Welcome to the Punch – Film Review

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Welcome to the Punch  has all the ingredients of a great film: with the combination of a plot involving detective forced to work with his enemy, and a stellar cast including Mark Strong, James McAvoy and Peter Mullan that should all but guarantee a hit, right?

Although the film is exciting at points, with the twists and turns you’d expect from a  film in that genre, the whole thing falls a bit flat. Max Lewinsky (McAvoy) is a detective still recovering from the physical and mental wounds inflicted by  notorious career criminal Jacob Sternwood (Strong), when he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that goes right to the top of the Met.

From that point, the details get a little hazy. The film can’t quite decide if it’s about arms dealing, or a somewhat bizarre plot to arm the Metropolitan Police, and you are never given anymore details about Sternwood’s past. There are a few points which are given a weird significance within the narrative, but then never mentioned again – but not in a Lynchian way, more in a ‘we forgot to resolve this’ way.

That’s not to say I hated it, I am a complete sucker for thriller films, but it felt formulaic, going over ground that has been tread a thousand times by films with not nearly as much potential as this one had. The prevalence of the blue tones in the mise en scene did lean it a cold, impersonal edge, almost making the film feel like it is in black and white, so drained of colour are some of the scenes, which was an interesting but effective choice.

A decent thriller film, that fell short of what it could have been.

 

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Sicario (2015) – Film Review

 

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There probably isn’t much left to say about Sicario that hasn’t been said already, but what a film. From the gruesome discovery in the walls of an inconspicuous house to the final, tense encounter, this is a film that refuses the audience even a small break from the pervading sense of unease.

As Kate Macer, the FBI agent suddenly adrift in a morally grey world, Emily Blunt is fantastic, balancing the increasingly complex demands with her own conscience. It’s also refreshing to have a female character in an action film like Sicario who isn’t just reduced to a side character, or treated as useless purely due to her gender. The times when she is dismissed by Graver (Josh Brolin) or Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) is usually due to her persistence in finding out the truth about the operation, going behind her superiors’ backs. Brolin is also excellent as the mysterious, unorthdox leader of the operation, whose relaxed nature hides an appetite for violence.

A special mention has to go to del Toro, whose portrayal of Alejandro has to go down as one of the best of the year. He has the tendency to stick to the background of the film, serving as an observer of the action, revealing little about his character to the audience. It is through a heart-breaking reveal that his motives are revealed, and his unbreakable calmness in the final act of the film is as unnerving as the violence. How he didn’t win an Oscar for this performance, I do not know.

The film itself is beautifully shot by Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, with the washed-out pastels of Arizona and the various internal locations contrasting with the almost complete blackness of the night op, or the vivid colours locations in Juarez.

While Villeneuve does criticise the policy of the US in the Mexican drug wars, the individual characters are not criticised, and the film ends on a slightly unfulfilled note, with the implication that despite everything Macer has experienced, nothing will ever really change.

The Martian – Film Review

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The ultimate survivor movie, The Martian manages to be an entertaining spectacle without too much gloomy introspection one would expect if stranded alone on Mars.

Films about space – and sci-fi in general – can tend to reply too much on suspension of belief and an in-depth knowledge of scientific terms.  However the most recent sci-fi films that I’ve watched, The Martian and Ex Machina, set their action in a world that is more advanced scientifically than our own, but not so much that it becomes an unrecognisable, futuristic space. It’s that ‘almost reality’ that lends itself to the plot of the story: time is not wasted by establishing the rules of the world, or even how travelling to Mars is now common place.

Matt Damon as Mark Watney, astronaut and botanist extraordinaire, manages to keep the balance of drama with the more light-hearted moments, which stops the film from getting too melodramatic. The addition of his soliloquies to the cameras around the HAB also help with the narrative, as he explains his actions to the audience in a way that doesn’t seem forced.

One of the most striking elements of the film is the contrast between the scenes on Earth and Mars. Scenes based on Earth are hectic and seem to have a pervading greyness, lit solely by artificial lighting and the glow from computer screens. Mars meanwhile is a harsh, beautiful orange landscape, with the human action seemingly constantly dwarfed by the surroundings.

It does tend to fall back on several tropes towards the end: the eccentric scientist Rich Purnell, and the authoritarian Teddy Sanders, but the ensemble cast – all trying to come at the same problem in different ways, and clashing – manage to keep the film rooted firmly in humanity.

Overall, 4/5 stars.

My Top 5 Films

I haven’t been able to get to the cinema recently, and my free time seems to have been spent trying to sort out things with my new house, so I decided that I’d do a quick post on my favourite films, to keep this blog as active as possible.

These films are in no particular order, as they are all completely different and impossible to compare to each other.

1. La Haine (Kassovitz, 1995) 

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I first watched this film several years ago and enjoyed it, but after studying this year as part of my Cinematic City module, noticed different aspects to the film that I would never have noticed.

Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 film is arguably his finest work as a director, a semi-realist, yet heavily stylised piece that explores police brutality, racism and poverty against the explosive backdrop of France in the 1990s. With the situation in the USA at the moment, as well as goings on over here in Britain, it also feels particularly poignant.

