Sunday, 29 November 2015

Personal Post: Only The Good Die Young (The Importance of Being Decent) For Kaestner and Mikhail

I'm sitting here trying to figure if this is for you or if this is just so I can get these thoughts out. I don't have a problem with them per se, I just think I have something to say but no one in particular to say it to. 

Last Sunday a friend of mine got into a car accident. That same day another friend of mine died from a different car accident. A year ago on this very day, my friend died in a car accident. A lot of car accidents, a lot less friends. None of these were friends I knew very well. Nice guys, always made me laugh, never had a bad thought about them. Didn't know them well enough to. And yet, I'm broken up about them simply cause, in no truer words, it's a damn shame. It's a damn shame when people who are decent, kind, level headed, people who are... well, good, have to go. 

The thing about being decent is, it's the least one can do, and it means so much. No one's asking you to be good, grand or great, just decent. Being decent is taking the moment to do something that is of no gain to you, but no particular cost either. If there's ever a moment where you can give someone the gift of treating them nicely, even though you have no obligation to, why would you not? Does it hurt you? Sure, people have bad days, and you don't have to be Mr. Rogers every day of the year, but if you're not having a bad day, think about how a simple act of pleasantry and kindness can make all the difference in the world to someone who is. That's who these people were.

I'm not a religious person, and if I were, I doubt I'd presume to know the plan. I just wonder if there is one. I wonder why, and if there isn't a why, why not? I don't have the answers. All I know is there are two mothers left without sons today. Sons that were my age if not a year or two older. I think of my mother and perish the thought of what it would do to her. I haven't always been the safest driver. The first time I got behind the wheel I popped two tyres. Recently though, I've been more conscious of what I've been doing. I realize it's not just my life I'm messing with. Plus, i'm just too busy to die now. 

When I think about all this, I remind myself that in truth, there's a lot that I have to be thankful for. I'm thankful that I have a platform to express my thoughts on film to whomever will listen. I'm thankful for those who love and support me. I'm thankful that with each day that passes, I got to see it. Today a lot of my friends are in mourning, and that's their right. For myself, I'll remember my friends the way I knew them, and hope I can do for others what they did for me. I'll hope that I can carry on their legacy of decency, and bring just a little bit of kind to any man, woman or child who might need it.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2' Review (2015): Fickle Finale

Another one bites the dust. Yet another YA novel franchise reaches its ultimate conclusion. I say ultimate because technically this film had an ending to its ending. Yes this is another adaptation that took it upon itself to split the final part of its saga into two films, part I and part II. Of course, this was done because the story was just too epic to be told in the standard 120 minutes. It wasn't done because making the split gives you two box office debuts to draw from, and it certainly wasn't done because the part I will inevitably end with a cliff-hanger which would act as a beacon to fans like moths to a girl on fire. Sarcasm aside, the idea that taking apart a narrative that was intended as one whole, doesn't seem like the best strategy for quality storytelling.

Of course, since this film is 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2', it already has the added ‘umph’ of a finale to make it more worthwhile than its immediate predecessor, which ultimately felt like a set up for the payoff that is this film. At least that's the intent. The story picks up immediately where the last film left off and sort of feels like it experienced a year-long intermission. Peeta has rejoined our cast of rebels and the fight must continue on against the evil oppressive capitol. This time, in place of an actual ceremony, the de facto Hunger Games is in the form of a series of booby traps set in the path of our valiant heroes. Along the way there are betrayals, twists, and of course a love triangle to top it all off.

Team Peeta? Team Gale? Team Indifference.

The first third of this movie is very slow. Everything that was part 1 of Mockingjay is present in these scenes. There's a lot of speech making, propaganda filming and decision making that isn't so much boring as it is mind numbing. Don't get me wrong, watching the development of a large scale rebellion from an underground bunker COULD be interesting, but the fact is, these scenes are largely ineffective.  The trouble is, we as an audience are told time and time again how important Katniss is to the rebellion. The people's champion. The spark that ignites the flame to burn the Capitol to the ground. But that's the thing, we're TOLD that. We're never shown how effective she actually is, and there's never really any sense of the outside world. Everything in this movie feels like it occurs in a vacuum when it should feel like the stakes are raised. 

