Tag Archives: 2015

Quickie: Mr Holmes

Mr Holmes posterAn aged, retired Sherlock Holmes (Sir Ian McKellen) looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman.

Most iterations of Sherlock Holmes revolve around the great detective using all his cunning and guile to solve a labyrinthine mystery that would outwit most normal folk. Mr Holmes‘ focus, however, is less on the mystery and more on the man himself as he battles old age.

Through flashbacks, the film does involved a mystery of a woman apparently plotting to kill her husband, but this is nothing more than a Maguffin, and it’s Holmes’ struggle to recall these events that is of more interest. Those looking for an intriguing mystery may be a little disappointed, as there’s nothing that’s really going to have you on the edge of your seat, but the snapshot of an older Holmes is intriguing enough in itself.

Sir Ian is simply mesmerising as Holmes. From the way he holds himself and moves around to the way he breathes is so precise. Laura Linney hams it up a little as his housekeeper, but Milo Parker as her son Roger is superb, a real little Sherlock Holmes in the making.

Whilst it may be largely throwaway, Mr Holmes is an intriguing take on the character, and is a look at the loneliness that genius can bring with it as he battles perhaps his greatest foe yet, and one that he will ultimately not defeat – his own mortality.

3 and a half pigeons3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Whiplash

Miles Teller in Whiplash

Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller) is a promising young drummer who enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an instructor who will stop at nothing to realise a student’s potential.

One of the key pieces of music in Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is entitled ‘Caravan’, an exhausting jazz composition made up of breathless assaults of percussion punctuated by quieter moments leading to roaring crescendos that just leave you feeling worn out by the end. That’s Whiplash in a nutshell.

From the moment we fade in we’re bombarded with machine gunning drum solos from the clearly talented Andrew Neimann, and we’re also straight away introduced to the man who’s going to test Neimann both physically and mentally to his absolute limits.

Simmons is hugely intimidating, from the way he holds himself to the unflinching delivery and enunciation of every bile-spewing syllable.

The relationship between Neimann and orchestra conductor Terrence Fletcher is at the very centre of Whiplash and it’s an absolutely fascinating one. Foul-mouthed Fletcher is absolutely terrifying as he channels Full Metal Jacket’s Gunnery Sargeant Hartman in berating Neimann and his bandmates, and yet it’s hard to completely dislike him.

Whether he’s high-fiving a friend’s young daughter or playing piano in a jazz bar, there are glimpses of a softer side that keep him human, but there are also questions as to whether his unorthodox methods of motivation are actually warranted. Is it right to push someone so far if it gets results? Do the means justify the ends? It might not be as black and white as it first seems.

J.K Simmons and Miles Teller in Whiplash

Both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are superb here. Teller’s physical performance is hugely impressive as he hammers away at the drum kit, whilst Simmons is hugely intimidating, from the way he holds himself to the unflinching delivery and enunciation of every bile-spewing syllable.

Others characters are largely window dressing and are of little to no consequence, which is one of the film’s few missteps. Neimann’s fleeting relationship with cinema worker Nicole (Melissa Benoist) is the worst offender, her character reduced to nothing more than a plot device by which to illustrate Neimann’s dedication to his drumming. Integrating the supporting characters into the story a little more could have added some depth.

A vital part of Whiplash’s effectiveness is down to Tom Cross’s quite wonderful editing; the frenetic cuts dictating the pace of the film and perfectly mirroring the aggression and tempo of not just the drumming but also Neimann and Fletcher’s dynamic with each other.

Whiplash’s premise is an incredibly simple one but its delivery is absolutely exceptional. It’s somewhat bare bones in terms of plot, but just watching Teller and Simmons butt heads so brutally is captivating and makes for a truly breathtaking experience. Very much my tempo.

Pros

  • Fantastic performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons
  • Brilliant editing helps dictate the pace of the film
  • Breathless drumming scenes

Cons

  • Weak supporting roles

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review – Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

In a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max, a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland.

During grotesque warlord Immortan Joe’s chase of Max, Furiosa et al, one of the many, many vehicles is fronted by a blind bloke in a red jumpsuit playing a double-necked guitar that spews fire. For no apparent reason. And that pretty much sums up the absurdity of Mad Max: Fury Road.

