‘Stoker’: Review

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Stoker has a goddamn weird make-up of in-front of and behind the camera talent. Park Chan-Wook’s English-language debut, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, written by Wenthworth Miller, yes that dude from Prison Break, and starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman and Dermot Mulroney. ALRIGHT. I really wanted to like this more than I did, not that it’s really all that bad, but it’s a pretty average and by the number film if not for some great visual flourishes.

There’s attempts to make something beyond your whole “incest” themed and weird familial relationship thing, but it never truly manifests. It does everything it tends to pretty averagely. The acting is good all around, but never pushes into that next level to make me actually remember anything. It’s a soap-opera in a turn of words, in that it explores the relationships of these people in such close quarters with each other and how that so crazily reflects off of them.

Where the film feels pretty normal on its storytelling front, its visuals attempt to help the film along and provide an alternate and deep viewing on what the film is beginning to portray. It’s disparaging when the content is so mediocre, but the visuals around it are so much better and attempt to mask what the base part of the film is presenting.

 

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‘Only God Forgives’: Review

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Off the heels of Drive which looking back split a lot of people, mostly due to his violence, but one that I enjoyed quite well, another Gosling/Refn combo film seemed like something that wouldn’t fail to entertain. A spiritual in-tone sequel, Only God Forgives ends up being exactly what critics of Drive thought it to be. It’s focused so heavily on shock value that it overshadows anything else that possibly could make the film great.

Refn seemingly only knows how to direct Gosling as a mute who fights and kills to get anything across. I know he thinks it’s honourable and cool to have a silent assassin type, but it eventually just becomes trite and more of a parody than something you can actually take seriously. Kristin Scott Thomas’ character is the exact same as Gosling, but instead of violence I’m supposed to taken aback by her choices of words and phrasing. Refn is basing all of our reaction to this character by us being shocked when a   50+ year-old woman says something like “cum dumpster.” It, of course, doesn’t work at all and is very laughable at how bad it is.

There isn’t much to take from this positively, I guess the fight scene(s) are fine for what they are if short and anti-climactic. Anything “thought-provoking” that Refn is obviously striving for never resonate and it all remains a schlock mess of a B-movie. It’s a shame that such a film had to succumb to this and fall to such depths.

2.5/10

‘Kick-Ass 2’: Review

Kick-Ass 2

I enjoyed Kick-Ass enough when it came out in 2010. It was a cool twist on the superhero genre that was just really becoming monumental then, and was a nice diversion. Working off two fronts, being an alternative to the soft PG-13 comic book movies, Kick Ass was crude, violent and had a pre-teen girl saying “cunt.” Also, it played off of that couple months when everyday people dressing up as superheroes and fighting “crime” was all the rage.

To put it simple, the sequel is a fine enough follow-up, but really wholly unnecessary. Kick-Ass was fun, and in theory a sequel was thought to be enticing, but never really built off anything from the first film, or expanding the universe in any great detail. It’s a serviceable film, ie. it’s not bad, but largely forgettable in only really attempting to ape the first film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is really perfectly cast, and does some nice stuff here, but again it’s largely a retread of everything covered in the first film.

I think the biggest problem with the film is its handling of Chloe Grace Moretz and her Hit-Girl character. The break-out star of the first film was quite obviously Hit-Girl, the foul-mouted eleven-year-old, who kicked ass and killed men three times her age in the most brutal way possible. She was fun and was a nice shock to the system in a character we’ve never seen before. This time around she was given absolutely nothing to do, and really just seemed to exist in the film just to have her exist. She was given some stupid b-plot about her being forced to co-exist with stereotypical “popular” girls in high school, that was pointless, went nowhere and had no bearing on the film other than just to fill time.

Really the film is fine in what it intends to do, shock and awe in the comic book genre in something that isn’t a family-friendly affair. It does that, it entertains, but it’s really just a carbon copy of its average predecessor.

6/10

‘Behind The Candelabra’: Review

Behind The Candelabra

I always just knew of Liberace as that sequined piano player from way back when. Of course, as I and people nowadays know him as a gay icon and often a punchline for that type of humour. But, as the film portrays, it’s fascinating seeing how in the 1970s he was obviously gay, but made sure to the nth degree that the public didn’t know that, and that he kept up appearances as a straight man. Obviously, back then it would have been a killer to his career, and the danger and threat of AIDS wasn’t even a thought in people’s minds.

Not knowing really anything about Liberace, I can only understand how he was to a certain degree, but Michael Douglas portrayed him perfectly to what I imagine he was like, or at least played to how we view him. It’s almost scary how good Douglas is in the role, inhabiting him so expertly that it was often off-putting when he showed off his eccentricities and plying into Matt Damon’s character. Damon is equally great as what ends up being Liberace’s boy toy, a troubled individual who learns to love fame when attached to Liberace and all the spoils that come with it.

It’s a common narrative we’ve seen before, especially in bio-pics, Damon is the hot, young thing that is unsure of all this attention, but eventually embraces it, almost to an unhealthy degree. He gets comfortable, and a little too steadfast in his position. Then he realizes he’s more expendable then he ever thinks, and is so easily replaced, much to his chagrin. We’ve seen this before, but the framing of the story and the acting that delivers it makes it feel like it’s the first time we’re seeing it.

Soderbergh’s directing isn’t flashy, it hardly ever is, but’s it’s competent and confident like always, and often lets the story play out rather than try and enhance it unnecessarily through camera tricks. There is one scene in particular that stands out, Douglas and Damon are walking through Liberace’s lavish house as Damon complains they don’t get out and do stuff together, Soderbergh’s tracks them through the house, showing off the incredible luxury and prominence these men live in.

I think largely Behind The Candelabra is successful because it’s consistently interesting and explores a topic that few know all that much about. I always knew of the man, but never really understood who Liberace was and Soderbergh, Douglas and Damon paint a perfect picture.

8/10

‘Trance’: Review

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It’s funny watching Trance within a half-day of watching Side Effects because before sitting down to watch them I’d always get the two confused. They are both a mystery shrouded smaller film from seasoned veterans who have done it all in the business. I even started thinking about the directors in relation to each other, jokingly referring to Danny Boyle as the British Steven Soderbergh. Now, I’m probably reaching, but there are definitely some similarities between the two. Both are great obviously, with Boyle being more visual and Soderbergh more precise in the editing and cutting. Both have touched on sci-fi with Sunshine and Solaris, both have bio-pics in 127 Hours and Erin Brockovich, both have “zombie” movies with 28 Days Later and Contagion, both have commercial successes in Slumdog Millionaire and the “Ocean’s” movies. There’s really not a point to this, just an observations of some parallels drawn between two of the best directors of our generation.

So, Trance is kind of a mind-fuck of a movie. I knew it had to do with some heist, but wasn’t anticipating exactly how it would all go down. Telling from the title, hypnosis is used frequently throughout by Rosario Dawson in order to try and get amnesia-stricked James McAvoy to remember where he stashed a stolen painting. Vincent Cassel’s character is the robber who stole the painting, and remains the catalyst who forces him to undergro these sessions to try and get him to remember the location. Things spiral out of control with everything becoming more confusing as layers get placed on top of already dense layers. We see someone put into a “trance,” and we see their visions and what they believe to be reality and what this trance causes them to thin. As the film moves on it’s constantly cloudy to whether we are seeing reality, or are still in the vision of someone’s trance, seeing things that do not truly exist in that way in the real world.

It’s hard to keep track of all these happenings, as once the film hits a certain clip it’s just endless twists and turns that demand you to pay attention or else you’ll have no clue what the hell is happening, and why people who were seemingly dead are still alive. Double-crosses, triple-crosses, addiction, intertwining relationships, the film packs a lot into a pretty simple base plot, and complicates everything and flips previous norms. Without spoiling anything, the film deals heavily with relationships as one of its themes, what they mean, how they break down, what happens when you revisit them under different circumstances. It’s a nice sidewinder to the film and helps give it some substance.

