FILM REVIEW: Terminator Genisys

Whilst critics appear to be universally panning Terminator Genisys, it’s only fair to say that when it comes to the action blockbuster genre, there have been far worse.
I have my suspicions that the fire alarm-driven evacuation of the O2 Cineworld, thirty minutes into my particular screening, was infact some sort of pre-meditated, built in opportunity for the audience to ‘get the hell out – keep on going and never look back’ – (to steal a parlance from the film).
It’s certainly flawed. The plot is overly convoluted, feeling rather shoe-horned in although that may be as much to do with my inability to fully grasp its salient points, it’s true.

As for the casting, Jai Courtney plays Kyle, the man sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor. Sarah herself (Emilia Clarke) is an unusual casting, perhaps a refreshing one even? Pretty, yet not overly so, Clarke is certainly not the all-action shape or type we’ve been brain-beaten into expecting over the years (Lara Croft et al). That said, her diminutive frame does seem to detract a little from any real gravitas she may exude and this in turn contributes to a role that overall, fails to convince.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is pretty much the only one that holds up his end of the bargain. Stoney-faced, all one-liners as we’d expect, with the occasional flash of a forced smile; apparently it’s something he’s ‘learned’ through his extended time spent in the company of Sarah Connor, over the years. A little older he may be, but he’s a safe bet and a box office draw and it’s good to see him back reprising this role. It shouldn’t come as any surprise of course, he said he would be.

Goodies, baddies they’re all present and correct and things progress predictably and in a visually impressive, big-budget manner, but therein lies the age-old problem.

Previous Terminator forays have been a minimum fifteen in their certification, whereas Terminator Genisys plumps for the sell-out, 12A, bums-on-seats rating. You can’t blame them; you’ve got to pay for that CGi somehow, but unsurprisingly, at a cost.

At its outset, Genisys hints at something much darker and considerably more sinister; recapping the rise of the machines and their ruthless battering into submission of the human race. Had things continued more along these lines, Terminator Genisys may well have been a very different beast indeed.

As it is, it’s a harmless enough, expensive, popcorn movie – a slap across the face for Terminator’s  die-hard fan base, no doubt – but a fairly innocuous couple of hours of light entertainment for the rest of society.

Hardly the director’s intentions, I’d imagine.

 

 

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FILM REVIEW: SOUTHPAW

When asked by the high court judge exactly what makes him a suitable candidate to look after his own child, Billy Hope replies, “I’m her father!”

“I’m afraid that’s not enough,” responds the judge.

Jake Gyllenhall is predictably excellent in Antoine Fuqua’s at times hard-hitting and often explosive boxing tale, yet somehow that in itself is not enough to elevate Southpaw much above the simply ‘OK’ category.

You just can’t help feeling that you’ve seen this film before and as traumatic and harrowing as the subject matter can be at times, you’ll sooner find yourself ticking off the succession of predictable plot manoeuvres, one by one, as the film progresses, than being wrong-footed by any subtle plot twists.

The word ‘formulaic’ is not out of place here.

Word champion boxer, Billy Hope has it all, but in the wake of a tragic event, loses everything and now he must rebuild his shattered existence.

There’s much soul searching, a lot of coming to terms with life’s cruel twists of fate and ultimately there’s a crack at redemption.

We’ve already mentioned Gyllenhall, but credit where it’s due, it’s not a one man show and there are strong performances from Rachel McAdams, (Mo, the sexy, sassy and supportive rock on which Billy’s world is built) and Forest Whitaker, who is excellent as Billy’s gruff, no-nonsense trainer, Tick Willis.  A special mention too for little Oona Laurence who puts in a sweet, yet feisty turn as the apple of Billy’s eye; his daughter Leila.

Formulaic it may well be, but that shouldn’t discount some genuinely powerful and truly surging emotional scenes throughout, enhanced by a pounding soundtrack; the kind of set pieces that carry Southpaw through on a wave of pumping adrenalin, doing a good job of masking the film’s limitations.

This is no Raging Bull, nor is it the new Rocky, but that’s not to dismiss it out of hand.

Perhaps it’s just a victim of the epic, pioneering boxing tales that have preceded it, but Southpaw, whilst it comes out, punching hard, ultimately offers us nothing new and in a well-trodden genre such as this, ‘something new’ I feel, should be any director’s first and foremost concern.

FILM REVIEW: Listen Up Philip

There’s a small scene, late on, where one of Philip’s students is asking for a letter of recommendation, but Philip (well cast – played by Jason Schwartzman), in his half-arsed arrogance,  stamps a few staples into a scrap of paper, hands it over and insists that that’s the best he can do.

