Monday, 17 March 2014

Need for Speed Review


Basing films on video games has rarely had any success. Most success has been milder than a korma curry drowned in cream. Dreamworks’ decision to create a film in a game with no storyline seemed a bizarre decision; one to primarily cash in on the success of the Fast and Furious franchise. Cynical as that may seem, it can always reap benefits if you gather the right talent to come together and have some fun. Need for Speed has got some great talent in it with Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots together in the lead roles and a director, Scott Waugh (Act of Valor), who’s committed to using real cars and real carnage for the action sequences. Even with all that real destruction and well made action scenes it still struggles at the basic hurdles of bigger budget filmmaking: action fatigue, lengthy running time, inconsistent writing.
The story created for the game is that Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) owns a garage where he works with his friends and races in his spare time. After his father passes away, the bank warn that they are starting to get behind on their loan, risking a closure if business doesn’t pick up in this small town garage. When his rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) shows back up in town and offers them a job and, afterwards, a race, things turn for the worse for Tobey and his gang. After he is framed and spends two years in prison, he has to get revenge and win the biggest race of the year.
Now is that was all first act stuff, don’t worry about spoilers. Although the cast really seem like they’re having fun – except Dominic Cooper’s one-tone villain who has no redeeming qualities at all. Aaron Paul has fun blatantly skidding a car up to the camera, revelling in the lack of CGI and the director trusting him in a Koenigsegg. The film is all about the entertainment value, or so you would think before going in, but it tries to hard to get an emotional tone that it doesn’t suit nor that it has the necessary writing to pull off. There may be sad moments but they never feel real, just character motivations, straight out of a screenwriting manual. That’s the problem with the loss or the negatives in this film. Never are they presented in a genuine and well-crafted manner but instead as a melodramatic moment of manipulation that isn’t effective. This film has a check list to get through.
Characters are only stock characters too. They are mostly one dimensional creations that don’t have an arc and fulfil narrative duties rather than interest. Once in a while they will get a moment to be funny but it feels as though the jokes are too hit and miss to be enjoyed. Then there comes the most inconsistently written female character in recent memory with Imogen Poots’s Julia, an elegant rich English woman with a knowledge of cars. But there’s problems with her character decisions and their consistency. Constantly she says not to judge her by how she looks but then talks about a fear of heights but that soon disappears. Julia acts fragile at other times and really tough in others as well as somehow finding it charming to be completely judged by gender stereotypes in odd moments. There are a lot of problems with her but Imogen Poots, for the most part, makes it work. Aaron Paul is pretty great in this even if his character isn’t. He really pulls off the charisma and the silent charm of the leading man, with his husky voice and trust in his own stature to speak volumes when necessary.
With all that said, Need for Speed struggles from what everyone expected it to struggle from and that’s the writing. The 130 minute running time is way too long for this film, there are too many moments dragged out in slow motion, that could easily cut about 20 minutes from the film itself. Its length is noticeable, audience members will start to check their watch, baffled at the length of a film that is all about going fast. It doesn’t hold on to the entertainment value that say Fast Five did with its overextension and exaggeration in action sequences. Need for Speed suffers from the fact that it’s supposed to speed along yet crawls along in moments that are unnecessary, unfunny and unfulfilling. Emotional moments are fraudulent and there’s nothing worse than feeling the manipulation of them. Most of the stunts and action sequences are impressively done and they are exhilarating but the entire story and characters surrounding these sequences are as boring as plodding along in a Nissan Micra. It really needed a full service and clean.
★★

In Fear DVD Review

Jeremy Lovering knows his horror. It is clear straight away from the instant atmosphere and tone that In Fear achieves. Labelled as “home-invasion in a car” is probably the more accurate description you can give the film. Conceptually, In Fear is really simple and sounds like something more suited for a short film of about 30 minutes maximum but Lovering has successfully extended it to feature length and it rarely strains. Setting up the duo with a voice-over phonecall where Tom (Iain De Caestecker) asks out Lucy (Alice Englert), it tells us that they only met two weeks ago and this will really be their first date, putting a lot of pressure on the early moments of the honeymoon phase that usually is the blissful simple part. That’s where the characters get a lot of the interest.
Meeting someone two weeks prior means there’s little obligation to one another, giving plenty of meat for the actors to get into the chemistry of a strained early relationship. Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert explore the characters, sparks and breakdowns of driving through the maze of a countryside, getting more and more lost while searching for the hotel. Night closes in, getting darker and darker, tensions getting higher, amplifying the eerie atmosphere of being surrounded in a single lane maze. This is aided by Lovering’s omission when handing out the script and story beats to his lead actors, meaning their fear and their reactions are real.
Much of its looks is different from usual horror films with more clean cinematography and clever use of focus. Its different take on cinematography allows it to look visually impressive most of the time yet still pay homage to other horrors. One problem with the cinematography – or perhaps the editing with their placement – is the use of close-ups on twitchy eyes; some are well-placed which really add to the paranoid atmosphere early on but others feel uncomfortable and perhaps editing filler to extend the scene. Lovering has also paid attention to how important sound design is by adding audible windscreen wipers and other clever additions that turn the ordinary into the uneasy.
The material has been taken as far as possible by a director who has well-crafted a creepy, paranoid heavy Irish horror – filmed in Cornwall. Late at night, many have had the fear of getting lost in the countryside where there is no signal, no signs and no life… until you glimpse something that shouldn’t be there. In Fear is like a film school class in atmosphere as well as creating real characters, especially if you’re insistent on making horrible characters simply to kill them off. Real people who let their masks slip are much more interesting than the bland monotony that get slaughtered time and time again in slasher fare. In Fear should be a welcome addition to any horror collection. A first-time feature director has used unusual methods to get really good results. Its simplicity possibly draws on one too familiarity but overall it’s a crafted, well written, finely acted feature that doesn’t skimp on the atmosphere and scares.
★★½

