All Is Lost

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PSA: At Frame Rates, we don’t like to reveal spoilers in our reviews. However, in the case of All Is Lost, it is impossible to discuss the movie without giving away the premise. Therefore, the following review will talk about the premise in detail, which in itself is a spoiler, but will not give away the finer plot points of the film.

After his boat collides with a stricken freight container, a seasoned sailor must not only battle the elements, but also fight the acceptance of mortality, in body and mind.

After 480 minutes of burning mind calories at work, one of the last things I want to do on a Monday evening is spend time questioning my own existence and attitude to mortality. Thankfully, rarely does a movie with such a delicate approach to storytelling deliver such a powerful message as the one I drew from All Is Lost.

The main thing to point out about All Is Lost, aside from a monologue at the beginning, is the complete lack of dialogue throughout. It is a bold move from writer/director, J.C. Chandor, and while his direction is precise, and his writing is compelling, it is because of Robert Redford’s on-screen gravitas that the silence works; he is called ‘Our Man’ in the screenplay, and his isolation begins to provide a insight into his nature. He is able to convey the smallest nuances of emotion by just literally existing in front of us; when his boat starts flooding, he goes about fixing it, and this happens throughout the film. By revealing nothing of his character, he actually reveals so much because we are made to think; about his past, why he is out on his own in the sea, and so on.

Some have commented on the movie’s lack of sailing realism, or complained about the seafaring techniques of the film’s protagonist. Only the most cynical of movie viewers would not accept the finer, more subtextual, aspects of the movie, and I feel these commenters have completely missed the point of this film. It’s not a film about sailing, but a story of survival and mortality that actually discusses its themes more successfully than Gravity; despite being absolutely gripping, the story and screenplay was the weakest aspect of Cuaron’s latest release. All Is Lost manages to say so much more about human perseverance, and the strengths and weaknesses of the human spirit, without actually saying a thing.

One of the greatest achievements of All Is Lost is the fact it played entirely with my expectation of action/disaster movies. I was constantly second-guessing the story, thinking that we’d have a twist or that there would be a Hollywoodised moment of peril, but the realism on screen was refreshing. Every movement, every action taken by Our Man was logical. As we got further into acts two and three, I began to understand the character’s intelligence as he found ways to keep afloat; it was like watching a machine work.

The technical aspects of the film were fantastic, and definitely complimented the clever, mature storytelling. As there is no dialogue, the camerawork, cinematography and post-production (editing and CGI) have to be compelling; All Is Lost had some excellent uses of first-person perspective to convey distance, underwater shots, and some majestic long shots of schools of fishes dancing below Our Man’s boat. The sound design was also absolutely superb; I felt genuinely cold during the storms, and appreciated the moments of silent tension being cut through by the delicate sounds of water colliding and lapping against the innards of the stricken boat.

The Oscars have been and gone, but it surprises me that this movie was overlooked in more categories (it did receive a nomination for Best Achievement in Sound Editing). At 77, Redford should have been nominated for Actor in a Leading Role, if not solely for putting his body through the runners in this film. I do think this is not your average action movie, and is more art house in style and tone, but I do recommend it regardless, as it reached into the deepest corners of my own fear of dying, and made me consider the lengths to which I would go to stay alive.

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Robocop (1987)

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Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.

With the impending release of the Robocop reboot, I thought I would pop my nostalgia boner and revisit the 1987, Paul Verhoeven original. Oh, and spoilers for a 26 year old movie. Though you really should have seen this…

In a dystopian and crime-ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg haunted by submerged memories. (Source: IMDb)

One of the main reasons I absolutely love this movie is the amount of horrifying brutality, and almost Manga-style violence and gore throughout; a cop gets shredded with a shotgun and his head blown apart; a perp gets shot in the the genitals; and my favourite kill…a gang member ends up doused in radioactive material, after which his deformed and sagging skin and body explode on impact from Robocop’s car. I remember watching this as a child and feeling a huge void, and almost nauseous, when Peter Weller (Murphy/Robocop) gets ripped apart in a hail of shotgun blasts. Oddly enough, I still feel a little bit repulsed upon viewing it today, but that’s quickly overridden by my love of horror movies and fictional gore.

