Wednesday, 24 February 2016

He May Not Come Back This Time

A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

The Revenant is a brutal hymn to the beauty and terror of the natural world. The movie opens with a moment of serene beauty - almost Terrence-Malick-like. This film is filled with striking passages of pure cinema, it has some of the best cinematography my eyes have ever seen and I mean that. These scenes help the audience overcome the film considerable length and extreme carnage at time. There were moments in this very lengthy runtime where I gazed in awe watching some of the shots they were able to accomplish and I genuinely do not understand how they got them. 

Revenge, as goes the old Klingon proverb, is a dish best served cold. This movie is as much a film about revenge as it is about men. An epic about the existential extremes, human beings will go to for revenge. Well, that and witnessing one of Hollywood's biggest stars endure a Passion of the Christ-like beating from man, beast and nature. The near constant threat of death from predators, starvation and exposure, combine into an impressive study of Human endurance and isolation that makes up the film's strong midsection. 

Most importantly Leonardo DiCaprio's raw performance helps elevate what could have been just another man-versus-nature drama, even if he has very minimal dialogue and most of it is not even in English. This man has done everything at this point, but still manage to constantly surprised us. Though, no ones ever seen him suffer for his art quite so vividly on screen before. Now onto this Oscar nomination. He should have won a few time at this point and most of us are rooting for him with all our hearts; but right now it doesn't really matter anymore. A statuette doesn't actually matter. However, the performances he's been given us in his movies: THAT matters. Moreover, the supporting cast is uniformly terrific, from Domhnall Gleeson to Will Poulter and, of course, Tom Hardy.

Tom Hardy is in fact also very good, even if his lines are the least intelligible element of the masterfully brilliant sound design. He tends to fall back into this habit he has to mumble - sometimes hitting Batman-Bane or Mad Max-Max level. 

Generally immersive movies enclose, they put you inside, they dunk you down into what it is supposed to feel like. Here, the cinematography do the opposite: it exposes you to the elements. You are out in the cold, in the snow, under this grey sky. The imagery, with these primal landscapes and impressive natural lightning, is sublime. Some director may have been tempted to follow an Oscar win by a cushy comedy; But Alejandro Gonzàlez Inàrritu pushed himself and his crew to the limits against the elements. He defied conventional wisdom by shooting with natural light only, in chronological order and by doing so, has emerged with something we have never seen before. You almost feel uncomfortable watching this film for entertainment. The Revenant is filled with mesmerising violent piece of action choreography. The fights were dirty. Especially one jaw-droopingly limber steady-cam shot which pursues a character until he's killed, then switches to the killer until he's dispatched too and so on. It would look like showing off if it weren't so effective. 

No spoilers, but this scene involving a bear is an amazing achievement. I don't know how they did it. I have no clue. When it was over, it took me a few minutes to lift my jaw off my lap. This scene is intense in the sense that it looks actually real. This film is so realistic that you would never ever want to hike in the woods if you see it, ever again. 

Overall, The Revenant is a filmmaking triumph. You cannot afford to miss experiencing this on the big screen. It's a brutal, disturbing, violent movie in which it is one man against nature, and nature is not playing nice. 

Friday, 19 February 2016

Hail, Caesar!

A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio's stars in line.

Hail, Caesar! lines between drama and comedy get blurred, but so do the lines of what makes a good story. Coen Brothers celebrate the movies of this era and have some good-natured fun at the expense of the system that produced them. This film is full of real world specific references ranging across nearly 15 years, beginning with Capitol Pictures based openly on MGM in the 1940/50s. There's a lot of variety in the Coen's formula and an extremely wide range of tones. But all of their stories eventually come down to the question of whether the protagonists have any sort of personal moral compass, whether they follow it, and how the world punishes them if they stray from it. In a blind viewing, the average cinephile could probably identify this film as a Coen Brothers picture, because of their signature: serious people taking ridiculous situation gravely, straight-faced film references, several distractingly famous people taking on cameo-levels roles and George Clooney playing a dummy. The main theme is a man following his code, but also, the craziness of man, the nature of faith and the terror of trying to figure out what path through life is the correct one to take.

This film showcases the greatest cast the Coens have ever assembled. Josh Brolin character is a fast, decisive thinker who doesn't examine his choices once he's made them; though he was really good, funny and likable as Eddie Mannix. Plus, a great performance comes from the 26-year-old Alden Ehrenreich, astonishingly good at playing a bad actor and surprisingly selfless. This film deals more directly with existential questions than most best-known feature films about filmmaking; about the frustrations of the business, most of them feature characters touching on the questions "Why do I do this? Is it really possible to make art under these conditions? Am I selling out? Should I get out of this business while I can?". While divided on these questions and the industry in-jokes are nearly always funny, this film is unabashedly in love with Hollywood and regards the 1950s studio system with the utmost scepticism even as it becomes an expression of movie love at its purest.

