22 January 2013

Movie Review: Gangster Squad

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 C-

Gangster Squad
2013, 113mins, 15
Director: Ruben Fleischer 
Writer: Will Beall 
Cast includes: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Robert Patrick, Nick Nolte 
UK Release Date: 11th January 2013


Ruben Fleischer burst promisingly onto the scene with 2009’s “Zombieland”, an amusing, cleverly scribed and vibrant pastiche of undead conventions in the horror genre. His latest effort “Gangster Squad” also feels satirically mounted upon viewing, although perhaps unintentionally. Rife with limp characters, dismal dialogue, predictable screenwriting and over stylized action, the picture is a tonally inconsistent joke for most of its duration. No two creative forces appear to be on the same page when it comes to “Gangster Squad”; Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin think they’re making “The Untouchables 2”, Sean Penn is seemingly auditioning for a pantomime and Fleischer himself adopts so many intrusive elements of contemporary action move aesthetic it becomes unbearable. The middle section of the film finds some degree of stability and comfort, but that’s the best which can be said for this bizarre production.
Los Angeles 1949. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is a mobster effectively running the city, using drugs, prostitution and his troop of iron-fisted goons to command total dominance. Though supposedly thought untouchable by the law, the LAPD decide to mount an offensive against Cohen, putting together a team of rogues to halt the gangster’s anarchic reign by whatever means possible. Headed up by determined Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), this off the books mission seeks to disable Cohen’s power at the source, by disrupting drug shipments, invading his establishments and violently dispatching of his employees. However soon the ruthless villain gets wind of the scheme, his malicious streak widened thanks to Jerry Wooter’s (Ryan Gosling) (a member of the squad) liaison with Cohen’s squeeze Grace (Emma Stone).
“Gangster Squad” is a stylistic mess, clearly in thrall to the genre’s previous highpoints, but unable to match them in any shape or form. The production design and setting are crisply envisioned, but Fleischer’s habit of punctuating moments of action with absurdly over the top visual intervention is laughable and contrary to an immersive viewing experience. These are individually cool ideas and pretty pictures in their own right, but the film-maker fails to inject them into his narrative or the rhythm of action with any purpose or point. His fetishistic obsession with slo-mo does “Gangster Squad” more harm than good, especially during the lopsided finale where it is clumsily deployed to hide a lack of invention rather than inject the set-piece with dynamism.
The screenplay adheres to standard genre tropes and boasts a host of despicably poor dialogue. There are lines in “Gangster Squad” that would make amateur writers cringe, and the characterization is non-existent. There are recognisable arcs here (DOA romance between Stone and Gosling, an undercurrent of boxing metaphors) but they aren’t incorporated into the generic story with any care or nuance, robbing “Gangster Squad” of serious genre credential. Tonally it’s flawed, at times the thing seems to be playing as a lampoon, but in other moments the violence and hackneyed attempts at emotional heft suggest a more serious and ambitious desire. Either way, the picture doesn’t balance well, the inconsistencies crossing over into the performances. Gosling and Stone are left gormless thanks to listless scripting, with only Josh Brolin really impressing. As for Penn? Well he’s clearly having a ball, munching scenery like it’s a staple of his diet, but that doesn’t make for a particularly threatening villain. He’s more like a clown than an agent of fear and corruption.
The second act feels more professionally assembled, fighting to attain a skillful mix of flighty relief and harsher reality. It’s in this 20 minute portion that Fleischer builds a modicum of momentum, before sadly letting it all seep away thanks to the joyless conclusion. “Gangster Squad” is a poor start to 2013, and a minor insult to its prestigious genre. You might giggle a few times, but any cheesy pleasure derived from this debacle is likely unintentional.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

15 January 2013

RIP HMV

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As a lover of film in the UK I am very familiar with the brand HMV; a high-street retailer that has been serving lovers of media for just shy of 100 years. Yesterday, word broke that the company had fallen into administration, gift-cards would no longer be honoured and most stock now set to be reduced by as much as 25%. All of these are bad omens for the company, suggesting that the end may very well be nigh for HMV, unless of course, a late, third party buyer swoops in to revive the flailing behemoth. Obviously thousands of jobs are now at risk, and I’m the first to admit the nostalgic musings of this article pale in comparison to the fret employees of HMV must be suffering. I genuinely wish them all the best with their professional futures.