In fact, there's actually a scene where the movie itself recognizes this. Towards the end of the first act, Katniss asks the character of Joanna "Why do you hate me?", Joanna gives her a response that essentially voices the franchise's harshest critics, mentioning that Katniss herself is hard to swallow and references the trite love triangle that plagues this series. It's even more blatant when Katniss makes a decision that shifts the focus of the plot to something more focused and action oriented, an all-out assassination of series baddie President Snow. Joanna, along with the audience replies "That's more like it".

Pointing out your movie's flaws doesn't excuse them, it just draws attention to them.

The second act does indeed pick up. As I mentioned before, the Hunger Game in this film is essentially the booby trapped streets of the Capitol. Mechanisms called pods are put into place that release deadly traps throughout the city. This is actually where the film is most interesting. The characters come across these traps as they make their way closer to the heart of their opponent. The springing of these traps are filmed like a horror movie almost, with each springing feeling like a jump scare of sorts. There are even moments where the frame suggests a jump is coming, and it's the expectation that scares you more than the jump itself. 

Aside from that, the action is filmed superbly. The fight scenes are tense, coherent and engaging. It definitely gets your blood pumping as the film is very good and making you feel the danger the character's face. The pace is good in that regard as the film never lets their characters stay in one place for too long, and doesn't feel as though there are any wasted scenes after that first act. 

All the wasted scenes were shot last year.

This being the end of the series there are a few tropes that come along with finales. There is an epilogue for example that gives you an idea of the characters after the conflict is over. The way to do something like that well is to not make it too abstract and focus it on characters that are worth the added script pages. Thankfully though, Mockingjay Part 2 hits all the emotional beats it tries to hit. Even with regards to the resolution of the conflict, the movie is successful. Although you don't need to be a film major to anticipate the pivotal moment, it was still tense. One of those moments where knowing what was going to happen didn't soften the blow.

This movie isn't perfect. It has a first act that drags, and there are few moments that bugged me that were just personal preference really…just things that would've made the decent moments great ones. Truth be told, film is well put together. The second half is exciting and nerve wracking yes, and the actors do a good job in the roles they've known for the last 3 years. However, the same things that bog down the rest of this franchise are present in this movie, but I suppose that's par for the course at this point. Fans of the series will be satisfied and will go to see it no matter what. I wouldn't consider myself a fan of this franchise, but I did enjoy myself regardless.

A.N.R = 7.0/10

Thanks for reading and if you want you can leave your thoughts about this movie and the franchise in general in the comments below. We also recorded our thoughts on the franchise recently in the latest episode of Take 4. You can listen to that here:

Sunday, 8 November 2015

'Steve Jobs' Review (2015): Sorkin Overload

Every great filmmaker has a signature style to identify them. They might dabble between different genres and mediums, but at the core of it, the audience is able to say "That felt like one of theirs". Some are easier to pick up on than others but nevertheless the song remains the same. Aaron Sorkin is one such artist. Give that man an office, some hallways and a few deeply flawed characters and you'll have a "talkie" in every sense of the word. His dialogue is so recognizable that fans of his work can suss out the specific lines he's used in various projects. As Sorkin was the mastermind behind the last big biopic to come out of Silicon Valley, it seemed only fitting that he be the one to peg a Steve Jobs film.

God complexes are Sorkin's forte

A Sorkin film this most certainly is. At this point it's impossible to not have at least some idea who Steve Jobs was. There's already been a biopic with Ashton Kutcher, a documentary and a best-selling biography. Steve Jobs is not an unknown property, so the "Untold Story" aspect of this biopic wasn't exactly at the focus. Instead, the movie actually takes an interesting (?) direction with the way it's set up. Essentially, the film shows you 3 days in Steve's life with a few flashbacks here and there. Each of those three days takes place in a different year, one in '84, one in '88, and one in '98. Each are also centred on a particular product launch. Namely, The Macintosh, The NeXTcube and The iMac.

