Friday, 29 January 2016

Not So Legendary

The film tells the story of the identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organised crime empire in the East End of London during the 1960s.


There are two good reasons to make what might otherwise seems an inessential new biopic of Ronnie and Reggie Kray - and both of them, as it happens, take the formidable form of Tom Hardy. In fact, as a performance showcase Legend is sensational; Hardy is astonishing. To this dual role, Tom Hardy brings physical, intellectual and emotional commitment. His inspired twin turn elevates and complicates the otherwise straightforward terrain of the film. In my opinion, these roles are prestigious awards vehicle. His Reggie is suave: a charismatically volatile antihero calculated to inspire perverse admiration among younger male and his playfully eccentric inhabitation of the gay, mentally unstable Ronnie would, on its own, balanced the extravagance of the era. 


Moreover, it's an unexpected way into the film's story, narrated by Frances (Reggie's love interest and future wife) starring Emily Browning, her point of view takes on an unconvincing omniscience, in assuming equal narrative authority on their domestic and professional lives. The formerly institutionalised Ronnie is the film's most fascinating, conflicted figure and the one whose interior life most eludes Frances narration. His romantic relationship with young lackey Teddy Smith - a poignant, under used Taron Egerton - is played in tender fashion. 


However, the film is less satisfying on deep psychological profile: for all Hardy's expressive detail and physical creativity; incident-packed script offers little insight into what made either of these contrasting psychopaths tick, or finally explode. Director Brian Helgeland has fashioned the Kray's rearing of London's underworld from Whitechapel to Soho perfectly. But by doing so, turning the period into a playground it softens the horror of what really happened and the tyranny of the Krays becomes diminished. 


Overall, this film takes on a fascinating period of time and leaves us sorely uninformed, as if we've skim-read a pamphlet. There's not enough within Legend to elevate it from other British crime films.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Spotlight

The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its score.


It's been nearly 40 years since All the President's Men turned two young reporters into stars and inspired a whole generation of young people to become journalists. Now the best journalism movie since Alan J. Pakula classic is coming to theatres; hoping the film will give a similar boost to journalists and their profession. This film is a disturbing movie, but in all the good ways. This happened, people dealt with it, they brought the story to light and this is why they were doing so good. The truly dramatic story here lies offscreen and goes a great degree in the past, while the journalists work consisted mostly of persistence, constant grinding and not having a life until the job is done - and maybe not even then. This film is most of all a reminder of the kind of investigate print journalism, which is becoming even more rarer. This material can't help but be interesting, even compelling. 


As numerous notable films have demonstrated, the spectacle of lowly scribes bringing down the great and powerful can make for exciting, more than interesting cinema. However, there's none of the paranoia of a picture like (mentioned before) Alan J. Pakula's 1976 film or Michael Mann's The Insider (1999). Spotlight has a few inevitable journo clich├ęs where male reporters are dishevelled, don't need to keep the same hours as everyone else, machismo on the subjects of poker and sports and they somehow never need to do the boring grind of sitting down and writing on computers. Though, this movie is honourably concerned to avoid sensationalism and the bad taste involved in implying that journalists, and not the child abuse survivors, are the really important people here. Plus, what is interesting about this film is that it reminds you that the theory of child abuse by priests was widely accepted until relatively recently.  


On the one hand, there's no real depth given to these reporters. Unfortunately, characters are not interesting or distinctive enough, even the uniformly excellent actors playing them can't bring them to life all by themselves. On the other hand, the movie doesn't make them look like heroes as well, but more like what they truly are: reporters, doing their job in order to highlight a true story. In fact, Michael Keaton is terrific here again after Birdman. Throughout the film, as this case built and built to the point where you are just amazed this is a true story displayed in front of you; actors performed and hold back so well that as you watch it you almost don't feel like you're watching a film anymore but a documentary. Despite having actors that are so recognisable, they truly disappear into their characters and when you can say that of a film, they win. What McCarthy is saying in this movie is that threats never need to be made. A word here, a drink there, a frown and a look on the golf course or at the charity ball, this was all that was needed to enforce a silence surrounding a transgression that most of the community could hardly believe existed anyway. Finally, there is something cautious about the film dramatic pace and as McCarthy keeps the narrative motor running, there are some very good scenes. Chiefly the extraordinary moment when Sacha Pfeiffer starring Rachel McAdams confronts a retired priest ans asks him, flat out, if he has ever molested a child. The resulting scene had me on the edge of my seat. 


