The Drop: when his bar is robbed on a ‘drop night’ – when illegal bookies stash their winnings for gangs to collect – a bar owner, and bartender need to figure out who’s ripped them off. This is a film that’s been designed to be a quiet slow-burner with sustained tension. It’s the kind of film where someone asking for directions or talking about a dog has multiple meanings and veiled threats. There’s a lot of additional detail thrown in to deliberately set up every character as being potentially dangerous, giving you just enough information about their life to explain their circumstances, and making them feel more authentic. The mood is carried expertly by a strong central cast – Hardy plays a blinder as a slightly simple bartender, Gandolfini was engrossing but because it was his last role it would have been good to see him doing something that wasn’t a ‘Soprano lite’ job. Rapace and Schoenaerts are also very impressive in their supporting roles. it’s so well made and acted that it reminds you of other ‘hefty’ films like Mystic River or Prisoners. The only couple of missteps were that the Chechen gangsters felt like they were straight out of Taken; and because it’s set in religious Brooklyn, the thick accents were a little bit iffy across the board. It’s clearly meant to be an actor’s piece, but when it’s this well-presented and finely tuned, you’ve got to tip your hat to director Michaël R. Roskam and Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis. Despite being intensely low-key and a touch dreary, The Drop is ultimately a gripping character-driven crime drama, and I’m surprised there’s not been a bigger buzz about it.
Mad Max: Fury Road – in a bleak future where oil and water are scarce and controlled by gangs, two rebels at different ends of the system go head-to-head with the status quo. From the opening scene the aesthetic of the movie feels fresh and unique – like a cross between a high-production Slipknot video, and a demented steampunk circus gone wild; it’s like nothing else you’ll see on the big screen with this much budget behind it. Everything about Fury Road is certified batshit mental – the ganglords and their henchmen are all grotesque and eccentric with masks, nipple clamps, and caricatured physicalities. Big shout out to the ridiculous moshing / headbanging gayerish masked flamethrower guitarist suspended to one of the armored rigs – not just a mascot for his clan, he perfectly sums up everything that’s demented but enjoyable about this movie. The score is another crucial element that lifts the film far beyond mediocrity; a mix of classical orchestral licks paired with magniloquent tribal drumming – it’s a delight to listen to, and keeps your pulse racing. Conceived in 1998 and spending until now in ‘development hell’ or cancelled, Mad Max 4 is 100% worth the wait. A balls-to-the-wall straight up action movie that has it all; epic and sustained action set-pieces that continually impress; great actors, and set in a unique and impressive world – just shut down your PC right now and go see it on the biggest screen you can find.
What makes a movie going experience unique? In the age of Blu Rays / high-definition torrents, and bargainous HDTVs / home cinema kits it’s becoming easier and more affordable to get a totally immersive film-viewing experience at home. To combat this and keep the footfall in the foyers cinemas are having to go above and beyond the standard experience. My local independent – Aberdeen’s cherished ‘Belmont Cinema‘ – has just screened back-to-back showings of the Dark Knight trilogy (all 7hrs 34min!), and although you can pick up the box set for under £30, the event was packed full of things that no amount of money or equipment can replicate.
With films this big there’s absolutely no denying that they’re best viewed in a proper auditorium. Christopher Nolan’s unmistakable eye-opening wide-angle style which is intentionally shot on celluloid for maximum effect; Wally Pfister’s I-MAX cinematography, Hanz Zimmer‘s deep brassy orchestrated scores, the pounding sound effects & sound editing, million dollar stunts, props and CGI… Sure, they all look fantastic on Blu Ray, but when you see them thrown up on a cinema screen and pumped out through a Dolby SR amp/speaker kit – the effect is nothing short of phenomenal.
Beyond mere technical details there was an atmosphere in the theater that you don’t see often, and definitely couldn’t replicate at home: staff and punters dressing up as their favourite characters from the series (and further back down the Batman franchise), hardcore comic fans ‘nerding out’ in the foyers, people shouting out the big lines of dialogue – and particularly in the first two movies – there’s a lot of humour that really falls flat when you watch it on your own.
