Saturday, 29 December 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Favourite Films of 2012

As the end of year draws closer, Jack and Nick round up their favourite films of the year, and some of the disappointments.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

RespawningCouch Audio Review: The Hobbit- An Unexpected Journey

"I think" I review the Peter Jackson uberfest The Hobbit. But does it live up to the hype?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Audio Review: Seven Psychopaths and The Hobbit Predictions and Hesitancy

This week I review In Bruges director Martin McDonagh's latest offering Seven Psychopaths. But does it hit the same notes? And I go on to give my worries for the imminent release of The Hobbit .

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Monday, 3 December 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Sightseers

This week I review Ben Wheatley's "dark, black comedy" Sightseers. Does it hit the highs of his 2011 Kill List?

Kill List on my Top 11 of 2011

Friday, 30 November 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: The Master

This time I review the 5-star, critically-acclaimed 'The Master'. But is it all that good?

Friday, 16 November 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Argo

The latest instalment of Ben Affleck's fantastic directing career is another one with great performances, intelligent writing and sophisticated direction.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Skyfall Review

While the press seems to have had an uncontrollable orgasm following the release of Skyfall, the film left a somewhat mixed impression on me. Through watching the endless repeats on ITV on Sundays during my childhood, Bond has become a source of entertainment and nostalgia. After the joyous rejuvenation of the franchise through Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace left a sour note as it returned to everything Die Another Day had soiled all over the icon. With the tsunami of 5 star reviews across the web and print it was understandable that Skyfall would achieve the record-breaking box office opening it has gained. But even with my expectations low, I was still disappointed by the overall film. 

What is immediately striking from the off is the visual look of Skyfall. The cinematography constantly shows the richness of the various exotic locations that the films writers force into the film’s overly long running time. From the neon light glass-scapes of Shanghai to the heather moors of Scotland, the film brings it back to the almost “travel book” styles of Ian Fleming’s original novels. During action scenes, the camera work is dynamic and manages to capture the intensity and startling brutality of it all. However the same can’t be said for the sound design and general score of the film. Adele’s opening track, again overrated, offers a nostalgic step-back to the strong female vocals of Shirley Bassy, yet the rest of score lacks anything remotely unique or interesting, with a surprising underuse of various Bond theme mixes. 

The story, one of revenge and betrayal, is nothing terribly new in the long-standing franchise. Though like the Rupert Murdoch notes of Elliot Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies, Bardem’s Silva almost dives into Julian Assange territory, the world of “cyber-terrorism” isn’t a new enterprise of evil terror in the espionage/ action genre, even Die Hard 4 did it. But what Skyfall unfortunately spends a significant chunk on is Judi Dench’s character. For me M has been the stern, no-nonsense approach that Bernard Lee portrayed all those years ago. An individual that realised the value of Bond but understood his requirements as head of MI6. He rarely left the confines of his leather doored office and dealt with both foreign and domestic diplomatic procedures. Yet Dench has increasing been moulded into the uncomfortable “mother” of Bond. She’s become one who is rather reckless in her approach, frequently entering the field to be shot at, assassinated or kidnapped. Here that strange relationship with Bond is structured into the main crux of the story, and ultimately drags an entire half of the film into a sentimental wash of forced nostalgia and shallowness.

Javier Bardem perfectly understands and adapts to his parts specific characteristics and motivations, its a stunning performance that simply outshines that of Craig. I’ve never really been a fan of Daniel Craig’s work, and while his portrayal of James Bond has been a departure from the likes of the camp Roger Moore, and the bitter Timothy Dalton, he comes across far too wooden and rather unlikeable. Grimacing and removed from any of the suave personality of his traditional counterparts, he fails to react and correlate with the rest of cast. Naomi Harris rather gets the butt of the script with a string of tireless jokes, but similarly fails to really blossom along with any of the cast, especially Craig. Meanwhile other “Bond Girl” Berenice Marlohe‘s short role is an impressive one that ends far too quickly, consequently making her character rather pointless. Ralph Fiennes does well and so too does Ben Whinshaw as Q, adding some energy and youth into a role that has long been missed.

So do I think this is the “Best Bond film of all time”? Absolutely not, and I don’t believe it’s the best Bond film of the last few decades. Do I think this is Daniel Craig’s best performance? No and I don’t think this film is going to bring any Oscars to the franchise, which was a rather ludicrous prediction by many  film journalists in the first place. Yet while it’s unbelievably overrated, it’s still remains an entertaining film that is visually stunning, competently written and smartly directed. 


