A Separation – Late To The Party

A Separation

TL;DR: Watching good people struggle through painful, complicated situations is no easy feat. “A Separation” tenderly plants the viewer in the centre of a certain Iranian family’s dilemma, asks you politely to care about them and follow their arduous emotional traipse through unforeseen consequences where no-one and everyone is to blame.

I’ve seen more than my fair share of foreign cinema but never an Iranian film, until now. Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” cleverly lifts the veil on daily life in a place relatively misunderstood by the western world to be a warzone and particularly underdeveloped.

The film opens with Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) presenting their cases for divorce to an official. Simin wants to leave the country in search of a better future for their family, particularly their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) whilst Nader is obligated to stay and care for his elderly father who is suffering end-stage Alzheimer’s disease; a heart-wrenching predicament in itself. No agreement is established thus Simin moves out and stays with her parents meaning Nader has to hire someone to look after his father while he’s at work and Termeh is at school.

The plot kick-starts from this point and snowballs into an argument with the hired carer over stolen money and consequently a heated scuffle results in a push which leads to a fall and apparently a miscarriage. The rest of the film is a steady, un-biased investigation into who should be rightfully sentenced, everyone is interrogated as to what they knew at exactly what time (Nader’s knowledge of his father’s carer’s pregnancy is cleverly contained as a single line of dialogue in a conversation he wasn’t involved in, just near to, leaving us unsure if he was aware he could commit murder by causing a miscarriage) and finding out who’s telling the truth becomes the primary focus though for plot purposes some of this is hidden from the viewer as it happens.

This plot is stitched onto the marvellously interesting fabric of Iran and everything that entails. The family apartment is modest yet decorated and maintained stylishly and culturally appropriately. Termeh is dropped off through a flurry of dusty cars each morning to a busy modern school. Furthermore, there are clear indications of the nation’s religious nature which in turn shows us a snapshot of the roles of men and women. An example, Nader invites a woman to care for his father as social care is considered more womanly though problems arise when the father soils himself and the carer has to consult her religious advisor as to whether helping (or not helping) the man is an act of sin on her part. She also doesn’t tell her husband that she’s working in another man’s house without his wife being present, another breakage of Muslim values.

The crux of the film is that every single important character is a relatively good, well-rounded person who is devout to their religion but their conscience and the nit-bits of information they care to share with each other don’t allow the judicial system to find a particularly fair judgement. In the middle of it all Termeh is pulled back and forth, weighing her alliances to her mother and father so selflessly but never letting her dream of their reunion die.

Moments like these happen all the time in real life. Often a series of unfortunate events during difficult times and an act of madness under extreme stress or pressure can change one’s life drastically and it’s even worse when the only people involved are honest, good and un-deserving of potentially harsh judicial punishment. “A Separation” is a touching, humanistic drama focusing on the difficulties of family-orientated decision making and how law and religion don’t always complement one another.

A wonderfully scripted piece, 8.6/10.

Blue Ruin – Late To The Party

Blue Ruin

TL;DR: Clichés and misuse of motive maim most western revenge thrillers. Thankfully, “Blue Ruin”’ is the epitome of the “show don’t tell” mantra, laying the groundwork for 90 minutes of sensical character arcs, consummate action deliverance and everything being done so right even the Korean-revenge-masters would approve.

Most of my favourite revenge genre flicks are Asian films such as Chan-Wook Park’s Revenge trilogy, “The Man from Nowhere”, “I Saw The Devil” to name but a few. Nobody ever wins in a game of revenge, apart from the viewer and that’s what I love about the genre. These films are dark, often have extended torturous sequences and explicit violence; things which Western audiences and subsequently production companies tend to avoid. They’re also slow-burning which when used properly especially in such a short film as “Blue Ruin”, gives the director massive control over the ambient, inescapable tension but also when he can deliberately overdose you.

Much like how Hitchcock found such great success in re-using the civilian-turned-spy ploy, here Saulnier throws our almost-regular guy into the deep-end as a fumbling, inexperienced yet incredibly vengeful killer. Macon Blair, writer turned actor, plays Dwight our protagonist. We find out through a completely speechless opening sequence (apart from a police officer saying “He’s getting out…” or words to that effect”) that Dwight is strung up and living in his car, bathing in strangers houses when necessary, scavenging bins for food and oh, that his parents’ killer is now loose on the streets. Macon Blair’s face is a picture here and throughout the film, that was his tipping point though. Something has to be done.

