Archive for the Action Category

Rush

Posted in Action, Biography, Drama, Sport with tags on January 22, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ron Howard.
Screenplay: Peter Morgan.
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jamie de Courcey, Pierfrancesco Favino, Natalie Dormer.

A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends“.

Before he became a director, Ron Howard was originally known for his acting as Richie Cunningham from “Happy Days” and that character seems to have plagued his career since. Howard can certainly resemble the character’s name in some ways; He makes production companies ‘rich’ and he most certainly delivers ‘ham’ but he lacks the ‘cunning’ to be the truly great director that he perceives himself to be. Please excuse the very poor puns but if Howard can get away with as many clichés as he does, then I deem myself the right to use as many bad puns as I want. “Rush” is further proof of Howard’s over-praised talents and no amount of money or positive word-of-mouth will change that.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy with tags on January 9, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Peter Jackson.
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens.
Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellan, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, Aidan Turner, James Nesbitt, William Kircher, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Sylvester McCoy, Mikael Persbrandt, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Cate Blanchett.

Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of your enormity, O Smaug the Stupendous…

Now a year down the line, the residing question of whether Peter Jackson’s decision to adapt “The Hobbit” into a trilogy was a wise choice or not, has become a little easier to answer. I’d have to say, that he can probably feel somewhat vindicated as his vision seems to be working. That being said, there’s still an abundance of padding and repetition going on in this second instalment – just as there was in the first – but Jackson has definitely improved here by ironing out the creases a little more.

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Oblivion * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Science Fiction with tags on September 28, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Joseph Kosinski.
Screenplay: Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell.

Say what you will about Tom Cruise but there’s no denying that his choice of projects have always been bankable. Throughout the 80′s and 90′s most of his films and performances were of a particularly high standard. The same could be said of the 00′s as well. However, over the last three years, cracks are beginning to appear; “Knight and Day“, “Rock of Ages” and “Jack Reacher” have failed to register any form of quality. On the surface, “Oblivion” has all the hallmarks of the Cruiser getting back on track but, unfortunately, proves just as lacklustre as the aforementioned duds.

In the year 2077, Earth has been obliterated by an alien race and the surviving members of humanity have moved on to inhabit Saturn’s moon, Titan. Jack (Tom Cruise) and his wife Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) have remained on earth, though, to protect machinery harvesting the planet’s resources before Jack begins to suspect that his mission isn’t as straightforward as he thought it was.

Director Joseph Kosinski follows up his previous science fiction film “Tron Legacy” with another venture into the future. He works from his own graphic novel and delivers an intriguing premise that pays homage to classic Sci-Fi movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Planet of the Apes“. His setting is suitably bleak (captured beautifully by cinematographer Claudio Miranda), his use of visuals are striking and his tone is perfectly sombre. In fact, Kosinski actually assembles a good addition to the science fiction genre. Unfortunately, his assembly soon falls apart due to a script that’s devoid of any substance or characters that we can invest in. The pace is lethargic, to say the least, which only really registers that a lot of the film is just padding. Nothing happens for a good chunk of the movie and when the plot is finally opened up, it fails to make sense or hold any form of coherence. Even if it did, your likely to have lost interest by that point anyway. Cruise wanders around aimlessly (presumably in search of characterisation) and the likes of Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau needn’t have turned up at all. The most frustrating thing overall, though, is that the big reveal is one that we’ve seen many times before and all, but completely, rips-off Duncan Jones’ far superior “Moon“. The similarities are almost shocking and I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen Jones’ name on the screenwriting credits.

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Kosinski is a director that may yet find his feet. He certainly has an eye for sumptuous visuals and can stage a fine action set-piece. However, he really needs to work on a coherent narrative and one that isn’t as dull or desolate as the landscape that his characters roam.

Mark Walker

Big Trouble In Little China * * * *

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror with tags on September 13, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Suzee Pai, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Al Leong, Jerry Hardin.

Director John Carpenter made some excellent films during the 70′s & 80′s – “Halloween“, “Assault on Precinct 13“, “The Thing“, “Escape from New York” and “Prince of Darkness“. Some of these are considered classics bit all take on a serious and/or horrific tone. However, Carpenter has also dabbled in comedy with his debut “Dark Star” in 1974 and “Memoirs of An Invisible Man” in 1992. Here, he combines his talents of horror and comedy and delivers, arguably, the most accessible and enjoyable film in his canon.

