Mark Walker (MrMarakai)Glasgow, Scotland
Mark's Recent Reviews
Being a huge fan of Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy, Ridley Scott was originally planning to adapt his controversial 1985 novel "Blood Meridian" before the project eventually fell through. Scott, however, was given another chance when McCarthy wrote his first ever original screenplay in the mould of "The Counselor". Circling it for a short time, Scott eventually took the reigns and drafted in a star studded cast which led it to be one of the most anticipated movies of 2013. When it finally reached the public-eye, though, it was met with such a vehement backlash that I actually steered clear of it... until now.
Deeply in love with his fiancĂ (C)e Laura (Penelope Cruz), The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) aims to provide a high standard of living for her. To do so, he enters into a one-time deal with dangerous drug dealer Reiner (Javier Bardem), his sociopathic girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) and middle-man Westray (Brad Pitt). Despite several warnings about the severe consequences of dealing with the Mexican cartel, The Counselor foolishly decides to go ahead anyway.
"Inert", "directionless", "disjointed", "misjudged" - these are just a few of the adjectives that I came across when "The Counselor" was released to mass disappointment. As a result, I went into it with very heavy reservations. If truth be told, I was preparing to write a scathing review where I could really pick out the flaws and expose them for all their ludicrousness. Much to my surprise then, that after 20 mins I found myself with nothing to criticise and if anything, I started to find my feet in this elaborate thriller and found myself enjoying it more and more with every passing minute. It became apparent that this isn't a film that's "misjudged", this is a film that has received a very misjudged marketing campaign. It's not the fast paced, slick crime thriller that many were expecting but more of a deliberate and philosophical parable about the nature of greed and the rippling effect of immoral decisions.
A lot has been said about McCarthy's first ever screenplay and his unconventional method. Many have claimed it to be deliberately cryptic and indecipherable. Admittedly, at times, it can be but the real key to understanding the film is breaking through our preconceived ideas of how dialogue should be delivered. The answers are there, they just need that extra concentration and willingness to find them. Some lengthy monologues do keep the audience at a particular arms length and it can be difficult to break through their very dense and metaphoric meanings but I managed to play along and actually found the film to be richly rewarding.
It looks fantastic, with wonderful picturesque locations and even though the characters are lavish and colourful, this is still a very believable and foreboding criminal underworld. Scott shows a confident handling of the material and the acting ensemble all seem fully committed to McCarthy's abstract and idiosyncratic prose. I didn't get the impression that they felt strained or unsure of what they were involved in here and that's primarily what makes the film work. Each of their characters are convincing and they all deliver solid performances.
That being said, this is not a film that will appeal to everyone and it's entirely understandable why it hasn't been kindly received. Very little is explained; there's no backstory or linear conclusion and even Fassbender's Counselor is never revealed by name. In fact, those that were critical of the underwhelming epilogue of the Coen brothers' adaptation of McCarthy's "No Country For Old Men" in 2007 will likely be frustrated with "The Counselor" in it's entirety. The whole film operates on that suggestive level. It's a bold and daring move but one that I find respects the audiences ability to read into events and possibilities.
Having been disappointed in a lot of Ridley's Scott's recent films, I was expecting more of the same here. Far from it, though. This is a highly underrated neo-noir that's one of Scott's best efforts for some time and McCarthy constructs a transcendent, almost Shakespearean, tragedy. It only leaves me with hope that this won't be the last time he writes a screenplay - despite it's much maligned reception.
In dealing with the financial meltdown of an investment bank, J.C. Chandor's directorial debut "Margin Call" in 2011, was an impressively handled, fast paced and very dialogue driven film. It also had a who's who of familiar actors as they wheeled and dealed their way out of their crisis with a spot of verbal jousting. Now, in only his second feature, Chandor has left all that behind and delivers a film that couldn't be further from his debut. There's only one actor and you're lucky if you get a couple of lines of dialogue in the entire film.
