Movie Review – American Hustle

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OFFICIAL SILVER SCREENER REVIEW

- AMERICAN HUSTLE -

IMDB Rating: 7.9 out of 10 (44,068 votes)

Director: David O. Russell

The poster for American Hustle.

The poster for American Hustle.

There’s a line between clear and unclear that is very fine, very small, and very easily leads to confusion. To strike up a delicate balance between the two is a very difficult thing to do. Early on in David O. Russell’s ‘American Hustle’ (hey, that rhymes), Russell does not seem to find the balance. Instead, we’re left in the dark for most of the opening 20 or 30 minutes as to just what is really going on. The narration is unreliable and keeps switching perspectives, making it a little difficult to follow, but that is hardly what makes it so hard to catch up with. It’s more that the dialogue isn’t clear enough.

Russell chooses to unravel most, if not all, of his story through what the characters are saying, and that is where this very intimidating line is drawn. To tell a story through dialogue you must truly understand where you are in relation to that line – there is a subtle art being exercised here – and Russell’s latest work seems to be on the unclear side (a good example is Alan Moore’s graphic novel ‘V For Vendetta’, which perfects this subtle art.) There’s only so much you can say on screen before we begin to wonder what is actually playing out in front of us, and to this extent, the opening half hour of ‘American Hustle’ fails. A film needs a hook, and when the clues you’re giving us are so cryptic, so little in quantity, what else are we meant to do but scratch our heads?

But to Russell’s credit, he does relieve us; the next 45 minutes or so are purely setup for what is to come, so the story slows down here a little. We settle down and begin to follow the lives of Irving Rosenfeld (an overweight Christian Bale), his partner in crime Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence), and FBI agent Richie DeMaso (Bradley Cooper). It’s a bit of an odd-couple thing going on; these guys don’t necessarily like each other, but they work with each other for the good of the country (although we get the sense they’re all just doing it for themselves.)

Come for the performances. Stay for the hairstyles.

Come for the performances. Stay for the hairstyles.

But those four aren’t all. As the film branches out, there are more players thrown in to the mix, including mobsters (Robert DeNiro makes an appearance), New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), and a fake sheikh, among other things. That’s right; it’s unbridled insanity at the hands of Russell, but he manages to pull it off. He’s a master of getting good performances out of his actors and there isn’t a weak link here, just as there wasn’t a weak link in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. He also manages to write his characters well, each giving them personalities and giving them their moment in the sun, to really flesh out their emotions. Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale are the pick of the bunch, but really there isn’t a single performance here that fails to exude an utmost sense of fun, which in essence is what a good film will do.

There is a small problem with the final scene, though. ‘American Hustle’ is a very complex movie in it’s own way, what with most of the plot being moved on by slabs of informative [and sometimes hilarious] dialogue. Not only that, but the plot itself is quite a complex one too, with very fine details. Yet Russell chooses to end his film with a shot of Irving and Sydney looking at each other. Plain and simple. I don’t understand why he ended such a complicated film with just a shot of two people looking at each other. ‘American Hustle’ would’ve benefited from an ending with more of a “wow factor”, an ending that left us thinking. Or maybe I’m just looking for blemishes where they may not be any. Because, in truth, it’s not the final scenes in which the movie shines, in which David O. Russell exercises his true genius, but rather when the film is over. And trust me, that is no taunt.

The funny thing about ‘American Hustle’ is that, for a film about the business of conning, there is very little conning of the audience until the last shot has run it’s course, and the end credits have begun. This gets a massive thumbs-up from me. It would’ve been so easy for David O. Russell to get stuck in the cliché of us being taken for a ride throughout the movie and it all would’ve been just one big game. But no, he doesn’t choose this path. He instead chooses a path where we walk out of the cinema pretty much satisfied that we hadn’t been tricked, thinking the characters had. It’s only when you truly being to process it and think about it, only then will we maybe think it was us that was conned. Because who was most like us in that film? Who was the one at the end of the day, who walked out with his tail between his legs? Once you see the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about, and you may even think to yourself, “Hey, he actually got us pretty good.”

MY  RATING: 8 out of 10.