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a loud-mouth, wise-cracking truck driver, who, while helping his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) find his kidnapped girlfriend, is drawn into a world of centuries old Chinese mythology. Not before long, he’s battling evil spirits and two thousand year old sorcerer David Lo Pan (James Hong) intent on lifting an ancient curse and ruling the universe.

When released in 1986, Big Trouble In Little China received a very poor reception amongst cinema goers. It was a box-office bomb which greatly harmed the reputation of Carpenter (he went back to making independent films after this) and, to some extent, it’s star Russell. The fault of this doesn’t lie at their feet, though, but actually at the feet of the studio who simply didn’t know how to market it. In some ways, this is understandable as the film refuses to be pigeonholed. In the same breath, it can classed as a Kung Fu movie, a Western, a Fantasy, a Horror and a Romance. In essence, it’s all of these things and it’s also not without moments of Comedy. Carpenter delivers an unashamed homage to B-movie filmmaking and incorporates everything he possibly can. This may not work for some but over the years, this has gained a strong cult following, of which, I’m proud to say I’m a member. It has it’s tongue stuck firmly in it’s cheek and it’s aided immeasurably by Kurt Russell’s riotously entertaining surrogate of John Wayne. His performances have rarely been pitched better or his lines as endlessly quotable. Russell’s embodiment of Jack Burton has to be one of the most enjoyable and buffoonish characters that cinema has to offer and had the studio had their way, it would have been Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson in the role. Thankfully though, it wasn’t, as Russell absolutely nails it – in a style not unlike both of the aforementioned actors – and he and Carpenter skilfully orchestrate their gags on the cultural differences between the East and the West. Burton is very much like Indiana Jones (minus the intellect), as he battles his way through an underworld of the fantastical and the magical where he crosses paths with demonic and monstrous adversaries. If the film sounds over-the-top, that’s because it is, but it’s also a highly imaginative and energetic crowd pleaser.

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Wonderfully witty and adventurous, and one that sees Carpenter at his most gleefully entertaining. He crafts just the right balance of humour and action and his abilities to turn on the horror aren’t amiss either.

Mark Walker

World War Z * * * *

Posted in Action, Drama, Horror, thriller with tags on September 11, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Marc Forster.
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Peter Capaldi, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Ludi Boeken, Fana Mokoena, Elyes Gabel, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu, Abigail Hargrove, John Gordon Sinclair.

In making it to the screen, World War Z wasn’t without it’s problems; firstly, there were complaints of it’s very loose take on Max Brooks’ novel, then it’s violence was toned down to achieve a PG-13 certificate; a script rewrite happened half way through production; cinematographer Robert Richardson left to work on “Django Unchained” and the likes of Ed Harris and Bryan Cranston dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. As all these problems piled up, the expectation was that the film would be an absolute disaster. Well, quite simply, it’s not. Despite it’s problems, it’s actually quite a tense and impressively handled thriller.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former UN worker, happily spending some time at home with his family, until the sudden outbreak of a zombie plague takes over his home city. They are forced to flee and Gerry manages to get his family to safety but news breaks that the whole world is suffering the same outbreak, leaving Gerry to get back in the field and use his experience to search for a cure.

After a brief introduction to our protagonist, Forster doesn’t waste time in getting down to business. Within minutes we are thrust into an absolutely exhilarating opening sequence of the rampaging undead overtaking Philadelphia (actually shot in Glasgow, where I witnessed them filming) and it’s from here that you realise that there’s plenty of potential in this summer blockbuster. It doesn’t matter that there’s a lack of blood or gore because the suspense is handled so competently and effectively that you’re still on the edge of your seat. In fact, it’s the perfect example that less can be more sometimes. What’s most impressive, though, is the epic scale in which it’s delivered. There are several intense action set-pieces where hordes of zombies leap from rooftops, clamber over walls and rampage through an aircraft mid-flight. As an action movie, it certainly delivers the goods and also finds the time to incorporate geopolitics as the epidemic goes world wide. Anchoring all this mayhem is a solidly understated, central performance from Pitt. Having produced this movie – throughout it’s spiralling budget – his commitment to make it work comes across in his performance. He’s entirely believable and identifiable as a family man desperate to survive his chaotic surroundings. Nobody else really gets a look in, including a severely downsized role for Matthew Fox and a brief cameo from, the always reliable, David Morse. Ultimately, the film rests on Pitt’s shoulders, though, and he handles it with aplomb. So much so, that the lack of blood splattering and zombie flesh eating takes a back seat to the character driven drama.
Due to it’s production difficulties, plans for a sequel were shelved. However, having now become a box-office summer smash, the sequel has been given the go-ahead. I, for one, wholeheartedly welcome it.

