Monthly Archives: November 2014

Review – Interstellar (12a) [2014]

Interstellar - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

There are some directors whose movies are simply a cut above the rest. Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Alfonso Cuarón and Martin Scorsese do not necessarily make films often, but when they do their films are invariably of the highest quality. Christopher Nolan rightly has a place among these filmmaking giants and his latest movie, Interstellar, confirms this despite the film’s problems.

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) explaining the mission and its purpose to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) explaining the mission and its purpose to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

Interstellar is set in the not-too-distant future. The Earth will soon be unable to sustain life due to crop failures. Mankind needs to find a new planet in order to survive. With the situation desperate, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a team of astronauts into space so as to find another planet that can sustain habitable life.

Interstellar is an ambitious, innovative and stimulating movie. Like The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige and Inception, Interstellar is a film full of ideas such as Murphy’s Law, gravity, love, and how time bends in space to name but four. These ideas keep viewers fully occupied throughout the film’s 167-minute running time. As in the above-mentioned films, Nolan again illustrates his intelligence by writing an ingenious script that holds much realism and does not fall into the generic (and dull) intergalactic ray-gun war between men and monsters. Nolan must be applauded for it and for not patronising his audience (harrumph Michael Bay).

Cooper saying goodbye to his little daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) before he goes on the mission.

Cooper saying goodbye to his little daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) before he goes on the mission.

Granted, most viewers probably will not completely comprehend Interstellar’s dialogue as one may need to be a quantum physics professor and an astrophysics nerd for that. If viewers are neither of those and find the dialogue difficult to grasp, they can still easily enjoy the film simply by sitting back and admiring the awesome sceneries, the breath-taking special effects, and the phenomenal music. The CGI and the music, in particular, make audiences feel like they’re on a wonderful rollercoaster ride through space, and the length of the film enhances this riveting sensation.

However, not even this terrific sensation can override or conceal the gaping holes in Interstellar’s storyline (as a train could fit through them). These holes stem from moments of tension that are there solely for the sake of tension (and filler) rather than advancement of the storyline; and from the ending being too rushed and contrived for the movie to make sense. With most directors, viewers would generally accept these plot holes as par for the course. But with Nolan, viewers expect better. Scenes of tension in his previous films have had consequence(s) upon the storylines, and he has given us some of the most original, thought-provoking and satisfying endings in movie history. To see his film suffer from similar problems as those of (cheesy) action films and (second-rate) sci-fi movies feels wrong as Nolan is too smart a man to fall into such holes.

Cooper speaking with Amelia (Anne Hathaway) as they try to determine what to do next as they search for a habitable planet.

Cooper speaking with Amelia (Anne Hathaway) as they try to determine what to do next as they search for a habitable planet.

Yet, the above-mentioned holes are not the only issues staring back at Interstellar. Like Inception, Interstellar is so plot heavy it has no time for character development. For any film, it is excusable not to give peripheral characters proper story-arcs since that bloats the film’s running time unnecessarily and can render a film with a terribly swollen cast (like Interstellar) impractical to make. But what is not excusable for any film, including Interstellar, is for the major characters to not have proper story-arcs. This is because one of the most fascinating parts of a film is the journey the main characters go on and watching how the journey affects them, for good or ill. Without such story-arcs for the major characters, Interstellar feels like a large plate with little food on it: somewhat unsatisfying.

Over-all, Interstellar is a very ambitious, intelligent and challenging movie. Yes, it has plenty of plot problems. And, yes, it does not give its characters enough time for sincere character growth. On the flip side, though, the movie is made worthwhile by the stunning landscapes, the spectacular special effects, the spellbinding music, and the interesting ideas that are seldom explored in films. Suffice to say, Interstellar does not make for an easy 167-minutes and the film would have ended up as a total mess if it were to have been directed by anyone other than a master of his/her craft. This underlines why Christopher Nolan is such an extraordinary director and why he rightly stands among the best in the business in Hollywood.

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Review – The Drop (15) [2014]

The Drop - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Michael R. Roskam – Bullhead

Cast:

Music Composer:

The engine to every story/film is its characters. Without characters, viewers have no means of entering the story and so cannot enjoy the story. But do characters have to be likeable for viewers to enjoy the story? Rust And Bone and The Wolf Of Wall Street demonstrated that characters could be repugnant, yet the story/film could still be enjoyed. Michael R. Roskam’s The Drop adds further evidence to this theory.

Bob (Tom Hardy) with his boss and cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role before his death) outside the back of Cousin Marv's, listening to their Chechen gangster boss.

Bob (Tom Hardy) with his boss and cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role before his death) outside the back of Cousin Marv’s, listening to their Chechen gangster boss.

The Drop is based on the short story Animal Rescue by Dennis Lehane. The film is about two intertwining stories that take place in a poor part of Brooklyn, New York. Bob (Tom Hardy) is a bartender who works for his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) at the latter’s former bar. Cousin Marv, as the bar is called (even though Marv no longer owns it), is a drop box for local gangsters to put brown envelopes of cash into. However, one night, the bar is robbed by gunmen and Marv’s boss, a Chechen gangster called Chovka (Michael Aranov), wants to know where his money has gone. Or else.

At the same time, Bob walks home from the bar one night, only to overhear a dog whimpering in the dustbin of a neighbour, Nadia (Noomi Rapace). Bob opens the bin to find a maltreated pit-bull puppy in it. Between him and Nadia, they take care of the puppy. Nevertheless, one day when Bob is playing with the dog in the park, the notorious Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) finds him and tells him that the dog belongs to him. Bob insists that he is not giving up the dog, and that is when Eric tells him that if he does not pay him $10,000 by the next day for the dog, he promises to kill him, maltreat the puppy again, and do worse to Nadia.

Bob with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), buying stuff for the pitbull puppy, Rocco.

Bob with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), buying stuff for the pitbull puppy, Rocco.

The Drop is a slow-burning, increasingly tense thriller. The film feels less like a Hollywood production and more like a British one due to the gloomy mood throughout the movie’s 106-minute running time. Indeed, if it weren’t for the accents and the design of the houses, one might have mistaken it for a British production due to the constant grim, grey sky and the run down state of the homes in the area. Such features are typical of British productions like Harry Brown, Tyrannosaur and the Channel 4 TV series Top Boy, and enable viewers to feel the brooding atmosphere of a place in which something nasty is going to happen.

One senses that something nasty is going to happen because the area in which The Drop is located in is full of nasty people, ready to do (and cover up) their dirty work. The nasty people are all brought to life vividly by a cast with less than a handful of redemptive features between them. Tom Hardy commands a strong performance in the central role. He personifies the brooding atmosphere of the film with his perpetual frown, and few actors have Hardy’s rare ability to convey so much with just a bland stare.

Of the rest of the cast, Noomi Rapace does a good job with Nadia, even if she does not have a lot to work with other than being low on confidence and insecure. Similarly, Matthias Schoenaerts plays well (and with worrying realism) in his familiar role as a scum bug. At least in Rust And Bone, Schoenaerts’ character had one redemptive feature. In The Drop, his character has none! Yet, none of the characters are as ostensibly interesting as the one performed by James Gandolfini in his final role. Gandolfini’s character, Marv, may not be a nice person. But he is the most layered and complex character in the film and this makes viewers want to see more of him/Gandolfini as, arguably, it is Marv that makes the movie tick.

Nadia, looking good but ditressed with Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) at Cousin Marv's.

Nadia, looking good but ditressed with Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) at Cousin Marv’s.

The setting and the acting are top-notch in The Drop. However, other than those (very important) elements, the film does not have much else to ride on. The plot raises several questions that go unanswered, which is annoying because the questions do not seem especially difficult to answer. Additionally, some of the key moments in the movie take place off-screen, which is again annoying. There is a rule in art: show, don’t tell. That The Drop ignores this rule is its major hindrance as otherwise it is a very solid film.

Over-all, The Drop consists of most things that one could want from a slow-burning thriller. For certain, it has some plot holes that could have been handled better. Nevertheless, the dismal and threatening atmosphere of the film; the gradual rise in tension; and the fine acting of the cast all make the movie thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable. Thus, The Drop illustrates once more that a film with dislikeable characters can still be enjoyed.