A rare moment of amusement.

When dark, Indie comedies are done well, they can be little gems; when they’re not, they are long, drawn-out affairs.

Welcome to ‘Listen Up Philip’ (LUP).

On paper at least, this film really should work.

A self-absorbed writer refuses to promote his new novel believing it to be beneath him – which is a little ironic considering self-promotion is what he seems best at, much to the constant chargrin of those that pass in and out of his life.

Instead, he looks to satisfy his need for solace, artistic concentration and most importantly, personal prioritisation, by retreating to the country house of his new friend and mentor, Ike, (played nicely by Jonathan Pryce) for a large dose of ‘me time.’ Ike, constantly berated by his twenty-something daughter, appears to be the only person Philip has encountered, more self-indulgant and selfish than Philip himself.

Philip takes off and leaves behind him a bewildered girlfriend, struggling to figure out where she fits into his life.

She doesn’t. The term second fiddle springs to mind.

It’s a tale of a selfishness and the pursual of goals at the expense of everyone else, with little or no concern for the impact of such actions.

As I said, with the right script and a good idea for comic timing, the ingredients really are all there.

So why doesn’t it work?

Director Ross Perry has shot the entire thing on 16mm film, made use of a very mid-twentieth century, retro titles font and opted for a sultry jazz soundtrack as a backdrop. The use of a narrator linking us between the various scenes is an interesting touch, though it’s arguable whether it really works, or is even necessary for that matter.

It did bring to mind the overall ‘feel’ of two films from yesteryear; a 1950s/60s Disney offering called something like ‘The Bear and the Raccoon?’ – a heart-warming, narrated sentimental wildlife amble through the American countryside and Woody Allen’s early slapstick affair,  ‘Take the money and run.’

LUP however has neither the charm of the former, nor the laughs of the latter.

Everything about LUP frustrates:

The annoying, hand-held, jittery camera work, the scarcity of actual humour throughout, overly-long focused attention on each of the film’s main characters – almost separate short films in themselves and at times feeling completely detatched from the film as a whole – and above all, the sheer damn self-indulgence of it all.

Yet, through all of this, there is something hidden in here which I suspect will, in time, win LUP a bit of a cult following. Just a hunch.

It’s not enough though to salvage what is a painfully long, meandering, wasted opportunity.

Disappointing.

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Love and Mercy

Music biopics are never the most forgiving of genres. There is so often the risk of spreading your content too thin; sacrificing emotional intensity for the sake of telling the whole story, which is why director Bill Pohlad’s decision to cover vast swathes of the Brian Wilson story is a brave one and thankfully a pretty successful one too.

Now, I know a thing or two about Brian Wilson. In 1997, I had my own particular Beach Boys enlightenment, which in all fairness absolutely blew my musical world apart. It was a discovery that happened to coincide with the reading of Brian Wilson’s autobiography ‘Wouldn’t it be nice,’ a warts and all telling of one of the most magical, bizarre and quite often tragic tales in the history of popular music.

It transpires that this book was actually ghost written and very much censored and manipulated by Dr Eugene Landy (more on him later). Brian was later to testify that he’d never even read it.

Rather one-sided and often embellished it may have been, but it does outline Brian’s story and an incredible story it’s been…

‘Love and Mercy’ chronicles the life and times of The Beach Boys’ founder member and universally recognised musical ‘genius’ Brian Wilson. It’s a film told in two concurrently running, interwoven parts; his early Beach Boys days (superbly done by Paul Dano) and the post – Beach Boys, Dr Eugene Landy days, (an older Brian played with a subtle, yet great awareness by John Cusack).

Dr Landy (a fine performance by the ever excellent Paul Giamatti), was a man, who it should be said, managed to drag Brian out of his non-functioning, long-time bed-ridden state, but ultimately came to be an overbearing, controlling and above all dangerous presence in his life, preventing him from making the a full recovery. All said, a weak, frightened and medicated Brian came to be Dr Landy’s meal ticket.

Whether it was the beatings from an unsupportive father, voices in his head, a lukewarm reception to some of his more ambitious, creative ideas or his fast increasing dependency on recreational drugs (most crucially of all Brian’s flirtation with LSD), Brian’s life journey was one that was always going to derail at some point.

Ultimately, it’s a chance encounter with a beautiful used car sales girl, Melinda, that will save Brian and release him from the Big Brother existence he endures under Landy’s instruction, but not without a struggle.