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Against the odds, this manages to be a satisfyingly tense addition to the zombie sub-genre. It doesn’t go for the jugular in a gratuitous manner, instead it works on your nerves and focuses on telling a relatable story. Die hard horror fans may want more from it, but it delivered just the right amount of thrills for me.

Mark Walker

Saving Private Ryan * * * * *

Posted in Action, History, War with tags on May 24, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Steven Spielberg.
Screenplay: Robert Rodat.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Paul Giamatti, Dennis Farina, Ted Danson, Harve Presnell, Bryan Cranston, Dale Dye, David Wohl, Ryan Hurst, Harrison Young, Nathan Fillion, Leland Orser.

When Steven Spielberg was finally handed a long overdue Oscar in 1993, he received it for tackling the harrowing genocides of World War II in “Schindler’s List“. So far, he’s only received two Best Director Awards and the other was fittingly received when he tackled the battlefields of that very same war in “Saving Private Ryan“. Two different film’s but equally as powerful as the other.

During WWII, Chief of Staff General Marshall (Harve Presnell) is informed of the death of three brothers in different conflicts and that their mother will receive the telegrams at the same time. A fourth brother, Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) is believed to be still alive, somewhere in the French countryside, and the decision is taken to locate him. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), is given the rescue mission of leading his 2nd Ranger battalion through Nazi occupied territory to find Ryan and send him home.

Spielberg is, quite simply, one of the finest filmmakers that has ever graced the craft. He is, and will continue to be, heralded throughout generations of audiences and that’s with very good reason, as he’s instilled a sense of awe and unadulterated entertainment for over 40 years now. Despite an impressive backlog of movies that consists of such classics like “Jaws“, “Close Encounters…“, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T“, the opening 25 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” – where he thrusts us into the 1944 D-Day landings of Omaha Beach – is arguably his most impressive and certainly his most visceral work. It’s absolutely exhausting in it’s construction and sense of realism and the realisation soon sets in, that this cinematic autuer is not about to pull any punches in portraying a time in history that’s very close to his heart. The opening is so commanding that some have criticised the film for not living up this grand and devastating scale but Spielberg has many more up his sleeve. He’s just not able to deliver them too close together – otherwise, the film would be absolutely shattering and very difficult to get through. To bridge the gap between breathtaking battles scenes the film falls into a rather conventional storyline about men on a mission but it’s only purpose is to keep the film flowing and allows Spielberg the ability to make the brutality of war more personal. Two scenes in particular, are as overwhelming as the opening to the film: the hand-to-hand combat between a German soldier and Private Mellish (played by Adam Goldberg) and the deeply emotional and ironic injuries of T-4 Medic Wade (played by Giovanni Ribisi). These moments in the film are the most difficult to watch but they only really work because we are allowed the time to bond with the characters beforehand and experience the combat with them. Each of them have a particular, but very different appeal, making it harder to accept when some of them perish in savage and harrowing circumstances.
The cast also deserve the utmost praise for making the roles their own; the always reliable Hanks is solid in the central role and there are exceptional performances from the first rate support, namely, Barry Pepper and the aforementioned Goldberg and Ribisi, who are all outstanding.
Janusz Kaminski’s magnificent, and Oscar winning, cinematography is also starkly delivered; his images are both beautifully and horrifically captured and Spielberg’s decision to desaturate the colour and adopt some handheld approaches, add an authenticity that’s rarely been captured in the genre and brings another dimension to some of the finest and most realistic battle scenes ever committed to the screen.
There’s not much in the way of criticism that I can throw at this near masterpiece, other than Robert Rodat’s script; the conventional plot strays into cliché where the Germans are completely stereotypical and there is absolutely no sign of an Allied soldier anywhere. Rodat would have you believe that America fought the war singlehandedly, but despite these discrepancies, the film has so much power that these faults can be overlooked.

One of the darkest chapters in our history is viscerally captured in a raw and uncompromising piece of work from a virtuoso director, tapping into the highest of his abilities. Some may prefer the more fantastical and escapist nature of Spielberg, but for me, this is the finest film he’s made.

