Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Walk

In 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit recruits a team of people to help him realise his dream: to walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.


The Walk is directed by Robert Zemeckis, stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and is based on a true story. I won't spoil you what happens because I didn't know when I went to the movie and it was suspenseful. I loved it. You may say what you will about Joseph Gordon-Levitt's accent but he does earn points for commitment, going through the trouble of delivering a significant portion of his dialogue in French. Whatever you may think of his weird wig and contacts, the physical aspects of his performance do impress as he adapts the catlike moves of a professional funambulist. Levitt does the best performance he could have done with this character. However, I found myself not 100% invested with his character as in the first half it drags a bit. Robert Zemeckis has magician's ability to blend character and technology.  


Indeed Zemeckis re-creates the wild dream of this man as only cinema can, giving audiences a thrilling 3D all angles view of an experience that, until now, only one man on Earth could claim to have lived. This film is visually miraculous. Engaging incredible CGI. This is something Zemeckis is becoming very well-known for, using CGI among live action filmmaking and making it seem seen less. There are sequences in this film that are absolutely jaw-dropping. The last half of the movie focuses up completely. Philippe Petit performance may be victimless crimes, but they are crimes nonetheless, and the fact that he and his crew must plan the World Trade Center coup in secret lends in much of its suspense. After all they're defying not only gravity, but the laws as well. How long can you hold your breath? Because the 17-minutes wire-walking sequence is the most majestic simulation of a real event since the ship sinking in Titanic: a triumph of photo realistic digital effects. Finally, Zemeckis did such a great job because when he's up there you feel like you are up there with him, these towers are here and it's 1974, we are all up on a freaking wire. 


Overall the script simply tells rather than explore but the visuals are amazing, the CGI is flawless and really beautiful to look at. The 3D is genuinely breath-taking and acting is great.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Supergirl (Season 1) Premiere

The adventures of Superman's cousin in her own superhero career. 


Supergirl is the latest DC Comics adaptation from producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg. Taking a page from The Flash and Smallville before it, the series also seeks to establish via Kara's origin tale a deeper mythology and an excuse for Earth to be populated by  various super-beings. Supergirl arrived late in the booklet of comic book super-heroine that emerged after Wonder Woman in 1941. Though in the 60s she was a supporting player in the Superman family of titles. Until getting her first dedicated series in 1972. She has seen some reboots, pushed by publishers to diversify themselves. Did you know there's now a female Thor? A female Hawkeye and Spider-Gwen? This introductory hour holds closely to that pair producer's formula for The Flash, elevating an adorable Glee cast (there Grant Gustin, here Melissa Benoist) to a costumed-icon status. I'm glad Supergirl exists and I really want it to succeed. It's more than fine with me if it never becomes more than a solid superhero genre show with a female lead - especially since that lead is fantastic.      


Although Melissa Benoist is not unknown (especially to Glee viewers - like me - who made it past season 3) she's one of those rare casting miracle. She nails the title role: handling very well her dual role, it creates hope for the show going forward. Perfect casting. Her performance embraces, internalises and sells the character's contradictions and paradoxes. Melissa makes Kara feels real, she wears the costume proudly and easily while embodying joy and complexity all at once. Moreover, Calista Flockhart as the central character media mogul boss, Cat Grant, gives the show a Devil Wears Prada vibe. The first super-heroic act is a plane rescue that vaguely echoes the original Christopher Reeve's Superman. As in that movie there's a scene of exultation in which Kara explores her powers after so many years trying to blend in and be normal. A central idea in Superman's origin is that he is super not because of his powers, but because of the character cultivated by his parent. Here we're introduced to the Danvers, scientists and former TV show Superman father Dean Cain.       



Knowingly engages gender issues, including about the representation of women in pop culture. It's something rare: a superhero series that isn't about a superman. Indeed, writers smartly fit Supergirl's origin story to a very current feminist theme: that women must overcome being socialised to say sorry, o put themselves second or to efface themselves. Rather delivers its message with an enthusiastic bluntness that harkens back to its comic roots. The name "Supergirl" is ultimately explained, seeking to deflect any charges of sexism about the "girl" designation. The most meta scene comes when Cat Grant coins this name and defends it to Kara , who tries to argue that perhaps "SuperWoman" would be a more appropriate and respectful name. "I'm a girl" says Cat, "and your boss and powerful and rich and hot and smart. So if you perceive "Supergirl" as anything less than excellent, isn't the real problem you?". The argument she makes is debatable but worth having. Finally, Supergirl could be filling a shameful void after Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars. That needs to be followed by more contemporary properties such as (hopefully) the upcoming Netflix series, Marvel's Jessica Jones. In a field long dominated by men, Supergirl provides a superhero roe model for girls and young women while symbolising values anyone could admire. "Can you believe it? A female hero. Nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to." Yes that is nice. Now we need more. 


