Only God Forgives (2013)

Genre: Thriller, Drama, Crime

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

Rating: ★★★★

Only God Forgives was a controversial and the “cliché marmite” film of last year as it was either blasted and destroyed by critics or quite contrary praised and applauded as one of the best. Nicholas Winding Refn writes and directs the unnamed sequel to Drive, which is a popular soon to be classic in the making, however Only God Forgives takes a very different approach. Technically and visually powering with a very vague story surrounding sex and violence it brings a mixture between art and action leaving a lot of thoughts and opinions with its audience.

We follow Julian (Ryan Gosling) in the heart of Bangkok who ten years previously killed a man and went on the run. In the present and day to day he manages a Thai boxing club whilst playing a major role for an underground drugs operation. He’s a powerful, respected individual with a life, but inside he is empty. When Julian’s brother murders a young underage prostitute the police call on a retired cop, Chang –The Angel of Vengeance. Chang allows the girl’s father to kill Julian’s brother giving him the power of revenge however Chang “restoring order” chops of his hand.  Julian’s estranged criminal mother Crystal flies over to collect her son’s body, with a dysfunctional relationship Crystal orders Julian to seek revenge. Julian empty and lifeless accepts the challenge and dispatches to find his brother’s killer and “raise hell”. However Julian trying revenge The Angle of Vengeance will lead to a battle of more than just strength which ultimately could restore what he has been missing.

Winding Refn’s story attempts to carry on from Drive (2010), Julian is now emotionless and the violent personality we saw in Drive has taken over completely leaving him not only lost but dangerous. The film has a clear plot however it is not executed so it is clear visually; everything is disguised and very vague. Refn attempts to create links and most importantly achieves this, however to understand Only God Forgives you will have to notice the tiny references which relate Chang’s actions together in his arrival and departing scene. The final scenes are amazing to watch however “the fight” scene is by far the best and most stand-out being anticipated throughout. The story in a whole for me is very strong and although it has been criticised on its vagueness and obsessive sex and violence it is all for a reason; Refn makes us think and to show how empty Julian is we watch him when he should be most intimate and connecting. Once again Winding Refn creates a very misty, symbolic and aggressive film.

Visually Only God Forgives is brilliant, it has been described as “perfect photography but without the captions”, that description is spot on. Each and every frame is a joy to experience and has been shot with precision and accuracy. The cinematography again is equal and this alongside Refn’s direction flourishes within the long awaited fight scene. Only God Forgives is technically flawless with even the make-up department thriving in turning the idolised and loved face of Gosling into something that looks broken and destroyed and more so the special effects team on creating gore which is worthy of the horror genre should be praised. The sound is also a highlighting feature and again likewise to Drive it should be applauded as Cliff Martinez shows great talent and skill.

Criticisms have been harshly focused too on Ryan Gosling and his performance which some have said isn’t worthy to be called a “performance”. However for me Gosling was brilliant, it is most likely harder to act without emotions then it is with, as it is human nature that we display emotions each and every day, every second. To capture such a lifeless and empty Julian, Gosling should be praised. However it was only Gosling that really impressed as the rest of the cast although very silent due to script and Refn’s nature wasn’t too believing or real.

Only God Forgives was victim of very bad criticisms however for me there were only two major flaws and areas I didn’t find impressive. The acting in general as I said with the exclusion of Ryan Gosling was very poor but more so this was due to a very mute script from Refn that didn’t pay off as he hoped despite turning more attention maybe towards the visuals.  The story too for me should have been directly linked to Drive and therefore it would have created a better understanding even if there was a short opening sequence continuing from the end of the 2010 hit.

Only God Forgives is a very complex film yet looks so simplistic, once the story is digested and understood it is then easier to enjoy and be inspired by what is a technically and visually flawless film. It thrives of an excellence main character and acting, whilst elements of gore and effects are well managed and executed. Winding Refn creates a very lovable film which for me was one of my favourites of last year and although not the most easiest to watch nor understand it can become very entertaining and essentially a worth-while viewing.

