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Weekly Updates #241 (1.9.2014 - 7.9.2014)

Filed Under ( ) by Andrei S. on Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Posted at : 12:46 pm
Thoughts? 

Another predictably barren week in terms of films watched. I find that nowadays I watch a lot more television (drama, that is) than I do movies. It’s been like this for a good while now, and yet I haven’t really written much about television. I don’t know whether or not that will change in the coming future, but it’s certainly an interesting thought.

Thursday

Kill List (2011) - 5/10
Despite being a relatively little known British independent, I heard a lot about Kill List back when it was released in 2011. There was a good deal of discussion around it at the time, most of which was related to the film’s third act—apparently it was something quite special. It’s been a long time coming, but I finally gave Kill List a watch the other day. A fascinating experience it was; it’s a slow burn with a strong atmosphere. The sense of foreboding pervading throughout the entire movie is of a rare intensity. The violence and gore come in short bursts but are handled very well and are remarkably efficient. While the final act of the film is indeed something to behold, therein also lie most of the problems that I had with Kill List. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t make all that much sense and certainly doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. There are scenes which ultimately amount to nothing, and while I do enjoy ambiguity and things being left open to interpretation in cinema, too little explanation is given for the events that take place in the film. It’s definitely a bold effort from director Ben Wheatley, whose career I will be sure to follow from this point onward, but I found that Kill List sadly buckled under its significant shortcomings, even if the in-the-moment experience was packed with plenty of tension.

[ATH] Kill List (2011)

Filed Under ( ) by Andrei S. on Friday, 5 September 2014

Posted at : 8:25 pm
Thoughts? 

Who's next?

addicted to horror

the story
After eight months of unemployment, a former assassin teams back up with his partner for a mysterious contract involving three different targets.

the good
+ thoroughly unsettling
+ naturalistic improvised dialogue
+ brutal and unflinching violence
+ unpredictable narrative
+ intense third act

the bad
- too much is left open to interpretation
- unexplained scenes and plot points
- suburban drama bit doesn't quite belong
- loses its focus towards the end
- problematic final scene

the ugly
high level of violence and gore
low level of scares and frightening scenes
moderate level of nudity and sexual themes
high level of profanity

things I learned from watching this movie (potential spoilers ahead)
1. Assassination contracts which require a blood pact are a strict no-no.
2. Sometimes God's love can be hard to swallow.
3. Doctors enjoy speaking in riddles from time to time.
4. Don't partake in knife fights with hunchbacks.

verdict
Kill List is a chilling home-grown British film from director Ben Wheatley. Not quite a full-fledged horror fare, Kill List eschews genre classification, being one part domestic drama, one part crime thriller, and then also folk horror to top it all off. It is a remarkable effort, but sadly a lot of its potential is squandered due to unexplained plot points and too many things left open to interpretation. Its final act is as effective as it is problematic, and as a result Kill List ends up being nothing more than an intense experience which doesn't hold up to much afterthought.

horror meter: 3 hunchbacked stars (out of 5)

Weekly Updates #240 (25.8.2014 - 31.8.2014)

Filed Under ( ) by Andrei S. on Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Posted at : 7:35 pm
Thoughts? 

Not much film watching activity has happened during these past two weeks, and I doubt the next couple of weeks will be much different either. Other matters required my attention, I’m afraid, and continue to do so. However, I did get the chance to rewatch an old classic which left me somewhat perplexed during my first go-around.

Friday

Se7en (1995) - 9/10
It must have been three or four years ago that I first saw Se7en. I remember not being too impressed with the film—it was a well put together thriller, sure, and those final ten minutes stayed with me to this day, but I came out of it disappointed with how the plot advanced. For some reason, I expected something quite different from the end product and was left with a feeling of dissatisfaction as a result. However, I became more acquainted with David Fincher’s work over the past couple of years. I like to think that I came to understand his flair for visual style rather well, among other things. Coming back to Se7en now, I can see that it is in fact one of Fincher’s best looking movies. Not having the need to dedicate my entire focus towards what is undoubtedly a pretty dense plot the second time around, I was to see the pictures on-screen in an entirely new light. The meticulous shot composition and the gloomy colour palette struck me in particular—this is an astounding piece of filmmaking. Fincher’s attention to detail is mind-boggling; every single shot seems to be carefully crafted and tailored to work in tandem with the rest of the movie. As for the plot itself, I found it much easier to follow during this second viewing. I still have some issues with the writing: the two lead characters are underdeveloped and some of the dialogue could have used some polishing up. My other main gripe with the film is Brad Pitt, whose performance felt lacklustre, particularly in that final scene. Whether it was due to Pitt’s shortcomings as an actor at the time, Fincher’s own direction, or (most likely) the poorly written dialogue, something was definitely up. In any case, Se7en is an exceptional film regardless of its minor faults, and one of the best thrillers in the history of cinema. It took me two viewings to come to terms with the former, but I was in agreement with the latter from the moment I first saw it. Incidentally, Se7en is also probably the greatest film with an awful title. Sesevenen—am I doing this right?

