Concise Review: Sin City- A Dame to Kill For (2014)

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a lesser effort compared with its predecessor. Unfortunately, this is partly due to the astounding visual look of the original picture feeling rather cartoony and less impactful. Moreover, the violence in A Dame to Kill For seems excessive and uninteresting whereas in Sin City it was artful and gut wrenching. Additionally, despite the addition of new material by the comics original scribe, Frank Miller, most of the storylines are not that interesting and are fundamentally one-note in their overarching focus, which is of the corrupt Senator Roark.

However, the film is somewhat redeemed by its performances, particularly by Eva Green and Josh Brolin, who are the main players in the title story. Green is a tantalising portrait of a steely and despicable femme fatale. On the other hand, Brolin is excellent as a broken and hard-edged man, who is fundamentally afraid of embracing his monstrous nature. Finally, the first narrative thread which is entitled, The Long Bad Night is commendable because of its initial light touch with its noir conventions, which then takes a nasty and ultimately tragic turn that best explores the character of Senator Roark and Basin City.

Concise Review: Sicario (2015)

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Sicario is a haunting crime thriller that illustrates and explores the morally grey tactics that are employed when facing the Mexican drug cartel. The film considers that each side uses harrowing tactics. In the penultimate scene, Fausto Alarcon (Julio Cedillo) asks Alejandro Gillick, who is played with fierce intensity by Benicio Del Toro, “Who do you think we learnt it from.” Gillick’s involvement in the war on drugs resulted in him losing his wife and daughter in harrowing incidents. Moreover, through his character we see that the American side has resorted to ruthless personal sentiment and illegal tactics to combat the war on drugs.

The violence in Sicario is excellent because of its matter of fact manner and the psychological effect it has on its characters. The most evocative example is in the previously mentioned scene with Gillick and Alarcon. Without remorse and with terrifying precision Gillick shoots Alarcon’s wife and children. He then proceeds to ask Alarcon to finish his meal. We then see a fleeting shot of Alarcon’s dead family and then cut to his facial expressions, which are stunned, utterly fearful but have a contrary sense of quiet defiance. The violence in the scene feels real, raw and gut-wrenching to witness.

Finally, the film has a strong central performance from Emily Blunt. A lot of the shots in the picture are of the lingering expressions of Blunt’s character, Kate Macer. In these quiet moments, Blunt’s portrays an acute sense of deep seeded thinking and doubt, which strongly emphasises the film’s moral murkiness.

Review: Hail Caesar (2016)

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Hail Caesar opens with a narrator (Micheal Gambon) who dramatically sets the scene for the story of Eddie Mannix, (Josh Brolin) who is a problem solver for the studio Capitol Pictures during the era of 1950s Hollywood. At first, the moment feels jarring however it is a crucial scene that illustrates the brilliance of Hail Caesar. The film is a delightful celebration of a lost era of moviemaking. At the same time, it also works as a lampooning of the tail end of the studio system.

The former is showcased in lavish sequences from the pictures that are made by Capitol Pictures. One particular standout set piece depicts an ambitiously spectacular aquatic performance which has actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johanson) front and centre. Moran’s entrance plays like something out of a James Bond opening credits sequence. It is artful and purposeful in articulating the central theme of the film.

Hail Caesar is concerned with making us believe in extraordinary things through the power of the cinema. In one way this applies to the title film which is about a Roman centurion who comes to believe in the power of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it also refers to the previously stated scene with DeeAnna Moran. The performance makes us believe that the actress is a portrait of captivating innocence, which is an image that is instantly shattered when she begins talking with Eddie Mannix about her problems.

In the scenes with Mannix, she is a shrew, irresponsible and the complete anthesis of her perceived starlet image through the course of that marine performance. In an amusing sub-plot, Mannix tries to cover up the actress’ surprise pregnancy by getting her to adopt her future child.

The film takes on a strange new life when ordinary moments outside of the pictures at Capitol Pictures feel like idealised movie moments that make the audience believe in wondrous things. For example, there is a single scene where Hobie Doyle, who is played with touching sincerity, by Alden Ehrenreich starts doing tricks with a rope while waiting for his date.

On its own the moment is absurd. However, it truly evokes the primary theme in a compelling manner. Joel and Ethan Cohen reinforce idealisation of the movies into moments that are meant to feel mundane and unnecessary. It’s as though the audience always want to believe that Hobie Doyle has that same persona of a naive, innocent cowboy who can impress with his charm and tricks.

At the same time, the film mocks the studio system in one of its central plot points. One of Capitol Pictures’ main players who is the leading star of the title film gets kidnapped by an organisation called The Future. They are a communist congregation who believe in the equal rights of writers in the filmmaking process. The scenes between the various people in the assembly and Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) are some of the funniest scenes in the picture.

This is because of the counter-intuitive nature of the scenes. Instead of being a horrible and terrifying set of people, the Future are portrayed as reasonable, amusing and learned as they debate the implications of their kidnapping to Whitlock. Additionally, they express the excessiveness, egotism and sheer lack of artistic merit of the studio, which contrasts well with the visual showcasing of the pictures made at Capitol Pictures.

