Archive | January, 2012

Melancholia

30 Jan

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 136 minutes

 

 

Lars von Trier is anything but a conventional film maker and Melancholia is another of his unique films. It was praised heavily at Cannes, as is more often than not the case with his work, but has been largely ignored by the more popular award ceremonies since then.

The film centres on sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and starts with the wedding of Justine as organized by Claire (at Claire and her husband’s impressive country mansion). As it happens Justine requires a lot of organization as it is clear from early on that she is a troubled individual. Justine is an erratic character, with a dysfunctional wider family beyond solid Claire, and the whole wedding lurches from one miss-step to the next.

Alongside the intimate plotline that is Justine’s apparent bipolar disorder, the other one is pure science fiction as the planet Melancholia emerges from behind the sun and on to a collision course with Earth. That plotline is developed more in the second half of the film where more time is also devoted to the other sister, Claire, who has a loving family in place (with husband Kiefer Sutherland and son Cameron Spurr). For her the threat of the rogue planet’s approach is agonizing whilst for Justine it comes as a potential release. As such the sisters almost switch personalities towards the end of the film.

Is it pretentious? – For what has been labelled an existential sci-fi movie I don’t think that it is. It’s different, it’s interesting and it kept me hooked for the relatively long runtime. However, it is not as moving as it would be if the central characters were less detached and more sympathetic. The visuals are stunning – there are some beautiful early slow-motion pieces set to Wagner – and the acting is of very high quality, especially from both Dunst and Gainsbourg.

Last Night

29 Jan

Director: Massy Tadjedin

Writer: Massy Tadjedin

Stars: Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington and Eva Mendes

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 93 minutes

 

 

Even beautiful, young and successful people have to work at marriage. That’s the most obvious message coming from this examination of relationships, trust, guilt and hidden feelings. It stars Keira Knightley (Joanna) and Sam Worthington (Michael) as a New York based couple 2 years into their marriage and struggling. The catalyst for their troubles is a party where Joanna observes Michael overly at ease in the company of his attractive and attentive work colleague Laura (Eva Mendes).

This film has a very simple story, but gets up and running quickly. The subject matter is hardly original, but it is dealt with evenly and in a sincere manner. If it were a European film it would most likely run for much longer and be more melodramatic. In this instance the short runtime and non-showy acting serve the story well. Joanna and Michael’s story grabs the attention and holds it just about through to the end as both characters are tempted to stray (Michael with Laura and Joanna with her French ex boyfriend Alex played by Guillaume Canet).

Overall this is a decent film. It is honest, sincere and the acting is generally solid from the small cast. Michael’s thin character and coincidentally Worthington’s one-dimensional acting are its weakest point. Keira Knightley, a generally underrated actress, is very good in the richer part. Some of the dialogue and some of the situations in Last Night are contrived, but it is mostly believable, interesting and easy to watch.

Killer Elite

28 Jan

Director: Gary McKendry

Writers: Matt Sherring (screenplay), Ranulph Fiennes (book) (inspiration)

Stars: Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 116 minutes

 

 

Jason Statham ventures a little further away from his no nonsense action routes with this one and certainly improves on the usual quality of co star with Clive Owen and Robert De Niro. However, he remains a man of few words, hard stares and flying fists. Also, he stars in another fairly simple international action movie as the tough guy trying to break free from his violent past.

Killer Elite is based on a controversial book by ex SAS officer Ranulph Fiennes about the fallout of the UK’s counter insurgency role in Oman in the early 1980’s. Fiennes was there and released a book in about it in 1991. More specifically, about Arab funded assassins out for revenge on ex British SAS officers such as himself who served in Oman. Fiennes’ claims remain extraordinary, are disputed by many, and even he described the story as ‘factional’. In this movie Statham plays one of the ‘80’s assassins out to put right the SAS wrongs on behalf of a shadowy Arab sheik.

This is standard Statham action fair, but with surprisingly few thrills. The main reason for that is the core material. The film is positioned upfront as “inspired by a true story”, but that’s not helpful. The story is very hard to believe, the characters are all one-dimensional and yet there are nods to bigger picture ‘80’s politics. It’s a bit of a mess – neither straight action romp fest nor Tinker Tailor like slow burner. Owen is reasonable as ever, De Niro is superfluous and Statham is Statham, but with ‘80’s styling. Not very good.