However as a lover of film, it’s the hole that HMV leaves on the high-street which worries me most. Several years ago Virgin Megastores and Zavvi were still big players in the selling of physical media, but both outlets eventually went the way of the dodo, leading HMV as the only mass entertainment specialist around. Of course new releases and a limited selection of classic films and albums have been available at supermarkets for years, but observing the limited titles in an Asda or Tesco doesn’t offer nearly the same appeal as perusing the aisles upon aisles of titles found in stores like HMV. I don’t consider myself a gross consumer, but as a film obsessive having physical copies of movies has always been a crux of mine, and for indulging that whim there were few places more pleasurable than HMV. The HMV in Belfast (a moderately sized outlet and the one with which I’m most familiar) boasted wonderful genre specific stock, encapsulating a wide selection of world cinema, obscure horror and TV to go along with the plethora of more typical fare. They had a well arranged Blu-Ray area well before Hi-Def discs were as mainstream as DVDs, and whilst pricing has always been erratic (I once encountered a copy of Roland Emmerich’s “Anonymous” for £28 on Blu-Ray!), there were always a few bargains to savour. For current and new releases the store was also pretty competitive with its pricing, HMV often just as cheap as its supermarket opposition in this department.

The thing that perturbs me most about its demise is that it signals a serious move in the direction of physical media’s extinction, and the death of casual browsing. Physically being able to rifle through stacks of DVDs has always been more invigorating than simply searching for them online, the surprises and shocks you might uncover playing a large part in the recreational process. When in town or during a lunch break I would often parade into HMV, and roughly half the time I’d guess I bought at least something small to add to my collections of movies, music or books. Of late their impressive Blu-Ray sale had been a particular thorn in my wallet’s side, but over the years I’ve spent a considerable amount of time and money in the store. I did this because I find it fun but also because I’m a believer in the appeal of physical media; the aesthetic pleasure from seeing shelves stacked with things providing a certain geekish delight. Friends and family can inspect your collection, criticising and praising it in equal measure, stimulating mass movie love as a result. I don’t imagine people are going to be quite so open about the content on their hard drives, yet it appears that’s the direction commercial art and culture is headed.

In won’t blather on much longer, but I feel that HMV has played such a large part in my growth as a film lover that commenting on its current dire state would be remiss. I hope the company finds some sort of future (chiefly for the security of its employees), so that film lovers the UK over don’t lose the communal appeal of buying and browsing movies together. Unfortunately for films fans, it seems our days of doing so may now be numbered.
 
An article by Daniel Kelly, 2013

8 January 2013

This Week in Movies - 08/01/13

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Life of Pi (2012) - B+

Ang Lee's visually lush castaway tale looks stunning, and muses quite effectively on the power of faith in the process. It's engaging, and despite one of the main characters being a digital tiger, cultivates an interesting character dynamic with which to weave its peculiar spell. Technically fabulous and considerably more profound than most mainstream fare.

Hitchcock (2012) - B+ 

Inventive and ambitious biopic that takes chances, even if they don't always pay off (jarring dream sequences being the main offender). Examining the period in Hitchcock's life where me made "Psycho", "Hitchcock" takes particular interest in many of its inspiration's odd habits, fetishes and his rocky relationship with spouse Alma. The cast, namely Hopkins and Mirren as the leads, are fantastic, and unlike most modern biographical pictures it is tightly paced. The look of the picture is polished, and there are some nice little tidbits for Hitchcock fans to delight in.

Rise of the Guardians (2012) - B+

Surprisingly fluid and entertaining fantasy adventure, which takes a pretty thin central idea and manages to morph it into sharp popcorn fare. The voice cast (particularly Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny) are the highlight, but the strong animation, action sequences, active sense of humour and appealing central message all add nicely to this amiable cocktail. Further proof that DreamWorks are a studio on the up, "Rise of the Guardians" surpassing the last few Pixar efforts quite comfortably. Even in 2D, the film is a visual treat with enough spectacle and pomp to satisfy most demographics.

