Friday, 13 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 - 2017

So, this film seems to have been deemed a flop - and half the online writers have written the 5 reasons, 7 reasons and 10 reasons it didn't work. They feel compelled to come up with reasons, because the critics, and much of the audience that did watch it, think it's an excellent film.

I watched Blade Runner 2049 a few hours after re-watching the original Blade Runner (1982) - and my expectations were much lowered because of that. I hadn't liked the Ridley Scott cult favourite when I first saw it in the 1990s, I hated it when I saw it again in the 2000s and I still couldn't hack it in 2017. I understand how my personal aversion to most sci-fi films is attributed to my disdain for, say, the Star Wars franchise, for example (I've also been told that I pretend to hate them only because I like to be 'contrary'), but I maintain that a well-written, well-made film, regardless of genre, will always win my genuine appreciation. Blade Runner does not fit that requirement. I find it too slow and interminable, with a series of long, moody, atmospheric scenes that stop being relevant once the 'mood' has been established; and the mood is unfortunately established multiple times. I understand that this 'original' stylisation spawned many future characters and set-pieces, and for that we will be eternally grateful (I can see how Joss Whedon was inspired by it, when I watch Firefly, his awesome 2003 sci-fi series). I also understand that it broached certain philosophical and existential questions, which I think are still unanswered, about consciousness and what difference having a soul, if there is such a thing, makes. But I still cannot understand why everyone thinks it's a great film, because it bored/bores me.

Anyhow, with low expectations and little faith, I went to see the sequel, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

This is another neo-noir, a mystery that unveils truths of the last 30 years (since the previous film's ending). There is a new philosophical conundrum, an extension of what we saw in the last instalment of the story. There are new replicants, more advanced but more compliant. There are new humans, seemingly more 'soulless' and less conscionable than the androids. In the midst of all this, is K (Ryan Gosling), our new protagonist, with a clear purpose and a remoteness of character. It seems that K's biggest flaw, throughout the film, is that in spite of his lack of humanness, he finds in himself, that most human of all aspects: he finds Hope. And in its pursuit he finally finds Deckard (Harrison Ford) almost 120 minutes into the film, and ties up many loose ends. But the questions about humanity, love, compassion, sacrifice, and hope being the birthright of humans, being the very factors that make humans superior to machines, being the result of a soul - these questions remain asked and unanswered. As they should.

I was unaware when I went to see it that the film was not directed by Ridley Scott, but by Denis Villeneuve. It was only afterwards that I realised this is the work of the same man who directed the excellent Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016). Like those films, this is beautifully crafted and delivered. The cinematography is flawless; whether it is the extreme close-ups, or the large landscape shots, the colours, the movements, the compositions, they are all perfect. Editing is appropriate and nothing feels too drawn out - even the slow, long scenes remain interesting and relevant. And the acting - wow! Most of the film hinges on Ryan Gosling's performance, and like his character in Drive (2011), he has very few lines to communicate what he's feeling. But Gosling's greatest ability is in what he can communicate with his face, and his eyes. And he does not fail his audience here. Not once.

Even as a self-confessed sci-fi-phobe, I highly recommend this film. It requires patience, but it fully rewards the patient viewer. Much, much better than the original.

Monday, 9 October 2017

mother! 2017

Darren Aronofsky has done it again. He's delivered a perfectly crafted, difficult to endure, conversation-piece of a film.

After 2010's Black Swan, his best film in my opinion, he directed Noah (2014), his worst in my opinion. So, I desperately needed his next film to remind me of what he is capable of. And mother! is everything an Aronofsky fan could want, and more. Does that mean I loved it? No. Far from it. But there's very little I can fault in it.

First the easy bits - technically, the film is very powerful. The hand-held cameras follow and capture every nuance of the main protagonist's expressions. The cinematography is grainy, and the sound mixing is sharp and accurate. Together, the visuals and sounds, create a constant sense of uncertainty, a fear of the unknown and of impending doom. The editing, for the most part, is excellent (there's room for improvement in the final act). And the direction, the performances (especially Jennifer Lawrence's), the delivery - they're all perfect.

The issue, if there is one, is entirely with the content.

What feels like a psychological thriller (much like Black Swan) slowly reveals itself to be more of a philosophical (like 2006's The Fountain) and theological (like Noah) conundrum. It takes a while to understand what the protagonists stand for, what their story is about, and what Aronofsky wants to tell us. And while that is quite clever, it was for me, quite disappointing. I guess I expected more, and once I realised where I was being led, I just needed it to reveal and end quickly. Hence the very violent, very graphic, very out of control second half felt badly edited; almost unnecessarily long. That may have been intentional too, but it made me dislike the film intensely.