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Skyfall

I give my thoughts on the new James Bond extravaganza Skyfall. But is it the bestest, greatest, award-winningest film ever. One word.....ermmmmmm.

Lights Camera Critic Update

Hi Guys

After moving house, twice, and getting my laptop fixed, I've failed to update the blog of recent. This may continue into December primarily due to applications to JET and my completion of the TEFL course. I will continue the audio reviews, along with other podcasts but written stuff might have to wait for a while. But don't worry, I'll be doing a "Top 12 of 2012" breakdown at the end of the year and some other bits and bobs.



Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Korean Thrillers: A Bittersweet Life

Directed by Kim Ji-woon (I Saw The Devil), A Bittersweet Life is “revenge” cinema at its more action-orientated and adrenaline-induced state. The plot follows Kim Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) who works for Kang (Kim Yeong-cheol), a notorious crime boss. Having remained loyal, Sun-woo fails to complete a job in the form of eliminating Kang’s cheating mistress. His subsequent punishment is death, and thus begins Kim’s destructive path of retaliation and violence. Taking a simplistic narrative of betrayal and redemption, Ji-woon firmly centres his story in the wealthy socialites and skyscrapers of Korean’s high society and gangster underworlds. Classy restaurants and fancy cars provide an interesting change from the dingy alleys and houses we’ve seen in The Chaser and Breathless, and gives a distinctive quality. Lee Byung-hun doesn’t quite show a diversity to his character, but is fully capable of fulfilling the fast and technical choreography. For that manner none of the cast are particularly memorable but prove suited to the sophisticated manner of the film. Visually, A Bittersweet Life has the stylings and richness of modern “film-noir” cinema. With it’s emphasis on dark tones and with a particular attention to intricate set designs and lighting, there’s no question that this is a good-looking film. Overall, while it may go beyond the boundaries of realism at points and doesn’t have anything spectacularly unique, A Bittersweet Life is another fine addition to the “Thriller” genre. 

Saturday, 6 October 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Untouchable

This week: Jack and Nick review the international box-office sensation, French comedy Untouchable. Expect agreements and angry rants.

Friday, 5 October 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: MORE LOOPER DEBATE!!

Nick explains his damning of the positively received sci-fi film Looper, while Jack explains why Nick's wrong....sort of. Arguments and hilarity ensue with prosthetics, demon children and crappy Michael Caine impressions....boy they're crappy.

Monday, 1 October 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Looper

After a landslide of very positive reviews from the press, does Rian Johnson's latest sci-fi film Looper really "revolutionise" anything?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Killing Them Softly Review

Under a rather misleading marketing campaign, Killing Them Softly arrives on UK screens after positive buzz at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Andrew Dominik’s previous two films; 2000’s Chopper and 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford, have shown his growing prowess as both a writer and director. Here, Dominik continues to take advantage of his formidable cast in sophisticated and slick thriller that offers plenty in the way of personality and vehemence.

The film follows hired gun Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) as he is called to “rectify” a heist on Markie Trattman’s (Ray Liotta) mob run poker joint by Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn). With nothing particularly unique about the story, Killing Them Softly focuses heavily on its performances and dialogue to convey the depth and temperament of the plot. In the same vein as the likes of Animal Kingdom or No Country for Old Men, the film thrives on its slow-pacing and sudden moments of intensity and ferocity. While many might become impatient with the dialogue-heavy approach, Dominik’s tight script is a rewarding one that subtly and meticulously develops each element of its story and characters. However Dominik’s rather forced attempts at adding “morality” comprising of his own interpretations of the “American Dream”being one rooted in the individual not cooperation, while makes sense, is far too regularly plastered on screen. Whether it be radio or TV recordings of McCain’s or Obama’s campaign, Dominik tries too hard to get this message across even when the script perfectly handles it.