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The Human Race (2014)

Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-fi

Director: Paul Hough

Writers: Paul Hough

Starring: Paul McCarthy-Boyington, Eddie McGee, Trista Robinson

Rating: ★½

The Human Race has just entered UK Cinemas and this is something very much to my surprise; after viewing this low-budget mess of a film not so long ago I was very unimpressed and somewhat annoyed at Paul Hough’s creation. A fun and interesting concept is tangled within a very unorganised and unstructured plot, coming across very unentertaining and confusing, whilst performances and direction are again something that isn’t creditable.

The story centres on a group of 80 people, they find themselves standing on an unconventional race track but clueless to how they arrived. They have been plucked out of normal life and routine and now find themselves with those from all walks of life, young and old, homeless and upper-class, athletic and disabled. A voice in their heads speaks, a voice heard by each individual within their own language, it delivers simple clear rules and instructions “If you are lapped twice, you die. If you step off the path, you die. If you touch the grass, you will die. Race… or die.” Panic, terror and humour sets in but as a member falls onto the grass their head explodes ruling out any doubts, it seems that they all have to race till death and there will be only one victor.

The concept itself is something that is very strong and even reading that brief summary the film sounds inviting and action-packed but how the story is approached ruins all creditability. Our first main character in whom we follow for the opening scenes is wiped out, killed and exploded within the first seconds of the race, from then onwards we follow and recap the lives of a few more competitors and a final set of racers seem to emerge. At the forefront are two friends, Justin and Eddie (Paul McCarthy-Boyington, Eddie McGee) one is a likable children’s worker, the other an ex-veteran, alongside them are a deaf French pair who had previously been jogging before being transported to this undisclosed location. However as the voice counts down as another competitor dies our characters stories and plot lines seem to vanish, leading up to an absolute ridiculous ending which is unexplainable, wasteful and annoying to watch due to its confirmation to the fact you’ve wasted over an hour watching this film.

The acting is at times shocking, it comes across very unnatural and robotic somewhat dated too, it really doesn’t shout out 2014. In some respects the criticisms can be swayed to the script and poor writing, something that obviously didn’t give the actors and actresses much to work with. The deaf pair are completely annoying, their previous recap story is believable someone heartfelt however within the race what unfolds is truly horrible with even an unnecessary and slightly weird necrophilia rape scene taking up the screen. To accompany the overall concept on the list of positives the effects weren’t amazing but when heads start exploding in numbers it looked fun and provided some rare (very rare) entertainment.

This although a review of The Human Race is also a warning, I was annoyed I watched and experienced this master-class in being a terrible film but if I had paid to see this in the cinema I would simply… step on the grass. A fun concept and some equally entertaining head explosions and effects don’t unfortunately for Peter Hough balance out a really poorly developed film, one which is neither enjoyable nor easily watchable.

Panic Room (2002)

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime

Director: David Fincher

Writer: David Koepp

Starring: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker

Rating: ★★★★

Panic Room is a film that is both clever and at the same time thrilling, Fincher although not creating a classic but a film which is always remembered and known. A great storyline with innovative effects make for an entertaining and fulfilling watch, whilst stars such as Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart add solid performances to cap of a good release.

The storyline focuses on a woman and her daughter on their first night within their new large Victorian three-floor apartment. Meg (Jodie Foster) is mum to Sarah (Kristen Stewart), divorced she looks after her diabetic and bold teenage daughter but her night is troubled when intruders invade. Three men searching for a missing and hidden fortune break into their new home but when Meg and Sarah are awoken by their surprised visitors they take refuge in the house’s panic room but what the intruders want is where the hosts are hiding. The intruders think of ways to fight their way in and scare the pair out, but locked away Meg and Sarah try their best to survive and get help fuelling for some exciting events.

Thrilling is an understatement, there are many jumpy and heart-racing moments throughout Panic Room achieved by some great screen-writing. There’s real horror to the idea of someone breaking in whilst you’re asleep and likewise being trapped within your own house with three intruders. There always seems to be huge plot twists and deciding moments too which keeps the story not only entertaining but fast-paced which is a huge highlight to Panic Room.