The film, though on a fairly low budget of roughly $1m, is made and shot expertly with plenty of sweeping panning shots and dolly shots, certain in-car snippets reminiscent of Refn’s “Drive”. I think calling the film violent is also an injustice as at no point were on-screen scuffles messy or unnecessary; if it were a porn, people would call it tasteful. The film’s gore hits hard with crunchy, targeted editing when it needs to in isolated CGI/make-up jobs similar to certain kills in Gareth Evans’ “The Raid 2: Berandal” in turn economising effect funding to comply with the aforementioned budget.

What people have been describing the film as is “solid”, rightly, and bluntly so in my pseudo-expert opinion. Apart from minor, possibly inevitable (I’m not a filmmaker) annoyances such as “How can they not see him tailing them, he’s literally right there!” there isn’t half a line that shouldn’t be in this film, a result of stringent scripting and work in the cutting room. Action and subtle dark humour is intertwined with the storyline soundly as Dwight fights to survive and confront in multiple Virginia-based locations. Not all the characters are fully developed but they don’t all need to be. Dwight’s gun-toting pal Ben (played by Devin Ratray a.k.a Buzz from Home Alone) is an example, his aid to Dwight is justified by an old photo of the two of them partying; he’s also killed 2 men but do we really need to know why? No.

“Blue Ruin” is an example to most modern action/thriller films. Maybe it’s hiked cinema ticket prices (£12.00 for me) that obligates filmmakers to tack on 30 extra minutes of faffy dross to make people feel they’ve gotten bang for their buck. Maybe those minutes wouldn’t be needed if CGI were used more creatively for effect thereby lowering production value, lowering ticket prices and giving people what they really want. I know what I want. “Sympathy for Mr. Blue Ruin”.

Loved it, GIMME MORE. 8.2/10.

Fun-gettable – Guardians of the Galaxy – A review

GotG

TL;DR: I am Groot. I am Groot, I am Groot… I am Groot.

After having taken a hiatus from superhero films after the atrocity that was “Man of Steel” I felt James Gunn’s latest, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, was a perfect opportunity to swan dive back into the comic book multiverse.

Brandishing some less widely known characters (I only knew Rocket from MVC3) from a more comical comic book series, Guardians of the Galaxy does an excellent job in presenting most of them to the audience but compromises a little in its scripting and universe establishment across the entire film; definitely a launch pad for sequel success.

One of the first scenes, Chris Pratt’s masked Star-Lord gaily strolling through a reptilian ridden wasteland to “Hooked on a Feeling” peeled back the critical barriers I subconsciously erected in order to pick holes in the film. The film doesn’t ask any questions of its audience, it’s pleasantly unimposing, all it wants is that you let yourself be swept away and enjoy the view as you go; a pre-requisite I was happy to conform to along with the rest of the theatre.

The characters carry the film 100%. Without the snappy lines of dialogue from Star-Lord, Rocket and well, excellent delivery of the one line from Groot, GotG would fall flat on Drax and Gamora’s poorly written, uninteresting faces. Literally, Drax and Gamora had about 3 cool moments between them whereas our other protagonists had about 20 each; it felt like the writers didn’t have enough time to write them in properly. I understand their backgrounds are vengeful and darker but unfortunately between their bouts of complaining about our uninspired villain and Drax being smashed around for half the film when he’s meant to be strong I just stopped caring. They look cool, I’ll give them that.

The other 3 though, damn. Pratt is so hot right now. I liked the bad-boy, pseudo-responsible Captain Kirk vibe he emitted throughout the film. Bradley Cooper should continue voice acting on projects where his characters are so awesome. I always thought Vin Diesel’s acting was wooden so he grew well into Groot’s roots and… stop. No more. Groot is excellent though which begs the question why the writers can make a monosyllabic tree likeable yet not do anything for Gamora or Drax? Maybe it’s a source material thing and they are developed more in the sequel? I can’t say, I don’t know much about this particular universe. There are a lot of jokes and cool one-liners, though there’s also a lot of self-aware cheesiness. There’s a scene where they all stand up and confirm that they are indeed friends and that they are willing to fight and die together which is great for us otherwise the film and their existence would end pretty early. Rocket then points out that they all look like idiots standing up for no real reason, this felt a bit like how in “22 Jump Street” it’s pointed out that they have “to do the same thing over again…”, is this forth-wall break style audience mind-reading a thing now? To me it feels cheap and lazy.

