Friday, 31 July 2015

Self/less

A dying real estate mogul transfers his consciousness into a healthy young body, but soon finds that neither the procedure nor the company that performed it are quite what they seem. 


This movie suggests plenty of questions about the nature of identity, the morality of scientific exploration and the price of ageing. However the script doesn't craft characters complicated enough to engage in those concept. It also appears as a parabole about man's lust fr immortality. Surprisingly though the movie doesn't explore the psychological consequences of becoming a new person. When it comes to performances: Ben Kingsley is great, you bought Gandhi and the Mandarin, you'll like him as Damian. Ryan Reynolds seems a little lost and far too decent to be the cold blooded capitalist Kingsley plays in the film early scenes. He is good though, I've always liked Ryan Reynolds, this man is a movie star! He got some pretty bad roles, especially with Green Lantern, but that's not his fault! Matthew Goode is particularly effective as well. As the sinister scientist he gives a solid performance. 


I mostly liked the movie. Its greatest crime is that it's not enough of anything. Not brainy enough to party with the theories about consciousness that Ex Machina delivered earlier this year, nor is it over the top enough to party with the campy goofballery of something like Limitless. The film little by little drops its high sci-fi concept facade for a more conventional pursuit thriller, before transforming yet again into a father-daughter bonding drama. Moreover, the more the narrative straightens out into a series of shootouts, punch outs and car chases, the more monotonous it becomes. In the end, the visual flairs with which the director tells this story balances the fact that the plot gets a little silly, a little ridiculous or completely off tracks. He knew how to keep the audiences engaged with a fast pace, so that you don't have the time to think too much about things that don't make any sense or convenient plot twists. 


Overall Self/less is a fun movie to watch, not a great one. This film is at its worst a cool 90's sci-fi action movie and at its best, it makes you question yourself on whether if you could live forever will you feel bad about who was the person you're inhabiting the body?

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Southpaw

Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him gets his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services. 


Directors sure do love a boxing ring, that great square where (usually) two men face off in a battle that is often about more than sport. The ring is a great place to put a camera and there's the obvious, easy metaphor that boxing provides: the fight, you see, is really the fight of life. Many venerable Hollywood's directors - Scorsese, Eastwood, Mann or Howard - have (thanks to Sylvester Stallone maybe) made boxing pictures for that particular reason. The think is that there's so much contain within the bounds of those ropes, all the struggle and triumph and defeat of life, neatly compressed into 12 rounds. This movie is one of those film you think can't get worse but it does, it really got worse for this guy in this story of rise-and-fall-and-rise-again. Their daughter evolves into a central character as the film goes on and the legal system seems equally cold and unjust as money-grabbing fight organisers, in taking Leila away from him; though it also motivates Billy to mature into a responsible dad. By now you've probably heard a lot about Jake Gyllenhaal's astonishing physical transformation, to a point where he's even hard to recognise in the opening shots. But generally speaking the cast is incredible, they're all great actors. Harvey Weinstein loudly speculated at earliest Cannes Film Festival preview that Gyllenhaal would receive at least an Oscar nomination for his breathtaking transformation here, partly as "revenge" for previous snub in the best actor race for last year Nightcrawler.    


Spectacle of Gyllenhaal throwing himself into the role of Billy Hope with a sort of abandon that makes even his creepy, Gollum-like part in last year Nightcrawler look like a drama class exercise by comparison. He's never looked tougher on screen. In fact, he's virtually unrecognisable here, which in this case is more than enough to satisfy the expectations of a truly great performance. It's in fact a solid piece of acting, one that never lets us forget every ounce of effort he should have went for into achieving it. Billy's character is thrilling to watch and the only unpredictable thing in this 2-hours-plus-movie. Gyllenhaal manages to give his character a raw inner fierce, he turns his pain into an unarticulated rage. You get the sense that the ring is a place where he finds peace through oblivion. You can practically smell the blood, the sweat and the fierce rising from Jake Gyllenhaal bruised and tattooed body. When his character is in emotional agony, you got it, you know it, you feel it and you're there. He created something complex and arresting at the same time, within the character of Billy. That's more impressive than anything the actor's achieved with his personal trainer. He's hands down a fantastic actor even with this relevant physical appearance. Moreover, Rachel McAdams has more to do than I worried she would, and is, slightly better than the material. She gives Maureen more tangible humanity than her "I'm worried about you, baby" character might otherwise get. I loved Forest Whitaker in the role of the rough old trainer with a heart of gold as well. Particularly a scene where he points to Billy's fists and says "Boxing isn't about this. It's about this. It's a game of chess." pointing to his head. 