They say never go back, but that’s exactly what director George Miller has done and there’s absolutely no signs whatsoever of him mellowing with age. Incredibly light on dialogue and exposition, Fury Road opts for retina-burning action instead, rarely giving you chance to catch your breath before the heavy metal soundtrack erupts and away we go again.

You feel sweaty and grimy, covered in dirt, sand and oil just watching it, and it feels great.

Its several action set pieces are visceral, brutal and simply spectacular, stunningly choreographed into a dance of death across the dystopian wastelands. Whilst undeniably impressive, the non-stop action does become a bit one-note and the film would benefit greatly from just taking the odd breather and fleshing out its characters a little more. Max himself feels woefully underdeveloped, and just giving us that little extra glimpse into who he is would have been welcome.

Charlize Theron as Furiosa

One of the main reasons the films works as well as it does is the aesthetic created by Miller and his cinematographer John Seale. Many post-apocalyptic films tend to have a rather washed out colour pallette but Fury Road is drenched in colour which just adds to the ludicrousness of the whole thing. And then there’s the vehicles and the noise and the make-up and bonkers editing – you feel sweaty and grimy, covered in dirt, sand and oil just watching it, and it feels great.

Whilst claims that Fury Road is some kind of visionary feminist masterpiece are somewhat wide of the mark, the film does do plenty to puts its men and women on much more equal footing than most other films of similar ilk.

For most of the film, this is Furiosa’s story, not Max’s – whether you want that is up to you.

You don’t need to look much further than Charlize Theron’s apocalyptic Ellen Ripley, Imperator Furiosa (Furiosa Road?), and her relationship with Max for proof of this. Furiosa enjoys just as much screen time as Max and we learn much more about her than Max’s Silverback grunts and gesturing ever give away. For most of the film, this is her story, not his – whether you want that is up to you.

At times Max does feel a little sidelined and this does bring about some issues, not because he has the right to be front and centre at all times, but because here we have a main character that, often, you struggle to really become invested in. Those who have seen the original Mad Max films may fare better here, but for those new to the series, there’s a good chance you won’t actually care that much about Max.

Whilst Fury Road is hardly the modern day classic some are labelling it as, it’s hard to beat when it comes to adrenaline-fuelled, fire guitar-wielding action. Its sheer vision and extravagance are to be applauded, and whilst a little more plot/character development wouldn’t have gone amiss, it’s a tremendous way to hopefully kickstart a new era in the Mad Max franchise.

Pros

  • Amazing action set pieces
  • Strong female lead in Charlize Theron’s Furiosa
  • Wonderful aesthetic and lore

Cons

  • Becomes too action-heavy
  • Could have done with more character and plot development

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Foxcatcher

Channing Tatum & Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Champion wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont (Steve Carrell) as he trains for the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.

Olympic wrestling (not the uber camp scripted stuff) probably isn’t the most glamorous of sports in all honesty. Two men in big baby-grows and weird helmets rolling around on the floor whilst no-one is really sure of the rules isn’t exactly riveting stuff, which makes it all the more amazing just how absorbing Foxcatcher is.

But of course Foxcatcher isn’t really about wrestling. Naturally there are wrestling scenes dotted throughout the film, and some of them are superbly done, but the actual wrestling very much takes a back seat. Instead it’s the relationship between Mark and Du Pont and to a slightly lesser degree Mark’s brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) that is the main focus.

Foxcatcher is a film that shouts the loudest during the very quietest of moments

This gives the film a much slower pace then it might otherwise have; so slow in fact that it might turn some people off to it, but it’s a film that shouts loudest during the very quietest of moments. Director Bennett Miller keeps everything very methodical and purposeful, rarely breaking out of walking pace, yet creating something wholly absorbing.

Much of this is down to the wonderful performance of Steve Carell as the creepy, menacing John Du Pont who, whilst being almost entirely deplorable, you just want to see more of and is totally engrossing when on screen. Everything about his demeanour is unsettling, from the way he walks to how he holds himself in conversation to how clearly uneasy he is around other people.

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Carell does, however, inject just enough vulnerability into the character, stopping him from becoming too one-note. The constant search for validation and acceptance from all those around him actually make Du Pont, at times, more accessible than his chilly exterior first allows.

