Archive | January, 2013

The Watch

27 Jan

the watch

Director: Akiva Schaffer

Writers: Writers: Jared Stern, Seth Rogen

Stars: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 102 minutes

There is something disconcertingly familiar about recent US comedies. Roughly the same review can be posted for too many of them. That’s not to say that I don’t sit down with an open mind, ready to concentrate, but so many of these films involving the likes of Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow and Jonah Hill play out the same way. A decent set-up, high profile actors and a great poster, a few good lines, but ultimately a very average comedy. It’s all too lazy.

In this one, part written by Rogen and featuring Hill, a small group of generally well-liked and decent comic actors are assembled as an accident prone neighbourhood watch. The likes of Hill, Stiller and Vaughn should spark off each other nicely, but this is tame stuff from the start. Whether it is their egos that are getting in the way or they are simply phoning in their lines I am not sure, but no magic is created. Jonah Hill does OK, but 1 out of 4 hitting their mark is a poor return.

In terms of the neighbourhood being guarded, this one has been infiltrated by aliens. As such the movie aspires to be a comedy with scares in the vein of Gremlins. That is a difficult genre to crack and The Watch fails badly, especially when compared to the UK indie film Attack the Block (from 2011) that has a similar plot. This one is not really very funny and it’s certainly not scary apart from Vaughn’s performance. Frankly, it’s a mess. On top of the alien invasion story 2 sub-plots develop later on around Vaughn’s parenting skills and Stiller’s infertility. They sit awkwardly alongside the diminishing laughs and the sterile action. Overall, a waste of time.

Total Recall

20 Jan

total recall

Director: Len Wiseman

Writers: Kurt Wimmer (screenplay), Mark Bomback (screenplay)

Stars: Colin Farrell, Bokeem Woodbine and Bryan Cranston

Motion Picture Rating: 12A

Runtime: 118 minutes

 

Len Wiseman has re-made and updated the fondly remembered 1990 Schwarzenegger film, but who asked him to do it? No doubt it is commercial pressure that is fuelling the trend to dig up, dust down and to re-do popular ‘80’s and ‘90’s movies, but some things are better left alone. In this one Colin Farrell takes big Arnie’s role having recently featured in the Fright Night re-make so this catastrophe marks him as a repeat offender.

This time around the Unified Federation of Britain is oddly in charge of an impoverished Earth, but the original plot, with Farrell recalling his previous life as an action hero, remains intact. His present life is a lie and friends, wife (Kate Beckinsale) and job are part of a wider conspiracy to keep Farrell’s renegade warrior in check. Once he starts to see through the façade it is action all the way. Unfortunately, the action is of the endless chase variety that delivers plenty of noise and stunts, but zero engagement.

So much of what Wiseman offers us in his Total Recall is so familiar and so uninteresting. The synthetic police force looks like i-Robot, the hover car chase comes from The Fifth Element and the rain-drenched city of the future lit up with neon once again plunders Blade Runner. There is also Demolition Man in here as well as Star Wars and Serenity. The film lacks any originality and, fatally, it has no charm at all. Farrell can’t bring anything fresh to it and whilst Beckinsale and Jessica Biel (as the ex-comrade and girlfriend) look great, their acting in this is woeful.

Arnie’s Total Recall had some humour and it had some charm. That film had some surprises, the odd delight and decent action. Twenty years on and the re-make is tortuous. The only way that I got through it was to watch Farrell’s stubble changing within scenes in unsurprisingly lax continuity work by the crew – maybe they were as bored as me?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

14 Jan

perks of being a wallflower

 

Director: Stephen Chbosky

Writers: Stephen Chbosky (screenplay and book)

Stars: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller

Motion Picture Rating: 12A

Runtime: 102 minutes

 

 

Logan Lerman plays Charlie, a bit of a Donnie Darko character, as he embarks on his first senior year at high school. This is a film about his journey through that freshman experience, the basic hell that senior school can be, and the friends that he picks up along the way. As the film opens Charlie is counting down the days until graduation. He’s not a popular kid. In fact, he has no friends.

The friends that Charlie eventually makes are Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson). Together they are outcasts, misfits, oddballs – Sam welcomes Charlie “to the island of misfit toys” which says it all. The 3 become almost inseparable and their friendship is charmingly believable. Their story is about how closest friends often know you best and love you most. It is also about the very real mental hardships that some teenagers have to bear.

This film has been adapted and directed by the original novelist Stephen Chbosky and he has done an admirable job. His screenplay would not look out of place in any of the lists of primetime award nominations. He also benefits from a fine soundtrack and a strong cast in which Logan Lerman really shines as the central character. Overall, it is heartfelt and honest and rather charming. There is a darker sub-plot that is handled a little heavily and resolved a little late, but otherwise the story of how these wallflowers bloom is observant, sweet and uplifting.