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Review – Fury (15) [2014]

Fury - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • David Ayer – Harsh Times, End Of Watch, Sabotage

Cast:

  • Brad Pitt – Snatch, Mr & Mrs Smith, 12 Years A Slave, The Big Short
  • Shia Lebeouf – Disturbia, Transformers I-III, Nymphomaniac I-II, Man Down
  • Logan Lerman – 3:10 To Yuma, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Percy Jackson I-II, Noah
  • Michael Peña – Crash, End Of Watch, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Martian
  • Jon Bernthal – The Air I Breathe, The Ghost, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Sicario
  • Jason Isaacs – Black Hawk Down, Windtalkers, Harry Potter I-VII(i) & VII(ii), Stockholm, Pennsylvania

Music Composer:

  • Steven Price – The World’s End, Gravity

The topic of World War II (WWII) is well trodden territory in Hollywood. Seeing stellar American soldiers gunning down Nazis and ‘Japs’ has been revisited on many, many occasions as Saving Private Ryan, Pearl Harbour, Band Of Brothers, Flags Of Our Fathers, and Red Tails testify, to name a handful. Unsurprisingly, after such a high volume of movies on the topic in the last two decades alone, there is a sterile and samey feel to WWII films, unless a new film adds something unseen to the genre. Alas, Fury does not do this.

Young Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, inside right) joining his crew of tank-men, and being derided for his inexperience by Boyd (Shia Lebeouf), 'Gordo' (Michael Peña) and 'Coon-Ass' (Jon Bernthal).

Young Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, inside right) joining his crew of tank-men, and being derided for his inexperience by Boyd (Shia Lebeouf), ‘Gordo’ (Michael Peña) and ‘Coon-Ass’ (Jon Bernthal).

The film is fictional and begins in 1945. The Allies are advancing into Nazi Germany, and Fury, the name of the tank led by Sergeant ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt), is in one of the regiments leading the assault into the Fatherland. Including Sergeant Collier, the tank consists of a five man crew: Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia Lebeouf), Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal), Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Peña), and newcomer Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman).

As the crew push deeper into Germany, Sergeant Collier takes it upon himself to educate young Ellison about the brutal nature of war and how to deal with it, as the personality of the enemy sinks to ever more depraved levels.

Fury’s premise is simple and the film sticks to it rigidly. Fury has a raw, muddy, and claustrophobic feel to it. One gains a true insight into what it must have been like (and probably still is like) for a group of soldiers inside a tank while fighting in a war. The movie shows how the crew’s situation turns from uneventful to frenzied chaos upon the rippling of a machine gun or the boom of an explosion. Suffice to say, there is plenty of both and all the action scenes are well done.

Sergeant 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt) thinking over a key decision that he has to make.

Sergeant ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) thinking over a key decision that he has to make.

Another aspect of Fury that’s done well is the developing relationship between Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt and Norman Ellison/Logan Lerman. This is because David Ayer’s script is good and the actors perform their roles well, particularly Pitt as the grizzled but caring war-veteran. To Pitt’s credit, in a film which he dominates, he manages to hold viewer’s attention, whether it is with Ellison, the other members of his band of brothers, other American soldiers, or Germans. Pitt’s/Collier’s character is most interesting and revealing when he is teaching Ellison/Lerman about the nature of the Nazi enemy as audiences get to see the complexities in his character.

Yet, as a corollary of Pitt dominating the film, the rest of the non-peripheral members of the cast don’t get enough screen time to illustrate that they are much more than (lazy) personifications of their nicknames. (Nevertheless, they do get time enough to praise Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt. For which film starring Brad Pitt wouldn’t give the supporting cast time to applaud him?) That the other characters are not given adequate screen time is a bit of a shame as the actors all do good jobs with what they’re given; even, shockingly, the much-derided Shia Lebeouf!

Other than Fury being (yet another) glorification of Brad Pitt, the film lacks direction and the storyline does not go anywhere as a result. Arguably, the movie never intends to build up to a climax (although it half does); and, instead, merely goes out to highlight the grisly, ghastly and inhumane horrors of war, merely from the angle of tank crewmen. Yet, if this were the case, Fury does not go far enough. Many criminal elements and horrors of war/WWII are not shown in the film, especially in comparison to the harrowing Schindler’s List and The City Of Life And Death.

What a surprise! Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt takes off his shirt, gives himself a wash, and shows off his abs to put most men to shame. Haven't we seen this before? (Fight Club? Troy?)

What a surprise! Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt takes off his shirt, gives himself a wash, and shows off his abs to put most men to shame. Haven’t we seen this before? (Fight Club? Troy?)

Additionally, Fury lacks depth. There are several occasions when some of the cast talk about criminal acts they’ve committed during the war. They may talk about it with remorse, but no-one ever questions their actions. This renders the scene frustrating because the film misses the chance to explore the moral conscience of each character, and pointless because it means that such scenes have no consequence (positive or negative) on the rest of the movie.

