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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Jobs

Lets just round off last week with a quick look at Jobs.

Despite the plethora of one-star reviews and largely apathetic audience reaction, Jobs really isn't that bad. It isn't much good, but it isn't that bad either.

As you may have guessed by now, Jobs sort of tells the story of Steve Jobs, the legendary co-founder of Apple. I say sort of because the film can't quite seem to decide whether it wants to tell the story of Steve Jobs or about the company he started. The film, in fact, probably hues closer to being Apple: The Movie, rather than a true look at this brilliant but endlessly controversial cultural figure, but even then it still feels somewhat superficial.

As for Jobs himself, we spend a bit of time with him in his young days in college, but the film spends little time before getting to tell the story of Apple - how it was started in a basement by one guy with a lot of vision and a bunch of his frankly more talented friends, how Apple basically invented the home computer, how Jobs' perfectionism almost bankrupted the company, how Jobs was forced out of the company he created and finally his triumphant return well over a decade later.

It's not an uninteresting story but it's told with little of the electric writing or directorial style that made the rather similar Social Network into such a riveting piece of drama. With even that said though, even if it had brought Apple's story to life with a bit more verve, it still would have had to deal with the crippling absence of its lead character in the centre of everything.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Paranoia

Guess what this one's about? No, really.

Also at Channel 24

What it's about


After making copious use of the company credit card after being laid off from his job at a major tech company, Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) is given a second chance by his old boss, Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) – all he has to do is spy on a rival company, run by Wyatt's old boss and mentor, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford). It's not long, however, before he finds himself the pawn in a game where the ruthless primary players are playing on a whole other level.


What we thought


Paranoia is yet another generic thriller with an utterly forgettable one-word title that is perhaps even less memorable and impressive than its title suggests. It's especially impressive that a film with a couple of really fun supporting performances from Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfus and Gary Oldman makes next to no lasting impression whatsoever. In fact, when I saw “Paranoia” on the release schedule, I had to head straight over to the good ol' IMDB just to remind myself of what the hell it was – and I had only seen it a few weeks back.


Paranoia is also, it has to be said, the biggest bomb of Harrison Ford's illustrious career as it hasn't even made back a fifth of its rather modest $35 million budget. To be fair though, though it's certainly somewhere on the bottom rungs of his career, perhaps even right at the bottom, it's not that bad a movie. It's not in any way, shape or form “good”, not by a very long shot, but there isn't that much about it that's actively terrible. Of course, it might have been more interesting if it was.


The film is simply blah, in a way that's not a hundred miles away from the other big blah release of the week, Diana. Unlike Diana, it does admittedly at least feature a bunch of veteran actors who are clearly having a quite contagious good time, but everything around them is so dull and uninspired that even they can't rise above the overall dreariness of the film.

Diana

Mills and Boons goes the biopic?

Also at Channel 24

What it's about


Focusing on the last couple of years of her life, Diana tells the story of the elicit(ish) love affair between Princess Diana of Wales and the apparent last love of her life, heart surgeon Hasnat Khan.


What we thought


Is it really still to soon to talk about it? It's been, what, nearly two decades since Princess Diana's tragic death, but if Diana is any indication, we still have some way to go yet.


Diana is the first major film to place its focus squarely on Lady Di since that day at the end of August 1997, but it's so listless, so anaemic, so bland an effort that one wonders why they even bothered in the first place. It is nowhere near the – if you pardon the unfortunate phrase – car crash that many of its one-star reviews have painted it as, but that's because it doesn't try hard enough to be that interesting.


While watching Diana, it's impossible to shake the feeling that everyone involved in the film is too trepidatious to engage with its subject head on. Want proof, check out the very odd interview that Naomi Watts had with BBC Radio Five Live's Simon Mayo (it's pretty easy to find on the interwebs) where this beloved, experienced actor was very much on the defensive when it came to answering even the most straightforward and innocuous of Mayo's questions, going so far as to even end the interview a couple of minutes earlier than she was supposed to.


