30 April 2013

Movie Review: Identity Thief

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D+

Identity Thief 
2013, 111mins, 15
Director: Seth Gordon 
Writer: Craig Mazin 
Cast includes: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet, Jon Favreau, Robert Patrick, John Cho 
UK Release Date: 23rd March 2013


There’s no reason that “Identity Thief” couldn’t have been a rollicking farce. Its premise has potential, its director’s last film (“Horrible Bosses”) had pedigree and the central pairing of Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy sounds like a sure thing. However strutting into the fray comes screenwriter Craig Mazin (“The Hangover: Part 2”), a gentlemen with a less than stellar track-record in the genre, happily maintaining his professional standards with “Identity Thief”. The script starts as tolerable goofball fodder but degenerates gradually until an obscenely maudlin climax, with a great deal of ugliness and lack of laughter characterising what’s sandwiched in-between. Bateman and McCarthy are trying, bless ‘em, but they can’t compete with the dumb jokes and film-maker Seth Gordon’s laden sitcom touch.

Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is a loving family man with decent aspirations in the job-market, until he’s arrested for failing to show up at a court date in Florida. It quickly transpires that Sandy has had his identity and a hefty chunk of money stolen by con-woman Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a gregarious fraudster who spends her pilfered winnings on booze, make-up and swish electronics. With the Denver PD refusing to act unless Diana is in their jurisdiction, and with his job on the line, Sandy decides to make passage to Florida and bring the criminal back himself.  Unfortunately when he locates Diana, she’s less than co-operative, and what’s more has a bevy of thugs looking to exact a more violent style of revenge in tow.

I was a huge fan of Gordon’s last film, 2011’s wonderfully twisted “Horrible Bosses”, but it seems any edge that picture possessed wasn't on its director’s instruction. “Identity Thief” is a bland gambit, much more akin to Gordon’s drab festive comedy “Four Christmases”, reminding us he hasn't always been a guarantor of high quality. His direction is static and unremarkable, failing to do much of any interest with the visual palette, something “Horrible Bosses” achieved with creative aplomb. That movie utilised a bevy of interesting sets, crazy onscreen text and smash-cuts to up its raucous atmosphere. By comparison “Identity Thief” might as well be a modestly budgeted TV affair. There’s just no distinction in its visual appearance whatsoever.

McCarthy and Bateman are fine and hold a reasonable chemistry, but both their characters are pathetic. McCarthy’s Diana is in particular a vile creation, deceitful, arrogant and deluded, a sociopath with no understanding of the world around her. Yet despite this Mazin’s dull script expects us to sympathise with the robbing jerk (namely on the back of a forced monologue in the final act), “Identity Thief” arriving at the conclusion that thievery and inconsiderate social etiquette are acceptable if you had a tough childhood. Maybe a better writer might have been able to pull this dubious message off, but Mazin certainly doesn't have the dramatic chops for the job. The man struggles to sell a selection of easy fat jokes and tawdry innuendos, so sophisticated tales of redemption are probably overstretching his abilities a tad.

A couple  of jokes land during the predictable road-trip hubbub, although  it would almost be impossible to craft a film in which Jason Bateman’s wry way with dialogue or McCarthy’s enjoyable physicality didn’t stimulate some mirth. However these instances of viewer g ratification are few and far between, “Identity Thief” eventually losing all focus to deliver an extraordinarily artificial and sappy denouement. I could say the bizarre moral stance is the movie’s most heinous crime, but I’d be lying. If the first two thirds had delivered even a handful of solid belly-laughs I would probably be pushing “Identity Thief” as a mild recommendation. However it doesn’t, so I won’t .The fact it just descends into sour, sickening treacle is merely the icing on the cake. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

27 April 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

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B+

Iron Man 3
2013, 130mins, 12
Director: Shane Black
Writer: Shane Black 
Cast includes: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall
UK Release Date: 26th April 2013

