Tag Archive: Ben Affleck


BVS-1It is no secret that I am not a fan of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, the first in Warner Bros. attempt at a DC Cinematic Universe (or the DC Extended Universe, as they appear to be calling it). It was a glum, poorly written, pretentious, and dumb attempt at dragging the icon of Superman into the 21st Century. It fared relatively well at the box-office but both fan and critical reception was divisive to say the least. It is for that reason that this ‘sequel’ to Man of Steel comes with a little added Caped Crusader. The decision to reboot Batman in only the second film of the Extended Universe must have been driven by the desire to reach bigger box-office numbers, and perhaps more favour with fans. Some may say that they were setting themselves up to fail, what with the widely beloved Nolan Trilogy still incredibly fresh in collective memory. As a result, the film hasn’t stormed the box-office as desired, what with a barrage of scathing reviews. Batman v Superman is as inelegant as blockbusters come, perhaps even more so than Man of Steel. But, to say it isn’t fun is to ignore aspects of what is possibly the strangest comic book movie to arrive in recent years.

With the arrival of Superman (Henry Cavill), the world has had to face up to the fact that mankind is not alone in the universe, and must also address who Superman is, what he stands for, and if he can be trusted. In the wake of the destruction in Metropolis caused by Superman’s battle with Zod, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who also practices vigilantism as the Batman in Gotham City, doesn’t believe the Son of Krypton can be left unchecked. With Batman keen to find a way to put the Man of Steel in his place, eccentric entrepreneur Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) sees an opportunity to pit the two together in order to rid the world of Superman for good (or something like that).BVS-2

BvS is a fundamentally flawed film, and that is largely down to a screenplay that fails to carve clear paths of motivations for its various characters found within (and boy, are there a lot of characters). It is an un-structured, cluttered, often aimless, loud, obnoxious mess. It is a collection of set-pieces, dream-sequences, Senate meetings and email correspondences that all amount in a film that while often difficult to follow, is not unlike reading a DC comic-book. Calling upon imagery from The Dark Knight Returns, the art of Alex Cross, story arcs of Dan Jurgens and further Frank Miller texts, this feels a great deal more like a comic book movie than Man of Steel, and in a way more so than The Dark Knight trilogy. It doesn’t entirely forgive it for its sloppy story-telling, but it gives it a relentless sense of pace and means that it is not afraid to get weird. And boy, does it get weird.

Much of the strangeness comes courtesy of Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. His performance belongs in an entirely different film, something that wouldn’t be amiss in a Joel Schumacher Bat-flick. His twitches and eccentricities cloud his agenda, but do make him a credible threat, as it is often hard to predict exactly what he’s going to do next. His motivation is murky as hell, and he is too far removed from Luthor in both the pages of the comics and previous screen incarnations, but he feels dangerous enough to pose a threat, and to push our heroes buttons to get them to rumble in the concrete jungle.

The two heroes themselves are something of a mixed bag. Let’s start with the good. Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is a strong contender for being the best screen incarnation we have seen thus far. What about Bale, I hear you cry. Bale’s Wayne was infinitely more successful than his oft parodied Batman, complete with gruff growl, this Bat is made of much meaner stuff, and cuts a far more imposing figure than Bale ever did. The writing does let Affleck down, but he imbues both his Wayne and his Bat with a heap of regret that perhaps only a man with Affleck’s past could. The choreography attributed to this Bat is also a wonder to behold, as his brawler styling truly characterises him as one pissed-off vigilante who is way beyond the point of giving a shit about the lives of the scum of Gotham City. It is a controversial decision, but provides enough weight to suggest that this Batman is one with a history, and not a particularly colourful one. BVS-3

Superman is another matter. Cavill is once again given very little to do in a film which should have been his sequel. This is a Superman who seems to blatantly refuse to state his position in the world, for no good reason other than he’s a bit moody. One of the the biggest fundamental mistakes of this film is having both Batman and Superman as two characters who seem at odds with the world, and whose tactics at deploying justice are not too dissimilar, despite what the film may want you to think (they both kill people for chrissakes). The main reason these characters work well in a universe together is that their approaches to justice are so different, so when you have both of them being depressed individuals, the dynamic simply doesn’t work. This Superman becomes so passive through the course of this film that it is truly hard to invest in him as either a hero or a dubious figure. The actual bout between the two DC titans is well choreographed, but ultimately fails to work emotionally, as the motivations are unclear, with the factor that puts a stop to the fight coming across as hilarious rather an smart.

