Film Review: The Counsellor

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Welcome to a world of philosopher gangsters, gun slinging drug runners and conniving femme fatales, a world that could only have been created by the pen of Cormac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men) Warning: misogynistic themes throughout.

The Counsellor, McCarthy’s first purpose built screenplay, unfortunately falls slightly flat despite its A-list cast. Given the calibre of the on-screen talent he secured, with the likes of Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz gracing the screen, it is unsurprising that The Cousellor is singularly well acted. Fassbender is particularly effective as the eponymous Counsellor, who inexplicably involves himself in a drug deal that subsequently goes very badly wrong for everyone involved. However given the attention paid to presentation, the plot seems a little … unfinished.

The motivation for the Counsellor’s involvement in this shady underworld is never adequately explained, while he appears to know some dodgy people fairly well, the explanation of “greed” that is rather weakly pushed forward once the shit has well and truly hit the fan doesn’t really do much to satisfy. Given this fairly large plot hole it is difficult to feel any real connection to the man who story drags us into this world of murder and betrayal.

With Ridley Scott behind the camera The Counsellor does capture the beauty and the violence of the world we inhabit for 2 hours. A particularly brilliant scene sees a cheetah running down a hare in the New Mexico desert, the barren yellow landscape almost doubling for the savannah. Scott deals with the violence of McCarthy script very well with much implied and left to the imagination; the shoot-outs are kept to a minimum giving them much more impact.

Predictably McCarthy’s talent for writing misogynistic gangsters is used almost to the point of stupidity. There are more monologues about sex and “women”, said in the most despairing way, than there is actual plot. The only effect is to give the film a jarring rhythm that lurches from philosophical monologue to misogynistic monologue and back again.

Despite the A-list cast and director, and what should have been an A-list screenwriter, The Counsellor while not lacking in emotion, loses any connection with the audience through its superficial treatment of the plot and grating monologues.

In UK cinemas now.

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Film Review: The Fifth Estate dir. Bill Condon

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The Fifth Estate is a film of contrasts; the contrast between the controversial topic and the A-list cast; the contrast between Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl), between Wikileaks’ intention and the eventual reaction and consequences, but most importantly between traditional print media and online sources of information – the Fourth, and eponymous, Fifth Estate.

Almost manic in its delivery of information The Fifth Estate captures the hectic and sometimes chaotic atmosphere that appears to have surrounded Julian Assange and Wikileaks. The constant movement from country to country only emphasises the global impact of the organisation and of the story the film is trying to tell.

Based on a book published by The Guardian in 2011, The Fifth Estate attempts to bring the “unvarnished truth” to light, a task in which Assange believes they have failed. His categoric dismissal of the film is addressed in a particularly self-aware section at the very end of the film where Cumberbatch is shown, in close up as Assange, rejecting the validity of any “Wikileaks film”.

Cumberbatch’s brilliant character study is the key to the films success, while Brühl’s depiction of Daniel Berg is by far the more emotionally engaging performance; Cumberbatch’s Assange has the kind of manic intelligence, with a hint of instability that makes him captivating to watch. The subtle decline of his character from cool collected freedom fighter to reckless egotist is seamless and beautifully controlled.

Read the full review here

In Cinemas Now.

DVD Review: The Bling Ring

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Released on DVD barely a month after the word ‘selfie’ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, Sofia Coppola’s teenage saga The Bling Ring couldn’t come at a more apposite time. Fuelled by an amazingly observed portrayal of the ‘real’ lives of teenagers The Bling Ring is certainly one of the most enjoyable teen movies out on DVD this week. The outlandish robberies are admittedly fantastical but the characters use of social media, the constant selfies and the glue that seems to attach them to their mobile phones creates a brilliant air of reality.

Based on the real life robberies carried out by a group the media dubbed “The Bling Ring”, Coppola’s movie follows Rebecca (Katie Chang), Marc (Israel Broussard), Nicki (Emma Watson) and a few of their drop-out friends as they start to target celebrity’s houses when their famous occupants are away. Using tabloid websites to track the movements of their targets, “The Bling Ring” break-in and help themselves to a few special keepsakes. This brief synopsis sounds a lot more sinister than it actually is, these teenagers are each troubled in their own way but they are not hardened criminals. Their actions are fuelled by obsession and a belief that they are entitled to a better, more fabulous way of life.

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Film Review: Chasing Ice

My first review for Next Projection: Chasing Ice a documentary about climate change and EIS.

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Chasing Ice is in its most basic form an environmental documentary, a man with a plan ready to educate the general public about the speed and immediacy of global warming in a medium everybody understands – photography. Sounds self-righteous and preachy? Well it isn’t.

