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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kidnapping Freddy Heineken

Well, you'll probably need a beer after seeing this unholy mess...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

The true story of how a group of working stiffs pulled off the kidnapping of Beer tycoon, Alfred “Freddy” Heineken, resulting in the biggest ransom ever paid for a single individual. But, as the film's tagline says, “it was the perfect crime until they got away with it...”

What we thought

Considering just how interesting Kidnapping Freddy Heineken's basic story is, as well as the sheer talent both behind and in front of the camera, it really is kind shocking just how terrible a film it turned out to be.

The basic plot is, as I said, really rather good but you wouldn't think so based on just how clumsily its told and how terribly its paced. There are much more jaw-droppingly awful things about the film (more on one or two of those in a bit) but by far the most disappointing thing about it is just how boring it rendered this story. Here we have a crazier-than-fiction true crime story, mixed with tons of infighting, moral complications and a (potential) mounting sense of tension as our “anti-heroes” steadily come to the realisation that they're really not equipped to pull off such a complicated crime – and yet it was all I could do to stay awake.

Director Daniel Alfredson directed the original Swedish versions of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy and though they were certainly from from perfect, they were at least decently constructed thrillers. Here though, any of the thrills and chills that Alfredson brought to the big screen adventures of Lisbeth Salander are conspicuous by their absence. Instead, we have annoying characters getting more and more irritating by the moment, as weeks somehow manage to pass both with no real indication of actual time passing and with the feel of creeping real-time as well.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Rudderless

We Need To Talk About Rudderless...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After retreating from his life after his son, Josh, is killed in a campus shooting, Sam Manning finds a way to both finally confront his loss and maybe, just maybe, move on when he comes across a box of CDs containing songs that Josh wrote in his brief life. Teaming up with a passionate but somewhat troubled young man, Quentin, Sam starts performing the songs at a local music club but however therapeutic these performances become, as his local fame grows so does the spectre of a secret that he's been holding on to.

What we thought

By turns uplifting, tragic and frustrating, beloved character actor William H Macy's directorial debut is an impressively assured piece of filmmaking that constantly skirts with greatness but never quite reaches it thanks to a single, critical flaw that resides right in the centre of Jeff Robinson and Brad Greiner's otherwise beautiful script.

It's hard to talk about without getting heavily into spoiler territory but, in essence, Rudderless has a twist – or at least a revelation – in the middle of the film that may not be particularly surprising but is unquestionably ill judged. More specifically, because the film has to play coy for the first half of its running time about this crucial plot point, it robs itself of quite a lot of its emotional impact by playing its cards way too close to its chest. Further, by the time the big revelation actually comes, you can't help but wonder why they didn't just give us this valuable piece of information at the beginning of the film. It doesn't add anything by working as a mid-point twist and had Macy and the screenwriters just been upfront about it right from the off, most of the film's occasionally uncertain emotional beats and apparent lapses in logic would quickly fall away.

Entourage

I have a feeling that die hard fans of the show aren't going to like me after this...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Picking up immediately after the end of the TV series of the same name, Vincent Chase and the boys are back for a new Hollywood adventure. As Vinnie turns his attentions towards directing a major new studio release for the studio that now has his former agent, Ari Gold, as its head, E is expecting a baby with his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Sloan, while Turtle desperately tries to woo a Mixed Martial Arts star and Johnny Drama continues to try and step out of his baby brother's shadow as a proper actor.

What we thought

Entourage is, at absolute best, strictly for fans of the series. Not because newcomers won't understand what's going on, mind you, because there really is very little to catch up with and what there is, is done very speedily in the first few moments through a sequence of typically naff Pierce Morgan interview segments with our main players. No, new audiences should understand the film just fine. What they probably won't get though, is how this shallow, laugh-free, stupid and morally iffy Hollywood product managed to support a series for the better part of a decade.

And, frankly, despite the fact that I've seen every single episode of the show (and even liked quite a few of them), I'm kind of with them.

