Colorlist - Skysong

The Chicago based Colorlist, comprised of crossover jazz duo, the coincidentally named Charles Rumback and Charles Gorczynski, both multi-instrumentalists, worked long distance on this their third album proper following 2010’s ‘The Fastest Way to Become the Ocean’, released on Welsh label Serein records, after Gorczynski moved to Oakland, California. Rumback mans percussion, bells and melodica, whilst Gorczynski plays saxophone, numerous woodwind instruments, synthesizers and harmonium. Specializing in improvised song forms, live electronics, and sonic exploration they are known for their powerful live shows, having recently collaborated with Josh Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv fame.


This reviewer has only heard a couple of tracks from their previous releases, but this doesn’t sound like a big departure, but that’s no bad thing. They have a very jazzy organic freestyle feel, which must stem from their improvisations. Songs evolve naturally over languid rhythms segueing effortlessly into one another.


The opening track ‘Sun song’ has a slightly mournful feel with a melancholy woodwind section and a flighty sax, which is also apparent on ‘Current’, the third track. That track is all tumbling drums and soothing sax with gentle guitar riffing. The second track, ‘Montreal’ is a laid back number with more woodwind swells redolent to this listener of the latter parts of Phillip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack, with its images of city skylines and tumbling clouds. ‘Waiting’ opens with an obligatory music box and chiming flutter of brushed drumming, which evokes icicles. Synths are used sparingly and unobtrusively. The title track paints an ever so slightly sinister firmament. ‘Where will we go –– ambles along like some burdensome pilgrimage complete with clanking cowbell. The rhythm alters cleverly at the two thirds point and ends with quiet majesty. ‘Through the fires’ has a winter feel to it again and is slightly more experimental with another flighty sax refrain wringing its way through a gentle cacophony of drums, which grows ever more strangled as the track proceeds. The tracks discordance grates a little after a while, particularly after such a pleasant opening to the album. The album closes with ‘Safe years’. Drums tumble again before it switches to minor keys with a seeming blend of synths and harmonium. The album doesn’t so much culminate as peter out.


Like a less robust - maybe more delicate – and less syncopated Dan Snaith during his Manitoba phase on ‘Start breaking my heart’, before he got a band and went all psychedelic. Perhaps it’s the Canadian connection with one track, Montreal, being named after the Quebec city suggesting the connection. The cover depicts a foggy sun hazed forest canopy, and the tracks seem to evoke a descent into and escape from a busy winter forest floor. No track particularly strikes the listener as standout, although Montreal is perhaps the most successful. After a pleasant start, the album meanders, but never really goes anywhere. The listener can’t help but think the duo are lacking in ambition, or have a very muted colour palette. Perhaps it would work better in the live environment where the full array of the instrumentation is apparent. You would never know they were a country apart.

Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks stars as the title character in this true life thriller directed by Paul Greengrass (Bourne films) depicting the attack of cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates in 2009 - the first American cargo ship to be attacked in 200 years. The film is based upon the book ‘A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea’ by Phillips himself and ghost written by Stephan Talty. Featuring a brief appearance of Catherine Keener and a largely scarce crew, the film is mainly made up of a cast of unknown actors as the pirates (bringing credibility to the film). Shot in a documentary style by Greengrass, a former TV journalist, the African scenes have a realistic feel. After a flaccid opening, the tension gradually mounts until the insurgents board the freighter. It doesn’t really let up from there on out until a brief hiatus, when the captain is detained off ship, before it wrings the emotion out of you for the final section.


As mentioned, the actors playing the crew of the freighter have little to do in this movie other than follow orders and react to the pirates. This is a two man showdown between Hanks and Barkhad Abdi as the pirate captain, Muse, who the aforementioned never got to meet until the attack was filmed on the ship. Abdi is well supported by his cast mates as the fellow pirates, who bring a convincing sense of menace to proceedings, even as things begin to fall apart. Particularly threatening is Faysal Ahmed as the hot headed Najee. Refreshingly, Greengrass depicts the pirates almost sympathetically and the hostage scenario is infused with humanity, even if, ultimately, the pirates stick to their mission and meet a befitting end. The relief as support arrives is palpable and it’s an emotive release after such a long build up. Touted for an Oscar nomination, this segment is superbly acted by Hanks, who is often criticised as being bland. This final section is a touch overlong, and the darker lit scenes don’t always make for easy viewing, nor is the dialogue always clear, but what is lost in clarity is made up for in authenticity; after all this is an experience.


