A Walk Among the Tombstones – It sounds far more enticing than it really is

a-walk-among-the-tombstones

A Walk Among the Tombstones (US/2014)

UK Release by Momentum Pictures – 19th September 2014

Directed by Scott Frank

Unfortunately, this film leaves no room for curiosity or character insight. Yet, those elements are not entirely necessary for the film to play out in its own confidence as a systematic and noirish thriller.

Liam Neeson is hard at home with tough nails, fierce jujitsu skills and ex-cop attire. However, there is no explosive dynamite, but rather a late package that Neeson carries on his shoulders at a steady pace, marking off every checkpoint along his obstacle course. The obstacles are not thick and fast, but they are hollow and potholed. I may have been in a passive mood, but the two killers who Neeson is after appear pathetic on all fronts: they are not scary, they are whimsical in their approach to crime and there is not the slightest chance that they will get away. The victims and their relations, who act as the catalyst for Neeson’s seemingly unprompted involvement, also come across as ill informed and lacking the bite for what should be nail-biting thriller. The plot is straightforward and clear-cut for a no doubt exciting experience, but the elevating spine is missing.

To conclude, it appears that the lack of subtlety, the lack of reasoned time and place of the characters and intelligible events, left me stricken with a rather dry experience.

2/5 stars

The Guest – A delicious guilty pleasure

the-guest-dan-stevens

 

The Guest – US, 2014

UK Release by Icon Film Distribution – 5th September 2014

Directed by Adam Wingard

Brief Synopsis: In what is fundamentally a new spawn of Stoker, a hard-hitting solider fools a family into welcoming him into their home. The rather intense accidents that follow are no coincidence.. 

One may initially ponder why they bothered to make the effort, but Dan Stevens and the atypical character he plays called David will soon keep you entranced. David, at first, is presented as the lad prototype, the guy who gets all the girls and beats up the bullies, but he soon becomes far more than this, he is bound to a complexity and his presence becomes mysterious. He shows no purpose or desire; it appears that he even has to pretend to become excited when a beautiful young woman rides half-naked on top of him. Then, in an instance, the territory switches and the scales rise, although we are never quite sure what to believe and Wingard successfully lets us play with our imaginations throughout and beyond.

At times, the film reminds me of Quentin Tarantino’s work because we find ourselves connecting with an unlawful character that moves across the screen with sufficient pardon. Not to mention the outbursts of violence and borderline parody that is often adopted. The music is also explosive and dynamic in its use of sound effects that bridge the action effectively; the tone is close to becoming a pulp bonanza. There are inevitably loose areas in such a film that attempts to play its audience around, but plot holes are looped with bullets and captivating face expressions. There is a hint towards David’s real background, but it is largely bumped of as one of these experiments gone wrong; we are left to imagine and the realm of science fiction is certainly on the cards. The last shot of the film will let you decide for yourself on the latter.

Both Brendan Meyer, the awkward son of the family, and his sister, played by Maika Monroe (definitely one to watch as they say) are terrific and give the believable performances that are needed alongside the taut David. They are the necessary sounding board for the temptation and animosity that Stevens brings to David. He indulges in their affairs for better or worse and ignites in them quite a life experience to behold. It can get pretentious, but hold out as you will be entertained and this film will make you think, despite what its marketing campaign may suggest.

4.5/5

A New Generation of Filmmakers

carlos_robert

The 1990’s gave us a new wave of independent cinema icons. Richard Linklater burst onto the scene in 1993 with his socially irresponsible and irresistible Dazed and Confused, Quentin Tarantino with his simply “bad-ass movie” Reservoir Dogs (1992), Kevin Smith with his weird and wondrous Clerks (1994) and, perhaps most significantly (at least in terms of working around a micro budget), Robert Rodriguez with his entertaining and striking El Mariachi. There are plenty more innovating directors I could list (Steven Soderbergh, M. Night Shyamalan, Danny Boyle, Larry Clark, Edward Burns etc.), but I’m sure you follow my bearing.

There has since been the likes of Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights), Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream), Christopher Nolan (Following, Memento) and Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election) all emerging as significantly powerful and vital figures in independent cinema from the late 1990s. All these directors indeed still continue to make great films, even if the forte of their later work (Nolan and Aronofsky in particular) has been pilfered by Hollywood into blockbuster fair.

Here, I am arguing that there is a gap, a space for a new generation of filmmakers to make micro-budget films. It has been twenty years since Tarantino made Pulp Fiction and studios began taking independent cinema seriously and creating separate branches for distribution (Miramax Films, Fox Searchlight, Focus Features etc.) This gap for new talent is filling up fast (just look at what Steve McQueen and Martin McDonagh have managed to achieve in the last 10 years) and it is time to step on that bandwagon.

That is why, my friend Chee Keong Cheung, who has written, directed and produced three successful feature films in the climate of the 21st century, wants to help support a new generation of filmmaking talent. He has teamed up with Carlos Gallardo, the producer behind the El Mariachi trilogy and long time friend and collaborator of Rodriguez to bring you a masterclass in filmmaking. Better still, Mark Strange, who has worked alongside action legends Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and Cary Tagawa as a stunt performer, fight choreographer, actor and producer will also be attending. These three stimulating individuals are offering an intense full day of discussion and teaching for only £99. This is the masterclass.

