Baby Driver

Directed By: Edgar Wright
Written By: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm

Few filmmakers demonstrate baby-driver-postersuch a command of the cinematic artform as Edgar Wright does with Baby Driver, a wondrous symphony of romance, violence, vitality, funk, comedy and untethered imagination. Wright, a cinephile of Scoresesian proportions, grants every tool of the medium its own time to shine: the wowing stunt work seen in the film’s many car chases, the endlessly creative application of music (not just background noise, the music maps the action), the director’s trademark sudden burst editing, smooth and seamless photography (the film’s opening credits are accompanied by a herculean long take that would make Robert Altman’s eyebrows raise), a brand of dialogue which finds Continue reading “Baby Driver”

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Directed By: Jon Watts
Written By: Jon Watts, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei

Watching Spider-Man: 20170706091137!Spider-Man_Homecoming_posterHomecoming, I found myself resigning to the fact that when it comes to comic-book blockbusters, derivative, overblown action sequences are a strict inevitability; something this type of film must feature if it is to fulfil its spectacle, popcorn friendly mandate. Upon reflection however, this isn’t so. Consider Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and the first mono-e-mono showdown between Batman and Bane—the scene is stripped bare; there are no explosions, no swirling camera movements, no thunderous score. The scene is quiet, visually legible, still. There’s an intimacy there. By honing in more on the participants in the action rather than the rubble they’re Continue reading “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Okja

Directed By: Bong Joon-ho
Written By: Bong Joon-ho and Jon Ronson
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ahn Seo-hyun, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Giancarlo Esposito

The opening scene of Bong Joon-hokja-postero’s Okja sees a slideshow performed by Lucy Mirando, head of the agrochemical Mirando corporation (played by Tilda Swinton), in which she details her company’s plan to grow and develop, via all-natural means, the world’s first batch of super pigs. There are 26 super pigs, each will be assigned to a farm inhabited by a different culture for a period of 10 years, with the healthiest and most handsome super pig being paraded and showcased before it’s eventually dissected and fed to the world’s starving masses. The scheme is an attempt to recoup Mirando’s image which has been tarnished through a non-specific history of cruelty during the tenures of Lucy’s father and sister. The “all-natural” part is a lie, and the presentation Continue reading “Okja”

Kedi

Directed By: Ceyda Torun
Cinematography By: Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann
Starring: Sari, Gamsiz, Psikopat, Deniz, Bengu, Aslan Parcasi, Duman 

There are two key successes to kedi-film-poser+2Ceyda Torun’s Kedi (English translation Cat). The first is its endlessly rich sense of time and place. I have never been to Istanbul, but after seeing Kedi, I might have. The film is a documentary which takes place in the aforementioned city, a dockland area rife with cafés and delis and industrial districts. There is a faint air of melancholy in Torun’s love letter to her home, gesturing that Istanbul’s unique magic will soon be eschewed for a denser metropolis, but never is Torun cynical or bitter. Rather, its affection that soaks the director’s vision. There’s pride in the way she swoons through Istanbul’s bustling cityscape, homing in on the everyday folk Continue reading “Kedi”

Cars 3

Directed By: Brad Fee
Written By: Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich
Starring: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Armie Hammer, Nathan Fillion

Just how disappointing Disnecars_three_ver6y Pixar’s latest feature Cars 3 is, and just how effective the film is as a piece of storytelling, aren’t reflective of one another. The film itself is innocuous, even sporadically pleasant, marred largely by an uncharacteristically safe and tepid narrative from its reliably bold creators. The disheartenment stems rather from the scent of corporate, moneymaking cynicism which can’t help but linger over the production. Perhaps we’ve been spoilt by Pixar in the past, Hollywood’s chief critical darlings of the animated world for the past 20 years—this, after all, is a studio which has time and again affirmed itself as a beacon of imagination, vitality, and artistic ambition since its debut feature in 1995. Continue reading “Cars 3”

Despicable Me 3

Directed By: Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda
Written By: Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy
Starring: Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker

Two films and a spinoff in, and Tdm3-adv1sheet-rgb-5-58c818a68f809-1he Despicable Me franchise has established such an indominable storytelling bedrock that the series is virtually bullet proof; intoxicating madcap energy, irresistible cuteness; sincere goodwill; and the trustiest comedic aid in all of cinema, those incorrigible little minions.

