Tokyo Tribe – Film Review

Tokyo Tribe 1

Within moments I could tell that Tokyo Tribe was going to be unlike anything I had seen before. Music was blaring out over a Tokyo street at night, young people rushing about, and as an elderly woman scratched a record our narrator began to rap. This is the world of Tokyo Tribe; one of testosterone, violence, glamour, and hip hop. Based on a popular Manga series by Santa Inoue Tokyo Tribe is no simple adaptation; it is a two-hour rap musical extravaganza about warring gangs in a near-future Tokyo.

This is a film of endless extremes without any respite from its barrage of loud, bright, unashamed chaos. I was sleep deprived going into the screening but left with my mind buzzing as images from the cavalcade of cinematic excess flashed through my brain. While jarring at first once Tokyo Tribe settles into its stride the enthusiasm it has for its unique brand of storytelling is infectious. All that was left for me to do was to sit back and take it all in, occasionally shaking my head in disbelief.

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The film is not perfect and does struggle with pacing and with its female characters. This is a man’s world where most women are left in the background and occasionally feature as literal set dressing. As with everything else in the film depictions of misogyny are turned up to eleven and it can be hard to tell whether the film is portraying misogyny or simply perpetrating it. That said the stand-out performance of the film comes from Nana Seino as the mysterious Sunmi who turns her role as a potential victim on its head and fights back with more force that her stature would suggest possible. Nana Seino is terrifyingly good and delivers a display of incredible skills across the film’s demanding range through acting, martial arts, acrobatics, and rap. Seino is my hero.

Director Shion Sono has created something completely new with endless creativity. The Japanese action hip-hop musical is not a genre you can prepare for and if nothing else Tokyo Tribe will surprise anyone who dares approach it. Whether or not it then succeeds to delight you depends on how easily you manage to embrace the madness and give in to a film that takes control and doesn’t hold back.

I think I loved it but I may just be suffering from PTSD.

Tokyo Tribe is on limited release in UK cinemas now and available on DVD and Blu-ray from 15th June.

It has to be seen to be believed though I can’t promise you will comprehend it.

The Theory of Everything – Blu-ray Review

The Theory of Everything 2

Film
Despite my long-held admiration for Felicity Jones and endless praise for the film I somehow managed to miss The Theory of Everything when it was in cinemas. Perhaps I was annoyed at having to share Jones with the rest of the general public or, more likely, nobody wanted to go and see the film with me knowing that I’d be slack-jawed throughout.

The Theory of Everything follows the romance of Stephen and Jane Hawking (Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones) from their first meeting at University and through their marriage as Stephen slowly becomes more and more dependant on Jane thanks to the onset of motor neurone disease. Tellingly most coverage of the film has focussed on the acting; to some degree on Jones’ performance as the ever-burdened wife but mostly on Redmayne and his brutal portrayal of a man slowly losing control of his body.

The praise for Redmayne is certainly well deserved as he audibly and physically transforms himself throughout the film from a sprightly young student to a wheelchair-bound professor. Most importantly what Redmayne manages to do is maintain the spark and personality that is such a vital part of the real Stephen Hawking. While he may end the film sitting almost immobile in a wheelchair Redmayne’s Stephen never loses his energy. Alongside Redmayne Jones brilliantly plays a woman not just dealing with raising two young children while coping with a demanding husband, but also shows the pain of a deeply religious woman whose husband does not respect her beliefs.

Together Redmayne and Jones portray a couple deeply in love who find their relationship straining when one loses their physical capabilities and the other struggles to find the emotional strength to carry on. Neither are passed off as saints as they both show signs of selfishness and weakness as their love for one another stumbles. It should definitely be noted that this is not a film about a science but a film about love. And while we’re at it, as a great narrator once said, this is not a love story; this is a story about love.

The film is undoubtedly moving and is as good as it is simply because of its strong lead performances; failing to truly wow with its script or direction. As I look back on the film I find I am left with a sense that some of the less loving emotions between Jane and Stephen may have been watered down. Their marriage was far from perfect, understandably considering the circumstances, and the lack of real anger in an otherwise emotionally open film felt suspect. Luckily the actors are skilled enough to distract you from second guessing while you watch the film itself.

These quibbles aside The Theory of Everything is a great showcase for two young British talents, though I suspect they have better films left in their careers. A film worth watching, just maybe not worth watching twice.

