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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Fences

So close to greatness...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Based on the Pulitzer prize and Tony award winning play of the same name, Fences tells the story of Troy Maxson, a troubled ex-con and baseball player, doing his best to raise his working-class, African American family in the tumultuous 1950s, when the Civil Rights movement hadn't yet hit and the United States of America was heavily divided by class and race.

What we thought

The major failing of Fences is almost immediately evident right from its opening scene – which, ironically enough, is probably the least obvious example of such in the entire film. As we follow our (anti?) hero, Troy (Denzel Washington) and best friend, Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson) back to the Maxson homestead from their blue-collar job, the two men converse in a way that mixes the rhythm and flow of something between Shakespearean verse and street poetry with grounded, then contemporary dialogue. This scene is arguably the most kinetic in the entire film but it's already clear that what we have here is more a filmed version of a play, performed on more realistic sets on a very slightly larger canvas, than a fully-fledged piece of cinema.

However, though the sheer staginess of the film does stop it from quite becoming the masterpiece that the play undoubtedly is, Fences remains an extraordinary piece of work – and, if most of us aren't fortunate enough to see the real-deal on stage, this film acts as a pretty great consolation prize.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fifty Shades Darker

Making Fifty Shades of Grey look like a perfect masterpiece...

This review is also up at Channel 24. However, since I wrote it rather late at night, soon after seeing the film, there are quite a few grammatical errors on my Channel 24 version, which hopefully I caught for this slight revised review.

But no, my opinion on the movie has hardly softened over the past few days so the general gist is much the same...

What it's about

Following on from the events of Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia and Christian try to give their relationship another chance, even as obstacles – both inside and out – threaten to tear them apart.

What we thought

In my review for the film, I went through some lengths to defend Fifty Shades of Grey as a film that never really had a chance to transcend its dodgy source material, but one that gave it the old college try anyway. Director, Sam Taylor-Wood gave the film a sense of style that elevated the clumsy trashiness of its source material, while Dakota Johnson's wry, nicely modulated performance undercut the sheer absurdity of everything else going around her. Even Kelly Marcel's script improved somewhat on E.L. James' largely atrocious dialogue.

(For reference sake, I should point out that I haven't read the books in full but I have sampled a chapter or two of them to get an idea of what the fuss was about. And yes, that included some of the naughty bits, which were easy enough to find because, like any R-rated action film from the '80s or '90s, they - or at least some of them - were situated smack in the middle of the story.)

Fifty Shades Darker, however, isn't so much “darker” as it is much, much, much “crappier”. Anything that even remotely worked about the first film was largely removed for the second film and what was already bad in Fifty Shades of Grey was only amplified in its followup. That it's total softcore-porny trash goes without saying, but that it doesn't even work on that level tells you everything you need to know about just how bad the film is.

Denial

One of the smaller films of the week but that hardly makes it any less worthwhile.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

The true life case of how Deborah E. Lipstadt, a highly respected professor of Holocaust and Jewish studies, went head to head in court with David Irving, an infamous historian and Holocaust-denier, to fight the libel suit that Irving brought against her after she called him out in her latest book.

What we thought

Based on Deborah Lipstadt's own book, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” Denial is a film that may lack in terms of cinematic scope (you won't lose much watching it on TV, in other words) but it is nonetheless a compelling, intriguing drama with excellent performances and a level of timeliness that is almost shocking.

Denial isn't simply about Holocaust denial and it's certainly not really directly about the Holocaust itself (though it does treat it with all the sombre respect such a subject deserves), so much as it's about seriously relevant questions about free speech, racism/ anti-semitism and the nature of facts.

While the rising tide of anti-semitism sweeps once again throughout the world - on both sides of the political aisle - and anti-Muslim hysteria has turned sensible cautions against Islamist terrorism into blatantly obvious religious discrimination, the film's examination of the insidious nature of racial, religious and cultural prejudices strikes a particularly resonant note.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rings

Sigh.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

The second sequel to the English-language remake of the Ring, where the deadly videotape starts to once again terrorize all who watch it and the one young woman who has no choice but to try and stop it.

What we thought

I remember nothing about the Ring 2 beyond a few rubbish CGI sheep but I can't imagine that it was anywhere near as bad as this sequel/ reboot.

The original English-language remake of the Ring remains a touchstone of 21st century horror cinema, both in the way it ushered in a, in retrospect, relatively brief but intense flirtation between Hollywood and Japanese horror (especially those involving water and lankly girl-monsters with long, straight black hair) and in being a very fine, genuinely quite creepy horror flick in its own right. It's been a long time since I revisited it and I am afraid that it might have lost much of its power over the intervening years, but, in my memory at least, it remains one of the scariest horror movies ever made.

It's with a certain amount of sadness, then, that I have to report that the attempt made by director F. Javier Guttierez and his co-writers, Akiva Goldsman and Juan Velarde, to both follow up the original and relaunch it as a franchise is an unmitigated mess of a film that squanders both the good will of the original film and its own perfectly decent (if largely entirely irrelevant) opening sequence involving Samara coming to claim her latest victims on a full passenger aeroplane mid-flight.

(Speaking of the film's villainess, do yourself a favour and check out the IMDB photo of the woman who plays her in this film, Bonnie Morgan. It's the only truly shocking thing to do with the film.)

From the introduction of Jared Galecki as the college professor who introduces the Ring tape back into circulation through to the film's pathetically underwhelming final twist, Rings is, at its best (and it's seldom at its best), blandly derivative of the original film and, at its worst, a dreary, boring and incoherent waste of celluloid that fails resolutely to raise either interest or scares.

Despite the seemingly endless information dumps, the film makes little sense and it's even harder to care when the characters are this less-than-paper-thin. With the film already failing this badly to bring the viewer into the story or to engage with the characters, though, it becomes all the worse when you take into account the dull cinematography, awful pacing and that horrible washed-out, blue-grey colour pallet that has become all the rage since the original Ring (remake) made great use of it but has become a millstone around the neck of more modern genre films than I can count.

While Rings is pretty underwhelming all the way through, it's in its final act where things go particularly pair shaped. Even before we get to the twist that's presumably supposed to be some sort of brilliant revelation but is instead little more than a daft attempt to set up more sequels, the final third betrays the creeping psychological horror that was the first film's bread and butter for the sort of sub-slasher nonsense that only the worst psychological horror films need resort to, but is exacerbated by some horribly murky camerawork that makes it as hard to see as it is to care about what's going on on-screen.

Italian actress Matilda Lutz does her best as our leading lady, despite the shaky material she has to work with (and certainly had me convinced that she was nothing other than a born and bred American) and Vincent D'Nafrio adds his usual gravitas to what is both the film's juiciest and dumbest role but if there is any hope to be had in successfully following up on the chilling thrills of the original English-language version of the Ring – and, considering how self-contained it is, I'm almost certain there isn't – it's certainly not to be found here.

Amazingly, though, this isn't even the worst horror sequel of the week!




And that movie is...


No real reason to review this: it fails on every single conceivable level but Resident Evil fans will still stick up for it. I do want to say, though, that this has some of the worst editing I've seen in a genre film in a long, long time. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (yeah, right) isn't just bad, it's all but entirely unwatchable.