Where Killing Them Softly particularly prevails is in its collection of top-notch performances. Brad Pitt’s recent form has seen him nominated amongst various critic circles and societies for his roles in Moneyball and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and here he delivers another sterling one that incorporates both the suave exterior of the character with the systematic yet humane logic. James Gandolfini’s washed up, paroled ex-mobster Mickey doesn’t strive far from his usual “colourful” roles. But there’s an unsettling and sinisterness to his portrayal of a broken man drinking the bar, and licking his lips while discussing his sexual fantasies. It’s a memorable performance that certainly makes an impression during his relatively inconsequential screen-time. Scoot McNairy (Monsters) offers a sympathetic angle to a young man struggling to find purpose, and proficiently portrays his collapse into anxiety and fear with Pitt on his tail. Meanwhile Ben Mendelsohn continues his phenomenal form (Animal Kingdom and The Dark Knight Rises)  capturing the unfazed tone and grotty nature of his character, whilst also adding a slither of dark humour. As for Ray Liotta, he does well in his rather minor role which sees him brutally beaten up. 
Visually, cinematographer Greig Fraser and Editor Brian Kates do a great job in creating a slick film with a dark and gritty atmosphere. Being set in New Orleans, the film remains restraint in its use of establishing shots, but still manages to incorporate a strong contrast between the drab and bitter streets, and the modern hotels and classy restaurants. Along with excellent lighting and skilful camerawork Killing Them Softly is a really nice and rich looking film. The use of slow-motion has become a cliche of cinematography, but here its used reservedly and to a beautiful effect. In one particular shootout, it’s implemented to a stunning degree with raindrops bouncing off car bonnets and the kinetic movement of the mechanisms of firearms. On the other hand, the two could be accused of slightly attempting too many stylistic choices with a drug-induced Mendelsohn drifting in an out of consciousness undertaken by a series of jarring transitions to black that quickly gets restless. In regards to the film’s sound design, Killing Them Softly is a relatively subdued with the moments of violence and brutality punctuating through the normality. 

Overall Killing Them Softly is a slow and intense exhibition of the crime thriller genre done well. While its no action-orientated or black comedy as trailers have seemingly highlighted, there’s a certain intensity and forceful personality that comes through the smart script and excellent performances. Definitely worth a watch. 


Sunday, 23 September 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Killing Them Softly

This week: Jack gives a short review on crime thriller Killing Them Softly starring Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Lawless Review

After an aggressive marketing campaign, Lawless hits screens with a rather mixed reception. An adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World, the film is essentially a “biographical” action/drama that saw itself nominated for 2012 Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or. With a star-studded cast consisting of Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy, and with director John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition) at the helm Lawless showed some initial promise. Yet in reality it’s a film that struggles to build and develop its story, characters and themes in an engaging and memorable methodology.

Set during the Prohibition period of the 1930s, the film follows the Bondurant Brothers; Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf), a notorious and brutal family of moonshine bootleggers. However the arrival of Special Agent Charlies Rakes (Guy Pearce) not only puts their illegal operations in trouble, but their lives. Lawless’ main problem is its writing. Nick Cave’s adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s novel lacks substance and depth towards both the film’s characters and the plot. With a story dominated and centred around the three leads, the script fails to establish anything profound about them, their brotherhood or their “war” against Rakes. For the majority of the film, Shia LaBeouf’s character arch takes precedence. Yet even his unoriginal  ascendence from whinny “rookie” to whinny, wannabe macho isn’t a sophistically told or realistically evolved narrative. The introduction of Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska merely serves to further add to some pretty faces to the sagging second act with forgettable romances that fail to develop from Hillcoat’s use of montages. On the whole, apart from the so-called “legend” surrounding Hardy’s character, there’s nothing captivating or engaging with any of the trio or the story, which is a completely no no for a “biographical” tale. 
The sheer talent on offer surprisingly culminates in no actor or actress truly standing out and impressing. Shia LaBeouf puts in his standard delivery in a performance that really requires someone with a lot more screen presence and diversity. Tom Hardy’s rather indistinguishable accent and bashful personality is the most interesting character, yet he suffers from the lacklustre nature of the script. Jason Clarke is forgettable in a role that requires little from him except his fists. Meanwhile Guy Pearce offers the polar opposite from his fellow leads in an over-the-top performance that tries too hard to fill the role of the antagonist in a film consisting of unsympathetic and unpleasant personalities. As for Gary Oldman, his top-billing culminates in approximately 7 minutes of screen time that feels rather pointless in hindsight. Along with the rising stars of Chastain and Wasikowska, its a real shame that the writing dilutes the impact of the entire cast.

Visually Lawless fails to do anything interesting with its period or Virginia setting. Hillcoat’s previous film The Road succeeded in portraying an post-apocalyptic world, desolate and deranged through impressive cinematography and set locations. Here, apart from the extreme violence, that really adds nothing artistically or thematically, Lawless lacks any visual flair, to the point that CGI is even used to enhance pyrotechnics. The environments are recycled in numerous scenes giving Lawless a noticeably small scale. Even the soundtrack can’t escape its generic nature with cliche folk songs, and rather mistimed and mismatched musical accompaniment in various scenes. 

