Saturday, 28 November 2015

Black Mass

The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.


Black Mass is a horribly watchable gangster picture taken from an extraordinary true story and conceived on familiar generic lines. It's the portrait of both men's worlds - in some ways diametrically opposed, in others oddly similar. Each has his own crew. Portraying these men Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton both give richly absorbing performances. In fact, after too many Caribbean holidays, Johnny Depp finally gets back down to some serious business. His mesmerising performance is a return to form for the star after a series of critical and commercial misfires. He is the chief selling point of this film. With his nearly bald head, weird icy blue eyes and deep voice like Ray Liota in Goodfellas; he perfectly embodies a fully accredited sociopath. Less is more. Depp more than rises to the occasion, doing career-best work as a man who emerges as complex and an undeniably charismatic figure. 


The viewers also experience an oddly tender side of Bulger himself: a devoted son to his mother, a loving sibling to his state-senator brother - Billy (an excellent Benedict Cumberbatch, as per usual) - and a protective father who even indoctrinates his young son in the ways of the streets. Plus, Whitey and Connolly - played with equally impressive skills by Joel Edgerton - share a sentimental sens of Irish neighbourhood loyalty and tribal paranoia. Moreover, Joel Edgerton is superb at showing how his ambitious character is seduced by the decadent gangster lifestyle, his professional ethic muddied by the clan loyalty and street justice that, in some corners of Boston are more sacred than the Constitution. 


The script introduces some satisfying nasty twists, turns and shocks. Director Scott Cooper and his screenwriters have something substantial to add to the genre: making the point that gangsters do not arise from nowhere like comic-strip villains. They are the symptoms of political corruptions, parasites created by agencies of the state and by weak, accepting law enforcement officials who are content to sub-contract policing to the bad guys. Lastly, the violence in Black Mass, when it comes, is swift and brutal but nothing here is more startling than a single sudden lock at Bulger eyes across the room. This film isn't just taking place in the late 70's and early 80's, but seems to have been made then also. 


Overall Black Mass is a pessimistic tale about how gangsters are nurtured by corruption. This film is both directed and acted with tremendous confidence.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Suffragette

The foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State. 


The period drama is a rarity for major studios because it is often directed, written and produced by women. Though, this combo gained importance these years; due to renewed scrutinizing of the industry's gender imbalance. Director Sarah Gavron said it has taken 100 years for the story to reach the screen and she'd been wanting to do it for over a decade now. And she created a somehow formally conservative account of a revolutionary moment in history. Intertwined socioeconomic details with domestic melodrama. Nowadays, calling a woman a "militant feminist" is an insult in order to belittle a woman's anger, Suffragette does serve as an eye-opening reminder of what the term itself actually means. This movie isn't just about one woman's awakening to the cause, it's so much more. 


This film has two major assets in its awards push: Carey Mulligan and plenty of goodwill. In fact, Carey Mulligan gives a nuanced central performance supported by strong performances from both Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff. The choice to focus on a fictional character who never feels like more than a symbol for a whole generation is pretty clever. That's what Maud Watts feels like: a shorthand for an idea that Suffragette offers up but doesn't really engage. Indeed the working class women who joined the movement had more to lose, fewer protections and were sometimes cannon fodder. Nonetheless, Mulligan holds the film together. She is in nearly every scene, clearly conveying the character's growing convictions. However, Meryl Streep provides a fleetingly aloof cameo, rallying the troops from a balcony before disappearing into the night. Here, the real firebrand is Helena Bonham Carter's character; who provides the movement's combustible spark. 


This film has other strengths, including the production design by Alice Normington, costume design by Jane Petrie and score by Alexandre Desplat. This is a genuinely important story and Suffragette tells it without stylistic fuss. In fact, this altogether more polemical work provides a solidly researched and at time surprisingly grim film. Finally, exiting the screening, I thought every woman - and men - needed to see this movie. 


Overall some people will love this film but even those who won't, couldn't help rooting for it; given the subject matter and the filmmaking team.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

As the war of Panem escalates to the destruction of other districts by the capitol, Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant leader of the rebellion, must bring together an army against President Snow, with all she holds dear hangs in the balance. 


The theme of rebellion in the dystopian fantasy strikes a chord with teens and twenty-somethings. The brutal and bleak series that has captures the hearts of a generation comes to a brutal and bleak end. This generation which came to Katniss as young teens and have grown up through the books and have queued for the movies is now labelled as Generation K. A generation born between 1995 and 2002, generation riddled with anxiety and distrustful of traditional institutions. Like Katniss this generation  is navigating in a dark and difficult world. They grew up through 9/11, London bombings, now Paris attacks and Islamic State terrors. They see danger through their smartphones and beheadings on their Facebook pages. They are worried about getting a job, climate change and now war. However, unlike most of this generation, some of us are more first-era Millenials and grew up believing the world was our oyster and Yes we can; but quickly came to the realisation that the world is an unequal and harsh place. It's obvious that we live in difficult times and that our generation might be more aware that things aren't improving anytime soon. 
Millenials have been priced out of the housing market, unemployment is almost a given and we've been saddled with economic debt which we did nothing to accumulate. The disappointment we have about this, coupled with a genuine concern about social, political and ecological crises, has created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. That must be why many of this generation are drawn to dystopian fiction.

