Concise Review: Slow West (2015)

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In Slow West, the West bursts with bountiful colour, heightened optimistic starry skies and entertaining, quirky strangers. At least, this is the West seen through the eyes of a young man called Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) whose immediate goal is to search for his long-lost sweetheart- Rose. (Caren Pistorius)

Slow West primarily works because of this intrinsic optimistic world-view and its interplay with the traditional conception of the West. The harshness and immorality of this latter idea of the West are represented by Silas Selleck (Micheal Fassbender) He believes that there nothing else to living other than survival. And part of the film’s fascination is how his world view is shaped and changed by Jay, who he initially deems as too positive for his sake.

As Selleck, Fassbender delivers his most subtle performance to date as the changes in his character are expectedly conveyed through body language, vocal tones and demeanour. All these three elements are wonderfully encapsulated in the closing scene as Selleck sees Jay lying dead in the corner of the house in which he enters. His reaction upon seeing his fallen partner is one of utter admiration and sadness as opposed to annoyance and contempt as portrayed earlier in the film.

Finally, Slow West marks the directorial debut of John Maclean and is commendable what Maclean achieves in his first picture. From these surreal and almost Andersonian remembrance scenes to these bleak and tense action sequences that have small, poignant character moments. Maclean has fundamentally made a tragic Western, which chronicles the changing perspectives of two men’s life within it.

Concise Review: True Romance (1993)

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True Romance is a love story that is worthy of the movies. At times, it is idealised and sincere. However, on other occasions, it is tough and dangerous. The biggest strength of the film is that it expertly balances these two disparate elements without ever feeling inauthentic or whiplash-inducing. The result is a soft gooey affair with an inherent hard edge. In fact, some of its strange moments such as Clarence (Christian Slater) having conversations with a ghost of Elvis Presley mark the film at its most fascinating. Both the lovers are not perfect, whether, by their background or traits, they are shown as real and authentic human beings.

And their overriding goal of running away and making a life for themselves feels instantly universal. This simple conceit makes the outlandish and terrifying encounters that they come across feel ever more compelling. But it also makes the film feel effortless and memorable, whether talking about Gary Oldman’s strange and frightening performance as a dread locked pimp or Tony Scott’s visceral roller coaster scene that cleverly evokes the feeling of excitement and dizziness. True Romance is also a film full of scary and charming small moments, which is one of the reasons why it has endured for over twenty years.

Concise Review: The Man From Uncle (2015)

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The Man from Uncle is a pure stylish exercise and embrace of the sixties spy picture that one has to admire Guy Ritchie’s directorial prowess in evoking this period. From ingenious uses of split screen to a rich colour palate, Ritchie has commendably captured the inherent exotic travelogue quality that characterised many of the spy pictures of that era. However, despite this substantial primary virtue, at the heart of the film resides a deep seeded problem. The picture is too smirky for its own good.

This aspect is most evident in the performances. Henry Cavil plays Napoleon Solo like an American, who has ingested the collective works of Roger Moore, which results in an amusing, brash and temperate performance. This fundamental problem that is centrally evident in Solo’s character nullifies any sincere attempts at drama, moments of sustained tension and Cold War intrigue. The tone is so perversive that it even seems that the historical conflict can be solved over cold glasses of beers as opposed to moments of profound trust with other nations.

Review: The Force Awakens (2015)

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The Force Awakens greatly articulates and expounds upon the appeal of the enduring Star Wars saga. In fact, at times, it almost seems inconceivable how well the picture reconciles the various aspects of the film series. From its goofy absurdity, comedic edge and inherent mythical portrait of good and evil.

The former of which is lovingly realised in a castle bar sequence that bursts with authentic organic life via its various creature effects. The latter manifests itself in amusing sequences where Finn (John Boyega) pretends to be a member of the Resistance to Rey (Daisy Ridley) Boyega is commendably heartfelt and eager, almost representing an excited avatar for the Star Wars fans in the audience. On the other hand, Ridley in her first on-screen performances shines with a commanding screen presence that makes Rey – an engaging and resilient character. Some of her best moments are with the film’s central villain, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) Driver is the true revelation of the film with his sweat-inducing intensity coupled with a fascinatingly purposeful physicality.

