Monthly Archives: August 2013

Film Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt rider who discovers he has a young son with former girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes). In order to provide for his son, he turns to robbing banks, but meets his match when he comes up against rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper). Despite only meeting fleetingly, their confrontation will have lasting consequences.

The Place Beyond the Pines tries something quite tricky. It attempts to create a large-scale story spanning over 15 years whilst trying to keep the focus very much on the characters. It examines the theme of legacy; how the actions of one person can have dramatic ramifications for others years later. It’s an ambitious film, but one that director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance handles admirably for the most part.

The film is a triptych of sorts, split into three distinct sections, each blending into the next. What happens in one section of the film has distinct consequences for what’s to come, and the writing neatly knits the various plot strands together. It could easily have got tied up in itself but it remains fluid and uncomplicated throughout.

It does suffer a little from pacing issues, however. The first third of the film, featuring Ryan Gosling’s bank robbing stunt rider, is (unsurprisingly given that description) the most interesting and exciting part of the film. After that the film slows and never really reaches the same level again. The final third with Avery’s son AJ is perhaps the weakest section, primarily because it asks us to invest in characters with whom we’ve had no previous involvement. It’s interesting to see how what’s gone before affects AJ and his friend but being introduced to two new characters so late on in the film is a big ask of the audience.

Performances are generally strong across the board. Mendes and Cooper are believable in their roles and Gosling plays yet another Drive-esque role as the quiet, sultry anti-hero. He may be becoming known as somewhat of a one trick pony but, to be honest, this works pretty perfectly for the role. There are also a number of strong auxilliary performances. Ray Liotta is excellent as Avery’s corrupt cop colleague, whilst Mahershala Ali is also strong as Kofi, Luke’s competition in his relationship with Romina. Dane DeHaan is also worthy of a mention as AJ’s clearly damaged friend; DeHaan is really establishing himself as a fine young actor.

PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

The Place Beyond the Pines does require a certain amount of effort from its audience. The film methodically explores the characters and the world they’re in, never rushing or unnecessarily forcing its messages. It asks the viewer to be patient and actually think about the characters, their motivations and the consequences their actions have, which is exactly what good filmmaking should do.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Quickie: The Lone Ranger

the-lone-ranger-posterNative American Tonto (Johnny Depp) stumbles upon outlaw John Reid (Armie Hammer) at Death’s door and together they try to track down the villainous fugitive Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and bring him to justice.

When Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp gave us Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003, it was a lot of fun but deteriorated in quality with each subsequent sequel. Verbinski and Depp have teamed up again for this big screen adaptation of the much-loved TV show and are clearly hoping a familiar formula will be enough to draw in the crowds.

See, Johnny Depp’s Tonto is essentially Captain Jack Sparrow of the Wild West, which does give the film a slightly too familiar feel to it. Having said that. Depp’s performance is brilliant and probably the best thing about the film, which itself is fun but bloated and drawn out. Armie Hammer also never seems comfortable in the titular role, often playing second fiddle to his Native American partner.

We’re treated to impressive action sequences at the beginning and end of the film, but these bookend a rather dull middle section that tries to add more depth to the story, only to succeed in losing any focus it had. It’s difficult to see where The Lone Ranger will find its target audience – too long for most children (and probably most others) but too silly for many adults.

For all its foibles, The Lone Ranger isn’t a complete write off, despite what many critics have said. There is some fun to be had in the set pieces and Depp’s Tonto should raise a few giggles, even if the inconsistent pacing and bloated run time stop it being any more than your average summer blockbuster.

3 pigeons

3/5 pigeons

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Debuts Blogathon – The Final List!

Myself and Mark from Three Rows Back yesterday posted an update and second call for our ‘Debuts’ blogathon. Well the response has been completely overwhelming; so much so, in fact, that we have had to put a stop to entries, simply because otherwise it will just run away from us and we feel we’ll be able to deliver a better blogathon with a finite number of entries.

Both Mark and I have been blown away by the number of people wanting to take part. We’ve got 24 entries, including our own, some from some familiar faces and some from bloggers we’ve never actually conversed with before, which is fantastic. We’ve actually had to turn people away and say we’re all full up (apologies to Stu from Popcorn Nights who missed out by literally a few minutes, but check out his site anyway, ’cause it’s great).