What truly hampers the film is its attempts to address the criticisms of Man of Steel and in its world-building, namely with attempting to draw threads for next year’s Justice League. The main criticisms of Man of Steel that it aims to address concern the amount of destruction and sheer number of civilian causalities that seemed to be entirely disregarded by the writers (and therefore by Superman). Its constant asides to acknowledge that a certain area is clear are often unintentionally hilarious, and in the end rather pointless as the final act simply descends into the same moronic, button-bashing action stylings that coloured most of Man of Steel. 

The Justice League set up is where the film is at its most lazy and its most laughable. While Wonder Woman, in the form of the beautiful but rather bland Gal Gadot, is present (complete with a rollicking theme), she is disappointingly very inconsequential to the proceedings, seemingly only present so that Bruce Wayne can send her an email containing video clips of other future Justice League members. What Marvel took their time to do over the course of five films, BvS attempts in an email, and it is just as lazy, dumb and uninspired as that sounds. BVS-4

BvS does seem to have weakened the DC Extended Universe more than it has strengthened it. While I enjoyed myself a darn sight more than I did in Man of Steel, there is no escaping that Snyder and co. still get a hell of a lot wrong. Snyder remains a strong visualist, but one who has a poor sense of judgement when it comes to character, while my hatred for David S. Goyer requires another post entirely. What we have here is a strange and disparate movie, one akin to dumping a bucket load of bouncy balls on a table top n the hope that some stay on the surface. It remains to be seen how DC’s future will pan out, and for the sake of the characters (most of whom I have a great deal of affection for), I hope this extended universe can be both critically and commercially successful. Guess we’re just going to have to be patient.

2/5- BvS is Blockbuster Cinema at its most unsophisticated, resulting in an un-intentionally hilarious, only occasionally inspired, yet never dull take on two pop culture icons. 

 

 

 

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My Top 10 Films of 2014!

Seasons Greetings to you all! This countdown post must of course begin with an apology, as it has been sometime since my last posting, with many reviews falling to the way-side in favour of University work (which I am still very much in the clutches of). As a result, I have chosen to reveal my top 10 in a different manner to previous years. Instead of punching out one long article, I have chosen to reveal my favourite films of 2014 one-by-one, culminating with number one being revealed on New Years Eve. This is in the hope that each instalment will only take 10-15 minutes out of my day, as well as building a lot more anticipation as we count down to my top spot. So, be sure to check back everyday until New Years to see which films have come to stand as my favourites of the year that has been 2014. That time, has now come.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Lego Movie, Nightcrawler, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Raid 2, 12 Years a Slave 

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10. Edge of Tomorrow (Dir: Doug Liman)

I always make a case in point of putting my favourite summer blockbuster in my top ten (Pacific Rim held that honour last year), and this year Doug Liman’s return to blockbuster film-making holds the honour. Edge of Tomorrow was marketed quite terribly, with the trailers not making enough of what marks this Sci-Fi actioner as something other than simply another Tom Cruise movie, leading to disappointing box-office returns. EofT has plenty to offer beyond the expectations of a Cruise-action picture. It has incredibly sharp humour, inventive thrills, engaging performances, a fun central concept, and an acute reverence for a certain blockbuster spirit of a by-gone era. Essentially Groundhog Day with a Sci-Fi tinged, EofT sees Cruise’s cowardly Bill Cage re-living the same day in a futuristic war being fought on the beaches of Normandy. With the help of ace soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), he sets out to be rid of his ailment, and to find the means of defeating the alien race that looks set to claim the Earth. The coupling of Cruise and Blunt leads to an endlessly watch-able pair, allowing for EofT to (ironically) become a film that holds up incredibly well on repeat viewings. Aside from an ending which is most definitely the worst any of the three credited screen-writers could have thought of, this feature stood out amongst the crowd in a cluttered summer season as one of the more refreshing outputs from Hollywood in 2014.