I’m pretty sure I understood it all and worked it out, that said the climax was hilarious and had me laughing out loud. The realm of reality is twisted quite often in the film, and a touch is fine, but when your climax is laugh-inducing, that’s not the best sign. Also, Rosario Dawson is full frontal naked in this movie, and I’m praying that her body wasn’t altered by a computer or something, because that thing looks like God’s masterpiece. Thank you, Danny Boyle.

7/10

‘Side Effects’: Review

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Steven Soderbergh does his impression of a Hitchcock film. I can’t think of any better words to see or type. You know what I’m talking about, an unravelling set of circumstances and misfortunes bellies a person or people, intersected through others by murder, sex and corruption. Hitchcock made a career out of it, and really nobody did it better. That’s what I like about Soderbergh, and especially the modern day version of him, he’s out to try any genre of film or do whatever that interests him, even if it’s not in the mold of what he’s done before, that’s why he’s so great. Going from Che to The Girlfriend Experience to The Informant! to Contagion to Haywire to Magic Mike and now to Side Effects, they’re all such a vastly different type of film, but set to provide a whole new set of challenges for Soderbergh.

Side Effects isn’t at all interested in keeping you in the dark, even for a film that relies on twists and revelations to alter the information you have been receiving since the start of the film. It never teases out a reveal, once you as the viewer become aware of the twist and have suspicions, it lays everything out on the table, something that in other movies would be a last act reveal happens a half to two-thirds of the way in and fundamentally changes how each character acts and how you view that character. It’s not a film about tricking you and trying to pull the wool over your eyes, but one that knows all its tricks aren’t left solely up to how and if a twist will work on you.

Jude Law is great at shifting into the differing roles that the film demands of him as the story progresses. At first he’s an uptight and emotionless psychiatrist dolling out pills, later when he gets involved in a murder that he’s tangentially linked to and dragged further down he becomes unstable and unhinged in trying to find out the true motives behind everything, and then once he discovers the truth behind everything he develops a cool confidence that helps him try and extract revenge. Rooney Mara is perfect as a spaced out patient, since Rooney Mara in person seems kind of spaced out to begin with, and always has that look about her that she knows more than she’s letting on. Catherine Zeta-Jones does provide the weakest link in the chain, always seeming stiff and fails to create the menacing tone she’s sometimes asked to give, but she’s in a small role that doesn’t irk the flow of the film.

I don’t bring it up enough, or frankly often forget, but Steven Soderbergh is one of my favourite directors of all time, so much so that I even took a university class on him once. He has such odd sensibilities and clashing interests that when he decides on a film, whatever it may be, you know it’s going to be memorable, whether it’s a straight-up action movie, a remake of a Russian classic or a drama starring a porn star. Suffice to say, I’m very much enjoying his retirement.

7.5/10

‘Pain & Gain’: Review

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So, I guess Pain & Gain is Michael Bay’s one for him, after doing the Transformers movies all these years. He wanted to do a smaller film, and compared to his others it is, but it definitely still feels like a Michael Bay film. Sure, there might not be as many explosions, but you still get your share of exploitation, women in skimpy clothes, women naked, fast cars, drugs and chase scenes. It’s not to say that that automatically makes the movie bad, but saying this is a completely off the beaten path for Bay is just not true.

It’s obvious what kind of story Bay is telling. One that Americans like to beat over the heads of everybody even though the concept of it nowadays is dead and buried, no matter if they’d like to admit it or not. I’m talking about the American Dream, that great idea that everybody wants to be a great American. The land of opportunity! Home of the free! Everybody wants to be rich and successful, but, hey, wouldn’t you know there’s always the threat around each corner of everything tumbling down around you.

Heightened every so much more when you’re dealing with three dumb bodybuilders who couldn’t even fill out the paperwork to buy a house, let alone rob one. So, basically Michael Bay gets to tell his American Dream story about how great everything is, his “serious” message, under the guise of old Bay haunts of action, loud noises, exploitation and just a general sense of brash. Some of it works, actually a great deal more than I expected, especially the first act of the film which sets up nicely the characters and the direction they head in so far over their heads. Where it falls apart is the latter events of the film, where it falls back into ridiculousness and attempts to be a comedy of outrageousness over anything else.

6.5/10