A massive thank you to everyone who has agreed to take part; there’s an unbelievably good mix of stuff, and we’re really excited about it all kicking off. The final list of contributors is as follows:

Head in a Vice – Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The Soul of the Plot – Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden (1925)

Cindy Bruchman – Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me (1971)

FlixChatter – Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Committed to Celluloid – Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (2000)

Cinematic – Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973)

Tranquil Dreams – Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Karamel Kinema – Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (1998)

The IPC – Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate (1991)

And So It Begins… – David Gordon Green’s George Washington (2000)

She Speaks Movies – Joon-ho Bong’s Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)

Film Police – David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977)

Ewan at the Cinema – Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle (1960)

The Running Reel – Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999)

Marked Movies – The Coen brothers’ Blood Simple (1984)

Big Screen Small Worlds – Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket (1996)

Keith & the Movies – John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Cinematic Katzenjammer – Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009)

Video As Life – John Lasseter’s Toy Story (1995)

The Silver Screener – Christopher Nolan’s Following (1998)

From the Depths of DVD Hell – Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982)

Blank Page Beatdown – Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave (1994)

As well as this diverse list, Mark will be looking at Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape(1989) and I will be writing about Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire (1953).

Now that we have our list, we’ll be aiming to start the blogathon on Monday, September 2 and will post one review each on our sites (12 on this site and 12 on Three Rows Back). We’ll make sure to flag up each other’s daily posts to ensure every review on the list gets plenty of exposure.

Thank you to everyone who’s taking part in what we’re sure will be a great blogathon.

Debuts Blogathon – Second Call

debuts collage 2

Following on from our initial announcement of the ‘Debuts’ blogathon, hosted by myself and Mark at Three Rows Back, we’re putting out a quick update to show who’s on board, what films have been snapped up and a call out for anyone else who would like to get involved.

For the uninitiated, ‘Debuts’ unsurprisingly looks at directors’ debut features (no shorts). Here’s the list of those already signed up to take part…

Head in a Vice – Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The Soul of the Plot – Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden (1925)

Cindy Bruchman – Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me (1971)

FlixChatter – Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Committed to Celluloid – Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (2000)

Cinematic – Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973)

Tranquil Dreams – Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Karamel Kinema – Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (1998)

The IPC – Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate (1991)

And So It Begins… – David Gordon Green’s George Washington (2000)

She Speaks Movies – Joon-ho Bong’s Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)

Film Police – David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977)

Ewan at the Cinema – Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle (1960)

The Running Reel – Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999)

Marked Movies – The Coen brothers’ Blood Simple (1984)

Big Screen Small Worlds – Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket (1996)

Keith & the Movies – John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Cinematic Katzenjammer – Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009)

Video As Life – John Lasseter’s Toy Story (1995)

The Silver Screener – Christopher Nolan’s Following (1998)

From the Depths of DVD Hell – Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982)

Blank Page Beatdown – Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave (1994)

As well as this diverse list, Mark will be looking at Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) and I will be writing about Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire (1953).

As well as reviewing the film itself, we’d also love your write-ups to look at how their first feature has impacted on their work. How have their subsequent films fared against their debut? Has the director improved or steadily declined over subsequent features?

Do you have a director whose debut you’d like to cover? If so, then there’s still time to contribute! We’re looking to run the blogathon from Monday, September 2. Before you get cracking, please drop one or both of us an email at chris1039@hotmail.com or email Mark on threerowsback@gmail.com by Sunday, August 25 letting us know who you’d like to write about (just so we don’t get duplicate posts) or for more info.

Thanks for reading and, most importantly, DON’T MISS OUT!

Film Review: Only God Forgives

Julian (Ryan Gosling) runs an amateur boxing club in Bangkok as a front for drug smuggling. After his brother is killed, his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) orders him to avenge his brother’s death. However, local law enforcer Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) is a constant presence, one that is both ethereal and deadly.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous collaboration with Ryan Gosling, 2011’s Drive, has become one of the most revered films of the past few years with many praising Gosling’s ‘strong, silent type’ performance as well as Winding Refn’s existentialist themes and stunning cinematography. With Only God Forgives, both parties offer up more of the same, although those hoping for Drive 2.0 will be sorely disappointed.

It’s difficult to really get your head around Only God Forgives in that it’s one of those films that will likely reflect back at you a piece of yourself, giving out whatever you bring to it. It’s a very voyeuristic film; the POV shots placing you within the characters, Julian in particular, which allows you to draw your own conclusions, something that will likely empower some and frustrate others.

Ryan Gosling

The film’s story is reasonably straightforward but there’s a huge amount going on beneath the surface, if you want to see it that is. With castration anxiety, oedipal issues and a heap else, Only God Forgives is littered with subtexts and allegorical sections that really give the film more depth than it first appears, although the fact that these themes aren’t plainly laid out may irk those who prefer a more conventional, straightforward narrative.

The aesthetics of the film may also be slightly contentious for some. The cinematography is undoubtedly impressive, but it does feel slightly contrived at times. Everything is lit to within an inch of its life, often bathed in various hues of red, pink and blue. It’s so highly stylised that it can feel like you’re watching a slideshow of neon-drenched artwork. This does, however, give the film an ethereal, nightmarish quality that, for me, was wholly absorbing.