Visually, GotG is excellent. From the animation of Rocket Raccoon to desktop wallpaper worthy wide space vistas there was not an effect that felt particularly out of place or inappropriate from a storytelling perspective (something many films do not achieve, I’m looking at you “The Hobbit”) which kept the film concise and free from unnecessary distraction. The action sequences are exciting, maybe even gripping, using each characters strengths and weaknesses cohesively and innovatively as they work as a team. The extras are really great too, the creatures in the background of the jail sequence I thought looked like what you’d get if you tipped half the MIB office into that bar in Verhoeven’s “Total Recall”.

Overall, I do think the film felt more like an amusement park ride through the universe than a deep sea dive into it but what do you expect for a film essentially trying to pitch itself for a sequel to people that already love Marvel movies. It’ll stay with me considerably longer than Man of Steel, that’s for sure but I’ve already forgotten every single place name and half the characters.

Better than most of its kind, 7.6/10.

Little Miss Sunshine – (Late To The Party)

Little Miss sunshine

TL;DR: Little Miss Sunshine sneaks up on you like a few rays poking through the clouds. The race to the beauty pageant is a wonderfully subtle, hilarious façade employed by directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris to disguise multiple melancholic themes and leave us in a warm, happy place.

Winner of 2006’s Best Original Screenplay Oscar, Little Miss Sunshine packs every second of its 101 minute run-time with slapstick VW Bus-thrashing, expressive odd-ball family moments and plenty of lessons being learned. Admittedly I was not expecting what I was eventually contentedly surprised with when I started watching, the bright yellow “sunshine” poster had me forecasting more of a lacklustre song and dance ditty than a self-aware and tightly-strung comedy drama.

The film follows Olive, 2nd place at the Little Miss Albuquerque pageant and all-round cutie, and the rest of her family: her Dad (Richard Hoover) who resembles a less exuberant version of Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia, her loving and slightly pushy mother (Toni Collette), her monk-like silent yet mysterious brother (Paul Dano), the seemingly vulgar grandpa (Alan Arkin) and her post-suicide attempt scholar of an uncle as they meander across America to attend Little Miss Sunshine, Olive’s next step to becoming future Miss America.

In the beginning Mum lays down paper plates, produces a takeaway and calls out for Olive and Grandpa. This shows us that they’re a busy family, possibly struggling financially and that O + G can often go off into their own world. This excellent screenwriting shuns obvious and unnecessary dialogue seen in so many modern films (and continues to do so throughout the film for comedic and storytelling effect) opting instead to establish the family dynamic through actions. This only works because the characters are interesting with their own defined personalities, here mum earns the main income and Dad is all promises, Brother has taken a vow of silence, Grandpa got himself thrown out of his old people’s home for living vicariously and Steve Carell’s uncle, though the most educated is the most helpless. Such defined characterization opens the door for clear and believable personal development giving the audience the feeling they’re watching people worth giving a toss about.

Actually, that’s about it. If you hear a father suggesting persuasively his daughter can’t eat ice cream because she’ll get fat and won’t be a winner, and the daughter responds by spilling her heart out to her Grandpa (Alan Arkin also won an Oscar, in my opinion for this particular scene) whimpering “Daddy only loves winners”, wouldn’t anyone want to see that relationship improve? If you knew the nation’s greatest Proust scholar lost his job over a homosexual relationship scandal, attempted suicide and subsequently was embraced by his loving sister who coaxes him back towards happiness, wouldn’t you want to see how it all happens?

On top of all the great characters, the superb pacing and the scale of it all… Little Miss Sunshine is really, really, genuinely funny. All kinds of humour are present from purely visual gags to subtle conversational intonations, in fact one of my favourite moments (which for most was probably absolutely nothing) was when after an unexpected departure, the grievance councillor sees our family into a curtained hospital booth with the FAKEST smile you’ll ever see and speeds off, completely forgetting about said family IMMEDIATELY after the last person enters. The timing was perfect. To me, it was beautiful. I laughed. Aloud. Incessantly.

