Sunday, 21 February 2016

Review: Triple 9

Year: 2016
Director: John Hillcoat
Screenplay: Matt Cook
Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins, Jr., Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael K. Williams, Gal Gadot, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet

Synopsis is here:

Triple 9 was unfortunate enough to catch the brunt of angry, entitled cinema goers when it was selected as February’s secret screenings. Some people in the audience decided that the film would be Deadpool despite the fact there was no evidence of this being the case. Ignorant tweets, walkouts and fantums ensued. Needless to say, secret screening does not mean advanced screening of the film you chose in your head.

It’s no surprise that a film like Triple 9 would be picked for such an event. John Hillcoat’s grimy thriller holds effective components and a substantial cast, yet appears in February with little fanfare. A film like Triple 9 can easily get lost when being released in at the same time as a film so aggressively marketed as Deadpool. So to see it come out a little earlier than stated would possibly allow some word of mouth to aid it.

One wonders if Triple 9 got a little boost from its secret screening. Did the word of mouth get any higher than “it was alright.”? Triple 9 has all the ingredients of being an exemplary heist movie, but it never quite gets there. Of course, watching a film like this has you recall the films of Michael Mann or relatively recent fare such as Ben Affleck’s The Town (2010). But while The Town pulsates with its meaty set pieces and the likes of Heat (1995) throbs with the beating hearts of the inner lives of the professionals, Triple 9 merely goes about its way. The film hints at a murky world of desperation, but does little in delving deeper. It’s setting of Atlanta, Georgia is perfect, as is the multi-ethnic cast, which suggests notions of class and racial strife.

Something seems to get lost in the edit. There seems to be more to this story that the theatrical cut is not telling us. Triple 9 starts out intriguingly with its opening detailing dirty Russian mobster money flowing through a dense metropolitan capital. The backstory we do get from certain characters looks to suggest compelling dynamics. There’s at least three separate collections of family ties that could be explored.

While Triple 9 slumps towards a relatively conventional and slightly rushed conclusion, John Hillcoat certainly makes sure that the cast and crew deliver from a cosmetic level. Cinematography from Nicolas Karakatsanis in drenched in dark covering shadows and warning sign reds. The film’s set pieces are effective in their execution and despite some clear trimming of their characters, the ample cast doesn't stumble. They play up to the sense of desperation the narrative tries to develop.
Triple 9 doesn’t deliver anything new or of substance, but John Hillcoat does provide an enjoyable heist feature that I would have happily sat through on a free secret screening.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Review: The Revenant

Year: 2015 (U.K Release 2016)
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Screenplay: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter

Synopsis is here

If there’s one thing that The Revenant does well, it’s scream about how BIG it is. It wants people to know just how MASSIVE a movie it is. Just look at the scope, everyone! Look at the huge, vast plains that its characters trudge and crawl through. Observe the scale of the films set pieces! Feel how impressive it all is. The film and its creators are right. This is an admirably impressive piece from a technical viewpoint.

The Revenant also an unbelievably committed film. Most of the film's hype has been quick to note just how demanding principal photography was and just how dedicated the filmmaking became. A large scale production captured in freezing remote locations with short filming windows (Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shot using natural light), the gruelling 9 month shoot was so challenging that crew members quit and producers were added to get everything back on track.
In watching the film, it’s clear that for all the struggle and strife, The Revenant looks the business. The actors are nearly shallowed completely by the surroundings and there is a true feeling of grandness to the imagery that is hard to dismiss.

When we take away the challenge of the shoot as well as the prettiness of the piece, The Revenant does very little to capture the soul. Its scant narrative leaves little to hold on to, yet its overlong running time seems to insist that the film has importance. The truth is The Revenant takes a long time to say very little. The film is impressive from a distance. Its bombastic sequences are definitely worth watching on the biggest screen possible, while the cast show full commitment at every turn.

However, in comparison to films such as Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) The Revenant lacks the chaotic constitution of man being lost to the all-encompassing power of nature. That's Herzog's area. Iñárritu is still all about the misery of it all than the absurdity. As with the likes of Biutiful (2010), The Revenant’s conventional revenge tale gets so wrapped in the pain of it all, that it becomes difficult to find compelling.  The Revenant just loves to yell about how painful the plight is.

The dedication from everyone involved is commendable, yet throughout the film feels uninvolving. Unfortunately, like Revolutionary Road (2008) this is one of those performances in Leo doesn’t want to be shown phoning it in. Far from it. The dial gets cranked up to eleven through every moment DiCaprio crawls, mumbles and grimaces. This is BIG acting, but it doesn’t distract you from the fact he’s laying it on quite thick. The fact that the elements made the performance a challenge, doesn’t mean that you must in turn love the display. Tom Hardy, as the film’s antagonist fairs better, with his bulging eyes and Jeff Bridges-like drawl. Both bring a certain intensity, but Hardy is given more to play with. A problem considering that this is a film built to show DiCaprio’s tactility.