Hail, Caesar! delights in the genuine magic of the old studio machine and it luxuriates in the details of this period. As ever it is the details that win us over. This is a very weird movie but in a good way because it's different. The cinematography by R.Dickens is beautiful. Coens Brothers craft seemingly grinds to an even sharper point of perfectionism and clarity than usual. The most sublime moments in the film occur when the behind the scenes machinery drops away, the films being produced become the film we're watching and we're invited to lose ourselves in a state of vintage Hollywood.

Next to these gemlike moments - which the Coens very smart editors of their work as always, refuse to linger on - the story being told here all fades into insignificance : Baird's disappearance is resolve with little tension or surprise which leaves some narrative holes: it's rather an excuse to explore 1950s Hollywood than the other way around. 

Overall, Hail, Caesar! is a noising new testament to that old time religion known as the movies. This film is one of the Coen's most serious pictures as well as their silliest.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopting the alter ego Deadpool.

After a BRILLIANT marketing campaign that set some pretty high expectations, the wait is finally over. The timing of things is perfect, especially with the superheroes overload we are getting lately. I'm not complaining. We like comic book movies, they're fun, but even the most hard core comic book fan can tell you that right now we are oversaturated . Some of them are really good and then we have the Fantastic Four. I was blown away by this film, I loved every minute of it. Coming from someone who didn't know much about Deadpool character, it surprised me in so many ways. It sure as hell beats Kick-Ass and is many, many cuts above Green Lantern. This offshoot of the X-Men series feels like a nasty child next to the shiny delegations of the MCU, as represented by Disney's Avengers franchise and Sony's not-so-amazing Spider Man. This wholesome "reboot" pulls off that postmodern trick of getting away with formulas and cliches simply by pointing them out. Deadpool knows what world its in and since it exists within this world, the movie is fully aware of it: self-aware in every way and self-referential. It completely breaks the fourth wall, with its main character looking at the audience and stating something that we are already thinking about in today state of comic book films, this is beautiful. 

Let's talk about this, as it's easy - especially nowadays - to watch a comic book film and just go like "OMG! There's so much action and cool stuff, him punching things really hard, I loved it!" Thats' not what I loved the most about. It's the script. The script is extremely funny. It's a smart structure, one that really sidesteps the major issue with origin stories: the suited up main attraction being mostly absent for the first hour or so. Plus, Wolverine or Superman require something interesting to do - for the most part - but what Deadpool is up to here is less important than the fuss he makes about it and the film still is quite entertaining (a fight, a kidnapping, a rescue attempt and roll credits). 

For years, Hollywood hasn't known what to do with this "Sexiest Man Alive" and his caustic charm. At least in this film they new exactly how to use Ryan Reynolds: an actor whose smooth leading good looking man roles have long disguised one of the sharpest funnyman in the business; as fans of The Proposal, Definitely, Maybe and Just Friends attest. Here he truly has his role of a lifetime, with his mad energy fuelling the film and his likable almost Clooneyesque goofiness. It's not the kind of star profile that immediately screams "blockbuster" and Reynolds first appearance as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) offered sadly little hint of what he could do with the role. Indeed, this film function as a star vehicle for him, demolishing his physical beauty - a small price to pay when an actor's tongue is this gloriously sharp. Though, even with a face that's been horrifically shattered into what his friend likens to the "offspring of an avocado that had sex with an older avocado", Ryan Reynolds and his character are a blast of laughing. Giving all these self-referential potty talk a delirious comic momentum. 

He's at his best as Deadpool, nailing snappy jokes and slaying one liners; weirdly similar to his cousin Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man but with more sugar in the mix. Reynolds genuinely is fun and he seems to enjoy giving the chance to his chimichanga-loving hero the main stage he deserves. His love story with Vanessa (starring Morena Baccarin) doesn't appear like a plot devices at all. They have good chemistry that sells the love story even more, they feel like a real couple who really enjoys each other. Though Ed Skrein does a far better imitation of Jason Statham as this British badass than he managed in The Transporter Refueled, he doesn't look or sound like a proper villain. He looks more like the villain henchman. In fact, that "British villain" joke in the opening titles is misleading. The Brit in question would usually be some well-spoken, mature UK born male, someone like McKellen, Stewart or the much missed Alan Rickman - I won't spoil it but the opening credits sequence features what might be described as an honest cast list.          