The day after a night of rioting, after a young man of Arab heritage is killed by police, the film follows three young men around their housing estate – the banlieue – on the outskirts as they bicker and try to find something to occupy their time with in the barren, concrete landscape. Although La Haine explores the issues often found in social-realist drama, the film is far more stylistic in its approach. Kassovitz uses the black and white film stock to create a timeless feel, whilst the extended takes emphasises the boredom and pointlessness that Vinz, Hubert and Said experience in their isolated space in the banlieue.

2. Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013)

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Although this isn’t Danny Boyle’s most popular film by far, with neither the cultural impact or critical reception of Trainspotting, I would tentatively say that it is my favourite film of his. Criticised by some on release for some resemblance to Inception, I stumbled across it by accident and loved it. Although it shares elements of the introspective imaginings and mind games, not to mention a pretty unexpected plot twist, I would argue that is – as much as a film like this can be – more realistic that Inception. 

What starts off as a art heist gone wrong, quickly descends into a twisting and admittedly confusing, search for identity, stability and Goya’s Witches in the Air. The three main characters, Simon (James McAvoy), Franck (Vincent Cassel) and Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), are all presented as flawed and at some points, unlikable people, with the audience sympathies shifting unexpectedly throughout the film.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a film that definitely requires more than one, or maybe even two viewings,but it’s completely worth it. Not to mention the often beautiful cinematography that plays heavily with blue and orange hues, as well as the “trance-like” music that accompanies the film, by Boyle’s long time collaborator Rick Smith.

 

3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Alfredson, 2011)

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With possibly one of the best British ensemble casts of any film ever, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film that takes its time with the plot, combining flashbacks and stories with the present timeline. It is confusing at points, but such a rewarding film and a proper old fashioned spy flick.

Alfredson and the crew perfectly recreated 1970s England, and the dull, muted nature of the cinematography reflects this, very much placing the film firmly in a slightly stylised version of the era.

It’s a film that questions loyalty, patriotism, and also possibly the workings of the establishment in the cover up of wrong doings within the government. Again, a film that you’ll need a few hours for, and possibly more than one viewing.

 

4. Leon: The Professional (Besson, 1994)

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From the first few seconds of the film, as a long shot takes you from high above New York, through the parks and finally into the streets of Little Italy, the sweeping and often haunting soundtrack immediately takes you into a oppressively hot summer, where anything is possible. To me, Leon is a film that captures the nature of the summer: the haziness, the saturated nature of the city, even if the themes of film does not follow that summer movie vibes.

Natalie Portman, in her motion picture debut, is excellent as Matilda, a vulnerable, feisty and determined twelve year old who teams up with the professional hitman in order to get revenge on the highly corrupt police official (Gary Oldman) who brutally murders her family. The psychotic Stansfield is the most over the top character in the film, but it in a way that just about borders on plausible.

While you wouldn’t expect a film that is based on a young girl becoming a ruthless contract killer to be overtly positive, it does explore isolation, friendship and relationships. It is a fairly brutal film, slightly let down by the ending, but it’s one of the first films that I fell in love with.

 

5. What We Do in The Shadows (Waititi and Clement, 2014)

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Finally, a film that is wildly different from any of the films on this list. If you’re fed up of vampires attending high school and falling in love with teenagers, this is the film for you. A mockumentary in the style of The Office and Parks and Recreation, it follows the lives of four vampires in New Zealand as they deal with the challenges of modern life – the internet, flat chores and getting into nightclubs – while trying to stay undercover.

It’s a ridiculous concept, but it manages to work, exploring the tropes of vampire lore and the supernatural while also turning them on their head. Each of the characters think they’re much more sophisticated and mature than they actually are, when in reality none of them know how to use a record player.

Endlessly quotable and hilarious, I would 100% recommend a watch.

 

 

That was a lot longer than I planned it to be, and that is a list that would more than likely change in six months time. Would you agree with my list? What would you put in your top 5?

 

Thanks for reading!

 

The Nice Guys Review

1461996759714Set in Los Angeles in 1977, The Nice Guys is part film noir, part murder mystery involving dead porn actresses, the head of the US Department of Justice, the car industry and a multitude of conspiracy theories.

Shane Black manages to make a plot that could be formulaic – slightly amoral detectives, bad guys and a mysterious young woman who holds the key to whole story – into a funny, visually pleasing film. This is in no small part due to cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, who captures the lurid, neon glow of LA at night, and the hazy glow of the city during the day – thanks to the increasing pollution of car fumes. The costumes too are brilliant, taking full advantage of some of the more questionable fashion choices of the 1970s and running with it. In one sequence set at the party of a questionable producer, the sleaziness and excess of the era is displayed in all its glory, with body paint, mermaids and the not-so great and good of the porn industry partying together.

Ryan Gosling (PI Howard Marsh) and Russell Crowe (Jackson Healy) bounce off each other, turning from rivals, to a grudging marriage of convenience, to friendship, with Marsh being the main source of common relief, with his permanent sarcasm and inability to take anything seriously. Angourie Rice (Holly Marsh) manages to play the role of the slightly precocious child without turning into a stereotyped annoyance, occasionally acting as a foil to the two leads, whilst also helping with the mystery.