Despite Robocop being an 80s, macho-action flick, I always enjoy the way the film deals with memory, repressed or submerged. It’s interesting that the relationship between man and machine is implicit in the resurrection of Murphy, with their manipulation if his memories going wrong later in the film, and resulting in some rough justice. Also, allegory-wise, Verhoeven confirmed it was a modern day telling of the story of Jesus, which can be confirmed in this set of pixels and by this 2010 quote;

It is about a guy who gets crucified in the first 50 minutes, and then is resurrected in the next 50 minutes, and then is like the supercop of the world. (source: Uproxx)

It’s important to note that, apart from the visuals on the displays as well as Robocop’s HUD, the look of the movie stands up on viewing even today. Detroit probably looks better than it does today, the cinematography is gritty and set design has the standard Verhoeven playful-cum-dilapidated aesthetic seen throughout his dystopian sci-fi products. And much like Total Recall, this movie also has an amazing, industrial soundtrack, and one of the best theme tunes for any character in 1980s cinema.

Onto the reboot; I agree with Verhoeven that it is going to lack the soul that is obviously present in this version, which will mainly be due to the over-reliance on CGI. That and it won’t half as gory!

Robocop is an action/sci-fi classic, which not only has an interesting allegory (and fantastic style), but contains an awesome amount of horrific imagery, which should tickle the bloody-bones of any horror fans out there.

Now You See Me

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The FBI and Interpol assign detectives to investigate a team of magicians – the self-proclaimed ‘Four Horsemen’ (Eisenberg, Fisher, Harrelson, Franco) – who perform elaborate bank thefts in their shows and repatriate the money that they steal to their audiences.

Now You See Me, a movie that tries so desperately to be this generation’s Ocean’s Eleven, is one of the most boring, inconsequential and utterly preposterous movies I have seen this year [no hyperbole]. This confused, half-arsed mess of a film is over-stylised and heavily post-produced, presents completely dislikable characters that do sod all, and has zero story arc. Zero. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

The film has a singular, long, flat, dull act that trudges along in first gear and barely makes it to the finish line in one piece. No amount of lens flare (of which there is an obscene amount), or Isla Fisher flying around in CG bubbles, or Jesse Eisenberg being the jive turkey cunt he plays so much of late, or Dave Franco shooting CG flames out of his sleeves, can save this movie. It’s absolutely awful.

One of the huge problems I had with this movie was its tone. It’s nestled somewhere between magic shows in which they try to present the magic as ‘real’, yet has scenes filled with CG effects that aren’t magic at all, where it’s basically a fantasy narrative. The Prestige, a movie also about magic, barely relied on CG effects to deliver its scenes of wonderment. Now You See Me used a computer to execute card tricks, which was a complete insult to the entire concept of magic.

Another issue was the writing and the story itself. The screenwriter felt compelled used Basil Exposition in the character played by Morgan Freeman. The only scenes in which we see the Four Horsemen (which should be Four Horsepeople on account of Isla Fisher) together are when they are on stage or about to go on stage. There are no character dynamics explored, nor is there an explanation of motivation for the great mystery revealed at the end of the first act, which as discussed, is at the end of the film.

The final nail on the coffin for this movie was how the crowds were reacting to each trick. In the final scene, whole swathes of people, chant and whoop for these characters in a similar display to the people of New York City in Ghostbusters 2. It was such a strange departure from the tone of the rest of the movie.

I could go on and on about it’s utter failure as a movie, but it’s not even worth my time. Now You See Me, the movie which if you do what the title says, you’ll be bloody annoyed you did.

