The Wall

thewallAfter the bombastic bluster of his previous outings, director Doug Liman (Mr & Mrs Smith, Jumper) has dialled things back to create a svelte psychological war thriller that is surprisingly good. It certainly suggests that Liman should investigate this introspective and minimalist brand of film-making more.

Check out the full review on Witchdoctor here.

Logan Lucky

llFive years ago Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11,12,13, Erin Brockovich) quipped “If I have to get into a van to do another scout, I’m just going to shoot myself.”  Well, saddle up Stevo, because your so-called “retirement” has come to an end with Logan Lucky.

Set in Boone County, West Virginia, Logan Lucky resembles an Ocean film but with all the knee slappin’ swagger of a West Virginian bar brawl. The Logan brothers, Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver), cite a family curse for their bad luck.  Jimmy was a promising American football player until his knee blew out and Clyde lost his arm (or hand, as he insists) on tour in Iraq. Determined to change their bad fortune, they hatch a plan to circumvent (quite literally) the local speedway’s cash takings that are being pumped through pneumatic tubes into an underground vault. Unsurprisingly, an explosives expert is required for the heist—the appropriately named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) along with his two brothers. After a comically small deliberation on the morals of carrying out the felony (to get the film’s audience onside as much as themselves), their tenuous plan kicks off a riotous regimen of shenanigans and tomfoolery.

Soderbergh is never one to shy away from peculiar production practices, and here he has turned to an unknown writer (to us, at least) to pen this screwball caper. Credited as Rebecca Blunt, the film’s writer is rumoured to be a pseudonym for Soderbergh’s wife Jules Asner, comedian John Henson, or even Soderbergh himself.

Having produced the Ocean’s triplets (and with one in the oven), Soderbergh’s experience in working with an ensemble cast is clearly evident; here the main cast offers solid performances that embrace the film’s tone. However, Logan Lucky is not without its faults; a few heavy handed stereotypes, some pedestrian moments, and forced cameos from Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, and Hilary Swank, unfortunately derail the film’s momentum and continuity.  There is no doubting that Logan Lucky has a big heart and tries its hardest to be endearing, but it falls a couple of rednecks short of a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.

 

You can see my published reviews here.

A Date for Mad Mary

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A wonderful film.  Link to my four-star review in the NZ Herald here.

Twin Peaks

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Not many took notice of Laura Palmer’s final words in Season Two: “I will see you again in 25 years”, a prophecy that would’ve come true to the exact year, had Lynch not had to wrangle some extra cash from the studio’s bean counters in order to get Season Three done properly. I’m glad he did, and a whole eight more deliciously dreamy episodes than the studio originally envisioned. It stalled proceedings by a year, but hey, at least this time Lynch was able to complete the Twin Peaks story properly.

See the full review at Witchdoctor.

Atomic Blonde

 

abThe name is Blonde, Atomic Blonde. Actually, her name is Lorraine which doesn’t have quite the same zing … but other than that, Charlize Theron’s new role may as well be a female Bond (or perhaps more accurately a female Bourne).

It is 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to collapse, signifying the end of communism in Europe’s East. However, a rogue list naming covert operatives is in the wild and it threatens to halt the pro-democracy movement.  Enter Lorraine Broughton (Theron), a spy for Britain’s MI6 who is sent to retrieve “the list”. Her point of contact in Berlin is David Percival (James McAvoy) and together the two navigate the cagey and violent world of espionage.

Set against a backdrop of graffiti, punks, physical media, and eighties music (including the obligatory Falco and Nena), Atomic Blonde makes damn sure you know it’s the eighties. Cinematographer Jonathan Sela frames the film with a graphic novel sensibility (from which the story originates) and every opportunity is taken to bathe scenes in neon pinks and baby blues.

In his first feature film as Director, David Leitch has employed his background as a stuntman to great effect. Technically there is little to fault the film’s kinetic flair with impressive set pieces and fight sequences that evoke a genuine physicality.

Although we’ve seen this kind of spy story many times over, the film competently negotiates the pitfalls common to the genre; in particular the delicate balance between over or under explaining its many plot complications.  Atomic Blonde’s flashback narrative structure goes some way to alleviate such problems.

Most notably, Atomic Blonde is a comment on the current gender imbalance in spy thriller films (similar to Wonder Woman’s take on the superhero genre). Casting a woman as your protagonist is one thing, but when she excels in what is traditionally a man’s domain, then it becomes a statement. At one point a character who is sympathetic to the old communist regime utters “Women are always getting in the way of progress”—to which Theron’s sharp retort is clearly a rebuke of such antiquated notions.

However, dig a little deeper beyond the style and gender concerns and (like Wonder Woman) we are met with a bog standard genre flick that, while competently handled by its Director, walks a well-trodden path. For some, this will be enough, but others might consider Atomic Blonde to be a little hollow.
 

You can see my published reviews here.

The Big Sick

Film Review The Big SickGood rom-coms have been a rare commodity of late, so the critical success of The Big Sick at Sundance has been a shot in the arm that the genre sorely needed. Thankfully, its critical success is well founded.

Read the full review on Witchdoctor here.

The Dinner

dinnerI’ve been beamed up to the mothership and am now also reviewing for the New Zealand Herald. So, it’s probably more appropriate that I link to my NZH reviews rather than repost.  Otherwise, business as usual. Here is my take on The Dinner:

Having two previous European big-screen treatments — a Dutch film in 2013 and the Italian version in 2014, this American reworking certainly feels like a vegetable side that hasn’t been procured from the chef’s very own garden.  Read the review here.

Dunkirk

dunkirkChristopher Nolan’s Dunkirk remains a giant at the international box office despite entering its fourth week of release. What better time than now to offer a belated review and perhaps offer a pearl of insight not observed by the mountain of glowing praise by other critics.  Well, I’m afraid to report that I have little to add to what has already been said about Dunkirk.  So … sorry if this sounds a bit like a broken record.