Performance-wise, it’s difficult to really elaborate on anyone other than Kristin Scott Thomas as Julian’s disturbing yet cowardly mother, Crystal. Vithaya Pansringarm just really hurts people and Ryan Gosling stares at things, and that about sums up those performances. Scott Thomas is excellent, however. As Crystal she’s a truly repulsive creature but steals every scene she’s in. When Julian tells her that his brother raped and killed a young girl, her response is simply, “I’m sure he had his reasons.” She’s the beating heart of the film and, although abhorrent, constantly demands your attention.

Kristin Scott Thomas

Mention has to go to the Cliff Martinez’s superb score. Martinez contributed heavily to the excellent score for Drive and he’s once again delivered the goods. A mix of unnerving, industrial pieces mixed with more catchier tunes really helps add a huge amount of atmosphere to the film and is just as essential a component as the direction or cinematography.

Everything about Only God Forgives feels very deliberate and methodical. From the framing of the shots to the slow, purposeful movement of the characters, it’s clear that Winding Refn had a very clear vision of what he wanted to create, almost regardless of the effect it would subsequently have on the audience. In fact, everything feels so planned out that it comes close to crossing the line into pretentious self-parody territory at times. If Quentin Tarantino was trying to make a Stanley Kubrick film, Only God Forgives would be the result.

Having said that, it drew me in, asked questions of me and made me think, and not a lot of films have done that this year.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

When North Norfolk Digital radio station is taken over, DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) is made redundant in an attempt to reach out to a younger audience. However, Pat doesn’t take kindly to the news and holds a number of people hostage inside the radio station. Fellow DJ, a Mr Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan), is tasked with bringing the situation to a peaceful conclusion.

Alan Partridge fans (of which I am one) have been waiting for this film for a long time. Writers Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci have been talking about an Alan Partridge film for years but only now has it finally materialised, and any fans worried about Norfolk’s finest making the transition to the big screen, leave all your concerns at the door – it’s ruddy bloody brilliant.

Several Partridge familiars are present, including Sidekick Simon (Tim Key), Geordie jack of all trades Michael (Simon Greenall), and of course his long-suffering assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu), all of whom do their bit and fit in perfectly to Alan’s self-centered world. However, make no mistake, this is Alan’s film and Steve Coogan’s portrayal of Partridge is as glorious as always. Puffed up and cocky one moment, seemingly on the verge of a mental breakdown the next, Coogan has become synonymous with Partridge, and managing to successfully evolve the character over two decades is quite the feat.

Of course, as important as the characterisation is the writing and Coogan and Iannucci have delivered a script that is full to the brim with quotable lines and memorable moments. Alan asking his radio listeners ‘which is the worst monger?’ (fish, iron, rumour or war?) is just one example of the very specific brand of Partridge humour that is littered throughout the film and that has transferred superbly to the big screen.

Which brings me onto my gripes with the film, of which there are only a couple. See, Alan is at his best when he’s at his most mundane, when he has little going for him. In Alpha Papa he is at his most confident and buoyant, and that simply isn’t quite as funny. Similarly, in shifting from TV to film the situations he finds himself in are much more extreme than we’re used to seeing. Sure, it’s funny to see him with his pants around his ankles ‘tucking himself’ between his legs to avoid photographers, but it’s the smaller moments that have come to define the character – the walking along the motorway singing the theme tune to Goldfinger on his way to purchase 12 bottles of windscreen washer fluid from a petrol station, or simply explaining how inertia-reel seatbelts work. 

Naturally, Alpha Papa is a film that is only really going to appeal to a pretty niche audience, one largely based in the UK. Those who aren’t a fan of Alan Partridge will find absolutely nothing here to make them change their mind, but for avid Partridgites it’s a near perfect big screen debut full of moments to make you cringe and full-on belly laugh in equal measure. Lovely stuff.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

 

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Blogathon announcement – Debuts

debuts banner 2

So I’m busy wasting time on Twitter when a message pops up in my inbox asking if I’d like to jointly host a blogathon. Having never done so before, I jumped at the chance.

That message came from the inimitable Mark Fletcher at the outstanding Three Rows Back and that blogathon is ‘Debuts‘. Unsurprisingly, ‘Debuts’ will focus on directors’ first features (shorts not included), whether that be some little known feature no-one’s heard of or a breakthrough piece that catapulted them to stardom. We (well, Mark originally) thought it’d be interesting to see how a director’s first feature film compares with the rest of their filmography. Have they got better over time? Or have they gone steadily downhill, never able to recapture their original form?

And this is, of course, where you come in. Do you have a director whose debut you think deserves to be put in the spotlight? Maybe you’d like to look at Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs? Or Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle? How about Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead or Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane?