Billy Madison (1995) - B+

How you feel about "Billy Madison" is probably a perfect gauge for your overall opinion of Adam Sandler as a performer. The story co-scripted by Sandler finds the comedian at his looniest and most immature, the results certainly surreal. Personally I find the feature to be a laugh a minute gas, not put together with any finesse by director Tamra Davis, but filled with enough imagination and frenzied merriment to fill several comedies. A tolerance for jokes that revolve around bodily fluids, bizarre non-sequiters and childish buoyancy is advised, but if you can stomach the work's manic tone, then you're likely in for a good time. However few movies underline the subjectivity of the comedy genre quite like this one.

I Am Legend (2007) - B

As a science-fiction film in its own right, "I Am Legend" is actually pretty good. As an adaptation of Richard Matheson's seminal novel, it falls somewhat short of the mark. Will Smith gives one of his most accomplished turns as Robert Neville, the last man on Earth, desperately seeking a cure to the virus which has turned the rest of humanity into nocturnal monsters. Director Francis Lawrence wisely transplants the action to New York, taking full advantage of the city's emptiness; expert shot selection, creative production deign and sharp cinematography all mixing to display perfect world-building. The first two acts are also enjoyably atmospheric, taking particular fascination in Robert's daily rituals, his relationship with canine companion Sam and the tension that can be wrung from enemies lurking in the dark silence. It's the concluding arc that troubles this feature, the picture introducing new underwritten figures, and happily relying on average action for its penultimate thrills. The ending also invents a new meaning for the title, as opposed to the much more poignant message the book carried. An alternate finale included on the DVD addresses the original central themes more clearly, albeit is less suited to the film itself. "I Am Legend" might have found more love on its own terms, by drawing attention to a classic piece of literature it only exacerbates its faults. Still, for the solid opening hour, staggering production design and impressive Smith performance "I Am Legend" is probably worth a watch. The movie was a substantial box-office success and a sequel has been in pre-production since 2008.

Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2013

3 January 2013

The Danland Awards - 2012

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They’re here! The 2012 installment of the Danland Awards. There’s not much to say, other than listed below are some of the best (and occasionally worst) achievements in film over the past year. Seeing as I have already compiled both best and worst of lists, there is no category for Best Picture or Worst Picture. They are now moot points. I have also decided to omit animated film from this year’s proceedings, as I only saw a few, and none of them were overly impressive (“The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists” would have won had I chosen not to delete the category). Everything else is much the same. Enjoy. BOLD DENOTES THE WINNER. 

Best Actor

Liam Neeson – The Grey
Jake Gyllenhaal – End of Watch
Michael Fassbender – Shame
Seann William Scott – Goon
Matthew McConaughey – Killer Joe



Best Actress 

Meryl Streep – Hope Springs
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Charlize Theron – Young Adult
Naomi Watts – The Impossible
Kara Hayward - Moonrise Kingdom 



Best Supporting Actor

Tom Hardy – The Dark Knight Rises
Robert De Niro - Silver Linings Playbook
Ezra Miller – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Michael Fassbender – Prometheus
Bruce Willis - Looper








Best Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt – Looper
Anne Hathaway – The Dark Knight Rises
Olivia Thirlby – Dredd
Juno Temple – Killer Joe
Judi Dench – Skyfall 






Best Ensemble Cast

The charming mix of kids and superstars in Moonrise Kingdom
The bitchy egotistic superheroes of The Avengers
The panic-ridden hostages and stoic Affleck of Argo
The zany crew of Seven Psychopaths
The knowingly frightened teens of The Cabin in the Woods 



Best Comedic performance by an actor

Adam Sandler – That’s My Boy
Mark Wahlberg – Ted
Sam Rockwell – Seven Psychopaths
Channing Tatum – 21 Jump Street
Sacha Baron Cohen – The Dictator 


Best Comedic performance by an Actress

Emily Blunt – The Five-Year Engagement
Amy Adams – The Muppets
Ari Graynor – For a Good Time, Call…
Kate Beckinsale – Total Recall
Selena Gomez – Hotel Transylvania  