Mark Ruffalo is also excellent as Dave Schultz, showing the caring and attentiveness Du Pont could only dream of from a member of his family, whilst Channing Tatum does what needs to be done but rarely anything more. Tatum gives us occasional glimpses of a more nuanced character, but is largely just a canvas on which Carell can work.

Mention should also go to Greig Fraser’s cinematography which is mercilessly foreboding and chilly with even the odd horror film inflection thrown in every now and again.

The story of Schultz and Du Pont is an odd one, and much has been made of the accuracy of the film in depicting the real-life events, largely by Mark Schultz himself. The homoerotic undertones may be disputed by Schultz but they’re subtle enough to add an extra layer of intrigue to the story and depth to the characters.

Whilst wrestling might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Foxcatcher is about so much more than that, and the central performances ensure an absorbing watch from start to finish regardless of your interest in the actual subject matter.

Pros

  • Brilliant performance by Steve Carell
  • Strong performance from Mark Ruffalo
  • Hugely effective cinematography

Cons

  • A little slow paced at times

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Birdman

Michael Keaton & Edward Norton in Birdman

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero. He must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

How do you review a film like Birdman? It’s virtually impossible to truly describe it and do it justice using only words on a page or a screen. I did consider writing this review in one continuous sentence or paragraph as a nod to the film’s camera work, but decided it would just make reading my stuff even more painful than usual!

So where do we start? Let’s go for Birdman himself, Michael Keaton. Getting Keaton to play the role in the first place is a stroke of genius considering his role as Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns. Like Riggan, Keaton has never been as popular since playing a superhero and you could argue that Birdman is Keaton’s version of the play Riggan is attempting to direct.

Keaton is fantastic as Riggan, constantly walking the lines between creative genius, enthusiastic try-hard and mental breakdown, all three personalities vying for centre stage. Due to the semi-autobiographical nature of the film, it does feel as if we’re seeing a window into Keaton’s own mindset and, as such, it feels like a very personal performance. A scene in which Riggan lays into a Broadway critic feels very much like he’s finally spewing forth an opinion he, and countless other actors, have been waiting a lifetime to express.

Emma Stone as Riggan’s daughter and Edward Norton as an arrogant Broadway star also put in excellent performances, both of whom also seem less than mentally stable themselves.

Michael Keaton in Birdman

Birdman’s cinematography is in the hands of Emmanuel Lubezki, who did such sterling work on Gravity, and here, along with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s direction, he’s created something quite breathtaking. Birdman is shot as if it’s one, continuous sweeping camera shot, swooping gracefully from one scene to the next and occasionally using timelapse to advance the narrative, all set in and around Broadway’s St. James Theatre.

Like Hitchcock’s Rope, edits are hidden very cleverly, although on first viewing the whole thing may be a little distracting as you could be forgiven for focusing more on the camera technique than anything else. It is, however, nothing short of a technical and creative marvel and should be applauded for helping to make Birdman something rather unique.

There’s a fair bit going on under Birdman’s hood, which is why a written review barely scratches the surface. It’s about fame, popularity, social media, mental health, the film industry and a million other things. It’s one of those films in which you get out what you put into it; there are metaphors and subtexts at every turn and you’re never really sure whether what you’re seeing is literal or metaphorical. For example, does Riggan really have the telekinetic powers he exhibits when no-one else is around or are they figments of his imagination? It’s a film that lets you make those kind of decisions for yourself.

You could even go as far to say that there’s actually a little too much going on. With the aforementioned camera work, the erratic drum soundtrack and myriad of ideas and themes criss-crossing here, there and everywhere, it can be a little difficult to take it all in, at least on first viewing. It’s all good stuff that’s being thrown at you but with so much of it, only some of it can actually grab your attention at any one time.

Birdman is one of those films that almost demands a second viewing (and perhaps a third and a fourth) but it’s such a whirlwind of an experience there’s every chance you’ll watch a different film each time. It’s difficult to say Birdman will appeal to everyone as it most likely won’t, but if you want a film that’s innovative, thought-provoking and unique then it’s an absolute must-watch.

Pros

  • Breathtaking camera work
  • Great performance from Michael Keaton and surrounding cast
  • Gives you plenty to think about

Cons

  • Sometimes a little too much going on for its own good

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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