It's not simply that the Entourage movie isn't as good as the better episodes in the show – though it certainly isn't – it's that the experience of watching what is basically an overly long episode, projected onto the big screen, shines a light on all the show's many, many problems, while minimizing almost all of its virtues.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Cut Bank

Well, I suppose there are worse ideas than borrowing heavily from the works of the Coen Brothers, after all...

This review is also up at Channel 24.


What it's about

In the small, sleepy town of Cut Bank, Minnesota, a young couple accidentally film the murder of a postal worker – but this is only the beginning of their troubles.

What we thought

Cut Bank is the debut feature film for veteran TV director Matt Shakman and though it's hardly a roaring success, you do have to admire the chutzpah of a filmmaker modelling his first big screen outing on the work of the Coen Brothers. More specifically, on earlier Coen works like Blood Simple and arguably their most beloved work, Fargo (I've always been more of a Big Lebowski man myself though) – though with some helpings of No Country for Old Men thrown in for good measure. But then, considering how many indie filmmakers start off their careers with their own riffs on Woody Allen's immortal classic, Annie Hall, there probably is something to be said for stealing from the best.

Though, to be fair, it might be more accurate to say that it's the film's screenwriter, Robert Patino, who is most responsible for the Coen-like feel of the film. His most notable work to date is as a staff writer and story editor on the notoriously mad TV show, Sons of Anarchy, but it's his script that actually stands out most. Indeed, the biggest problem with the film actually is that Shakman's unquestionably competent but conservative direction doesn't ever really do justice to the quirkiness and black humour of Patino's script. The dialogue in particular has a very distinct cadence to it that, sure enough, borrows heavily from the brothers Coen but without their distinct directorial flare, it mostly comes out a little flat – occasionally even out of place.

A Royal Night Out

A Royally Silly Night Out.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Based (extremely) loosely on the true story of how Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret joined the common folk in their celebrations of V.E. Day, 1945.

What we thought

A Royal Night Out is, in absolutely no uncertain terms, utter nonsense. Not only does this “historical dramedy” have really very little do with any events that ever actually happened (the princesses apparently did little more than stand outside the palace gates on V.E night and were home by 1:00 AM), it also has very little of any real merit as a piece of storytelling. Basically a posher take on something like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist or After Hours, it's very silly, very shallow and very ill disciplined in terms of both plotting and tone.

It's also, however, quite a lot of fun.

The real story, of course, would have been quite boring so it's understandable that they invented much of what happens in the movie but, more importantly, because the film is clearly so thoroughly divorced from the real world, it has the space to work as a piece of fluffy light fantasy. So, between Elizabeth meeting and falling for a handsome young, anti-monarchist soldier without his ever realising who she is for most of the night and her taking the same young, anti-monarchist to have breakfast with her parents, we have scenes of a very young Margaret (she was 14 in real life at the time but seems to be at least a bit older in this movie) making off with – and out with - random revellers, before landing up in a brothel run by a veritable fanboy of all things royal and ending the night being pushed around, in a drunken stupor, in a wheelbarrow. It's just that kind of film.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

San Andreas

Two hours of senseless destruction, groan-worthy dialogue and enough cliches to fill the Hoover Dam? Yes, please!


This is a bit late so I'm going to make this quick. San Andreas is total, total nonsense from beginning to end, that assumes that scenes of massive destruction, Alexandra Daddario in a low-cut top and the Rock doing his usual thing would be enough to prevent people from noticing just how rubbish it is. Here's the thing though: it kind of is.

No matter what else you might say about it, San Andreas is a film that knows exactly what it is and holds no pretensions to be anything else. It's an old fashioned, thrilling disaster movie with an extremely straightforward story - earthquake beats the crap out of California, family is caught in the middle - and likable lead characters that features just about everything else that you might expect in this sort of thing: kooky scientists that no one listens to being proven horribly right; horrible step dads getting their come comeuppance and, of course, thousands of people dying and billions of dollars in property damages but as long as our half dozen protagonists get out OK, who cares? Throw in plenty of largely very impressive CGI (a sense of fakeness sets in occasionally - but only occasionally), laughably crap one-liners and nice dollops of romance and family bonding and you have a really rather good example of a trashy disaster movie.