Archive | March, 2013

The Sapphires

26 Mar

the sapphires

 

Director: Wayne Blair

Writers: Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson

Stars: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 103 minutes

 

 

The Sapphires are a singing group made up of four related Aboriginal girls (three sisters and a cousin). The year is 1968 and the girls are about to have the adventure of a lifetime entertaining the troops in Vietnam. Under the tutelage of a somewhat seedy, and certainly disorganized, Irish manager the four girls drop the harmonized country and western ballads and take up rump-shaking soul music. Almost overnight they find themselves playing gigs, under fire and in a country that’s a whole long way from their Aussie outback home. It is a crazy story and it happens to be true.

Chris O’Dowd plays the wayward manager and the Sapphires include a successful solo artist in Jessica Mauboy (as youngest sister Julie) and well-known theatre, TV and film actor Deborah Mailman (as eldest sister Gail). The cast is good. O’Dowd gets some great lines and, playing the fool with gusto, he almost steals the film from the singing quartet. Actually all those involved put in full-blooded performances and there is a feel-good vibe through the film. In some ways The Sapphires is a little old-fashioned. And it has a familiar feel even though it is based on a unique tale.

Overall, it is difficult not to like this film. The soundtrack dazzles, the action moves quickly, and the girls mostly have fun. There are, however, a few problems that come from the speed of storytelling. Racism is front and centre at times, but promoted and dropped in quick order. The film-makers show the racist mistreatment of the black Australian singers and the black American soldiers, but don’t focus on it. The issue of forced adoption of young Aboriginal children is also important to the story, but sandwiched between rehearsals, gigs and parties. It is a difficult blend to manage and the film-makers do OK with it, but it is clunky at times.

The Master

21 Mar

the master

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson

Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 144 minutes

 

 

Paul Thomas Anderson is a fantastically talented film-maker and responsible for some of my favourite films. That is good going for a 42 year old with just 5 full-length features to his name. His films have been acclaimed internationally and his last one, There Will Be Blood, won a cluster of awards. The Master was also feted, but strangely not to the same degree. I have a feeling that to some critics Mr Anderson might be too talented for his own good.

This film tells the story of two men making their way in post WWII America. The first is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and the second is Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). These are men living on the edges of acceptable society, but for different reasons and the characters must have been a joy to play by two of today’s best actors. Phoenix’s Freddie is fresh out of the army, a drunkard, a womaniser, and a rather sad and lonely character. Hoffman is the master and leads a group of believers in what has every hallmark of a Scientology like cult.

The story follows Freddie as a moonshining vagrant who stumbles upon the master and thus starts a most unusual friendship. Whilst the older man is refined, charismatic and confident the younger Freddie is uncouth, socially awkward and seems to live on the edge of violence. No doubt he is suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress from the army and that sense of military neglect is one theme of a multi-faceted film.

Freddie finds something of which he is seeking in the company of the larger than life Dodd. From a broken home, and struggling with his temper and oddness, Freddie enjoys the attention of the wise old man. For the master the attraction becomes clearer at a slower pace and is one of the most fascinating parts of the film. Although claimed to be a visionary and clearly capable of charming money from the educated and wealthy, Dodd still has some animal instincts like Freddie. It appears that he is also aware of the limitations of his vision so he tests himself by trying to convert the strange, angry and aimless drifter.

The acting by Phoenix and Hoffman is fantastic. Their scenes together are riveting and Phoenix genuinely looks haunted throughout. Amy Adams is also great in the role of Dodd’s loyal, but by no means side-lined wife. This is such a high quality film. In following Freddie and the master’s journey across America the photography is sumptuous – stunning locations shot in glorious 65 mm film. Paul Thomas Anderson has done it again. This is without doubt one of the very best films released in the last 12 months; a poignant and impactful film about a land of opportunity, about being American, the doubts that we carry and about man’s search for human connection.