After last year’s “The Avengers” conquered the global box-office and geeky hearts everywhere, the next phase in Marvel Studios pursuit of world domination was always going to be prompt. “Iron Man 3” kicks off this new movement with confidence and style, helping to alleviate most of the problems that plagued 2010’s patchy but not-awful “Iron Man 2”. That sequel initially impressed with its razzmatazz and a dependable Robert Downey Jr., but repeat viewings have shown it up as a fairly hollow and semi-rote entry in the studio’s catalogue. Jon Favreau is wisely replaced in the director’s chair by Shane Black for this latest slice of Stark madness, the former darling of the action genre bringing a surging and deeply enjoyable identity back to proceedings. “Iron Man 3” benefits from Black’s wonderful way with dialogue, understanding of actors and some surprisingly cracking action, ensuring that audiences are left hankering for further comic-book sourced shenanigans. Given how saturated that niche market has become over the past 5-years, it’s quite an achievement on Black’s part that “Iron Man 3” feels so fresh and natural.

Following his daring act of heroism in New York, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has begun experiencing panic attacks and crippling fits of nervousness, turning to mechanical tinkering and professional obsession as means of escape. This places strain on his relationship with partner Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and buddy Rhodes (Don Cheadle). When criminal mastermind The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, absolutely stealing the show) begins bombing American territory, Stark challenges the villain, only to be quickly bested, isolated and left without his arsenal of toys and equipment. Going back to basics, Tony begins to suspect that slick scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) might be involved with The Mandarin’s violent scheming, using a volatile experimental military treatment to deadly effect.

“Iron Man 3” feels tonally separate from the Jon Favreau pictures, Black favouring a retro aesthetic for his spin on Stark. It’s no secret that Black shot to prominence with his witty, playful scripts for actioners like “Lethal Weapon” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight”, old-school vehicles which underlined intelligent wordplay, distinctive atmospheres and ferocious set-pieces as cornerstones of their DNA. “Iron Man 3” replicates these fascinations, everything from its weird Christmas setting, small-town narrative detour and truly varied arsenal of villains suggesting that with a new film-maker comes a new era. In this case the change of pace favours over the top bombast and laughter to extreme levels; more so than its predecessors “Iron Man 3” unfolds like an outright action-comedy, and with Black’s skill in this arena so undiminished, fans should be more than fine with the development.

The cast are absolutely electric, virtually everybody doing their best work of the series so far. Whilst Jeff Bridges’ nefarious work in 2008’s “Iron Man” is certainly worth remembering, the cocktail of Kingsley and Pearce outstrips him, the pair finding a wonderful balance of menace and comedic exuberance.  Kingsley in particular is phenomenal, blending alongside Black’s twisty character developments with utter assurance and unfaltering comprehension of the material, allowing for some truly marvellous exchanges between him and Downey. The leading man struts with his usual swagger, but also brings commendable vulnerability to the table this time around, largely through believable bouts of neuroses and an undying affection for Paltrow’s steely Pepper Potts. The actress certainly seems to be having a blast, finally allowed to partake in the chaos, upgraded from bystander to full-blown first lady of Stark Industries. It’s a very human and engaging turn from a performer often guilty of skipping such pulsing thespian sensibilities.

The set-pieces simultaneously manage to avoid repetition whilst embracing spectacle, Black proving a dab hand at the big budget action stuff. There’s an energy and coherency to his edits that is always appreciated, but his ability to provide viable stakes keeps the excitement levels palpable. He doesn't go for excessive CGI or digital bravura, instead the wonder of the blockbusting moments arise from skilled camerawork and the fate of characters we genuinely come to care about.  There’s as much fun to be derived from a low-fi siege on The Mandarin’s hideout as there is in the explosive decimation of Stark’s abode, Black mixing the money-shots with humour and a tangible human touch. The standout is probably a sequence in which the title character rescues an assortment of folks from the airborne wreckage of Air Force One, a hugely entertaining sequence that fully illustrates the creative potential of Black’s vibrant vision.

One could criticise the picture for featuring a femme-fatale too many (Rebecca Hall is underused and watery as a squeeze from Stark’s past), an abundance of faceless henchmen and a few languid spots in its sizeable 130 minute runtime. But ultimately when the frantic finale begins to unfold you’ll be sufficiently enraptured, leaving minor deficiencies to wilt quietly away. “Iron Man 3” concludes with a satisfactory bang and gratifying note of logical character progression, coating the promise of further installments with legitimate intrigue.  It’s a tremendously fun endeavour, and gets 2013’s summer season off to a promising start.  