Clooney plays Whitlock like someone who constantly needs a script to keep going otherwise he loses all semblance of thought and speech, which culminates in the funniest scene in the picture. Whitlock returns to the studio and explains in great detail to Mannix about the Future’s communist belief system which includes pointing out the inherent greed of the studio.

Clooney’s matter of fact wonderment contrasts very well with Brolin’s pent up rage, which results in a sequence that epitomises the importance of movie stars. Finally, the scene embodies the primary thematic fixation about belief in the power of the movies as Mannix slaps around Whitlock and reminds him that he is an actor that has to make people believe in the power of faith in his dramatic final scene in Hail Caesar.

Review: Steve Jobs (2015)

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Steve Jobs is a fascinating and magnetic character study of the renowned American inventor and technological entrepreneur. It succeeds in crafting a structure that feels immediate and inherently dramatic. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin conceives of each act as a build up to a launch of a new product, which results in a fourteen-year focus of Jobs’ life. The outcome is seemingly small moments that feel like momentary ripples but in actuality have repercussions in the final act. The best example of this is a little moment where Steve Jobs (Micheal Fassbender) is complaining about his coverage in Time magazine in the first act.

At first, it feels like a trivial moment. However, in the third act, the moment comes back to haunt him as the marketing executive for Apple and Jobs’ most trusted friend, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) explains to him the actual implications of that magazine coverage for Jobs and the product he was promoting at the time. This moment also speaks to a recurring point that happens throughout the film, which is Jobs’ delusions that are unraveled one by one throughout the course of the final act.

As the co-founder of Apple, Micheal Fassbender delivers his best performance to date. In the early scenes, he plays the egomaniacal Jobs with a sense of animalistic savagery, which ultimately makes him unsettling and unpredictable in his behaviour. Sorkin writes Jobs as a dangerous person whose terrifying tendencies are contained within the framework of innovation and marketing. Some of the close-ups in the first act of Jobs, Fassbender looks frighteningly demonic and unhinged.

However, Fassbender casts the most substantial impression in the third act when Jobs is unveiling the iMac G3. In this act, Fassbender’s previous viciousness is now replaced with a deep seeded regret and sense of potent woundedness. These moments are best showcased in a scene when Jobs is trying to calm himself down by going through a speech for his product launch. However, he keeps seeing momentary flashes of his daughter when she was five years old. Here Fassbender plays Jobs like someone who is burdened by his actions, despite the success he has achieved.

Additionally, Fassbender in this acts has a great calm casualness which was an enduring characteristic of Steve Jobs when presenting Apple’s new products. The previously mentioned isolated scene brings to light an interesting criticism that had been levelled at the picture, which film critic Josh Larsen articulated in his review when he stated that the film is “A screenplay in a movie’s clothing, Steve Jobs is undeniably an Aaron Sorkin film.”

Undoubtedly, Steve Jobs could have contained more sequences that are indicative of Danny Boyle’s directorial style. However, the film has enough cinematic flourishes that prevent it from being stagey. Boyle showcases sweeping audience shots that at once feel realistic in showing the enthusiasm of the waiting crowd and, on the other hand, they feel like lucid visual representations of Jobs’ mindset. In fact, the strongest cinematic moments of Steve Jobs is when it is working in this latter framework, which is illustrating ideas within Jobs’ mindscape.

For example, in an intimate confrontation scene between Jobs and Hoffman, he goes at length about Skylab, which was an unmanned data gathering satellite for NASA. While Jobs discuss what this means for his current strategy, Boyle shows us some real life footage of that incident which plays out on the wall that Jobs has he back to in the shot. The harmony between words and images in this moment is sublime.

The scene ends with Hoffman and Jobs in the midst of a relieved embrace. The moment showcases that the film contains some of Boyle’s trademark raw dramatic heft and his surreal, dreamlike images that blend effortlessly with Sorkin’s screenplay.

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean- Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

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The Dead Man’s Chest is a movie that can barely hold itself together. One slight cough and the film would come crashing down quite spectacularly. However, what makes it tolerable is in its surprising central virtue, which is a patently and wholly ceaseless absurdity.

The best example of this is an utterly earnest exposition scene that explains what is in the titular Dead Man’s Chest. It turns out to be the heart of the primary antagonist, Davy Jones, who is played with chilling cruelness by Bill Nighy. Before this revelation is revealed all of the pirate characters try to guess what is inside the chest in question.

Pintel (Lee Arenberg) who was formally part of the cursed Black Pearl crew in the first picture says “He couldn’t literally put his heart in a chest, could he? This question is amusing to consider in the context of the last film where Pintel was an immortally cursed figure, and now he questions another miraculous event. Dead Man’s Chest is full of these amusing moments.

Another such moment is in the final sword battle between Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), James Norrington (Jack Davenport) and Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) The moment takes place after Turner and Norrington’s fight on a spinning wheel. One attempts to get up and then immediately falls into the water. Whereas the other one tries to heroically, stride across the sea before tripping over. Even more amusing is the commencement of the fight where Pintel and Ragetti explain the motivations of the characters in the three-way land based duel.