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) reviewed

Filed Under ( ) by Andrei S. on Monday, 1 September 2014

Posted at : 4:06 pm
Thoughts? 

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller


9/10

As James Gunn began paving a way for himself in the American moviemaking industry he brought a loveable kind of weirdness along for the ride. His feature-length directorial debut Slither, a seemingly standard horror fare by all accounts, exhibited a rare B-movie charm doused in alluring oddity almost a decade ago. The follow-up Super was downright transgressive in its content, but Gunn injected it with a similar brand of black humour found in his previous work, not to mention cranking the strangeness up to eleven with apocalyptic dream sequences and an otherworldly visual flair. The man then got himself a gig at Marvel Studios, and expectations were quite literally of galactic proportions. But with the transition to greener pastures often comes a loss of identity in this business. The James Gunn signature could well be lost amidst the butting of heads with industry higher-ups, in which case Guardians of the Galaxy would end up feeling as empty as some of its outer space panoramas.

The film is thankfully nothing of the sort. Guardians of the Galaxy is teeming with life, from colourful characters and lively humour to eye-catching scenery and blast-from-the-past music. Gunn’s mark is also present; there is an outlandish quality to the film which should not come as a surprise to those versed in the relevant section of Marvel Comics, but which is extended beyond the source material, as if to accommodate Gunn’s sensibilities as a director. The bouts of jovial violence and the distinct blend of comedy and drama are unmistakeably auteurist—Guardians of the Galaxy is very much a James Gunn vehicle. It is also a rather unique superhero movie as a result, particularly amongst the rest of the entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. ‘Look at me,’ the film seems to declare, ‘I’m special.’ And it is.

Buffed up Chris Pratt plays ‘Terran’ Peter Quill, who is abducted from Earth as a child and raised amongst a group of intergalactic mercenaries. Twenty-six later he’s all grown up into a swashbuckling space rogue akin to Han Solo and Firefly’s Mal Reynolds, and now traverses the galaxy under the moniker of Star-Lord. A scavenger job gone awry leaves Quill in the possession of a mysterious orb sought after by Kree fanatic Ronan the Accuser and Thanos, the Mad Titan. To stop the orb from falling into the wrong hands, he teams up with four undesirables much like himself who all share a common goal.


This ragtag bunch of misfits stands at the heart of Guardians of the Galaxy. Aside from Star-Lord, there’s the deadly and beautiful Gamora, adopted daughter of Thanos and infamous across the galaxy for her deeds as an assassin. Then there’s Rocket, a walking, talking racoon thanks to some genetic engineering and cybernetic implants, and his companion Groot, a living, breathing tree whose speech is limited to the sentence ‘I am Groot.’ Last is Drax the Destroyer, a warrior hell-bent on avenging his family’s death at the hands of Ronan. They are, of course, the eponymous guardians; or, rather, they will come to fill those shoes over the course of the film.

If it all sounds a little convoluted, that’s because it is. The source material is vast in scope, featuring a myriad of alien races and worlds spread across galaxies, and there is no easy way of packing all of it into a two-hour feature film. Guardians of the Galaxy is therefore a tad difficult to keep up with at times, and yet it maintains an enthusiastic grip on its audience throughout. The fact that James Gunn manages to cram a staggering amount of exposition into his project without losing sight of everything else is a testament to his abilities as a director, the writing for the movie, and the tight editing job. It all comes together nicely, and amidst visceral action setpieces, the bombardment of slapstick and witticisms, and the splash of colour on-screen surprisingly little is lost as the film advances at lightning speed, and certainly nothing that will not be stumbled upon during repeat viewings.