A Lonely Place to Die

19 Jan

Director: Julian Gilbey

Writers: Julian Gilbey, Will Gilbey

Stars: Melissa George, Ed Speleers and Eamonn Walker

UK Rating: 15

Runtime: 99 minutes

 

 

Apart from Home and Away, Melissa George is best known for films such as Triangle, Paradise Lost and 30 Days of Night. As such she has been angling for Jamie Lee Curtis’ long inactive title of movie scream queen. In this one she is again subjected to a 100 minute reign of terror, but at least she gets plenty of fresh air and exercise.

This is another low budget British scary thriller, but its setting and pace are refreshing. It is about a group of mountaineers in the highlands of Scotland. Almost in the middle of nowhere they stumble upon a young girl trapped in a hidden bunker, they rescue her and then have to deal with her kidnappers. Melissa George leads the group as they are pursued through forest, over surging rivers and down bare rock faces.

I liked this film. It has a very simple set up, but it exploits the dramatic potential well (just like the equally as good The Disappearance of Alice Creed). It also maximizes the forbidding highlands scenery. The various action scenes are shot confidently and there are a few small, but unexpected twists. Towards the end the gun play is ratcheted up a notch too far, but overall it’s a suspenseful and fast paced distraction.

 

Middle Men

17 Jan

Director: George Gallo

Writers: George Gallo, Andy Weiss

Stars: Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 105 minutes

 

 

Although released in cinemas on a limited basis across Europe more than a year ago, I just came across this film for the first time on DVD. That suggests a lack of confidence on the part of its distributors which surprises me considering the story and the cast. This is an ‘inspired by true events’ comedy drama about the early days of the internet porn industry.

The film moves between the mid 1990’s and 2004 as it follows the exploits of a business fixer called Jack Harris (Luke Wilson). He mentors a couple of oddball chancers that have stumbled upon a way to discreetly process online credit card payments. With Jack’s direction their code soon sits behind hundreds of the earliest internet porn sites and the three partners make an enormous amount of money. The two inventors also work through a mountain of drugs and women whilst Jack tries gamely to maintain his family lifestyle.

Jack’s extraordinary, and supposedly true, story sits at the heart of this film. His character provides the film’s voiceover. That mechanism can be ‘cheap’ at times and adds to the nagging sense of TV movie about the overall production. However, the acting is solid, the film nods to Boogie Nights and to Casino with certain set pieces, and the story throws up some nice dark humour. It also has James Caan putting in an excellent cameo as a sleazy Vegas lawyer.

Colombiana

15 Jan

Director: Olivier Megaton

Writers: Luc Besson (screenplay), Robert Mark Kamen (screenplay)

Stars: Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan and Callum Blue

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 108 minutes

 

 

Within the last few years we have had Hit Girl in the film Kick Ass (fantastic) and we have had the eponymous Hanna (not so good) blazing a trail for strong female action leads. Today we also have Haywire on general release and this film Colombiana fresh to the rental and download market. So it is clear that the likes of Jason Statham now have genuine female company in the busting heads department. The trend no doubt reflects broader socio-economic developments, but that discussion is better served another day. For right now we have Zoe Saldana as the Colombiana.

This is written and produced by Luc Besson who has consistently supported the female action hero with the likes of Nikita and Joan of Arc. The basic revenge / assassin story is highly similar to Besson’s best film Leon. In fact, one could argue that Saldana’s character is the adult version of Natalie Portman’s from that 1994 classic. Both are out to pay back the drug dealing murderers of their parents and both seek training in the ways of the hired assassin whilst plotting their revenge.

Colombiana has a very simple story, but is almost more watchable for it. It moves along quickly enough with a couple of decent set pieces and Zoe Saldana just about holds it all together. It is hardly thought provoking and the CIA character and plotline on the edge of it is highly implausible. However, for about 100 minutes of easy action and unchallenging fun it is not a bad option. And some of the sly Scarface references are actually quite clever.

The Way

12 Jan

Director: Emilio Estevez

Writers: Emilio Estevez (screenplay), Jack Hitt (book)

Stars: Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez and Deborah Kara Unger

UK Rating: 12A

Runtime: 123 minutes

 

 

Emilio Estevez is almost 50 years old and The Way is the fifth feature film that he has directed (having also written four of them including this one). His films have mostly been of an adult and serious nature, often dealing with social issues. In this film he follows a small group of walkers making a highly cathartic passage along the Camino de Santiago (the route of Saint James that runs from the Basque country in southwest France into and across northern Spain).