Aside from being a reportage style action thriller, the film offers up little by way of explanation, unlike Greengrass’ previous film, the surprisingly good Green Zone. There is a brief gesture at explaining the pirates’ motives in an early scene, but this is not delved into any great depth. Greed and a lack of perceived choice appear to be the pirates’ only motivation. On a superficial level you could call the movie a criticism of the imbalance in power brought out by globalisation, but, ultimately, it still champions the superpowers. In fact, if I was being cynical, I would call the film an extended advertisement for the US Navy, but I won’t detract from what is a tense and gripping film throughout, which culminates with real emotional resonance; highly recommended viewing.


4.5/ 5



Grand Budapest Hotel

An all star cast star in visionary director Wes Anderson’s 7th film, recounting the story of how its owner (F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus) came into possession of the eponymous hotel and focussing on his escapades with Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, Skyfall), a renowned concierge, following the mysterious death of one of the guests, Madame D, as recounted by The Author (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins, and Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes). Gustave framed for the murder, they steal a painting bequeathed to Dmitri, her son (Adrien Brody, The Darjeeling Limited) and are hotly pursued by J. G Jopling (Willem Dafoe, Existenz), an assassin employed by him.


Let me start by saying that you have to be in a certain frame of mind to watch a Wes Anderson film. He’s a polarising force amongst audiences, with his legion of devoted fans countered by his detractors. Although not without their merits, this reviewer must profess to disliking ‘Rushmore’, ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ and ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, but thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’, albeit belatedly, and ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’. Without a doubt, Anderson is a distinct presence within cinema, and we need more auteurs, daring to push the boundaries of what mainstream cinema can be.


In addition to all his regular players: Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson and Waris Ahluwalia, he has brought in the talents of Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel and Jude Law, amongst others. All give acceptable performances, particularly Ralph Fiennes and Jeff Goldblum. Tilda Swinton even redeems herself after ‘Zero Theorem’ with an all too brief appearance. The cast alone is enough to draw crowds, although, disappointingly, many have only fleeting cameos. Fiennes is simultaneously charming and despicable. Tony Revolori, as the young Zero, is a suitable foil, although his appearance is completely incongruous to his adult counterpart. That’s a joke, right? (So why did nobody laugh?) None of the cast, with the exception of its lead, are given particularly much to work with. Edward Norton didn’t impress as he usually does, Wilson barely has any screen time. Bill Murray is underused, as is Jason Schwartsman, having admittedly had their turns. Willem Dafoe’s performance was okay, but not as good as his role in ‘Zissou’. I am not one to question Jude Law’s somewhat uneven acting capabilities, but there was nothing to complain about here. This reviewer cannot be objective about Adrien Brody. Saoirse Ronan was sufficient, but was better in ‘Hanna’. Tom Wilkinson was just fine for the part.

 

Aesthetically, it is perfectly realised and is a glory to behold, complete with stylised model exteriors and fantastic editing. Anderson deploys all his usual cinematic tropes: the high artifice, lavish sets, stilted dialogue, exquisite attention to detail, narratives within narratives, and humorous camera movements, only this time, for me, they weren’t as effective as previously. Admittedly, it’s probably his most realised film, only it doesn’t seem to amount to very much. Unlike ‘Zissou’ where the camera movements through cross -sections of the boat evoked chortles, and the doll’s house sets of ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ recall youthful innocence, which felt appropriate to the narrative, although his directorial stamp, proved mere excessive decoration this time around, much like the cakes Zero’s partner bakes. It’s all surface, which undoubtedly was highly intentional, but all it serves to do is distance the viewer, so that you never really connect with the film, aside, perhaps, for Gustave and Zero’s scene just after escaping from prison. It’s probably some form of Brechtian device, but what do I know? The change in aspect ratio, although harking back to earlier cinema, is just plain annoying. I’m a fan of Alexander Desplat’s ‘Birth’ soundtrack, too, but personally found his work in this instance grating.


