Friday 19 June 2015

The Film Column #5: Death Proof, Fargo, Frank, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & Tomorrowland

In the fifth entry of my Film Column, I look at the following movies – Fargo, Frank, Tomorrowland, Death Proof and Kill Bill Vol. 1

Well, it’s been a while since the last update and I’ve actually watched a considerable amount of movies since then, but this is only some of the highlights, the notable recent movies and that I’ve tried to keep as a diverse selection as possible, despite two of these movies coming from the same director, my personal favourite, Quentin Tarantino. As usual, all reviews were written when I first watched the film so disregard any comments that refer to the dates if there are any at all. (for example, “I just finished watching this”. No I didn’t, or at least, not today. Earlier).

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Film Column #5: Death Proof, Fargo, Frank, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & Tomorrowland


Director: Quentin Tarantino | Genre(s): Horror, Thriller, Action | Cast:  Kurt Russell, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rosario Dawson, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier | Length: 113mins

I'm a massive fan of Quentin Tarantino's movies and a while back I set myself a challenge that I'd watch all of his films before the release of the upcoming The Hateful Eight, which is probably my most anticipated film this year apart from the new Star Wars. Maybe even tied with The Force Awakens. However, Death Proofis arguably one of his weakest films and I'm going to have to agree with that statement, or at least one of his weakest films that I've seen so far as I'm yet to watch both of his Kill Bill movies. However, just because Death Proof may be Tarantino's weakest movie, does that make it a bad movie? Hell no. I really enjoyed it.

As usual, each of Tarantino's movies are different and unique and Death Proof is both. Whilst recognisably a Tarantino movie with the incredible dialogue and killer soundtrack, Death Proof is a whole different beast to the likes of Django UnchainedReservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction going for the horror approach. Boasting a cast that includes Kurt Russell, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, and Rosario Dawson (Hey look, this is the 2nd film that I watched in a row with someone from Netflix's Daredevil in it [The first film was Stardust, with Charlie Cox], this film is confident, underrated and I enjoyed it a lot more than the mixed reception suggests. It's part car movie, part slasher horror (there's a reason why I recorded this from the Horror Channel).

However, not everything about Death Proof is a success. Whilst Stuntman Mike is an incredibly strong villain and antagonist helped from the performance of Kurt Russell, the various main characters are so forgettable and so interchangeable I can't remember their names and I wrote this review on the same day that I watched the film. That's generally not a good sign and a rarity in Tarantino's movies, and some of the dialogue stretches out longer than it should and as a result the movie could have been trimmed down.

It won't please everyone, but for those who give it a try, Death Proof is still a strong movie and worth watching for any fans of Quentin Tarantino. However, for those still yet to watch any Tarantino, I'm going to point you in the direction of one of his more well known films like my favourite, Pulp Fiction, or his debut, Reservoir Dogs. Or even the awesome western Django Unchained, which is where I started from. Watch those first. Then this once you're familiar with his style.


FARGO (1996)

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen | Genre(s): Thriller, Drama, Crime, Black Comedy | Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare | Length: 98mins

A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere. Actually, speaking from someone who lives in the middle of nowhere (in relative terms - and it does mean my internet connection is awful), no it can't, but if that place is Fargo, Minnesota, then the answer is yes, a lot of things can happen in the middle of nowhere, as the Coen Brothers deliver an excellent film that matches the extremely high level of expectations that I had going in given the likes of their previous films, namely the likes of Inside Llewellyn Davis and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which are among my favourites of all time.

Fargo is something that almost certainly ends up in my Top 50, offering a different experience from the FX show which I watched first even if it follows a similar approach. A car dealer Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hatches a plan with a couple of criminals, Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) to kindap his wife for the ransom money. However, after one of the most unsuccessful kidnapping attempts in cinema history, a pregnant Police Chief (Frances McDormand) investigates a series of homicides and the result leaders her back to Jerry. It's an interesting plot that allows for a fantastic experience, and of course, it's completely different to any of the Coen Brothers' other movies.
The atmospheric setting of Fargo really helps the film unfold, told against a winter backdrop. The characters are fantastic and the dialogue is excellent, with some great interactions and some nice black humour. The actors put in an excellent job and with the Coens at the helm, this film rarely puts anything wrong, working really well against a small town backdrop.
Loved it. Certainly something to file under the list of films that I should have watched sooner.

VERDICT: 10/10
FRANK (2014)

Director: Lenny Abrahamson | Genre(s): Drama, Music | Cast: Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Domnhall Gleeson, Scoot McNairy, Hayley Derryberry | Length: 96mins

I didn't really know what I was in for going into Frank, having heard little about it beyond reading of a few reviews and the talented cast involved, but regardless, I was in for a surprise if I was expecting anything in the way of a 'normal' movie - few films will have the audacity to cast someone as good as Michael Fassbender in a lead role and then hide his face for most of the movie, but there's never anything 'normal' here about Lenny Abrahamson's drama, that's offbeat and incredibly unusual. There's nothing quite like this movie that you'll see in 2014, and although it may not quite be for everyone as a result, Frank is something that still should be worth a shot, helped by the strong directing and excellent cast.