Most annoying/worst/who cast this fucker performance by an actor

Justin Theroux – Wanderlust
Diego Boneta – Rock of Ages
Oliver Cooper – Project X
Ciaren Hinds – Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Chuck Norris – The Expendables 2 


Most annoying/worst/ who cast this fucker performance by an actress

Tara Reid – American Reunion
Cody Horn – Magic Mike
Rosamund Pike – Wrath of the Titans
Tara Lynne Barr – God Bless America
Violante Placido – Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance 




Most annoying/ worst/ who cast these fuckers performance by an ensemble

The reprobates of Project X
The entirety of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
The cast of War Horse flailing worthlessly with a god-awful script
The unfunniest supposedly funny cast of all time in The Watch
Anybody who isn't Tom Cruise or Paul Giamatti in Rock of Ages 


Best Director

Ben Affleck – Argo
Chris Nolan- The Dark Knight Rises
Joe Carnahan – The Grey
Josh Trank – Chronicle
David Ayer – End of Watch









Best Original Screenplay

David Caspe - That’s My Boy
Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard -The Cabin in the Woods 
Rian Johnson - Looper
Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan -Shame
Wes Anderson - Moonrise Kingdom





Best Adapted Screenplay

Jonathan Nolan & Chris Nolan -The Dark Knight Rises
Joss Whedon - The Avengers
Chris Terrio - Argo
Joe Carnahan & Ian Mackenzie Jeffers -The Grey
David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook 







Best Cinematography

The Grey
Life of Pi
Skyfall
Prometheus
The Dark Knight Rises 







Best Musical Score or Soundtrack

Hans Zimmer - The Dark Knight Rises
Thomas Newman & Various Artists - Skyfall
Marc Streitenfeld & Various Artists -The Grey
Danny Elfman &Various Artists - Silver Linings Playbook
Howard Shore - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 


Best Editing

The Dark Knight Rises
Skyfall
Life of Pi
Dredd
Jack Reacher 





Best Special Effects

Life of Pi
Ted
Prometheus
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Avengers 


Best Production Design

Life of Pi
Total Recall
The Woman in Black
Skyfall
Dredd 



Best Costume Design

Moonrise Kingdom
Magic Mike
Men in Black 3
Wrath of the Titans
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 





An Article by Daniel Kelly, 2012










1 January 2013

The Best Films of 2012

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2012 has for the most part been a pretty good year in Film-Land. Listed below are my favourite pictures from the year gone by. I hope you enjoy and have yourself a very merry 2013. This is also a great opportunity to thank all of my readership. It humbles me to know that anybody cares enough about my opinions to read through this garble in its entirety. Take care, stay safe, but most importantly, keep watching movies.

Honourable mentions: Skyfall, The Avengers, Moonrise Kingdom, Goon, Killer Joe

10. End of Watch
Dir: David Ayer

Strong police procedural drama which uses the found footage gimmick inventively to detail a grisly L.A backdrop. Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal are phenomenal as a pair of cops targeted by a major drug cartel. The action is well stitched together and purports an appreciatively organic sensibility, but it’s the full-blooded and intelligently detailed human component at the picture’s core which makes it so striking.




9. The Cabin in The Woods 
Dir: Drew Goddard

By far the lower grossing Joss Whedon effort of 2012, “The Cabin in the Woods” is nonetheless the best thing he was involved with. Flipping our perspective on contemporary American horror (and its creators), “The Cabin in the Woods” manages to stimulate vast amounts of energy and humour in its pursuit of satire. It works as a horror picture too, but the real joy in digesting this jigsaw puzzle of a picture is through the juicy dialogue and intelligent manipulation of genre tropes. The film holds up well on a rewatch too, a bevy of smaller but equally pleasing details and jibes emerging from beneath the entertaining forefront. Wildly inspired and pleasingly respectful of its viewership.