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9. Paddington (Dir: Paul King)

One of the most heart-soaring surprises of the year came in the form of the big screen update of Michael Bond’s lovable furry critter from deepest darkest Peru. Once again, the marketing did little to stir my interest, deciding to focus on the more slapstick elements of the movie. What the trailers failed to reveal was quite how brilliantly Paddington Bear has been updated for a 21st Century audience, allowing for fans both old and new to easily embrace this new adventure. Following the young bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) as he tries to find a home in London, the endlessly inventive script has all the classic elements of the character blended with moments of humorous slapstick, gently placed emotional beats, and a welcomingly unexpected allegory concerning immigrants trying to find a place within British society. Having such a message of tolerance is incredibly important to feature in a children’s film, particular in a modern Britain in which such a party as UKIP gains a worrying following. This careful, yet well articulated allegory allows Paddington to stand up as a film that is as important as it is entertaining. And boy, is it fun. The film pops with vibrant life; feeling like a brightly coloured story-book brought to energetic life. Paul King, one of the creators of The Mighty Boosh, makes his comedic voice heard, all the while delivering the comforting family vibes expected of a film such as this (particular in the Christmas season). This is aided by the spot-on cast; Hugh Bonneville is affable, Sally Hawkins is utterly adorable, while Nicole Kidman has the most fun she has had in years. Yet it is the voice-performance of Whishaw that will win your heart, his naive and optimistic tones bringing the stunningly rendered CG Paddington to life in quite perfect fashion. All in all, Paddington stands as one of the most successful updates of a classical character in recent memory, with King et al delivering a film that is as welcome as a Marmalade sandwich (a snack one must always keep under their hat in case of emergencies).

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8. Inside Llewyn Davis (Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen)

Apologies for no postings the last two days, Christmas eating and drinking took priority. I hope you all had a wonderful, gluttonous Christmas Day, and allow me to present you the gift of three entries in my countdown of my favourite films of the year. Coming in at number 8 is a film that I initially didn’t particularly warm to, Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest offering from the Brothers Coen. The reason being that it is very much a film with an affable asshole at its lead, who seemingly cannot help being self-destructive in nearly evey aspect of his life as he bums around from couch to couch trying to make it in the Folk scene in New York’s Greenwich Village, circa 1961. But upon numerous re-visits, Llewyn Davis may very well stand as one of my favourite Coen Brothers movies, for its moddily beautiful cinematography, perfectly placed and selected folk tunes, and for arguably the best ensemble cast they have worked with. Oscar Issac delivers one of the most naunced performances of the year, doing the impossible by making us care a great deal about an individual who only has himself to blame for most of the failings in his life. Inside Llewyn Davis stands as the film that I have revisited the most this year, and each time I have come to appreciate it for its simple ambition and quite excellent production. It has also deemed a place for the fact the soundtrack has come to be present in many moments of my life this year, be it commuting, listening whilst working, or with a group of friends and a guitar; Inside Llewyn Davis has earned itself a place in this list due to the nature of its re-watch-ability and the Coen’s undeniably impressive craft.

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7. Calvary (Dir: John Michael McDonagh)

If you have seen John Michael McDonagh’s first feature, The Guard, you will be very aware of the sharp comedic voice and style he is very much capable of. Yet, his second feature is an entirely different beast. While it occasionally falls into the ‘pulpy’ genre quirks hat chraracterised The Guard, Calvary stands as a much more mature and incredibly vital piece of cinema. Taking the the burning matter of Irish Catholic guilt concerning the actions of certain Priests and the ensuing scandals that have disgraced the church and shocked its patrons, Calvary is a film of great courage, relevance, and importance. Brendan Gleeson plays Father James, whose life is threatened during a confessional, giving him a week to set his affairs in order and continue to try and be a symbol of control and wholesomeness in a town that has very much lost its way into darkness. McDonagh’s second feature is nothing short of a triumph. Mixing the deathly black comedy that played more broadly in The Guard with a hard-hitting social commentary, as well as a gallery of oddball characters, the film shifts through different tonality’s and a wide variety of themes with grace and a biting sense of a very dark reality. Larry Smith’s cinematography builds a bleak atmosphere, not as stylish as his work on Only God Forgives, but equally vital to establishing a sense of location and a gradual sense of devastation. That coupled with a sweeping score allows the subject matter of Calvary to truly resonate as something incredibly vital and pivotal to not only an understanding of the Catholic Church, but of our own opinions to religion and how the actions of individuals can affect the image of a certain group. With Gleeson also delivering the best performance of his career, Calvary is one piece of work this year that demands your utmost attention.