(But only just)
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Extras
This being a period British film looking at people and emotions rather than explosions and special effects the extras on the Blu-ray are limited. What you get are a good number of deleted scenes and a brief documentary Becoming the Hawkings focussing on Redmayne and Jones preparing for their roles.

As far as I can tell the DVD has no special features. The horror!

The Theory of Everything is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.

The Salvation – Film Review

The Salvation - Mads Mikkelsen

The year is 1870-ish and after years of forging a new life in America with his brother our hero Jon (Mads “Cheekbones” Mikkelsen) is finally able to bring his wife and son over from his native Denmark. Before they even reach their new home Jon and his family find themselves in a carriage with the wrong type of men. They soon experience the sort of journey you dread when taking the night bus alone in London. His family having been severely wronged Jon takes his revenge on their assailants and things get steadily worse. Unfortunately one of the men Jon takes revenge on is the brother of the local gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and so now it is up to Delarue and his gang (which distractingly includes Eric Cantona) to seek vengeance on Jon. Thus a vicious cycle of violence, brooding, and revenge continues.

It is clear that writer/director Kristian Levring has a love for classic westerns and wanted to make his own mark on the genrefrom a Danish point of view. Clint Eastwood minus fifty years wouldn’t look out of place in The Salvation with its gentle pace, stark landscape, and sparse dialogue and Mikkelsen is a fine substitute conveying all he needs to through a clenched jaw, narrowed eyes, and dramatic cheeks. The Salvation is precisely what a Western should be; it looks right, sounds right, and generally feels as it should do. Mikkelsen is a superb, captivating lead and Morgan gives his best villainous performance with relish and conviction. And yet…

The Salvation - Jeffrey Dean Morgan

In giving us everything we have come to expect from a Western The Salvation has forgotten to give us anything new. This is anything but the reinvention of the Western and the only Danish influence to be found is in Mikkelsen’s accent. This doesn’t make the film bad necessarily just a little boring.

What threatens to brand the film as bad or ugly (aside from an unworkable mix of practical and CGI fire) is the lacklustre use of female characters. I realise the film is set in the Old West so scope for female roles is limited but having every woman as either a mute victim or a prostitute is taking it a bit too far. The two main victims female characters are Jon’s wife Marie (Nanna Øland Fabricius) and Delarue’s love interest/brother’s widow Madelaine (Eva Green). In the short period before becoming a victim to a heinous crime Marie barely says a word because she hasn’t learnt any English yet and while Madelaine gets a lot more screen time her dialogue is nil thanks to having had her tongue cut out in a previous incident of victimisation. Eva Green is a fine actress and her eyes can do as much acting as Mikkelsen’s cheekbones but there was no need to literally mute her.

The Salvation looks great and gives you what you expect with some added Mads Mikkelsen sprinkled on top. Overall though the film is unsatisfying with nothing new to bring to its genre and a frustrating use of female characters.

The Salvation is in UK cinemas now.

Insurgent – Film Review

Insurgent

Before we begin I think I should tell you my YA credentials so you know where this review is coming from. I have read all the Hunger Games books and seen the first two films which I don’t rate too highly. I have read all the Divergent books and liked them more than the Hunger Games though the previous film left me a little cold. As for Shailene Woodley and her troop of men in the world of YA I have read and watched both Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars and have mixed feelings for the former pair and moderate praise for the latter. I’ve done my fair share of reading and watching YA and in particular watching Woodley starring in their film adaptations.

Insurgent, and to a greater extent the Divergent trilogy of four, does not stray far from the dystopian future familiar to YA fans. This second instalment finds Tris (Shailene Woodley), our uniquely gifted female lead, hiding as an outlaw while plotting to bring down the Machiavellian Jeanine (Kate Winslet), our evil leader, and shake up their society which has naturally been split into a number of houses districts factions. Along the way people die, secrets are revealed, and allegiances are tested.

The test of a YA film is arguably not in its originality but in how well it executes what we know is coming. Is the action suitably thrilling? Is the plot understandable to those who have not read the books? (Let’s ignore anyone who hasn’t seen the first film, they are on their own.) Can the actors convince us that the world is real? Does the film ever slip into boredom, ridiculousness, or outright confusion?