Overall, finding the right star and building a credible pilot are big parts of the battle. Thanks to those strengths if the producers can sustain the playfulness and action without going overboard, there's reason to believe this "girl" can fly.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Movie Vs. Book: The Martian

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meagre supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.


Andy Weir started writing a book about an astronaut stranded on Mars. He hadn't had any success with publishers in the past, so he begun posting chapters to his website. That was 2011. People really liked it - so much that Crown Publishing made it become a best-seller. Weir tells this story through largely detailed work logs. The Martian is impressively geeky. Smart science-fiction is such a rarity these days. Our parents witnessed the first man on the Moon decades ago and we witnessed the landing of curiosity on Mars: WE are the Mars generation. That's the inspiration. Astronauts really are the real pioneers. They do something incredibly heroic, brave and risky but also incredibly necessary. This book is adapted by Ridley Scott, who transformed science-fiction cinema with Blade Runner and Alien. Once again, Scott goes back to the future, which is a familiar destination for him. Andy Weir and screenplay writers wrote us a love letter to science. They obviously skipped a lot of complications in the film, there's so much in the book but they decide to pick out some bits and leave others which is natural and not a problem at all. You definitely don't need to have read the book to enjoy the movie but you definitely SHOULD read the book because it's fantastic!     


Mr Weir, from online serial to book to screen, has brought a little appreciated genre into the mainstream: the nerd thriller. This hyper-technical genre, deeply developed by novelists does something that classic thrillers do not: it puts the nerd (female or male) in the centre of the action. The intellectual is the hero. Imagine that instead of Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg was the star of Mission: Impossible. This is an adventure for those of us who believe, deep in our hearts, that the heroes of Star Trek are Spock and Scotty: the science officer and the engineer. And writing about The Martian seems to be bringing out the geekiness even more in your humble correspondent. Still its heart, humour and rousing story of perseverance and global collaboration promise to broaden the film's appeal well beyond nerds. A lot of people - including myself - responded to the characters in the book. The humour and the way he keeps his logical, practical spirit in order to solve one problem at a time; is what makes this character compelling and super duper interesting. Andy Weir admits freely that his character has little inner life. Watney simply pushes forward, putting crises into a mental lock box and figuring out how to survive. "It could have been a deep psychological thing", he said "but that's not the kind of book I like to read and it's not the kind of book I wanted to write". 


Engineer at NASA - who are hoping to get people to Mars someday - said Mr Weir has captured something important about what make Humans want to explore. Mark Watney character represents the very cutting edge of humanity and what's possible and what we know we'll all need someday; which is: move some of the species off the planet to ensure the species survival. Nowadays still, there are people working toward that goal. "Watney's everybody's favourite" because he's the brave, resourceful American optimist. We all know a smart ass nerd just like him. Moreover, if you're going to be stuck alone with an actor, who guides you through a story with nothing but video diaries, you need someone who can exude the right amount of humour and confidence. In significant measure due to his character's mordant humour, Matt Damon provides a very good company during the long stretches when he's on screen alone. Plus the actor's physicality makes Mark's capability entirely credible.  


Matt Damon has the charm and wit to land the tricky one-liners. You try making "Fuck you, Mars!" sound cool. From there Watney must not only come to grips with the most dire situation any astronaut has ever faced, but also mends his own gory abdominal wound in a scene that is Prometheus-level in its guts wrenching body horror. Watney is supposedly a symbol of hope for all humanity in the final act. Creating at the same time a new Manifest Destiny. This movie is the Die Hard of space film. Matt Damon gets stab, he gets frozen, he gets exploded and even burnt. Scenes back on Earth provide a hectic, densely populated counterweight to the Martian aridity. The rest of the cast is diverse in a way that feels genuinely authentic. In the story the rest of us on Earth have this understanding of what this man sacrificed and the beauty of that. They do everything they can to bring him back because he represents the best of us all.   


