Film Review: The Fifth Estate (2013)

Also known as: The Man Who Sold the World (working title), The 5ifth Estate (alternative DVD spelling)
Release Date: September 5th, 2013 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Bill Condon
Written by: Josh Singer
Based on: Inside WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg; WikiLeaks by David Leigh, Luke Harding
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Moritz Bleibtreu, Peter Capaldi, Dan Stevens, Alexander Siddig

Participant, Reliance Entertainment, Dreamworks Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. But if you give him a mask, he will tell you the truth. Two people, and a secret: the beginning of all conspiracies. More people, and, more secrets. But if we could find one moral man, one whistle-blower. Someone willing to expose those secrets, that man can topple the most powerful and most repressive of regimes.” – Julian Assange

Wow! This movie was an utter disappointment and honestly, a fucking disaster!

I should be clear from the get go that the performances were good and the shitty end result of this picture didn’t really fall on the shoulders of the actors. Hell, this film actually has a tremendous cast and that’s why I finally decided to give it a watch despite all the bad things I’ve heard about it since it came out.

I haven’t read the books that were used to write this film’s script but I know enough of the WikiLeaks story to know that this was a lot of bullshit. Also, I’m not sure how you can take such an exciting story and turn it into something this fucking dull! I mean, it’s got to take a real cement brained dullard to make the WikiLeaks and Assange story this damn boring!

Yes, I expected it not to be up to snuff but I at least expected the cast to kind of make up for the film’s technical and narrative shortcomings. Again, the cast is good but everything else is so bad that it barely even matters that they’re there.

In fact, I have to give this film a low score and the final tally is still going to be well below average, even though I gave it two bonus points for the actors.

This was a long, sloppy, boring film. It didn’t look that great and visually came across as really pedestrian. There weren’t any shots that stand out in my mind, as everything seemed to be shot like a television show that was on a tight schedule.

I don’t know how you can make a completely uninspiring movie out of a very inspiring person. But kudos, I guess.

This is shit.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other films and documentaries about cypherpunk culture and whistleblowers.

Film Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Release Date: August 2nd, 2015 (Barcelona premiere)
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman, David C. Wilson
Based on: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Music by: Daniel Pemberton
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant

Ritchie/Wigram Productions, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Davis Entertainment, Warner Bros., 116 Minutes

Review:

“There are only two masters in this world: fear and pain.” – Uncle Rudi

*Written in 2015.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was the latest attempt at Hollywood trying to remake an old popular television show into a movie. In a sea of remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels and spinoffs, this film is just as forgettable and unimportant as most of the others. Now, it’s not a bad film, it just isn’t anything memorable or fresh.

The best thing about this movie, is that it is one of those rare films where style actually is substance. Everything about the film’s style makes this movie better than it would have been without it. Guy Ritchie, the director, talked about how in some ways it wasn’t just a tribute to the 1960s television show it was based on but that he also drew inspiration from the original James Bond films starring Sean Connery. I wouldn’t say that he succeeded in capturing that old school Bond magic but the homage was still satisfying.

However, the Bond style that Ritchie tried to recreate here made this film feel more like a wannabe ’60s Bond movie and less like the original version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I feel like this was just a vehicle for Ritchie to make a Bond picture without having the rights to do so.

This movie benefitted from having a pretty good cast. Finally, Henry Cavill showed some personality as the American spy Napoleon Solo – a stark contrast to his almost lifeless performance as Superman in The Man of Steel. Armie Hammer was the scene stealer as the Soviet KGB agent, Illya Kuryakin. Where the character of Napoleon was supposed to be the suave charismatic one, it was Illya that actually was. Alicia Vikander was perfect as Gaby while Elizabeth Debicki was a bit robotic as the villainous Victoria. The Gaby character was definitely the more engaging of the two female leads. Hugh Grant and Jared Harris also show up. Grant is a British spy and becomes the commander of the group while Harris plays the American spy boss with a fantastic accent.

The action is pretty good throughout the film, although some of the more stylistic editing techniques make certain sequences seem rushed. There could be more action but the film never feels too slow. The final showdown between the hero and the villain is more comical than anything and feels like a wasted opportunity in an action film. The comedic death of the villain is ineffective and a letdown.

This is a fun movie though. While sitting through it, it is pretty enjoyable. There just isn’t much to take away from it that would leave you wanting more in the future. Like all attempts at summer blockbusters these days, it sets up a sequel at the end. Everything has to be a franchise now but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t have the legs to stand on its own.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The Kingsman movies and some of the hokier James Bond films.

Film Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

Release Date: March 2nd, 2018 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Roar Uthaug
Written by: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons, Evan Daugherty
Based on: Tomb Raider by Crystal Dynamics
Music by: Junkie XL
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nick Frost

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, GK Films, Square Enix, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes

Review:

“All myths are foundations of reality.” – Lord Richard Croft

I wasn’t super enthused to rush out and see this, as I have never been a huge fan of the video game series. I certainly didn’t dislike the series, it was fun and entertaining enough, but I gravitated more towards the Uncharted video games, once they started.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the original Tomb Raider movies. I mean, they were okay for what they were but they certainly weren’t classics and really just existed to take advantage of Angelina Jolie’s good looks during her peak in popularity.