In Guardians of the Galaxy it is the characters who reign supreme while the plot takes a back seat. Although Joss Whedon’s ability to impart screen time evenly amongst the star-studded cast of The Avengers was a formidable achievement, he had movies upon movies of previous character development to draw from. James Gunn does him one better in that regard as he accomplishes the monumental task of introducing a colourful, bulky assortment of characters while also offering each of them a moment or two in the spotlight. The five titular heroes all shine in equal measure, from main protagonist Peter Quill to the mammalian and botanical members Rocket and Groot. Gamora arguably gets the short straw as she is occasionally required to play the straight man—or woman, rather—amidst the barrel of fun that are her fellow squad mates, yet put her in a different movie and that movie will be the better for having her around. There is definitely a sense of competition between the Guardians, but only because every one of them is exceptional in their own right.

This is owed in part to the excellent casting of these characters. Chris Pratt could not have been more adequate for the leading role. He handles the dramatic moments as well as he does the comedic ones—at times he is snarky, at other times he is charming, and then sometimes he is also perfectly goofy. Zoe Saldana embodies the green-skinned Gamora with the same conviction found in her role as the blue Neytiri for James Cameron’s Avatar, though with the aid of make-up rather than motion capture this time around. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel lend their voices for Rocket and Groot respectively, and while it’s hard to commend Diesel for uttering a single line repeatedly and throwing in a grunt every now and again, he certainly seems to make the most out of his minimal role. Cooper on the other hand gets plenty to work with and is a delight to listen to as the fast-talking, wisecracking Rocket. However, it is wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer who is the biggest surprise out of the lot. Drax himself turned out to be a far more interesting and funny character than what all the previews and trailers suggested, and Bautista handles the role with some impressive comedy chops and—whenever the scene calls for it—a menacing countenance.


The side characters are not to be trifled with, either. Take Quill’s marauding boss Yondu Udonta, for example. A remarkable antihero, Yondu opposes the would-be galactic saviours at certain points while elsewhere he provides comic relief or disposes of some of the baddies himself—all in the guise of none other than Michael Rooker. Then you have John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz portraying members of the Nova Corps, and Benicio Del Toro who reprises his role as the Collector. Somehow James Gunn finds the time for them as well, and as a result the film is packed with a variety of different characters—major and minor—who contribute to the comedy and generate drama in their own unique ways. There seems to be enough for everybody to go around.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case. Guardians of the Galaxy finds itself lacking in the villain department. Lee Pace stars as Ronan the Accuser, the primary antagonist, but his character’s grave demeanour and limited screen time force Pace into a one-note role. Ronan is simply too serious to be taken seriously, as contradicting as it may sound. His sidekick Nebula almost suffers the same fate, but her relationship to her sister Gamora, exquisite costume and make-up design, and Karen Gillan’s own performance in the role keep her an intriguing counterpoint to the otherwise merry selection of characters inhabiting the screen. Djimon Hounsou also shows up as a supporting bad guy, but is similarly wasted as his character is reduced to little more than helping Star-Lord make a spectacular introduction.


And what an introduction it is—dancing away amongst the ruins of a desolate planet while Redbone’s ‘Come and Get Your Love’ blasts through a pair of 1980s headphones. That’s the kind of movie Guardians of the Galaxy is. It embraces its wacky nature to the fullest and wears its quirks on its sleeve. The rest of the soundtrack is made up of 70s and 80s tunes as well, peppering the film with an idiosyncratic soundscape where retro music and the noise of energy weapons unloading and spaceship engines firing up come together in a sort of backwards harmony. The score also comes through quite well—it’s the best one for a Marvel Studios production since The Avengers—thanks to composer Tyler Bates, whose collaboration with Gunn dates back to the director’s early work.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a one-of-a-kind comic book adaptation. It’s a Marvel Studios bet that has paid off immensely, expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond its earthbound roots and into a world of possibilities. It’s a directorial effort that propels James Gunn to the top of the American film industry food chain—and deservedly so. It’s a movie which proves that the unconventional can sometimes be as exciting and appealing as anything else. It’s a labour of love despite the payload attached to this type of project. It’s so much more than what it should have been, and its shortcomings pale in comparison to all that it achieves. Guardians of the Galaxy is a soaring success and without a doubt the film of the summer.