In the Indian Ocean, a man (Robert Redford) wakes up on his yacht to find that a shipping container, that has been left adrift in the seas, has collided with him. It's ripped a hole in his hull and he's quickly taking in water. He manages to patch it up but a violent storm brings yet more problems and soon, time is running out for him.
As the film opens we are told that it is 1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra straits. That's about all we get in determining where our protagonist is. He's never actually named either - referred only as 'Our Man' in the end credits - so we don't know who he is or why he's there, other than some brief voiceover dialogue informing us that he's sorry for something. Again, we don't know what he's done or who he's apologising to - possibly his family. Either way, he's alone on his yacht and we don't know where he's heading to. That's about as much information as we are given and it doesn't get any clearer. It's this very ambiguity that sets the films tone; it doesn't concern itself with details or backstory or even much dialogue for that matter. This is a meditation on human resilience and determination. Anything else other than that leaves us just as alone as our nameless protagonist. Chandor's intention is to obviously keep things at a minimum and force us to look for the film's themes. Finding these themes, though, is just as elusive as our characters chances of survival. Maybe I missed the point, but all I could find here was the was he was going through some form of penance for his past misdeeds or that the story is an allegory for mortality. Other than that, I felt as lost as him and could fully relate to the film's appropriate title.
That being said, there's still much to admire here. Chandor's minimalist approach manages to balance the vast open space with a real sense of claustrophobia and Redford's paired down performance is absolutely captivating. He has such a comforting and recognisable presence that it's easy to adapt to his character and his isolation. It takes a great actor to be able to hold your attention when they are practically saying nothing and completely carrying a film on their own. Redford's work here is reminiscent of Tom Hanks' exemplary and Oscar nominated performance in "Cast Away" and it's hard to accept that he missed out on an nomination himself, when many expected him to feature. His performance is a very physical one and all the more impressive considering he's now at the tail-end of his 70's. It's a lonely and gruelling journey and despite the lack of dialogue, Redford's subtlety speaks volumes. It's almost as if we we can hear his internal dialogue and the conversation he's continually having with himself. There is much to recommend this film but if there's only one reason to see it, it would be for Redford.
Most of the ingredients are here for a potential modern classic. Chandor's direction is impressive, as is Redford's outstanding central performance. Alex Ebert also conducts a wonderfully ethereal music score that compliments the powerful cinematography.
However, as much as I enjoyed "All Is Lost" for these attributes, I struggled with it's relentlessness and couldn't really see the point of it all.
Mark's Favorite Movies
This film has such a massive cult following that it has even spawned a traveling, annual festival called "The Lebowski Fest", at which fans congregate dressed as their favourite characters. It has also amassed a new belief system called "Dudeism" of which you can be ordained as a Dudeist priest. Now, this might be going a bit far but it's all in the name of fun, of which, this Coen brothers tale supplies plenty of. Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is a cannabis smoking throwback from the seventies. He minds his own business, enjoying "bowling, driving around and the occasional acid flashback". One day, two thugs break into his home and urinate on his rug - "which really tied the room together". As he looks for answers, he finds that he has been mistaken for his namesake Jeffrey Lebowski, the Passadena millionaire (David Huddleston). Otherwise referred to as "The Big Lebowski. Looking for compensation for his rug, he pays the millionaire a visit and finds that his absent, trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reid) owes money all over town - including known pornographer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazarra), who sent the thugs (to the wrong house) to collect on the debt. But the thugs aren't the only ones who have gotten their Lebowski's mixed up. A trio of Nihilists threaten "The Dude" for a ransom of $1 million, claiming they will kill his wife. Reluctantly, "The Dude" gets involved, with his crazed Vietnam veteran buddy Walter (John Goodman), in trying to get the bottom of all the confusion. Does this make sense? Don't worry, "The Dude" doesn't get it either. Trying to even give a synopsis of the plot in this complex tale, is hard enough, but that's to the Coens' credit in concocting this elaborate modern day private detective story. In the past, the Coens payed homage to crime writer Dashiell Hammett with "Miller's Crossing" and here, they pay homage to Hammett's contemporary Raymond Chandler. It has all the elements of a classic private-eye yarn but masquerades as a zany comedy. It's so much more than that. It's a film that relies heavily on consistently sharp dialogue and each word, pause and stammer are delivered perfectly by an exceptionally brilliant cast; Bridges is a very fine actor but this is his moment of glory, in a role that is perfectly suited. He has received numerous plaudits throughout his career - for his more serious roles - but this is his most iconic. Coens regular John Goodman is also at his maniacal best as his loyal buddy, Walter. Sam Elliott is wonderfully endearing, as "The Stranger", in cowboy attire, that's narrates the whole wacky tale and a scene-stealing John Turturro is simply unforgettable as Jesus Quintana, a latino, sex-offending bowler. In fact, it's very difficult to single out a specific performance, there are so many great appearances: from the likes of Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Thewlis, Ben Gazzara, Jon Polito and the always marvellous Philip Seymour Hoffman. The entire cast are just sublime and deliver their, razor sharp, dialogue under the most creative guidance from the Coens. It's not just the performances that stand out though; usual Coens cinematographer Roger Deakins works with a rich and colourful pallet and the choice of music throughout, accompanies the scenes perfectly. I could go on and pick out every perfect detail of this classic but then I'd just be ruining it for you, even if you've already seen it. It'll do no harm to see it again - with a spliff and a beverage - and allow your "casualness to run deep". I have tried to find the words that do this film justice but I still don't think I have. Rest assured though, this is the most enjoyable Coens movie to date and an instant cult classic that wll take one hell of a film to topple it from my #1 spot.
Numerous excellent crime sagas have been made over the years and at the top of most peoples lists tend to be "The Godfather parts I & II", "Goodfellas" and some would even have "Scarface". Although these are superb inclusions in the genre, this Sergio Leone masterpiece is the definitive and the real classic of them all. Based on the novel "The Hoods" by Harry Grey we are manificently told the story of David 'Noodles' Aaronson (Robert DeNiro) who, after several decades away, returns back to the lower east side of New York city where he grew up with his friends and became prominently involved in a Jewish life of crime. Having loved and lost throughout his time here, he reflects on what was a tumultuous time in his childhood (and young adulthood) and now in his twilight years, longs for answers to a fatal double-cross. Leone is better known for his spaghetti westerns and brings that same style from the dry barren western plains to the sprawling city of New York. Along with him, is composer Ennio Morricone and his idiosyncratic and masterful musical style. When these two combine their talents you know you're about to be treated to a wonderful storytelling experience. Just for good measure, throw in the iconic and most prodigious of screen actors in Robert DeNiro and what you have is a work of art. An absolute masterpiece of cinema. A multi-layerd epic that has such depth that it's yet to be matched. "The Godfather" saga has a similiar magnitude but only over three films. Leone manages to condence his elaborate tale in just under 4 hours. However, the original U.S. release was cut by 88mins, ceasing to make sense, with characters appearing and disappearing suddenly. This would explain why it didn't fare so well and shockingly wasn't even acknowledged for any awards. Although compellingly acted by DeNiro, this doesn't stand as his finest performance, but it certainly stands as his finest film and it's by far the best work that James Woods has delivered, as well as the impressive supporting cast of Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Joe Pesci and Jennifer Connelly is her film debut. It's all down to the excellence of Leone though and his stylish homage to the gangster film. It's long, it's engrossing and once all the pieces begin to fit together it's a quite heartbreaking story in it's telling, With it gorgeous art direction by Carlo Simi, it's heartwrenching soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and the magnitude of Sergio Leone's vision, it's one of the best films ever made. Sadly it was Leone's last but a virtuosa one to go out on.