Add to this that the staff had gone out of their way to ‘make a day of it’, including an in-character Batman – with the voice – for the duration, special food/drinks promos, cosplay competition, a riddler quiz with awesome prizes, and giving everyone a goodie bag on the way out – it really did make the experience feel unique, and elevated it far beyond the scope of any regular visit to the movies. It also made the 1pm-10pm shift fly by.
I believe that the variety and novelty of screenings and events like this will become a larger part of remaining cinema’s revenue, and Aberdeen’s Belmont Cinema is putting a lot of effort in to such programming. At Christmas there was a festive Die Hard screening, a 90s Action Classics season has just wrapped up (Matrix, Total, Recall Con-Air…) and coming up there’s a special screening of the notorious ‘The Room‘, a Wes Anderson retrospective, and one-off re-releases of cult cinema favourites such as The Princess Bride and the ABCs of Death – to name but a few!
Seeing the films together in one sitting also helps pull the story together, with a lot of detail slipping through the cracks of the three, and four year gaps in theatrical releases. More than anything, it’s a glowing testament to Nolan as a director: he has made three very individual, stand-alone movies that will appeal to general punters, whilst having enough detail and plot threads to make them a proper trilogy, AND appease hardened Batman fanboys.
Batman Begins (Review) – perhaps a little harsh on it, but the one that benefited the most from a proper theatrical viewing. It’s funnier with a crowd, and the ‘filler’ is more necessary when viewed as part of the entire trilogy. Overall, it’s an interesting examination of fear – last-minute cameo from Katie Holme’s nipples. Trilogy score: 7/10
The Dark Knight (Review) – the closest thing to a Bond film that Nolan has done. Travel, big stunts, cooler gadgets (and quips about them), peril, awesome villain – it feels in parts like Nolan was using this as a CV. SOMEONE PLEASE LET HIM DIRECT A BOND FILM!! Still awesome. Trilogy Score: 8.5/10
The Dark Knight Rises (Review) – less action, and a whole lot of plot to wrap up the trilogy. Still massive voice issues with Bane – I think my biggest gripe is that unlike the other sound like their being recorded on set, Bane’s booms from all speakers – giving him a bizarre omnipotence. The tone and accent are far too silly for such a bad badass. Still, great way to cap off one of cinema’s best Trilogies. Trilogy Score: 7.5/10
The Dark Knight Rises: eight years after The Joker’s antics Batman faces his latest, and toughest opponent – Bane. The tone straddles the story-driven Batman Begins, and the action/spectacle of The Dark Knight. Rises also functions surprisingly well as both a stand-alone movie, and trilogy wrap up: epitomised by Scarecrow, who appears, but isn’t dwelled on. The action set pieces are great (especially the Police Vs Goons fight!!) and when it’s matched with such slick visuals and the booming post-Inception soundtrack – it’s an unbeatable force. Of the three new characters, JGL does the most impressing, although it’s mostly because of the other two’s costumes: masking a performer like Hardy, reducing him to just eyes is nothing short of a travesty, and Hathaway amounts to little more than her catsuit, merely serving as a story catalyst. All other performances are rock-solid across the board – particularly Caine, who I’ve rarely enjoyed, but was surprisingly emotive in this. The biggest pain in my ass was the unresolved voice issues with Batman in costume, hospitalised Gordon being too gravelly to fully understand, as well as Bane whose voice is both hard to tune in to and so ridiculous that it wouldn’t be out-of-place in a South Park episode. I also felt that the duality between Bane and B Wayne was interesting, but even as someone who has never read the comics – it could probably have been explored further. What’s impressed me most about the trilogy is the dedication to keeping everything grounded and realistic – even with the list of ‘superhero’-style of characters, there’s always an explanation and it always feels plausible. I’ll take my hat off to Nolan, who has made yet another smart, sophisticated film out of ‘superheroes’ / comic book material – while keeping it accessible and enjoyable to all audiences.