Friends with Kids

9 Jan

friends with kids

Director: Jennifer Westfeldt

Writer: Jennifer Westfeldt

Stars: Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott and Maya Rudolph

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 107 minutes

 

Here is another film seemingly aimed at young parents and those trying for children. It follows hard on the heels of the incredibly poor “What to Expect…” and whilst not as bad as that, it is still a mediocre effort. The writer, star and director are one in Jennifer Westfeldt and she was able to rope in her off-screen partner Jon Hamm as well as good friends Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig (who featured together in “Bridesmaids” along with Chris O’Dowd who also turns up in this comedy / drama). It follows that there is a nice camaraderie among the cast and the first 25 minutes are funny. However, it is downhill thereafter.

During that smart opening section the film is funny, but also a little dark. The material is adult and arch with a number of nicely non-politically correct gags. The concept is also promising – the long-time single best friends decide to make a baby together believing that two committed, but single parents is better than most modern couples. The friends, Westfeldt and Adam Scott, are charming together and appear more than capable of doing the unorthodox kid thing right. They are best friends that are assumed to be a couple by strangers and that are hoped to be a couple by mutual friends (so guessing the ending isn’t hard). Their wider circle of friends (Hamm, Wiig, Rudolph, O’Dowd) are also a colourful, albeit stereotyped, bunch.

The problems with the story start about half-way through and are compounded by a serious lack of laughs in the second half. A key scene that’s set in a Vermont ski chalet, with a group bust-up and alcohol induced truth telling among friends, is whiny, self-absorbed and melodramatic. There is also a sudden switch of focus to the struggling couple Hamm and Wiig, but we have little empathy or interest in them. And even though the ending is telegraphed from the start, it could have been handled without going over-the-top and harvesting clichés. That is a real disappointment and sums up a film that started off with a bang, but finished with a whimper.

The Dark Knight Rises

7 Jan

the darkknight rises

 

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Jonathan Nolan (screenplay), Christopher Nolan (screenplay)

Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway

Motion Picture Rating: 12A

Runtime: 165 minutes

 

This is the final part of the rebooted Chris Nolan trilogy (after Batman Begins in 2005 and The Dark Knight in 2008). It has an exciting start with a cool aerial stunt that includes an intro to the villain Bane (Tom Hardy in that facemask). The set-up is also good with Gotham in an uneasy period of “peacetime” as described by Matthew Modine’s ineffectual Deputy Commissioner Foley. Since Batman left Gotham under a cloud 4 years earlier crime has seemingly fallen away, but early on we are told that “a storm is coming”.

Like the recent Bond film we start this with a tired and broken hero. Christian Bale’s Batman is retired from duty and hardly missed by the general public. His body is bruised and battered and he appears well off his game. And just like Daniel Craig in “Skyfall” this is Bale’s best acting for a while. He dominates every scene that he’s in and draws enormous sympathy even whilst wearing his battle fatigues and trying to hold on to that cool and impassive stare.

The first 60 minutes of this film are terrific. The film rattles along and introduces some interesting new characters. Bale is excellent and Hardy is solid enough as the latest baddie. Caine, Oldman and Gordon-Levitt are also on fine form in the supporting roles so I was genuinely enjoying the show and looking forward to the last two thirds. I was, however, disappointed and, in hindsight, a little annoyed by the final 100 minutes. There are quite a few things wrong with this one.

Although I watched this spectacle on my small home screen I can’t believe that it was any easier to understand Tom Hardy as Bane in the cinema. His facemask distorts 80% of what he says. And although dark colouring can be cinematic on a big screen, here the migration to TV renders the film too dismal and dank to actually see what’s going on at times. Those sound and lighting issues are less frustrating when the main female characters are on screen (Hathaway out of her depth and far too clean-cut to play Catwoman and Cotillard wasted in a silly role), but the Batman and Bane confrontations are almost ruined by them.

As well as poor construction and casting in the female roles I take umbrage with Christopher Nolan for other errors. Why is this film 165 minutes long? That’s ludicrous and simply underlines his bombastic tendencies (as seen in the hugely over-rated “Inception”). Yes he is missing the electric presence of Heath Ledger from #2, but that’s no excuse for such lengthy and clunky tie-ups between the three films and the back story (involving an underground prison in a faraway land). My feeling is that huge box office success has made Nolan untouchable and that’s a pity. This film is brilliant for 60 minutes, but goes off the rails terribly. It becomes long, loud, silly and arrogant and that’s a sad way for Bale and Batman to bow out.

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