Charlie’s Cinematic Odyssey: It’s Hot. Really Hot.

You know me. I like movies and I like talking about them. However, I’ve always harboured the ambition to learn the craft and make an actual movie and have been writing screenplays since I was about 10 years old. One of which was a prequel to Jurassic Park set in the 80s. Turns out there was another other island in which John Hammond tried to build a park and many people died and got chased by T-Rexes to the sound of Simple Plan.

Anyone can pass judgement on a movie, anyone can say what they’d do instead, but actually making a movie? Or even a good one? Not everyone can do that.

For years I have been talking about making a movie and last year I realised I was never going to accomplish it if I didn’t set myself some realistic goals. So, I went to a nightly film school at the Phoenix cinema in Leicester with the intention to learn enough to make a short film. I had a number of ideas, but one I believed I could condense down to a single scene that would work well as a short. The school introduced me to a group of aspiring film makers and together we set about making something.

The result is Squint, a horror movie with dark comedy vibes which I both wrote and directed. We shot it over a period of two days with 6 actors in Evington Park Leciester. It’s about a guy sitting in a park with a coffee, who is severely short sighted. All he sees of the world and in the faces of other people are blurs and as a result he is cut off from the world. His vision would be fine if he wore his glasses however, which sit unfolded on the table before him. If it were that simple.

Here’s a teaser trailer. Coming soon I guess.

Film making is hard. It was one of the most exhausting experiences of my life, but also one of the most satisfying – when at the end of the day you feel you’ve earned your rest.

Ocean’s Eight

Ocean's Eight

Ocean’s Eight is the fourth movie and soft reboot for the Ocean franchise with a *whisper it* all female cast.

HOLD ON JUST A GOD DAMNED MINUTE, WHY ARE ALL THE GOOD OLD BOYS NOW DENIED ANY PARTICIPATION IN ELABORATE HEIST MOVIES.

Alas it’s too late. Somebody get my gun. Who am I talking to? I’ll just get it myself. 

Back in 2001, with the world still in shock from 9/11, Ocean’s Eleven was this big old time heist movie made new through Steven Soderberg’s hip new millennium aesthetic. At the time, the sheer amount of big name Hollywood actors sharing screentime together was a big draw. You want to see George Clooney and Brad Pitt talk candidly to one another about cool shit in a sexy mood lit rooms? Then came the sequels. Ocean’s Twelve perhaps got a little too meta and smug for it’s own good with Julia Roberts character posing as real life Julia Roberts as an actual crucial part of the plot. Ocean’s Thirteen tried to go back to basics with another more elaborate Vegas heist with Al Pacino as the big bad and I cannot remember anything that happened in it what so ever.

They were likeable movies, but a charismatic ensemble of actors really helped out with that.

And so Ocean’s Eight. Plays out pretty much how you’d expect.

Sandra Bullock acts as the ring leader – sister of George Clooney’s character who starts the movie talking her way into early parole whereupon she leaves prison and hustles up a storm with ambitious plans to rob diamonds from a swanky A-list event full of A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio (only named) and… Katie Holmes. She can’t do this alone however, and so must recruit a gang of experts to help her. Cate Blanchett is essentially ‘the fixer’ and Ocean’s confidant and right hand person a la Brad Pitt in the previous movies. Helena Bonham Carter is Elliot Gould’s character, the old timer with something to prove. Mindy Kaling is the diamonds expert which you’d need if you’re robbing diamonds. Sarah Paulson is the professional thief lured back into the game from her domestic prison. Rihanna is the hacker/tech support/can do anything with a computer type person. Midori Francis as the streetwise pickpocket (she literally just stole your watch when you weren’t looking). Anne Hathaway is Anne Hathaway playing a kind of caricature of a vain Hollywood actress – she looks like she’s having a blast, as we all would if we were hanging out with Cate Blanchett. Thorin Oakenshield from the Hobbit movies plays Ocean’s former love interest who is there to make the heist personal. Gotta make the heist personal.

James Corden is in it too. He plays James Corden, and I suppose it’s better than having Don Cheadle do a rubbish British accent. Remember that awful accent? I like Don Cheadle quite a bit, but that accent? How could anyone love Ocean’s Eleven with him doing that awful accent?