Rock ‘n’ Rolla [Blu Ray]: Guy Ritchie introduces another bunch of dodgy geezers that you would find in ‘everyday Britain’… honestly! There’s a huge section of Basil exposition at the start; although goes with the territory of having 20 storylines and around 400 characters. There’s more narration by a LANDAN GEEZA – and the script’s full of more cockney slang / gangster limericks; I wouldn’t blame non-Brits for requiring subtitles. (Ewe go’ mo’ feet on thu street van coppas on thu beat – etc). There’s more Tarantino-esqué styling with wipes, swipes, fast cut editing, dialogue in boxes. There’s more people acting trivially when surrounded by or cut between senseless violence – which is becoming old hat. There’s also more dark comedy elements, which are quite good: a homosexual sub-plot, S&M, botched robbery, comparing scars, indestructible Russians… Where this succeeds is the stunning Brit cast; Hardy, Strong, Elba, ‘Superhands’, Butler, Kebbell, and Newton. The Blu Ray’s worth the extra pennies, with a slick picture and some tasty HD-audio. If you can’t tell from the above, Rock ‘n’ Rolla is more of the same ol’ Guy Ritchie tricks, although it’s all totally passable, and in the end, quite entertaining & watchable. It was planned to be the first of three films and – surprisingly – I’d like to see the other two.
Inception: Follows Dom Cob – a man who can enter your mind in the dream state and steal your deepest thoughts & secrets – on his last mission that could finally get him back to his family. The first thing you realise about inception is how original, visionary and well thought out the story is, then worry about how good the film would have to be to pull it all off. Despite the elaborate plot and timelines it’s explained well enough to be understood first time round (if you pay attention), but is still complex and smart enough to be appreciated on multiple viewings. Nolan brings out the best in his outstanding, but not too obvious, ensemble: especially Di Caprio, Cotillard, Levitt, Watanabe & Hardy who all step up and do justice to the great premise. The special effects department deserve a year off after this, and Hans Zimmer’s modern score takes the last 30 minutes to a whole new level. Page is only OK and more could have been made about the infinite possibilities of the dreams but other than that, no real complaints. There’s subtle gestures towards Matrix, 2001, classic Bond, and a whole bunch of crime / noir films. Inception is an iconic, truly original, mind-bending film that has it all, and breathes new life into Sci-Fi, which is currently plagued with sequels & re-makes. My main concern is that this opus will be near-impossible to top, by Nolan, or anyone else. Stunning cinema that surpasses its own massive hype and is easily film of the year.
Hard Candy: a character-driven modern thriller that feels like the most extreme episode of ‘To Catch A Predator’. Right from the opening IM conversation you know this film will be difficult to watch, and the first 20 minutes are among the most awkward I’ve seen. Because there’s only two characters the story’s very neat and wrapped up tightly: Ellen Page is nothing short of phenomenal and Patrick Wilson was great. David Slade made a good job of making the film feel cold, minimal and clinical, although colour is used very effectively, and his direction throughout is spot on. Guys will always remember what happens off-screen and there’s a few more scenes that stuck with me since I originally saw it in the cinema. By the end, it begins to feel a little stretched out, and it does make you question how a kid could execute this plan so perfectly. Fantastic feature-length debut, but hard-hitting content will be too uncomfortable for some.
The Take: based on a Martina Cole novel, this was a 4 part mini-series following the two Gangsters as they rise through the London criminal underworld. From the outset (Kassabian theme song, stock gangster names, and violence accompanied by lame gags) you know it’s not going to be high-brow entertainment. It’s full of over-acting, terrible cockney accents and generic geezers that you’d associate with Danny Dyer / Guy Ritchie films. It started in the early 1980s and ended mid-90’s, leapfrogging months or years at a time, sometimes with little indication. Despite this it was shot well, the original music was great, had moments of drama and although it was fairly predictable, the story does keep you watching. The settings and props were also spot-on. They tried to make it smarter as smart as they could, but it still turned out to be a middle-of-the-road, sensationalised crime tale.