Overall Lawless is a mildly entertaining film that is undoubtably hindered by its writing. It’s a shallow affair that fails to build on its brief moments of intensity and magic, and to take advantage of its very capable cast. Disappointing. 


Sunday, 16 September 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Lawless

This week: Jack and a disappointed Nick give their thoughts on big release Lawless.

Friday, 14 September 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Top 10 Favourite Films of All Time

This week:  Jack and Nick each discuss 5 of their favourite films in no particular order, and with a lot of erms and "I think"s (Apologies)

Nick: Batman Begins, Toy Story, Blade Runner, Brazil and Princess Mononoke

Jack: The Chaser, Jaws, Groundhog Day, Cure and Lost in Translation

Friday, 7 September 2012

Shadow Dancer Review

The BBC Films Production Company has been associated with some fantastic pieces of British cinema. The Damned United, Eastern Promises and Billy Elliot have been personal favourites from a fruitful list of films and documentaries. Director James Marsh has shown his strong hand at directing documentaries; the brilliant Man on Wire and last year’s Project Nim. But his direction on an episode of Channel 4‘s intense crime-drama series Red Riding, showed his growing capabilities within the crime-drama genre. Yet with the glowing 4 star reviews from the likes of The Guardian and Empire, Shadow Dancer is a very disappointing and overlong affair that never gets going. 

Set in Belfast during “The Troubles” of the 1990s and the Peace Agreement, Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) has grown up  regretting for her younger brother’s death, and is now an active member of the IRA. After being apprehended by Mac (Clive Owen), an MI5 operative, she becomes an informant for British Intelligence to keep protect her son. Shadow Dancer is a slow-burner, and not in a good way. Labelled as a “thriller”, James Marsh struggles to flesh out anything within a rather simplistic and predictable story. With a basic narrative, the film seems to forget the period and the socio-political events within Northern Ireland and the later stages of “The Troubles”, only vaguely and briefly addressing the Joint Declaration of Peace. The also film hints at various confrontations and hidden agendas within British Intelligence, yet never successfully deals with them. The ending further “craps” on whatever small semblance of intrigue by going against the entire methodology of the film, and assumes the audience has built an emotional connection with the characters for it to convey its intended “effect”. 
Leading the cast, Andrea Riseborough is either completely mis-casted or fails to recognise the emotional depth to her character. Constantly staring blankly, addressing her constant need to mind her child and crying, never makes Colette and interesting and engaging character throughout the course of the story. Clive Owen’s career has been a questionable one. For every Children of Men there’s a King Arthur or Killer Elite and to be brutally honest, his performances have never protruded  the usual monotone and miserable act he gives. The problem here is he never starts to develop into the role until the third act, and by then his character feels insignificant. The likes of Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson are underused, lacking in dialogue and substance. With such a talented cast, it’s unfortunate that nothing remarkable or striking emerges from them. It’s seems a waste and a missed opportunity. 

Visually, Shadow Dancer is your standard BBC Drama affair that tones down the colour palette with greys and muted tones. The use of natural lighting and interior details give some charm and personality, and its clear Marsh wanted a natural and subtle look to the film. Meanwhile the camerawork is nothing special, and becomes increasing frustrating due its tendency to stay glued to a particular shot for far too long. And with this being Riseborough teary-eyed face most of the time, it becomes extremely tedious. Even the soundtrack is dull and scarce, consisting of the same piano composition being played over and over again.

Overall Shadow Dancer’s high praise from film critics is rather puzzling. The film’s basic plot and characters beg for the IRA and 1990s Northern Ireland context to add substance and depth. It’s not beautifully shot, it’s not well-acted and it’s lacking the intensity and thriller elements to make it an “intense thriller”. Yet in the end, Shadow Dancer fits the criteria for an 4-part episodic drama on BBC One, and would have possibly benefited from exploring each side of the conflict; Politics, Family, MI5 and a finale. Disappointing. 


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Bourne Legacy Review

The Bourne Trilogy stands as a staple of modern action/thriller cinema, combining smart writing, strong performances and impressive set-pieces with a constant sense of intrigue and intensity. Matt Damon’s slick portrayal of an agent suffering from amnesia unravelling the lies and corruption within his CIA superiors, brought a sophistication within the genre that many have since tried to copy; Haywire and Quantum of Solace. Personally, I was apprehensive towards the thought of a sequel. While Tony Gilroy, screenwriter of the original three and the director of the fantastic Michael Clayton, was at the helm, the lack of Matt Damon and the fact that The Bourne Ultimatum had tied up most of its narrative threads made this venture seem pointless. So does The Bourne Legacy disappoint? 