Ernie’s 10 overlooked genre picks

Lauren is away enjoying her honeymoon (wooo), which means I’m holding fort for the week! So, without further ado…

10 overlooked films. 10 genres. None of these movies are mentioned in previous lists (but two I have reviewed: cheating, right?)!

1) Action: Tropa de Elite

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City of God is often lauded as the greatest Brazilian film of recent years, and deservedly so. That said, Tropa de Elite pushes it a close second, in my opinion. The sweaty, vibrant Rio is once again under the spotlight, but this time the focus is a team of expert urban police named the BOPE: Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais. It’s violent, funny, poignant and just fucking great. The sequel is as good as the original, and the final film in the trilogy is rumoured to be in production! Excelente!

2) Animation: Sword in the Stone

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As a child, there were few things as exciting and magical as watching the song Higitus Figitus (all the shrinking household objects!) in Sword in the Stone. Merlin was my favourite Disney character after Genie from Aladdin, and if you haven’t seen this 1963 classic then where have you been?

3) Comedy: Kenny

The proper use of sanitation equipment, as explained by Kenny (Shane Jacobson).
“There’s a smell in there that will out-last religion.”

A charming, sincere and heartwarming mockumentary about an Australian shit-shoveller called Kenny. The writing, although being very culturally-specific to Australia, delivers a universally-relevant protagonist; Kenny has a slight speech impediment but a huge heart. Much like Homer Simpson, Kenny is one of those characters you wish was a real person. It’s an utter success as a comedy, too, with some laugh-out-loud scenes milestoning the few touching moments throughout the narrative. You must see this movie; it doesn’t have 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for nothing.

4) Documentary: Restrepo

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We love documentaries here on Frame Rates (Blackfish, McCullin, The Summit, Searching for Sugar Man, The Cove), and Restrepo is no exception to this rule. Focused on a platoon of US soldiers, Restrepo is a visceral study on the effects of modern warfare; losing friends, winning battles and leaving loved ones are elements put under the microscope here. It’s harrowing, hard to watch but also exhilarating (if a bit “‘Murica, baby”, and is one of the more honest documents about the War on Terror.

5) Drama: The Hunt

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Click for full thoughts

6) Horror: Excision

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Click for full thoughts

7) Sci-Fi: Westworld

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Click click click click click. That is the sound of the killer cowboy hunting you. This is not a case of mistaken identity, but rather a case of machines going wrong. Westworld is a dystopian take on future theme parks, in which you can take vacations in bygone day; drinking in saloon bars, shagging disease-ridden hookers and gallivanting around the Wild West. That is until the wiring in one of the machines goes wrong and you are left fighting for your life! 1970s sci-fi at its depressing, paranoid best.

8) Thriller: Leon

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I don’t think this is that overlooked, however it is one of my all-time genre favourites. What starts life as a lone wolf thriller quickly falls into buddy territory, however the buddies are a middle-aged Jean Reno and a young Natalie Portman. Luc Besson’s best movie, alongside The Fifth Element, is a joy to watch, has some laughs juxtaposed with some epic violence and a turn from Gary Oldman that will require you make change of underwear upon finishing the movie.

9) War: Brotherhood

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It’s not cool to cry at movies, right? Well, regardless of the fact I don’t think that’s true at all, fifteen year old me was extremely shocked when salty stuff started coming out of his eye sockets after watching Brotherhood. A story about two brothers that find themselves on opposite sides of the Korean conflict, Taegukgi is hearthbreaking. I haven’t actually seen this in years, but I remember being absolutely astounded by the movie, and this is a reminder to myself to hunt this down and have a second viewing.

10) Western: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

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Gotta be honest; I haven’t seen too many Westerns. Rango, 3:10 to Yuma, The Searchers, TGTBATU and True Grit come to mind, however what Andrew Dominik has achieved in Jessie James is nothing short of phenomenal. It’s like watching a series of perfectly-framed photographs, and the script is alright as well! Sam Rockwell, Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are brilliant, and even the often monotone Jeremy Renner pulls out all the stocks for this movie! It’s very slow and requires your undivided attention, but if you are in the right mood this will wash over you wonderfully.