All in all, Little Miss Sunshine is a really enjoyable, easy to watch film where one can laugh at the absurd nature of child pageantry, absorb a parenting lesson or two and dwell on the importance of family.

It brightened my day, 8/10.

Boyhood – A Review

Boyhood

TL;DR: More like Lifehood, Linklater combines essences from previous works to present a Texas-based coming of age, time-lapse narrative that demonstrates how growing up is not just specific to children, boy does it work.

My expectations were high upon entering the splendid Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford for their 14:30 showing of Boyhood, it being one of my most anticipated films of 2014 due to my love for the overwhelming majority of Linklater’s previous films. One thing I love is how Linklater, ever since Slacker, has demonstrated how strong his dialogue writing can be in many different contexts be it comically yet intimiately such as in Bernie, lovingly and explorative like in the Before films or existential and abstract as in Waking Life. Boyhood is no exception. What the film lacks in snappy plot twists it makes up for in relatable characters we can empathise with due to a timeline of impactful life events with visualized consequences.

The unique selling point of Boyhood, which must be mentioned, is that the film’s production span is over a decade (Because the 9 year separation between the Before films were not enough real time tomfoolery for Linklater). This means that character development here is as true as it could possibly be, we literally see Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) grow from an infant to a college student in just shy of 3 hours. The soundtrack and nostalgia-inducing references to the different years are brilliant and help establish the year tenderly, Mason’s older, yet still young, sister singing “Oops I did it again” and the evolution of the mobile phones used are just a couple of examples.

The film’s storyline is linear and begins with a young Mason gazing at a blue sky as a young boy of about 6. Mason’s the kind of kid that’ll be happy playing with dirt and rocks in the garden for hours; that’s not to say he’s dumb though, he does his homework but he does forget to hand it in. We meet his family. His older sister Samantha, played by Lorelei Linklater, is giggly and can be stubborn like a lot of girls are at that time of their lives but eventually grows to be strong, independent and funny. His single mother, Liv (Patricia Arquette), is loving and amiable but the struggles of life and love are visibly beginning to take their toll. Most of the film is spent observing them deal with life just like we did or will do, be it as a child or a parent, whilst they grow as people and as a family unit. Our family almost relocated when I was younger like they did in Boyhood and that hit me hard. The life events slowly change from happening around yet affecting a young Mason (Mum’s damaging relationships) to happening to him and because of him like prom, graduating, bullying and developing interests as he grows older; this is a film seeped in reality, even if a lot of the conversation is probably too deep for how most kids talk these days.

Linklater regular, Ethan Hawke (apparently channelling his inner Sam Rockwell) plays the kids’ Dad with heaps of energy and depth but is undoubtedly outshined here by Arquette’s heart-making and breaking performance. She transforms herself several times throughout the film, seemingly losing/gaining weight for each relationship she engages in as well as unavoidable aging, for me, she really exposes how parents see their children, how much they love them and love being with them especially when it comes to letting your babies fly the nest.

The real star for me though is Ellar Coltrane as our leading boy/man who acts way beyond his years, in particular, in his early to late teen years. Looking at times like a young Ethan Hawke himself (his chilled voice and semi-open eyes could be seen as a little stoner like, though for me, he seems pensive), Coltrane portrays that time of life seen in so many other coming-of-age stories; you really want to follow your dream but aren’t particularly sure of what it is, you blindly fall in love and are heart-broken when it’s all torn down. These are areas Linklater’s writing excels in (see Dazed and Confused, I keep getting older and it stays just as good), and his direction style is apparent throughout such as in a Jesse and Celine-esque long take of Mason and a female friend chatting casually whilst walking along a street. Mason’s travels through his early years, into puberty and beyond and his interactions with those who love him and support him made me wonder what’s truly important in life… not many actors or films can do that so the whole cast deserve credit on such an evocative, ambitious project.

Boyhood is like taking a trip down the memory lane of the guy who lives down the next street. You were there at the same time but you never put on his shoes and stepped out of his front door and that’s what makes Boyhood interesting.

8.4/10.

Chef – Hunger inducing yet remarkably satisfying – A review

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Previously I’ve worked in a reasonably classy hotel restaurant for 4 years and have witnessed first-hand the camaraderie between the chefs and seldom the odd tiff between kitchen and management that Jon Favreau’s newest film “Chef” demonstrates so clearly.