Argo

17 Mar

Argo

 

Director: Ben Affleck

Writers: Chris Terrio (screenplay), Tony Mendez (book)

Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 120 minutes

 

 

What an amazing run Ben Affleck is on. From the desperate double-whammy of Daredevil and Gigli in 2003, he has transformed his status and gone on to conquer Hollywood. Argo completes a series of 3 high quality films as director following on from Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010). That Argo also won the best film Oscar in the latest La-La Land love-fest is a huge cherry on top.

Argo, as portrayed in this film, is a great story. It re-tells the Iranian hostage saga of 1979 from the perspective of the six US embassy staffers that escaped being taken hostage by hiding out at the Canadian embassy. Whilst their colleagues are paraded on TV with blindfolds and makeshift handcuffs, the six sit tight under the protective wing of brave Canadians and pray for government intervention. About 80 days into the crisis the CIA dream up a convoluted escape plan for them based on staging a fake sci-fi movie production inside Iran (with the title Argo).

Affleck plays the lead CIA operative Tony Mendez who is the one that goes into Tehran to bring out the six embassy workers. First he has to con Hollywood to set up the fake film and to that end he hires John Goodman (as Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers) and Alan Arkin (as producer Leslie Siegel). Those 2 actors are invariably great and both have a lot of fun with these cynical characters. In fact, the Hollywood late ‘70’s segue is handled well and delivers a few inside jokes and knowing laughs. That reverence and the positive role that Hollywood is shown to have played in rescuing the embassy staffers no doubt helped to win over the Oscar voters.

Besides great turns by Goodman and Arkin, and an effective, but strangely muted performance by Affleck, Argo benefits from moving along at a good pace. It is exciting when it should be and archive footage of the hostage crisis is deployed cleverly to add to the drama.

Finally, there are 2 important things that I have to say. The first is that the story of the six embassy escapees as retold by Affleck is not as accurate as it should be. Rather ironically, but not surprisingly, Hollywood has not let the truth get in the way of a good movie here. My second point is that I am amazed that Argo got the Oscar. This is a solid piece of entertainment, but it is a very weak ‘best film’. I enjoyed it, as most people will do, but this is workmanlike cinema and merits no more than decent box office receipts. Well done again to the comeback kid Affleck, but I found both Gone Baby Gone and The Town to be far superior.

360

13 Mar

360 poster

 

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Writer: Peter Morgan (screenplay)

Stars: Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 110 minutes

 

The director Fernando Meirelles comes to this film with the hugely impressive City of God (2002) in his personal archive and the writer Peter Morgan with The Queen (2006) and Frost /Nixon (2008) on his CV. They make a high powered pair and certainly everything about this film is polished and professional. It also has a strong cast with big English thespians Law, Weisz and Hopkins on board. The omens are good and the theme is ambitious; a ‘moving tale of love in the 21st century’.

The film opens with a scene of a Slovakian girl auditioning in Vienna for some form of online escort service. It is a seedy business and the girl, and audience, is made to feel more than a little uncomfortable. Having followed her back to Bratislava, the film changes focus and moves to Paris and then to London. As a study of 21st century love, the film jumps around cities and characters and ultimately also takes in Denver and Phoenix. The stories roll into each other in some clever ways, but not every story enthralls. All the while there is a truly quirky and jazzy soundtrack that accompanies what at times feels like a bit like a ‘70’s travelogue.

In the early sequences we encounter mostly disloyal and unhappy couples. The lack of love is acutely demonstrated by London couple Weisz and Law. They are very good actors and very watchable together in this, although not on screen for long. More time is spent with other frustrated characters, but some of those are paper thin. Possibly the best character is the just out of prison sex offender played by Ben Foster. His story is oddly riveting and the film benefits from delving into darker territory. At that point Hopkins’ role as a grieving parent is also introduced and his portrayal is about the most watchable turn that he has completed for years.

What is it all about? Well, it addresses random connections and the modern collective sense of alienation, but probably is more concerned with encouraging its audience to open up to chance encounters. As such it is too earnest at times and the more upbeat final third produces one or two clichés too many. This is not a bad film, but there is not much new on display and apart from the odd mild shock, it is simply not challenging enough. Considering the film-makers, the cast and the subject matter, I see that as a missed opportunity.