It's possible, of course, that she was simply unhappy with how the film came out, but everything on screen points towards her and everyone else involved being genuinely scared of what they were doing with this film. Even the basic story of the film seems tailor made to have as little to say on who Diana was as a person as possible. Diana is very careful to ensure that it's no autobiography – hell, it's not even a hagiography. Princess Diana was clearly a major figure in 20th century culture and, by all accounts, she was a fairly intriguing personality, but the film only bothers with a part of her life that doesn't exactly show her at her most interesting.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gravity

I have a bunch of Channel 24 reviews for this week, but before I post them, I just want to say a quick few words about one of the year's most notable, often awe-inspiring releases, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity.


Gravity, the latest film from the frankly brilliant Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban and Y Tu Mama Tambien) must have the highest Metascore of any film released this year at a whopping 96/100 and, ya know what, it very almost deserves the dozens of 5 star reviews it has so far received.

As a technical piece of filmmaking it is, indeed, flawless as its special effects are entirely believable, its visuals glorious and its use of 3D right up there with Hugo and Life of Pi. It is also, a white-knuckle thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat, if not hyperventilating, throughout  its sleek 90 minutes of catastrophic space adventure. And then, of course, there is the career-best performance by Sandra Bullock who very almost single-handedly carries the entire film - with only the support of George Clooney and a few disembodied voices for company. Clooney, incidentally, tries significantly less hard than Bullock in the acting department, relying instead on his charm and charisma to carry him through. This being George Clooney though, that is a seriously considerable amount of charm and charisma. And, yes, he TOTALLY looks like a real life Buzz Lightyear in the film!

Gravity is, as I hope I've made clear, a spectacular, visually arresting, nail biting thriller with a brilliant lead performance backed up by the humour and good grace of Hollywood's most charming and universally loved movie star. I just can't quite bring myself to give it a perfect score. Indeed, had the spectacle not been that spectacular I may have even docked it another star in my perfect, foolproof rating system.

The film gets so much absolutely and perfectly right that it's disappointing that the emotional arc that Bullock's character goes through is a bit too underdeveloped and the film's themes of loneliness and connection are painted with strokes that are just a bit too broad. Also, because much of the greatness of the film comes from its suspense rather than its story or its characters, it probably won't be something that demands or rewards repeat viewings.  

Still these are minor, if notable, flaws and Gravity is a must see movie that absolutely has to be seen in a good cinema in 3D (seriously, its use of 3D to portray the film's multi-layered environment is nothing short of spectacular) to get the effect of what Cuaron has accomplished here. Downloads or DVD/Blu-Ray purchases just ain't gonna cut it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rust and Bone

The Good, The Bad and the Smackable...

Also at Channel 24

What it's about


Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) leaves Belgium with his young son to live with his sister in Antibes, France where he forms a unique and powerful bond with Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), an orca whale trainer who loses both her legs in a horrible accident while on the job.


What we thought


Rust and Bone, Jaques Audiard's follow-up to his acclaimed, multi-award-winning A Prophet, is a consistently artful, often powerful film that unfortunately never quite manages to overcome its one, central flaw: its awful chief protagonist.


Though the plot of Rust and Bone is remarkably straightforward, it's a thematically rich, complicated piece about two broken people finding first comfort then love in one another. On the one hand, we have Marion Cotillard's Stephanie, a woman who is physically maimed doing her job, while on the other, we have Matthias Schoenaerts' Alain, a man crippled by his own self-destructive emotions who earns his living by taking part in illegal street fights.


The film's lack of plot is matched by its meandering structure and clearly intentional languid pacing, but though it is at times a bit boring and at others utterly exasperating, it still manages to draw you in with both its exploration of what makes love work and these two seriously dysfunctional people are bolstered by each other's imperfections. It's not light and it is seriously lacking in a sense of humour (“serious” movies often make the mistake of overlooking how absurd and funny, even if darkly funny, life tends to be) but its ability to find beauty in suffering makes for a rather moving and involving film.

Redemption (Hummingbird)

Not to be all monosyllabic about this or anything but meh...

Also at Channel 24

What it's about


Joey (Jason Statham), homeless and on the run from a military court martial, embraces the opportunity to assume someone else's identity and, while forming a relationship with the nun who helps out a local soup kitchen, begins a crusade against the scum of his local neighborhood.


What we thought


First, before we get into the film itself, can we just deal with its title. “Redemption” is an unspeakably terrible name for a film. It has all the generic pointlessness of calling a film “Film” or “A Man“ but without any of those titles' post-modern zing. It's especially stupid as it has the more cryptic and much more interesting title of Hummingbird in the UK – I have no idea what its marketing people were thinking or if, indeed, they were. “Redemption”? Rubbish!