Mark and I are getting our choices in early – perks of hosting a blogathon and all that. I’m going to be looking at Stanley Kubrick’s Fear & Desire whilst Mark will be tackling Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Aside from those two, the world of directorial debuts is your oyster.

We’re looking to run the blogathon starting Monday 2nd September, probably for about a week or so. If you’d like to contribute (and we really hope that you do!) or have any queries at all then drop me an email at chris1039@hotmail.com or you can send one to Mark at threerowsback@gmail.com by Sunday 25th August letting us know who you’d like to write about (just so we don’t get duplicate posts) or for any other info.

We’ll stick out a few reminders over the coming weeks, but as we may well put a cap on the number of entries, we advise you getting in early to avoid disappointment (ours as much as yours).

We’re pretty excited about this and hope we get some wonderfully insightful entries from some great bloggers. Thanks for reading and we hope to hear from some of you soon! GET INVOLVED!

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Film Review: The Conjuring

When the Perron family move into a New England farmhouse and are harassed by malevolent spirits, they call in renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) to rid the house of the spirits. However, this is a case unlike any the Warrens have experienced before.

The Conjuring is based in the ‘true’ case files of Ed and Lorraine Warrens (probably most famous for their work on the Amityville case), which will no doubt set off alarm bells with a lot of people, as will the fact that we have yet another haunted house tale – is there anything here to set the film apart from those we’ve seen before?

Well, yes and no.

There is very little new in The Conjuring that we haven’t seen in countless other horror films. It ticks just about every horror film box which does unfortunately drag the film into cliche a little too often and make the whole thing somewhat predictable. Isolated farm house? Check. Nervous dog? Check. Spooky boarded up basement? Check. Creepy kids’ toys? Check. I could go on for quite a while.

Having said that, even though the film does tread familiar ground, it does so very effectively. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) knows how to pace a horror film and doesn’t miss a beat throughout. Whether it’s a fleeting face in a mirror, a creaking door or sleepwalking child, Wan executes it with aplomb and delivers on the scare front more often than not. And it’s in these slower, more subtle moments that the film is at its most effective, with Wan’s use of long takes, dolly zooms and disorientating camera angles really intensifying the atmosphere.

We don’t always see what the characters see, allowing our own imagination to fill in the blanks. As such, when the film does show its hand, often resorting to standard jump scare tactics, it feels a little cheap.  Everything then gets ramped up in the final third, as you’d expect, and this does reduce much of the impact, although as this is based on ‘actual events’ it’s difficult to see how it could have been much different.

A lot of credit must also go to the cast. Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor do well as the Perrons but it’s Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga who are the stand outs here. They are wholly believable as the famed demonologists, with Farmiga in particular excellently portraying Lorraine Warren as a caring but slightly damaged individual, although with the actual Lorraine Warren helping out with the story it’s hardly surprising the pair are sympathetically portrayed when others would argue they perhaps shouldn’t be.

For diehard horror aficionados, The Conjuring probably won’t offer up anything you haven’t seen umpteen times before and it may seem rather too ‘by numbers’. However, for the casual horror fan there’s enough here to have you gripping the edge of your seat whether you believe it’s a true story or not.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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What is… The Bechdel Test?

The Bechdel Test is a way of assessing women’s roles in movies. It was devised by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 and can highlight a severe gender bias across the film industry.

Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel

To pass the Bechdel Test, a film must satisfy the following requirements:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.

Bechdel came up with the test as part of her Dykes to Watch out for comic strip, that particular entry entitled ‘The Rule’. She attributes the idea to her friend Liz Wallace. It is otherwise known as the Bechdel Rule, Bechdel’s Law, the Bechdel/Wallace Test, and the Mo Movie Measure.

If you take a moment to apply the Bechdel Test to a bunch of films, it’s quite startling how many don’t meet the criteria. Of course, your feelings on that will depend on how much you think it actually matters whether films pass the test. And the test does have its limitations. It’s very possible that a film could pass the test but still contain highly sexist content. Similarly, it could fail the test but still have strong female characters and themes.

To see a reasonably comprehensive list of films and whether they pass the test or not (and if not, why), then check out bechdeltest.com.

Personally, I think it’s pretty flawed, primarily for the reasons mentioned above, although it is interesting to think about just how few women there are in many films and how male-centric the industry clearly still is. I guess a lot of this comes down to the writers and whether they should consciously try and write more female characters into their screenplays, although I’m not sure shoehorning a female character into a film for the sake of it is the right thing to do. It’s a topic that could be debated until the end of time.

So what do you think? Is the Bechdel Test a load of feminist nonsense? Or does it serve to highlight the lack of strong female roles in films? Spill your guts in the comments below.

For more entries in the ‘What is…?’ series, click here and (hopefully) learn a little bit about deep focus, chiaroscuro, German Expressionism, and more.

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