The Bourne Legacy follows the termination of “Operation Outcome”, a Department of Defence Black Ops program, after the CIA starts to “minimise” the damages from the Bourne fiasco becoming public. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) survives as the last one of ‘Outcome’ agents, yet his quarrels don’t rest on a plot to uncover the enigmatic nature of the CIA or a path of vengeance. Instead Cross’ background uncovers his need for the medication involved in the program that improve his mental and physical capacity. His search for the super drugs brings him to Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who has also survived the eradication of her co-workers. The two set on a trail that sees them head to Manilla whilst being chased by Eric Byer (Edward Norton).

Legacy’s story maintains the smartly written and engrossing nature of the previous three. Gilroy takes a different approach to Aaron Cross’ storyline that has enough to set it apart from the Jason Bourne affair. Cross is a character that feels vulnerable and desperate as he has one primary goal in the film. Yet the major problem with Legacy is the implementation of the Bourne narrative thread within the Aaron Cross story. With footage from The Bourne Ultimatum, the appearances of characters such as Pamela Landy, and Jason Bourne’s name being slapped on news headlines and etched into beds, the film never integrates the repercussions of those elements within the film’s story. When it does start to form some semblance of cohesion it merely hints at the bigger picture, undoubtably waiting for the sequel. Consequently the ending falls flat, lacking the tempo, enigma and sense of conclusion that the Bourne series has standardised. 
Meanwhile with the high-bar set by Matt Damon’s excellent performance, Renner manages to hit similar heights with a strong performance that recognises the traits and makeup of his character. Rachel Weisz does well in her return to action cinema and offers a believable act that capably adapts to the changing pace of the film. Yet when together, the two never form an engaging relationship. The suddenness of their initial introductions and the shallowness of their shared interactions makes the third act romance seem too implausible and forced. Edward Norton is disappointingly underused mainly due to the lack of substance to his character. The hidden agendas and personal risks that made Joan Allen’s and Brian Cox’s characters perfect are none existent in the one-note Eric Byer. 

However The Bourne Legacy’s action set-pieces continue to provide the intense nature that the Bourne franchise has previously offered. From the parkour, car chases and shoot-outs, The Bourne Legacy flourishes with its hyperkinetic and hard-hitting moments. In particular, the confrontation in Dr. Shearing’s house is a perfect example of the close-quarters approach and fast-paced nature that the series is remembered for. Yet gone is the dynamic and unique cinematography and editing that Oliver Wood and Christopher Rouse masterfully implemented in the original trilogy; the smooth transitions, the multi-panel framing that added a certain style and made the confrontations and panic within the CIA relevant and directly involved in Bourne’s current actions. Legacy looks and sounds great, but Robert Elswit takes the simplistic approach to the genre’s cinematic criteria. The use of handheld cameras is limited, substituted for a more fluid and steady setup that slightly alters the temperament of the film. This isn't a flaw, but rather dampens the visual charm and "uniqueness" that we're quintessential in the previous three. 

Overall The Bourne Legacy is an entertaining piece of action-thriller cinema that manages to continue the franchise’s fast-paced and clever espionage narrative. Yet it’s ties with Jason Bourne’s actions feel frail and superficial, even pointless. Like my thoughts on Prometheus, I wonder if the film would have thrived without the Bourne name and the stipulations attached to it. 


Sunday, 2 September 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Shadow Dancer

This week: Jack and Nick review the latest BBC film Shadow Dancer directed by James Marsh. How does the "four-star thriller" really fair? (Apologies for our crap knowledge about Northern Ireland's modern history)

