Reexamination: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Sometimes, a chink in the armour can be found and reveal that the Film Reviewer is not infallible. In this instance, my original reading of Guardians of Galaxy was wrong. The review that was published after the release of the picture had problems with the presentation of the picture.

It was trying too hard to be a cult film with interesting flourishes. Additionally, its protagonist, Peter Quill, was an encapsulation of what I saw as inferior representations of ideas and concepts that had been done better elsewhere. Furthermore, the film’s nostalgic harkening was mealy trying to evoke a sense of cool as opposed to the Captain America films. They had nostalgic tendencies that served their films in a much more meaningful way.

Finally, the tone of the film was rather peculiar to me, almost reminding me of Batman and Robin. That was a comic book film in which the construction was entirely counterintuitive that it was incomprehensible. Guardians had an absolute no-nonsense, hard edge that was opposed to sentimentally, yet the film was steeped in emotion and sweet moments that it made the film feel disingenuous.

However, since my original viewing, I have seen the film an additional two times. Now I find that the film’s tone, style and filmmaking to be highly commendable. The starting point for my change of heart came from an Elvis Mitchell interview in which he had an interesting conversation with the director James Gunn.

During the course of the discussion, Gunn had revealed that he had a particular affinity for the films of Sergio Leone. This piece of information had peaked my curiosity to see the film again. Viewing the film through a Leone prism, the picture became infinitely better in my mind.

All the characters of the ragtag group, share a profound sense of loss and pain that has defined them. It was a great reminder of Once Upon a Time in the West in which all the characters are linked by the overarching theme of death. Leone’s influence is additionally apparent in the filmmaking. Gunn knows the power of the close-up and how Leone employed it. Gunn uses it to good effect and it a great virtue of the film as it accentuates the emotional moments.

The best example of this shot being used well comes at the end of the film. The camera lingers on Quill holding a tape that his mother gave him. It truly allows the audience to understand Peter during this moment. There are even some scenes that are cut like a Leone standoffs that are impressive.

From here, I realised that Gunn in his direction of the picture was juggling many seemingly contradictory elements such as the Leone inspired shots and use of slow motion in action sequences. However, the synthesis of these elements worked on subsequent viewings.

This includes the aforementioned sentimentally and hard edge that the film had ingrained in its DNA. However, the film is still not without its problems. It still has far too much exposition, and some of the motivations of certain characters feel sketchily developed. I am sceptical about the prospect of a sequel. The film plays like a great self-contained story, despite some obvious lingering mysteries. One worries that the sequel could spin its wheel in repeating similar gags with its team dynamic and pop culture references.

Concise Review: The Usual Suspects (1995)

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The Usual Suspects is more than the sum of its twist ending. It is, in fact, a commentary on the nature of acting and its importance in filmmaking. By extension, the picture is about different people casting illusions, playing contrasting roles, and making the world believe in the façade. The lineup scene is a comedic riff on this theme and the ending is the spelt out thesis. In between, Byrne’s Keaton and Postlethwaite’s Kobayashi both create convincing representations of the characters they are playing, especially the latter who emphasises the threat of Keyser Soze to the primary criminal group.

Concise Review: Legend (1985)

LegendRidley Scott’s 1985 picture, Legend, remains underrated as a pre-Lord of the Rings paradigm of great fantasy in cinema. Through its lush images, makeup effects, and acting, it stimulates the imagination and stirs the emotions. While many would argue that it is a portrait of the Adam and Eve story. I would argue that it is about the loss of innocence, and transitioning from childhood to early adolescence. Tim Curry’s performance as Darkness gives this latter concept vivid life as he plies young Princess Lily with the power of temptation with delicious malevolence and frightening intensity.

Concise Review: Chappie (2015)

Chappie_trailer_shows_off_the_robotChappie, the new film from Neil Blomkamp will be a true litmus test for the director’s technologized corporate bureaucracy and urban street grit aesthetic. The interplay between both is, fortunately, fruitful due to the emotional resonance it garners from the journey of the title character. He is a product of the former and has loyalties to the latter because it is the environment he was raised in. Sharlto Copley’s performance as Chappie is a true revelation of the continued evolution of motion capture acting and its place in filmmaking and narrative.

Concise Review: Winter Light (1963)

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Winter Light is perhaps the most underrated film in Ingmar Bergman’s vast cavern of cinematic output. It is also perhaps his biggest call to arms film in regards to demonstrating the power of the human face. The Theological grappling in the film holds no personal interest. However, Bergman’s camera, and how it captures Gunnar Björnstrand’s face demands my attention and stakes in his crisis of faith. This central virtue speaks to the power of cinema and how it can transcend language, culture and religion in order to speak to us on a primal level.

