Wednesday, 27 March 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: I Wish

Hirokazu Koreeda's latest film, originally released in 2011, gets its international releases this month. But does it maintain the directors fantastic form?

Sunday, 24 March 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Welcome to the Punch

This week we review the British crime/action/thriller Welcome to the Punch. Does it reinvent our dated concept of the genre? And an irrelevant slight rant about Iron Man 3 and Pacific Rim.

Intro Theme: BusinessFunk II - Datashat

Welcome to the Punch Review

“Action Cinema” isn’t a genre that the UK Film Industry has really deemed necessary to showcase. For that matter, neither is the high-octane police drama. In a country that’s TV police consist of handing out speeding tickets, dealing with binge drinkers and enforcing ASBOs, it’s a world away from the criminal organisations and armed heists that persists on the television sets of our neighbours oversees. While Britain hangs onto its heyday of 1970s/80s police dramas such as The Sweeney and The Professionals, Eran Creevy’s second feature film Welcome to the Punch tries to implement some well-needed, modern sophistication back to our rather dated and tedious concept of the genre. 

After failing to apprehend notorious criminal, Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) gets his last chance to make amends when Sternwood’s son is shoot in a meeting that goes wrong. Yet both find themselves engulfed in a conspiracy that involves arms suppliers, corruption within police and the political elections. 

What’s immediately evident with Welcome to the Punch is the film’s look. Creevy and the Director of Photography Ed Wild clearly had a specific vision on framing the ensuing action and tense drama. Taking inspiration from the styles of cinematographers such as Dion Beebe (Collateral), Dante Spinottie (Heat) and Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight), the film’s dark blue tints and dynamic camerawork complement the effective set and lighting designs, creating a film with an intense visual personality. The sound design is also excellent, adding immersion to Chris Gill’s fine editing, especially during the visceral shootouts and chases. 

However the most damning problem with Welcome to the Punch is the underwhelming lack of depth, both in its characters and in its story. With a plot utilising narrative elements and prompts from a multiplicity of action/ crime cinema hallmarks, Creevy shies away from injecting any real personality or uniqueness, other than that persistently shown through its visuals. With themes of revenge and redemption, it fails to create any emotional depth both between the two leads and in their individual capacities. The disgraced detective and resolute criminal aren’t exactly unique archetypes to the genre and here it’s all too familiar. Neither character is particularly fleshed out and subsequently both fail to create any relationship with the audience. The same goes for much of the supporting cast that in hindsight, are belittled into near redundancy. Meanwhile the plot is relatively competent but doesn’t take enough risks to build anything distinctive. 

It’s a real shame, as the film’s cast is a mixture of established talent from the likes of Peter Mullen and Mark Strong, and up-and-coming faces from the UK such as Andrea Riseborough. Yet the script never really harnesses the wealth of potential available. Mark Strong puts in a surprisingly pedestrian performance that’s ultimately let down by the underwhelming writing. James McAvoy’s whininess and general smug nature that persists through many of his roles is thankfully limited here. But again it a role that's undermined by shallow development. The same goes from BAFTA “Rising Star” nominee Andrea Riseborough whose roles in Shadow Dancer and Made in Dagenham haven’t really impressed, but here she’s painfully transparent to the film’s progression. David Morrissey is the only standout, but even then it's nothing to run home about. 

Welcome to the Punch is a film that teeters on the brink of becoming more “style over substance”. There’s no doubt that the film is a visual and audible powerhouse, yet when the ensuing drama and characters are largely forgettable, then its hard to call it a tight package. For an action film, it’s set-pieces are visceral and entertaining. But as an action/crime film, then it disappointingly fails to create a successful balance. It's not below-par, it's just painfully ordinary. But a good-looking ordinary. 


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Bullhead

Originally released back in 2011 and nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2012, how does this rough and tough character study turn out? Does it deserve it nomination? Jack and Nick discuss. Word of warning, our pronunciation is rather......erm.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Still Walking (2008) - Mini Review

As I explained in my review of Nobody Knows, Hirokazu Koreeda is a master of the art of simplicity and the use of silence in the Drama genre. Still Walking perfectly exemplifies this and harkens back to the late 1940s and 50s moods and subtleties of Japanese cinema, especially that of Yasujiro Ozu. The film basically follows the gathering of a Yokohama family as they commemorate the death of Junpei, their eldest son, who lost his life while rescuing another’s. Still Walking doesn’t necessarily have a “plot”, instead it relies on the conveyance of a family’s relationships, philosophies and inner dramas. It may sound like an unremarkable and rather tedious affair, but with a cast of characters that slowly unravel, and the general charm and sincerity of it all, it makes it’s hard not to be entranced by this beautifully shot and composed piece of cinema. Strong, natural performances with hints of improvisation really help the family feel believable and adeptly displays the diversity of personalities within a Japanese “modern family”. And this is the major crux of Still Walking and many of Koreeda’s films, the portrayal of human nature and its complexities. Similarly, there’s a certain mediating quality to his films that’s evident through the charming cinematography, relaxed pacing and general simplicity employed. While Nobody Knows is arguably the better film, Still Walking is another highly recommended piece of modern Japanese drama. 


Monday, 4 March 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Silver Linings Playbook

I finally review the critically acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook. But does it match the buzz, and is Jennifer Lawrence's performance better than Jessica Chastain's phenomenal one in Zero Dark Thirty?

Tampopo (1985) - Mini Review

Tampopo is a truly unique film and a difficult one to put into writing. In the “simplest” of terms, it’s an endearing and genuinely charming comedy that blends distinct characters with Japan’s rather “quirky” obsession/love with food. Labeled a “Ramen Western”, the film follows a pair of truck drivers, Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe), as they attempt to turn widowed noodle shop owner Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) into a master of the “Art of Ramen”. Yet the structure of Tampopo is a surprisingly diverse one that follows a branching set of sketches and stories that all intersect the main plot. Whether it’s the heartwarming tale of a dying mother cooking the family’s last meal, or Koji Yakusho playing a white-suited yakuza who breaks the fourth-wall, or a bunch of eccentric homeless people with exquisite palates, the film continuously offers a multiplicity of charm and personality. Coincidently director Juzo Itami’s satirical approach manages to present each of these mini-narratives in amusing ways and styles; from cliche romances, to the cooking show vibe of overhead angles and over-exaggerated character reactions. In my books, Tampopo is a modern Japanese classic that has the right balance of character and quirkiness to offer a film that’s extremely funny and has plenty of heart and spirit. 

Highly Recommended.


Friday, 1 March 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Better late than never, I review  Zero Dark Thirty and attempt to comment on the controversy the press has thrown up...... sort of.