However, there's actually one major unrealistic thing about this movie. Sean Bean is in it and he makes it all the way to the end. That doesn't make any sense. Beside that, what I loved about the book is Andy Weir just walks you through scientifically what you would have to do to survive on Mars. He follows the science but it's approachable, it's not anything that seems beyond our capacity to understand which is actually entertaining. Watch this man go step by step and do what he has to do to survive. Weir best selling novel adaptation is more realistic in its attention to details than many films set in the present, giving the story the feel of an adventure that could happen the day after tomorrow. The book is heavy with technical assessments of food and oxygen supplies, mechanical capabilities, flight duration and the physics of inter-planetary travel. They're relevant topics and things that must be very real for genuine astronauts out there. All the technology mentioned in the book is real and 100% accurate. Versions are ultimately a bit updated as it takes place in a near future. But for now it all exist. The technical details keep the story relentlessly precise and the suspense ramped up, especially if you're more turned on by science than fiction. Indeed, Ridley Scott does generate a degree of suspense in this climatic stretch. This film reflects the work of NASA and how close to reality it can be.


Sci-fi is extremely important in our culture, it's engraved in what creative people do by projecting a vision of the future, something that we aspire to. This film finds Ridley Scott and his team innovating once again, this time moving in the direction of the plausible, to present the most realistic version possible of a manned mission on Mars. Cinematographer achieves to provide the film with a fundamental documentary reality while also making a thing of great beauty. They edited a sequence with a David Bowies song in a way that gave me chills. We are reminded of two things throughout the movie. First, sometimes 3D is an effective tool in filmmaking. Second, space is a nasty place. The film is fuelled by a Disco-heavy soundtrack that is oddly perfect. If you don't laugh as the final song sounds over the credits, I'm afraid, you might be dead inside. There's an optimistic lining common to both the novel and the film that seems at one with the story itself, and not an artificial, Holllywood-induced spin. 


At its core The Martian is delightfully retro and reminiscent of 90's sci-fie blockbusters like Apollo 13 or Armageddon. Space exploration appears nothing but noble, exciting and worthwhile. Moreover, considering that the US hasn't launched a manned space mission since 2011, The Martian should do far more than just make Fox a ton of money; it could conceivably rekindle interest in the space program and inspire a new generation of future astronauts. Plus, it doesn't matter what the film is about - even if a space oriented movie helps- if Ridley Scott is directing it, I want to see it. Think about it. We can still go to a theatre today and see a new film by the man who made Alien. That's freaking awesome! I can't tell you how happy I was leaving the movie with a gigantic smile on my face, knowing that I had just seen a new Ridley Scott classic. This film is genuinely one of the best movie of the year. A tribute to human ingenuity. A movie celebrating problem solving which is what science and engineering is all about.


Overall, The Martian is the best mainstream entertainment Ridley Scott has directed in over a decade; it thankfully brought him home, it's thrilling and engaging from first launch. Bringing the book to life in those ways are pretty spectacular! 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sicario

An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the US and Mexico.


Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve returns with a suspenseful and ever surprising cartel thriller. Sicorio begins with one carnage scene which sets the apocalyptic tone for everything that follows. In fact the plot demands attention but never becomes too difficult to follow and displays an almost sadistic level of suspense. The message is: are we willing to bend the rules and sell our souls to fight a war that will probably never be won? Plus, who earns our sympathy? From Brolin's to Del Toro's characters. The answer is no one. The environment characters are constantly surrounded by sips into the audience and you feel the crashing weight of their situation.  

    

Some may complain that the lead, played effectively by Emily Blunt, is a sexist portrayal. But this might just be the best piece I've ever seen from her. In a terrific performance that recalls the ferocity of Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs. Though she's still young and naive enough to believe that there's a right side in this war and that the US is on it. Moreover, Benicio Del Toro is every inch impressive, with a considerably more complicated character. Calm as a predator lying in wait, or revealing flashes of humanity when least expected. Even sometimes a Hannibal Lecter-ish lust for this young woman thrust into his path. Denis Villeneuve is a master of the kind of creeping tension that circles around the audience like a snake suffocating its prey.        


The opening sequence is a marvel of action and exposition. In fact, the film opens with a drug-raid sequence, slickly handed by Villeneuve. Still Sicario has a definite beginning, middle and end director isn't interested in cosy, comfy three acts armature. The film smoothly departs first into a kind of Zero Dark Thirty  style and then it wades into an old fashioned No Country for Old Men blood-and-revenge territory. The movie flows extremely well as a suspense film. Even scenes where nothing remarkable happen, you are waiting for something to happen. Villeneuve stages one extraordinary suspense set-pieces after another. Using sharp, colour saturated, compositions of cinematographer Roger Deakins - probably one of the best cinematographer alive; and airtight cutting of editor Joe Walker and the subtly menacing score of composer Johan Johansen. There's no hope, this film is utterly dark. 


