Archive | March, 2012

Don’t be Afraid of the Dark

31 Mar

Director: Troy Nixey

Writers: Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), Matthew Robbins (screenplay), and 1 more credit

Stars: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 99 minutes

 

 

Katie Holmes, since being locked away in a scientology cupboard by husband Tom Cruise, has not made many films. Judged on this one and her other recent offering Jack and Jill (with serial offender Adam Sandler) we are being saved as movie goers by diminutive Tom’s spousal control. Katie is in this ‘scary’ outing with Guy Pearce so there are two fairly heavyweight actors attached. More headline grabbing is the writer-producer credit that goes to Guillermo del Toro who started his career with really scary films such as Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone.

The pre title opening of this film provides its gruesome backdrop and sets up the nasty secret that gets locked away in the bowels of the creepy mansion. That secret will be unearthed by Holmes, Pearce and their daughter as they renovate the house in the present day. Those first five minutes tell a lot about the film. The ghostly horse and carriage, the candlelit manor, the strange goings on in the dark basement etc are all very Scooby Doo. Once the ‘crime’ occurred I was half expecting the Mystery Machine to show up, but had to settle for half decent actors phoning in poor performances.

There is nothing here to recommend this film. It is poorly executed and borderline funny at times. On the Scooby Doo front we even get a grumpy and suspicious gardener as one of the important second string characters! Guillermo del Toro mines some of his previous films including Pan’s Labyrinth, but this is light years away from that masterpiece. The acting is wooden, the music is awful and there are very few scary moments indeed.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

26 Mar

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Writers: Lynne Ramsay (screenplay), Rory Kinnear (screenplay), and 1 more credit

Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller

Motion picture rating: R

Runtime:  112 minutes

 

 

What would you do if your child from birth was both menacing and unbearably difficult to love? It is a grim question, but one posed by this film (an adaptation of a 2003 book by Lionel Shriver). The fictional child in question is Kevin and from day one he is a real test of his mother’s composure. As a baby he does nothing but scream. As an infant he refuses to speak. He won’t be potty trained and is still soiling nappies aged about six. Kevin shows little compassion for others, he deliberately provokes his mother and maintains a blank dead-eyed look all of the time.

Kevin (played incredibly well by Jasper Newell 6 – 8 and then Ezra Miller 13 – 16) is clearly not a normal child. His mother (Tilda Swinton) has him tested, but medically he is fine and with his father he acts mostly as he should for his age. It is with his mother that the menacing and sociopathic behaviour occurs. The story of Kevin and his mother is told in flashback mode, but one that is deliberately disjointed so as to up the anxiety level. As such it is a proper thriller with warning signs and clues mixed into the narrative and with wide swashes of the colour red in many scenes.

The story of a nihilistic and sociopathic child, building towards a horrific and bloody climax, is not an easy subject and this is not an easy film to watch. It is, however, a superbly crafted piece of cinema that deserves plaudits. The lighting, pacing and composure of shots are supreme. The music, the editing and the acting is faultless. This really is a high class piece of work that is centred around Tilda Swinton’s phenomenal performance as the lonely and desperate mother. Hers is an unflinching performance and I found it and the film riveting.

The Descendants

24 Mar

Director: Alexander Payne

Writers: Alexander Payne (screenplay), Nat Faxon (screenplay), and 2 more credits

Stars: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 115 minutes

 

 

Dark comedies about awkward American middle-aged men assessing their lives are essentially what writer director Alexander Payne does. He started with Election (fantastic) in 1999, followed that with About Schmidt (good) in 2002, and then captured a bigger audience and the odd award with Sideways (excellent) in 2004. Payne cast Matthew Broderick, Jack Nicholson and Paul Giamatti as the leads in those films and this time around it is George Clooney that finds himself questioning his purpose and position in a messy modern life.

Clooney plays Matt King, a grey haired Hawaiian businessman with a lousy taste in shirts. He is having a particularly tough time of it as his wife is in hospital in a coma, he has to try to parent his two wayward daughters, and he is in the middle of a large family land deal with many complications. In addition he is estranged from his own family. Matt is bemused by his kids with whom he rarely talks and learns that his sick wife was having an affair before her accident. All is not paradise in Hawaii which is a theme that Clooney / Payne return to frequently.

This movie, adapted from a novel, is called The Descendants as it deals with family growing pains – via the father and daughter relationships and via the complex family land deal. It is a fairly interesting set-up, but it does not dig very deep. The relationships are rather one-dimensional and the slow pace and lack of spark, funny or otherwise, allowed my attention to drift. I actually found it boring. Clooney is OK in his role, but the character of Matt King has few redeeming qualities. Of those 4 ‘middle-aged male crises’ films from Alexander Payne, this is definitely the weakest.

Moneyball

22 Mar

Director: Bennett Miller

Writers: Steven Zaillian (screenplay), Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), and 2 more credits

Stars: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 133 minutes

 

 

The book and film The Perfect Storm subsequently morphed into a well used phrase for when multiple events coincide to conspire against you. Although less catchy, I can see Moneyball doing something similar. It refers to the management approach taken by the Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane from 2001. More specifically, Moneyball means taking the emotion and subjective beliefs out of decision-making, falling back on hard facts and being coldly analytical. Like The Perfect Storm, this film is adapted from an earlier book – the 2003 account by Michael Lewis titled Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

The film opens in 2001 as the A’s are forced to sell 3 of their stars to much bigger and better financed baseball teams. At that point the owner describes the A’s as a small market team. Beane as the GM complains loudly that the deck is stacked against him. He has strong feelings that baseball has become unfair and that the accepted wisdom of building teams is flawed. He is stewing on those ‘injustices’ when he meets and then hires Peter Brand, a young Yale economics graduate from the back-room team at the Cleveland Indians. Together Beane and Brand apply the Moneyball approach to re-building the A’s with startling results.