The acting ensemble is also a distinguishing feature to Fincher’s film; Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart give solid performances which add to the film’s thrilling experience.  However equally as impressive was the roles and acting of the three intruders. Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakum, Jared Leto play Burnham, Raoul and Junior. Whitaker’s Burnham is a great character although a thief and burglar there is a real likable and sympathetic aspect to his character and persona. Whilst newly Oscar-famed Jared Leto plays the brilliant, clueless and funny character of Junior who is equally lovable and hateable. Panic Room’s performances really live up to the films overall quality and add again to the experience created.

David Fincher’s directing is great really creating the heavy, isolated and somewhat claustrophobic feel very successfully. The way the camera’s floated through everything and fly around the house is awe-inspiring something very new and innovative for almost 12 years ago. The very opening credits as the letters floated on the Manhattan backdrop was flawless and set the tone for the amazing camera work throughout. Although this is an underrated release from Fincher he should be praised for not only bravery to accept such a challenging task but his excellence in achieving such an exciting film which is only set within one house and mainly in one room.

The only faults that Panic Room holds are at times the annoyance that gets created by Foster’s Meg’s clumsiness. At many times simple things turn into drastic and dramatized moments, such as reaching for a fallen phone and knocking over loud furniture which at times can even be predictable. The only other picky thing I can fault is how I would have liked to seen a bit more justice or closure on the character of Burnham. However these aspects really don’t put down this film too much.

Panic Room deserves much more praise than it gets, alongside writer and director David Koepp and David Fincher for creating such a thrilling clever film. It can be so tense and thrilling it is amazing considering the simplicity of the events and setting. It isn’t as outstanding as other Fincher films but it is new and unique and shouldn’t be forgotten, easily watchable and enjoyable Panic Room is the definition of entertainment in many ways.

 

The Way Way Back (2013)

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Starring: Steve Carell, Liam James, Toni Collette, Allison Janney

Rating:★★★★

The Way Way Back to my surprise was a film that I saw on a lot of lists come the end of 2013 but since watching I can certainly agree with its inclusion. Surprisingly warming, pleasant and funny it sways from the stereotypical “teen-comedy” and produces a refreshing much welcome change. Good solid performances from the whole cast along with a witty well-written script The Way Way Back is entertaining and defiantly deserves its praise.

Duncan (Liam James) is a shy, in-the-background 14 year old who doesn’t have a conventional lifestyle and is forced to go on summer vacation with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her horrible arrogant boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his equally annoying and spoilt daughter. Whilst his mum is busy putting herself “out there” meeting  Trent’s vacation friends Duncan finds himself left out and unable to fit in. Riding around on an a pink little girls bike he discovers the Water Wizz  Park and quickly forms a bond with manager Owen (Sam Rockwell), finding an unexpected friend in Owen, Duncan soon finds out how to enjoy his summer vacation but he still has to face is overbearing and disastrous family.

The story is pleasant, although at first it looks to be the typical comedy of the neglected family member getting revenge or becoming a hero or a romanticist it changes and somewhat becomes more serious. Duncan’s relationship with Owen is hilarious and obviously the highlight, he is given power and earns a reputation at Water Wizz and with that Duncan comes out of his shell and turns out to be a funny and “cool” kid. The relationship though is also pleasant as it is obvious that the two have a bond and Duncan looks up to Owen as a role model in ways, the way that the Owen looks out for Duncan is very warming too. The other relationship storylines in the film are not as good but decent, Duncan and his mother obviously need to repair their broken relationship so we follow that throughout, whilst Pam actually has her own problems with the very easily dislikeable Trent and finally a small subplot follows Duncan having a romance with his neighbour however it is very cheesy and for me unnecessary.

Liam James plays Duncan very well, he is easily likeable and we route for him throughout and he provides plenty of laughs, one very memorable scene is when Duncan is made to dance (including the classic robot) in front of a huge crowd at the water park. Rockwell’s Owen however is my favourite character; he provides the main comedy and in a way makes this film very easily watchable.  Steve Carrel also deserves credit for his role as obnoxious Trent and likewise for Collette’s Pam.  Although small characters in the film, neighbours Betty and (eye-patch) Peter are absolutely hilarious and provide even more likability to The Way Way Back so they deserve a mention.

The ending to The Way Way Back is very warming and wraps up the film nicely however for me there are still picky criticisms. I would have liked to see a quicker start, although it opens with great introductions it attempts to trick us with Duncan’s romance whereas I would have liked to seen Owen introduced much more quickly, and on the note of the romance I would have scrapped it all together as it isn’t “Duncan”.

In a whole The Way Way Back is a bundle of laughs and fantastic comical moments, with a well-written script and characters it makes for a surprisingly great watch. Standout performances from Liam James and Sam Rockwell add to the entertainment and create a pleasant feel to balance out the comedy. The Way Way Back is a worth-while experience that is easily watchable and enjoyable.

The Call (2013)

Genre: Crime, Thriller

Director: Brad Anderson

Writers: Richard D’Ovidio, Nicole D’Ovidio, Jon Bokenkamp

Starring: Halle Berry, Evie Thompson, Abigail Breslin

Rating: ★★★★

The Call is a surprisingly tense and thrilling watch which thrives off a fantastically written and unique storyline. Slightly overlooked when released in 2013 The Call certainly deserves a lot more recognition and credit than it has been given. Halle Berry giving a solid performance alongside Abigail Breslin adds to Brad Anderson’s good direction, making for a very entertaining experience.

The story surrounds Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) an experienced 911 operator but after making a bad error which leads to a shocking incident she is doubtful of her future and ability. However when an abduction call takes centre stage in the operating “hive” room Jordan has no choice but to step up to the occasion and take charge. On the other end of the phone is Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) a young teenage girl who’s been thrown into the back of a man’s car, trapped inside the boot she soon realises her kidnapper is more dangerous than first thought and Jordan is her only link between death and survival. Jordan uses all her experience and quick thinking to protect Casey but being on the end of the phone there’s only so much she can do, but she will not stop until justice is served.

What amazed me so much about The Call was its somewhat unique insight into what happens between 911 operators and their callers along with what happens within the centre itself. It was eye-opening to say the least showing the emotional impact that operators have to go through every time they answer a call which is actually tragic. It was also a different perspective to follow a “crime thriller” story from, knowing that our only connection to Casey was through the phone made it even tenser to watch. How thrilling it was to watch was a massive highlight of the film, leaving you constantly intrigued.

The acting for me was another stand-out, Halle Berry a famous name but one that has not been too seen in recent years gives a great performance that really dramatized the events occurring. Her co-star however Abigail Breslin was even better, a young actress who has been making a name for herself appearing in August: Osage County most recently shows again signs of a promising career.  Anderson’s directing too was at times outstanding along with the cinematography by Tom Yatsko; one scene that blew me away was when we saw our antagonist beat a man to death with a shovel, with the actions being shown through a gap between a passing truck, it was a quick flash and was so effective. It was just a shame that the majority of scenes were not as amazing and eye-catching but average.

The things that stop The Call being a really standout film mostly happen in the final act as the film comes to its climax. It slips into the conventional horror ending where things become too unrealistic to perceive and plot devices are far too obvious. The way Halle Berry’s Jordan is portrayed too is a downfall, her character like most in films goes from being reactive to proactive however in this case it was unnecessary and the transition was not at all disguised. She becomes clumsy and takes risks when at the beginning she is calm, composed and successful. The ending however was a real surprise and although it can be seen as too on the nose or out of the blue I think it just about worked and the writers pulled it off.

The Call thrives of a very successful storyline which is surprisingly thrilling and tense, also being well captured and portrayed by the two lead characters. Although it isn’t an award winning film to shout about I still think it was a very good film which is easily watchable and enjoyable. In a year where many released disappointed, The Call deserved much more credit as it was for one of the most intriguing thrillers to watch being totally entertaining too.

Analysing Seven Samurai (1954)

Seven Samurai is Kurosawa’s and Japan’s classic as well as being regarded as an all-time great beyond its nation’s cinema. Part of appreciating Seven Samurai however as a film is not only admiring the quality performances, writing and directing but the hidden underlying message which it conveys and holds. Once analysed you then begin to realise that Seven Samurai is actually a well-thought and executed work of art truly and totally deserving its huge reputation.

Kurosawa’s classic conveys the hidden story of 1954 Japan, showing the battle within society between a failing and falling military which had lost power, and a rising set of civilians and peasants who were gaining power. Seven Samurai proposes the idea of traditional beliefs being replaced by modern beliefs something contemporary to 1954 Japan as a much needed change was required and put in place after a war against America which resulted in destruction, mass death and defeat produced a huge paradigm shift which saw Japan become a much more westernised country.  The farming village within Seven Samurai is used to act as a microcosm to Japan, making the important battle being about the interaction between the new arriving Samurai and the farmers; consequently this therefore makes the bandits nothing more than a plot device within the film. Throughout Seven Samurai we also see how accepting modern views and beliefs over traditional will lead to survival and better life, encouraging us to change and accept change rejecting the traditional Japanese proverb “the nail that stands up, must be hammered down”.

The most frequent message conveyed through Seven Samurai is the role of military and more so how there is no longer a place or use for a military in contemporary 1954 Japan. There are two main scenes to show this as well as two main characters. Firstly Kyuzo, the most skilled and trained samurai out of the seven, and for that reason alone he is chosen to represent the military. Japan believed how they were invincible and somewhat impossible to defeat something that is showed through Kyuzo however these are traditional beliefs so they must be abolished. Kyuzo’s death and the scene as a whole is very symbolic, getting shot with ease from a far distance shows how weak and useless Kyuzo was to his death, somewhat reflecting how weak Japan were to America’s attack. The whole concept of Kyuzo’s death tries to empathise how the military are no longer powerful and required, this is especially shown as the main objective of the film is still achieved despite and without Kyuzo. More so the character of Kikuchiyo is equally as important, a samurai who is actually a farmer’s son, he allows a bridge to be formed between the poor farmers of the village and the hired samurai. When finding out that the farmers have been hiding old samurai armour presumably taken from dead and weak soldiers, there comes an iconic and powerful scene where an angry Kikuchiyo lectures everyone about their actions. In his speech he shouts abuse at his fellow samurai stating that the farmers are only “murderous” and “cunning” due to the military shaping them that way, “And each time you fight you burn villages, you destroy the fields, you take away the food, you rape the women and enslave the men. And you kill them when they resist. You hear me – you damned samurai?!” Although he is not saying society and Japanese civilians are completely blameless, he does shift blame onto the military slightly, aiming his speech directly down the face of the camera it portrays the idea of the military not being welcome within Japan, also showing that if they are to stay there needs to be change.

Throughout Seven Samurai there is a constant battle between modernists and traditionalists, we see this shown through certain characters within the film. As an audience we are meant to and are encouraged to side with the modernists, embracing their views and beliefs. Those who represent modernists within the film are energetic, they bring life and as an audience we are encouraged to make a connection. Shino and Katsushiro are two modernists within Seven Samurai, young and full of energy along with youth they spark a romance that is used as a subplot, the romance is something we are meant to care for very much especially when traditionalists attempt to destroy what is formed. More so Gasaku supports the same views, being the eldest member of the farming village, surprisingly he encourages the change stating how they need to develop in order to survive, “Years ago, when all of you were still babies, our village was burned out by bandits. When I was running away I saw something. There was one village left unburned. It has hired samurai.” His speech only emphasises his strong modernist beliefs. Gasaku being a modernist is very important as he is respected and being the “wise old man” stereotype his views should be correct.  In complete contrast the traditionalist of Seven Samurai are not important to the audience, at every occasion and chance we are also encouraged to show an extreme dislike towards them. Manzo and Yohei are the films traditionalists, Yohei is a complete comic relief character only providing laughs as he is even mocked my our “protagonists” “you can be our scarecrow” whilst Manzo is shown taking away his daughters relationship and equality chopping of her hair and eventually disowning her.