Mark Walker

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Gangster Squad * * *

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on May 1, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ruben Fleischer.
Screenplay: Will Beall.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Jack McGee, Jon Polito, Josh Pence, Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton, John Aylward, James Carpinello, Don Harvey, Ambyr Childers, Frank Grillo, James Landry Hébert.

Although I’ve yet to see director Ruben Fleischer’s previous comedy film “30 Minutes Or Less“, I did manage to catch his debut “Zombieland” which injected a lot of humour and style in the zombie sub-genre. For his third film, he assembles one of the year’s most impressive casts and decides to drop the comedy and focus on a real-life crime story. His stylish approach is, once again, on show but unfortunately, his film suffers from a dreadfully threadbare script that fails to utilise his very talented ensemble or elaborate on a story with massive potential.

Los Angeles, 1949. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is determined to take hold of the city and muscle out any competition. Police Chief William Parker (Nick Nolte) has other ideas, though. He forms a squad of no-nonsense cops to fight back and puts World War II veteran John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) in charge of the operation. O’Mara assembles his crew and tackles Cohen’s organisation with the same brute force that the criminal acquired it with.

From the off-set, Fleischer doesn’t waste time in getting down to business. The brutality of Mickey Cohen is captured within the first few minutes by a scenery-chewing Sean Penn, on menacing form. Following suit, we are then introduced to Brolin’s strong arm of the law, charged with bringing this notorious gangster to justice. Straight away, Dion Beebe’s gorgeous cinematography and production designer Mather Ahmad manage to capture the glitz and grime of late 1940′s L.A. and it looks like we could be treated to something akin to Curtis Hanson’s sublime “L.A. Confidential“. Unfortunately, the look and feel is where the comparison ends. This isn’t anywhere near as tightly constructed as James Ellroy’s labyrinthine thriller and that’s the most frustrating part; it could have been. The elements are in place but the all-important script seems to have it’s concrete shoes on. The writing is repetitious and lazily strung together and for a film that’s seemingly focused on it’s characters, it ultimately fails to deliver anything that resembles a three-dimensional role for any of the impressive cast on show. Brolin, Gosling and Penn get most of the screen time but this is a role that’s completely beneath the abilities of Gosling as he takes a back seat to the other two and the talented likes of Ribisi, Mackie and especially Peña needn’t have turned up at all. It all but completely abandons the good work it sets out to do and resorts to stylistic action scenes that are drawn out and devour the latter half of the movie – eventually leading to nothing more than a shoot-em-up and an obligatory toe-to-toe thrown in for good bad measure. Quite simply, the whole thing comes across as a poor case of cut-and-paste and squanders what little powerful scenes and performances it does possess.

It’s a real shame that this ended up so superficial when it had so much potential. Instead of being a passable piece of pulp with too much reliance on it’s star wattage, it could have been a solid addition to the gangster genre. I’m sure Fleischer believed in the material at one point but my Tommy-Gun’s not convinced.

Mark Walker

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Welcome To The Punch * * 1/2

Posted in Action with tags on April 12, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Eran Creevy.
Screenplay: Eran Creevy.
Starring: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Peter Mullan, Johnny Harris, David Morrissey, Andrea Riseborough, Daniel Mays, Jason Flemyng, Daniel Kaluuya, Elyes Gabel, Ruth Sheen, Steve Oram.

This film marks the start of a trilogy of UK ventures from actor James McAvoy in 2013. It was released practically back to back with Danny Boyle’s “Trance” and an adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel “Filth” will complete McAvoy’s year. Let’s just say that he hasn’t got off to the best of starts with this one.

During the pursuit of master criminal
Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), doggedly determined policeman Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is shot in the leg which allows Sternwood to escape. Now disgraced within his precinct, Lewinsky believes he will never get the chance bring Sternwood to justice. That is, until Sterenwood is forced out of hiding to return to London from his Icelandic hideaway and hunt down the man responsible for shooting his son. Lewinsky is given the perfect opportunity to rescue his reputation but he also uncovers a deeper conspiracy involved.