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6. Snowpiercer (Dir: Bong Joon-Ho)

With seemingly no UK theatrical release date in sight, it would seem Snowpiercer is destined to become a true definition of a cult movie; that high concept film which deserves a great audience, yet was never given the chance to do so. I was lucky enough to catch this movie in the summer, and have been eagerly awaiting the news of a UK release, but as it stands, VOD seems to be the only answer. Bong Joon-Ho, who is perhaps best known for the glorious B-movie, The Host, brings the French graphic novel to the screen with great flair, grit and style. Within this dystopia, the world has been plunged into a relentless Ice Age, making survival impossible on the surface. The last of the human race survive on a globe-spanning train which never stops. ON board this train, the last of the human race has established hierarchy, in which those at the back end of the train live in poverty, with those at the front living in frivolity, with little care for those at the back. Cue the revolution. Snowpiercer is an absolute marvel of production design, with each carriage of the dystopian train, which range from either being drenched in oil and dirt, or being bright, illustrious and glamorous. With a knowing sense of humour and satire, Joon-Ho creates a film of potent allegory, a rich text that I’m sure many BA undergrads will mine in the future. It is a dark and violent world in which mankind has been pushed to its very limits, making revolution an inevitability. Leading that charge is a brooding Chris Evans, the Captain delivering a suitably moody performance in a turn which reminds you that he is more than just a Marvel poster boy, he is an actor capable of delivering a performance of great depth and menace. The ensemble cast all deliver fine performances, but the stand out (as is often the case) comes in the form of Tilda Swinton’s Yorkshire bred Minister Mason. If you only come away from this list intending on only watching one of these recommendations, then make that choice Snowpiercer, a film as original as it is entertaining, and as thought provoking as any piece of pivotal science fiction of the past century.

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5. Her (Dir: Spike Jonze)

In the time that lasped across the earlier part part of the year, Her stood as my favourite film for the best part of the year. An affecting tale of man and machine, constructing a unique love story along the way, Spike Jonze’s Oscar-winning screenplay is a modest piece of genius, filled with his usual doff-beat humour, yet driven by a melancholic sense of longing to connect in a society in which communication has become somewhat limited in a technologically driven age. Joaquin Phoenix plays recent divorcee Theodore, who downloads the latest OS on his computer. This being a new breed in Artificial Intelligence, the OS called Samantha (voiced amazingly by Scarlett Johansson) exhibits the intelligence and initiative of a human being. The lines between human and machine blurred, Theodore soon begins to develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with the A.I. With Phoenix exhibiting a sweeter side than we have come to expect from him, the story of Theodore and Samantha becomes rather hard not to fall for yourself, despite the ever-knowing inclination that this is not something entirely normal. The production design brings this near-future to colourful life, as we are brought into a world in which hipsters have taken over, while the atmosphere is effectively forged through the swooning and moving score courtesy of Arcade Fire. What marks Her as an important film for our lifetime is its concern for contemporary issues, namely that of the effect of technology on communication, and how ‘wired’ in a generation we truly are. It is as much about the now as it is about the future, meaning that it will more than likely become more relevant as time passes, perhaps marking Her as a timeless product of our modern times. It may be too early to claim such a thing, but the emotion and fresh design mark Her as at least one of the most important and affecting films of the past year.

GoneGirl4. Gone Girl (Dir: David Fincher)

We all like to humour our dark side from time to time, and when I myself fancy delving into something more macabre, I often visit David Fincher in order to get my fix. Be it the mind bending twists and turns of The Game, or the seedy unseen horrors of Seven, Fincher has often conjured tales of the darker side of human nature. Gone Girl, the adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling 2012 novel, can stand with some of Fincher’s best work, thrusting you into a twisted marriage and mystery and laughing devilishly as you squirm in your seat. The marriage of Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is the focus, as Amy goes missing, throwing Nick under the media spotlight as more and more evidence puts him in the frame as the man responsible for Amy’s rather sudden disappearance on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. While it may not be his best feature in his illustrious filmography, Gone Girl proves to be an example of a director who is a true master of his craft. He lashes the proceedings with humour, wrings career best performances from Affleck and Pike, and has complete command over Flynn’s screenplay. He clearly revels in the twisted relationship of the Dunne’s, as well as the vampirism of news media and the personalities often found within that industry. The editing is slick, the cinematography stylish, the music fittingly atmospheric; it is simply a flawlessly mounted film, demonstrating the meticulous nature of its director. Gone Girl is an intoxicating rumination on the notion of never knowing what is happening within the minds of those closest to you. A compelling thriller made by a true master, Gone Girl effortlessly holds a high ranking place in my countdown for 2014.