Extras: Interesting audio commentary with the director Jeremy Lovering as well as the actors, a behind the scenes documentary, stills gallery, music from In Fear and the trailer. A pretty standard fare but more interesting than most.
Out Monday the 10th of March on Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray has a running time of 85 minutes while the DVD has three minutes less. 

Her Review


Criticisms have come at Her for being a relevant film rather than a timeless one, capturing a moment of an odd technology obsession.Videodrome may have been a relevant film for the time but it transfers to modern society. Her shares characteristics of Videodromebecause its relevancy should remain for at least this generation but it will probably extend into future technological advancements.Her‘s story hardly feels too farfetched, it doesn’t stretch further than reality and its natural progression. Spike Jonze has made a gorgeous film with a magnificent use of colour throughout, using the beautiful red of the poster in costume design, set design and lighting. It may be a future that is undesirable but Jonze hardly makes it overtly cynical or upsetting – a light critique instead.
It opens with Robert (Joaquin Phoenix) saying a beautiful, anniversary related monologue but it’s for someone else. His job is to write letters for people which may seem strange but it’s barely any different from a card or the new personalised cards of Moonpig and Funky Pigeon. He makes the interactions between them – when there’s distance – beautiful, heartfelt and intimate and even has a huge hand in a pet name for one of his client’s wife. If you’ve seen the trailer then you know that’s not it. Joaquin Phoenix falls for a technological creation named OS1 and technology has been advanced so much that they’ve become sentient and self-aware; they can feel, think, grow and evolve naturally without a programmer tinkering to better them. Robert falls for Samantha, his sentient operating system, a sexy Siri if you like. Obviously it’s an abnormal thing but the near future created shows it quite common to talk to your phone often so turning into a real relationship is only one small step further.
Red is such a prominent colour of the film but it’s filled used well to highlight themes or moments, it even highlights the presence of Samantha. Often there is beautiful cinematography coming from the golden sun that is more idyllic than the real world ever seems. Even in cold weather, the sun has a much more effective warming touch. The way the camera switches between sleek cinematography and a visceral shooting style is never distracting because it’s handled professionally. Jonze can handle the transition much better than directors who are far too heavy handed with their approach, not trying to keep a visual consistency. In addition to the visuals, Spike Jonze even built a hologram game that isn’t far from happening with the outrageous abuse that can be flung in multiplayer games online.
Performances are spectacular in the film with Joaquin Phoenix obviously being fantastic and it’s a much more playful role than we’ve seen for a while. It is very comedic, heartfelt and often romantic approach to a character than he has previously played. Amy Adams and Rooney Mara are both great in their minor roles but their problem is the fact that they are so minor, it would be nice to see them for a bit longer, especially the latter. Rooney Mara’s character is rarely given more than a montage and a scene, it’s a shame because she clearly put effort into performing her character. Chris Pratt is great in his tiny role and provides enough normality and comedy to aid the film in its complicated tonal shifts. A great moustache too. The best performance though goes to Scarlett Johansson who is only a voice but is one of the best female performances, it could have easily been Oscar nominated. Her voice provides depth to her frustrations, her intelligence, her complexities, her romance. You can feel her love as well as the chemistry which rivals many films who have two physical leads. Honestly, it felt like people were perhaps exaggerating her performance and shining too much light to maybe seem original or to be hipster – for lack of a better word – but her entire performance is captivating and fantastic, deserving of all the attention and praise.
Romance films have rarely been more romantic. Although it’s easy to be perplexed by the nature of falling for someone without a physical body, it’s more genuine of a love if you aren’t blinded by the superficiality of looks. It can be easy to raise an eyebrow and laugh off the love but to do that is to be close-minded and it is much better to be open and receptive to the emotions, the romance and the love of HerHer is a visually stunning film that has been carefully designed; the sets, colours, costumes, props and so on all are there to promote the feeling of love with the beautiful hue of red used. Everything is beautiful, including the relationships, it could have easily made a cynical HAL-9000 creation but the best part of the work comes from taking it away from the cynicism, to the romanticism instead. Her may be relevant but that doesn’t stop it from being a fantastic creation which uses all of cinema’s magical elements to combine and make something a tad special, different and full on interesting. Her connects you to it.
★★★★½