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Movie Review – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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- ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES -

IMDB Rating: 7.1 out of 10 (22,462 votes)

Director: Adam McKay

The poster for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

The poster for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

Sometimes, sequels are completely unnecessary. No, I’m not talking about films like ‘The Godfather: Part III’ and ‘Toy Story 2’, which are justified sequels (and pretty damn good films as well). I’m talking about the films like ‘Grown Ups 2’, or ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’, which do not make sense in any realm except one driven by money. I get the feeling that some may consider ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’ as one of these films, an unnecessary exercise, not made for any reason besides possible financial benefit.

I’m a little in between. ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ is such a great film, and was a massive success at the box office and beyond (the film nearly quadrupled it’s budget in revenue, and has since gained cult status as a modern comedy classic). So there’s that side of it. But I’m not totally convinced that it was all just to make some money. I get the feeling that co-writers Will Ferrell (who stars as the titular character) and Adam McKay (who also directed it) were genuinely trying to deliver another comedy classic for the millions of ‘Anchorman’ fans.

Unfortunately, I must report that ‘Anchorman 2’ is not the film fans of its predecessor would have been hoping for. It isn’t as clear-intentioned as the first film; the plot is a bit thin, as are the characters whom Ferrell and McKay try to give some kind of emotional depth; but most of all, it just isn’t as funny as the first film, though that would’ve been a difficult task seeing as ‘Anchorman 1’ is a side-splittingly funny film.

The opening 2 or 3 minutes are very funny, and perhaps a little hope will be raised. “Is it really gonna be better than the first one?” Then the next 10 or 15 minutes come and go, with a few chuckles here and there. And that’s pretty much how it goes for the rest of the film: there is a very funny scene, and then that’s followed up by a long stretch of small giggles. Very few times (I’m struggling to recall two) was I in a state of uncontrollable laughter, which was the case 5 or 6 times while watching ‘Anchorman 1’.

That Fantana strut.

That Fantana strut.

And more than that, basic plot elements just don’t work. It seems like the writing of it all, the organisation of the plot, is just a bit sporadic and scatterbrained. To an extent, some of it is a little amateurish. There’s a love interest sprouting up from nowhere between Burgundy and GNN’s African-American manager Linda Jackson (Meagan Good), and although there is a funny scene involving Burgundy’s introduction to Jackson’s family, it just doesn’t seem to fit. The relationship makes no sense at all; Jackson seemingly makes a 180° turn – from hating Burgundy to loving him – in no time at all. It just seems a little convenient.

There are a few subplots, one trying to establish a credible antagonist in Burgundy’s rival anchorman Jack Lime and one involving an Australian millionaire that’s… um… just there, and both don’t really lead anywhere. They don’t fit naturally into the story. In the first ‘Anchorman’ film, it was a simple tale of two enemies battling it out for the lead spot. This film tries to do that with the whole Jack Lime plot thread, but it falls flat, and doesn’t really mean anything. As for the Australian millionaire Kench Allenby (Josh Lawson), the plot subtly works it’s way into the story, very effectively actually. But looking back on it, it doesn’t really serve the film either.

You see, ‘Anchorman 2’ tries really hard to recreate the magic of the first film. It repeats a lot of the same jokes (instead of a room full of cologne, Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) unveils his room full of high-priced, oddly named condoms; Ron Burgundy’s flute-playing skills), and the same plot themes and ideas (finding love in all the wrong places; two people battling it out for the same job). But it isn’t as convincing the second time around, and questions need to be asked of the film’s legitimacy. I begin to think that it may not have even needed to be made.

And then I think about Steve Carell’s performance as Brick Tamland. He features much more heavily in this film; in ‘Anchorman 1’ he delivers less lines, which makes what he does say truly priceless. But Carell’s comedic timing is perfect, his delivery is amazing, and his facial expressions are unbelievably good. Perhaps without Carell’s performance – and a hilarious bunch of cameos at the end – I would be less glad I saw the film, but he was so good here, that it’s just impossible not to remember his performance as the one that made ‘Anchorman 2’ a worthy sequel. At least, more worthy than that stupid ‘Indiana Jones 4’…

MY RATING: 6 out of 10.

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Movie Review – Man of Steel

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- MAN OF STEEL -

IMDB Rating: 7.4 out of 10 (307,708 votes)

Director: Zack Snyder

The poster for Man of Steel.

The poster for Man of Steel.