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3. Whiplash (Dir: Damien Chazelle)

Perhaps a bit of a cheat this one, as it does not come out in the UK until January 16th, but has indeed screened numerous times across the Autumn/Winter festival season. I was lucky enough to catch it at a screening at the Barbican last month as part of the London Jazz Festival, and seeing as it has been on theatrical release (for quite sometime I might add) in the States, I believe I can justify giving Whiplash a place in this Top 10. And plus, it’s really fucking good. Portraying a battle of wits between a promising young music student drummer, Andrew (Miles Teller), and his hard-ass and ruthless conductor, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Whiplash is one of the most exhilarating and pulse-pounding cinematic experiences of the past 12 months. Chazelle’s tight direction and rhythmic editing help to aptly convey the sheer pressure of playing in an orchestra, and how that pressure increases exponentially when put on the spot by the conductor. I should just be thankful that in my time playing for an orchestra I never came across a figure as intimidating as J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher. With his bulging biceps and unpredictable anger, Simmons gives his all for a performance of a life-time. His treatment of Andrew disgusts and repels, particularly when Andrew begins to sacrifice other relationships in his life in order to improve as a drummer. It is an enthralling conflict between the two, made unpredictable by Simmons, yet driven by Teller’s commitment, blood, sweat, and tears. Much has been said about Simmons (and he deserves every award coming to him), but Teller’s contribution cannot be under-sold, as he also gives 110% to convey the desire and frustration of the clearly skilled young music student. With a damn fine jazz soundtrack, unpredictable turns, and a final confrontation as tense as anything in the finest sports movies, Whiplash is a cinematic experience that will leave you sweating in your seat and screaming for more. Be sure to catch it in January.

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2. Boyhood (Dir: Richard Linklater)

A film which has topped many critics and magazines lists this year, Boyhood is undoubtedly one of the greatest successes of 2014. Quite unlike anything else produced in cinema, Boyhood was shot over the course of 12 years with the same cast. It is quite an unprecedented feat of film-making that will stand in cinema history as one of the most triumphant and enriching texts concerning everyday human life. It is utterly crazy that Linklater managed to pull it off, even more impressive when you consider he still found the time to make the likes of A Scanner Darkly, School of Rock and the concluding parts of his similarly ambitious Sunset Trilogy across the years. Hard to describe in terms of plot, Boyhood is a film better described in regards to its thematic concerns, as we experience the joys, pitfalls, and anxieties of growing up through the eyes of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) over the course of 12 years. With popular songs from the likes of Family of the Year and Goyte as some of our only indicators of time placement, as well as strangely predictive pop culture discussions, Linklater’s script is effortlessly human and moving, relying on big moments of drama very sparingly in the hope that more genuine emotions are forged between his characters and his audience. It helps that the cast is quite effortless in conveying a very natural relationship with one another. Patricia Arquette is particularly impressive, while Ethan Hawke proves that he is never better than when he is being directed by Linklater. Yet, the whole film rides on the shoulders of its young, un-tested lead, and Coltrane strides through on his cute naivety in the early years, which soon develops into a laid back charm which is very easy to engage with. While Boyhood is concerned with the tribulations of a young boy’s puberty, there is something for absolutely anyone to connect with. If you’ve ever been a sibling, a mother, a father, heck if you’ve ever been a child there are emotions and moments of experience that you can liken to your own. Perhaps what stopped Boyhood taking the top spot is its universality; it’s a very hard film to dislike and those that find flaw must really be willing themselves to nitpick. It seems odd to say, but Boyhood is a hard film to call my personal favourite of the year because it seems to belong to EVERYONE. Boyhood is a piece of cinema that we are unlikely to ever see again, a pure shot of lightening in a bottle, whose top has been carefully wound tighter over the course of its 12 year production. Just take a minute again to consider that. Consider the perseverance and commitment (and damned good luck) that Linklater managed to complete his ambitious project. Linklater deserves every accolade that is sure to be coming his way, as Boyhood confirms an inkling that many of I’m sure already had in our minds; that Richard Linklater is one of the most important, varied, and talented film-makers of a generation.