So anyway, Ocean’s Eight is fine. I didn’t hate hate it, but I didn’t love love it. This is the same format you’ve seen previously. Characters talk through the heist as they pull it off – using their smarts and cutting edge tech (google glasses that can scan anything for example) to overcome various obstacles but project manage everything very effectively crescendoing very silently into a big payoff. Which is less smug than Clooney and co but isn’t really dramatic in any way. The audience is all kept mostly in the loop but there is a third act prestige that tries to surprise you but it just doesn’t because this is the fourth one of these movies.

I don’t think Ocean’s Eight is as cool as it thinks it is. Each one of these women are already badasses as far as I’m concerned. Each of them, or at least the established actresses, have each stood out on their own in much better movies, so I’m not sure if there is much of a draw seeing them altogether in the same shot. Also all their characters just feel a bit too lifeless and are never really fleshed out to make you care for them or in their heist. Playing it cool is the name of the game here, but Sandra Bullock is at her best when she’s not at her cool. If there was a statement to be made on gender, it’s not a loud one. Cate Blanchett could probably rob all the banks of the world if she wanted.

There doesn’t feel as if there are any stakes either. Richard Armitage is the closest thing to a villain in the movie, as the dirt bag boyfriend, but he doesn’t feel like a threat in the way Andy Garcia did. No one’s life is really in jeopardy, and there’s none of that impending ‘the house always wins’ feeling like you had in Las Vegas. James Corden enters the movie to figure out what is going on… and yeah it’s James Corden – like he’s going to figure out anything. I mean that’s your third act wild card? Why couldn’t you have got Michael Shannon or something? Somebody more scarier at least.

Last year, Steven Soderberg revisited Ocean territory with Logan Lucky (self styled as Ocean’s 7/11) which took the same concept but located it in West Virginia with a couple of hapless blue collar workers with limited resources robbing Nascar. Rather than the effortless somewhat vacuous cool of the Ocean movies, Logan Lucky had more heart and humour. Ocean’s Eight by comparison just feels a little pedestrian and forgettable. I mean Sandra Bullock’s character spends most of the actual heist standing outside the women’s toilets…

It’s on a par with the other Ocean sequels. As a heist movie, I had more fun with both Now You See Me movies, the were big and stupid, the magician element messing with the conventions of the regular heist movie in playful ways. As far as all female reboots go, Ghostbusters was more entertaining, which may seem like a dis to some people, but it’s not because I rather enjoyed that movie.

Sicario 2: Soldado

Sicario 2

Sicario 2 starts off like a Republican’s wet dream, with the Mexican cartel shepherding Islamic terrorists across the US border. As if the cartel weren’t already a threat, throw in ISIS and that’s the kind of thing that makes you want to build a big wall or something. After a terrorist bombing in an American supermarket, the US president puts the Cartel on the terrorism list and the authorities hatch a plan to crackdown on these bad hombres. Returning from the first film is Josh Brolin’s CIA agent, who is drafted in to start a war with ‘everyone’ and make their various enemies eliminate one another, a tactic put to ‘good’ use in the Middle East during the Iraq/Afghanistan war. Remember how well that all went? So Brolin is effectively given carte blanche both in terms of resources and moral disregard he is allowed to administer of this never ending war. All of which includes bringing back Benicio Del Toro’s stoic hitman (or ‘Sicario’) to kidnap the daughter of a cartel boss and make it look like the work of a rival cartel.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the first Sicario film was a tense thriller that looked astounding thanks to the work of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. You descended into this world from the perspective of Emily Blunt’s character who was effectively the film’s moral compass, witnessing the lengths in which her government were going to fight the cartel, the lengths of which the cartel were fighting back, this kind of one upmanship that churned up this violent soup of ever greater atrocities to human beings. With no one emerging clean. Between Brolin’s CIA operative and Del Toro’s hitman, Blunt’s character was ultimately deemed too ‘soft’ for this world or merciless espionage and escalating violence. Villeneuve, Deakins and Blunt aren’t back for the sequel, but original writer Tyler Sheridan returns along with new director Stefano Sollima (who made the truly excellent Gomorrah).