For my money Insurgent largely succeeds. It takes the plot of the book and streamlines it so that rather than having characters dotting around back and forth the film has more forward momentum and less down time for the audience to lose interest. The action scenes are exciting and Insurgent makes the most of having the half of its set pieces taking place in virtual reality. The CGI is mostly convincing and lends a hand in creating a real looking world for the action to take place in. With the film confined to a city the size of Chicago (because it is Chicago) a few swooping camera shots help to give the audience a lay of the land and get to grips with the dystopia at hand. As a structure the film is all good and just needs the right cast to populate it.

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Setting aside Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts who pop up occasionally to add credibility to the film, and a franchise to their filmography, the casting for the young characters is pretty impressive. For the most part. Woodley herself has a track record for bringing strength and soul to a literary character and does more of the same here. The film really does rest on her shoulders and she, and her sad eyes, do not disappoint. Theo James reprises his role of Four, the love interest, but I couldn’t help but feel as though the film-makers had wisely minimised his screen time. James is not this cast’s strongest performer and isn’t asked to do much more than look sad/angry and generally be but. Woodley’s frequent co-stars, and love interests elsewhere, Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller provide solid support as Tris’ brother and rival respectively. Teller in particular bring a special quality to his performance as the unreadable Peter and provides the only humour in what is otherwise a very dark film.

And boy is it dark. I lost count of the number of people we got to see being shot in the head. All shooting happens just off-screen of course, this is a 12A. Despite the family friendly age certificate Insurgent doesn’t hold back too much as adult themes of death and (OMG!) sex are never far from cropping up. I realise death is part and parcel of the YA genre but here the killing felt that bit more direct.

Overall Insurgent is perfectly fine. A strong cast, a decent pace, and enjoyable set pieces help Insurgent stand out from its predecessor. All is not perfect, there are plenty of convenient coincidences and sometimes everyone seems a little too serious, but for the genre you could do a lot worse.

If you’ve seen Divergent or read the books then there’s no reason not to see Insurgent. For everyone else… good luck to you.

Insurgent is in UK cinemas now.

Focus – Film Review

Focus

Watching a mediocre film is not much fun but trying to write about it is even worse. No high praise or undiluted rage; just minor complaints and a general feeling of apathy to share with the world.

Will Smith is a veteran con man who takes Margo Robbie’s amateur thief under his wing when she fails to rip him off. Smith runs a gang of thieves who work together to pull off major heists including stealing watches and picking pockets. Oceans Eleven this is not. Over a short space of time Smith and Robbie fall in love. OR DO THEY?!?!? Then with the initial petty theft completed they do not see each other for three years. It must be true love. They are reunited when Smith starts working for an F1 team as a freelance hustler and lo and behold his new boss’ beau is Robbie. Robbie is in love and out of the scamming game. OR IS SHE?!?!? Events unfold from here in a predictably twisty turning way.

Focus is not just a con movie but has desires on being a romantic comedy too. As such it needs to succeed on two fronts to win over its audience; it needs a strong con and a believable romance. Sadly it has neither. Rather than stealing millions from The Man™ in an elaborate web of subterfuge our heroes are out there on the street taking mobile phones from distracted tourists before selling them off for small amounts. These are the people I am supposed to be on the look out for when I leave the office. These are not the sleek and sexy rogues Focus wants us to embrace. A second scheme in the latter half of the film’s weird structure is a bit more complicated but fails at blowing minds when the big reveal comes round.

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So the film does not have a strong con. OR DOES IT?!?!? It doesn’t. But how does the romance stack up? Margot Robbie and Will Smith are both perfectly fine actors, and we should applaud any film that includes an interracial relationship without drawing attention to it, but the chemistry between the two is sadly lacking. We need to believe that, cons aside, at least one of the pair is in love with the other but we aren’t given any reason to. Their time together is fleeting and often filled with deception leaving their romance sceptical at best, and that’s before even thinking about the age difference.

A film that wants to be a sleek and sexy con movie with a romantic comedy twist instead comes across as a mismatched relationship between two petty thieves. There are a few laughs along the way, and some welcome distraction in the form of Adrian Martinez, but for the most part Focus is just a bland film about unlikeable criminals who don’t seem to pause for a second to question the morality of their chosen profession. If you are looking for an inoffensive film then you have found it, but if you want to see something truly exciting I suggest you look elsewhere.

Focus is on general release now.