Overall, this well intentioned journalism drama capably tells an important story. It blew me away, it's a remarkably well written and acted film. 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Danish Girl

A fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda's marriage and work evolves as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer. 


The Danish Girl is adapted from David Ebershoff's novel by Tom Hooper, retelling a true-life-story. The point about the film, of course, is that it has two Danish heroines and that one of them started life as a Danish boy. Well-meaning and polished as it is, this film is determinedly mainstream melodrama that doesn't really offer new perspectives in theme; in the year of Caitlin Jenner, it's a theme on which mainstream audiences are ready for more trenchant insight. In fact, some might have wished for a more adventurous approach to this moving story, particularly at a time when transgender representation has taken over from gay rights as the next equality frontier. If the movie remains safe, there's no questioning its integrity or the balance of porcelain vulnerability that Eddie Redmayne brings to the lead role. 


For an actor, there can be few more challenging roles than this, in which the  nature of identity, performance and transformation are all wrapped up in the very DNA of the character itself. Redmayne gives an infinitely more intimate performance and far less technical than the already stunning character he played in The Theory of Everything, that so recently won him an Oscar. He's once again certain to reap plentiful laurels in this awards season; with another role about a slow process of physical and psychological transformation. Einar's dawning discovery of his inner woman is treated somewhat like a superhero origin story. Offering more light and shade this character becomes undeniably affecting. There's an understated emotional surge in seeing Lili go to work behind a chic department store perfume counter, radiating happiness at being a woman among other women and timidly studying sensual female body language in a Paris peepshow, is one of the film's most exquisite and indelible scenes. Here, Alicia Vikander sports the same archly knowing English accent as in Testament of Youth


Tom Hopper and writer Lucinda Dixon take a deeply conventional approach by framing their story as a portrait of a loving marriage with an awkward flaw. The cinematography sets up the exquisite visual tone at the start with a series of atmospheric, deeply painterly landscape shots. There are hints of a more interesting film. 


Overall, this film is an impeccably made period piece.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Creed

The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed. 



Don't be fooled by the title. For all intents and purposes Creed is Rocky 7. Some will even say that this emotional new film is the best instalment since 1976 original. Sylvester Stallone first Rocky was dark, a downbeat masterpiece that reflected a new era in Hollywood. Creed taps into that same gritty underdog authenticity. This film isn't only about boxing, but about these two men and mainly about this man who doesn't have a father and who really needs a positive male figure in his life. 


Characters are very well realised. Michael B. Jordan is looking every inch like a fighter, he brought a terrific sense of grit and realism. He obviously sold the physicality but also the emotional scenes in which his character breaks a little and reveals finally some of the things that is going on in his mind. Jordan has washed the terrible Fantastic Four off his career, let's be honest, he earned that from us. Rocky has always been essentially the same person, for better or worse. It's Stallone signature role, his baby, way different than Rambo. I found him continually surprising, showing an understated note of tenderness and regret. In fact I used to think he was just a cartoon version of the actor he used to be anymore. But, Sylvester Stallone is not buried yet. Director captures the streets of Philadelphia so beautifully, he added such a great urban feeling that you can almost smell the city. It's so well filmed that the city genuinely feels like a character on its own.