   
However, there's nothing truly out of the box in this competent and effective first screenplay by Sons of Anarchy creator, Kurt Sutter. The second act slows down for some growing up time away from the ring. The action scenes are pumped up and the emotional time-outs smoothed over softly with James Horner's last score that ranges from moody to rap. The boxing scenes themselves are dynamically lanced and cut, always seeking to position the viewer in the midst of it through wide array of camera angle. Especially the climatic fight between Billy and his mortal enemy, is appropriately brutal and undeniably exciting. Finally when it's done well this film involves nuance and the subtle submission of self - which are imperceptible and utterly mysterious. 


Overall Southpaw may be thudding around from cliché to cliché and lack of narrative agility but when it gets to the ring, it knows just what to do. It's all about the fight, the rest is just hype.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Ant-Man

Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.


For many moviegoers whose knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn't extend to its second tier pantheon of superheroes, the thought of a microscopic man in a microscopic suit and mask may sound a bit, well, ridiculous. Neither super nor particularly heroic. However, if you don't have Thor's hammer, Captain America resolve or Iron Man know-how, what's an Avenger to do? The answer is: go small and exude a good sense of humour, which is precisely what floats this latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic firmament. Marvel had more to prove with Ant-Man than any other post-Iron Man MCU entry and Phase 2 closer might be the sucker punch few expected this year. In  fact, there never been true classics among human shrinkage wee sub genre, as the format does force filmmakers to visualise the world from a very particular point of view and that never been easy for anyone. After Captain America: The Winter Soldier's conspiracy curves, Ant-Man arrives with a burglar trying to go straight who reverts to crime because the only post-prison job he can get is a McJob. The run time of the movie is well spent on setting fresh character connections. Those links are plotted with satisfying symmetry across a pattern of fathers/children and mentors/protégés.   


Paul Rudd nails it as Scott Lang, he's such a likable addition to the MCU and I absolutely loved his portrayal of the character. This guy brings a sort of average-Joe charm, bringing the film to life with his sharp comic timing, almost like Chis Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) he's smart enough to handle these films with a light touch. Rudd is helped by an ace supporting cast. Having an actor of Douglas' calibre on board lends the film some gravitas to balance the humour. Michael Douglas is fantastic in this movie, not just because it's Michael Douglas and he's a hell of an actor, he's talented and it's nice to see him in a good movie; but they gave Hank Pym such a good back story. His relation with his daughter ads a great depth to this film and took it in the right direction. Douglas resumes his Wall Street-ish mentor mode which ads wrinkly warmth, he sells every line as Hank Pym: this genius who, by the way it must be noted, also fathered Ultron in the comic books canon (in earliest movie he was created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner). Michael Pena is comedy gold, every word coming out from this guy mouth is perfect, he nails every line as well. Yet, the villain is purely a plot devices. He's just a big evil guy who's really good at being evil and like to do evil things, like shrinking lambs without even feeling a shred of guilt. He's not a compelling character. Darren Cross acts stupidly and harshly when things are on the line. He doesn't have the demented grand vision that a major villain should have - Ultron would have him for a snack. 


Marvel was once again able to take a less known, a lot smaller hero and make it as entertaining as this film was, it really paid off. Writer Edgar Wright mostly perfectly captured the comedy/drama/action balance. The story dynamics are fundamentally silly but the action sequences are very well done. The film deals with divorce, estranged fatherhood, societal alienation which sounds more like a Bruce Springsteen song than a Marvel pitch; but the comic relief is judiciously dished out and the first half hour has a lighter hearted approach. The story central conflict does not involve Scott but rather, Pym and his betrayer. This movie understood that it was a smaller movie. It's knowingly small scaled which is alright because heroes are also small scaled sometimes. Visually, the 3D really ads something to the action scenes at least - god knows I'm not a huge fan of 3D. This has to be highlighted as those scenes where Scott shrank down in size, they blurred out the background so deeply do that the focus was solely on this tiny man running around. It worked very well for those sequences.   