Sunday, 2 March 2014

Oscar 2014 Predictions

Unfortunately as I'm out in Hong Kong, I won't be able to watch the Oscars live, nor have I been able to catch up with all the nominations this year which is a shame. For that reason, there will be no Nozzers this year, unfortunately. I feel too misinformed as I've missed out on a couple of the films to hand out the Nozzers but hopefully next year I will be able to. It's been a great year but the Oscar pool has shrunk and now more than ever do they not hand out for single performances but rather films that are ultimately good by the Academy. This year though the main surprise is that the cinematography nominations are actually different to the Best Picture nominations with Prisoners (it should win but won't) and Inside Llewyn Davis stealing a nomination each. Yes, below are my predictions for what's happening in only a couple of hours but I shan't be able to check if I'm right. Or make money if I am right since I felt too misinformed to put a bet on. These are done by the run ups to the Oscars more than anything else.

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey (should be Chiwetel Ejiofor)
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto (should be Michael Fassbender)
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong'o (her or Jennifer Lawrence but really hope it's Lupita)
Best Original Screenplay: Her
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
Best Animated Feature: Frozen
Best Cinematography: Gravity (Prisoners personally)
Best Visual Effects: Gravity
Best Documentary: The Act of Killing
Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty 
Best Costume Design: The Great Gatsby
Best Film Editing: Gravity
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: American Hustle
Best Production Design: Gravity
Best Sound Editing: Gravity
Best Sound Mixing: Gravity
Best Visual Effects: Gravity
Best Original Score: Gravity
Best Original Song: Let It Go 
Best Live Action Short: The Voorman Problem
Best Documentary Short: Facing Fear
Best Animated Short: Get a Horse!

Here's to hoping I break my 17/21 record of last year. 

Innocent Sorcerers Review



Martin Scorsese knows his stuff. He has seen more films than seems humanly possible for such a prolific filmmaker. Innocent Sorcerers is one of his recommendations from Andrzej Wajda’s collection, a romance film which has been beautifully photographed and now restored to show all its detailed creative camerawork. You can see that this is a stepping stone to the Before… trilogy by Richard Linklater and many other simple, character-driven romance pieces. Wajda is aided by the screenplay written by Jerzy Andrzejewski and Jerzy Skolimowski which has created two intriguing, dynamic characters that blend but also clash in scenes that are bleeding sexual tension.
Wajda is aided by the screenplay written by Jerzy Andrzejewski and Jerzy Skolimowski which has created two intriguing, dynamic characters that blend but also clash in scenes that are bleeding sexual tension.
Bazyli (Tadeusz Lomnicki) may get all the attention from the women but he’s bored of it, discouraged by their keen dispositions that make it far too easy for him. In the opening, we see him refusing to open up to a girl who seems “nice enough” but there’s no fun in the game for him. He easily charms a young journalist to get her number and has a girl fall in love with him early on but there’s no passion, no repartee, no connection or sparks. That is until he meets lovely Pelagia (Krystyna Stypulkowska) in a bar where her looks are causing quite a stir. What follows from there is his first connection in ever and possibly a word, a theological virtue, that he’s never felt before. There they argue back and forth, him suffering from the keen disposition that puts him off the many other girls, while she acts calm, cool and distant, playing with his every emotion with every sentence.
is_2-2These performances have a real connection, there’s so much tension between them that it feels like the actors really desired each other, playing off that by never giving in to their inhibitions outside of the film itself. That or they’re incredibly talented (it’s probably the latter). Little moments, monologues or touches are broken down by her who continually taunts and teases every little affection he shows. Their relationship seems volatile, ready to erupt and collapse onto a bed and give in to their desires. But that would ruin the game. Wajda wills us into wanting to see more, for them to feel more, for them to give in like most would. Both have the respect and discipline to string each other along, never folding to the other’s entire will.
Images are captured in a beautiful, stark black and white that shows Poland in heavily romantic way even though they both talk about travelling: Italy, Paris, America. There’s romance for the world and there’s romance between them which the cinematography captures in every moment. Lingering, long takes allow the actors to let the material breathe. There are gorgeous images captured including an impressive moment on a scooter dashing through the city in a not-really-a-chase sequence. It hardly feels rehearsed even though Pelagia says that she can’t remember her next line, that feels improvised and a real thing she’d say.
These performances have a real connection, there’s so much tension between them that it feels like the actors really desired each other, playing off that by never giving in to their inhibitions outside of the film itself.
Romance is engrained into this film, it’s also infectious, it’s hard not to be romantic about such a romantic film. Moments are beautiful, heartfelt, real; oozing and teasing with the sexual tension between the two leads as well as the possible future of acceptance. Real relationships may not come down to wild strawberries but Wajda’s world does. The jazz soundtrack plays a huge role in the film, playing the night away like Bazyli and Pelagia. This is a prime example of masterful European filmmaking, beautifully restored and magnificently created with the few exceptions of poor technical work: silent coughs, mismatched drums. Everything else in the film is done superbly well by a director who knows his craft.Innocent Sorcerers only suffers from a few of the technical hitches but don’t be put off by them as everything else is wonderful work. You also get to see Roman Polanski popping up in a pretty minor role.
★★★★½