Inspired by directors such as John Ford, Akira Kurosawa and Terrance Malick, director JJ Abrams has made a visually breathtaking picture, which has some great painterly shot compositions. The most striking example is the 360-degree panning shot that shows two characters on a mountaintop. The moment is a great cinematic example of the mythological heft of the saga. But the sound design proves to be The Force Awakens’s secret weapon as it punctuates moments with great clarity and weight. For example, Kylo’s lightsaber crackles with a terrifying unstable edge that fills scenes with a newfound dread and tension.

However, The Force Awakens primarily succeeds because of its dramatic illustration of good and evil. This is most effectively showcased in a scene over a long bridge where one character tries to comfort and reconcile with his son. The potency of the choice between the two concepts is amazingly realised in this tension filled scene as the father is willing to forgive his son’s actions and how the son reacts to this given his personal conflict with what side of the Force he is choosing to align with. It truly is one of the saga’s best dramatic moments.

Nevertheless, the picture is not without its problems. Despite the emotional and sweeping final act, the film fails to deliver an exciting and kinetic space battle in the vein of its predecessors, which is a shame given the set up for the dogfight in question. As well as the sheer rich cinematic moments that these scenes have yielded in the past. From the masterful editing of the Battle of Yavin in A New Hope to the ingenious opening tracking shot of Revenge of the Sith. Additionally, the film has some glaring plot contrivances that become obvious with even a passing thought. Moreover, the design and effects of Supreme Leader Snoke were underwhelming to say the least. To date, the character represents Andy Serkis’s least engaging and dynamic performance, which is a shame due to his previous magnificent CGI performances.

 

Concise Review: Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)

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If Kill Bill Volume 1 was an excessive, dramatically deficient and ultimately pointless exercise in directorial flexing. Then Volume 2 is the complete antithesis, emotional, inherently dramatic and once again indicative of Quentin Tarantino’s primary strength, which is providing fascinating interpretations of schlocky and often overlooked genre fare. For example, in the last picture, Tarantino paid tribute to Sergio Leone through an Eastern filter with the climatic sword fight with The Bride and O-Ren Ishii. However, he uses Leone here to fuel his dramatic scenes, which give them an extra potency and emotional resonance.

The best example of this is when The Bride confronts Elle Driver before their showdown. Tarantino cuts the sequence like Leone would with intense buildup as well dramatic and lingering closeups. From a narrative point of view, the sequence reveals that Ellie killed The Bride’s master. Despite Daryl Hannah’s cartoony line reading of this revelation, the scene represents Tarantino’s finest melding of Eastern and Western genre material. It effortlessly synthesis dramatic eastern narrative heft and western cinematic form.

Volume 2’s shining virtue is that its characters feel more real and rounded as opposed to one note figures trying to embody a sense of cool. For example, the showdown of words with Bill and The Bride at the end of the picture is remarkable in its presentation of two broken human beings who have an utter admiration and equal contempt of one another. Their interaction carries extra weight when it is at the service of Tarantino’s primary theme of characters taking on personas and roles. In the opening scene, The Bride introduces Bill as her father to her future husband. These moments crackle with a bitter feeling as the audience know the outcome as well a slight dark comedic edge that comes from David Carradine’s smeary, judgemental line readings.

However, the most remarkable moment in Kill Bill Volume 2 is a scene at near the end of the picture where The Bride is lying on her bathroom floor, crying and laughing in equal measures. It is an enduring image that illustrates that vengeance is a double edged sword. It can be both upsetting and soul crushing, but also satisfying and wholly cathartic.