With Blunt’s now out of the picture. Sicario 2 is obviously prepped to head into some truly dark territory, which again is a little bit dangerous. I don’t think an audience were supposed to root for Brolin’s or Del Toro’s character in the first movie, even in the topsy turvy world of the drugs trade. From the outset, Brolin’s CIA operative ensures his superiors that in order for their plan to work, he has to get ‘dirty’. Del Toro’s Sicario proved the extent he would enact the will of the US government in the hardhitting conclusion to the first movie. So it feels weird to see him effectively become the hero of the tale. Which I could not really buy into.

Suffice it to say Sicario 2 isn’t exactly the republican’s wet dream it’s is initially posed to be, it’s about the US’s tactical ability to start and sustain wars amongst in other countries, specifically Mexico, in this case, which is dangerously close to their own doorstep. There is an eerie topical familiarness to the visuals and themes. In the last few weeks, the world has watched children separated from their parents on the border, and Sicario 2 does use children as a way to moralise events or at least paint a future of the world they inherit from their parents fanning the flames of forever wars. This is largely well done, by the child actor playing the kidnapped daughter. But the other story about the American kid of hispanic ancestry who becomes embroidered into trafficking people across the border, just comes across as a little too intense.

Sicario 2 is an above average thriller, with no set pieces that truly better the first movie. Benicio Del Toro is always great to watch but again, I don’t think we should be so supportive of him as the hero as much as Sicario 2 thinks we should. I feel whatever statement it was trying to make off the back of the first movie gets muddied with an incessant desire to build up another movie.

In The Fade

In The Fade is a German film written and directed by Turkish film maker Faith Akin.  He must be a real big fan of Queens of the Stone Age, because not only does his film have the same name as a classic Queens song, the original soundtrack is scored by Josh Homme. When compared to other rock star turned film composers, Trent Reznor or Johnny Greenwood, In The Fade has a fairly sparse unremarkable soundtrack of slow melancholic piano keys but this is a film where Diane Kruger’s performance does most of the heavy lifting as a bereaved wife and mother that has hints of Lisbeth Salander both in her appearance and resolve.

Diane Kruger plays Katja, who is married to a Turkish man and has a young son. At the start of the film, she loses both in a terrorist bombing. As she loses herself to grief, she along with the authorities find out that the bombing was perpetrated by a group of young Neo-Nazis who specifically targeted her husband with the bomb. Again, as she deals with grief she undergoes a lengthy courtroom drama, where every facet of the bombing is picked apart including the moment to moment injuries sustained by her son during the blast. The Neo Nazi defence sits there almost smiling, as Katja struggles to keep it together. Everything points to the prosecution of the two Neo-Nazis involved, but somehow it doesn’t. Leading Katja to administer her own justice against those who took her family away from her.

It’s easy to say fuck Nazis. As a word it does get bandied around whenever fascist feeling rears it’s head in remarkably increasing frequency. The question In The Fade seems to ask is  how far can we really except these alt-right movements within a civilised democratic society? The film ends with a message about neo-nazi groups and how they have a prevalence to murder people on the basis of hate crimes.  So when these groups have proven themselves of performing meaningless hate crimes, in which innocent people do end up dead. Can we, as a fair minded society, really allow these people to even have a trial? Does innocent until proven guilty really adhere to these people? Does this kind of thinking lead us into fascist thinking?

And so In The Fade, has this lengthy court room sequence, which looks so sure of coming out against the neo-nazis. The defending lawyer is this mean personification of Gestapo-esque mannerisms, his defendants both strong featured Aryan scumbags that couldn’t spell out nazi any stronger.  There is a moment when the prosecution makes an eloquent point about how redundant the stance of the defence is, to the point members of the jury cheer – which is the kind of reaction that plays out day by day with fascist feeling on the rise. We’re inclined to cheer with them. But then, and it’s not really a spoiler, the court rules against the decision and the neo-nazis are free to walk. This obviously paves the way for a third act Deathwish styled tangent in which Katja is able to commit bloody revenge.

So it is a little on the nose. However the whole Deathwish plot never comes across as a kind of power fantasy. Diane Kruger plays a broken woman at the end of her tether, with murderous intentions but also a degree of self doubt. The third act is handled artfully, and though In The Fade does a little televisual in places, Diane Kruger elevates it to something greater.