This primary strength of Dead Man’s Chest makes it a better film than its predecessor because of how it fixes a major problem with the first picture. In Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow was the overwhelming source of comedic relief, which ultimately made the film a chore to sit through.

In Dead Man’s Chest, the absurdity permeates the entire movie, which makes the character of Jack Sparrow much more palatable because he blends in with the rest of the proceedings as opposed to sticking out as an overt source of irritation. Additionally, director Gore Verbinski crafts scenes that directly remind the audience of Johnny Depp’s prowess as a physical comedian.

For example, in a segment, that feels perfunctory, and pointless in the context of the picture. Sparrow ends up on an island where he is embraced as a God, who will be sacrificed by the indigenous population. While fleeing, he ends up tied up to a giant stick and ends up having pieces of fruit stuck to him until he looks like a human fruit cocktail stick. This long sequence culminates in Sparrow being on the edge of a cliff.

He loses his balance as the fruit from one side stacks up and as a result, he falls off the cliff from a great height. The stick then bobs from side to side in a dangerous and comical way until finally he lands on the ground. The remaining fruit fall around him and the sharp stick narrowly misses him.

There are also great small moments where Verbinski constructs excellent short scenes that are striking in their visual storytelling and evocation of cinema’s grand past. The opening scene is an atmospheric rain-drenched scene that visually showcases a wedding that has been left in ruins, which was ultimately a great subtle start to a truly bombastic movie.

There is also a scene where Davy Jones plays the pipe organ. It called to mind Lon Chaney’s Phantom in the 1925 silent Phantom of the Opera film where his anger masked a deep seeded sadness as he played the piano violently. The contrast between the CGI creation of Davy Jones and what the film was evoking was sublime and illustrates the picture’s rare moment of great film making along with a powerful illustration of a character’s inner state.

At this point, it seems that equating any summer franchise movie to a rollercoaster seems to be an exercise in damning a picture with faint praise. Nevertheless with Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest, the comparison seems apt. The movie series is based on a Disney ride and in some ways, one can see the construction of these pictures in that vein.

Dead Man’s Chest shakes its audience around with its jarring tonal states. However, by the end of it, you do not feel shocked, fed up and frustrated. One still cares about the fate of the characters, which is a good quality that does not reside in the continuing instalments of the popular film franchise.

Review: Spectre (2015)

Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux in Sam Mendes's 007 adventure Spectre.

By its title alone, the twenty-fourth James Bond picture in the long-running film series announces its ambition. Primarily, Spectre is the name of the nefarious organisation that 007 encounters in many of his cinematic adventures. However, in the context of this film, the title takes on a double meaning as it alludes to the thematic exploration of the picture.

Death is a constant presence in the film. The first thing we see on screen is a message that says, “The dead are alive.” The statement could be interpreted as applying to the opening scene, which depicts Bond (Danial Craig) hunting down a man in the midst of the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. However, it applies to individual characters who have recently passed away or have used death as a ruse to live out their life as an entirely different person.

In the first case, the recently deceased M (Judi Dench) gets the plot in motion by asking Bond to track down a man in Mexico City, kill him and then go to his funeral. Early on in the picture, Bond quips to Moneypenny about his former boss by stating that “She would never let death get in the way of the job.”

The second and perhaps most prominent advocation for the opening statement has to do with the character of Franz Oberhauser. In the film, it is stated that he died in an accident along with his father. However, this turns out to be false as Oberhauser faked his death and then rose up to become Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who is the head of the criminal group Spectre.

Even death pervades the film in visual terms as Hoyte van Hoytema’s shots for the movie looks ghostly with its harsh black and browns fusing together to create an all-encompassing unearthly feeling. This strong thematic exploration is fascinating territory for a James Bond picture.

Nevertheless, the rest of the film fails to be as interesting. Despite the abundance of action sequences, ideas and interactions, Spectre ultimately feels deficient. A big part of this comes from a lack of dramatic weight, which has been an indispensable cornerstone of the Daniel Craig era.

While the screenplay presents some intriguing points such as James Bond meeting a kindred spirit in Madeline and confronting an aspect of his past. None of these fundamental ideas feels satisfactory at all. Part of this problem stems from the execution of these established elements in the screenplay.

For example, we find out in the final act of the picture that Ernst Stavro Blofeld is Bond’s step brother who killed his stepfather because of jealousy due to the attention being paid to the young James. Christoph Waltz’s performance lacks any danger or venom; it feels like a casual shrug at best. Waltz’s usual polite demeanour does not work for this character. As a result, the revelation seems like a pointless addition.

Additionally, while Madeline conceptually feels like a good match for Bond, their chemistry never illustrates why Bond would walk away from his life as a 00 agent. Moreover, their love story feels incredibly rushed and takes an awkward, melodramatic turn when she declares her love for Bond in the midst of witnessing him being tortured. In the context of Casino Royale and On Her Majesty Secret Service, the love story feels like an unnecessary element that is used as a device for the audience to believe that Spectre represents Daniel Craig’s swansong.