This film is very fresh, even if it's using elements that are a bit seen before. We expect it to end with a big sporting events. The problem with that type of ending is that once the suspense is gone and you know what team looses and who prevailed, going back to watch this film a second time is not that entertaining. Creed reaches back to the archives a few too many times for key locations, costume elements and music cues - which are by the way magnificent, loud, big and exciting - but it's the details that elevate this material. The first major fight is staged with breathtaking precision, in what appears to be a single take. This being a Rocky movie, it goes without saying that the training montages are plentiful, featuring virtuosic editing and one bloodily beautiful extreme-slow-motion shot. Finally Creed is as formulaic and sentimental as you'd expect any Rocky movie to be. Plus, it reminds you why it was great in the first place. This film is a testament for greatness and it comes from the heart. 


Overall, this film doesn't rely only on the fights but doesn't waste anything in it as well. It's not always as exciting as you expect it to be but it's a good character movie.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Hateful Eight

In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive?

 

Most of us were raised to believed that cowboys were men of few words, but Quentin Tarantino is out to prove otherwise with this film. He delivers once again, a film with icy cold dialogue, amazing sequences of people talking back and forth; the movie is roughly three hours long and so old fashioned. It's difficult to lock this film down a genre, much like many Tarantino's movies and here it is what makes this film brilliant.  


Snowed in together like Agatha Christie characters in a country house, here characters must face a plot unlike any Christie's story - but very much like, say, Reservoir Dogs - in which there is no notional authority figure to exert control over everyone. The only authority is violence and superior firepower. In this film as well as in Reservoir Dogs: the idea of being in unbearable pain from a gunshot wound, but still talking and still being a threat is present. Samuel L. Jackson is definitely Oscar worthy in this film, every scene in which he has a monologue is perfect. It might be his best work since Pulp Fiction and I genuinely mean that. He never get a monologue of such awesome calibre here, Quentin Tarantino did give him some of the best lines. Plus, it's great to see Tim Roth back on a Tarantino movie. Kurt Russell is fabulous: funny, likable, a total badass and Walton Goggins gives a hilarious experience.


There's no denying Tarantino's been down this road before, when he reheated the Spaghetti Western to such spectacular effect in Django Unchained. The use of location is perfect. It is such a claustrophobic movie, all actions are centred in one place. You are isolated and you feel like you are in this cabin, everything is cold (except the coffee), you feel the location. Tarantino's treatment makes this film epic. To be sure this film looks grand. The mountainous landscapes and snowfall of the opening reels have a dense splendour. Quentin Tarantino dusted off the Ultra Panavision 70 format used on epics cinema legends such as The Greatest Story Ever Told or How the West Was Won and he put those vintage lenses to curious use. The real test of Tarantino's decision to shoot in 70 mm comes inside, as it raises the question of what advantage a super-wide screen format serves when the drama is mostly limited to one room? Plus, to eyes young enough not to remember luxuriating movies like Ben-Hur, shot in the brilliance of Ultra Panavision 70. The Hateful Eight offers a genuinely different sort of experience? Anyone who loves great images on the big screen will appreciate the movie. Its hefty running time (the 70 mm version clocks a thrilling 187 minutes, including overture and intermission) should appeal mainly to cinephiles. Tarantino manages to stretch the suspense as far as it can possibly go, he withholds the first bullet until roughly the 100 minute mark. He even insinuates himself just after the intermission narrating what transpired during the break and introducing a twist, whereby someone poisoned the coffee while the audiences were restocking on popcorn. Finally, Tarantino's use of music, like his choice of shooting formats, marks a dramatic break from the rest of his oeuvre. This film does include an original score by Ennio Morricone, who you may know from everything basically. He's one of the most famous composer who ever lived - equal to my personal favourite John Williams. Tarantino has creatively recycled existing songs and score, while giving them such accuracy that they may as well have been written for him.


Overall, Quentin Tarantino has created another breathtakingly stylish and clever film. Everything about this movie screams 1960's style: the score, the wide screen and the look. Tarantino still got it. I utterly enjoyed seeing some of the actors on the screen delivering amazing performances with great dialogues.