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1. Interstellar (Dir: Christopher Nolan)

Now bare with me on this one. I am very aware that Interstellar is a film that has been on the receiving end of a very mixed reaction, and that is one of the main reasons as to why it has worked its way to the top of the list. It helps that I adore it, but the fact that it has proven so divisive, giving so many people the passion to defend or rile against highlights one of the simplest pleasures of cinema. All art is subjective, and all art is made for discussion, and Interstellar proved, for me at least, to be the film where I was engaged in most debates, both with others and with myself. I was initially cautious following my first viewing (in 60mm IMAX I must add) due to the over-whelming nature of Nolan’s ideas and imagery, particularly those which arise in the course of the final act. I immediately wanted to see it again. And I did. Twice. There are films on here that I have seen many times since release, but no film quite demanded a re-visit with quite the same immediacy. Christopher Nolan had something to prove to me (and I’m sure many others) with Interstellar following his Batman trilogy closure. The Dark Knight Rises, while certainly more cerebral than common Hollywood blockbuster fare, remains a disappointing, frustratingly scripted franchise closer. Perhaps my trepidation into Interstellar aided me, but there is no denying that Nolan’s 9th feature film comes accompanied with some of his most startlingly beautiful images, that can be at once awe-inspiring and haunting, striking the sublime chord in quite an impressionistic fashion. Interstellar wears its inspirations on its sleeve, evoking Kubrick (it would be stupid to avoid mentioning the K-word in any discussion of Interstellar) through its mix of science-fiction and philosophical questioning, while it is also easy to detect a dash of Spielberg through the family dynamic on display. Reacting to his critics (which is something more directors should practice), Nolan attempts to devote more time to emotion and character, and truly does succeed in crafting an operatic adventure which is grounded in raw human emotion, namely that of a relationship between a father and his daughter. This is in no small way aided by the performance of McConaughey, who grounds the action by always ensuring that his character, engineer and pilot Cooper, keeps what is at stake front and centre as he embarks on a mission to save mankind through finding a new world at the other side of a wormhole. Interstllar may well be one of the most flawed films on this list, flaws which are almost endearing rather than frustrating in the grand scheme of the text. Its powerful cinematography, soul-shuddering score bring to the screen an adventure that only the cinema can bring to life and take you on. Despite the complex physics and theories involved, no other film quite matched up for me in terms of the epic nature of its journey, nor did any other film quite demand you to seek out the biggest screen possible in order to experience it. Interstellar stirred a passion and a wonder within me concerning space and cinema that I had not felt since Apollo 13 first inspired me to hold my thumb up to the Moon and ponder on what was to be found in the far reaches of space, I am always grateful to a film for stirring such a curiosity within me, and I am truly grateful and impressed that Interstellar managed to allow those sensations to return. It is this emotion, this feeling, this thrill, that allows Interstellar to deservedly hold the top spot of my countdown this year.

So there you have it, the count-down is complete and we can all say a fond good-bye to 2014 and look forward to the cinematic ventures that await us in 2015. I wish you all a very Happy New Year, enjoy your celebrations tonight, and all the best for the year ahead.

Enjoy this Cinematic Retrospective, courtesy of Nikita Malko.

Gone-Girl-1There is a very high chance that many of you took to the cinema this weekend to digest the latest offering from director David Fincher. The auteur’s latest cinematic endeavour could strangely be regarded as his most mainstream, which is entirely down to its source material. Based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 best-selling novel, Gone Girl is a film that arrives with plenty of expectation. The novel itself stands as one of the more maliciously enjoyable reads of recent years, grabbing your attention within the first few pages, and holding you tight and uncomfortably close until you reached its conclusion. And it is not hard to see why Fincher came sniffing around once a adaptation was being considered. Possessing a darkness that few director’s would be brave enough to tackle, Gone Girl is not for the faint of heart. But, like all of Fincher’s greatest pieces of work, it is a type of darkness that you cannot help but be seduced by.

On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), goes missing, seemingly in a violent struggle. As Nick begins to cooperate in the investigation of his wife’s disappearance, it is not long until more and more factors and evidence begin to paint the husband in a unfavourable light. What really did happen to Amy? What was the nature of their marriage? Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

The central premise of Gone Girl is not that remarkable on the surface; a kidnap/murder thriller, we know where this is going, right? Well, that’s the thing about Gone Girl, it’s all about deceiving surfaces. Adapting from her own novel, Flynn imbues the film’s proceedings with the Gone Girl-2same mystifying suspense that silenced those critics who expected something much more conventional from her third novel. Retaining the dual narratives of her prose, Flynn twists her tale efficiently into the two and a half hour runtime. What we think we know about its proceedings is transcended with just the right amount of the absurd, placing Gone Girl in a reality that may not be quite logical enough to be regarded as our own. However, the thematic concerns and sheer meticulous nature of it all allows the material to bury into your subconscious and appear relevant, and most importantly, horrifyingly relate-able.