At said restaurant our head chef used to be this mountainous Frenchman, Laurent, booming voice and all. I’m partially conditioned to immediately stopping what I’m doing whenever I hear the word “service” now thanks to this man. The menu was beautiful. Venison, lamb, duck, beef dishes to name a few. Though season to season throughout those four years the presentation of each dish or the sauce changed a little there was never really anything adventurous that could really put the restaurant on the map.

Carl Casper (Favreau) has worked Head Chef in the same Venice beach restaurant for over a decade and triumphantly commands a renowned kitchen, he maintains happy staff on his side of the pass and is churning out gourmet food week in week out. He’s a much better cook than his predictable, tried and tested menu portrays him as though. When his stale menu causes an important encounter with a prestigious food blogger (who was originally a fan of the restaurant) to go sour Casper eventually erupts and quits his job. Here, just like in the kitchen I used to work at (and so many other occupations) consistent success is often valued much higher than experimentation and gradual evolution of a healthy business. This often comes at the cost of staff satisfaction. The film continues with Oscar, his son (Emjay Anthony) and his incredibly loyal, helpful sous-chef Martin (John Leguizamo) embarking on a funny, fulfilling adventure across America into the unknown that is the food truck business in a kind of “Office Space” meets the food channel romp.

This satisfaction and contentment scenario is one of many real-world situations presented to us in “Chef”, one of many because this is film is quite impressively realistic. The date is quite clearly now give or take a year or two. “Do the other kids have iPhones?” Oscar asks his son, yes, to answer that, nowadays most 10 year olds probably do have a medley of Apple products. The working environments feel real, the relationships have problems and the lead has his flaws which helps us to sympathise.

Though not the most technical film there is still a very savvy feel to the plot and how it has been arranged. Gorgeous, voluptuous food porn that features heavily in the first act and a half had me salivating like Homer Simpson; especially one particular cheesy, grilled number. The extensive use of tablets, iPhones, popular internet videos and Tweet projections work well under the plots context and don’t feel cheesy at all on the other hand (“I’m everywhere like a cat on a keyboard”). The honesty of the relationship between Oscar and his son (a child coping with the realities of divorced parents) is also credible, touching in fact, several moments had me on the verge of tears.

I do have a couple of complaints though. This is another example of film where female characters are wooden, isolated and uninteresting. Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara are both absolutely gorgeous (a scene snapping between a seductive Scarlett and a mouth-watering pasta dish caused an acute temperature anomaly beneath my collar) but all they do is completely focused on if the happiness of our leading male can be achieved or routinely and kind of annoyingly checking up on Oscar and his son, just in case they’re having too much fun, of course. Secondly, and maybe it’s just because I’ve listened to Kermode’s audiobook which has a section dedicated to this topic, I had a sense that scenes where the critic (blogger) were involved were a little unfair on the side of the critic when like Oscar, he’s just doing his job.

“Chef” made me laugh a lot (Oscar’s naïve misuse of twitter…still laughing), tugged on my fondness for the coming age genre and forced me to think about what could be if I were able to do whatever I’m passionate about for a living; something it truly deserves credit for.

A really nice watch, proving once again that Favreau can make films that are money without lots of explosions, an extra seasoning of complexity throughout would have been more to my palate though. 7.6/10.

TL;DR: Glossy food porn and a middle finger to stifling creativity, served in a warm realistic success-story with a side of comedy and morality. “Chef” hits the spot if you’re looking for something light but could leave those looking for hard-hitting flavours a little underwhelmed.

Fruitvale Station – (Late to the party)

Fruitvale station

 

One thing I love about film is that a story that needs to be told will always attract an audience.

Fruitvale Station, written and directed by Ryan Coogler is the story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a young man who became the victim of police malpractice on New Year’s day of 2009. I emphasise that this is the story of Oscar; not just the story flung over the news that fateful day and likely weeks and months thereafter.

After having watched the unwavering real-life smartphone footage recorded during Grant’s seizure by the police that the film opens with I was gripped by a crippling sense of dread. The footage slowly divulges from back and forth between officer and “criminal” then tails off into that chaotic chorus of screams, name-calling and panic which most would recognise as a precursor of uncontrollable actions and dire unnecessary consequences. This made the film seem so real, these situations genuinely scare me and had me willing for a circumstantially appropriate equivalent of a boxing referee to waltz in from stage left and break it all up.

