Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Image is property of Netflix

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Film Review

Cast:  Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Waits

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: A collection of six unique short stories, telling the plights of various people in very different situations in the West after the Civil War.

Review: Beginning, middle and end, a structure that films tend to adhere to. However, every once in a while, a film will come along that deviates from this structure. It may choose to tell the story in reverse order or to jump back and forth.  Hence this latest venture from Joel and Ethan Coen is unique in this respect, as instead of telling one story across two hours and ten minutes to be precise, they fill this by choosing to tell six unique stories charting the lives of a handful of different folk, each of whom are in a variety of different situations in the wake of the Civil War.

To tell six miniaturised stories as opposed to your more traditional three-structured film is an unconventional choice to say the least, but under the assured direction of the Coen brothers, it for the most part works a treat. Though some are much stronger than others, there is enjoyment to be hand in each of the stories that the Coens bring to life. Telling each story through the perspective of a storybook, we jump in with funnily enough Mr Buster Scruggs himself (Blake Nelson) a tootin’ cowboy who likes to play his guitar and sing a song for y’all. But, he is also a dab hand with a pistol, which inevitably leads to some trouble down the line.

Next we move onto ‘Near Algodones’ a nameless-up-to-no-good cowboy (Franco) who finds himself in a tricky predicament when he tries to rob a bank, with some hilarious results. “Meal Ticket’ features Liam Neeson and Harry Melling as a theatre double act, the latter of whom has no arms or legs. Despite putting on a good show, they find their numbers and income decreasing, which puts Neeson’s character in a tricky situation as to what to do with his companion. While there is some intriguing moments with both of these two segments, they do end somewhat abruptly, which is frustrating, particularly in the case of the latter, it really would have benefited with a bit more closure to the story.

The next two stories are where the film really starts to shine. ‘All Gold Canyon’ features Tom Waits as a prospector seeking the fortune of a rather large collection of gold located in an absolutely beautiful valley. Now would be a good time to mention Bruno Delbonnel’s superb cinematography which is on point across every story, but it is here especially is where it shines brightest. Waits is great as this wacky prospector seeking this fortune that, perhaps unsurprisingly has attracted the attention of some other folk looking for this fortune for themselves. ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled features Zoe Kazan as a young woman who after a family tragedy is seeking a new opportunity. It’s more dialogue heavy than the preceding stories, but Kazan’s excellent performance makes it extremely compelling to watch.

Finally, the last segment  ‘The Mortal Remains’ retains the intrigue but being the most dialogue heavy of all the stories, it is considerably not as interesting as the preceding stories. Though the dialogue is well written once again, it is really quite underwhelming as a final chapter to a rather fascinating collection of short stories. All six stories do explore similar themes about the human struggle as we all navigate this small little thing called life that we as human beings all negotiate, and the rather significant matter of death. However, to ensure that it is not all doom and gloom, The Coens, much like we all do with our own lives, fill each of these segments with their signature style of comedy that, for the most part, serves each story really rather well.

The short nature of each story will undoubtedly leave some viewers unfulfilled. Nevertheless, the thought provoking themes that beat at the heart of all six of the stories, plus some exquisite work in the cinematography, production design and costume department give this anthology film some mighty visual splendour. Though this is not on the level of say a No Country for Old Men or True Grit, given the rambling mess that was Hail! Caesar, a return to the Wild West, and indeed a much more coherent film from the duo is a darn good thing y’all.

Combining comedy and some very dark and dramatic moments, with some strong themes that beat at the heart of all six stories, this is a most welcome to return to form for the Coen brothers. 

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema and A24

The Disaster Artist – Film Review

Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen

Director: James Franco

Synopsis: When aspiring actors Greg Sistero and Tommy Wiseau meet in an acting class, they both have dreams of making it in Hollywood. When no one gives them a chance, they decide to make their own movie, with hilarious results…

Review: There is a lot that is subjective when it comes to discussions about best and worst films of all time. There are a few usual suspects at both ends of the spectrum, but it is next to impossible to lock down one film as the absolute best, and worst respectively. Yet in the case of the latter, one film that many would argue deserves its place as the worst of the worst, is of course The Room. Yet for all that film’s many faults, no one can deny it has garnered an enormous cult following, which has helped it become perhaps the greatest worst film ever made. But how did such a monstrosity come into existence?

The answer can be found courtesy of Greg Sistero and Tom Bissell’s book of the same name, charting his journey that led him to be a part of the project that was the brainchild of Tommy Wiseau. A man of several unexplained mysteries, and a seemingly bottomless pit of money, made it all happen. The film explores Greg and Tommy’s friendship and how that led them to the adventure (or should that be misadventure?) of the making of The Room and the ensuing chaos that surrounded the production of the film. Most people will have big dreams for what they would like to do in life, and though this isn’t exactly anything new in Hollywood, The Disaster Artist is nonetheless a thoroughly amusing and at times very heartfelt story about two guys trying to make their dreams happen, even if the end result is not the type of film that would be even remotely worthy of any Oscars.

Watching in bewilderment /amusement /amazement…

As the two leading performances, the Franco brothers are both on excellent form with James taking the role of Tommy and Dave as Greg. There is a genuine almost brotherly like connection between the two of them, which is probably due to the fact that they are real life brothers! However you buy into their friendship and it makes you want both of them to succeed, which to a certain extent they do. The only thing is, it doesn’t quite go as they would have hoped. James is particularly excellent as he has the look and the mysterious accent of Wiseau almost down to a T. Dave also does an excellent job as he is the one who strives to complete the goal when things start to go spectacularly wrong for their project. There is humour to be found in the screenplay, which is no small part due to Tommy’s peculiar mannerisms, but it gets to a point where even though you hope they make their dreams come to fruition, that Tommy’s behaviour starts to become REALLY annoying. One can only begin to imagine how annoying it would have been for the crew.

It is clear that through his eccentric performance, and his direction, that Franco has a real passion for The Room, as they capture scenes from the film right down to the tiniest details. It might naht have enjoyed the success that Wiseau probably would have wanted it to upon its release. However, though it has perhaps become famous for all the wrong reasons, it has nevertheless endured the test of time. With an enormous cult following and screenings aplenty to this day, the film has even made a profit on its 6 million dollar budget. Everyone has dreams, and though the pursuit of one’s dreams might not always lead to success, it is important to never lose sight of those aspirations, as you just never know what kind of legacy you might leave behind.

A humourous look at what is ultimately a disaster of a film, but one that is told with genuine sincerity, and an important message about going after your dreams no matter how high the odds might be stacked against you. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Ingenious Film Partners and Chernin Entertainment

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Film Review 

Cast:  James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo

Directors: Rupert Wyatt

Synopsis: Whilst carrying out some tests to research a cure for Alzheimer’s, a determined scientist discovers a young ape who after experimentation, develops remarkable advanced intelligence.

Review: As a species, humanity has had the dominion of Planet Earth has for the past two millennia. Of course, the idea that one day something else could come along and take that away from humanity is a theme that has been explored a considerable amount in cinema. There’s the classic alien invasion films, but the idea of super smart apes taking over the planet is one that has been around since the 1960s and the original Planet of the Apes film featuring Charlton Heston, which spawned four sequels. Then came Tim Burton and Mark Wahlberg in 2001, to which a sequel never materialised and after another decade, the franchise was rebooted once more.

In this new take on the franchise, Will (Franco) is a scientist aiming to discover a cure for Alzheimer’s. His research leads to the developing of a drug that is given on some Apes, which leads to one particular ape developing unprecedented abilities and super advanced intelligence that Will decides to adopt and name Caesar. As we watch Caesar grow up, and his intelligence becomes apparent, he begins to start questioning himself. All the while, the development of the drug begins to create tensions for the humans and as you might imagine a conflict between the humans and the apes starts to brew.

The wonder of modern technology meant that the apes were brought to life via motion capture work, and it’s just remarkable how advanced the technology has become. The technology is so impressive that it could almost make you forget that there is an actor who’s bringing the character to life. Though there are a handful of actors who bring the apes to life, the main man is the King of Motion Capture, Mr Andy Serkis himself. His work here is flawless, giving Caesar a very distinct personality, and a character you absolutely can empathise with.  Given that it is in fact Caesar who is the main character in the film, writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver give him the most back story out of everyone by far, which does mean the back story of others does suffer a little bit.

As Caesar’s main father figure, Franco is excellent in his role as one of the few humans that Caesar trusts, along with Will’s ailing father Charles (Lithgow) and love interest Caroline (Pinto). There’s not a great deal of development on them, but they’re characters you care about.  There’s one human who doesn’t quite view Caesar the way Will does, and that is Tom Felton’s Dodge Landon. Channelling his inner Draco Malfoy, he’s a man who relishes mistreating apes and putting them in their place, and when he meets Caesar, he’s certainly got his hands full, as it’s all well and good telling the audience that Caesar is a smart ape, but actions sometimes speak louder than words, and this is definitely the case with Caesar.

Under Wyatt’s direction the film is visually crisp with action scenes that are absolutely exhilarating to watch. With scenes that take place on California’s Golden Gate Bridge standing out as a particular highlight. The film’s pacing isn’t perfect, there are a few lapses in the plot where the film does drag. However there are one or two moments “holy shit” moments that more than make up for this. If a franchise has been dormant for a decade, any reboot’s key purpose is to reinvigorate interest in the franchise in a substantial way, and in that sense, it certainly was mission accomplished.

What a reboot should be, centred by a magnificent performance from Serkis with some stunning CGI and a very intriguing story, one that paved the way for future greatness.

 

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Spider-Man (2002)

 

Image is property of Columbia Pictures and Marvel

Spider-Man Film Review

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Willem Dafoe, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J.K. Simmons

Director: Sam Raimi

Synopsis: When a high school student called Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider like powers, he becomes a super hero and adopts the identity of Spider-Man and fights crime in New York City.

Review: If you ask someone to name a popular superhero, chances are good that one of the ones they will mention would be that of the wall crawling superhero, otherwise known as Spider-Man. Right from his inception in 1962, to today, he has become a very popular character, and is indeed a fan favourite for many. The late 70s/early 80s saw a number of made-for-TV movies bring him to life, but after a two decade absence, he was finally brought to the big screen in 2002, and he certainly made an almighty impression.

Charting his origin story, we meet Peter Parker, a nerd in every sense of the word who happens to live next door to the girl who he has an immense crush on, Mary Jane Watson (Dunst). Whilst on a school trip Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider, which coincidentally gives him spider-like powers and enhanced strength and speed. Emboldened by his new abilities, he goes on a quest to win MJ’s heart, but this quest leads to the callous murder of someone very close to him (you know who!) and this prompts him to become the titular hero and protect the Big Apple.

Certainly got a great view from up here!

Whenever you make a superhero film, it’s of paramount importance that you make the hero likeable and someone the audience can root for, and Tobey Maguire as Parker does just that. He’s a bit of a dork, but he’s a lovable dork, and when he becomes the wall-crawling hero, he really bosses it and gives a terrific dual performance. as Peter’s two best friends Kirsten Dunst and James Franco are excellent as Harry Osborn and Mary Jane, even if they were a little old to be playing high school students. On the flip side Willem Dafoe is also tremendous as Harry’s father Norman, and much like Maguire, also gives an excellent dual performance as the villainous Green Goblin, and yes, the great J.K Simmons as J Jonah Jameson, is one of the best casting choices for a comic book movie, ever.

Having been a fan of the comic book,  Sam Raimi was brought on to helm the project and he certainly does a terrific job. With experienced screenwriter David Koepp, the story is told in a very entertaining way. It’s humorous when it wants to be so and when it wants to be dark, it manages to completely flip that humorous tone on its head, and does so very successfully. There are more than a few scenes that really REALLY push the boundaries of its 12 rating. The action is directed masterfully too, when Spidey and the Goblin are throwing punches, or spinning webs, it’s really gripping to watch, and their final battle, is dark, psychological, mesmerising entertainment.

Though there are a few things such Goblin’s suit that can be a little bit irksome (we can see your mouth move mate!) Furthermore, certain sections of dialogue, particularly the scenes with MJ and Peter, are perhaps a little bit too cheesy. Overall, the journey to bring a live action iteration of the character to the big screen paid off enormously, and perhaps it paved the way for the dominance of superhero films that started towards the later half of the 2000s and continued well into the 2010s. With Danny Elfman’s majestic score to boot, the immortal words of Uncle Ben certainly ring true, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and with the power that was placed in Raimi’s hands, he undoubtedly delivered the goods.

Delightful blockbuster entertainment at its best with a likeable protagonist, a menacing and deeply troubled antagonist and brilliantly weaved action sequences.