The story revolves around a set of unnamed characters: a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) obsessively fixing and renovating and recreating a childhood home for her husband who she dotes on; her husband, an older man (Javier Bardem), who once wrote a perfect novel, for which he is known, but now struggles to write anything of that stature; a male guest (Ed Harris) who shows up out of nowhere one night, and despite the wife's hesitation, is invited by the husband to stay overnight and seems to provide him with a new-found inspiration; the guest's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who shows up unexpectedly the next day, whose existence till that moment was not known, who also ends up staying over just as the hostess's hesitation is turning into a slightly frenzied discomfort (this female guest interferes into the hosts' lives to the point that she meddles with a precious stone the host is especially sensitive about and ends up breaking it, after which she proceeds to have sex with her husband with the door left open); two sons of the guests who show up out of nowhere, have a huge physical fight, and one brother ends up killing the other with a heavy object. As the wake is also held in the same house, new people show up one after another, seemingly taking over the house, breaking things, making the hostess feel unwelcome in her own home, while her husband, who is being fawned over seems oblivious to the damage being done and enjoys the attention and the company with no cares for his wife or his home.

As the ensuing madness reaches boiling point, this chapter ends, to reveal a calmer second chapter, where the guests have been thrown out, the hosts are finally alone again, the house is perfect again, and they are expecting a baby. The husband has finally finished his book, it's been published and has been well received, and they are sitting down to enjoy each other's company, when a fan arrives. And then another. And another. And very quickly, their newly renovated world goes through another cycle of madness, another round of unruly guests who take over the place, steal from it, ravage it, pillage it - all the while ignoring the mother(-to-be). Her husband, once again, is oblivious to the damage, as he is too wrapped up in the fervour around him. She repeatedly asks him to stop them, and he doesn't. A montage of ills befalls her house, and finally as she delivers her baby boy, her husband takes it away and gives it to the fans, who tear it apart within seconds and distribute its flesh and eat it. As she screams in agony at the death of her son, her husband appeases her and asks her to forgive the people. In her rage, she burns the house down - with herself in it, and when she has nothing left to give, her husband takes her beating heart, her precious stone and the cycle starts all over again.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If only Aronofsky had not told the story of a God, weakened by his adoring people, a pillaged Mother Nature and a tortured Mother Mary, and a disgusting  mob of the human race, to create this shabby analogy, I'd have enjoyed the suspense and the creepiness of the film. But the moment, I made the connections, I switched off. And every further reveal just annoyed me. And I can't decide whether I am more angry because this is a preachy parable, based on the Bible or because this is an atheist's angry tirade against a God he doesn't believe in. Are we to learn a lesson about respecting Mother Nature before our world implodes yet again as has been told over and over again in holy books, or are we to hate the very concept of this narcissistic God who in his obsession to be adored has actually turned away from his creation and has give us too much freedom to destroy what we have. Whichever way I look at this, I find myself revolting against the contradictions in the philosophical angles.


Whatever it may be, one thing is for sure. Darren Aronofsky has made yet another film that will be discussed and analysed for a long time to come.

I can't recommend it, but it is an interesting film. Watch it if you are a fan of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist or films of that ilk.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Live By Night 2016

Sometimes I really regret my unwavering decision to never read reviews before watching a film. I could have been saved so much misery if I had read the reviews for Live By Night. Universally panned, this film adds nothing to the 'gangster' genre or the Prohibition-era dramas.

Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a small-time crook, dating a notorious Irish gangster's moll (Sienna Miller). He gets punished for this indiscretion with a beating that leaves him inches from his death, while his beloved girl is reportedly drowned for her folly. After recovering from his wounds, and serving a sentence of just a few years for robbery, Joe joins a rival Italian gang, moves to the south and starts working with Cubans to expand the alcohol trade, while steering clear of drug money. He is instructed to set up a legalised gambling business, which he fails at, because the recovering drug addict daughter (Elle Fanning) of the Sheriff (Chris Cooper) is able to whip the church goers into a frenzy about the evils of gambling - which prevents this from becoming a legal trade. Eventually the enraged Italian mobster makes a deal with the Irish gangster we met at the start, they both come down south to kill Coughlin and to hand the business over to the Italian gangster's son. Of course, Coughlin kills everyone, finds out that Sienna Miller is still alive, has a pointless chat with her and goes back to his Cuban wife (Zoe Saldana), who produces a son, and promptly gets killed in a drive by shooting. The film ends on some half-hearted message about karma.

The film potters clumsily from one scenario to the next, with cringe-worthy dialogue, terrible acting and interminable scenes. There are possibly two or three rare moments of clever writing, which are instantly followed by the characters explaining the joke or the trick in detail (for anyone who has seen the film, think of the 'marked bottles' trick, or the 'Digger' joke, both of which were killed by the moment after you finished smiling).