Man On Fire

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I lost my DVD of Man On Fire, well the disc anyway. I still had the box, and every time I thought about watching it, I opened the case hoping St Christopher had returned it without me knowing. This never happened. So, fast-forward 6 years après DVD loss to Friday night; I saw the movie listed on iTunes when browsing movies and bought it without hesitation. Is this Tony Scott’s most accomplished work? I’m going on record to say it is.

Man On Fire encapsulates everything you’d expect from a Tony Scott movie; eye-busting action, vicious pacing, rich, saturated colours and, more recently, a penchant for showing us the most advanced telecommunication devices on the market (or not, as in the case of Deja Vu). Scott constructs a beautifully-rich visual tapestry that is tied together with some audacious camerawork and phenomenal acting from the two leads, Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning.

Washington plays Creasy, a broken, alcoholic, ex-assassin who takes a job protecting Pita (Fanning), the daughter of a rich, Mexico City family. Initially, after his employment, Creasy considers Pita just a ‘job’; he’s cold, stern and gives nothing away to her constant interrogations. However, the more time he spends with her, the more she begins to heal his heart and turn his life around. After a shocking turn of events, Creasy calls upon his past and embarks on a journey of vengeance.

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First of all, Dakota Fanning was a revelation in this movie. There are numerous occasions during which she leads the scene, and for an 11 year old to achieve this is nothing short of phenomenal. Her precocious talent is matched only by Scott’s talents as a director. The bond Scott managed to develop between Fanning and Washington becomes the backbone of this movie, and regardless of some great performances from Christopher Walken and the lesser cast members, Creasy and Pita’s relationships steals the show; there are tonal elements from buddy cop movies during the first act which I thought really established the foundations of their character interactions. Washington has a vulnerability to his character, which enables us to feel compassion even when he undertakes his ‘revenge is best served cold’ mission. Also, I have to mention his character arc, which is a perfect example to aspiring screenwriters of how to write a convincing and engaging protagonist.

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The stylistic elements of this movie complement how brilliant the acting is. Tracking shots, dolly shots during conversations and daring crane shots give the film a pace that is unrelenting and nail-biting until the end. The opulence of the family is shown through jet black cars, saturated gold furniture and the colour palette becomes a sickly reminder of the contemporary subject matter in the film. It’s cut together with glitchy match cuts, flash to whites and a manipulation of exposure that is almost seizure inducing, working in synergy with the pace of the camera. Scott has even played with the style of the Spanish language subtitles; rather than being static, they scale in and out over different parts of the screen, which enhances the pace and confusion of some of the scenes. As a post-production geek, I love how they have done more with less here; it’s all colour correction techniques and camera movement, and everything seems in front of the camera rather than composited in afterwards, which I admire greatly.

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If I was going to nitpick at this movie, I would say the payoff at the end might not be satisfying and may put off some people, but it is brave and I personally don’t have a problem with it. While still being a balls-out action movie at its heart, we need more stories like Man on Fire to counter the unbridled amount of conservative shit Hollywood produces on a yearly basis. /rant.

The end of Tony Scott’s career may not being as glittering as the early days; Top Gun and True Romance have gone down in history as successes, while Domino and Unstoppable not so much. However, it is Man of Fire, a movie nestled almost in the middle of his directorial filmography, that gets all the plaudits, and rightly so. It’s a perfect mix of action, character, vision, visuals and heart; many movies could learn a thing or two from Man on Fire.

Olympus has Fallen

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Well I’m definitely eating my proverbial hat right now. What’s that phrase about a book and a cover? Forgive me if I can’t remember, my brain is still ringing from watching the latest GERARD BUTLER (sorry, Wittertainment joke) offering. After seeing the trailer I had dismissed this as another poorly written, poorly executed, action by numbers affair but having watched Olympus has Fallen last night, it has more to offer than you may think.