To finally heighten and emphasise the messages throughout Seven Samurai the final scene is very symbolic. As the farmers celebrate, singing and planting a new harvest after being victorious over the bandits the remaining samurai stand watching next to their buried dead companions. The symbolism starts with the simple surroundings of both groups; the modern farmers who stood up against traditions are surrounded by life and hope whilst the military stand surrounded by death with no hope. Kambei the samurai leader has a very important final line, “With their land the farmers are the victors not us” The line shows how the modernists have become victors but also shows how in a present day 1954 Japan farmers and the previous “poor” citizens have more power. It furthermore hints at the land reform that took place after post-war America which saw farmers being full ownership of their land.

The very beginning of Seven Samurai from Rikichi’s need for change to Kambei final words all highlight and glorify how in order to survive, compete and live Japan need to change their traditions. Throughout it also shows how the Military who have lost the war and their power have to now accept change or they will have no place within Japan. These very ideas and beliefs that are portrayed through such a well-written story really make Seven Samurai have another level of depth, making it a classic and one which should be respected and appreciated.

 

August Osage County (2014)

Genre: Drama

Director: John Wells

Writer: Tracy Letts

Starring: Meryl Streep, Dermot Mulroney, Julia Roberts

Rating: ★★★½

August Osage County is a strange film, but that’s not a criticism of Tracy Letts’ creation.  A more than fair attempt to display the “dysfunctional family” stereotype that’s rarely mastered in films is achieved and is boosted by some dark humour but more importantly an amazing set of performances. August Osage County isn’t exactly the most heart-warming release, far from if I’m honest, but it has some creditable aspects that make for an enjoyable and entertaining two hours of watching.

The film surrounds the more than dysfunctional Weston family and more importantly the struggling, pain-filled women within. When Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) the pill-addicted tongue-lashing mother awakes to find her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) has up and left, she calls for the help of the family and her three daughters to return to their Oklahoma home. With all the family under one roof it only leads to a slaughter of arguments and insults as every member clashes and locks horns, revealing secrets, shameful truths and causing extreme upset.  All three daughters have relationship problems of their own and their problematic mother only seems to worsen the mess. Julia Roberts plays Barbara Weston the oldest out of the sisters, the one that stands up against her mother’s crazed antics.  It is between Violet and Barbara that the conflict mainly arises, which soon leads to sisters Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) being more than involved. As the arguments never stop, under extreme anger and tension a few secrets and events unfold which could cause the Weston family to be completely ruined at a time they need each other most.

It is a story that is attempted many times, the typical problematic family however August Osage County seems to work. Its success mainly relies on the performances and characters played by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts who retrospectively have been credited with Oscar Nominations for Best Supporting and Lead Actress. The pair together have many battles which result in the occasional laugh and speechless reaction not only from the other family members but the audience. Although the two leads provide great performances so do the rest of the supporting cast. The actors playing the neglected controlled husbands amongst the family provide good humour and keep the film entertaining at times, Benedict Cumberbatch as Little Charles alongside Ewan Mcgregor as Bill Fordham and Dermot Mulroney as Steve Huberbrecht give solid performances.  However it is fair to say at times without the performances and all-star cast August Osage County would fail.

The film although at times comedic is meant to be very serious in many aspects, dealing with very serious and sensitive topics. It wasn’t going to be a feel-good film when the story follows an alcoholic leaving a pill-addicted women starting with the lines “Life is very long”. However it captures some element of realism in how every family have their disagreements and secrets albeit in this occasion they are very extreme. Despite the strong cast and a more than intriguing story Osage County does have it criticisms, at times it was frustrating to not follow a certain perspective and look on events, with the many storylines switching and crossing on a number of occasion it does come across overwhelming. The ending too I felt was very weak, with at least an extra half hour of story to follow up on which could have been shown if previous unnecessary scenes were cut.  Nevertheless there was enough for it to be classed entertaining and worth-while.

Although maybe not a “must-see” August Osage County is certainly a good film, with highlights coming from two fantastic performances from both Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. It is a film that relies strongly on its cast although at times director John Wells’ craft was very well executed. It’s sure to entertain, earn a few laughs but most importantly it is sure to be an enjoyable viewing.