Indeed, the action scenes are stunning to look at, the cgi isn't obvious at all, it may be due to the photo realistic aspect of the whole cinematography. Ant-Man isn't perfect. The structure isn't perfectly balanced in the first act. Sometimes it's very funny and sometimes deadly serious. This feels like couple different movies are happening at once. Finally, the comedy prevails in a project that is historically integral to the Marvel map of the world but also seems on the margins of it. I won't spoil anything but I also loved the way it tied into other MCU instalments with references. Marvel did it again. Ant-Man is a lot of fun, I laughed constantly throughout this film. 


Overall Ant-Man is a refreshing proposition, in a super-sized summer, the dinosaurs and Arnie-bots won't know what it them. Reed and Rudd's film, is proof that no matter how silly some ideas might sound at first, good things often do come in small packages.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Magic Mike XXL

Three years after Mike bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game, he and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance.


They're back with abs more defined than ever, Steven Soderbergh's praised Magic Mike is back for another go-round: this time with his longtime assistant, director Gregory Jacobs at the helm. A lot of women might have been disappointed in the first movie as it actually explored more of those men's life, what they do and the hardship it is to live that type of lifestyle. After three years in the making the project wasn't exactly a rush job. This mixed road trip and musical: this new breed provides a sense of structure. One of the major theme is something they talk about a lot in the film: the idea of being everything this person you're dancing for in this moment needs, everything this woman needs right now, you can give that to her and she loves you for it. It's philosophical. The film explores the strange beauty of that. They dance because they love it, they've chosen a legitimate career bringing happiness to the ladies of the world. Characters are all rethinking the male burlesque but it's exactly the same thing all over again for the muscly strippers, except with no Matthew McConaughey this time around. Channing Tatum is a very good dancer, but there's none of the physical brilliance of Tatum's performance in the Oscar worthy wrestling movie Foxcatcher; nor the wit and fun of his cop in 21 & 22 Jump Street 


This film really deals with the camaraderie among those men, the conversations they have about what they do, their view point on their position in life and the way they affect the women their dancing for. While the draw of handsome men in their underwear is obvious, it's the chemistry between them that makes Mike Magic. These laid-back ladies' men manage to be blocky and vulnerable, in their geniality, old fashioned manners and tendency to put women on a pedestal. They're a welcomed antidote to the obnoxious all-male ensembles that have become mainstream in commercial comedy (Earliest Entourage being the best example). The attitude is that we all (mostly) know why we're here and let's have a good time! Writers have junked the do-I-really-want-to-be-a-male-stripper concept  which allegedly gave the first movie depth, or at any rate some dramatic interest. There's no narrative pull or jeopardy about anything that happens on screen. Even the movie reminds you , just before its final showdown, that there's nothing at stakes here, nothing to be won or lost. Just the joy of amazingly sculpted bodies in motion. This fact increased the quotient of pure entertainment by lowering its ambitions. Stripping isn't comic or tragic: it's just great! However the film is actually a lot deeper than you might expect; with a quick witted script that refuses to take it all seriously as its simply notes the passage of time while stressing the importance of living in the present and making the most of your gifts. Their ideas is to make all the ladies in their audience feel special and catered, that it's about them but in a self consciously fun way, not as dominance.       


We're all invited to believe that this is of course not demeaning or ironic but romantic and fun. In this consciously fun way a positive energy is building throughout the movie from scene to scene until the explosive finale. Indeed, it's a gorgeous looking and beautifully shot movie (in every possible way...), with excellent cinematography and lightning, very similar to the first one. This isn't the MTV movie the trailer tries to make you think it is. Moreover, I may not be entirely over this fantastic gaz station scene, involving Joe Manganiello and a Backstreet Boys' song. Freaking good! Plus, there's one moment when the movie regain its soul and comes alive in its goofy way; it's when Mike is in his workshop, brooding about the possibility of hitting the road again and he improvises a little dance routine around his saws, drills and workbench. It's silly, but there's some flair, mostly because it's not weighed down with mock sexiness and the need to patronise women with naughty but nice pelvic thrusting. Finally, Magic Mike XXL is set in the real world too but delivers more of that original promises: you want the hottest male strippers, you got them. It may be the gayest straight film ever made or the straightest gay one and I don't care either way because this film is ridiculously entertaining. 


Overall, this film might be deceptive for a certain demographic because it's actually a well shot, well filmed, dealing with interesting and well acted character. In some ways Magic Mike XXL is the film that many feared the original might be (and wasn't). Channing Tatum still packs a bagful of charm along with his merry band of male strippers.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Terminator: Genisys

John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be.


The first two instalments of the Terminator series were both exquisitely engineered entertainments. Since then, the series has been on a steady decline. In fact the sequels didn't have real reasons to exist. Time travel movies are a leap of faith on the part of a filmmaker. The good ones lay out a set of rules that, as preposterous as they may seem, operate within their own air-tight logic; with puzzle pieces snapping perfectly into place. It's not the case of Terminator: Genisys. A simple summary  can't even begin to cover a plot so dense that the trailer succumbed to spoilers. Trying to explain a plot that rewrites the entire series, Genisys - as the newly released Poltergeist - will serve as a good test of how keen the audience is to see basically the same old thing in a new (but very similar) bottle.  This time jumping thing plays well enough if you're not thinking too deeply about it. "Time travel makes my head hurt" yells Kyle Reese midway through the movie and so it was echoed by the audience. Director and writer made a hash of the saga's mythology, tweaking timelines and messing with its tenants for their own convenience. It's confusing. Indeed, there are several points in the script that feels like the earlier movies had criss-crossed together like the plots overlapping timelines. Is it very creative writing? Or are they ripping off the originals? Arguably it is both. 


Genisys tries to explain certain things that happened in the first two films, while also adding a lot to them. For instance, in the first Terminator when Kyle Reese lands back from time travelling he smashes right onto the concrete whereas Arnold Schwarzenegger has this epic intro, the movie gives you a reason for that. There are a little bit of connective tissue between this movie and the first two; but for the most part, the timeline is incredibly confusing and some of it make no sense whatsoever. Especially the ending which has one WTF moment that lacks credibility, even in this logic defying loopy universe. Arnold once again declares "I'll be back" in this fifth installment of the Terminator franchise. His return is vital, of course. J.K Simmons surprisingly brings some much needed humour to this really complicated storyline. Plus, they were clearly aiming to benefit by association with Emilia Clark,  Game of Thrones cast member. She can be fearless at moment, but she can't do much about the very one-note dimension of her character and that goes as well for Jai Courtney as Reese, a role more devoid of depth or wrinkles. That leaves it to Arnold to save the day. He was 37 when the first entry was released in 1984 and is now 67, but he's still imposing and amusing up to a certain point. He can't dominate the way he did 30 years ago, even with the visual effects equivalent of plastic surgery; telling his cohorts "I'm old, not obsolete" but that will be up to the audience to decide. 


Visually, we've seen it all - those images, or many like them - so many times before. Action scenes are accumulated and seem like warmed over versions of action we've seen in early Terminator entries or elsewhere. How many times have we seen the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed in a big budget movie in past years? Did they already rebuild it since San Andreas? There's a lot of action, a lot of things get blown up, but none of it was filmed in a memorable way, not one scene was more memorable than any other scenes we've already seen. They're all "just fine", where they shouldn't be "just fine". They are part of a series of amazing action sequences. The fact is that the movie tries to be too big and it is BIG but it can't carry the weigh it loaded on itself. A scene during the end credit titles suggests that a follow up to this film is already intended by its makers. However if Arnold really wants not only to come back but to be welcomed back, he'll need one day to unterminate. I suppose there wasn't any reason to expect more from this movie than the lure of watered-down nostalgia, and it barely succeeds at that. Finally, like any other 3-D extravaganza released in recent summers Genisys is a wildly expensive, decent looking, mildly diverting mess that doesn't make a lick of sense. Its connection to older better movies cons us into believing it's better than it is. 


Overall, if you stick to the fact that it's the first Terminator but it's a new timeline and they are doing things differently now, that would have been fine; but they decided to go in another direction. It should have been better than just a turn-your-brain-off type of movie you'll have fun. There's good humour, Arnie is great, but for the most part characters are dull, the timeline is screwed and the action is disappointing.