Because it was structured this way, 'Steve Jobs' always feels like it's in a state of panic. Every scene you watch is in anticipation of an event that you never really see. You see Steve prepare to unveil what he calls the next revolution in not just computing, but human connection, however, you never actually see the unveiling. This helps to move the film along at a breakneck speed, mostly because the characters can't afford to slow down. 

I suddenly want to see a Sorkin remake of 'Speed'

The trouble is, choosing this way to structure the film also makes it feel like an extreme exaggeration. At each event, Steve has confrontations with each of the same people in his life. Steve Wozniak, played by Seth Rogen, John Scully, played by Jeff Daniels, Andy Hertzfeld, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, his daughter Lisa at various stages of her life, and Lisa's mother, Jobs' ex-girlfriend Chris-Ann Brennan played by Katherine Waterston. To think that at each of his product launches the same 5 people were present, is improbable and takes away from the immersion of the film. It feels like a forced ensemble cast of characters for Steve to bounce off of as he walks from room to room and ultimately feels a little hollow.

That being said, once you let go of any misgivings you might have, the movie does entertain. As I said the movie has zero pacing problems as Sorkin often doesn't, and you do get swept up in the majesty that is Steve Jobs as you watch. The dialogue is filled with technical jargon but it all makes sense to the laymen, much like Apple products themselves. As a script goes, it's snappy, it's fun, it's a good script. It also has its fair share of heart to it. Because the movie is so briskly paced, it doesn't often slow down to deal with that heart, but when it does, it hits pretty well and that's more than helped by the stellar cast.

Fassbender is an excellent Steve Jobs. He pulls off the 
dissociated, socially inappropriate genius well and gives a really well balanced performance. The voice, the mannerisms, the micro expressions. His unrelenting hubris with just a hint of humanity. All of it is here and Fassbender is fasstastic. You get a sense of Steve's person as the film wants to present, which might be a little undefined but I think that might've been the point. The film basically at the end makes no apologies for Jobs' behaviour but doesn't endorse it either. It essentially says people are complicated and can't really be categorized.

And that all he needed was a hug *hugs*

Everyone else here is great and Sorkin's script helps to keep them all feeling like necessary parts of this whole. The real stand out is of course Seth Rogen's Steve Wozniak. Rogen who is most famously known for comedic roles, doesn't just do well as a comedian, he does well as an actor. You get the relationship that Wozniak and Jobs share based on their strong history, and the pain that can bring. The two can talk as old friends in one moment and then be in a shouting match in the next. He and Fassbender both make you forget who they are under the wardrobe and make-up, which is a feat for any big name actor.

The film doesn't go for photo realism, or realism of any kind, but it nonetheless convinces you of it's worth

As I said, 'Steve Jobs' is an entertaining film, and it has it's heartfelt moments, but a lot of it does feel like something is missing. Because of the way it's structured you feel like you're always preparing for something that never comes. By the time you've figured out what's going on, the movie pretty much ends. It's not as impactful as 'Social Network' and ultimately feels like a tech demo of a film, but like, a really impressive one with flashing lights.

A.N.R = 8/10
Thanks for reading and as always you can let me know what you thought of the movie in the comments below. If you want to hear what the rest of the Take 4 crew thought of the movie you can listen to their thoughts here:

Saturday, 7 November 2015

'Spectre' Review (2015): James Bland

James Bond films are somewhat event cinema. With a history that dates back to 1962, the series has developed success both critically and commercially, and the following that comes with it. More than that, the series has developed to the point where it has essentially become its own genre, with its own cliches and tropes. You need the car, the gadgets, the monologuing villain, Q, M, and of course, the Bond girl. He's gotta introduce himself like he's in a job interview. He's gotta order a drink to be shaken, not stirred. These are the things that make up a Bond movie. So essential are these elements that to not include them sounds like sacrilige. The problem is, at a certain point making a James Bond movie stops being a labour of love and feels more like a shopping list. A movie made of a checklist of prerequisites that doesn't so much entertain is it does qualify.