It is mildly amusing and elicited the odd wry smile from me, namely during the destruction of a ‘worthless’ Egon Schiele picture by Dmitiri, during which I regrettably prided myself on my understanding, as the rest of the audience sat in silence, and the odd chuckle, such as when Gustave retracts his diatribe against immigrants, but little else. I almost willed myself not to laugh at times, so hard was he trying to provoke it from me, particularly with its supposedly humorous outbursts of profanities. I didn’t want to allow myself to join in the fun as it evoked a hoity-toity titter here or a knowing guffaw there from the audience. You could almost feel the majority of the viewers were trying to appreciate the film, as if you, as a viewer, are some way uncultured or lacking intelligence if you don’t get it. Using Gustave as a mouthpiece, Anderson comments in the film that ‘getting it’ is important.


It’s pretentious elitism geared up to prove the superiority of those who understand. It’s also highly conceited. I’m reasonably cine literate, but don’t profess to know all his influences, nor do I care, but I believe I know enough to understand his game. I just don’t much rate it. Personally, I was relieved when it was over. You might just love it. (I’m off to see what I make of ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’.)


4/5

Gravity

Sandra Bullock stars as a medical expert, alongside George Clooney, in this sci-fi thriller. The pair are stranded on a space station during a debris shower after a Russian missile strike on a satellite. The film depicts the aftermath of the catastrophe, as Bullock’s character comes to terms with bereavement. Mexican, Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men), writes, co-produces, and directs the action. The two leads are also joined by the voice of Ed Harris as mission control, not that you would notice.


First, I would like to declare that this is not a review of the 3D release of the film. This reviewer still sees the format as little more than a marketing gimmick - besides, it gives me eye strain - so I can’t pass comment on this aspect of the film, which very probably adds a lot to the experience. Indeed, it is immaculately shot, and – I’m no astronaut – but, to me, once again Cuarón creates a very convincing reality; the anti-gravity seems very believable. The camera work is suitably dynamic and the props and costumes, one can only imagine, are authentic. It must be brilliantly edited, too, because you don’t notice a single cut; the whole film feels like one seamless sequence. It’s very much a spectacle. It’s the sort of cinematic experience you would expect to have at French theme park, Futuroscope. Although the score isn’t astounding, the sound design is also quite good, which slowly draws you in, particularly the use of silence.


The acting is sufficient, both leads turning out competent performances. Any other characters are incidental and disposable. Bullock is more convincing as a medical expert than Clooney is as an astronaut, but they both seem a little too like Hollywood actors to be truly believable. For the majority of the movie it’s Sandra Bullock’s film. Unfortunately, she isn’t given that much to work with. As pleasurable as it is, an hour and a half of her gasping and panting doesn’t exactly make for compelling viewing. There is, however, some fine physical acting on display from her, and the scene where she emerges from her spacesuit in the airlock to reveal her fine physique, as she curls up in the foetus position, is a beautifully realised image. Bullock’s performance is slightly evocative of Sigourney Weaver’s turn in the Alien films and she depicts an equally strong, but vulnerable woman.


Clooney’s machismo is overbearing, and you’re glad when he’s finally dispatched; he’s all vapid charm and charisma. His presence when he reappears later in the narrative is invasive, disrupting Bullock’s character’s feminine solitude and you’re glad when he disappears. If the film is saying anything it seems to be that this kind of bravado, although necessary to drive the story forward, isn’t really welcome in the new world order.


Although, the final shot is a very strong image of female power, ultimately, the film as a whole isn’t very affecting, unlike Captain Phillips, for example. There is just not enough of a story arc to connect with. Bullock’s back story feels just like that; scripted. It is quite a tense thriller, but not a tense as the film would like you to believe it is. It’s even tedious in places. Maybe I missed something in the reading, but there’s just not that much going on and, in the end, it doesn’t amount to very much. It’s up there, but it’s definitely not the film of the year.


3/5

In a World

In a World written, directed by, and starring Lake Bell (No Strings Attached) tells the story of Carol, a voice coach struggling to succeed in the world of film voice-overs and win the approval of her chauvinistic father (Fred Melamed, A Serious Man). Following the death of voice-over legend Don LaFontaine, her father, up and coming star Gustav (Ken Marino , Role Models), and Carol vie for the job of voicing an up-coming film quadrilogy. Meanwhile, subplots involving her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins, Wanderlust) and her partner (Rob Corddry, What Happens in Vegas), Carol and Gustav, and her work colleague Louis (comedian Demetri Martin) play out.


With an original premise and a script, which won an award at Sundance, I was hoping to be unexpectedly surprised by this film. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see why the writing garnered an award. Lake is better known for her television work and it plays just like that. It’ll certainly win no awards for its cinematography; not something you want on the large screen. She plays the awkward card for the large part of the movie, which raises a few minor chuckles, but isn’t really laugh-out-loud funny. It is more successful in the more dramatic scenes.


Narrative wise it really plods in places and it’s all a tad predictable. All the cast are competent, but not particularly gripping. The unfolding relationship between Carol and Louis is endearing. It is only in the final few minutes that it delivers its hard-nosed message, and it takes a real Hollywood star to do this (Geena Davis as Katherine Huling, Stuart Little Films). The film also features other cameos from Cameron Diaz in the film in the film (which looks like a female Mad Max with production in no way convincing as a blockbuster in 2013) and Eva Longoria (as herself). The ending is several reality checks, particularly as, following Huling’s message, the sentiment of her father’s ultimate gesture is undermined by the fact that not only was he told to do it, but by someone younger than his own daughter. Ultimately he can only be pitied. It doesn’t so much pack a punch as gently slap you around the face, or is that sexist?


Final verdict: The film something of a tribute made up of a cast mostly known for their television work, it’s not going to pull a big crowd (this reviewer was a lone viewer). To paraphrase the script, it’s not the best film out there, but it needed to be made. Bell should be commended for her effort to further empower women.


3/5


Saving Mr Banks

Tells the story of the two weeks P.L. Travers, the writer of Mary Poppins, spent in Los Angeles with Walt Disney as he attempted to convince her to sell the rights of the story to him. Starring the ever reliable Tom Hanks as the entertainment mogul and Emma Thompson as the protective author of the children’s classic, with support from Colin Farrell as her father, Jason Schwartzman as Richard Sherman, one of the songwriting brothers, and Paul Giamatti as her chauffer; the film is directed by John Lee Hancock (writer and director of Oscar nominated The Blind Side).


Firstly, this reviewer knew little of Mrs Travers (always Mrs Travers, not Mrs), upon entering the film, and little about Walt Disney, other than his creations, so I can’t pass comment on how accurate a portrayal this movie is. However, it makes for an entertaining watch. Each scene that Hanks and Thompson share crackles with energy, the frisson between them is fantastic. The juxtaposition of this very English woman and an all American man is glaring. The script is sharp and witty and their dialogue sparkles. Travers is depicted as justified, but at times irrational, whilst Disney is charismatic and charming. The flashbacks that explain Mrs Travers’ behaviour are well shot and link well, but are a little flat and tend to slow the tale down somewhat. Colin Farrell does an admiral job of bringing life to Travers’ father, but it takes a while for these scenes to really engage. It is almost with relief that the film cuts back to the main narrative for more sparring between its two leads. The other characters are competently played but somewhat incidental.


We all know the inevitable denouement of the story, it’s just a question of how Walt will win Travers over. It’s all somewhat formulaic how this occurs, but makes for some wonderful moments. Namely, the sight joke about supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus, seen in the trailer, but also a joke about Dick Van Dyke (Upon seeing his performance again you marvel all over again at how bad his Cockney accent was), also when Mrs Travers first lets her guard down, to name three. Once again, it’s a case of the trailer taking some of the edge off the surprise, but it’s not all laughs, as it would make you believe, and ultimately makes for an affecting story. Particularly tender is the relationship between Travers and her chauffer as he challenges her assumptions. The intertextuality is well woven into the script and it makes you want to re-watch Poppins to see what kind of dialogue is occurring between the two movies.


Some of the same concerns that Travers had about her adaptation of Mary Poppins could be levelled as criticisms of this movie. Travers was concerned that Disney would take the edge off the story. Upon researching the back story of P.L. Travers, it seems that the same thing might have occurred in this instance. For example, there is no hint of her bisexuality, perhaps irrelevant in this context, nor how enraged Travers really was at her treatment by Disney. It leaves you unsure of how many other liberties have been taken with the truth.


The film’s coda appears to be about how creativity can re-imagine history to make peace. Maybe this is what has occurred with Saving Mr Banks between Travers and Disney, also.  Ultimately, it’s a film about letting go, and in conveying that it is successful. On the flipside, by cashing in on the story of the story also, it seems that Disney got the last laugh. However you look at it, it makes for a most satisfying viewing experience.


4/5


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Comedian Ben Stiller (Night at the Museum) stars in his directorial debut, loosely based on James Thurber’s classic short story of the same name, concerning the eponymous Walter Mitty, a hen-pecked daydreamer who escapes into elaborate fantasies. Stiller takes this idea as his start point and builds his own narrative upon it. In the movie, Walter works in the ironically titled negative assets department of Life magazine dealing with film stock. As he goes about his daily routine he daydreams of scenarios in which he can impress his attractive work colleague, Cherly Melhoff, played by Kristen Wiig (Despicable Me). His world is shaken up, when the magazine comes under new management and is to be restructured as an online publication and threatens to cut jobs. He becomes a negative asset himself when he loses the negative of what is to be the final cover image and his job is laid on the line. Mitty then sets off on a global journey to track down the elusive picture.


The more technically adventurous aspects, which make up the carefully edited trailer, only comprise the first third of the movie. These are the scenes depicting his daydreams. Of the whole movie, these are the least successful aspects. They are silly in nature, as would be expected in Stiller’s previous output, such as Zoolander, like the fight over a Stretch Armstrong figurine, but seem out of place in this, what is at times a very earnest film. Particularly, bad is the Curious Case of Benjamin Button pastiche. The new manager, played by Adam Scott (Friends with Kids) is too much of a caricature, also, to take seriously. The film improves a modicum in the second third when Mitty begins his pursuit of the elusive photographer, although it is still undermined by silliness. Mitty travels to Scandinavia, where Stiller takes the opportunity to capture some of the idyllic scenery. Unfortunately, there is a ludicrous scene where he encounters a drunken helicopter pilot. What is meant to be a rousing life affirming scene scored to a David Bowie song, creates a questionable message. Is climbing into a helicopter with an inebriated pilot really an act of bravery and dedication, or one of stupidity? Equally ludicrous is the implausible trade off of the aforementioned toy for a long board, seemingly to justify a scene of Mitty skating down a mountain; his skater back story in itself highly unlikely given his current lifestyle.


Yet, despite these flaws, and if you stayed long enough to catch the final third, the movie is surprisingly affecting. This is mainly during the scenes between Mitty and Sean O’Connell, the photographer, played with gravitas by Sean Penn (Milk) who espouses words of wisdom. The message seems to be that sometimes you just have to live the moment and not seek to encapsulate it, and sometimes you can go to the ends of the earth to capture the essence of life when it’s right there at home staring you in the face all along. Of course this is the big reveal of the movie, as Mitty discovers what the missing photograph depicts, once his mother saves the day (a brief appearance by Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment). Ultimately, Mitty no longer needs to escape into fantasy once he realises that his everyday life is impressive enough and Melhoff accepts him for who he is. It makes for a poignant ending as long as you ignore the coda that life is to be lived just to make your online profile more interesting.


The film has come under criticism for excessive use of product placement. Admittedly, brands are at the forefront in this movie, such as eHarmony and Life magazine, but it could be considered as grounding the film in a realistic context. There are a lot of reasons for finding fault with this film. The plot does not hang well together and, as mentioned, at times the narrative devices driving the story are tenuous. It makes for a very uneven viewing experience; it often misses the emotional beat, but when it hits the mark it works surprisingly well. It’s certainly an ambitious film. It would be very easy to be unkind to this movie, but those who give it a chance will be rewarded; Stiller is genuine. Younger viewers clapped.


3.5/5




The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back is a coming of age story about 14 year old Duncan, played by Liam James (2012, Aliens Vs Predator Requiem), on a summer vacation with his mother, Pam, (Toni Colette, Little Miss Sunshine) and Trent, her bullying boyfriend (Steve Carell, Anchor Man) at his beach house. Out one day on a borrowed bike he discovers Water Wizz, a nearby water park, and is befriended by Owen the irresponsible manager of the park, played by Sam Rockwell (Moon). It is here that he finds his sense of humour; boosts his self esteem and finds a love interest, in Susanna the neighbour’s daughter (AnnaSophia Robb, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake).


Written and first time directed by actors Nat Faxon (Zookeeper) and Jim Rash (Minority Report), writers of 2011’s The Descendants (starring George Clooney), who both also feature in the movie. The film opens slowly and the tempo reflects Duncan’s sullen mood, understandable given the, erm, despicable treatment he receives from Trent. All is quite awkward and stilted as the embarrassing adults are introduced. The film doesn’t really start to hit the mark until the wisecracking manager is introduced. Rockwell dominates every scene until he becomes annoying. It’s testament to his acting capabilities that he shows his character sobering up and maturing just in the nick of time. It tackles similar ground to 2009’s 'Adventureland', starring Jesse Eisenberg, albeit lighter and less cerebral in tone. That’s not to say that there aren’t serious scenes, particularly the confrontation scene between Duncan and Trent over his devious shenanigans, which is perhaps a little incongruous with the rest of the film. The film sags at midpoint, but it is in its final third that it saves itself. The blossoming romance between the two young characters is tender and real and Duncan proves himself at the park. Particularly rewarding is the interplay between Maya Rudolph (Away we go) and Rockwell, and Toni Colette and Liam James during this section, who each gives the film an air of credibility. It’s also well supported by Allison Janney (Juno) as Susanna’s overbearing mother. Carell’s performance is understated and nuanced and it is a credit to his performance that despite all his awfulness you can almost understand where he’s coming from.


Overall, it’s all a tad predictable and formulaic with the biggest laughs given away in the trailer, ruining any spontaneity the film has. Some scenes should work, but don’t quite, such as the breakdancing scene. The incidental characters are amusing, but add little to the plot. The Trent aspect of the plot could have been a little more developed. Ultimately it’s a feel good movie that you will leave the cinema smiling after, but it’s not all positive, as they don’t drive home alone and Pam concedes her own weakness before imparting an important message. One of the better films this reviewer has seen recently, but it’s not as successful as Eisenberg’s 2009 fare.


3.5/5

Zero Theorem

Auteur Terry Gilliam poses existential questions in this science fiction companion piece to ‘Brazil’ and ‘Twelve Monkeys’. Qohen Leth, played by Cristoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds) is a reclusive computer genius that works for the management. His job is to solve the Zero Theorem of the title, a complex mathematical formula, which proves that existence is meaningless. Having accidentally hung up on a call from a higher power, he awaits a ring back from above to tell him his reason for living. Meanwhile, he claims insanity in attempt to get out of work, and is visited by Bainsley, a seductive woman played by Melanie Thierry (The Princes of Montpensier), and Bob, the teenage son of management, played by Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom).


Where does a reviewer start with a Terry Gilliam film? There was a time when audiences met the arrival of a new Gilliam with much anticipation, after - arguably flawed - classics like ‘Brazil’, ‘The Fisher King’ and ‘Twelve Monkeys’, even the box office flop ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’ has stood the test of time well, but not since ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ has he made a good film. ‘The Brothers Grimm’ was mediocre and this reviewer never even bothered with ‘Tideland’, but, if reviews are anything to go by, it’s a good thing I didn’t. I gave him another chance with ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’, mainly because it featured Tom Waits, but, from what I recall, that film was a mess. At least in that instance he could be excused, as it was beset with the untimely demise of its lead Heath Ledger. I was hoping Gilliam would have redeemed himself with his latest. Unfortunately, he doesn’t.


It starts promisingly with stylish titles over a shot of a black hole. We are then presented with the shaven headed protagonist, nude at his computer console, echoing Bruce Willis in ‘Twelve Monkeys’. There is little discernible dialogue for the large part of the first segment. Outside the confines of Qohen’s disused church of a home, Gilliam’s world is presented as a garishly wacky vision of the future, somewhere between the graffiti strewn streets of ‘Twelve Monkeys’ and Luc Besson’s ‘The Fifth Element’. Qohen works at a mysterious console which is powered by cycling. His supervisor, Joby, is played by David Thewlis (Harry Potter) who is forever onto him about meeting his targets. He tries desperately to gain a meeting with Management, played by Matt Damon (Elysium), so he can gain sick leave. At one point he enters a large chamber, evocative of ‘Brazil’, another he meets a medical committee, redolent of the psychiatrists in ‘Twelve Monkeys’. Throughout, the camera distorts with wide angles and Dutch shots to convey his mental instability, in the vein of ‘Fear and Loathing’, but where that film was effective at conveying the drug induced state, this time proves too disorientating.


He finds himself at a party where he is promised that he will meet Management. Proceedings unfold haphazardly, leading him to the alluring Bainsley, who for the most part proves to be little more than a shallow sex object. He happens upon Management, where an all too brief interaction occurs, beyond that I’m not too sure what happens. Proceedings aren’t confusing in an unconventional plotted ‘Memento’ kind of way, but rather an unstructured mess. Admittedly, the sets are well dressed and you’re interested enough by this alone to keep watching, but mainly to see if the film will improve. People come and go with little reason and their dialogue is nonsensical. In many parts I thought there was something wrong with the cinema speakers as the words were barely audible. I swear at one point a character said ‘is that joke over now?’ after belabouring one line for the first third of the movie.


The acting ranges consistently from mediocre to downright bad, with the exception of Matt Damon’s all too brief appearances. Particularly bad is Tilda Swinton as Dr. Shrink-Rom. Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, she raps. Lucas Hedges is not strong enough an actor at his age to carry his scenes. If I was being generous I would say that he made an admirable attempt at mimicking Brad Pitt’s delivery in ‘Twelve Monkeys’, which is a kind way of saying he was unsuccessful.


What there is of a plot is minimal. Qohen breaks his computer, Bob turns up and fixes it (or was it Joby?) they order pizza a couple of times, a strange couple in cowboy hats come and go, he engages in a virtual reality fantasy on a desert island with Bainsley, they split up, he realises the call was never coming and jumps into the mainframe, only to find himself alone on the island frolicking to a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’. The whole thing feels self indulgent, even gratuitous; it’s minimal nudity seemingly in place only to titillate teenage boys. The computer graphics look cheap and dated, too. What’s more of a wonder than how fantastically bad it was is how I managed to sit through the whole film.


Gilliam should be commended for the singularity of his vision, but requires a disciplined team in future to keep his eccentricities from running wild.


2.5


Visitors

Steven Soderbergh presents ‘Visitors’ the latest collaboration between former monk and influential filmmaker Godfrey Reggio (Qatsi Trilogy) and composer Philip Glass (The Hours), alongside director and Fischerspooner DJ, Jon Kane (editor, Naqoyqatsi). Filmed in 4K ultra high definition black and white, it develops some of the imagery from the earlier Qatsi trilogy in a new meditative sequence of 74 images.

Taking the image of a gorilla as a start point, the opening of the film juxtaposes images of the surface of the moon with the Unisphere in Corona Park, New York, erected to celebrate the 1964 World’s Fair. This is followed by the title of the movie etched in stone. What follows is a sequence of moving portraits and landscape imagery with abstractions of hands performing everyday tasks and a crash test dummy. Progressing from the lingering shots of bystanders from Koyaanisqatsi, the camera gazes upon mid shots of individuals within a void and almost imperceptibly zooms in on them. The faces appear to subtly morph with the play of the light, as the camera grows ever closer. This film is all about the human gaze. It explores the act of looking itself. The final shot clarifies this. It is about allowing ourselves to see ourselves as other, by looking at the familiar until it becomes unfamiliar. The disembodied faces almost look back at you and you wonder what the stimulus is that is causing their expressions to change. It is evocative of video artist Bill Viola’s later work, where individuals respond to something unknown.


This is juxtaposed with images of an imposing building, a swamp and a disused fun fair. Unlike the Qatsi films, there is less of an obvious agenda. The images are hung together, to use an art metaphor, to evoke a feeling. However, the images are obviously suggestive and we are gently guided into the sequence. The gorilla is a link to our primordial past, as is the swamp, although Reggio himself describes this as Pre-Primordial. The moon symbolises isolation and desolation, viewing ourselves from afar, and the Unisphere is a symbol of the future and where we are heading. The fairground might be a comment on the world we live in and the funhouse that John Barth said we are lost in. An audience reacts to what appears to be a sporting event. The hands are an extrapolation of the communicative gestures in Naqoyqatsi. It confronts us with new everyday technological tasks, such as using a smart phone, a computer mouse and a game controller, as well as playing a piano, devoid of any context and presents them to us in extreme close up. Disembodied, they become alien and take on a life of their own with thumbs become warring creatures. It is all about seeing with fresh eyes. The film is mesmerising from beginning to end and you cannot takes your eyes from the sumptuous images. It takes patience, but not to the degree of a Matthew Barney production, and no frame outstays its welcome. This is not as sweeping as the Qatsi films, but is a much more intimate piece, in some ways perhaps slighter.


I’m not one to comment on the music, but is unobtrusive and serves as a bridge between the audience and the image. It holds the piece together in perfect symbiosis with the content. It has less of Glass’ usual motifs and is perhaps the better for it, conjuring a sober mood.

The extras are sufficient: containing some lucid interviews with the key players and just reveals the complexity in what is a seemingly straightforward film. With what they were trying to achieve I would say that they were highly successful. I only wish I’d seen it with an audience.


5/5

Lucy

Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin) stars alongside Morgan Freeman (Transcendence) in the latest release from French director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). The premise being that a new drug, which allows individuals to use more of their brain capacity, has been invented and is implanted in the abdomen of unwilling victims in order to smuggle it. Johansson is one of those people tricked into doing so. Her packet leaks, following a beating, causing to her evolve. She escapes from her captors and goes on the rampage. What will happen when she reaches 100% brain capacity?


Besson has returned to lighter affairs with ‘Lucy’, following 2011’s biopic of Aung San Suu Kyi, ‘The Lady’. This reviewer never caught last years ‘The Family’, but enjoyed ‘Leon’ and admired the visual inventiveness of the ‘The Fifth Element’. Requiring a lot of suspension of disbelief, the film will win no awards for subtlety. Bold and brash, it is drawn with broad strokes. No time is wasted with set up and the film moves along at an exhilarating pace. Similar in vein to both ‘Trancendence’, and ‘Her’, albeit more successful than the former and less successful than the latter. It takes its visual cues from Godfrey Reggio, John Woo, the Wachowski Brothers, a less sober Kubrick, and even Terrence Malick. In other words, it’s highly derivative, and there is little here that you haven’t seen before, but it has some nice touches, such as the intercutting of wildlife footage into the narrative.


The acting is very tongue in cheek and the line between intentional and unintentional laughter is never entirely clear. The film is very much a vehicle for Johansson, to elevate her to another level of superstardom. Her acting can’t be criticised, as she carries the film well, and she is convincingly agile, but sometimes you are left wondering what all the fuss is about. Morgan Freeman plays the same role we have seen him play in many a film of late, but adds sufficient gravitas to the technical jargon, however superficial it is. (It would seem that greying men in white lab coats and glasses equates to scientists.) The remainder of the cast is made up with stereotypical Yakuza types (in this instance the Korean mafia), casting which borders on the xenophobic. However, it is such a conventional cinematic trope and is treated with such frivolity that it never really causes much offense. You could easily not notice the amorality of Johansson’s character either. The plot often does not always make complete sense, but it’s less of a mess than ‘Transcendence’. There is a huge hole in the narrative between Lucy boarding a plane, enduring some kind of metamorphosis, or is that hallucination, and being captured. Other than the general preposterousness of the whole concept, most of the unintentional laughter comes from the imagery, which is not always entirely successful, such as Johansson floating on a chain, men floating on the ceiling, and the final chair scenes. It’s all pretty silly stuff, but it is clear that Besson is having a ball here.


Its final message is less profound than it thinks it is, and appears to be inspiring youngsters to appreciate their parents (Lucy’s lengthy telephone call to her mother), lead a healthy lifestyle (‘take this medication, work out and eat organic food’), stay off the drugs, man (a drug addled victim is swiftly executed) and have children (‘I don’t care about the scar [on her abdomen]), so that they can invent super computers and reshape the world in the style of an earlier epoch. Don’t expect too much from it and you’ll have a lot of fun. The last time I was similarly amused was one of the ‘Residential Evil’ films with Milla Jovovich (who was similarly idolised by Besson in ‘The Fifth Element’). Who knows? It might even empower you. It all depends on how much you admire Ms Johansson.