I’ve said it countless times before but I’m afraid I’m going to have to say it again; I’m not a massive fan of the action genre. I find it all a bit hollow and the story and logic always suffer for the sake of set-pieces and excitement. This has that very same problem. The reason I went into this was for the actors and the curiosity of how a British made movie, in this genre, could compete in terms with the U.S. At least, on both these accounts, I wasn’t disappointed. McAvoy, once again, proves his leading man credentials with fine support by Mark Strong and British character actors like Peter Mullan, David Morrissey and Johnny Harris. The film’s, near futuristic, look and gritty feel is also perfectly fitting and for a change, a British action movie handles itself just as well as any other. However, it’s ultimately no different from the mind-numbing, generic dross that this genre so often delivers and the plot, as expected, has holes aplenty. In fact, they are so wide, they are actually quite offensive. Despite it trying to play clever and keep it’s cards close to it’s chest, it’s all rather predictable and leaves you with the feeling that you’ve just wasted your time. Eran Creevy does well, in the directing stakes and conducts his action set-pieces with impressive ease but his script has more creeks and holes than his protagonist’s dodgy knee. If it wasn’t for the committed actors and the neon-infused cinematography by Ed Wild, this would be a complete write-off.

With a better script and more respect for the audience this could have been a lot better. Sadly, it has neither of these and carries so much self-indulgence it would be more aptly titled… Welcome to the Paunch.

Mark Walker

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Cloud Atlas * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on February 21, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer.
Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Wishaw, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgees, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, James D’Arcy, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Keith David, David Gyasi, Xun Zhou, Gary McCormack, David Mitchell.

Recently, Yann Martel’s novel “Life Of Pi” made it to the silver screen after an exemplary adaptation by director Ang Lee. However, the novel itself had been deemed ‘unfilmable’ beforehand. There are many literary works that have come under this assumption and David Mitchell’s Booker Prize-nominated novel Cloud Atlas is another. The reception of this film has been very mixed but, give or take, the odd discrepancy and noodle scratching moment, this is an impressively successful endeavour that proves, once again, that the ability to transfer page to screen is entirely possible and vibrantly alive.

1849: a Pacific ocean voyage that unearths a stowaway slave.
1936: an inspirational composition of classical music in Edinburgh.
1973: a manuscript that invites a dangerous conspiracy in San Francisco.
2012: a publisher goes into hiding in a nursing home, fearing for his life.
2144: a totalitarian regime in futuristic Korea gives birth to a rebellious clone.
2321: a post-apocalyptic Hawaii that leads to the cosmos…
These are the six stories that connect life, the universe and everything as past, present and future interlace with one another and humankind struggle to make sense of their existence.

What better way to tell a story than to begin it in the ancient way? An old man sitting around a campfire with scars on his face and wisdom on his tongue. That’s exactly what the trio of directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have done and it sets the perfect opening to an expansive, spectacular, hugely ambitious and visual, storytelling adventure. It’s so vast and labyrinthine that it’s hard to even begin to break it down. It works on so many levels; from the metaphorical to allegorical, as well as, the tangential and does so while setting it in six different centuries (from the 19th to the 24th) and having the same actors play several different roles throughout. It’s difficult to find your feet and it could take at least an hour before you even get a hint or actually begin to grasp anything that’s going on. Once the narrative strands do come together, though, the film becomes a completely immersive experience.
It poses questions as to the meaning of our existence and the direct relation we have to one another and whether our experiences in life are just luck or predestined by means of Karma, reincarnation or simply through a greater, unknown, connection within the universe. In other words, it explores the complex questions and search for answers that have been pondered from time immemorial. It also incorporates the influence of art, television and how easily deities can be constructed and how, essentially, humankind is their own worst enemy. There will certainly be more questions than answers throughout this journey but what this film does, is run with life’s conundrums, meanwhile freeing itself from narrative conventions and hits you from six different angles all at once. It really is astoundingly complex stuff.
Now, I don’t profess to understand Cloud Atlas in it’s entirety. I did manage to get a reasonably good handle on it’s elaborate tapestry but it’s a film that requires, at least, a couple of viewings to fully grasp. The utmost patience and concentration is essential and if you happen to switch off for a second – throughout it’s almost three hour long running time – then it will, ruthlessly, leave you behind. You have been warned: this film will pickle your brain for weeks. It has confounded many; so much so, that it’s been written off as disappointing or a pretentious mess. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that it should not be ignored. The only drawbacks I found were the tenuous linking between a couple of the stories and the tone of the film shifted a little uneasily in places. Nevertheless, this is one of the most ambitious, intelligent and beautifully constructed film’s for quite some time and, if invested in, will bring many rewards.