Frank tells the story about a young wannabe musician (Domhnall Gleeson), who stumbles in over his head when he joins a pop band lead by the enigmatic and eccentric titular character (Fassbender), and thanks to the excellent performances from the characters involved, it works. Fassbender is fantastic as per normal and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy also impress, and as a result, this film just works. It's probably the most weird film that I've seen from last year's releases (and probably beyond that as well), offering a unique, understated tone that keeps the movie engaging and entertaining, and at 96mins long, never overstays its welcome. Recommended for those looking for something different than your usual fare.

And now I Love You All is stuck in my head.


KILL BILL VOL. 1 (2003)

Director: Quentin Tarantino | Genre(s): Martial Arts, Action, Crime | Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madson | Length: 111mins

Now this is more like it, Tarantino. After being slightly underwhelmed by Death Proof (However, that said, it was still a good film, just not quite as good as the normal Tarantino stuff), I leapt at the chance to watch Kill Bill Vol. 1 and it didn't dissapoint. Whilst it's by no means a complete movie and I'm yet to watch the sequel, this has instantly become one of my favourite Tarantino movies, and probably one of my favourite revenge movies. It's just so damn good.

Like I mentioned in my review of Death Proof, the usual Tarantino stuff can be found in this movie (awesome dialogue, check, awesome soundtrack (one of Tarantino's best), check, OTT violence, blood and gore, check, check, check, check), but also like last time round, the film itself is incredibly unique. The blend of animation and live action is something that I haven't seen before to the extent that it's used here and it works very well indeed, especially used as a showcase for one of the assassins backstories. It helped that the assassin in question was played by the awesome Lucy Liu (who is great in CBS' Elementary).

It's not just Lucy Liu who is excellent in this one. Uma Thurman steals the show as the Nameless Bride, who's one of Tarantino's strongest, most memorable characters, and really impresses as a strong lead character, especially for someone whose real name isn't even given. The story is simple - the Bride survived an assassination attempt and four years later emerged from a coma to hunt them down, and it contains some of the most epic action sequences in the history of film. The scene where The Bride takes on O-Ren and her entire team is something that I already know is one of my favourite action sequences that I've seen, and it serves as a showcase to just how good Tarantino can be.

I haven't seen Vol. 2 yet [Yes, I have since first writing this review]  and presumably we'll see The Bride take on Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), Budd (Micahel Madson) and Bill (David Carradine) there. But if it's anything like part one then I should be in for something special. If it's even half as good as Vol. 1 it'll still be one of my favourite movies. This film is just that awesome, opting a style over substance approach that makes it essential viewing.

VERDICT: 10/10


Director: Brad Bird | Genre(s): Family, Science Fiction, Adventure, Action, Mystery | Cast: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Thomas Robinson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy | Length: 130mins

Unfortunately, Tomorrowland is one of those films that isn’t quite as good as it could have been, which is a real shame especially given Brad Bird's fantastic track record with the likes of The IncrediblesRatatouille and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. (I'm still yet to see The Iron Giant). It's nice to see a film rejecting so many dystopian tropes and I'd probably actually prefer rewatching this movie to say, Divergent or The Hunger Games again, because it's actually optimistic, and whilst I've rated it 7.9/10 is actually far from a bad film. It's decent, watchable and will have you entertained for the 130 minute running time. However, beyond that? It's not really a success.

The film itself puts an optimistic, rebellious teen, Casey Newton, played by Britt Robertson (those of you who have seen CBS' Under the Dome & The CW's short lived The Secret Circle will recognise her from there) on a collision course with a former boy genius, Frank - played by George Clooney (who basically plays himself, again), on a dangerous mission to unearth the secret of a engimatic world known only as Tomorrowland. There's some good female lead characters here, with the scene stealing Athena (played by Raffey Cassidy) making an excellent addition to the movie, and Robertson and Clooney put in decent performances and the CGI is pretty impressive. However, the problems themselves start to appear after that.

As the first film released in 2015 that I watched after Mad Max: Fury Road, it never really stood any chance of living up to any expectations that it had. I was expecting another experience as good as the former, but never really got anything close to that, which is kind of a shame, because even though it was decent, watchable and I had fun with it, Tomorrowland never really blew me away. The third act is where most of the film's problems lie, with the reveal of the villain being fairly underwhelming and the pacing not really working as well as it should.

However, by no means should you not watch this movie. Chances are, you'll probably enjoy it even if it's not perfect, and it's nice to see a cool, retro feel to the movie that works. The atmosphere is good and the action sequences are mostly fun as well, and it never feels too long which is good. Despite its problems it actually remains watchable and enjoyable, and as a result comes cautiously recommended.

VERDICT: 7.9/10

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