Intense-Masterclass

These guys know the independent film business. From signing distribution deals to negotiating releases they have been through it all and come out on top. This masterclass is for people who are serious about the film business and furthering their career in film. Yet, it is also ideal for writers, directors, producers, film students, and even casting directors or line producers who are just starting out in their careers. Carlos, Chee and Mark have played their cards in all areas of the film production process from special effects and stunt performing to executive producing and financing. Learn about the films that re-defined cinema and learn how to put your stamp in todays market. Cinema is forever changing.

Find out more and book tickets for the masterclass here.

Watch this El Mariachi tribute below:

Olympus has Fallen – America. America. America.

olympus

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Written by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt

Produced by Gerard Butler, Alan Seigel, Mark Gill, Antoine Fuqua & others.

Production Companies: Millenium Films, Nu Image Films, Gerard Butler Alan Seigel Entertainment, West Coast Film Partners.

UK Release Date: 17th April 2013

Review may contain spoilers. 

Epic in a purely cinematic sense, treacherous in any other. Packed with headshots and preposterous puns, Olympus has Fallen gives the audience a virus of predictability and ingenuity stardom.

You guessed correct: The Whitehouse is taken over by a group of terrorists, hence the title Olympus has Fallen. Due to this customary act of The Whitehouse ‘falling’ happening within the first half hour of the movie, the audience is left with ninety minutes of unadulterated guns blazing and unadorned acts of terrorism.

I’m not saying there are no good films that fall into this ‘action raging, hostage, thriller genre’, there are. Take, for example, Heat, Leon, Con Air, The Dark Knight, Red State, these are all films I’d happily watch over and over. But there’s far more plot entwined into the above listed films. Subconsciously they have a far greater impact on our emotions and senses, yet more importantly they have great casts or at least a great director behind the picture. Moreover, there should be something consequential to take away from the cinema – a message, a lesson, a thought, some stimuli, a perception– but with Olympus has Fallen there’s nothing to take away from the cinema except maybe an arrogance or self-regard for taste. Arguably, the only experience gained is directly to do with what takes place in the auditorium, and it’s not a valuable one at that. In my mind, a good film, a film worth watching, should only just begin to play on your mind as you leave the cinema.

It’s hard to imagine what more there would have been to the spec screenplay other than “White house gets overthrown by Korean terrorists. President’s previous head of security (arguably responsible for the death of the president’s wife) comes back on duty to infiltrate the Koreans. He succeeds and all seems once more at peace (yet overlooked is a significant death toll and destruction of half of Washington).” Can this writing credit even be counted for writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. This plot could be conjured up by Grandfather thrice removed. However, realising the script certainly will have taken some doing, no doubt a successful collaboration between Antoine Fuqua (director) and Conrad W. Hall (DoP) was in place. Hall has to be credited for his efficient and generally impressive cinematographic work. Great sweeping wide shots and extensive fast-paced tracking shots are in place; though one has to wonder how much of this camerawork is now done through the digital construction of a set in post. It’s a shame Fuqua couldn’t have come back stronger from his exhilarating and Oscar winning work on Training Day. I presume Fuqua will be desperately looking for another collaboration with the screenwriter David Ayer in the future; give him that prodigious spec script he must be searching for, although David Ayer has now established a successful career in directing himself: Harsh Times, Street Kings, End of Watch.

Talent aside, I can’t begin to exclaim how prejudicial this film is to the American ideology. The White House is taken over, its ludicrous, absolute mayhem, America appears doomed. But then, a single man steps up to the challenge (notice a similarity in plot to Die Hard yet?), kills numerous Koreans on his undercover excursion, and saves the nation. The audience is captivated by this heroin figure, put into his shoes i.e. turned into an American hero. They leave the cinema having never felt stronger, feeling powerful enough to conquer the world, or at least enough to feel in control of their own lives. Is this response from the audience a good thing? In the simplest sense, it gives us a boost; it’s idolisation in its purest sense. Yet, it is a supremely false ideology, one that is played upon time and time again by action movies coming straight out of Hollywood and dominating screens worldwide. This film brought in over a million dollars box office in each country as foreign to a Western audience as Hong Kong, Malaysia and South Korea. American movies account for over 90% of their annual box office. Just imagine how inflamed Asian minds must be with the dogma of our industry. This is no new feat however and has been blithely happening for arguably a whole century. Furthermore, following my punitive notion, the caption on the movie poster reads: “We are never stronger than when we are tested”. Are the Americans trying to summon a terrorist attack?

Despite this blockbuster conundrum, Olympus has Fallen is actually categorised as an independent film; at least Millennium films themselves seem to think so; “Millennium films is one of the longest-running independent film companies in the history of Hollywood.” Yet with a $70 million budget for Olympus has Fallen (yes by no means blockbuster but certainly not independent) and a track record of recent films such as The Expendables 2, The Iceman, Homefront and The Big Wedding (a cumbersome pile of rubbish I have already critiqued) it is hard not to believe that significant amounts of studio funding were involved. Though I am not having a go at Millennium Films, I’m simply saying that they don’t do the ‘real’ independent filmmakers out there much justice with releases like Olympus has Fallen.

All this said, if you love action and headshots then you certainly won’t be let down by this film. If you go to the cinema simply for the two hour-long destruction of sight and sound then this film is precisely for you. I have had enough talking about this film, there is nothing valuable to note, not that this film is even worth anyone’s analysis or interpretation, as there clearly is not a meaningful one to be given – other than rants peripheral to the picture itself!