It is difficult to find fault in a film such as Dunkirk.  Certainly on a technical level the film is flawless and it’s nice to see director Christopher Nolan putting his unique stamp on a film that, from a historical perspective, deserves special treatment. Anyone who is familiar with Nolan’s work will know that he is a master of fractured storytelling.  Memento, Interstellar, and Inception all have their timelines and locales carefully woven together, giving a satisfying conclusion to their fragmented beginnings. Dunkirk is no different.

It offers a snapshot of the 1941 evacuation of four hundred thousand allied troops from the titular French beach, having been surrounded by “the enemy” (interestingly, Nolan decided to use this term rather than being more specific). The film avoids broader political or tactical concerns, instead offering (as best as it can) a first hand experience of a small collection of players within a triptych of theatres; air, sea, and land—surely a wink to Churchill’s famous “We shall fight them on the …” speech.

Dunkirk opens with a scant supply of visual cues to orientate us before thrusting us head-first into the fray of white knuckled intensity.  With no release valve to relieve the pressure, this film proves to be an exhausting experience.  Planes dive bomb like dragons, and the water is rife with torpedoes, while the seconds slip away on imminent help.  Nolan’s masterful orchestration of sight and sound offer a visceral experience that hits home the intensity of war. A decision to err on real craft rather than CGI has certainly paid off here.

My only quibble would be its limited character development and back story. Although, the film’s modus operandi relegated such luxuries surplus to requirements. After all, any film that makes Harry Styles appear like a seasoned actor must be doing something right.

You can see my published reviews here.

Baby Driver

bdLike all Edgar Wright movies, Baby Driver is a kinetically charged explosion of style. A lively thrill from start to end laced with musical sensibilities. But considering his previous work (Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, to name a couple) this should come as no surprise. He is a restless director who seemingly enjoys turning simple plot-lines into hyper-jazzed feature length films … and he does it so well.

Ansel Elgort is the eponymous Baby. A talented getaway driver forever in debt to a criminal king-pin named Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Baby suffers tinnitus, a “hum in the drum” as the po-faced Kevin Spacey describes, meaning he wears earbuds with a carefully chosen iPod playlist to drown out the constant ringing—a distraction which he finds insufferable. The iPod also provides the soundtrack to his life. He is, in a sense, living in a musical as exemplified in an early scene (that ventures unabashedly into La La Land opening sequence territory) where Baby dances down the street to Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle.

Baby Driver is a fine example of a genre film owing a lot to the crime, heist, and car-chase films of yesteryear.  But its musical sensibilities are what sets it apart in which everything is cut and choreographed very sharply to Baby’s pumping iPod soundtrack. The result provides a modern-retro vibe.  Yes, iPods are now retro (*sigh* … I feel so old).

Elgort’s background in dance is a casting choice that pays off—his sense of movement to the music being vital to the entire movie.  Wright also gets solid (if somewhat predictable) performances from his supporting A-listers. It’s an ensemble cast of pretty big hitters who all seem to be enjoying themselves.  Jon Hamm stands out as a delightfully loathsome Casanova. Fox and Spacey are in fine scenery chewing form, and a twee young-love subplot comes courtesy of Lily James.

By no means perfect, Baby Driver does threaten at times to become an overcooked mess stomping heavily on well-used tropes and pumping out every cliche in the book, but thankfully Wright’s pin-sharp direction keeps things in check. He knows exactly what to do with this material and never loses sight of his audience. Baby Driver is a joy to watch and it’s clear that Wright loves making cinema. This is a pure cinema rush.

You can see my published reviews here.

David Lynch: The Art Life

dlHe is a man blessed with a wild imagination and great hair (his cranial embellishments second only to his kissing-cousin Jim Jarmusch).  An iconic film-maker that has given us enigmatic worlds of fractured logic and narrative ambiguity hearkening back to the surrealists of the early twentieth century (Luis Buñuel, Germaine Dulac, Salvador Dali, et al.).  Mulholland Drive, Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet are just a few of his filmic canon that any cinephile should wax lyrical about … but less is known about David Lynch’s formative years as an artist.

The Art Life acquaints us with the age old conundrum of nurture versus nature, life imitating art or art imitating life, and begins with Lynch declaring; “Every time you do something like a painting, you go with ideas, and sometimes the past can conjure those ideas … even if they’re new ideas the past colours them.”  Documentarian Jon Nguyen uses this assertion as the starting point for his exposé on an artist who belies the dark and sometimes violent nature of his work.

The brooding cinematography of Nguyen’s camera oozes slow tracks and zooms that creep and crawl around Lynch’s tranquil home studio, observing the artist at work, and at times glimpsing the surreal fruits of his labour. We never leave his studio, save for archival footage — it’s a chamber piece that illuminates Lynch’s world of introspection. He explains, “My world was no bigger than a couple of blocks … huge worlds are in those two blocks”. Indeed, for Lynch the devil is in the detail, and here the details are small moments captured with cosmic meaning courtesy of one artist’s solitary mind.

The documentary rummages through the trash of Lynch’s life in a vain effort to find horrific peculiarities and anecdotes that might explain his art’s seemingly dark world.  But in true Lynchian style, conventions and expectations are turned on their head. Instead we are met with stories of house-hold spats, family politics and teenage angst — he is a product of middle America and his upbringing is surprisingly unremarkable. But it presents a striking contrast to his art, and this dichotomy perfectly sums up the enigma that is David Lynch.

Spanning up to where his film career took off, David Lynch: The Art Life is essential viewing for any Lynch fan, but equally rewarding for those simply interested in seeing an iconic artist at work.

You can see my published reviews here.