Overall, Denis Villeneuve with Sicario delivers (once again) an impeccably well crafted film.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The Intern

70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker has discovered that retirement isn't all it's cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin.


The Intern is directed by Nancy Meyers, stars Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. If - like me - you've seen Something's Gonna Give, It's Complicated, What Women Want or The Holiday you probably know that they've earned more than one billion dollars worldwide. So the odds are good that you have - you'll undoubtedly have certain expectations for Nancy Meyers latest movie. And they will almost certainly be met. I love her movies. This film is not the cheesy melodramatic comedy type; but a far more smart and clever mature comedy. Robert De Niro is a genius. We all know he's a fantastic actor, one of the best of his generation. This man truly is an actor, the genuine one still alive. He's what guys should aspire to be when they're 70. He's classy, he's sharp, he's charming and optimistic. Important things here I really do love him in this movie. Plus, he's a good contrast with Hathaway's character.   


Anne Hathaway performance has a really nice core as throughout the movie you understand why she is the way she is. She graduated to the role of corporate fashion dragon, she's even permitted - not sure everyone saw that - in a witty touch, to toss her jacket to Ben in the blase manner of Meryl Streep's Miranda Presley in The Devil Wears Prada. Moreover she gets to deliver a wince-worthy sermon to three of her twenty-something male employee bemoaning the decline of Masculinity and decorum in modern men. Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford (not to mention De Niro himself), by contrast, are held up as superior role model's of "cool". The Intern appears like a generation gap fable or 21st century outlook on age and gender. The central theme is really about the younger generation versus the older generation and the different ideology of both generations. How an old person approaches something and how a younger person does. The major message is taking a breath, relaxing, take time to retire from the hectic world and just take a minute to appreciate your surroundings. Finally, a Nancy Meyers productions isn't just a film; it's a cashmere jumper unto itself. 


Overall, The Intern is a light hearted and fluffy movie. It's not groundbreaking but a really good time!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles.



What happen when The Maze Runner MUST get a sequel? The answer is lose the maze, keep the running, drop any trace of the social tension, fill the rest with Game of Thrones cast members and add zombies because why not? So this film is the sequel to last year's YA adaptation and pulls the exact same trick. Containing no mazes but plenty of running. The film takes the originals surviving characters and drops them into the middle of an entirely different type of movie, this one a desert-set zombie chase. At least - and contrary to its fellow dystopian teenage sci-fie sagas - this film sustains a bit of curiosity by leaving its characters and its audience completely in the dark about why anything is happening and what any of it could possibly mean. The Scorch Trials offers ultimately no character development whatsoever and only inch of plot advancement. It's mostly just moving a group of motivated characters from one place to another without giving much clue where the whole thing is headed. 


This time the group awakens a swarm of vicious zombies - the film calls them "Cranks" - though they're in no way different from any other zombie hordes that you have shuffled across screens over the past decade. However, the action scenes are urgent and masterfully paced. Despite an over reliance on shaky-cam and quick cuts, director Wes Ball stages a number of effective sequences. Particularly a zombie pursuit up through a collapsed skyscraper that relies more on ace production design than CGI to build believability. He also makes time for a few scenes that are so cheekily weird they may as well come from another film. Cinematically, director attempts to sustain engagement by providing each successive setting with a different combination of threats of distinctive stylistic treatment, borrowing from drama, thriller and horror genres. While the technique adds visual diversity. 


A significant portion of the film is devoted to filling in the narrative gaps essential to maintaining the veil of mystery that characterise The Maze Runner and the Glader's ignorance surrounding their incarceration. Ironically, as more facts emerge, they tend to undermine the storyline rather than reinforce it. When part of a larger narrative the film doesn't make much sense served by an unfocused script. Action is one thing, but the film also needs a better-developed-sense of mystery as well as a deeper exploration of character relationships. The Scorch Trials wanders between YA cliches, there's a resistance, but it's not clear what they're resisting and a zombie movie with the obligatory a-zombie-bit-our-friend scene. Finally, all of that would have been acceptable if the characters were given motivation beyond "we need to go there" and "I need to save her". Just enough to make you wish they'd just go back into the damn maze already. 


Overall when the dust settles The Scorch Trials is, as we're repeatedly told of WCKD, "good" - just not as good as you want it to be.