Adrift

Adrift

Adrift is based on the true events that occurred in 1983, when Tami Oldham Ashcraft (Shailene Woodley) finds herself isolated in the middle of the ocean upon her boat that has been ravaged by a hurricane. She’s lost her boyfriend, Richard (Sam Claflin) and with limited sailing knowledge she has to find a way to sail back to civilisation.

The film progresses by charting her struggle to survive with the story of how she got there in the first place. Fleshing out her character explaining how she an intrepid backpacker, meets and falls in love with Sam Claflin’s sailior. How they have this idyllic maritime romance only to be cut short by the forces of nature.  The dramatic structure is sound, making you believe in this romance, ramping up the tension as she has to overcome each individual challenge out at sea leading to the catastrophic scenes of the storm which put her there in the first place.

Adrift is a well made survival thriller/drama with a great performance by Shailene Woodley, who is able to convey this unsettled slightly naive character on the run from normal life, who finds happiness with a new man, but also someone who comes apart at the seams as her agonising voyage back home takes it’s toll. Adrift shows that she has a lot of range, probably more so than her contemporaries. Sam Claflin, meanwhile is probably type cast once again as the love interest (but he does it so well) a kind of cuddlier version of Michael Fassbender you would be happy to introduce to the parents.

(Because in my own mind Fassbender would get drunk and insist everyone listen to him singing songs about the old country).

Everything Adrift does, admittedly well and solid enough on it’s own terms, is ultimately not as good as that one scene in Castaway where Tom Hanks loses Wilson. The ball floating out at sea, Hanks dives in to save him, tethered to the raft for dear life, but the rope just isn’t long enough. The camera zooms in on the rope as it strays from Tom Hanks, and then the lonely oboe from Alan Silvestri’s score comes in… “Wilson, I’m Sorry”.

 

Tag

I’m a funny guy, so sometimes I’ll go out and watch a funny movie.

Tag is another movie based on a true story in which a group of grown men have an obsessive compulsion to do very childish things. In this case it’s the game of tag, (in the UK we always called it ‘tig’) the same game of which these friends have been playing since they were kids.

Ed Helms is the ring leader attempting to get the band back together again for one last score – to tag their previously untaggable friend Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who vows to retire from the game forever after his wedding. First he recruits his friend Callahan (John Hamm) a successful CEO of some prospering company (IT’S NOT AN ADVERTISING AGENCY, OKAY) who in the midst of being profiled for a Wallstreet journal article gets tagged by Ed Helms, who infiltrated his workplace as a janitor just to get close enough to get him.  So their long running game of Tag usually plays out with their attempts to tag each other becoming intricate traps that take months of planning. The reporter becomes entwined with the men’s game of tag and so joins them as they get the rest of the group together. You have depressed stoner/lady’s man Chili (Jake Johnson) and the weird introverted friend (Hannibal  Burgess) and off they go to cook up a plot to tag Jerry once and for all.

It sounds like another one of these movies were grown ass men act like children, it certainly plays on the same beats, but luckily it does manage to be funny thanks to each member of it’s cast bringing a different style of comedic chops to each character. The tagging scenes are epic, with each member going out of their way to concoct crazy plans to tag their oblivious friend. It’s wild, there’s a scene in which Jake Johnson’s character is revealed, a kind of Bourne esque running chase scene through an apartment, to which no prisoners are taken. However, you haven’t seen anything until Jeremy Renner enters the picture and thwarts every attempt his friends make to tag him via these Sherlock Holmes styled ‘discombobulate’ monologues that are genuinely hilarious.

Jon Hamm proves once again that he has a certain untapped potential for comedy. Jake Johnson has some of the best lines. Hannibal Burgess is able to bring something different to the weird friend angle. Even Ed Helms who is essentially playing Ed Helms in yet another one of these movies wraps it all up very nicely. Finally, as these kind of movies usually have to, there is a level of schmaltz in which the boys now men must come together and become emotional, but again, it all works quite nicely and even produced warm and fuzzy feelings.

I really liked Tag. It put a massive smile on my face and was much better than it had any right to be. So if you don’t want to see the somewhat boring heist movie, or the souless sequel, the German neo-nazi revenge thriller or the movie about one woman’s nightmare of being lost at sea – Tag’s a good one to watch during these heady summer nights when you just want to have a laugh.

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