Savages

7 Mar

Savages

 

Director: Oliver Stone

Writers: Shane Salerno (screenplay), Don Winslow (screenplay)

Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 131 minutes

 

 

18 months ago Taylor Kitsch was the next big thing. He was going to be huge. 2012 was all about him and his lead roles in 3 very high profile films; Disney’s sci-fi John Carter, the Rihanna debuting blockbuster Battleship and Oliver Stone’s next film Savages. Those 3 releases lost more than $300 million between them at the box office. Not such a banner year for young Kitsch. In regard to Savages, I find it hard to believe that such an awful film had anything but a horrible script. Taylor should really have seen this one coming.

Kitsch plays Chon to Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ben. They are Laguna Beach best buddies and successful growers and distributors of high quality marijuana. Their house above the beach is shared with girlfriend Ophelia (played by Blake Lively). She is in love with both of them and they seem more than happy to share her affections. In a cringe-worthy voiceover she describes her men as a Buddhist (Ben) and a baddist (Chon). Yes, that’s the quality of the script. In the same voiceover she labels her and Iraqi vet Chon’s sex as delivering wargasms.

Savages was adapted by the author Don Winslow from his own book. I have read a Winslow book, The Dawn Patrol, and it was great. The book Savages is probably good too, but this film is a mess. At no point from start to finish is anything remotely real. The 3-way sexual relationship is false. Best friends Ben and Chon have nothing in common. Their highly professional, open and thriving pot business makes no sense. The Mexican baddies that try and take it over are caricatures with a gloriously miss-cast Salma Hayek as their boss.

As well as a nonsense plot, the camera work and production design only add to the artifice. Scenes are split, montages are used, kooky graphics overlaid and strange camera angles applied. At times it has a cartoon feel to it, but that feel only clashes with scenes of torture, domestic violence and drug taking. It really is a mess and it runs for a tiresome 131 minutes.

It is likely that Savages wants to comment on the war on drugs and on the great distance between close neighbours Mexico and the USA. Towards the end there is also an odd speech by an FBI agent about the USA being “a nation of whores” . That extraneous scene reeks of director Oliver Stone and his heavy touch is felt too often. My notes on this film concluded with the description ‘fat, lazy and arrogant’ which was meant for the film, but could as easily be thrown at the director.

Grabbers

2 Mar

grabbers

 

Director: Jon Wright

Writer: Kevin Lehane

Stars: Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 94 minutes

 

 

So here we have a small coastal community terrorized by a monster from the deep. A fishing trawler has lost its crew and butchered whales have washed up on the beach. The local police mean well, but are out of their depth. Sound familiar? It should because Grabbers owes a great deal to Jaws, as well as Gremlins and Tremors too – monster movies with casts of characters that you care about and a story that builds nicely to an exciting man versus monster finale.

Grabbers is set on a small island off the coast of Ireland. It’s all a bit Father Ted with a decent nod to Local Hero. Strange maritime incidents have been occurring and the town drunk reckons that he has caught a nasty sea creature in a lobster pot. He’s not wrong and soon that creature has spawned others and the villagers are in peril. The two local police, drunken and dishevelled Richard Coyle and by the book Ruth Bradley, are trying to solve the mystery and are supported by resident marine ecologist Russell Tovey. As it happens, alcohol is the key to survival. The sea monsters seek human blood, but are poisoned by booze-filled bodies.

This is a cracking little film. The concept that locals must stage a lock-in and stay drunk to stay alive is a clever one. And for a first time script writer Kevin Lehane conjures up a realistic community with some great characters. The leads are particularly good, especially Coyle and Bradley as the miss-matched coppers with more than a little chemistry between them. Tovey is less convincing as ‘Dr Exposition’, and some of the early extras are shaky, but overall it is a winning cast and they imbue the film with a lot of heart.

I am surprised that Grabbers made such little impact at the box office, but that title probably did not help. The producers should have been more imaginative and could have benefitted from copying the marketing strategy of Shaun of the Dead. Still, this could do really well on DVD and I hope that it does. It is low budget, but the special effects are hugely impressive. The townsfolk are charming and the film is a lot of fun.

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