This film exploits the mediocrity of 'talents' Ben Affleck possesses. Awful writer, check. Terrible director and producer, check (honestly, no one has ever been able to get Chris Cooper to act so badly. EVER). Charmless actor, check (he has a smirk and a frown - that's the sum total of expressions on his wooden face - and he's no Bruce Willis so he can't even make those expressions work to his benefit). Whatever respect he garnered with Argo (2012), he has lost again. Maybe, it was Jennifer GARNER who had turned his life around - and with his baby gone, he's a loser again. Bad joke? Sure. It's a terrible joke. But it's better than any line from the film. So there!

The year is barely 2 weeks old - and this is probably the worst film I'll see all year. AVOID at all costs.

Monday, 16 January 2017

La La Land 2016

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Dancing. And singing. In an old-school musical, set in the present day. What could go wrong? Lots apparently; not that the Golden Globes have noticed.

Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) are both hopefuls living in LA. One wants to be a great jazz musician, with his own club that will revive the tradition of jazz, while he plays Christmas jingles at run-down restaurants. The other wants to be a great actress, known for her talent, while she serves coffee in the local cafe. They meet, they fall in love, good things happen, bad things happen, life happens. All with a song and dance to keep you entertained. The end.

Now we don't expect a musical to have a ground-breaking story. I mean there is a pattern to the genre, and to give the film its due, the pattern is followed well here. But what you expect from a musical is flawless dancing...set pieces that make you gush...songs that are not only well-composed and memorable, but are sung beautifully. Just a few years ago, we forgave Pierce Brosnan (or did we) and Meryl Streep for trashing Abba's repertoire - and we did that because the songs were well-known, we have all sung them badly, and the actors seemed to be having a great time on a Greek island; so we all felt like we were on a holiday with them.

But La La Land, in some way, seems to be pretending to be better than that. In its heart it seems to believe that it is to the Musical, what The Artist (2011) was to the Silent film. It thinks it's a revival. isn't. The dances aren't flawless, the choreography isn't breathtaking, the tunes aren't that memorable, the singing is REALLY nowhere close to good. And honestly, Bollywood produces about 200 films every year that do a better job at creating set pieces worth watching.

If it wasn't for Emma Stone's unbelievably emotive eyes, and Ryan Gosling's heart-melting expressions, I would wonder why this film got any attention at all. Dancers they may not be, singers they are not, but actors they definitely are the best of. And they deliver an entertaining film, with their combined effort...and effortless, natural chemistry. Their dancing appears cute, their singing sounds sweet, and you want to give them points for trying. Plus, the last 15 minutes of the film are more poignant and beautiful than the entire rest of the film.

Worth watching, because it does make you smile. But lower those expectations that the record 7 Golden Globe wins may have raised - because the film isn't all that good.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Assassin's Creed 2016

I once used to boast that I 'found' Michael Fassbender first...such was my devotion to his acting and persona that I felt the need to claim him. This was, of course, before he acted in a long list of films that disappointed me to the core. To be fair to him, even in the unbearable Macbeth (2015), he was the sole bearable component. Barely, but bearable nonetheless...

But now he's really done it. He's ended my blind fandom. I went to see Assassin's Creed for him. I thought, "He's a wonderful, brooding actor. He'll do a great job with this multi-dimensional (literally) character". But I should have broken my own rule, and read a review or two before watching this film. If nothing else, I would have learnt that the film not only stars Marion Cotillard, a consistently disappointing actress whenever she performs in the English language, but also that this scifi-fantasy-thriller-drama was directed by the same criminal (Justin Kurzel #neverforget), who slaughtered my favourite Shakespeare play just the year before...with the same two actors in the lead.

The film is inspired by the video game franchise, but features an 'original' story that goes thus: a bunch of convicts have been rounded up by the distinctly French Sophia (Cotillard) and her distinctly English father Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), as they are the direct descendants of the Assassins, who were protecting a prince in Granada in 1492. Star convict Callum (Fassbender) is a direct descendant of star Assassin Aguilar (also Fassbender), who seems to have hid an Apple (yes, an apple) that was central to Adam and Eve being cast out of heaven (and yet the apple remains whole...where's the bite???), which was being sought by the Templars back in the day, as it holds the genetic code for free will (oh dear God, my head will explode). So Callum is strapped to a machine and he enters the 'Animus', meaning he gets to relive Aguilar's memories. Yada yada yada, cut to the chase, Sophia is doing all this in the name of science, while her daddy is the modern day Templar, whose sole purpose was to get at the Apple. The film is called Assassin's Creed and the main Assassin is played by Michael you really think the Templars will win this?

The dialogues, the acting, the direction, EVEN the action is all so bad that each minute feels interminable. A lacklustre project that somehow pretends to have depth by throwing in some scenes in Spanish, some mindless religious mumbo-jumbo that makes no sense at all, and some heavy, brooding moments...except it all comes across as super lame, thanks to the terrible writing.

Please, please, please don't watch it. Don't encourage them to make another one. Please.