 A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

18 April 2013

Movie Review: The Evil Dead (2013)

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B+

The Evil Dead 
2013, 91mins, 18
Director: Fede Alvarez 
Writer (s): Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues, Diablo Cody, Sam Raimi (1981 screenplay "Evil Dead") 
Cast includes: Shiloh Fernandez, Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore 
UK Release Date: 18th April 2013

It’s become an unavoidable but forcibly tiresome process seeing the horror classics of old retooled for 21st Century audiences, the attraction of watching hacks desecrate icons of the past with vacuous visual polish and tone-deaf tedium not one I’m inclined toward. There have been a few bright spots (the last major one being 2011’s flamboyant “Fright Night”), but generally these rehashes sully the memory of horror cinema’s legacy, running legendary fiends like Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger into suffocating tombs of cinematic incompetency. 1981’s “The Evil Dead” certainly wasn’t screaming out for a makeover, to this day it retains the ability to impress and terrify with mischievous relish, but having original director Sam Raimi on-board as a producer for this 2013 remake provided a spark of hope. Against all odds “The Evil Dead” is a kinetic and relentlessly entertaining horror joyride, capturing the spirit of its predecessor without much hassle, whilst confidently peppering proceedings with a few neat tricks of its own. Incoming director Fede Alvarez keeps the momentum cracking and the blood spouting at geyser-rate, but thankfully this creepshow is more than a mere pageant for dismemberment and possession. It kind of has a soul folks.


Mia (Jane Levy) has been having severe drug-problems since the passing of her mother, so much so that a group of friends led by sibling David (Shiloh Fernandez) decide to stage an intervention at an isolated cabin from their youth. Arriving, they find the property in ramshackle condition, but more worryingly they uncover indications of supernatural devilry, including an eerie book filled with warnings and bizarre incantations. As Mia struggles with the delirium and stress of going cold turkey, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) examines the ancient text, unwittingly unleashing a nasty demon in the process. It quickly takes control of a delicate Mia, forcing her into acts of violence and aggression against her friends. As the night moves on and the danger deepens, it becomes increasingly obvious the only way to defeat the ghoul is through disposing of Mia and any others wounded by its toxic grasp.

“The Evil Dead” has a little more going on narratively in 2013 than back in 1981, a touch that hasn’t served the remake fad particularly well. It’s become common practise for film-makers to revise these once frightening tales with an unnecessarily probing hand, a sort of sympathy for the devil angle which drains the life from the haunting protagonists. Fortunately the additions made here are more measured, Mia’s quest for sobriety bringing an extra element of complexity to the piece, setting a dour mood from the getaway and fuelling some legitimately weighty character interactions. The young cast (aside from an outstanding Levy) do a pretty perfunctory job in their various parts, but the screenplay at least allows them to think with human emotion and act with believable panic. Some of the scenes between Fernandez and Levy are particularly stirring, forging a relationship built on abandonment, mistrust and a burning quest for interior redemption. Their pursuit of a clean conscience is a nice mirror to the purification of the demon threat attempted later in the picture, the spirit acting as a strong metaphor for narcotics and guilt in equal measure. “The Evil Dead” is a movie that thematically examines the notion of absolution from past sin, something which separates it from Raimi’s less densely arranged cavalcade of scares.

Technically the feature is a wonder, armed with gory special effects and moments of cringe-inducing pain, it’s not hard to understand why the film had some censorship issues with the MPAA earlier this year. Alvarez doesn’t pull a single punch, consistently pumping up the tension before unleashing a suitably horrible moment of torture or destruction. Blood squirts with almost unstoppable abandon once the expository stuff is dealt with, the film-maker even going so far as to mimic a few infamous sequences from the original trilogy of movies. What’s surprising is to register how disturbing Alvarez’s recreations are, one moment involving a tree (the initiated won’t need any further clues) is burningly intense, and conducted with the unflinching eye of a director who wants his audience to squirm. It’s deeply unsettling, but in the best way possible, as too are the various acts of vicious violence that define the rest of the picture. It’s a visually hostile creation, but one that powers forward with cracking immediacy, never allowing viewers to slow up and fully adjust to the harsh brutality being served up.

