. You can try to separate that from the film itself but a hundred million things can affect you a hundred million different ways.
That's my way of saying, despite some good performances (Tatum and Ruffalo are excellent, Carell is fine but it feels like acting with a capital A, directed by his make up as much as anything else) and an eye for the odd interesting composition the film is, well, all kinds of dull.
It keeps itself too removed from everything. Parcels out plot (almost non existant) and character beats incredibly slowly. Perhaps hoping to build a sense of dread, especially if you know anything about the actual events that happened but it never seems to serve any purpose.

Friday, 16 January 2015


Big Hero 6 (2014)

A lesser known comic property owned by Disney Big Hero 6 attempts to do for superheroes what Kung Fu Panda did for, umm, kung fu and How to Train your Dragon did for dragons.
And in Baymax (despite the 6 in the title this film is really only concerned with 1) it almost succeeds. A sweet funny creation with an adorable design and good voicework from Scott Adsit (and presumably a computer). 
But the film suffers from a lack of specificity. It's never as funny as the Incredibles and, despite an interesting mix of San Francisco and Tokyo as it's location, has less palpable world building. 
It loses more focus as it brings in the other characters to be the Avengers of this world, only one - a slacker with Batman style money, gets anything more than a cursory depth and baymax himself becomes duller the more armour and fighting skills he has.
Still, a pleasant enough movie.

See, folks don't care if it's a copy.

Big Eyes (2014)

A fine cast elevate the film a little above it's generally bland telling. 
Burton never seems to really get beneath the material turning in a competent but slight examination of the pursuit of fame and the uneven treatment of artistic women. 
It livens up a little in a daft courtroom scene with Waltz chewing the scenery to shreds playing nicely against Adams calmness but perhaps the whole film needed a bit more passion, more energy. It comes off feeling much more like a teevee movie than the strangely similar Behind The Candelabra and could have done with some of that film's verve.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

When I dreamed of Broadway, I never pictured the elk antlers.

Birdman (2014)

Brilliantly performed, superbly shot and fairly funny there is a lot to like about Birdman.
And yet, I came away sort of hating it.
I found it seemed to elicit thriller style tension rather than sympathy in it's multiple scenes dealing with suicide, we spend the entire film inside Keaton's head yet it wants to play games over what is real or not rather than dig into his psyche in any meaningful way.
It's supposed deep revelations are trite cliche. It is not especially interesting to comment on the fact people like to be entertained by what some may find junk. It is incredibly old fashioned about the role of critics and both cries foul over their pointlessness and gives them ultimate power (it's hard to judge whether any one Broadway critic could have ever closed a production with a single bad review but certainly now in the age of social media and immediate audience response that role has vanished). It makes the critic the villain, almost cackling as she decides to destroy his play before even seeing it, giving her snobbery over Keaton's movie past as a motive. Which just confounds the movies message further. He is sinking all his money into the production and she doesn't care, but her job is disappearing and he sees no value, no art in what she does. It treats this character in the most banal way possible, something that is true of most in the film with perhaps the exception of Ed Norton's character who is the most fascinating, and most repulsive of the lot. it tips too far to the latter though when he attempts to rape someone on stage and scene that dismisses the ickiness of that moment to play it for laughs.

All of these people banging against each other and none of it seems to mean anything.