With 'Spectre' it seems to be a little of both. The film kicks off with the usual opener, Bond on a mission, but this time it's set in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead. The scene shows Bond covering up a loose end of Judi Dench's M, which of course leads him into the main story. However, Bond has become somewhat a liability for his boss, Ralph Fiennes M. So of course, Bond pulls an Ethan Hunt and decides to go rogue with the aid of Ben Whishaw's Q. With a brand new tricked out Aston Martin, more suits than you can count and a gleam in his eye, Bond sets off on a mission of his own, and tries to uncover the sinister plot that thickens in a somewhat convoluted form.

Imagine if the Spectre octopus just inked all over the script.

See, it's not that the story of  'Spectre' is bad per se, it's just that the execution of some of its plot points is distractingly poor. The things which move Bond along from point A to point B sometimes don't feel very organic. Since this is the first time the organization Spectre has been at the filmmaker's disposal, there's a very glaring effort to tie it in with the rest of the Craig Bond films. What you end up getting is a retcon of sorts, that only ended up being confusing.

However, these sticky moments aside, I actually did like the main plot of Spectre. The mission itself is a fun one and takes the film to wide range of locations that gives it a sense of global threat. Bond spends time in Mexico City, Rome, Austria,Morocco and of course London. This makes the movie feel like its constantly evolving in scale but the mission never loses its sense of secrecy. For all of the sticky moments there are quite a few fun ones. Ones that focus on the just how much of a ride the James Bond films can be. Craig is his least Craig in this film and feels more like the swinging one liner slinging Bond of eras past, but still retains his ice cold demeanour.

And not just because he's running around in the snow.

Aside from that the movie's action is, well, not great. In the sense that it's a mixed bag of set pieces. There's the initial car chase between Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx which is expertly shot & edited, but devoid of tension. There's the opening scene with a helicopter that has more loops than a vine and feels like part of it was shot on a sound stage. But then there's the car chase which involves a plane barreling down the Austrian mountains and the fight scene which moves from one end of a train to the next. There are more set pieces that I liked than didn't, but from a film franchise known for setting the bar of what can be done with stuntwork, particularly that of the vehicular variety, I was somewhat disappointed to say the least.

One thing that 'Spectre' has going for it, is its cast. As I said, Craig is a different Bond this time and evolves his performance naturally, but aside from him you have Dave Bautista of Guardians of the Galaxy fame playing Mr. Hinx. Mr. Hinx joins the esteemed club of Bond henchmen past with the likes of Oddjob and Jaws. His thing is implanted razor sharp thumbnails used to gouge out his enemies' eyes. Charming. With the little you see him, his presence definitely threatens, mainly because Dave Bautista is built like a house but also the fact that he only says one word in the entire film speaks to his gravitas.

Aside from that the returning cast all settle into their roles organically. Q, M, and Naomie Harris' Moneypenny make that first 1/3 of the film feel like this is a Bond film that fits with traditional Bond structure marvelously. Newcomers Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz and Andrew Scott all do well in their roles, no matter how undefined their roles may be. Waltz in particular is a definite standout, the only problem is you don't see enough of him really, which would have been fine, except when he's not on screen you kind of forget that he's supposed to be the driving force of this film.

Metaphorically speaking of course.

I should close out by saying that, this is by no means a bad film. It's very well put together, some of the shot composition and cinematography are just awe inspiring. The score is brilliantly executed and all in all I did like the movie more than I didn't. The problem is it just doesn't reach the mark of a great movie. As it stands I can't say that I wouldn't recommend you go to see it in theatres, it's definitely worth a watch, but I wouldn't exactly say you should rush to catch it on the big screen. For a movie that's supposed to be somewhat of a worldwide event, and a great spy movie, it somehow ranks at not even the best spy film of this year alone.

A.N.R = 7.5/10

Thanks for reading and as always you can let me know what you thought of the movie in the comments below. If you want to hear what the rest of the Take 4 crew thought of the movie you can listen to their thoughts here: