film

  1. It’s tough to say anything about Boyhood that hasn’t already been said already. Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age drama is an unprecedented masterpiece; the best film of the year and maybe one of the best of the decade so far. What makes it so special is not just the obvious technological achievements of the production; the set design, the casting, the sheer amount of time put into the whole thing is absolutely astonishing. To think that 236 episodes of Friends were produced in a shorter timespan than it took to make this 164 minute feature. The time and commitment that these actors, crew and Linklater himself put into the film alone is something that deserves our infinite praise. A 12 year production says just how important this film is to Linklater, and it really shows. Putting all of the astonishing facts aside, at the end of the day, the resulting film is an engaging, intimate and pure work of art. It is an incredibly personal movie, made with a lot of care and love; most definitely Linklater’s finest hour, but also a collaboration among the main cast and crew alongside him. It’s a shared experience of great importance to all those involved and more importantly, to all those who watch it. 

    Boyhood follows six year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up through elementary school all the way to college. Although much of the focus is on this character, it is just just a film about being a boy. Through the terrific main cast (Including Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei), we see that it is a film for anyone who is or has ever been a mother, a father, a step-parent, a brother, a sister, a step-brother or sister, a friend, a boss, a grandparent, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a husband, a wife, an ex, and just about anyone who’s ever known what it’s like to be a human being. The film throws any typical three-act plot out of the window and instead just focuses on moments. There is no logic to the jumps forward in time and there is no real climax to the film. It is instead like life; unpredictable, non-formulaic and completely in the moment. It never has you starving to see what happens next, but instead focuses on the present and delivers terrifically intimate scenes that completely live in the now. Because of the lack of “plot”, it could be said that the whole thing amounts to nothing more than filler, but you’ll hear very little complaints when the filler is this touching, this funny, this heartbreakingly engaging.

    It would be a shame for Boyhood to go unnoticed by the Academy when award season comes around. The timing isn’t exactly perfect, but it will surely get a few nods at the very least; Linklater for director and original screenplay, there will be a few production design nods and maybe it’s a long shot, but Hawke deserves some recognition for his supporting role, too. It’s not the sort of film that fishes for awards though, and that’s a good thing. Linklater made the kind of film he wanted to make. So much could’ve potentially gone wrong, but it didn’t. It was a creatively iterative project that oozes originality and passion and is the kind of film that will live long in people’s hearts. If those aren’t the goals you set out to achieve when making a film, then you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons. Boyhood is an extraordinary film about ordinary things. A bonafide masterpiece.

  2. Three college students - MS-afflicted Nic (Oculus’ Brenton Thwaites), his soon-to-be ex Hayley (Olivia Cooke), their nerdy third wheel friend Jonah (the excellently named Beau Knapp) - embark on a road trip from Massachussets to California whilst tracking an anonymous computer genius who they’ve been in contact with and who’s hacking already had them almost expelled. Eventually they find themselves in an isolated area in Nevada before all three lose consciousness. When Nic awakes, he finds himself in quarantine in a sterile facility staffed by scientists in hazmat suits. Is there more to this than meets the eye?

    Short answer: duh. Long answer: fucking duuuuh. There’s obviously a twist in the tail and it’s fairly predictable not too long after we enter the second act. It’s a well-worn trope in fiction, but still worthy when used in something well-written. Unfortunately, The Signal is meandering and unfocused, not to mention not making the most of that damn twist.

    As I mentioned, it’s a regularly used premise, most notably in my mind in The Truman Show, and a recent episode of Rick And Morty. Both throw away their twists early on in order to explore the situation, and create more interesting and arresting stories. Here, we aren’t afforded such things, as the film is instead essentially built on it, and we have to make do with guessing the twist halfway through, along with withstanding a barrel full of plot holes.

    That’s not to say The Signal has no redeeming features. Laurence Fishburne is solid as ever, if coasting on auto-pilot a little, whilst that production design sticks to the omnipresent all-white-everything mise en scene, whilst scuffing it up a little around the edges for a more realistic feel. CGI is restricted to when it’s absolutely essential, thus doesn’t intrude or feel overly egregious, and director William Eubank controls the action sequences nicely with some snappy music video-esque editing. If only he’d handled the screenplay with in the same steady way.

  3. I want to make a date movie that results in at least 15 million divorces… I want it to work and live in the area of slightly tongue-in-cheek, but also morally repellent

    David Fincher, in the latest issue of Empire Magazine, on his hopes and aims for his latest film, the Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike-starring marital murder mystery Gone Girl.
  4. Character Posters of the day: We, for one, welcome our new Natalie Dormer overlord. These new one-sheets for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1(Also Featuring More Extraneous Subtitles) introduce us to some members of the District 13 rebellion;Liam Hemsworth reprises his role as Gale, Mahershala Ali will play Boggs, Evan Ross will play Messallla, Wes Chatham will play Castor and Elden Henson will play Pollux, whilst Dormer plays Cressida. Mockingjay - Part 1 is set for release on November 20th.