The meat of the film introduces us to everything about Oscar Grant’s life. Oscar takes his daughter to school every morning and slips her a sugary treat unbeknownst to her mum (Sophina, Oscar’s girlfriend, expertly played by Melanie Diaz) like any quirky dad might. He then drops off his right-minded girlfriend at work and goes about the day’s errands like buying food and a birthday card for a family gathering. Whilst shopping and despite Sophina’s issues with his promiscuous, out-going personality he calls up his Grandma for a fried fish recipe to help a stranger out (after eyeing her up) and has a laugh about it with his friend who works at said shop; this is just Oscar’s personality.

Like all interesting characters, real or fictional, Oscar has problems too. He’d previously been jailed for selling drugs and now sadly after having lost his job because of his punctuality issues he feels forced into relapsing back to the trade for the sake of providing for his family. A particularly striking scene, a long shot of Oscar emptying a zip-lock bag of weed off a rocky peninsula into the ocean, was beautiful, thought-provoking and solemn all at once. The film asks us is it better to be financially comfortable dishonestly than struggle and barely get by? Oscar resists temptation (he decides to give away a morsel of left-over product than sell it) demonstrating his change into the man he wants to be; a change his better-half is also happy with ( ;-) ).

What happens afterwards is yours to see and will probably leave you scouring the internet for articles like it did for me. Films like Fruitvale Station make you briefly re-evaluate the way you consume your media. Every story be it a murder, a trial, a survival story, whatever, involves real cogitative people whose lives are condensed into mere minutes for our rapid digestion, not to mention the family and friends of the person/people in the spotlight. In this respect I feel I may have become a little desensitized to many events in recent years and should potentially work some more empathy into my life.

This film is a portal into the lives of a family, of friends and most importantly of the man who didn’t deserve the fate he was dealt; much like many others in America and around the world that suffer because of police brutality. Passionately acted and beautifully shot, Fruitvale Station tugs the heart strings just enough to subtly raise awareness of an important tragedy in the hopes of it never happening again and absolutely succeeds.

Late To The Party

Just an FYI. Now and again if a film that’s been out for a while (could be months, could be a few years) gets me going and I simply have to write about it, I’ll tag it late to the party. This is because I’m late to the party, the review party that is.

 

Thanks.

The Raid 2: Berandal – A Review

ImageThe badass cop from the first film penetrates yakuza-like gangs by going undercover hoping to expose more of the corruption unveiled in his police force. There’s the plot; in my opinion though, it’s openly just a vehicle for the bewitching action sequences that put this series on the map.

Welsh director Gareth Evans knows how to put together a fight scene. The hand to hand combat in particular was so brilliant in his first film “Merantau” and the original “The Raid” that the latter is now one of the most popular foreign language films on Netflix. Expanding on this, “The Raid 2: Berandal” attempts to go bigger and better on all fronts and for the most part succeeds.

19 times. My mouth went dry 19 times, unbeknownst to me it just hung open during each fight scene and I think that reaction is exactly what the film is going for. These are some of the most inventive, chaotic and yet poetic action sequences filmed in recent years. Silat martial arts as well as a combination of other disciplines are demonstrated masterfully by the main characters, including a return of the “dog”. Watching Iko Uwais perform all his own stunts was actually quite refreshing too as there aren’t many people in cinema nowadays willing to take such risks. Furthermore, there are also lots of people firing guns which is always good.

The first fight of the film is contained in a toilet cubicle in prison where Rama (Uwais) takes down 15 men on his own through rapid attack and defense. The handycam action is so engaging, it literally dances round the action. In fact, the cubicles in this scene were built on expandable hinges so the camera could slip beside and behind Rama as the challengers filed in, this and more was explained in the wicked behind the scenes videos available on Vimeo.

Evans gives us fight scenes just about everywhere. Offices, restaurants, nightclubs and muddy prison grounds among others become battlegrounds and he uses each environment in combination with awesome choreography to make each engagement completely unique. On a boggy, muddy surface? Try and drown your enemy in it. In a bar? Throw every glass and smash every bottle in reach. The multitude of locations is much more visually stimulating and allows Evans to apply his own style to extra elements such as car chases previously unavailable as the entirety of the first film occurred in one building.