We'd used to say a film would have every frame is like a painting. Now, the film, like The Revenant, they feel like HDR images. Despite the visceral "ugly" beauty of the visuals, the film seems stripped of the beastliness of its story. The Revenant lacks the transitional nature of a Western like Dead Man (1995) or the transgressive power of a revenge movie like Dead Man's Shoes (2004). The film’s final moments do little don’t reveal the pettiness of revenge, but instead left me feeling short changed. Looks and a contemptuous shoot make The Revenant and big screen curiosity, but don’t expect any devils in the details. This is a film in which everyone is screaming to hear their own echo.  

Review: Deadpool

Year: 2016
Director: Tim Miller
Screenplay: Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T. J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand Stefan Kapičić

Synopsis is here

Crazy, violent and crammed full of self-relevance and meta-humour, Deadpool, with its in your face snark and obnoxiousness, comes at the viewer as aggressively as its marketing. For the most part, it pulls its nonsense off with an entertainingly reckless abandon. It may not be Airplane! (1982), but looks to aim for the dizzying highs of The Zucker brothers joke ratios. Then again, noticing that Deadpool’s screenplay is credited to the writers of Zombieland (2009), you shouldn’t be surprised. If you happen to have a penchant for penis jokes, you’ll also be in good stead.

Deadpool’s love for smut, breaking the fourth wall and general piss-taking of the recent comic book genre is not only quite refreshing, but it papers over the fact that there’s little else in the film apart from this. While holding similar elements, it doesn’t push the bar of comic adaptations in the same way that Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s American Splendor (2003) manages. The latter movie shaped and warped art and life in a far more striking way. However, as a mainstream, superhero movie, Deadpool’s zaniness isn’t aiming for anything life affirming, and its fubar prat-falling helps distract from its tepid storytelling and blunt, uninspiring action.

Luke Owen’s recent article for Film School Rejects, touches on the idea that the film itself wants us to watch bad movies. Deadpool revels in snide side swipes of failed/poor comic book franchises (Green Lantern and X-Men Origins get a hefty brunt of the shade thrown). The main argument that Owen places across is that if you’ve not seen these poor cinematic entries, then Deadpool loses a certain amount of its edge. Others have noted that Deadpool does little to subvert comic book origin cliché and merely apes them. It is quite difficult not to be reminded visually/structurally of entries such as the sub-standard Spawn (1997) or non-comic book comic movie Darkman (1990) while watching Deadpool, among other films. It’s also difficult to ignore just how typical Deadpool is when the chimichangas aren’t being served.

Then again, Marvel Studios wishes you to read comics, watch T.V series and films in order for you to keep up with its chaotic timelines. Also, only now we’re getting into a position where new marvel characters won’t be set up with origin stories. The smirking, winking Deadpool clearly enjoys being part of that playground. It acknowledges its faults superficially, yet with a certain knowing charm. We are given nods to pop culture like Hello Kitty and The Matrix (1999) all the while bopping our heads to the specifically 80’s/90’s soundtrack, featuring the old school earworm Shoop by Salt n Pepa as well as Ruff Ryder favourite DMX’s X Gon Give It To Ya. Irony shouldn’t be lost on the fact that Wade/Deadpool is part of Team X in X-Men: Origins: Wolverine and is Weapon XI in that movie as well. It’s hard to see much of what it does as unintentional. There’s sometimes method to its madness.

It is hard to gain any sense of weight to Deadpool’s action sequences, which, despite their gore content, feel clunky more than anything else. Say what you like about Bryan Singer’s X-Men (Deadpool does often), but Singer at least gives us a memorable set piece in each film. Deadpool’s set pieces, merely mimics most of the comic book movies it parodies. Case in point, the film’s loud, crashing shipping yard climax, could easily feature in a number of previous Marvel films. As could the hum drum villains, although the opening credit sequence pretty slyly digs at Hollywood’s typical leanings when it comes to villainy.

Deadpool’s main strength is its cast chemistry and the rapid torrent of gags. Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin are enjoyable together as is Reynolds and T.J Miller. The banter is juvenile and irrelevant, but the point of Deadpool seems to be that there’s little point other than juvenile irrelevance, something that does feel refreshing with the slightly disturbing knowledge of the sheer volume of upcoming comic book movies smacking our eyeballs. Deadpool’s fourth wall “knowledge” and childishness may not make it a superhero movie landmark, but it is a relatively amusing diversion.