8. That's My Boy
Dir: Sean Anders 

For shame. “That’s My Boy” was roundly grilled by critics, appearing on numerous bottom 10 of the year lists. This is understandable. Its raunchy, irreverent, taboo slaying sense of humour will have overpowered some, but for me the product is a goofy joy. Adam Sandler looks to be enjoying himself, and the surrounding cast appear equally at home in this adorably absurd hunk of filth. I laughed a lot. I mean a lot. It’s not big or smart, but boy, does it have comedic stamina and imagination to spare. It has also stuck long in the memory, something very few studio comedies do these days. I respected “Ted”, but for me “That’s My Boy” is hands down the funniest, dirtiest laugher of 2012. 

7. Shame
Dir: Steve McQueen 

Not the first example of the UK release calendar screwing me over, although it's just the first of two on this list. I understand most readers will consider “Shame” a 2011 film, but we in the UK didn't get access until January 2012. As a result here it is. I won’t write too much, but I will highlight that it is a harrowing, involving and devastatingly powerful examination of addiction. Michael Fassbender was more deserving of the Oscar than any other performer last year, the Academy seemingly not evolved enough to reward a turn of raw intensity that also features some penis action. Tremendous stuff, although not for the easily perturbed. 

6. Dredd
Dir: Pete Travis 

Probably the year’s most pleasing surprise. Streamlined, gnarly and phenomenally entertaining interpretation of the famed comic-book law enforcer. Karl Urban works wonders under a helmet for 90 minutes, giving a vocal and physical turn of thunderous impact. The action is creative, coherently shot and vigorous. For simple thrills and edge of your seat carnage, “Dredd” was as good as 2012 got. 



5. The Muppets
Dir: James Bobin 

Again, I’m aware "The Muppets" is a 2011 movie, but the UK got it late. Much like “Shame” it feels pointless to waffle on about “The Muppets” unduly, largely for fear of seeming dated, but suffice to say the picture was an uplifting and hysterical gift. Literally people on suicide watch should be granted a copy of this flick on Blu-Ray, it’d be far more cathartic than any medication. It’s just pure, unbridled happiness from start to finish, a fantastic ode to some of cinema’s most lovable rogues. 

4. Argo 
Dir: Ben Affleck 

Ben Affleck managed his third home-run as a director with “Argo”, a brilliantly realized account of the Iranian hostage situation which unfolded under the Carter presidency. Acted flawlessly by a gifted slew of talent the film is by turns tense, affecting and even funny. A very complete picture and possibly Affleck’s most mature work to date. It also feels very aesthetically and historically real in its presentation, a sense of claustrophobia gripping the frames of the picture magnificently. A deserved favourite for many of this year’s awards. 

3. The Grey
Dir: Joe Carnahan

I liked “The Grey a lot when I first saw it, but further viewings have only cemented my love of this philosophical gem. Featuring 2012’s best performance courtesy of Liam Neeson, the film blends survivalist thrills with existentialist overtones skillfully, debating the values of love and faith, with a pack of bloodthirsty wolves haunting the edges of the feature. The final scene is heartbreaking and represents courageously ambiguous film-making from Joe Carnahan, who finds a reassuring comfort with the material. That this is from the same guy who made “The A-Team” is pretty astounding. 

2. The Dark Knight Rises 
Dir: Christopher Nolan 

Batman came back in 2012 and he was awesome. Not everybody will agree with me, but I found Chris Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” to be a fitting and richly rewarding finale to the now classic trilogy. The blockbusting was great, but Nolan managed to wrap everything up neatly, showcasing staggering film-making capability and storytelling economy en route to the memorable finish. Tom Hardy also achieved the impossible, he for the most part filled Heath Ledger’s tragic vacuum as the villainous Bane. It may be a slightly controversial choice, but I was enthralled by the feature and far preferred it to the admittedly fun “The Avengers”. 

1. Silver Linings Playbook 
Dir: David O. Russell 

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are very impressive in this gorgeous version of Matthew Quick’s novel, a film ripe with emotionally damaged individuals and pulsating currents of sensitivity. Dealing with themes like mental illness and heartbreak is never easy, but the picture manages it with such effortless honesty and bravado that it’s impossible not to be hooked. “Silver Linings Playbook” held me in a state of total investment for the duration, tapping into a groundswell of adult emotions along the way. As memorable as it is beautiful. 

An article by Daniel Kelly, 2012