Leaving aside the very first scene, the film doesn’t flirt with CGI too much, leaving practical gore and fearsome make-up to make a remarkable splash. Stylistic choices such as this coupled with the film’s tangible human core actually gift “The Evil Dead” with a certifiable identity, a facet most horror remakes lack with almost deliberate ignorance. It helps that Alvarez understands the importance of atmospheric cinematography, suggestive sound-design and bombastic musical accompaniment (the score by Roque Banos compliments the savage imagery marvellously), but chiefly I’m thankful the film-maker exhibits a set of massive balls. There aren’t many mainstream horror flicks that would even attempt to get away with the crimson soaked theatre of horror depicted here, but to actually deliver it with such bravura is another thing entirely. “The Evil Dead” is courageous Hollywood cinema and a rare pleasure for genre fans on the prowl for something with a bit of edge.

Of course comparisons to the original and its sequels will be rife, a battle which no remake can really hope to win. However I imagine that Raimi invests his involvement here with a sizeable amount of pride, this new creation delivering thrills, spills and a catalogue of physical horror very much in his own spirit. For me, that’s more than enough reason to recommend it.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

16 April 2013

This Week in Capsule Reviews - 16/04/13

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Good Vibrations (2013) - B

Northern Irish production impresses mightily for two thirds of its run-time, before delivering a last act riddled with loose ends and rose-tinted frustrations. Richard Dormer is fantastic as Terri Hooley, the unofficial god of Northern Ireland's punk scene, finding quirks, charms and naturalistic faults in this well-meaning but often confused man's ambitions. The picture looks great, cribbing from the Shane Meadow's visual textbook in its use of stock footage, creating a genuine atmosphere of a country in turmoil amid the personal drama. Unfortunately the mature and balanced story which engrosses for about 70 minutes gives way to a breezy and rushed conclusion, leaving several narrative question marks up in the air, overlooking the numerous misdeeds of Hooley in favour of total glorification. None the less, it's an entertaining biopic.

Taken 2 (2012) - C

Less xenophobic and morally dubious than its predecessor, but equally lacking in the energetic charge which allowed that picture to launch big at the box-office. Bit of a catch-22. Liam Neeson puts in more effort than expected on this second go around the terrorist thrashing roundabout, and whilst the genre cliches and tropes are stacked high, the picture at least cracks forward with agreeable momentum. Completely forgettable but less egregious than its reputation suggests. A steadier hand in the editing suite would have been much to the film's benefit however.

The Hunt (2012) - A-

Authentic drama in which an innocent school-teacher is labelled a pedophile by a child. As the falsely accused main character Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic, churning out understated torment and suffering with tragic honesty. The film looks and sounds nice, but it's the uncomfortable mood, harsh truths and stunning performances which power it toward greatness. Both the story and supporting characters are complex, with a variety of layers and perspectives offered in order to enhance the feeling of absolute confusion engulfing both a man's mind and the social sphere he inhabits. Compelling, engrossing and extremely thought-provoking. A sophisticated and intelligent example of film for adults.

Michael (2012) - B+

Gripping and restrained look at several months in the company of a pedophile and the 10 year-old he keeps locked in his basement. The film establishes the viewpoint of an unnamed onlooker, quietly letting not much of anything unfold around it for 95 grueling minutes. We see the man (portrayed excellently by Michael Fuith) go about his daily tasks, enjoy a moderate social life and experience success in work, all the time mistreating a child in the most horrific way imaginable. The fact he generously feeds, interacts and presents gifts to his hostage only humanizes the protagonist and makes the picture's organic reality even more unsettling. Very well made, but only recommended for those made of tough stuff. An interest in the muted aesthetic of Austrian cinema would also be a bonus.

Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2013

12 April 2013

Movie Review: Oblivion

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A-

Oblivion 
2013, 126mins, 12
Director: Joseph Kosinski 
Writer (s): Joseph Kosinski, Michael Arndt, Karl Gajdusek 
Cast includes: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Melissa Leo
UK Release Date: 12th April 2013


Joseph Kosinski was last seen helming 2010’s “TRON: Legacy”, a curiously belated sequel which sizzled with visual invention and rich production values. The picture wasn’t a sure thing for Disney, and several years later its middling receipts still posit some question marks, but the film’s slick appearance and style confirmed Kosinski to be a film-maker worth keeping tabs on. With his sophomore effort he keeps the ball rolling, giving us “Oblivion”, a sci-fi mystery based on his own unpublished graphic novel, laced with the same whizz-bang sheen as “Legacy”. It’s a more confident and assured picture than his detour into the Grid, chiefly because Kosinski grips his characters with a much firmer hand here, ensuring they don’t get lost within his gorgeously mounted wasteland. Having an old pro like Tom Cruise take leading man duties only empowers the picture further, happy to be an introspective patron of Kosinski’s crafty playground.

60-years ago Earth was attacked and invaded; the moon decimated as a consequence, the planet left scarred and uninhabitable. Most of the population have migrated to moons orbiting Saturn, but some are employed to stay behind, a security team tasked with destroying the rest of the alien menace and to protect the harvesting of Earth’s remaining fuel. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a tech-expert, patrolling non-radiated areas and repairing defence drones, whilst his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) oversees the action from a computer terminal, receiving updates and orders from HQ in the sky (voiced with uneasy familiarity by Melissa Leo). Protocol insists that all security members undergo a mind-wipe before active duty, but Jack is still haunted by visions of a life prior to the war, a life he can’t have led. Whilst undergoing his daily routine, Jack uncovers a crashed cargo of mysterious humans, including a recognisable face, Julia (Olga Kurylenko). Perplexed both by the newcomer’s appearance and the hostile nature of the security tech toward her, Jack is left confused and disturbed, especially when an underground resistance group of humans (including Morgan Freeman) reveal themselves, insisting that everything isn't as it seems.

Universal have done a fine job of keeping the secrets of “Oblivion” under-wraps leading up to release; so far be it from me to undo their good work. Instead of cultivating tropes of its own, “Oblivion” contently plunders ideas and themes from a bevy of other genre works, ranging all the way from the literature of Richard Matheson to the quiet beauty of “Wall-E”. What’s surprising is how effectively this works, especially given that the feature delivers a third act high on both momentum and satisfactory explanations. The screenplay also applies far more consideration toward character than most of its peers, delivering at least three complex and engaging personalities. Watching them spark off each other, riddle out eerie answers and muse on the past’s mysteries is compelling, providing “Oblivion” with a distinctly humane and mature tone. If your problems with “TRON: Legacy” stem from a lack of palpable character identification, then “Oblivion” sees Kosinski correct his previous misstep with startling adeptness here.

“Oblivion” benefits hugely from a reflective and slow opening, leaving the significant action beats until Kosinski has underlined the piece’s mournful atmosphere. Photographed and designed with a stunning eye for scope and understated beauty, the film’s apocalyptic earth is a scorched and silent paradise, oozing desolate tragedy from every expertly arranged frame. The purpose of existence and the yearning for home are strongly implied through the gorgeous cinematography and Cruise’s dependably naturalistic performance, possibly one of his most measured. Without overselling the melancholy, Cruise finds deep sadness and a myriad of questions in Harper’s eyes, fulfilling the emotional requirement of the piece fully. Riseborough is also an utter joy, melding an unwavering adherence to protocol with a genuine adoration of her companion, a character enslaved to both her work and the love she feels for a lost soul. It’s the touches like this that allow “Oblivion” to elevate itself into the realm of genuinely heartening fantasy film-making.

The middle act aggravates occasionally because vital answers are kept locked down until the conclusion. This provides the finale with plenty of bite to go with its lavishly produced boom, but means patience is essential in rendering the second act rewarding. Kurylenko is solid as the serene ghost of Jack’s past, their burgeoning romance allowed to slowly evolve with legitimate intimacy and warmth. The resistance element on the other hand unfolds much more in the nature of a plot mechanic, spurring Jack’s mission of self-discovery without bringing to the table much of its own accord. Having a charismatic head like Freeman gifts this tangent of “Oblivion” with sufficient credibility, but this lugubrious sci-fi belongs to nobody else other than Cruise and his ladies. They’re the pulse within this magnificently articulated canvas of hopelessness; everyone else is simply a pawn.