While The Nice Guys is an entertaining comedy, there is more than a touch of David Lynch to the whole affair. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Mulholland Drive at various points, as memory, identity and an opening scene involving an violent car crash.

Overall a funny and enjoyable film. 4/5 stars.

Goodbye Lenin! Film Review

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Now that uni has finally finished for the summer, I decided to get round to making a dent in the 1001 Films to See Before You Die book. After watching the excellent Deutschland 83 TV series earlier in the year, Goodbye Lenin! (2003) seemed like it would be another interesting viewpoint on German Unification, especially seeing as I am doing a module in German Cinema since 1990 next year.

Set in Berlin in 1989/90, it follows the story of a family from East Berlin as they adapt to the changes brought by the unification of Germany, with one hitch. The mother, a staunch socialist, has been in a coma since before the wall came down, waking up several months after with no idea what has happened. To prevent the recurrence of her illness from the shock, Alex (Daniel Bruhl) decides the pretend that nothing has changed and the socialist state of East Germany is still going strong.

While the rest of the country drinks Coca Cola and eats at Burger King, their little flat becomes an outpost of socialist style, fashion and life. From fake news reports, to desperately trying to recover the old furniture that was thrown away, Alex tries his best to reassure his mother, as well as himself, that everything is going to be all right.

Daniel Bruhl is brilliantly sweet, moving and ever so slightly controlling as Alex, trying to keep his family together, while Katrin Sass is quietly dignified, yet overwhelming convinced of the success of East Germany until the end of the film.

Goodbye Lenin!  is one of those films that manages to be both funny and moving, without you really realising it was either until the climax. While the whole concept could, and is in some aspects, come across as really daft, the director and cast manage to make it believable and heart-warming. I’d definitely recommend it!

 

 

The Liebster Award

Apologies for not updating, it’s been a mad few weeks what with the end of uni, exams and starting a new job, but I’m going to try to update every week from now on, mostly on my days off.

First things first, an overdue thanks for kittypann for nominating me for the Liebster Award for new blogs. I met Kitty this year through uni and she writes about books, gaming and loads of other stuff, you should definitely check her out!

Now for the questions!

  1. What is the last book you read? How did you feel about it?
    Highrise by J.G. Ballard, and I loved it – review to come soon!
  2. What is your go-to comfort drink?
    I’m one of those people who doesn’t drink tea or coffee, so there’s nothing I’d automatically go for in terms of a comfort drink.
  3. Favourite animal to keep as a pet?
    I had a rabbit when I was younger, and a girl I live with has the cutest rabbits, so probably another rabbit.
  4. If you could have any miscellaneous item from a fictional world, what would it be? I don’t mean something huge, like the Elder Wand or a Piece of Eden or anything like that, just like… would you like a Weasley jumper? The Pig from The Raven Cycle? An Exy racquet?
    I want the sunrise jumper that Deacon wears in ‘What We Do in the Shadows’. Or a Weasley jumper, because I look really good in maroon.
  5. What is a goal you have for the next month?
    To finally get back into reading for fun, watch as many films as possible and get this blog running properly.

 

Thanks again to Kitty for the nomination!

 

Captain America: Civil War Review

In a year where cinema seems to be dominated by comic book adaptations, the third superhero film of the year after Deadpool and Batman v Superman, you could be forgiven for looking towards the newest release from Marvel with some fatigue. There’s already been one big (and not very good) blockbuster about superheroes lining up to fight each other, surely we don’t need another one? Wrong.

The third solo outing for Captain America focuses on the fallout from the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron as the world finally demands that the group are held responsible for the consequences of their actions – especially with regards to the numerous civilian casualties that occur when the entire city of Sokovia gets destroyed.

While  Civil War could be seen as another Avengers movie, purely due to the reunion of most of that cast, the focus is on Captain America/ Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as he fights against the demands for accountability in order to protect Bucky who, as the Winter Solider, has committed assassinations and bombings for the past seventy years. While the actual events of the Civil War are entertaining – with one of the best superhero showdowns ever taking place in an airport – it is this plot line where the Russo Brothers manage to keep the film focused on Steve and his motivations, as he tries to get his best friend back.

As the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) begins to take shape, the cast of characters continues to grow and grow, and at times can seem a bit excessive. With the announced solo movie of Black Panther expected in 2018, the addition of T’Challa/Black Panther (the excellent Chadwick Boseman) to the mix in Civil War provides an opportunity to expose the audience to a relatively unknown superhero in preparation. This could be seen as a further diluting of the action to yet another main character, but Chadwick Boseman manages to not only provide enough insight into his character but to also help advance the plot of the film.

One of my main criticisms of the film, which has been picked up by critics, is that it doesn’t end with any particular resolution, acting as more of an episodic film in a series that leads up the climax of the Phrase Three of the MCU, the two part Avengers: Infinity War. 

It is clear though, that with Russo Brothers at the helm for the next Avengers film, the future of the MCU is in safe hands.

Hope you enjoyed my (very, very delayed) first post. Any questions, or want to argue about Civil War? Leave a comment! Thank you!