The latest film under the Despicable banner, Despicable Me 3, checks these core boxes, and as such, is never less than inoffensive, chucklesome family fun. The more unfortunate reality for such a resonating, megahit franchise (boasting the highest grossing film in Universal’s 100 plus year history) is that its latest instalment strains to be more than inoffensive, chucklesome family fun.

DM3 is too evidently a sequel Continue reading “Despicable Me 3”

Wonder Woman

Directed By: Patty Jenkins
Written By: Allan Heinberg (based on the comic book character by William Moulton Marston)
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis

It takes 75 minutes before C_kA36TXgAAyKf_we see Gal Gadot appear as the quintessential Wonder Woman we’re all familiar with in full flow; 75 minutes before we see the famed red top, blue shorts, gold tiara combo in combat. It’s difficult to recall a comic book film from recent times that has that same level of patience. The first that comes to mind is Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, a movie which has always appeared to be an art film masquerading as an action blockbuster. Not-so-coincidentally, Nolan’s Dark Knight films are also the last truly worthy DC inspired movies—the last, that is, until now.

The story of Wonder Woman Continue reading “Wonder Woman”

20th Century Women

Directed By: Mike Mills
Written By: Mike Mills
Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, Billy CrudupHO00004115

Speaking in a Q and A in 1995, Roger Ebert pined for more movies that used dialogue for the sole purpose of being pleasurable to the ear, dialogue that sought simply to be interesting and insightful, rather than serving purposes strictly pertaining to the advancement of storylines. Undeniably barren in plot, but rich in character and interaction, Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women is the sort of film Mr. Ebert might have once upon a time clamoured for— tirelessly intriguing to listen to, endlessly engaging to watch, and compulsively watchable.

Within his screenplay, Mike Mills has crafted a way of speaking that is as arresting and cinematic Continue reading “20th Century Women”

Belated Roger Moore Tribute

 

Sir Roger Moore of course passed away on the 23rd of May at the age of 89. Moore is undoubtedly best known  for his portrayal of James Bond, he was the most prolific of all Bonds in fact– 7 films he appeared in between 1973 and 1985, beginning with Live and Let Die and concluding with A View to a Kill.

I must plead ignorance: I don’t wish to diminish Moore’s career to his performances merely as Bond, he compiled a comprehensive body of work throughout his years in film and television– prolific not only as Britain’s favourite spy, but as a performer in general. It is as James Bond however that I personally know him best, and I am not just any Bond fan I assure you. I am an out and out Bondphile. Watching 007 go about his ludicrous business in ludicrous style are my eroger_moore_james_bondarliest movie viewing experiences, with Moore’s light and easy films in particular acting as my gateways into cinema. I pride myself on being able to list all 24 Bond films in chronological order inside of 13 seconds, why I know I can do this shan’t be disclosed here.

“Nobody does it better” Carly Simon now poetically piped 40 years ago for The Spy Who Loved Me, Moore’s third Bond venture. It must be said, Roger Moore didn’t have the greatest screenplay’s to work with when it came to Ian Fleming’s super-spy. A tenure that began with a grittier narrative than we had been exposed to previously through the likes of Sean Connery and George Lazenby, Moore’s debut in Live and Let Die relayed the story of a heroin dealer and adopted a blaxploitation flair, as opposed to offering the standard tale of a megalomaniac lunactic pursuing conquests of global dominance via utterly absurd means. This was of course a short lived trend, as later in Moore’s Bond filmography we would get a professional hitman with a superfluous nipple trying to harness the power of the sun, a gazillionaire attempting to destroy the world and rebuild it beneath the sea, a gazillionaire attempting to destroy the world and create a master race via space, and a genetically engineered Russian super-agent played by Christopher Walken (I have reason to believe this is Walken’s real life backstory) conspiring to corThe-Man-With-The-Golden-Gun-Christopher-Lee-as-Scaramanga-and-Roger-Moore-as-James-Bondner the microchip market by flooding Silicon Valley.