Moneyball is a remarkable film. The story resonates well beyond baseball and the lead actors Brad Pitt (Beane) and Jonah Hill (Brand) perform to perfection. The pacing and the script (by big-hitters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin) are also superb. It is not surprising that it was nominated for a number of awards earlier this year. What is surprising is that I was transfixed by a film with baseball at its heart – a sport that I have no time for at all, but that came to life as the A’s go on their amazing journey. Billy Beane reminds me of Brian Clough and that’s also quite an accolade!

Tower Heist

18 Mar

Director: Brett Ratner

Writers: Ted Griffin (screenplay), Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), and 3 more credits

Stars: Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller and Casey Affleck

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 104 minutes

 

 

There are some dodgy old names associated with this latest Ben Stiller comedy. The director is Brett, Rush Hour 1, 2 & 3, Ratner and the other star is Eddie Murphy, an actor with a long cinematic criminal record. Having them make up a large part of the ‘talent’ on this film made me sceptical from the outset – that and the fact that Ben Stiller is hardly a reliable source of comedy gold.

The story of Tower Heist is a modern and topical take on the little guy standing up to the wealthy and bullying mogul. Stiller is the manager of an impressive residential tower block that is owned by the penthouse dwelling Alan Alda. Alda comes across as a bit Donald Trump and a bit Bernie Madoff and it is the latter resemblance that is crucial. The story turns on the unravelling of a ponzi scheme that Alda’s character has trapped Stiller and other tower employees in.

Once Stiller and his colleagues realize the chicanery of Alda they join forces and decide to rob him. That’s the cue for Murphy to enter the fray as the consultant thief and for Stiller’s misfit gang to embark on some good fun heist training. Here the movie works very well with a strong supporting cast that includes Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick and Tea Leoni. Once the robbery is underway, however, the comedy is stretched a little thin.

If the great Frank Capra was alive today it is likely that he would be offered this type of ‘blue collar hero’ film to direct. He would certainly do more with it than Ratner, but Tower Heist is decent enough and not the dog that I had anticipated going in.

The Ides of March

16 Mar

Director: George Clooney

Writers: George Clooney (screenplay), Grant Heslov (screenplay), and 2 more credits

Stars: Paul Giamatti, George Clooney and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 101 minutes

 

The timing for this film could hardly be better. As the story of a primary election to decide a US presidential nominee, it is here just as Mitt Romney is fighting ugly with Paul, Gingrich and Santorum. Of course this is a George Clooney film so it’s a Democratic primary under the microscope and not a Republican one. That said, one theme of this movie is how the Democrats could learn a thing or two about the dark arts of electioneering from their Republican rivals.

As well as its timely focus on intra party political shenanigans, The Ides of March features Hollywood’s hottest lead actor in Ryan Gosling. He is fresh from strong performances in the overrated Drive and the underrated Crazy, Stupid, Love and he delivers again here as an assistant campaign manager. It is his job to support the campaign manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as together they plot the way through the Ohio primary for their candidate (George Clooney).

As well as Hoffman we get Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright and Marisa Tomei in the other supporting roles. These are all excellent actors and the writer-director Clooney has assembled another strong cast. They all do well, the film moves along nicely and it is entertaining. The plot twists are not particularly surprising and the central theme of forced political compromise has been addressed before, but the script and acting lift this well above the average drama.

One Day

2 Mar

Director:Lone Scherfig

Writers:David Nicholls (screenplay), David Nicholls (book)

Stars:Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess and Patricia Clarkson

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 107 minutes

 

 

The One Day novel sold over 1 million copies and was translated over 35 times worldwide. It was positioned as a romantic book with cross-gender appeal and it was evidently very popular. Whilst I did not see men reading it on the tube from 2009 to 2011, I certainly saw a lot of women engrossed in the story of university friends Dexter and Emma – the story of how their lives in London unfold and intersect after their graduation day on July 15 1988.

The screenplay for this film is by the writer of the book David Nicholls so I assume that it is faithful to the source material. The ‘gimmick’ of the novel remains as the story is told from the perspective of a series of July 15 days from 1988 to 2006. During that period Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) grow up, fall in and out of love, support each other through various travails, and constantly seem on the edge of becoming more than friends. Both struggle to put their carefree student days properly behind them and both are prone to loneliness in the big city. These themes are central to what is otherwise a conventional romantic drama.

In short, I really disliked this film. The story is ridden with clichés and feels highly manipulative. Throughout the almost endless run of July 15 days I had absolutely no empathy for Dexter or Emma. The two characters are flawed caricatures. He’s not sharp, but finds life easy whilst she’s smart, but socially awkward. He’s cool and she’s nerdy etc. Neither lead actor delivers a believable performance, but Anne Hathaway is hopelessly miscast. Her English accent is horrible and to give her the clumsy, nerdy and awkward ‘look’ she hangs out in doc martins and comedy glasses. Awful.

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