Much like “TRON: Legacy” the musical score is worthy of note, Daft Punk being substituted for M83 on this occasion. The melodies are suitably unusual but incredibly impressive, the unorthodox composer rattling up lashings of loneliness and frightening poignancy in the picture’s soundscape. Kosinski clearly feels that films need a more distinctive sound than the traditional compositions of Hollywood, and based on the work here and elsewhere in his directorial catalogue, he might just be right.

The set-pieces are coherently directed, although most of Kosinski’s time seems to have gone into world-building, the sequences of drone combat echoing an indisputable simplicity. That said the climax packs a righteous punch, the director bringing viewers into a world even spookier than his flagellated earth, seasoning his whirlpool of intrigue with a cathartic finish. “Oblivion” isn’t particularly original in conception, but in execution it’s breathlessly picturesque and credibly involving. I look forward to whatever Kosinski unleashes next, because within him the potential for striking artistry simmers with gentle certainty.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013


9 April 2013

Movie Review: Spring Breakers

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C

Spring Breakers 
2013, 94mins, 18
Director: Harmony Korine 
Writer: Harmony Korine 
Cast includes: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, James Franco, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson 
UK Release Date: 5th April 2013


I can’t really see many people leaving “Spring Breakers” having enjoyed it in any traditional sense of the word. The film is a stylised experiment in screen excess, stunt casting and shock value, director Harmony Korine fashioning a debauched tale with a curious art-house tweak. Mainstream audiences will be confounded by the picture’s unique tonality and seeming lack of plot, left to soak up some overpowering visuals and the mania of a niche film-maker off his leash. There’s a degree of interest to be accrued from the very existence of the piece, and at times its exploration of conscience and hedonism are perceptive, but there’s little pleasure in an experience which coasts so shamelessly on hollow storytelling, scrappy structure and obvious attempts to stir charmless controversy.

Bored of their repetitive college existence, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine), Brit (Ashley Benson) and religious Faith (Selena Gomez) plan to hit up the annual Spring Break festivities in Florida, only to later run afoul of insufficient funding. The three less morally directed members of the group decide to knock over a diner in order to gain the necessary monetary difference, the girls carrying out the job with ruthless precision and a penchant for meanness. Before long they’re on their way to party central, where booze, narcotics and the pleasures of the flesh allow for exhausting downtime. Eventually the law catches up with them, but to their rescue comes shady gangsta-type Alien (James Franco), a criminal who sees potential in this gaggle of uninhibited young women. Bringing the girls into his grotty underworld and wowing them with acts of selfish bloodshed and greed, Alien snares some of the gang displaying his distinctive definition of the American Dream. Faith on the other hand is less convinced.

“Spring Breakers” suggests several clever ideas and themes, but never successfully merges them into a satisfying motion picture. Watching Faith (portrayed astutely by standout Gomez) battle with her Christian beliefs in a bid to find herself is dramatically engaging, but Korine quickly forgoes this exploration of moral obligation in favour of focusing on the spiral of chaos triggered by Alien’s arrival. True, Franco’s turn is suitably insane, but once he stumbles into the frame “Spring Breakers” finds itself stuck at a narrative crossroads. Sadly for my money it takes the wrong turn. Faith is expelled (clearly a metaphor for the final shreds of conscience possessed by the leads), allowing an overt visual celebration of material gain by whatever means to dominate. It’s honestly hard to work out what Korine’s stance on the characters is, including Franco’s despicable Alien. He shepherds “Spring Breakers” down an avenue of gunfire and sex which gives the picture an undeniable visual whizz, but leaves it curiously short of point, purpose or impact. There are junctures where the feature appears close to saying something of worth, but too often these flourishes are drowned by the unfocused hand of the director and his obsession with tricky, experimental camera-work.