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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Nick’s Thoughts On Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight Rises marks the end of what might be the finest superhero trilogy of all time, but is it the best of the three? In this fan’s opinion the answer is “No”. With any trilogy the first question that usually arises is; “Which film is the best ?”. Many would say the Dark Knight, mainly due to Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance and the fact that it was an impressive culmination of writing and direction. Initially I too believed that the Dark Knight was the “Ultimate Superhero Movie of All Time”. However after numerous watches there are a few obvious issues that ruin an otherwise highly enjoyable and an impressive technical feat. Hence I give you my reasons for why Batman Begins remains my personal favourite. 
Begins is the under-appreciated of the three, not only critically but in terms of its financial gross. Many have dismissed it’s slow pacing and the lack of bold action set pieces when compared to The Dark Knight. Yet it’s the perfect origin story. Nolan balances his take on Batman’s dawn whilst developing the important character of Bruce Wayne. Simultaneously the film manages to emphasise Ra’s Al Ghul’s and the League of Shadows’ unfolding plot to destroy Gotham without losing focus on its primary goal as an “Origin Story”. Blending entertaining action scenes, such as the Bat mobile chase, with Wayne’s personal life, the internal friction within Wayne Enterprises, and his personal relationships with the different characters culminate in a film rich with dynamism, narrative sophistication and ambition. An ambition that’s seen in Nolan’s choice of an antagonist. 
Many were surprised by the choice of Ra’s Al Ghul as the main villain. Back then, I admit to being slightly perplexed at Nolan’s decision to tackle a previously unexplored and more “mystical” realm of the Batman Universe. Yet in hindsight it was a smart move that allowed him to bind Wayne’s adoption of the cape and cowl, with the emergence and motivation of the film’s villain without constantly interchanging between the two plot threads. This would have been difficult when using someone like the Joker who would require more focus to be shifted towards his conflict with Batman rather than the origin story arc. This a similar reason for the choice of The Scarecrow, however his character is used to bridge the Falcones’ stranglehold on Gotham to the bigger picture of the League of Shadows. Though I must confess I was slightly disappointed by his demise via a taser.        
The common phrase thrown around Nolan’s Batman is “gritty” or “dark”, The Dark Knight stirred up a lot of controversy for pushing the BBFC and CARA rating systems to their limits. Mysterious and brutality are traits of Batman and Gotham’ characters, yet a Begins added a “human” integrity to him and his fellow personalities. Whether it ‘s the quick liners from Alfred or Lucius Fox, they provided light relief from the dark, corrupt setting of Gotham and the visual hallucinations created by the Scarecrow, serving to remind us that Batman is still human. This humour is less apparent in the Dark Knight which tries to produce laughs through the Jokers’ anecdotes and actions. Many would say that humour isn’t really important in Batman films due to the dark and serious nature of the villains and setting. But we have seen recently that films that have “matured” using undertones of seriousness regularly miss the mark of the source material and original influences; i.e Quantum of Solace. 
 Another aspect that Begins gets right is the Gotham City setting which is much more true to the comics with undertones of the gothic styling that Tim Burton used in the 1989 Batman film as exemplified by the dark, gritty backstreets and slums of the “Narrows”. The film’s colour palette of oranges and browns separate it from sinking into the dark blues and blacks normally associate with modern action cinema, and in turn give the locations and surroundings an essence of character that’s missed in Knight and Rises. The Gotham City in both the Dark Knight and Rises, even though grounded, revolves too much around the cities of New York and Chicago losing the sense that Gotham City is actually a fictional place rather than based on a specific location.              
I’m not saying that The Dark Knight is awful, on the contrary as I said previously Heath Ledgers’ performance is the most outstanding within the trilogy. But that’s precisely what’s wrong with Knight, it’s a Joker film at heart. Begins’ careful and intricate development of Bruce Wayne and Batman is forgotten and replaced by the sheer presence of Ledger. While the death of Rachel Dawes and the promotion of Jim Gordon to Commissioner offer substantial changes in both narrative development and emotional threads, the film ignores the key principles of Bruce Wayne and Batman. The whole idea about Batman is that he has no super powers, bar the millions of dollars and high tech gadgets he possesses, and therefore the character Bruce Wayne undergoes many of the internal struggles and psychological fragilities as a regular human being. Batman only represents the brute that exacts fear into others, leaving all the burden to fall on Wayne tragic shoulders. It forgets this element to the point that we hardly see Bruce in Knight. Instead The Dark Knight compiles of numerous action scenes with Batman most notably the motorcycle chase and the final standoff with the Joker, which are all entertaining and good to watch but doesn’t really give us the sense that we can really relate to the character of Bruce Wayne when all we are witnessing is Batman beating the pulp out of enemies.               
Another glaring problem with The Dark Knight is its third act, especially the way the character of Harvey Dent / Two Face is handled. In previous films the character has never been truly adapted from the comics to the screen. From a brief “blink you’ll miss it” appearance in Tim Burton’s Batman, played by Billy Dee Williams, to a camp and almost laughable performance by Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever, Dent stands as a paramount villain within the comic book universe, yet no-one is willing to explore his tragic backstory . The problem with Nolan’s Harvey Dent is the shallowness and rushed nature of his character progression. From the build-up of Harvey Dent as the “White Knight” of Gotham and then the transformation to Two Face, Knight’s story structure leaves little room for Two Face to make an actual impression, and give a suitable conclusion to the Joker’s “scheme”. Nolan follows his predecessors by not fully delving into the tragedy that is Two Face and how his transformation puts a strain on the relationship between Jim Gordon and Batman, as well as impairing and almost causing Batman to doubt whether he can truly  save Gotham. Granted this would have taken another film to progress this specific story arc, however it just seems odd to leave out such a vital character in the DC comics and not even attempt to make a film based on him. Maybe the possible difficulty in grounding a person with half a face in reality may be one of the main reasons that Nolan didn’t continue the Harvey Dent / Two Face story arc, though it would have been nice to see a Batman film based on one of my favourite Batman graphic novels, “The Long Halloween”.      
In hindsight, the Dark Knight seems out of place within the trilogy, with the Harvey Dent Act being the only narrative continuation between it and Rises. Many would put this down to the untimely death of Heath Ledger and the belief that the final film would have continued the rivalry between the Joker and Batman. Instead Nolan comes back full-circle and firmly brings the series back to the forefront of Bruce Wayne’s fundamental motives and sensibilities. If I had to score each individual film it would probably go along the lines of a 7 for Dark Knight, 8 for Dark Knight Rises and a 9 for Batman Begins. But at the end of the day a lot of praise should go to Christopher Nolan for creating a trilogy of Batman films that many people would say greatly represents the famous comic books and deserves to have a place on our shelves. 
Nicholas Singleton