As I was watching the start of ‘Man of Steel’, I would never have imagined that by the end of the film I’d be annoyed at Zack Snyder for putting too much action in. The first scenes on Krypton are simply superb; the effects are so amazing, the sense of danger is so real, the fireballs are so hot and we feel that, that total sense of awe. But 2 hours later I had had enough. ‘Man of Steel’ is pretty much continuous action, which is annoying because at the 90-minute mark you’re pretty much sick of it all. Many lives are lost, and not accounted for, which is a huge failure of the film – you just shouldn’t be doing that with a movie such as this, with such wreckage. But the most amazing thing about ‘Man of Steel’ is that the best thing about it is actually it’s use of flashbacks, and the way those flashbacks and backstories are put together.

Early in the film we are constantly cutting between current day, and the early life of Clark Kent. These scenes are filmed with obscured views, and blurry objects blocking the sun and casting shadows, as well as all having this great sense of nostalgia – some are framed with faded colours, some aren’t, but either way they all feel the same. These are the best scenes in the film. It’s a shame that in that 90-minute gap between 00:30 and 02:00 there is not one of these flashbacks.

Instead, the film insists on abusing it’s budget for no particular reason. Yes, I understand that Zack Snyder is trying to make a visual feast for all the little kiddies to enjoy, and perhaps even get them back into Superman (the last Superman film was in 2006, and before then it was 1987). But in truth Snyder completely overdoes it. He just piles on the destruction and burning, the crashing of aeroplanes and the falling of skyscrapers, and at the end of the day a reaction of “what was it all for?” doesn’t stretch too far. He’s not a fetish filmmaker, and he’s not an idiot, so the level of carnage doesn’t really fit the bill.

Alien.

Alien.

Thinking back on it now it still bewilders me how it took such a destructive turn when in the early parts of the film, Snyder and writer David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy, the Blade series) are seriously concerned with creating a human story. Not one of explosions and havoc, but one of divided emotions and character development. Clark Kent and the people around him – both sets of parents – hell, even General Zod (Michael Shannon), have some kind of background that creates an emotional response from the audience. So why did Zack change it all up? Perhaps he had the budget just lying there and thought “What the hell – we’ll make the money back anyway.” If that’s the case, that’s quite disappointing.

All performers of Clark Kent do a damn respectable job. People tend to be fussy about characters they love and the jobs people do with them; just take the unveiling of Ben Affleck as Batman for an example. But Henry Cavill does a great job, playing emotion really well. He plays it very down-to-earth, not frollicking around with his super powers but rather cherishing them, and we sense with Cavill’s performance that Superman realises these powers are a gift not to be thrown around for no good reason. Even more convincing are the two boys who play Clark in his childhood: Dylan Sprayberry (Clark at 13) and Cooper Timberline (Clark at 9). But the best performance in the film is that of Kevin Costner as Johnathan Kent. It’s just beautiful, and we’re gripped whenever he comes into the shot. We constantly feel emotion for this man who loves Clark like a son, even that will never really be legitimate.

In fact, that’s one of the best questions raised by ‘Man of Steel’: is the person you are today an accumulation of all factors you’ve faced, or is it who you were born to be? Zack Snyder challenges us to really consider this, using Superman as the host, the test subject. The very fact that we’re considering this hours after we’ve watched the film means that here Zack Snyder has made an intelligent action film with a big heart, even though it may not shine for the majority of the film, which is a real shame. I can’t help but feel that with the level of destruction in Metropolis in ‘Man of Steel’, the first in a probably-very-long film series, Snyder will try to do too much in ‘Man of Steel 2′ just to top himself, which may lead to errors in judgment. Still, it has Batman in it, so how bad can it really be?

MY RATING: 7.5 out of 10.

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Movie Review – The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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- THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST -

IMDB Rating: 6.7 out of 10 (5,071 votes)

Director: Mira Nair

The poster for The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

The poster for The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

If you look up “define slow film” on Google, you will get a few examples. Had it been seen by more people and been given wider release, one of those films would be ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!, Amelia) has created here a film which holds it’s own head up, moving itself away from the most prevalent patriotic films, and really challenges the viewer to think hard about who is behind the face. Who are these so called “terrorists”? What do they want? Is it fair to assume all people who come from the Middle East hate America? Did they even want war in the first place? All of these questions, and many more, are raised by Nair’s thought-provoking and extremely intelligent post-9/11 drama.