Interestingly, the song ‘Love and Mercy’ is a cut taken from Brian’s eponymous first solo album, written and recorded during this period of the eighties. It has moments of sublime magic and great musical beauty that undoubtedly lies within Brian, yet ultimately it’s stifled behind rigid production and a rather controlled sound; it’s perhaps no wonder considering the entire project was Landy’s brainchild and by all accounts, he was the driving force behind its inception and realisation.

Pohlad should take great credit for this portrayal of Brian’s life and the clever use of, and at times psychedelically-altered, ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile’ era of The Beach Boys’ impressive back catalogue.

Pohlad should also take credit for not glossing over the tough stuff. No one is left in any doubt about the state of Brian’s mind, past or present, or of the troubles he’s seen, but in the end, Love and Mercy is like a fine Beach Boys record; at times heartbreaking, but always hinting at better, sun-soaked times ahead.

A fitting tribute to one of the all time greats and one that I’d imagine Brian himself is proud to be associated with.

Love and mercy to you and your friends tonight…

FILM REVIEW: The Look of Silence

“Under your legislature over a million people were slaughtered…”

“Well, that’s politics…” *laughs*

The response of one of the Indonesian heads of state, under whose watch the military slayed, to order, over a million Indonesian communists.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s previous foray into the tragic events of 1960s Indonesia took on a bizarre, macabre style in that men that had directly been responsible for the slaughter of so many innocent souls were invited to re-enact their killings for the camera in a cinematic style of their choosing. Oppenheimer chose not to take sides, instead allowing the perpetrators time and opportunity to mull over their deeds and by and large come to very grave realisations about their past wrong doings.


In The Look of Silence, his follow up offering, the stance is a little different…

Adi’s is a very personal story.

He lost his brother, Ramli, to the barbarity of the military regime in unspeakably horrific fashion. His quest? To approach those involved through the guise of his profession, an optician, and in doing so, ask each of them the pertinent questions, face to face.

These are old men now whose health is not what it was, so it’s not so much a mission of vengeance, more a psychological probing to ascertain the details of what they did, but more so, to make them re-live it in their own heads, to make them take personal responsibility for what they did and look for any signs of remorse and regret; more in hope than anything.

One by one those implicated are questioned and one by one they squirm,  wriggle and attempt to justify their actions, but their reasoning is hollow and shown up for what it is, the feeble defence of the guilty.

Quite how Adi maintains a dignified stance throughout (although the cracks start to show as the film progresses), is best known only to him. I assume the knowledge that to make too much of a commotion about the issue, whilst not exactly incurring the wrath of frail old men in varying states of senility, may however alert the authorities to his motives and put both he and his family in grave danger. Still to this day, to rake up the atrocities of the past in public is not a particularly wise move.

This line of one-on-one questioning is inter-cut with footage of Adi watching a video of his brother’s murderers, walking the viewer through the actual steps and actions they took in torturing, mutilating and ultimately killing him. The matter-of-fact nature of this is both startling and surreal in equal measures. It’s hard to know what’s going through Adi’s mind as he watches; the camera trained close up on his face; The Look Of Silence, indeed…

There’s a resigned melancholy that pervades this film. Adi’s long suffering elderly mother and father are a couple pushing 100 or more. Adi’s father insists he’s no more than seventeen but admits to having forgotten his true age. His mother’s days are filled with the considerable task of taking care of her mostly deaf, blind and senile husband and attending to the daily chores. Any time that she does have to herself she seems to spend in quiet contemplation; it’s a fair bet that much of this time is spent reflecting on the injustice of her son Ramli’s brutal death.

It is quite simply an astonishing film.

With the closing credits rolling, largely credited to ‘anonymous,’ it’s difficult to argue that The Look Of Silence, along with The Act of Killing, will both become benchmark documentaries for many years to come.

They are masterful observations of psychology and the human condition. Without resorting to gratuitous violence or milking the terror through bloodied, historic reconstructions, they perfectly encapsulate the all too familiar story of a brainwashed, herd mentality and man’s subsequent inhumanity to his fellow man.

A masterpiece.

Hard going, but essential viewing.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: AMY

A lot of music has passed me by over the last decade or two. A general disenchantment with the ongoing deterioration of mainstream music inevitably leads to taking one’s eye off the ball and in so doing, there’s always the danger that something special’s going to slip past.

Quite how what ultimately came to be the Amy Winehouse circus managed to slip me by, relatively unnoticed, remains a mystery.

‘Amy’ is a very slick re-telling of the tragically short life and career of Amy Winehouse, who, in fairness was revered as an artist both during her lifetime and perhaps even more so in the years following her untimely demise.