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: The Bourne Legacy (Spoiler Alert)

This week: Jack and Nick take a look at the latest addition to the terrific Bourne Trilogy. Heated debates, "inklings" galore, and discussions about the franchise to be had.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Episode 24: Random Mini Review and Soundtrack in Films

This week: Jack and Nick review a bunch of films: Spirited Away, Lost in Translation, Batman Begins, The Man From Nowhere, Violent Cop and True Romance. Then they discuss the impact of soundtrack in film, loosely.

Cure Review

The Man From Nowhere Review 

Hana-bi Review

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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Korean "Thrillers": Breathless

Breathless (Ik-Joon Yang, 2008)
Moving away from the “revenge” narrative of the previous examples, Breathless retains the dark and violent atmosphere, but instead focuses on a complicated drama between an aggressive debt collector and a lonely high schoolgirl. While not a “thriller” per say, Breathless balances a simplistic story with heavy themes and notions. Social commentaries on child abuse, drug abuse and poverty, again show Korean cinema’s  determination to show the gritty nature of its society. Yet there’s something quite charming about the various relationships that initial start hollow and slightly abrupt, which then mature in a manner that develops though the course of the film. While I would argue it’s slightly too long at 130 minutes, Ik-Joon Yang takes the time to thoroughly build each character and the chemistry between them. The result is an engaging and rather traumatic series of contrasting intensities and experiences. Though the cinematography isn’t especially interesting, the performances are why Breathless manages to have such a resonating quality and withhold its sheer emotional impact. Yang Ik-June’s stern exterior slowly reveals a character that suffers, not simply from a dysfunctional rage, but from a sorrowed fragility. Meanwhile Kim Kkobbi’s troubled family life and subsequent rebellious attitude are personified through her mature and assertive performance. Overall Breathless is a gritty, yet somehow charming piece of drama cinema that has an brutal temperament, yet 

Monday, 6 August 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Episode 23: Best of 2012 So Far, Skyfall Trailer and Olympic Games Opening Ceremony Thoughts

This week: Jack and Nick discuss their favourites of 2012 so far. Then give their thoughts on the new 007 Skyfall Trailer, as well as a heated assessment of Danny Boyle's Olympic Ceremony. (Sorry about the volume issues)

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Friday, 27 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Review