This remake or reboot or whatever, is much more grounded in reality but even then, it still comes with a certain degree of ridiculousness. It tries to be the dark, gritty reboot that is so cliche by this point and really, it is more like a reinvention of the series, as the modern Tomb Raider video games have been.

Overall, this just isn’t very good. There’s not a lot to sink your teeth into. The story is thin, boring and this entire movie just feels like the opening mission of an adventure game that happens before you even get credits.

There actually isn’t a lot of treasure hunting and “tomb raiding”. Sure, they raid a tomb but it takes forever to get there and it’s not all that exciting. The tomb is actually dull and uninspiring. It’s nothing like what you would see in an Indiana Jones movie or one of the Uncharted games.

Most of the film is about Lara searching for her dad instead of treasure. I get that you need a “selfless” reason to get this “heroic” character to the island with the treasure but the film was sold as a high adventure, treasure hunting movie and not what it should have actually been titled Lost Daddy Island.

I wanted lots of solid “tomb raiding”. Lara Croft should have been searching dungeons, solving puzzles, opening doors and getting cave dirty. Instead, she ran around an island for well over an hour doing jungle parkour.

Granted, I really like Alicia Vikander. She was better than Jolie as the character of Lara Croft, although Jolie looked more the part. I’ve never been high up on Jolie though. Vikander has the right attitude and right edge and she could do great things with this role in future movies if any more actually get made and if she works off of a better script than this one.

The biggest highlight for me should have been Walton Goggins, who I love in everything – even that third Major League movie. However, he wasn’t exciting and just sort of a poorly written, cookie cutter baddie. He didn’t give the role that Goggins charisma or really, any of his personality. I felt like anyone could have played the part the same. Goggins is best when his roles allow him to put himself into the part. I’m not sure if he just dialed it in, the director was too controlling or if the script was just so boring that he couldn’t salvage his part.

I guess the actual biggest highlight was seeing Nick Frost in a cameo. Well, he appears in two scenes, so I guess that’s bigger than a cameo.

Tomb Raider is pretty uninspiring. But there is actually a foundation to something that can be much better. Fire the director, fire the writer, keep the cast, move forward.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The older Tomb Raider films and the more recent video games.

Film Review: Ex Machina (2014)

Also stylized as: ex_machina, EX_MACHINA
Release Date: December 16th, 2014 (BFI Southbank premiere)
Directed by: Alex Garland
Written by: Alex Garland
Music by: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Oscar Isaac

Film4, DNA Films, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

Initially, I had planned on seeing this in the theater when it came out in the States in early 2015. For whatever reason, I never got around to it. Then it was saved on my watch list on Amazon Video for a really long time. Finally, I got around to it and I’m glad I did.

This film is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who wrote Sunshine28 Days Later and Dredd – three movies I really like. I assumed that this would follow suit.

The movie stars Oscar Issac and Domhnall Gleeson, who both worked together after this in Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It also stars Alicia Vikander, who has worked with Gleeson in Anna Karenina.

Issac’s Nathan Bateman invites one of his company’s programmers Caleb Smith to his isolated home. Nathan tells Caleb that he has successfully built a humanoid robot with artificial intelligence. Caleb is told that he is there to test the robot, Ava. It is his job to decipher whether or not Ava is capable of having genuine consciousness. He also wants to see whether or not Caleb can relate to her, even though Caleb knows she is an artificial being. Of course, there are a lot of twists and turns and you are never really sure who has the advantage in this three-way chess game between our characters. Revealing anymore would start to spoil things.

The film really has two locations, the luscious and vast wilderness surrounding Nathan’s extremely secluded home and the home itself. The outdoors is beautiful, majestic and colorful. The indoors is dark, cold and devoid of any color other than a few lights, a few windows and a Jackson Pollock painting.

The two locations really create the idea of two worlds or two types of existences that reflect the emotional struggle of Ava, who is essentially trapped in her apartment within Nathan’s home. Ava desperately wants to see the outside world, as her entire existence has taken place within the dark, cold, colorless interior.

The film is beautiful, visually speaking. It is well shot and I really liked how a lot of the shots during Ava and Caleb’s discussions were framed, adding a lot more depth to the narrative of their relationship.

All the actors did a marvelous job with their roles. Oscar Issac was charismatic yet so unlikable in the best way possible for his character. Gleeson is really the complete antithesis of his character in The Force Awakens where he was a Hitler-esque leader in the First Order. Here, he is a sort of frail and soft character, although very likable and heroic, in a sense. Vikander fantastically plays the role of the android while having the perfect balance between naivety and cunning.

Ex Machina isn’t a great picture but it is a solid one. It doesn’t really tread new territory in regards to artificial intelligence and whether or not artificial life is really life once it is conscious and emotionally aware. However, it brings those questions back up and delivers them in a pretty refreshing way. While A.I. stories aren’t new in fiction, Ex Machina is, at least, not a direct retread of things we’ve seen. It is its own story, with its own twists and it is smartly written. It is a really good first time effort behind the camera for Garland.

Rating: 7/10