The main character is a c. 65 year old Californian eye doctor called Tom (Martin Sheen). He is forced out of his slow and safe urban life when his adventurous son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) dies on the Camino. Tom goes to France to retrieve his son’s body, but then decides to walk the Camino himself (all 800 km of it). As he makes the journey he thinks long and hard about his son and their awkward relationship. He also befriends a small international group of other ‘pilgrims’. They, just like Tom and the many other travellers on the Camino, have issues to resolve and questions to answer for which they hope the long walk will help.

The Way is an adult film that does deal with serious themes, but more than that it is an uplifting and soulful experience. The biggest lesson that Tom learns is the power of travel and the importance of exploration. Unlike his son, Tom is unconnected with the world. Via his experience on the Camino de Santiago his eyes are opened and he is changed. The Way shows us that the beauty of travel is often the simple act of meeting strangers and making new friends. This is a good film that benefits from the stunning scenery of northern Spain, a decent soundtrack and low key acting.

Sarah’s Key

10 Jan

Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner

Writers: Gilles Paquet-Brenner (screenplay), Serge Joncour (screenplay), and 1 more credit

Stars: Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance and Niels Arestrup

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 111 minutes

 

 

Kristin Scott Thomas stars in this absorbing drama about the holocaust and about one family’s horrific experience of it and about the deep scars left by it on another. Sarah’s Key is set in Paris and is mostly in French with subtitles. Scott Thomas as Julia plays an American journalist living in Paris today and trying to write a piece about the round up of Jews living in the city in 1942.

In July 1942 the French state cooperated with the Nazis in the identification, segregation and persecution of groups of Jewish people. French police picked up whole families, kept them locked up in a velodrome for days (the Vel’ d’hiv round up) and then facilitated their transport on to the Eastern European death camps. The film follows one such Jewish family being taken. In particular it focuses on their daughter Sarah and her attempt to hide away and save her younger brother. Sarah’s story unfolds alongside that of Julia for whom today’s investigative piece of journalism starts to open up wounds within her French family-in-law.

This is a very moving film. The scenes in 1942 are rightfully harrowing and Sarah’s small story is able to capture all of the unprecedented inhumanity and intolerance of the time. The young actor playing Sarah (Melusine Mayance) is excellent, as is the whole cast. The modern scenes with Scott Thomas are also impactful and the overall narrative flows very well. It is a touching film that makes you think and that also inspires.

The Change-Up

9 Jan

Director: David Dobkin

Writers: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Stars: Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds and Olivia Wilde

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 112 minutes

 

 

The director David Dobkin arguably started the trend for the crude comedic bromance with Wedding Crashers in 2005, but the genre has been stuffed full with much poorer films since then and this one certainly adds nothing new. This movie is not as fresh as Wedding Crashers and it’s not as funny as The Hangover. And coming hot on the heels of Horrible Bosses, a reasonable effort, I for one am bored with watching Jason Bateman flailing around in front of disappointed wives and bosses.

This movie borrows from those 1980’s body swap comedies (Big, All of Me etc) and switches the lives of hedonistic bachelor Ryan Reynolds (Mitch) and company / family man Jason Bateman (Dave). That actual ‘change-up’ comes after an opening scene where Dave’s baby son hilariously projectile defecates into his face. Seriously, that’s where this film goes for early laughs.

The eventual lessons learned are all there – Mitch patching up his relationship with his estranged dad and Dave rescuing his floundering marriage – and there is even Leslie Mann doing her nagging one-dimensional housewife bit (see Knocked Up and Funny People for the same). Whilst there are one or two half funny scenes in this movie, and there is nothing overly offensive, it is far from original and not nearly as funny or smart as it thinks it is.

Apollo 18

8 Jan

Director: Gonzalo López-Gallego

Writer: Brian Miller

Stars: Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 86 minutes

 

 

This is another of those films set up as being based upon authentic, but disputed and previously unseen footage. That was the case with Troll Hunter, but that film stayed true to the premise and provided far more entertainment. In this case we have footage of a secret Apollo lunar mission that may or may not have ended in mystery and tragedy in 1973.

I can see more of these mockumentary style movies being released as the costs of digital film-making equipment decrease and the influence of the Internet increases. As with the Wikileaks phenomenon, this film Apollo 18 comes with its own conspiracy website in place. That’s clever, but unfortunately the underpinning movie is not. This is a really poor film. It only lasts for about 80 minutes, but it still drags and there is very little tension for what is set up as a scary thriller.

In part defence of the film there are some nice 1970’s type jumpy and grainy shots. The big problem, however, is that those more authentic sequences are in the minority and interspersed between far more modern, clean and clichéd set pieces. And when the film gets to the moon there are cameras everywhere which again undermines the basic premise of authentic and unseen 1970’s footage.

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