Concise Review: They Live (1988)

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They Live, the cult American science fiction film from John Carpenter is a fun, energetic, social film. It surprises in its central performance from Roddy Piper, who is emphatic and self knowingly goofy, and its overarching message still holds relevance in today’s recession-stricken world. Additionally, its central gimmick of a black and white construct where we see the aliens via sunglasses is a great way of having the spirit of vintage 1950s science fiction pictures embedded in the DNA of the film. Coupled with its mysterious saxophone jazzy score, and you have the epitome of 80s cult filmmaking.

Brief Examination: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

485008_492467670793848_1045890290_nI greatly admire the Dark Knight Rises, the third, and final part of writer/director Christopher Nolan’s trilogy on the Caped Crusader. It attempts to do what few films in the comic book movie genre have tried to do. This is to dream of being a comic book movie epic, and be in the same company as Superman The Movie, Superman II and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Unfortunately like Icarus it flies too close to the sun and ends up crashing and burning, albeit in a fascinating and emotional way. Its major problem is its screenplay; reports had surfaced before the film came out that the Nolan brothers, Johnathan, and Christopher, had penned a 400-page script and that it had to be cut in half. Watching the film, this certainly feels like this is the case. At its heart, the film wants to be about how the 1% have been lazy, apathetic and ultimately deceitful and how they get up their comeuppance and society breaks down because of this intrinsic fact. But it unites in the ashes of the death of a man and his dramatic example of how one man can make a difference.

However, the film loses track of this idea. It instead veers of in another direction in the form of a plot point that while poetic and the lynchpin of the title, just serves to undermine the film with one too many twist and installment ties. What would have improved these two seemingly disparate elements is if the pit, were centralised in Gotham, and it contained a good number of the city’s elite class. They bear witness to Bruce Wayne rising as Batman again and, as a result, their resolve and apathy are diametrically opposed to what it used to be. As a result of this, they are inspired and fight for Gotham once they are freed from the prison.

The biggest problem with The Dark Knight Rises and its portrait of its central theme is that there is no one to speak for the disillusioned. The people who do represent these positions are not enough to carry the plight of millions, and when Nolan does try to portray the people’s revolution. It is done in montage and never referred to again in the writing. It is a shame that this is so, as in the fabric of the narrative resides some great ideas that continue the implications of the ending of The Dark Knight. The picture is too ambitious for its own good and, as a result, it remains an interesting, massive and emotional mess, that does try.

Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

3-the-hobbit-3-the-battle-of-the-5-armies-what-to-look-forward-toThere is a moment in the Battle of the Fives Armies where one realises that the seams are starting to stretch. The fabric of the Hobbit trilogy could break, and result in a colossal collapse of the entire enterprise. As an ardent Tolkien fan and particularly director Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth, even the wrongly mocked and lashed Hobbit trilogy, I could start to see that the trilogy had almost hit its cinematic limit. However, despite being dangerously close to falling down, Battle of the Five Armies still has enough moments that make it redeem itself as a self- contained cinematic experience.

For example, the most memorable scene in the picture is a single silent shot of Thorin overseeing the carnage and ensuring battle in the face of his imminent death. The shot in composition looks like a Alan Lee painting and its a great melding of form and content, as Richard Armitage shows us the breaking of Thorin’s pride and arrogance in his last moments. It is a great moment that may be Jackson’s best single shot of the six picture saga.

Additionally, one has to admire a film with a massive budget of 250 million that can still deliver, great emotional moments that in some way speak to the truth of the human condition. In the third act, there is a debate between the Elf King, Thranduil and a young elf named Tauriel on the nature of love. The former views the latter’s feelings for a Dwarf as not real.

The debate returns later in the film and culminates in a tragic moment where Tauriel, who is mourning the loss of Kili, says, “If this is love, I do not want it. Take it away, please. Why does it hurt so much?” Thranduil responds simply “Because it was real.” The scene aside from carrying great emotional resonance of truth, also serves as a reminder of Jackson’s contribution to the Tolkien legacy.

He has respectfully and diligently adapted Professor Tolkien’s work. Furthermore, he has ultimately added something meaningful that feels of a piece with the mythology that Tolkien created, and that is a refreshing fact to be reminded of in this last installment.

However, most if not all the film is filled with tonal inconsistencies, lazy creature designs and plain, strange gonzo moments. Including a scene that felt like a reel from David Lynch’s Dune had been accidently placed into the picture. The title battle impresses at times but does not compare to the Honda esque opening sequence that showcased Smaug’s destruction and death in Lake Town, at the hands of Bard the Bowman.

The middle of the film is dedicated to setting up the mechanics and politics of the inevitable battle, and it is an interesting stretch that nicely adapts Tolkien’s final part of the Hobbit. However, some key scenes within this portion of the film do reveal some problematic narrative issues, especially when thinking of how both the trilogies connect.