Characters are painted in shades, but that’s so obviously the point that I can’t criticise the film for it. The script is interested in exploring a generation’s state of mind more than it is in essaying any particular individuals, allowing the girl’s fascination with money and partying to take centre stage. “Spring Breakers” exists in some parallel world where people’s viewpoints and actions drastically alter between cuts, where consistency in character is an unnecessary luxury. Korine simply uses his sultry leads to try and convey sweeping commentary on today’s fascination with self-destruction and corruption of the soul in pursuit of fun. The snappy dialogue allows for some intermittent victory in this arena, but the lack of a firm stance come the film’s finish is distracting. Maybe it’s entirely for you to make up your own mind, but Korine’s refusal to assert himself leaves the picture feeling incomplete and empty.  

It’s a brave picture in so much that no act of sexual suggestion, nudity, substance abuse or violence is too much, its superficial need to shock underlined via Korine’s use of Disney icons in core roles. “Spring Breakers” certainly pushes away from the mainstream technical rulebook, Korine plastering the picture with a distinct polish and perspective, splitting up timeframes and utilizing unsettling sound design to strong effect. “Spring Breakers” is very much its own entity (a key reason why it is likely to be rejected by those simply looking for trashy titillation), but it leaves no discernible taste in the mouth bar one of jarring confusion. I completely respect Korine for attempting something different here, but while his attempt to challenge multiplex culture looks the part, it comes depressingly lacking in substance. Maybe it’s punishment for the crowds lining up to bask in the glory of bikini-clad beauties or to see James Franco celebrate his straight-pimpin’ existence, a practical joke that ensures Korine and his ex-Disney beaus get the last laugh. Maybe. Or perhaps it’s just an addled mess with occasional touches of intrigue and dynamism. That’s for you to decide.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

8 April 2013

Movie Review: Trance

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A-

Trance 
2013, 101mins, 15
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer (s): John Hodge, Joe Ahearne 
Cast includes: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani, Matt Cross
UK Release Date: 27th March 2013


“Trance” is a deliberately pesky feature from director Danny Boyle, a trippy, mind-fuck of a motion picture as committed to bamboozling as it is delivering entertainment. Boyle’s last few films (2008’s overrated “Slumdog Millionaire” & 2010’s adequate “127 Hours”) have lacked the genre sparkle of his very finest works (I’m thinking “Trainspotting” & “28 Days Later”), “Trance” appreciatively bringing some of that previously absent magic home. A tolerance for mental aerobics is advised before digesting this twisty psychological thriller, but if “Shutter Island” and “Inception” rate amongst your favourite flicks of recent years then “Trance” should distinguish itself as one of 2013’s tastiest treats. It’s certainly nice to have Boyle back where he belongs.

An art dealer with a severe gambling problem, Simon (James McAvoy) decides to help criminal Franck (Vincent Cassel) nab a priceless Goya during auction, in order to satisfy mounting debts. When the painting vanishes mid-heist and Simon is left with a concussion, the gangsters come knocking, convinced their forgetful accomplice has the key to the art’s location. Franck quickly establishes that Simon’s amnesia is very real, enlisting the help of hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson). As Elizabeth begins to paw through Simon’s damaged memories she finds an unstable but intriguing man, a bond beginning to form between the two much to Franck’s chagrin. With time pressing forward and mysteries coming to the fore with startling regularity, the trio are forced to face some harsh truths and frightening surprises in order to recapture their loot.

Visually “Trance” is everything you could want from a Danny Boyle effort. The British film-maker has long been known for his unique style and distinct editorial quirks, used perfectly here to convey the messy headspaces and false mental realities the narrative tramples through.  Regular collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle blends inner and outer consciousness together with true artistic flare, embracing Boyle’s frenzied camera movements by lacing the picture with an ethereal glow. “Trance” is a rich picture to witness even on a surface level, consistently finding inventive and fearsome ways to communicate visual information. It has a tangible atmosphere; that of a traditional British crime thriller mixed with something flightier and increasingly dreamlike. It may sound like Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” but Boyle and Dod Mantle have a unique touch, a lavish polish of their own. Any familiarity is purely suggested by premise.