Indeed, frustration and pointlessness sum up Fury. It is a film that has a lot going for it due to a good script; solid acting from all the cast; the a muddy set which enables one to feel what it must have been like (and what it probably still be like) to be inside a tank during war; and the graphic way that warfare is depicted is gruesome and sickening. However, ultimately, the above-mentioned positives of Fury are not enough to satisfy viewers, considering that WWII has been portrayed in films so many times over the last two decades alone. Thus, Fury has the sterile and samey feel of so many other WWII movies which not even the dominant display of Brad Pitt (and his abs) can overcome.

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Review – The Babadook (15) [2014]

Babadook - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  •  Jennifer Kent – Monster

Cast:

  • Essie Davis – The Matrix Reloaded & Revolutions, Australia, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Assassin’s Creed
  • Noah Wiseman – The Gift
  • Tim Purcell
  • Daniel Henshall – The Snowtown Murders, Not Suitable For Children, These Final Hours, Fell
  • Benjamin Winspear – The Last Goodbye, Breeding In Captivity
  • Hayley McElhinney
  • Barbara West

Music Composer:

  •  Jed Kurzel – The Snowtown Murders, Dead Europe, Macbeth

In recent years, the ineptitude of the horror genre has been documented on this blog. The Woman In Black, The Possession and Mama did not induce enough fear into viewers and illustrated, to the point of a rule, that the horror genre has become a joke. Nevertheless, Jennifer Kent’s latest film The Babadook wonderfully proves otherwise and shows that the horror genre still has the power to terrify viewers.

Amelia (Essie Davis) with her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), looking under the bed to make sure that no monsters are there.

Amelia (Essie Davis) with her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), looking under the bed to make sure that no monsters are there.

  The Babadook is a low-budget Australian movie. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a nurse/carer in an old people’s home by day and a single mother the rest of the time. Her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is a difficult child who believes to the point of obsession that he sees a monster (the Babadook) in the closet. He creates improvised weapons to deal with the monster when the correct moment arises. At first, Amelia believes that Samuel’s unusually obsessive behaviour is not an in issue. But soon she realises, to her consternation, that a sinister presence might be lurking in the house…

The Babadook is a brilliant horror film that is sincerely scary. At its core, the movie is about a supernatural being haunting a house in need of renovation. But, amazingly, the movie does not fall into the current horror genre trope of quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet… BANG to quicken one’s heart rate. Instead, in a similar vein to The Shining and We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Babadook messes with one’s instincts and emotions in a very natural and unsettling way.

Amelia reading Sam a book to help him go to sleep. Only, without realising it, she is reading to him the poetry book written by the Babadook.

Amelia reading Sam a book to help him go to sleep. Only, without realising it, she is reading to him the poetry book written by the Babadook.

The director, Jennifer Kent, does this by four means: one, through the use of discomforting poetry; two, through the use of ethereal sounds like thud, dook and the crawl of insects to build tension; three, by creating a situation whereby a mother is as fearful for her child as she is fearful of her child (and his disturbing behaviour); and, four, by inflection by making both the mother and the son, in different ways, look more and more like the Babadook as the film goes on. All four of these factors are executed exceptionally well and ensure that one feels a knot gradually tightening in their stomachs.

Undoubtedly, one would not be able to feel this way if the two lead actors, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, had not put in such strong performances. Yet, at the same time, both actors have been privileged with richly complex, three-dimensional characters. For this, one must applaud Jennifer Kent for writing such believable characters and a brilliantly written script in general.

A page from the Babadook's actual book. The poetry is as fantastic as it is unsettling.

A page from the Babadook’s actual book. The poetry is as fantastic as it is unsettling.

Nevertheless, the script (sadly) does not hold out for the whole of The Babadook’s 94 minutes. Arguably, the climactic scene near the end of the movie veers away from the direction that the film had seemed to be going down for more than three quarters of the film. This is a shame as the scenes near the end feel a little jarring and out of sync with the rest of the movie. In addition, the special effects look amateurish at times, which may undermine the scare element of the film. However, one should not put too much stress on these flaws because that would be to take away what is a delightfully accomplished horror film.

Over-all, The Babadook is a superb and genuinely scary horror movie. As a whole, the film is well-written, superbly acted, and deeply unsettling in a very normal way despite the supernatural element within the film. One might nitpick and say that the special effects are not great. Yet, at a time when the horror genre has become a laughing stock, Jennifer Kent demonstrates with The Babadook that there is more to the horror genre than the base (and boring) denominator of quiet, quiet, quiet… BANG, and that horror films still have the potential to scare people.

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