Thematically, Flynn’s material covers many areas that have concerned Fincher across his filmography: the aggressive nature of the media, the masks that people create for themselves, economic concerns, and (of course) acts of violence. Being on familiar ground, this feels like the work of a director who no longer has to prove himself. He allows the power and the mystery of the script to provide much of the curiosity, but is more than capable of generating images that haunt the recesses of the mind. An abandoned shopping mall inhabited by the homeless, an image of a body falling to the bottom of a lake, a cat waiting at the door for his master to return as the flash of media cameras illuminate his surroundings; these are just some of the simply stunning images that Fincher orchestrates and imprints in the proceedings.

Fincher has always had quite a skill in regards to the casting of his pictures. He recalibrated Brad Pitt’s star image, drew the best out of Jake Gyllenhaal, and here, he weans out career best performances from both Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. As Nick Dunne, Affleck provides the film with a strong pivot point. His own experiences with the tenacity of the media allow him to tap into the anger and frustration suitably Gone=Girl-3for such a situation. Yet he is also capable of evoking the numerous facets of Nick’s personality, the facets that make him a man who is equally as worthy of our sympathy as he is our suspicion. Pike, too, plays around with our sympathies whilst radiating a dangerous beauty that is utterly intoxicating. Elsewhere, Neil Patrick Harris exudes a creepy charm, Tyler Perry delivers a welcome touch of humour, while Carrie Coon is superb as Nick’s twin sister Margot.

The musical collaboration Fincher has established with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross continues to impress with a score which brings to life the boiling pot tension of the drama, easing in with more conventional themes before erupting into disorientating terror. Jeff Cronenweth, Fincher’s lenser on Fight Club, The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, lends his usual subdued grace to the cinematography, creating a distinctly Fincher aesthetic; a meticulous cleanliness which seems seeped in something much more lurid.

The beauty of both Flynn’s text and most of Fincher’s work is in its power to draw you in to macabre corners of the human mind, and make it Gone-Girl-4deliciously entertaining. From the efficiently brief opening credits, to the quietly sinister ending, Fincher and Flynn allow the twists and procedures to develop at a stunning pace. Those that have read the book will be quivering in tension in anticipation of certain events, while newbies will be instantly intoxicated by the task of figuring out what exactly is going on between the troubled husband and wife. Gone Girl is the work of a director who can seemingly do no wrong, providing not only an efficient thriller, but one that provokes questions of one’s own relationships within their lives. If this material is anything to go by, you may not like the answers you find,

5/5- A dark and deliciously entertaining thriller, which once again proves why Fincher is perhaps the best director working in mainstream cinema today. 

Remember when everyone hated Ben Affleck? It certainly does seem like a long time ago now, following Affleck’s incredibly successful re-invigoration off the back of his two directing efforts; the involving Gone Baby Bone and the tense Heat-like The Town. It was no mean feat. Affleck began his career in fine style, with an Oscar under his belt for his script (co-written with Matt Damon) for Good Will Hunting. Soon after, Affleck began appearing in a number of critical, but not necessarily commercial, flops; the likes of which included Pearl Harbor, Gigli, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas and Jersey Girl among them. Once upon a time, it seemed that Affleck could find no way to redeem himself. But low and behold, he found he had a talent in directing. His revival could perhaps be traced to his performance in the underrated Hollywoodland, but it truly was with Gone Baby Gone that Affleck once again staked a serious position withing Hollywood. And with Argo, he once again proves to be an exceptional talent behind, and in front, of the camera.

Argo tells the true story of the infamous ‘Canadian Caper’, set during the period of the Iran Hostage situation from 1979-1980, in which the Iranian Government saw a militant uprising, following the U.S. embassy sheltering the recently overthrown Shah. While other Americans in the Embassy are taken hostage, six American diplomats manage to escape and go to hide out in the Canadian ambassadors house. However, with the militant forces working their way towards finding out that they are missing six more Americans. With time running out, the US State Department begins to try to develop a plan in which to extract the six diplomats safely and securely. A CIA specialist, Tony Mendez (Affleck) is bought in as consultant, and whilst viewing a Planet of the Apes movie on television, he devises the ridiculous idea of him and the six diplomats posing as a Canadian film crew, scouting locations for a new sci-fi movie, entitled Argo. After establishing a believable back-story, complete with producers, script, storyboards and press articles promoting the movie; Mendez heads in to Iran to exact his plan. But of course, nothing ever goes according to plan.