Mother Joan of the Angels Review


Often films delve into religion but it feels like most delve into its salvation, its hope, its faith and its goodness. Mother Joan of the Angels is much more complicated than that. It may help promote the selfless sacrifice that religion strives for but it certainly doesn’t entirely condone religion either. Nor does it promote atheism either. The villagers who are outside of the church are tempters who are there to stir the pot, laugh at their rules and seem like heretics. The film seems to want a discussion with Christianity especially but it does dance around the topics of living a careless life too. Satan and bad impulses are equally destructive temptations.
 Often films delve into religion but it feels like most delve into its salvation, its hope, its faith and its goodness. Mother Joan of the Angels is much more complicated than that.
Travelling to a small village, a relatively young priest, Father Jozef Suryn (Mieczyslaw Voit) , is sent to exorcise a demonic possession in a parish. While there, he’s confronted with Joan of the Angels (Lucyna Winnicka) who claims to be possessed by many a different demon. Satan starts to use Joan as a vessel to bring out temptations that the priest struggles to fight against. Her main temptation is her overt sexuality now since the possession. She is presented as the gorgeous nun but the most pure and virginal of them all. That was until Satan managed to sully her, possess her and in expose her both mentally and physically.
Mother-Joan-of-AngelsDirector Jerzy Kawelerowicz has a stylistic authorship on the material, delving into unconventional methods of panning and a special relationship with lighting throughout. Stylish does not, in this case, mean superficial as he delves greatly into the idea of Christianity and especially the institutions of Christianity like the parish. Repression sexuality – something natural – causes problems where it be psychological or inevitable possession from the zealous purity of humanity which is truthfully impure. Questioning religion isn’t the only thing on Kawelerowicz’s mind. There seems to be a questioning of gender. Bringing out sexuality in women seems to daunt the men – which it of course would do in the 17th century. But he questions why a woman’s sexuality threatens men and whether or not it causes fear to their idea of patriarchal society. This could easily be a feminism piece but taken to its extreme of male-dominated culture in a less sophisticated and liberal time.
 Trouble is caused by a possible overextension of scenes. Character dramas often do require more time and it’s usually a pleasure but there’s some problems, slowness and apathy to them rather than insight.
Not everything is as consuming as the demons in the film unfortunately. Trouble is caused by a possible overextension of scenes. Character dramas often do require more time and it’s usually a pleasure but there’s some problems, slowness and apathy to them rather than insight. This also isn’t helped by performances. There are moments that are possibly ruined for the modern viewer as it can be too difficult to get past laughable, irritating performances. There are some moments where these aren’t the issue, especially between the two leads which share a lot of chemistry and a sexual tension that reeks of repression, but outside of those the cast struggle to muster performances that are effective. Running through a parish like a child with a sheet over your head is only funny. There lies a risk in losing the viewer.
Martin Scorsese would not suggest something terrible or awful and this is far from it. Its stylistic touches are mostly stunning and very few of them miss. The director’s flair really elevates the material that he wrote alongside Tadeusz Konwicki. Lighting is always cleverly used. It could easily be analysed in great detail by academics and probably will be if it already hasn’t. Kawelerowicz has focused on a detailed mise-en-scène throughout, leaving it a strong directorial effort but it seems that the performances needed more work. Perhaps he was so focused on clever cinematography and lighting, as well as putting across its themes, that he suffered in garnering the performances from the lesser characters and especially the nuns. Mother Joan of the Angels is a great piece of work regardless and although its suffered from the mean mistress of time, it is still a clever, well-developed film that offers the audience plenty to think about.

★★½