  5. Trailer: The Pyramid: It’s surprising that it’s taken the modern horror movie production line this long to use the lure of Ancient Egypt and its associated mythos. It’s been around a decade since the land of the pharaohs last made a major appearance in Hollywood (in The Mummy trilogy and its spinoff franchise The Scorpion King), but The Pyramid could see a bump in interest. With High Tension/Switchblade Tension duo Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur reuniting as executive producer and director respectively, The Pyramid sees a group of archaeologists discover and enter an ancient Egyptian tomb, where they’re terrorised by numerous traps and unseen things in the dark. Fortunately, they brought a camera with them so we get to experience and enjoy their predicament. An Egyptian tomb seems like the place found footage horror was made for, doesn’t it?

    The Pyramid is out in the UK on November 5th and in the USA on December 5th, and stars Chronicle's Ashley Hinshaw, American Horror Story's Denis O'Hare and The Inbetweeners' James Buckley (something something sand wankers).

  6. Scott Cooper’s Out Of The Furnace is probably one of the most testosterone-driven films I’ve seen since Fight Club. The male psyche, male emotions, what it means to be a man, male propensity for violence, etc. It’s a film which strives to say something about a subject which has little new or interesting about which there is to be discussed. Sadly, male-dominated casts are still the norm in moviemaking today, but the trials of upper-lower-middle-working class white guys is a furrow which has been ploughed thoroughly, and should probably be left alone for a few years to reinvigorate itself. If you’re going to try your hand at it, to has has to feel authentic - the best examples of this being the work of Mike Leigh or Shane Meadows (the latter’s Dead Man’s Shoes sharing more than a few similarities with Furnace) - otherwise you run the risk of cinematic water treading. 

    Unfortunately this is exactly what happens in Out Of The Furnace, which is unlikely to garner the award nominations and wins of Cooper’s first film, the Jeff Bridges-starring Crazy Heart. A tale of  brothers trapped by their circumstances and choices; Furnace centres on Christian Bale’s Russell, a man following in his father’s footsteps by working at the local close-to-closure steel mill, who is forced to take the law into his own hands when his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) - recently returned home after four tours of Iraq, and struggling to adapt to civilian life - when Rodney pisses off the wrong people.

    In terms of positives, Furnace does capture its economically depressed setting very well and it’s hard to argue with the talent assembled in its cast of actors (despite the abundance of Y chromosomes contained in it); Bale, Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Woody Harrelson… Harrelson, in particular, takes a 180º turn from Marty Hart, but remains on top form throughout. But despite this, and Cooper’s solid direction, the film stumbles before it really hits top gear. Consistently leaning on tired genre beats and lacking any real narrative shocks, Furnace could well be evidence that only Korean filmmakers and Quentin Tarantino should be allowed to make revenge movies. It certainly doesn’t help that the majority of the film is unrelentingly dim in both plot and visuals - shot with a lot of natural light from unclear angles, it attempts for a noir look without any of that genre’s substance to back it up.

    Another hampering aspect is that supporting cast are shafted with poorly written caricatures instead of anything resembling actual characters. Zoe Saldana in particular is given the short, shitty end of the stick with a dull symbolic angel role, whilst Forest Whitaker might as well have been replaced with a cardboard standee of Forest Whitaker with a post-it saying “COP” on it.

    All in all, Out Of The Furnace’s top drawer cast and good performances can drag the rest of the film up from being a retread of a retread of a retread of so many more interesting, well-crafted, multi-faceted stories.

    ☆☆☆

  7. In a year in which many films have been quite out there, Luc Besson’s Lucy is a contender for the most out there of them all. That’s not to say it’s the best or most creative or most thought-provoking film of 2014… hell, it’s not working with that original of a concept, being beaten to the “magic drug = 100% brain capacity” punch by 2011’s Limitless. But for sheer levels of “WTF is going on?”, it’s a film which easily beats out its thematic cousin Trascendence, and most other consciously weird cinema released recently.  

    First things first, Scarlett Johansson does extremely well throughout. If Marvel’s reluctance to greenlight a Black Widow movie is the uncertainty of a woman headlining an action movie and the subsequent box-office success of said female-led film, then Lucy seems purpose built to prove them wrong; a high-concept action film starring their premier female star which has made $217m worldwide in just a month of release.