McAvoy is dependably sympathetic but wrangles up a sterner streak when the picture demands it. “Trance” isn’t overly interested in assessing the past of its numerous scoundrels, instead Boyle is much more caught up in the significance of the here and the now. This allows the picture to keep its revelatory secrets hidden with satisfactory ease, but to also explore the fundamental basics of the human mind. “Trance” uses sex, memory and greed to gently manipulate its viewership and define its characters, helping the hypnosis-fuelled head mania to retain at least a thematic simplicity. The plot demands attention, its many curves and intricacies warranting focus in order for the story to resonate, but the fuel for its fire is refreshingly simple. The human mind is a combustible thing, an organ which seeks to protect and gratify above all else. This over-arching thesis supplies the film with a jumping off point for its tantalizing journey.

Vincent Cassel is more restrained than usual, which is both a negative and a plus. I like the French actor when he’s emoting like hell, hamming it up to drastic effect, but such firepower would look out of place here. His turn is restrained and unselfish, providing the film with perhaps its most level-headed and grounded presence. Not something you can write about much of the actor’s other work. The brightest star is Rosario Dawson, wielding her femininity with a quiet power, daring audiences to pigeonhole her as either good or evil. She underplays every sequence with unnerving confidence, forging strong and vitally brave physical rapports with both leading men. By its very DNA “Trance” won’t trouble the Academy next year, they have little use for such brazen fare, but Dawson’s poised and elegant work here equals that of any actor in Boyle’s recent awards-baiting work.

“Trance” scuttles off in a variety of directions come the violent finish, using visceral human emotion, tight camerawork and horrifying sound design to keep things moving at a gripping clip. There is of course a major twist (much more thought provoking than the usual superficial third act trick) and a degree of independent puzzle-solving to be considered. There’s an ambiguity at the end, a mixing of realities that perfectly highlights the heady cocktail Boyle has created. It’s a deft and effortlessly exciting feature with a clever film-making fingerprint to help steer it toward greatness. You won’t see many better thrillers this year, I guarantee it.

 A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

7 April 2013

Roger Ebert - 1942-2013

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Ebert before his long-term struggle with Cancer. He was diagnosed in 2002 and has now passed away, aged 70, in 2013

It would be remiss not to pen a few words on the passing of Roger Ebert. He was after all the granddaddy of contemporary film criticism, and along with similarly deceased bedfellow Gene Siskel, a pivotal figure in moving criticism into the public consciousness and away from its stuffier, academic legacy. He was an ardent lover of films and a terrific writer, communicating excitement, passion and cultural dexterity in all of his pieces, displaying a thorough and accessible understanding of the art form to which his professional career was dedicated. Ebert passed away mere days ago, On April 4th 2013. The internet has been thronged with deserved memorials and cute anecdotes from a variety of famed sources, but most touching is the amount of love simple movie fans are lavishing upon the man. The number of people confessing that Ebert’s televisual criticism enabled them to harbour an appreciation of film is staggering; certainly it’s the accolade America’s favourite critic would take most to heart.  Of course he had his fair share of tangible benchmarks as well, he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and in 2005 became the first cinematic journalist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That many celebrated and gifted artists have yet to attain such honour only emphasises the importance of Ebert to the industry. His absence will be keenly felt.

 For me Ebert was one of the first major critics I enjoyed any sort of exposure toward, his reviews and star-ratings always worth digesting before making any major filmic decisions. Of course, as time passed and my own personal tastes refined, I found myself disagreeing more and more with Ebert. However his work was always to be read and considered, his infectious admiration of cinema and fluid prose providing as much enjoyment as many titles he reviewed. Ebert also holds a special place in my heart because he was a critic who actually wrote scripts. He blurred the line between artist and observer, a border that in the age of internet forums and fanboy balderdash has become increasingly firm. He understood movies because he took the time to try and write them, which is truly commendable.  He also remains the only dude on the planet (bar me) who thought “The Omen” circa 2006 was an improvement over the original. For that alone, I thank him.

I hope the projectors don’t conk out in the afterlife, and heck, he made the right move to call it a day before the release of "Grown Ups 2". I guarantee they don’t have that in heaven. 

An article by Daniel Kelly, 2013