The Dark Knight Rises 
Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have easily become the most critically applauded and financially successful of the superhero’s long catalogue of film adaptations. Grounding the characters and universe in a semi-realistic manner has brought a “rebooted” look and grasp to the capped crusader. From the camp, safety PSA-type of the Adam West television series to the gothic surealism of Tim Burton’s efforts, Batman arguable has finally found his cinematic footing in the streets of a modern Chicago under the direction of Nolan. With the sheer hype and expectation towards his last Batman film, the question was always going to be whether it would mirror or surpass the “flawless” status The Dark Knight has received. 
Set 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight, Gotham still mourns the death of its hero Harvey Dent yet prospers under his valiant legacy. In comparison Bruce Wayne has become a reclusive cripple and has hung up the cowl and cap.  Meanwhile dangerous mercenary Bane has escaped custody and threatens to eradicate the filth and corruption of Gotham through an elaborate yet destructive plan. Rises continues to showcase the prowess and complexity to the Nolan brother’s writing and direction. Pushing the scale, the Joker’s previously hinted chaos in Knight is thoroughly realised through Bane’s brutal plans. Continuing the morbid and deeply unnerving atmosphere of fear and anxiety, the film manages to convey the tumbling descent of both Gotham’s heroes and citizens. It’s an engaging and well-structured story that manages to balance various narratives courses and the introduction of a multitude of new characters. However the writing is by no means perfect with some of the dialogue falling flat, and the conveyance of time never persists from the visual changes in the seasons. The third act falters under its need to answer every question and reveal additional twists and turns without the substance and length to do so, as it did in The Dark Knight. Nevertheless, it’s a smartly written and carefully balanced story, for the most part, that constantly builds the tension and thrills culminating with an ending that’s pretty much perfect. 
The grandeur of The Dark Knight Rises is further emphasised by the superb and impressive cast Nolan has coordinated. After the introduction of Two-Face during the rather rushed and overly frantic third act of The Dark Knight and the sheer number of recognisable actors in Rises, there was certain skepticism over the overall integrity and balance of the film. Christian Bale returns to the forefront after Heath Ledger stole the show in Knight. His troubled emotional and psychological state of mind becomes paramount to both the story and his character’s own progression. Some may argue that we’ve seen this before, but Bruce Wayne’s own internal struggles and flaws present a much more interesting and integral affair than the simple actions of Batman. In comparison, as the film’s lead villain Tom Hardy’s intense performance as Bane provides a truly threatening and compelling character that has the substance and context to build from. His voice-work and the subsequent voice modulation, arguably more comprehensible than Bale’s, offers a varied personality that’s almost charming even with his intimidating appearance and crippling conviction. Anne Hathaway’s inclusion in the film as Selina Kyle, A.K.A Catwoman, had been a source of tension and while my personal attachment to the character still rather looks down on her portrayal, she does well creating a sense of chemistry with Bale. Meanwhile Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s considerable screen-time shows his capabilities and growing ability onscreen. While his character Officer Blake may seem too perfect in front of Gotham’s decaying backdrop, Levitt has an interesting depth that holds its ground amongst a strong cast that each manages to leave an impression. 
The cinematography continues the greys and dark tones we’ve come to expect from a Batman film. Changes in locations and scenery add a few more colours to the monotone palette, while Batman’s traditional fondness for the darkness is swept away by the questionable over-use of daylight. Cinematographer Walter Pfister continues the slick and gritty visual style of the previous films with some gorgeous shots of the desolate streets of a snowy Gotham or the verticality of the Pit. Yet Rises’ 12A or PG-13 rating have obviously lead to the cutting down of violence, which quite evidently hurts the film’s editing and subsequent flow. Cut-aways seem out-of-place and the sound design rather whimpers at idea of making Bane’s “handiwork” seem a bit more brutal and ferocious. Labelled an “action film” by many, Nolan reaches Michael Bay proportions with missiles and explosions destroying cars and buildings. It’s an abrupt shift from the styles, subtly and vision of the original comic material. However Rises’s set-pieces are intense and impactful. Batman’s sewer fight with Bane in particular is a stunning exchange of fists and dynamic camerawork. Meanwhile Hans Zimmer offer’s a very familiar and tense soundtrack that continues to uses the deep notes and constant drum beat of his recent work. 
In the end The Dark Knight Rises is a highly enjoyable and solid conclusion to a truly remarkable trilogy. Is it the best of the three? No, but while I still believe Batman Begins captured the quintessence of the characters, setting and feel, Rises maintains the high standard we’ve come to expect from Nolan’s films. The story and dialogue have a few minor hitches, and holes can be poked at the third act’s revelations, but the performances are fantastic and the general direction culminates in a stunningly engaging and satisfying ending. 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

RespawningCouch: Audio Review: The Dark Knight Rises (Spoiler Alert)

Jack and Nick try and review the third and final instalment of Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy. (Spoiler Alert)

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