So here we are, we made it to the end of The Hunger Games movies and I most definitely not enjoyed all of them. For all fans, this is the moment they've been waiting for. The films, first of which was released in 2012 have ranked in more than $2 billion worldwide at the box office and made a global star of their leading lady: Jennifer Lawrence, perfect mix of fury and resignation. In fact, The Hunger Games movies - on their own, separated from the books - have been a true phenomenon, let's be honest. It's almost weird that the four of them came out so quickly to each other. This sudden burst of popular culture that is now over.

           
If you haven't seen Mockingjay - Part 1 there's nothing to catch you up on the events of the first half of this movie, or for that matter, the first two movies. By now you either know what is going on, or you came to this film with a friend and you don't care anyway, so moving on. Part 1, as I wrote back then was all setup and no payoff. It was truly disappointing. Though, I really should know when a film has a "Part 1" tagged onto it, I'm not going to get a complete story out of what I came to see. Still, here viewers finally get their payoff. It's by far the most polarising instalment of the saga. They took all that time to build compelling characters in Part 1 just to allow some subtle character's moments. Indeed I liked some of the direction they took with the characters, especially Peeta, he's genuinely messed up and his character development made him as deep as he's ever been. Before he was just one of the guys in the love triangle. Plus, this time it was a similar feeling as earlier this year with Furious 7. Even though an actor we liked was no longer with us, we'd still get to see him one last time: to say goodbye. In this case it is the last time we'll see Philip Seymour Hoffman. And even though I thought I had myself mentally prepared, it's still pretty shocking. Looking at Hoffman on screen, I couldn't help but whisper to myself "Man, this guy will be missed..." 

  
While being "sort-of" heroic, Katniss Everdeen is frightened all the time. She spends the whole story being forced into situations she doesn't want to be in. nearly always she acted out of naive sense of what was right, starting with her decision to take younger sister Prim's place in The Hunger Games. However here, like little Frodo Baggins, crushed  by his heavy burden over the course of three films, she's not quite the same person - for the first time - she was when her adventure began. Jennifer Lawrence skillful performance holds the centre, letting everything the dialogue doesn't say play across her face. Katniss seems to understand the symbolic weight she's been asked to carry. If only it didn't have to hang so heavy... At the end of the day Katniss can only rely on one person: herself. If I'm being completely honest Katniss Everdeen, by herself, is not really an interesting person to me. We all love her and we are all rooting for her; but Katniss as a person is just boring.


In comparison to Part 1, Part 2 feels almost like non-stop action. In fact, Part 1 was a very unnecessary movie. I really don't think this final chapter needed to be split in two film, as it was very slow paced and sometimes we can find little shades of that left over in Part 2. Yes, there are parts of this film that are deathly snail paced slow, and for some parts it's working as some sequences are meant to be very serious and poignant. Nonetheless, the production values are still above grade. The series has veered far from the realm of traditional YA entertainment; for all intents and purposes, Part 2 is a war movie. This is a overly dark and sad film, there's barely a ray of hope coming through the cloud throughout the entire runtime. Halfway through we even get an elaborate underground sequence that almost feel like something out of a zombie movie but certainly not The Hunger Games. Or maybe something more out of the director's prior film, I Am Legend. At this point, you might even start to wonder how a YA audience will handle scenes scary enough to make you long for the relative mutant-free safety of The Martian (Matt Damon may be 50 million miles from home, but at least he's alone). The gradual building  of suspense during the actual siege of the Capitol and all the traps were grand, they are everything you would imagine game makers of the actual Hunger Games would make but in a city. Finally, director Lawrence does allow enough room for audiences to process what is unfolding before them, working at a classical pace for the saga. You get excited for a second and then it goes back to this crushingly slow pace which doesn't raise high stakes. At least, the script is clearly more concern with the mass-media manipulation of combat footage than what is actually happening in the trenches.


Overall most of The Hunger Games fans will find enjoyment in this last chapter of their beloved franchise as it is actually an enjoyable movie with some exciting action; but as the final instalment, it doesn't really justify everything you walked through to this moment.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Trainwreck

Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy. 



Trainwreck isn't as radical as I expected, it even subverts the formulaically feel-good ending implied in its setup. After all, Apatow has always been a pretty conventional moralist. Even if Schumer's doesn't have quite the range of some other recent stars Apatow has worked with. Her writing makes up for it. Amy's attitude toward her deep flawed dad is interesting as he helped shape the mess she became. However, Schumer is more than credible in this kind of role, usually associated with men, making fun of her character's distrust of love while showing how honestly she comes by it. I also loved the chemistry between her and Bill Hader, there are some relevant moments, like the arguing scene, moments that real couple could have. Plus, LeBron James continues the Apatow tradition of working famous non-actors into the cast. Fortunately, James is charming in the part: a penny-pinching Downton Abbey fan who is protective of his friends emotions. Indeed, Schumer's script conveys the story's psychological cause and effect without needing to express it in cliched dialogue and too busy squeezing jokes. They've achieved a right balance, while throwing some dramas in the comedy itself, some relatable things. The execution is a little different; that's where the drama comes in. I was impressed with this movie, mainly because Schumer wrote it, it just blows my mind. She got skills and that's always awesome to see it. 


Overall what you expect happen in this movie will definitely happen in this movie. But it's a good time nonetheless!