And yet, Simon’s lyrics are as much a reflection of the Bond character as they are of Moore himself. It’s difficult to say unequivocally who the best Bond is, given how the series has evolved over its 50 plus years, but what can be said for sure is that Roger Moore got more out of the material he was given than he had any right to, and it’s impossible to imagine any other performer getting more out of the Bond scripts put forth between 1973 and 1985 than he.

How did Moore do it? He did it by picking up on the lunacy of the Bond character and championing it with buckets of charm, an underlying aristocratic/gentlemanly allure, a tongue firmly planted in his own cheek, and by forever shooting a sly wink down the barrel of the camera. In interviews, Moore is always quick to highlight the comical conceit of James Bond, a spy who is not only recognized by everyone he meets, but a man whose favourite drink, favourite catchphrase and weapon of choice are innate information to all. All you have to do is ask and British spy– 007 James Bond– will tell you his name in no uncertain terms: “The name’s Bond, James Bond.” Moore exploited all of this beautifully, and was always magnetic in doing so. Oddly, Moore was older when he took the reigns of the Bond character than Connery was when he retired from it, but Moore was undeniably fresh and uniquely energetic throughout his stint. In short, he was a great Bond, and whether he was the very best Bond or not, it is certainly true that nobody did what he himself did with the character, any better.

Reviews of Roger Moore’s Bond films here

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Directed By: Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg
Written By: Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Geoffrey Rushpirates_of_the_caribbean_dead_men_tell_no_tales_ver21_xlg

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a series of animated contradictions. Rushed yet stagnant, overstuffed yet vacuous, colourful yet drab, riddled with plot and yet completely uneventful.

In the beginning, a young boy named Henry Turner hurls himself into the ocean, weights fixed to his boots as he attempts to board the spectral Flying Dutchman, captained by his father Will (Orlando Bloom). Will, you may recall, is forever bound to the ship following the events of At World’s End. Henry is successful, and he informs his father of a plan to liberate him from the Dutchman, a plan revolving around the mythical Trident of Poseidon, a treasure capable of eradicating all the sea’s curses. Will denies the existence of any such Trident, but Henry vows he will save his father, declaring he will acquire the helping hand of Jack Sparrow if need be.

We then skip forward 9 years. Henry (now played by young Aussie star Brenton Thwaites), is slaving away on a British Royal Navy warship that is in pursuit of a pirate vessel. The chase leads the warship into “The Devil’s Triangle”, a cursed portion of sea occupied by the undead inhabitants of the Silent Mary, a Spanish ship captained by Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) who devoted his life to hunting pirates. Henry is an aficionado of the sea’s curses, and thus he warns his fellow crewmembers of the dangers of the Triangle, only to be labelled a mutineer and locked in the ship’s cellar. Of course, Henry’s concerns are validated. The zombie like Salazar and his undead cronies board the British warship and kill all in sight, all except Henry who Salazar instead tasks with delivering a vow of revenge to Sparrow, a man with whom Salazar has a score to settle. It is only now, remarkably, after two encounters with the supernatural, multiple bouts of exposition, the lapsing of a decade, and one mass murder, that we reach the opening title maxresdefaultcard.

Post title card we meet Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) a bold and self-sufficient young lady with a penchant for science; a keen brain on all things horology and astronomy which leads to her being labelled a witch. Carina too is in search of the Trident, and she teams with Henry. Only she can decipher “the map that no man can read” via her knowledge of the stars, a map which apparently will lead her to the mystical treasure.