I would advise, unless you lived through it, to avoid any information regarding the outcome of the real-life Argo operation before viewing this movie. The less you know the better. I very much allowed myself to become engrossed in the story, with no knowledge of what the outcome was going to be, and I personally believed I enjoyed the movie much more as a result. It is an incredibly interesting story, that if it wasn’t true would be hard to believe. It is amazing that this was the best bad idea that the government had, yet when the intricate nature of the plan is revealed; it certainly seemed detail enough to avoid pratfalls. Knowing the facts, I believe, would also distract from the character construction on display here, particularly devoted to Affleck himself, and the six diplomats trapped within Iran. Standing out amongst these six are Monsters’ Scoot McNairy, who anchors his role with a nervous disposition and understandable concerns, and the indelibly cute Kerry Bishe, who proves to be quite a surprise, proving her worth above the should-have-never-happened Season 9 of Scrubs.

However, it is outside of Iran that the cast truly shines. The film certainly feels more at ease within the moments outside of the Iranian conflicts, quite understandably so. It truly is to Affleck’s credit that he manages to balance these lighter moments with the more serious political outlook on the dark and violent conflicts of Iran’s past. Rather than levitate tension, the humour is designed to present a comfortable environment, before the plan is executed and before the nerves begin to be tested. And the cast sell this balance. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are the Hollywood players, who very much inject the movie with a bright and playful spirit; Goodman as make-up maestro John Chambers and Arkin as experienced producer Lester Siegel. Bryan Cranston as well adds to the more comic elements of the movie early on, before his character becomes much more involved in making sure that Mendez’s plan runs smoothly. Here, he employs a certain degree of Walter White intensity to get the blood boiling and to emphasize the threat of the situation. Not that we were completely oblivious to it to begin with.

The anchor of the movie though, both in terms of acting and style, has to be Affleck. His direction cleverly incorporates raw news footage form the period with fantastic period detail, from the clothes to the cars, to the general atmosphere of the entire picture. It certainly feels like it could have been plucked from the 70’s and brought forward to the 21st Century, as it would easily sit shoulder to shoulder with other political thrillers of the period, such as All the President’s Men and The French Connection. Affleck keeps his camera very tight and focused, yet also very fluid and panoramic; creating a sense of entrapment surrounded by the possibility of freedom. The editing is also a work of masterclass, particularly in the film’s final act as the tension racks up to a nerve-shredding outcome. However, impressive though his directing is, it is Ben Affleck the actor who deserves the most praise. His Mendez is the beating heart of this movie, the thing keeping it alive, keeping the blood flowing, whilst also being an entirely flawed character. His confidence in his work is certainly not mirrored by the structure of his broken home life. Affleck plays the role with ease; displaying the confidence that the six diplomats desperately cling on to, whilst also demonstrating a broken man underneath who, like the six diplomats, just wants to find a way to get back home and bring his family back together.

Argo does suffer from the usual tropes of films based on a true story. A strong Americano spirit fuels the finale of the movie that frankly feels out of place, as most of the conflict within Iran was down to American involvement within the country, and perhaps not enough time is given to Mendez’s personal life to truly give credit to Affleck’s layered performance. But the sheer brilliance of its construction and performances across the board carry you safely over the line. Affleck demonstrated a sure hand with drama in Gone Baby Gone, a confident stance with action in The Town, and now he has proven himself to be a craftsman of tension, and in someways a documentarian. I would certainly say that this is Affleck’s best movie thus far, he has truly grown into a mature, confident and versatile director, as each of his films feel incredibly different from one another. Will he peak at three? That remains to be seen, but the future certainly looks bright for the director Ben Affleck, and more impressively, the actor Ben Affleck. How do you like them apples!?

5/5- A raw, emotional, human drama with a strong comic edge, deftly balancing its tense subject matter with Hollywood satire. That coupled with assured direction and a variety of strong performances, Argo is Affleck’s best movie yet. And that’s saying something.