Deadpool is at its best in its moments of meta-humour - wondering whether it will be James McAvoy or Patrick Stewart in charge at the X-Mansion. It even confirms the hall-of-fame status of Richard Curtis's "I'm just a girl standing in front of boy..." line from Notting Hill. This humour was present in the original Deadpool  comic books written by Fabien Nicieza and artist/writer Rob Liefeld; here screenwriters R.Reese and P.Wernick doing much wittier work than Zombieland or G.I. Joe: Retaliation, stay true to the same spirit. Lastly, this movie is extremely fast paced, there's not a single dull moment, no shaky cam, no over abundance of cut, every shot looks clear and when there's CGI; it's incorporated very well into the movie (Colossus) and used as a tool serving the visuals. With the superhero genre showing no signs of slowing down, Deadpool is a refreshing break from the established norm. 

Overall Miller and Reynolds bring it all together, not only making something hilarious, thrilling and fun but also making Deadpool one of the most satisfying super-antihero movie. It might not be a cutting-edge comedy, but it is a cutting-edge Marvel movie and right now that's saying something. This love story/ horror movie/ superhero movie is as grotesquely dirty, bizarre and jaw-droopingly violent as it wants to be. For what it needed to be it was awesome and far better. Exactly what it should have been. An "innocent pleasure".

Saturday, 6 February 2016

A Job(s) Well Done

Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to a paint of the man at its epicentre. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.

This movie establishes as the only Steve Jobs movie the broader public will really need or want to see, offering a richly unconventional take on the life of an American visionary. For those who believed that the late co-founder of Apple was both an iconic visionary and a monster with a stone where his heart should be, rest assured that writer, director and star Michael Fassbender have given their subject the brilliant, ingeniously designed and monstrously self aggrandising movie he deserves. The question this film answers is why? Why Steve Jobs is that way? Why he sees the world that way? Why does he do the things he does? And unfortunately we don't often get that sort of answers in movies. That is why this new take on Jobs' life is quite interesting. A smart film driven by dialogues and great moments that allow the actors to shine. 

In the first act alone, the film establishes core aspects of Jobs' personal and professional identity that will be further advanced and imaginatively set in the next two segments. Plus, the movie emotional core comes from Steve relationship and family life. Though sometimes the presence of ex and child Lisa seems pretty unrealistic and even forced. We witness firsthand his impossible perfectionism and refusal to take no for an answer. Jobs' gift for innovation was perhaps inextricable from his capacity for cruelty. The puppet master who kept all around him on strings. The impresario of a circus dedicated to the creation and dramatic unveiling of technological wonders that changed the world. More importantly, this film explores Steve Jobs and who he was as a person: it doesn't wildly explores his life but more his inner life. 

Moreover, hardly any of this would matter without a dynamic actor at the centre of things, nailing the part of Jobs. Michael Fassbender fully delivers the essentials of how we can perceive the man: intellectual brilliance, force of personality and power to inspire. Both Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio were once embarked for this role, but it's hard to imagine either of them matching Fassbender's capacity to engage and repel at the same time. He knows exactly how to toss the writer's dialogue and delivers a performance so deep that it's impossible to take your eyes off him. His onscreen presence at every minute makes it all the better. 

Danny Boyle wasn't an automatic fit for the material. However, it's his best film in years. Here he made a very straightforward movie, compared to his usual style he pulled back a little. One of the major positive part of this film is the choice Boyle made to film the first act of 1984, in 16 mm film and as time progresses to 1988, the second act is in 35 mm, to finally shot the last act of 1998 on digital so that it gives the movie a genuine tangible feeling of technological progression. The film's face is evolving with its products. The script is written by Aaron Sorkin who is in my opinion one of the best screenwriter of our time, he wrote The Social Network, A Few Good Men and created the series The Newsroom: this man is a genius regards to writing. Blowing away traditional storytelling conventions, Sorkin's screenplay has mastered the art of conveying a character's essence. Not by delivering the most comprehensive account possible (Pixar, Xerox and cancer are just topics that go unmentioned), but by compressing the most relevant topics into one significant time frame. Rather three time frames, each one centred around the public launch of a Jobs-created product that would change the course of his career and thus the course of global technology. 

Overall, Steve Jobs has a boldly theatrical three act-structure, tightly choreographed narratives and visually clean lines. The dominance of Aaron Sorkin's script and focus on business mean this film will mostly appeal the Apple geek. Filled with amazing performances for a dialogue driven film, this film is the perfect synthesis of writing, performance and direction.