Review: Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

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Kill Bill Volume 1 ended my adoration of Quentin Tarantino. The primary reason for this is because the film felt like an excessive exercise in directional flexing as opposed to being thematically and narratively interesting. In fact, one could argue that this purposeful given the simple nature of the story and its overarching theme of revenge. However, on this viewing, the true revelation of Tarantino’s fourth film is that it is one of those films that falls apart due to a varied amount of problems. Firstly, the film seems overstretched to the point of tedium. In reality, the film only covers two people on The Bride’s (Uma Thurman) kill list. Moreover, one of these people in dealt with in a ten-minute sequence.

What is left is creative, flashy if ultimately inane and futile sequences devoted to developing O-Ren Ishii. (Lucy Liu) While one could see Tarantino’s reasoning for these scenes, they prove to be pointless. None of Ishii’s established skills are utilised in her final fight with The Bride. Nor does the information about her underlings have any bearings on their confrontations with Uma Thurman’s character in the finale.

Thurman plays The Bride with an inherent mad edge that manifests itself in her purposeful facial expressions and vocal tones that give way to a dark sense of humour. Her performance is commendable and earnest. Nevertheless, The Bride is not a particularly strong empowering female character. While her purpose and aim are clear, her image, which includes her car and glasses are taken from a formally disgusting serial rapist.

That character is indicative of Kill Bill Volume 1’s central problem. It is nasty and grizzly. The abuse that The Bride undergoes is unspeakable and contemptible. Tarantino then fills the rest of the film with relentlessly cartoony violence that demands to be relished by the audience. It’s like the film is indecisive about its own identity.

At one moment, it appears like a grungy revenge picture in the style of 70s grindhouse fare like The Last House on the Left. At other times, it appears like a traditional martial arts film. And the large scale battle at the end feels like a video game. As a result of this Volume 1 marks Tarantino’s least engaging and fascinating interpretation of schlocky and often overlooked genre fare. Even Tarantino’s craft holds little interest. The visually stunning ending sword battle is cut like a Sergio Leone sequence, complete with a strong emphasis on mundane sounds. But, ultimately, it is the case of too little too late at that point in the picture.

Concise Review: Ant Man (2015)

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Out of all the Marvel films that have passed through the studio grind, Ant-Man surprisingly holds the most interest and humanism. The curiosity does not just stem from the behind the scenes troubles, in which famed British director, Edgar Wright quit over creative differences and the ensuing production problems that occurred afterwards. There is no doubt that Wright’s unique cutting, editing, and visual sensibilities would have made the frequently clunky exposition scenes more exciting.

However, Ant-Man primarily succeeds because of its inherent human focus. The film works as a compelling drama with the super heroics almost feeling incidental, like if one met a compelling person at a firework show. The colourful balls and sparks of a Roman candle would only be a temporary distraction from the meaningful and stimulating human connection being made.

Halfway through the film, Hank Pym (Micheal Douglas) says to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) “It’s not about saving our world, it’s about saving theirs.” The line is indicative of the personal stakes that the film has as its central virtue. Pym sees himself as a failed father but sees that there is still a chance for Lang not to be in the eyes of his daughter- Cassie.

Moreover, at its heart, the film is about a man’s legacy, who he chooses to protect it and the reasons for why he wants its hidden from the world at large. From here the film takes a fascinating examination of Pym through the prism of its protagonist and antagonist. On the one hand, there is Darren Cross, who Hank nurtured and mentored. Pym remarks that he saw himself in Cross, but too much of himself. Cross is ambitious and ruthless, almost representing a younger version of Pym with the same characteristics.

On the other hand, there is Scott Lang, who represents a figure in which Pym can feel redeemed through, not only from the vantage point of fatherhood. But also, his legacy, which is tied to his wife and daughter. Douglas’s stern manner contrasted with Rudd’s adolescent; schoolboy nature makes Pym and Lang’s interaction amusing and meaningful.

Finally, the picture still has the usual trappings of a Marvel Studios film, excessive humour, wedged in references and liberal cribbing of prior installments. The difference is in the execution. For example, the action sequences have a sense of fun and cleverness due to the use of scale. The finale turns a child’s bedroom into a dangerous and mischievous place as toy trains, and ants become amusing sources of impending doom.