I don’t know why I’d choose to paraphrase at this point other than to sum up this film (and my review) by leaving you with the words of a wiser fellar than myself: “I guess that’s the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ it-self, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands a time until – aw, look at me, I’m ramblin’ again… Catch ya further on down the trail“.

Mark Walker

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Django Unchained * * * *

Posted in Action, Western with tags on January 18, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Quentin Tarantino.
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, Walter Goggins, James Remar, James Russo, Dennis Christopher, Laura Cayouette, Don Stroud, M. C. Gainey, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, James Parks, Michael Parks, John Jarratt, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Dern, Franco Nero.

Few director’s can claim such enthusiasm upon the release of their new film but Quentin Tarantino is certainly one of them. There’s always a real buzz and anticipation to see what provocative and sensationalist material he’ll be serving up. So, back he comes and once again he has revenge on his mind. This time it’s not with Samurai’s or Nazi’s but with six-shooter gunslinging as he heads West (or south, as the case may be) to pay homage to the films of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. This being the most renowned, creative (or plagiaristic) auteur behind the camera, though, he just can’t help himself, and infuses it with all sorts of influences. And the results? The results are highly impressive and thoroughly enjoyable.

In the American South, two years before the civil war, former dentist now bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) free’s a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who will be able to help him track down three outlaws known as ‘the Brittle brothers’. As their relationship develops, Schultz learns of Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who is now the property of ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and they both hatch a plan to free her.

Depictions of slavery have been commonplace throughout the history of cinema. The television show of Alex Haley’s “Roots” in 1977 was one of the first to have a major impact on audiences and Steven Spielberg gave a harrowing introduction of it in his 1997 film “Amistad“. Despite some distressing early scenes in that film, though, Spielberg decided to focus more on the legal issues involved and it progressed into a courtroom drama. Here, Tarantino chooses differently and doesn’t pull any punches. He depicts the brutality these people faced with daring and damning conviction. As always, controversy has followed. It uses racially aggressive language throughout but although Tarantino isn’t known for his entire commitment to historical events, his attention to detail here is fitting and even though it’s been criticised from others (mainly Spike Lee who refuses to even watch it) it has, in Tarantino’s words, created a “dialogue” amongst people about the seriousness of this dark chapter of American history. If one positive is to be taken from this film, it’s that. These heinous events should be addressed and it would seem that Quentin is the only one willing to do it. Personally, I applaud him.
Like most (if not all) of Tarantino’s films, when the actors are verbalising the work of his quill the results become an oratory dance with dialogue. On the surface, this doesn’t have as many quotable lines as his previous works but where Tarantino has improved, is in keeping a scene running with endless wordplay and skilfully teasing a tentative audience. There are memorable and quotable lines here, for sure, but his maturity now lies in drawing out the almost unbearable tension between his characters. His past movies have always contained riveting dialogues but “Inglorious Basterds” was proof that he’d taken it further and could craft masterful scenes of suspense. This is no different, and it’s helped immeasurably by the actors involved; Foxx delivers some solid work as the titular character but has little to do in the earlier part of the film and, if truth be told, he gets overshadowed by three sublime supporting performances (who incidentally had their roles written specifically for them); Waltz is, simply, superb and a similar breed to his character Hans Landa from “Inglorious Basterds“. He’s just as loquacious but, only this time, more endearing; DiCaprio acts up a storm with a rare villainous role who is prone to fits of sadistic and uncontrollable rage and Jackson is perfectly fitting as his dedicated servant who is a conniving and twisted individual. It’s in these superb actors that most of the enjoyment is found in Tarantino’s latest. Although the subject matter is dark and the violence vividly displayed, the story’s not without humour and one particularly satirical scene involving the Ku Klux Klan and their inability to see through their makeshift hoods is absolutely hilarious. It also looks magnificent with cinematographer Robert Richardson capturing the vast and desolate landscapes to perfection.
Even though they are slight, the film is not without faults. Over-length is an issue with some scenes that could have been trimmed without compromising the overall impact and, at times, there was too much reliance on convenience in some plot developments. Still, when it’s the ingenuity of Tarantino at the helm, these minuscule misjudgements can be overlooked as the journey itself is so enjoyable.

A parody of Spaghetti-Western, with humour, violence and blaxploitation. If anyone can make this work, Tarantino can. And that he does. This is another impressive addition to his canon and even though the “D” may be silent, his artistic voice is, most certainly, not.

Mark Walker

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