I’m not giving anything away by saying that the set up of the film; the partial destruction of The White House, the evisceration of the Secret Service and kidnapping of the President, is all structured to get Butler, disgraced Secret Service agent Mike Branning, alone in The White House with a gun, a knife, 20 generic terrorists and some brilliant one liners. This is a film that knows where it’s strengths are and it tries to get there as quickly as possible, which is why it is no surprise the first quarter of an hour is easily the weakest part of the film. The characters aren’t anything we haven’t seen before and the dialogue borders on cliché and, dare I say it, boring. Then, all of a sudden, the first shots are fired, it all kicks off and I was gripped for the next 100 minutes. I would even go as far as saying I was riveted.

The action in this film is fantastic and, once it starts, it doesn’t stop until the film finishes. The set pieces are executed tremendously well and, despite it being a stretch to accept the notion of a successful attack on one of the most secure locations in the world, the director, Antoine Fuqua, injects a tangibly real quality to the film. It’s not surprising considering Fuqua’s previous work; Training Day, Exit Strategy, Tears of the Sun and Shooter are evidence enough of an understanding of the genre. Faqua clearly knows how to work his way around around a shoot out. The fight sequences here are no different. They are savage and expertly choreographed, drawing the audience in without glamorising the increasing violence. Credit also needs to be given to Gerard Butler in his role; he is credible, physically convincing, charming and powerful, and drives the film from start to finish as our lone hero. There are also some commendable performances from Aaron Eckhart and Melissa Leo in supporting roles, who manage to keep the film ticking over outside of the action.

Olympus has Fallen isn’t doing anything new in terms of narrative, character or script, but what the film does achieve is an hour and a half of masterfully executed action sequences and a few quips of which John McClane would be proud. I hope all of this translates onto the small screen, and in case it doesn’t, go and see this in the cinema. You won’t be disappointed.

Dredd

'I am the law!'
‘I am the law!’
When Karl Urban uttered these words, the repressed memories of Sly Stallone’s Judge Dredd briefly regurgitated into my brain. Luckily, the latest iteration of Dredd, at that point, had been an hour of gripping, thrilling, [insert superlatives] filmmaking which left Stallone’s version a distant memory.

If anyone has seen The Raid, you know the plot of Dredd. The famous judge and his rookie, Anderson, take a call at a Megacity apartment block, which happens to be the home of Mama, a violent gang leader, and her goons. ‘It’ hits the fan, the two judges get trapped and they have to fight their way out, all guns a blazin’.

The best thing about this movie is that it isn’t dumb and hasn’t gone in at 12A to cynically make as much money as possible [read: A Good Day To Die Hard]. Action movies have lost their way since the late 90s, with the Bourne trilogy and a few superhero flicks setting the bar over which many filmmakers have failed to jump. We promised to not further entertain the anti-Bay circlejerk that is so prevalent on the Internet, but the orgy of twisted metal and breasts and arse in the Transformers trilogy are an insult to global audiences and are an advert on how not to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. Dredd was made for $50m, which is a pittance in today’s movie budget terms, and proves you can make an entertaining action film without spending more than the GDP of Palau.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not Pride and Prejudice. There is ultra-violence, gore, extreme language and adult content, but weirdly it is done with taste and has an amazing rhythm. We are meant to feel every punch thrown, every bullet sunk into soft tissue, every moment of utter dread (hehe) at the protagonists’ lack of a way out of the situation. The camerawork is amazing, placing the audience about a foot away from capitulating concrete and bloody splatters, with a nice little touch being the Slo-Mo drug, which drops everything down to 1/20th of normal speed. Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headly all get enveloped by their roles and the movie doesn’t resort to the all-to-familiar camp comic book tactics to win over its fan boy audience. It honours the history of Judge Dredd, while nodding its head at ultra-violence of anime and South East Asian cinema. I f***ing loved this movie, and if you’re wanting some rip-roaring, balls-out action movie fare, look no further than Dredd. You’ll thank me later.