It’s pieced together from substantial footage sourced from friends, her first manager and official sources which instantly elevates ‘Amy’ well above the kind of sanitised output we might expect from a TV documentary. There’s also Asif Kapadia’s directorial decision to, by and large, dispense with talking heads, instead a wide range of those that played a part in her life, provide an audio commentary to compliment the visual footage. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it works well and helps keep the majority of emotional emphasis on Amy and her very visible reactions to her fast, unraveling world.

It’s a familiar tale of a young, vibrant soul with the world at their feet, ultimately worn down and corrupted by success, fame and all of the associated trappings. What is shocking however, and granted it’s very much the way this film has been cut, is just how many people were guilty of sticking the proverbial boot in when Amy was at her lowest ebb. Whether meant in jest or otherwise, it seems an entire industry of Amy Winehouse-knocking became de rigeur, be that the light-hearted quips of light entertainers, the savage flash popping of an omnipresent, relentless paparazzi and their media pay masters or worse still, exploitation by those closest to her; those she really trusted and depended upon.

Certainly her father and ex-husband don’t do themselves any favours from what the historic footage reveals.

Of course Amy, at times, did herself no favours and made, as we all do, poor life choices; it’s just that the majority of us don’t live in a fish bowl in the midst of an hysterical media feeding frenzy, accentuating our every wrong move, magnifying each and every twist and turn.

Mercifully, the rather reverential tone of ‘Amy’ the documentary has an overwhelming sense of awe, love and appreciation for her music and life, allowing viewers to truly immerse themselves in her talent and the uplifting positives of her all too short career.

One such positive sees Amy interviewed by a well-meaning radio host who attempts to  draw comparisons and lump her into the same category with the rather pedestrian sounds and lyrical content of Dido. Amy’s reactions are priceless. She was a million miles from such banality and she knew it.

As an immensely talented, yet very troubled individual, it’s arguable that success alone bred trouble. Would she have got caught up in such a spiral of self-destructive behaviour if she’d had just a small fraction of the fame and adulation? We’ll never know, but ‘Amy’ offers a glimpse into her talent and makes us all too aware what a tragic loss her death is to the music industry and to the world in general.

A beautiful, must see documentary.

FILM REVIEW: BLOOD CELLS

youtu.be/5Wz6x30aEfQ
Sometimes you just can’t face reality.

Sometimes you’ll do anything you can to avoid it, particularly when you have very tangible, dark reasons for doing so. 
Adam (Barry Ward) is a man drifting from place to place; from one cash-in-hand opportunity to the next; running from his past and the memory of his family, his father and particularly his father’s ultimately doomed agricultural business.
Adam submerges himself in a rather rudderless wander through what today would probably be termed as ‘Broken Britain.’ Marking time, he drifts from ghost-towns to soulless estates, venturing miles down interminable roads in the process.This nomadic amble is not so much a life choice as it is the lesser choice of two evils, but even in escaping his demons, his mind is frequently plagued by memories and reminders of the past.Conversations with strangers or past acquaintances en route are hollow and superficial. None of these people can truly be termed friends; he never seems to stick around long enough to cement any such relationships of worth.Yes, Adam is very much a man trying hard to forget what’s been and gone because he can’t and won’t deal with it and all the while, numbing his thoughts through a steady flow of alcohol and a willing set of equally ‘lost’ drinking partners.

His alcoholic state is fast alienating all those around him and the thought of reacquainting himself with family is only exacerbating the issue.

You’d be forgiven for giving this one a bit of a swerve, such is the picture being painted.

Blood Cells however, is so sublimely and artistically shot that what really should resemble a rather grey, gritty and depressing spectacle (and in another director’s hands, surely would have done), is lifted into the realms of a daydream; somehow magical, bordering on the ethereal even.

Whether this detracts from or enhances the gravitas of the subject matter is open to debate, but it certainly lends the film an other worldliness that makes for an at times, surreal, yet quite beautiful visual experience.

On one level, Blood Cells reminds me a little of David Thewlis’ excellent turn in ‘Naked’ but whereas that was a role that very much sucked the viewer in and demanded much empathy on his part, Blood Cells keeps the viewer at arms length, never to really be involved in Adam’s troubles.

Its visual appeal and the gritty premise upon which it’s based are one thing, but a seemingly largely improvised script (or lack thereof), coupled with the aloof nature of Jimmy Bull and Luke Seomore’s direction leaves Blood Cells feeling just a tad too art house for art house’s sake.

Nonetheless, it’s visually sumptuous and strangely mystical and that alone, I’d say, makes it worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time.