Title aside though, the film itself is... kind of OK. Nothing great, nothing special, nothing even particularly good but... kind of OK.


If nothing else, you have to give Jason Statham credit for understanding his limits and being willing to explore all areas within them. This is a more serious, more ambitious (and rather less fun) Jason Statham movie, but though it allows him to do some “proper acting”, the film never pushes The Stath too far out of his comfort zone, instead wisely allowing his natural charisma to shine through. And shine through it does because, no matter what else you might say about modern cinema's best action hero, the dude has charisma, charm and screen presence coming out of the wazoo.


Unfortunately, though the film can be mildly recommended to see The Stath strutting his stuff, it doesn't really have that much else going for it, even if doesn't have too much going really against it either. Again, it's kind of OK.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Call

Wait, a good Halle Berry movie? Whodathunkit?

Also at Channel 24

What it's about


After failing to save a young girl from a murderous home invader, 911 operator Jordan Turner's (Halle Berry) confidence in her job is badly shaken but when teenager Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is kidnapped and locked in the boot of her kidnappers car with her cell phone as her only means of escape, Jordan is soon forced to face her own demons and ensure that that tragic night does not repeat itself.


What we thought


The Call is a refreshingly terse, stripped down thriller that would easily be one of the best films of its kind to come along in a long, long time had it stayed its course all the way through. As it is, it's still a pretty damn excellent exercise in suspense for its first two acts, before turning into a ridiculously ill-fitting, narratively confused slasher flick for its closing half hour. Admittedly, the final act is still really good fun and it concludes with an utterly demented coup de grace from a lead character who apparently had a total personality transplant while the rest of us weren't looking, but it is such a strange departure from the rest of the film that you're as likely to leave the cinema in a state of bewilderment as you are to leave truly satisfied with what you've just seen.


That's the the film's final impression, though: there's still a couple of hours of goodness (and lunacy) to deal with first. For a start, fittingly enough, the film sets its own tone straights off the bat as it begins by thrusting the audience almost immediately into the middle of this horrifically tense home invasion. It's a brilliant opener that also quickly establishes all we really need to know about the surprisingly (this is a daft thriller after all) well drawn woman at the centre of the film.

R.I.P.D

Late again, I know. Look out for a good ol' roundup soon, but for now, here's another disappointing effects movie.

Also at Channel 24.

What it's about


After being murdered by his partner, a dirty cop gets a second chance to make amends and take revenge as he joins the Rest In Peace Department, a post-mortem law enforcement agency tasked with stopping the dead from wreaking havoc on the living.


What we thought


R.I.P.D, the 674th comic book movie to be released this year, looks, at the outset, to have plenty going for it. It has a good director, a cast that ranges from solid (Ryan Reynolds) to excellent (Jeff Bridges, Mary-Louise Parker) and a really neat high-concept premise. Unfortunately, though it's nowhere near the turkey that most critics have deemed it to be, it squanders most of its promise, even as it constantly hints towards better movies and its own underlying potential.


It's especially irritating that the film could so easily be better because its major failures are very easily identifiable as coming from two rather crucial areas: it's effects and its money.


In terms of the former, RIPD relies almost entirely on CGI, but it looks like the kind of CGI that one would normally find in a very cheap video game or in a movie from when the technology was still in its infancy. The action scenes have no sense of physicality whatsoever and the undead creatures are entirely lacking in physical presence or believability. CG characters are often problematic but we haven't seen CGI creations this shoddy since at least the terrible digi-zombies of I Am Legend. Regardless of the films other problems, it would have been a hundred times better had they relied on good prosthetic and make up work and on physical stunts.


Now, considering how bad the effects are, one can assume that RIPD didn't exactly have a mega-budget, but it had just enough money thrown at it to completely and utterly undermine everything that could have and should have worked about the film. It has a premise that would be a perfect fit for the quirky, indie aesthetic of Scott Pilgrim or Kick Ass but someone clearly wanted the film to go head to head with the bigger comic book movies, which is why we get stupid CGI creatures when we should have Evil-Dead-like zombies and an inane plot about protecting the world from a supervillain who wants to destroy it, when we really should be getting something far smaller and more intimate.