We focus in on Changez (Riz Ahmed) – the main character in the film, and the man who’s perspective we’re seeing things from. We follow Changez as he works his way in and out of a complex relationship with Erica (Kate Hudson), as he gets a job with an evaluation firm known as Underwood Samson, as he is taken under the wing of his boss and mentor Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland), and as he unravels his own thoughts about the true United States of America.

The film starts off very slowly, with a scene showing the abduction of a professor at Lahore University by unknown assailants (this plays a very key role in the film all the way up until the very end). The first scene is probably in the vicinity of 10 or so minutes long, meaning it requires a great deal of patience and understanding to get through. But once you do get through it, the film expands like a flourishing flower. That’s one of the things I really loved about the film: it was such a daring, mysterious and gripping opening sequence, and it pulled so many different story elements into the spotlight, but by the end of the film it tied together every loose strand. Mira Nair and screenwriters William Wheeler & Rutvik Oza must be praised for this.

I had a Pakistani once.

I had a Pakistani once.

The funny thing is, though, is that once you get past the opening scene, and the film settles itself into a steady groove, you realise it’s a slow film anyway. Really, the opening scene isn’t much slower than the rest of the film. The film is written with in depth discussions, set up with a “story being told in flashbacks from a current-day interview” kind of style, and featuring very personal scenes which let us in to the mind of Riz and the people around him. This all takes time (2 hours and 10 minutes to be exact), but filmmaking is sometimes a careful and deliberate art, requiring attention to detail, and ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is just one of those movies.

Mira Nair manages to squeeze some very convincing performances out of her actors, in particular Riz Ahmed and Kate Hudson, who are superb in their [very key] roles. Not only do they seem to have great chemistry on screen, but in their more personal, alone moments, they shine as bright as any other scene in the film. Ahmed has a lot to do here; at times he has to be upbeat and young, at other times he has to be vulnerable, at other times he has to be stern, and at other times he has to be the leader and the one in control. This is a massive workload for an actor known mostly for his performance in the 2010 comedy ‘Four Lions’ (which I hear is quite good), but Ahmed’s performance is much more mature and sophisticated than his age and experience would suggest.

The end sequence (a very long scene indeed) is just what the rest of the film deserved; it is smart, so smart in fact it verges on one of the best written climaxes all year; it is open ended, leaving room for the viewer to think about what Mira Nair was trying to get at; it is even a tad controversial; but it is, to my absolute pleasure, an ending that brings back elements from the very first few scenes of the film, which is something I just love when it’s done right. With ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, Nair challenges us to create our own thoughts, emotions, and feelings about September 11 2001, and the days/weeks/months/years following it. How have we changed as people? Maybe what Nair was trying to say with this film was that the people of America were not the only victims of 9/11 – the flags, whom the forces responsible for 9/11 hide behind, are victims too.

MY RATING: 8.5 out of 10.

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Movie Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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- THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE -

IMDB Rating: 8.2 out of 10 (101,889 votes)

Director: Francis Lawrence

The poster for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The poster for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

It’s not often that a sequel reimagines, repeats, and maybe even surpasses the success of it’s predecessor. Possibly ‘Toy Story 2′, and ‘The Godfather Part II’ (to some perhaps, but for me it isn’t nearly as brilliant as ‘Part I’) are the best two examples. And that’s exactly the situation here with the second installment in the Hunger Games series, ‘Catching Fire’. It is a better film than the first in pretty much every way: the action set pieces are more impressive, the character development and focus on character psyche is more detailed, and the special effects are better. From what people were saying about this film, I had high expectations, and to my extreme satisfaction those expectations were passed with flying colours.

Having read the books – actually, having LOVED the books (I literally could not put the first book down) – I found this edition in the Hunger Games series as true an adaptation of the novel as humanly possible. At least, much more so than the first one. And I say ‘humanly possible’ because of course there are certain lengths a writer needs to go to in order to keep the material he’s writing for the screen fresh, entertaining, and unpredictable. A novel is a completely different medium to a film, because it can do different things than a film. It can describe even the deepest, darkest emotions by just writing them down, rather than having to sometimes rely on dialogue to express such things. That’s just one example and that’s why adapting a novel exactly as it was written in to a screenplay format, is near impossible, unless your text is superbly written to the point where it makes the perfect film (I’m again thinking of ‘The Godfather’.)

Thank goodness writers Simon Beaufoy (’127 Hours’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’) and Michael Arndt (‘Toy Story 3′, ‘Oblivion’) have been given a brilliant text to work off. Suzanne Collins’ novels created a very strong, wise yet vulnerable female lead in Katniss Everdeen. She was such a great heroine and this was elevated thanks to the way Collins wrote in her emotions and feelings. One of the problems with the first film was that it really didn’t capture the essence of Katniss’ character, mainly her feelings, even though it had similar mood to the novel. But Beaufoy and Arndt nail it here, writing Katniss’ dialogue almost perfectly. In ‘Catching Fire’, the state in which she’s in, one of total confusion and unwanted responsibility, is exactly how I remember the books to portray her.

See, what I thought the first film did well was set everything up. It created the dystopian future of the districts and the completely over-the-top glam of the Capitol. The casting was also perfect; from Woody Harrelson being the Haymitch I imagined while reading, to Liam Hemsworth being just right for the role of Gale. So director Francis Lawrence and the screenwriters were extremely lucky to have the groundwork laid down for them.

But rather than the slightly tackier colour palette of the first film, Francis Lawrence gives us a darker vision, more blacks on white, more dead trees, more hollow and empty places, more dour scenery. This, among other things (namely the performances), is why this film works on a level higher than the first film did.

The girl on fire.

The girl on fire.

So, let’s get to those performances, shall we?

For starters, every single performance in this film is one of fantastic devotion to the character, as well as being totally enthralling. I fear using words like ‘amazing’ because they are all too generic, and describing characters like Stanley Tucci’s Caeser Flickerman as just “amazing” would be putting it lightly. No, no, that will not do. Stanley Tucci is absolutely fantastical as Flickerman, who is actually given a little depth himself later in the film. Tucci is having so much fun here that it’s hard not to laugh and smile when he is on screen.

Then we get Jennifer Lawrence, who is such a great young actress, that I’m sure by the time we get to Hunger Games film #4 (‘Mockingjay’ will reportedly be split into 2 films, which makes sense seeing as the book is a hot mess) we will be saying how she’s grown out of the role and will be winning Oscars if only she wasn’t doing Hunger Games movies. She’s so impressive here, so much more so than her first effort at Katniss. She explores the inner psyche of Katniss with her eyes, face and body language; she’s definitely matured as an actress.

Josh Hutcherson is kind of played down here, but I think that’s mainly so that they can put the focus on Katniss, which is a shame because he’s kind of wasted. When he is required, he’s as good as any on screen, tugging at our heart strings and being the strong man all at the same time. Woody Harrelson is also great, although one of his on screen counterparts Elizabeth Banks is sometimes dialling up the camp a little too much.

But without a doubt my favourite thing about this film is the portrayal of the dystopia, the total sense of confusion in the districts, and the role Snow plays in it all. President Snow was my favourite part of the books, and I don’t know if it’s perfect casting or what, but when I read the books I imagined it was Donald Sutherland the whole time. He’s so good at being so evil, and his chemistry with the flawless Philip Seymour Hoffman is outstanding. Francis Lawrence also chooses to show the districts in such a depressing way, with what I mentioned before (the scenery, the dead trees in the forest). It’s the finer details of it all that got me invested in the story, invested in the roles that everyone plays in “keeping the peace”, and the role of Katniss as a symbol of hope, even if it means holding three fingers in the air just to get beaten to death.

It’s hope that keeps these people alive, much like it’s hope that keeps Andy Dufresne alive and well in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Hope plays such a key role in ‘Catching Fire’, and it’s so fitting that now we have a great second film, all we can do is hope that the last 2 films reproduce the wonderment that ‘Catching Fire’ does. Hope is really what will get diehards through the next twelve months, and what will get me through it too.

MY RATING: 8 out of 10.

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Movie Review – The Counselor

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- THE COUNSELOR -

IMDB Rating: 6 out of 10 (7,369 votes)

Director: Ridley Scott

The poster for The Counselor.

The poster for The Counselor.

I’d say ‘The Counselor’ is a dud, but that really would be putting it in terms too kind. ‘The Counselor’ is laughably poor in almost every department. If it weren’t for the persistent and honest performances of Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz, ones which genuinely makes the other performances seem so much worse in comparison, I would give ‘The Counselor’ a Roger Ebert thumbs down.

But Pitt and Cruz are there, so instead, I will declare ‘The Counselor’ to be very, very, very bad.

Maybe the worst thing about ‘The Counselor’ is just it’s stupidity, it’s pretentiousness, it’s overblown and showy sense of meaning above all else. I can’t say for a fact that I know how different writing a screenplay is to writing a book, but judging by Cormac McCarthy’s latest effort, I would suggest to him that he should stick with novels – something he supposedly does very well (he wrote the novel ‘No Country For Old Men’, a book I am yet to read, which was then adapted into a very good Coen Brothers film). But McCarthy’s script here does not warrant the talent it attracted. Reading the differences from the first draft and the shooting draft, I can’t say the first draft seemed much better, but still, a writer must be responsible for his work unless he comes outright and renounces it. McCarthy is yet to do that for ‘The Counselor’, which surprises and intrigues me, because it truly is a pretty awful piece of work. The dialogue is petty, consistently turgid, pretentious, and so overly philosophising, you will struggle to see the meaning in it all. And even though some of it may be slightly accurate, it is nonetheless completely unrealistic. What woman says ‘Truth has no temperature’? Who in their right mind would utter that phrase?

And are the characters likeable? Are they people we enjoy watching for two hours? Are they real people at all? The answer to all of these questions is no. They are horrible people. All of them. There is one character, that of Laura (Penelope Cruz) who, upon the likely chance of death, would be missed by the audience out of likeability, but besides that, Cormac McCarthy & Ridley Scott give us the chance to observe the lives of some of the world’s worst people. It makes for some of the most dull, nonsensical and frustrating viewing you may ever witness. Malkina (Cameron Diaz) is written in the most misogynistic sense possible, Reiner (Javier Bardem) likes nothing more than having conversations that last way too long, and I still don’t know what the Counselor (Michael Fassbender) actually does for a living, and why he needs to enter the drug business. ‘The Counselor’s own need to have every second sentence be some deep expression of one’s own ability to philosophise doesn’t do itself any favours. I don’t want to talk about each character individually – the review would be 3000 words long – although I’m afraid I might have to. Because if you have a conscience and if you enjoy decent cinema, you will feel nothing for these putrid people.

Enough.

Enough.

See, Laura is at least likeable and innocent amidst this trainwreck of a plot/film/concept, and Brad Pitt’s performance as Westray is respectable, although his character is not. But the funny thing is, I didn’t even know Pitt’s character’s name until the last 10 minutes of the film. Maybe I wasn’t paying close attention. But that’s hardly my fault when I’m force-fed a film like this. And the whole thing about ‘The Counselor’ having a main character who remains nameless really speaks to the pompous, inflated conscience of the film. Why shouldn’t he have a name? Why does it seem incredibly forced every time someone calls him “Counselor” instead of a normal name? Perhaps McCarthy, and Scott for that matter, were trying to say something more. For the life of me I can’t figure out exactly what that is.

Are you getting the jist of things here? Everything in ‘The Counselor’ is just so stupid, and for no reason at all besides it’s own prioritising of everything meaning something.

Malkina is married to a man who owns two cheetahs (three counting Malkina), a Mansion, and two Ferraris. But she takes his money, yet seemingly has to steal more so that she can escape this life she has made for herself. This doesn’t make any sense. Actually, life is the wrong word to describe it. It’s much more of just a sequence of pointless events held together by alcohol, sex, money, and underworldly activities. This is the kind of life we’re made to observe. It’s depressing. It’s not interesting, it’s not enjoyable. It’s just a bummer.

There are moments in ‘The Counselor’ where you will just laugh, not out of admiration for a joke, but out of pity and utter contempt at the ridiculousness of every scene, every twist, every element. There’s a scene by a pool involving Malkina and Laura which is both confusing and unnecessary. There’s an over-complication of plot involving the drugs, and their whereabouts. There’s a less than admirable focus on sex which serves absolutely no purpose except to pump a little life into a film shot repeatedly in the head by its own makers. There’s violence shown only because it can. It’s that kind of film, though. It’s pretentious and stupid, bringing ideals with it that only cloud already idiotic dialogue.

‘The Counselor’ is dumb, but not in the way enjoyable dumb movies like ‘Pacific Rim’ are; it’s just plain dumb, with no guidance and no moral compass. It’s a shocking effort from talented people, and it’s the worst film of the year so far.

MY RATING: 1.5 out of 10.