The film is 50 minutes longer than its predecessor however and I don’t think it needed to be. “The Raid 2” attempts to humanize characters that in my opinion are better off remaining one-dimensional and introduces a multitude of other characters which in some instances make the story a little complicated. At the same time though, Hammer Girl and… let’s call him “Bat-Boy” (potentially inspired by Team Fortress 2?) are pretty astounding in the way their weapons of choice are incorporated into their fighting style. Also, the most convincing performances come from non-combat characters such as Bejo, our villain, and Uco, the overly-ambitious son of the Asian Godfather equivalent. In fact, an overly civilized meeting of the heads of the houses reminded me massively of “The Godfather” and also punching the wall in prison of “Oldboy”, possible nods of the head?

“The Raid 2” is a spectacle. If you loved the fast-paced brawls of the first one, the sequel is the same but on crack with a story that might rope you in emotionally too but probably won’t.

I loved it, 8 out of 10 from me.

Noah – A Review.

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“Noah” is about a man with a hell of a lot of responsibility. Adapted from the renowned biblical texts, adventurous director Darren Aranofsky floods our senses with the audiovisual experience of climactic grandeur that only he can portray.

Half a cinema was present in sharing the first showing of “Noah” in my area, indicating the controversy and cast grabbed a lot of attention. From what I’ve read Aranofsky has stayed quite true to the source material story-wise though with only some minor changes to keep things exciting (an altered story arc for Ham for example); which in my opinion were very worthwhile.

After a run through of the book of Genesis (Creation, temptation in the Garden of Eden, Cain murdering Abel and the watchers leaving heaven to help on earth) we meet a young Noah who flees after witnessing the murder of his father by Cain’s selfish descendants. The film cuts forward and Noah, himself a descendant of Adam and Eve’s third son Seth, is now a father of 3 who respects the Creator’s work enormously. “We only take what we need” he says as his son picks a flower for its aesthetics alone. Suddenly, a single rain drop hits the ground and a flower springs up instantly, of course this must be a sign from God so Noah decides to take his family to seek advice from his Grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). En route, they find an injured orphan named Ila among the remains of a massacre and out of love take her with them as they flee into an blackened wasteland from a mob of warriors approaching quickly. Noah is later stricken with several haunting and beautifully represented dreams where he is suspended underwater above the drowned human race, he decides to build an ark to save the good of the world from the flood that could end it.

Russell Crowe, like most of the other performances, is solid and believable as Noah but not outstanding; his somber voice really hitting home some profound anecdotes and memorable lines. As the audience we are able to watch him slowly change his outlook and reflect on his own way of life which held my interest. Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife is largely expressionless but then has an emotionally charged speech later on that makes up for it. Ray Winstone as the king of Men is brilliantly creepy and comical however his surprisingly timid sword forging and some other minor quips (London accent etc.) broke the spell now and again if only for an instant. Emma Watson was a real gem, but maybe I only say that because I’m madly in love with her.

The Watchers though… If it is in the source material that the fallen angels really did meld with rock then Aronofsky’s interpretation is pretty darn awesome. Imagine the offspring of a mech from the Matrix sequels and an Onix and you have an Ark-building, human-stomping Watcher. The film is always visually stunning with multiple epic set pieces in and around the monumental Ark such as the influx of different creatures by air and land. The story of man’s destructive downward spiral into hatred from their humble beginnings as single celled life-forms and even earlier is also gracefully interpreted. Scenes post-flood in my opinion look gorgeous, similar to the groundbreaking visuals in certain “Life of Pi” scenes. What I love about Aronofsky’s films in particular is how he usually builds to a climax. Previously his films have built to a huge crescendo and then just end, such as the final fight in “The Wrestler” or performance in “Black Swan”, aided by a tantalizing score that pushes you steadily to the edge of your seat. In Noah, there are multiple critical climaxes which though not quite as impactful still mesmerise and entertain.

Overall, “Noah” is a great film not without the refined editing, music and style we’ve come to expect from this director’s work. Though likely heavily restrained by the production company’s fear of offending, the film’s over-arching themes of respect for the earth and largely encapsulating visuals (apart from a couple of painfully rendered green-screen scenes) make up for times where I thought the screenwriting was a little too safe.

Thoroughly enjoyable and I learnt a thing or two, 7.5/10 from me.

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