Henry and Carina unite with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp bringing his once Oscar nominated creation to the screen yet again), this following an attempted bank heist by Sparrow and his crew in which they literally heist an entire bank to no reward, which leads to Jack being abandoned by his crew, which leads to Sparrow being arrested, which leads to Jack’s crew re-joining him, which leads to the film’s obligatory execution escape scene. Somewhere along the line it is contrivedly shoe-horned into the screenplay that Jack’s magical compass, when betrayed by its owner, brings about that which the owner fears most. This in turn allows Salazar and his crew to leave the Devil’s Triangle and sail the seas, which they do to great havoc.

Whilst this is all going on Geoffrey Rush reprises his role as Captain Barbossa. He volunteers his services to Salazar and promises to help him track Sparrow in exchange for Salazar not destroying Barbossa’s fleet. Barbossa has his own plans however. Salazar’s history with Jack is explained, the much un-needed origin of Jack’s surname is explained, there are more mass-slaughters, more rules regarding the limitations of Salazar and his crew, more mass-murders still, there is something to do with another pirate to whom Jack is indebted who lives with his crew on an island, and the British Navy pursues and fights everyone. All this summation to say that Dead Men Tell No Tales nullis a film so bloated with plot that all it can ever do is spin its wheels tirelessly in an attempt to shift from expositional slab to expositional slab, all without the hope of ever gaining any real traction.

Roger Ebert once criticised the dialogue in cinema as being entirely action driven, where things are said not because they are interesting or insightful in their own right, but because they must further the plot and bring about a predictable result. No film in recent memory better typifies this thought than the fifth instalment in the Pirates of the Caribbean saga. Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay is so tin-eared and devoid of colour that it is left with little alternative but to busy itself with superfluous plot threads and rules, shifting monotonously from gear to gear in a fashion that brings this franchise a little too close to its theme park ride origins. It is a film so full of plot and “events” that it not only threatens to burst at the seams, but rather explodes and spews forth its innards in the form of an utterly cacophonous, dispassionate, awkwardly paced two hour bi-product of corporate movie making.

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack offers a performance that’s not so much self-parody as it is a lazy recreation of what a drunken uncle might cheaply imitate the character as being—the type of performance one observes through the slivers between the fingers of the hand that is fruitlessly trying to shield their eyes from the cringeyness. There is only so far Mr. Depp may have gone with the performance however. What in 2003 was an engaging oddity— a rascal with a heart of gold, a man with fears and insecurities and a cunningness that far exceeded that which was suggested by his veneer—is in 2017 written as a drunken oaf with no discernible charm or intellect, a man whose sole function has developed into blurting out desperate attempts at comedy that often border pirates-carribean-dead-men-tell-no-tales-traileron being crass.

Ironically, one of the only performances that registers with a pulse is that of Bardem as the undead Salazar, the Spaniard sinking his teeth into his role with that same unhinged glee that has made him such a compelling villain since 2007’s No Country for Old Men. Scodelario as Carina too is noteworthy, the young actress instilling such a commanding presence and confidence into her character that it leaves one wondering why it isn’t she that takes centre stage, rather than Depp’s tired Sparrow routine. It might have been redundant even if she was granted more centrality, each character is doomed to be suffocated by exposition.

It must be said that Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t without a sort of superficial merit. The Norwegian tandem of Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (both co-directors), conjure sporadically arresting visuals—sights such as a group of zombie sharks in frantic pursuit of Jack and Henry, or a guillotine that in the aforementioned execution scene repeatedly comes within inches of decapitating Sparrow as centrifugal force pushes and pulls the blade towards the pirate’s neck.

Gore Verbinski (the director of the original Pirate’s trilogy), for a brief moment managed to divorce his material from the inherent cynicism of a theme park ride inspired movie. Any legitimate storytelling worth has long since perished in pursuit of an easy dollar. Now the series is in a state much like that of its villain Salazar: still moving, still active—but utterly lifeless where it counts.

Rating:

.75/4