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Movie Review – Parkland

That’s right – this baby is SPOILER-FREE!

OFFICIAL SILVER SCREENER REVIEW

- PARKLAND -

IMDB Rating: 6 out of 10 (1,393 votes)

Director: Peter Landesman

The poster for Parkland.

The poster for Parkland.

I see the JFK Assasination as one of the darkest days in American history, and even perhaps world history for that matter. When the most important man in the world is taken down, it really does make you think about how safe we really are, and how totally insane some people really are. ‘Parkland’ is a movie much less concerned with the wider reaction of that day, instead worrying about the personal influence JFK’s death had on the people around him (and the killer), making it a little less corny and bringing it’s own telling of the tale to the forefront. I liked ‘Parkland’; not because it was revelatory and delivered an out-of-this-world conspiracy theory, but because it tapped into who these people around JFK and LHO really were, and why they love their country. I’m a fan of settled and open-eyed patriotism, and ‘Parkland’ isn’t pushy about it, which is a perfect fit for a dark topic such as this.

I’d find it very easy to believe that the director, Peter Landesman, had always had an interest in both filmmaking, and the JFK Assasination. I can find this easy to believe because that’s what it felt like to me: elements of cinema showcased around an interesting event that has already happened. ‘Parkland’ has that sense about it that you know it’s Landesman’s first shot at big filmmaking, so he’s essentially experimenting with what cinema can do. One thing he delivers really well is juxtaposition.

If you don’t know what juxtaposition is, let me give you the best example possible. In ‘The Godfather’, Michael Corleone is at a baptism, where he will officially become the child’s godfather. Michael is asked by the priest, “Do you renounce satan?” We then cut between Michael’s hired henchmen killing the rest of the New York crime families, and Michael’s admission that in fact he does renounce satan, and believes in god. I won’t explain much more; just watch it here.

The juxtaposition in ‘Parkland’ really kicks in during the last 10 minutes of the film. JFK has been killed, and Lee Harvey Oswald has also been shot. We follow a man destroying evidence of LHO being right under the FBI’s nose, then cut to Oswald being lowered into his grave, signifying how the evidence ‘dies with him’. Another example is when we see stock footage of JFK’s funeral, with Mrs. Kennedy saying her goodbyes, and also Mrs. Oswald saying her goodbyes. I liked how ‘Parkland’ wasn’t afraid to say what was on it’s mind, and make brave comparisons between two people in complete opposite situations.

The man with the cam.

The man with the cam.

One thing I also really did admire about ‘Parkland’ was how John Landesman shot it all. His collaboration with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd is sublime; Ackroyd gives us some of the more spectacular setting shots we’ve seen all year. But Landesman, who I’m 99% sure shot this all on handheld camera, gives it the hue to make it look similar to how we think it should. Like an Instagram filter, only better.

Landesman would have shot it all on handheld to mimic what one of the main characters was doing at the time of the assassination, and make us feel like what we’re watching is just one big home movie. It may make the weak of heart a little dizzy, but I liked it; it was a nice touch.

The cast is mainly pretty good. People seem to have a problem with Zac Efron doing anything except awful, awful movies (I thought Hairspray was pretty good and he’s a talented guy), and Efron does his bit here. The nurses and attendants around him are good, too. But the standouts are easily Paul Giamatti and Billy Bob Thornton. These two characters are written with such emotional depth, and conflicting emotions, which really rings true to how it may have been in  a time of distress like that. Giamatti does a great job playing the deer in the headlights, and we get the sense that Billy Bob Thornton’s character, leader of the Secret Service, knows that he’s not going to last long after this; it’s just in the way he talks.

‘Parkland’ isn’t a breakthrough political drama because it really doesn’t offer much heavily confronting opinion, besides that of comparing both families (Kennedys and Oswalds) so blatantly. There are problems here: early on, the stock footage and the freshly shot footage doesn’t seem even close to the same time frame, and sometimes the dialogue could get a little tacky (I’m speaking specifically of Mrs. Oswald’s introduction scene).

But at heart, ‘Parkland’ is a really decent drama about a topic I’ve always been a sucker for. Backed up by great cinematography, and a killer score from James Newton Howard, ‘Parkland’ really is worth a watch. In cinemas, I’m not so sure, but rent it, because it’s at least worth a go.

MY RATING: 7.5 out of 10.

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