Chasing Ice cleverly treads the line between the condescending and the unapproachable, there’s science in there everyone can understand (with the help of some nifty graphics) and coupled with brilliant photography it makes for a genuinely moving and emotive documentary.

Read more at Next Projection.

Time Bandits, a Film About Time Travelling Dwarfs But Not Necessarily the Kind an 11 Year Old Might Expect.

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**Mild Spoiler if you haven’t seen it!**

Released in 1981 Time Bandits was created for a generation of kids very different from todays. A generation less technologically aware and perhaps more sensitive to extremes of violence and emotion, but how would a modern 11 year old view this cult classic.

My younger brother Oscar, who is 11 and well versed in the worlds of The Hunger Games, The Hobbit and Iron Man, watched the new digitally remastered Time Bandits and told me what he thought of it.

So what did you think of Time Bandits?

When you said dwarves were in the movie I thought you meant Hobbit type dwarves traveling through time! It was a bit weird . . . it’s confusing, like at the end when his parents just die and that’s the end! That was sad. I liked the bit before they touch the “evil”, when Kevin is rescued by the fireman (Sean Connery). But I didn’t like it when his parents died.

Read the full interview on TQS

Edinburgh Film Guild Launches New Finnish Cinema Programme

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A two-part focus on Finnish cinema, it was announced this week, will take place in Edinburgh. It includes three features, all being given their UK premieres, as well as world and international premieres of three mid-length documentaries.  All 16 screenings are open to the public and will take place at Edinburgh Filmhouse.

New Cinema 1, screening on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th September comprises of 14 short, mid-length and feature-length films made between 2011 and 2013, all of which were directed or co-directed by women, and many of which also feature female screenwriters, cinematographers and editors and strong leading female characters or subjects.  Its wide-ranging programme includes animation, experimental works and documentaries, and its approach to highlighting the work of women filmmakers follows in a long Edinburgh tradition, dating back to the 1972 Edinburgh International Film Festival, at which the world’s second women’s film event was organised by Lynda Myles.

New Cinema 2 takes place on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th September, and includes two retrospective Finnish features: The Interrogation (2009) and the complete, uncut version of Eight Deadly Shots (1972), neither of which has previously been publicly screened in the UK.

Both New Cinema events will be accompanied by limited-edition programmes, to include original writings by leading Finnish film critics alongside those of filmmakers whose work will be screened.

For the full programme visit the Edinburgh Film Guild website.

New Cinema tickets are available from the Edinburgh Filmhouse box office (88 Lothian Road, Edinburgh, EH3 9BZ / 0131 228 2688) and via the Filmhouse website, http://www.filmhousecinema.com/ .

Tickets for all single screenings are £6 (£5 conc).  Eight Deadly Shots will be shown in two parts, with combined tickets for both available at £8 (£6 conc).

Film Review: Elysium dir. Neill Blomkamp

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It’s hard to believe that Neill Blomkamp’s new sci-fi epic with a social message, Elysium, is only his second major outing on the big screen. The South African born director’s debut District 9 (2009) paved the way for this year’s release. While District 9’s story focused on a sci-fi take on South Africa’s difficult history of apartheid, Elysium deals with social injustice of a different kind.

Elysium sees “The 99%” left on the giant slum that is planet Earth, while the rich and beautiful play on the haunting, circular space station Elysium. Elysium is a tranquil paradise populated by people who all seem to have live-in hairstylists, live in Hamptons-style ‘suburbs’ and thanks to Nano-technology, can be cured of anything. Meanwhile Earth is a giant slum, where people are policed by robots and struggle through life.

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Matt Damon is Max, inhabitant of Earth who dreams of Elysium. A radioactive accident leaves Max with no choice but to fight for a ticket to Elysium where his condition can be quickly cured. Black market shuttles to Elysium rarely arrive, but Max is willing to try anything for his chance to be cured; taking on dangerous tasks for criminal with a conscience Spider (Wanger Moura).

His childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) is soon drawn into the mix, and while he struggles to save her and her sick child (Emma Tremblay) there is a refreshing lack of sexual tension or even chemistry between them. This noble desire to save his friend allows the plot to progress without becoming stuck in the quagmire that can be hastily written romances in an action film.

Despite Damon’s A-list status, Sharlto Copley steals the show as sleeper agent Kruger who is called in to track down Max. His South African accent coupled with his unfailing sense of comic timing just hits the nail on the head, creating a menacing yet oddly likeable villain. 

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