    Johnasson absolutely convinces as the Lucy we’re initially introduced to; a previously carefree, hedonistic American student in Taiwan, tricked into a shady drug deal by her asshole boyfriend of just a week. Abducted by a mob of Korean gangsters (led by Choi Min-Sik’s menacing Mr Jang), Lucy has a bag of synthetic CPH4 sewn into her intestine in order to transport it to Europe. Alas she doesn’t quite make it and, for reasons which are never quite explained, winds up in a makeshift cell in the back of a deli, where one of her captors helpfully boots her in the stomach, tearing the bag and releasing the drug into Lucy’s system. Thanks, nameless mook, whoever you are!

    With the drug opening up previously unknown cranial capacity, Lucy takes the first step on the road to accessing the entirety of her brain’s potential function, and also becoming a slightly robotic, detached presence, as she transcends simple human worries. In this, Lucy forms a nice quasi-trilogy with two of Johansson’s other films released this year - specifically Under The Skin and Her - in which she plays slightly detached enigmatic uber-humanoid-type characters. Unfortunately this also means there’s literally zero tension at all. Even at 20% cranial capacity - let alone 70% and over -  Lucy is already the most evolved and powerful human on the planet, and genuinely unstoppable by any of the mere mortals who oppose her. Such invincibility in protagonists is always so dreadfully boring, from Superman to John Cena. And those guys have opponents of equal or greater power to face, Lucy has no such thing. A far more interesting plot would have involved one of the other drug mules suffering similar side-effects, but using their newfound powers for evil, setting up a clear and worthy antagonist.

    It’s at this point, when Lucy is already a superhuman ubermensch and virtually invincible, that the film falls apart. The “10% of your brain” stuff has been acknowledged by Besson as bollocks, but even so, there’s no real internal logic behind the bollocks. Being able to use your brain to its full capacity probably won’t allow you to float and time-travel (as Lucy appears to do at the flim’s climax) and bend matter. Not only are there plenty of these logic holes, there’s a whole pile of unfortunate implications throughout the film. When roughly the first half of the movie is dedicated to your white anti-hero throwing their weight around a foreign country, and assaulting and killing people of colour, you’ve probably got some issues you might wanna examine. At least Ryan Gosling had the good grace to get his ass kicked consistently by the native population throughout Only God Forgives.

    It really doesn’t help the cause when our protagonist is the most powerful and highly evolved being on the planet, but also looks like an Aryan poster-girl. The now infamous scene showcased in the trailer in which Lucy shoots a Taiwanese taxi driver for the apparently heinous crime of not speaking English is a modicum less racist than what it seemed initially -  it appeared as if it was a brutal murder when in fact it’s a slightly less life-threatening shot to the leg - but it still makes very little sense at all. Said taxi driver understands Lucy’s question well enough to indicate he doesn’t speak English, so it’s not too much of a stretch that he’d understand her need to get to a hospital. And then roughly twenty seconds after this, we’re show that Lucy’s brain can instantly visually translate Chinese into English… so again it’s not much of a stretch to think that, thanks to her new super-brain, she could probably speak Chinese too. Hell, we know she’s a student who’s been living in Taiwan for a certain amount of time, surely she’s picked up some basic phrases by now…

    Further damning is the Chinese writing on the walls of Lucy’s cell early on in the movie which simply says “Keep Clean. Apple, scallop & ginger, orange, tomato, grape” …I get that all those squiggly symbols are probably intended to look “exotic” and “intimidating” to the film’s western audience, but jeez, would it have been hard to either hire someone to write something which made sense in context or even just not have it at all?

    Even if you’re reluctant to brand Besson as a misguided or inadvertent racist, or just willing to overlook such glaring problems,  you still have to admit it’s poor filmmaking and storytelling to keep these things in a film, which surely has to go through a lot of analysis and vetting before it reaches cinemas. You get the feeling Besson watched 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Tree Of Life a few times and tried to egregiously weld the ideas and visuals of those two classics onto his rather standard action film without anything to really warrant highfalutin aspects. Might I suggest that for his next film Besson attempt using more than 10% of his brain?

  8. Watch: Action Bronson - Easy Rider: If “Easy Rider” and its accompanying video are in any way indicative of Action Bronson’s upcoming debut album Mr. Wonderful, then it’s gonna be one hell of a ride. Half parody, half homage to the 1969 Dennis Hopper/Peter Fonda classic of the same name, the video sees Bronson dropping acid, winning a 25-on-one bar brawl, and going full Slash with a guitar solo atop a mountain. Watch out for a cameo from the Two Pines chapel from Kill Bill Vol 2.