Category Archives: Film Reviews

Review: The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann’s adaption for the classic 1925 American Novel is close to being a great film, but it stumbles and trips over  the burden of the source material and Luhrmann’s own limited ability. Full of elegance and indulgence, it is a spectacle to behold, but it’s also gluttonous and bloated. You’ll leave with that feeling you ate too much, a great meal that left you regretting the size of the plate.

The Great Gatsby centers on Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner who has moved to New York to try his hand at finance. He is lured into a lavish world by his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, however Carraway soon learns that behind Gatsby’s rich lifestyle lies obsession, madness, and tragedy. I confess I have not read the book, so can’t comment on how well the novel has been adapted, but Luhrmann’s vision is one well suited to a lavish lifestyle, the film is otherwise horrible edited and forgettable.

There is a deep layer of subtext to just about everything in this film, at times it feels larger than life but it does center itself quite strongly in simple human terms. The ever present green light and repeating sounds give much of the drama an eery undertone, as if to underscore the tragedy. It’s at these times the film shines, complex, character driven, and engaging. Unfortunately the pace is erratic, and the editing jumps and shifts in such sharply distracting ways. It can at times feel like a really long music video where all the aforementioned depth gives way to sights and sounds void of meaning.

Leonardo Di Caprio is absolutely engaging as Gatsby, he runs the gamut of emotions in this film and simultaneously winning over the audience while also painting himself as truly human. Luhrmann’s frenetic style often strangles him, but he deserves mention. Unfortunately Tobey Maguire as Carraway is void of any personality or presence and is the same character he was in Spiderman. Joel Edgerton and Elizabeth Deicki put in noble performances as Tom and Jordon, but Carey Mulligan is utterly forgettable as the leading lady Daisy. Despite Di Caprio’s best efforts she fails to match his passion with any kind of chemistry and for much of the film her face resembles a damsel in distress.

Their chemistry pretty much sums up the whole film, it’s just not convincing enough. For a story of such depth, with such wonderful dialogue, it’s all at times just a little boring. A great deal of this does come day to visuals too, it’s as bad at times as the Star Wars prequels. You can easily see a majority of the film is done with a green screen, and the digital effects stand out like a sore thumb. For a story that centers on human emotions, it often looks like a cartoon.

The Great Gatsby has its moments, true, it is an engaging story. However Luhrmann’s vision does just about everything it can to break you away from that wonderful story, and his cast doesn’t do much to compensate.

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Filed under Drama, Film Reviews, Romance

Review: The Place Beyond The Pines

This isn’t so much a Crime Thriller as advertised, rather it’s more of a Father & Son story, and not in the sense of Finding Nemo. It is an intense character driven experience that will challenge your concepts of morality and justice. The Place Beyond the Pines goes to places mainstream movies just don’t, it deals with consequences.

Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a Motorcyle stunt rider who has just learnt he is a Father. His son is a year old and the product of a fling with Romina (Eva Mendes). Faced with the choice of continuing to tour with his stunt show or quit and stay to do his fatherly duty, Luke makes a choice that will have far reaching consequences well into the future. That’s all I am going to say for the plot, because frankly it goes places you don’t see coming and you should be free to enjoy that without any spoiling it for you.

The journey through this story is as much a though provoking commentary on the nature of good and evil and the consequences of our decisions as it is a delicately balanced drama. It’s character driven, and that is the only reason the story works. Split into three acts that take the movie in different directions, you will be hooked from start to finish. My only criticism is that third act is too predictable and draws the film out just a little too much.

Director Derek Cianfrance deserves much credit for being able to balance such a complex and delicate film. It could easily have been an incomprehensible mess, but it’s all handled with such passion that even small moments are captivating. Special mention must be made of the high speed motorcycle scenes, they are great on the big screen. A shout out to Mike Patton also for a wonderfully eery and mood setting soundtrack.

There are notable performances from Ryan GoslingEva MendesBradely Cooper, and Ben Mendelsohn who are also joined by a number of named actors in a large ensemble cast. None of these people are wearing make-up, they on screen warts and all. For some of them who have previously sold their image publicly this difference is noticeable. It certainly does the movie justice however.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a challenging and intense movie, but it’s long and can be taxing if your just out for some entertainment. It’s well worth it my opinion however, sometimes we need these kinds of stories to give ourselves some perspective.

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Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

The J.J. Abrams sequel to the 2009 reboot of Stark Trek is a non stop thrill ride, never letting up from its first minutes to its action packed climax. Where once it’s characters debated at length highly intellectual Scientific conundrums, these new incarnations shoot from the hip. This is a near perfect popcorn flick that anchors itself with great characters and a focus on the emotional journey.

 

Set shortly after the events of the previous film, we find Kirk, Spock, and his band of youthful misfits doing what they do best: Breaking every rule in the book. This time however, Kirk has to live with the consequences. Demoted and separated from his pointy ear friend, Kirk quickly find himself back in the spotlight when one of Starfleet’s own detonates a bomb in London, and commits mass murder at Starfleet headquarters. A vengeful Kirk having watched his Mentor gunned down takes command of the Enterprise again to hunt down the perpetrator.

It’s a typical Abrams mystery box, complete with the mandatory layers that are shed slowly through the course of the production. Fans of Trek, or at least those familiar with a certain 1982 film will have a pretty good idea quite early on in the film of where it’s all heading. It’s probably a tad too complex for my liking however, and at times the justification and motivations of all the machinations doesn’t quite add up, but they run with it with such vigor and determination that you’ll find it hard to have time to question anything.

That pretty much sums up the whole experience too, Abrams never gives you a chance to take it all in. It’s definitely suffering a little Attention Deficit Disorder and while that isn’t unwelcome it would have been nice to slow down and smell the roses a few times. You won’t notice the two hours passing by, but when the credits roll you’ll be weary!

If that’s all the film was, then it simply would not have been enough, but what makes this movie are the performances. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are once again marvelous as the central pair of Kirk and Spock, whileKarl Urban will make you think he had played Bones in the original version. Zoe Salanda and Simon Pegg also return, as does their quality, but the hero is Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain. There are a few memorable Trek villains, and Cumberbatch’s performance will mean his will be remembered as one. The hollow eyes, and cold monotone voice bring a weight that Eric Bana’s performance in the first film didn’t.

Into Darkness was apparently not made for Trek fans, but there are a hell of a lot of Trek references in there. It’s essentially a combined remake of an episode from the classic television series and one of the original movies. It’s not as original as I had hoped, but there is enough originality in the twists, turns, and new direction for it not to feel like you’re covering old territory. I suspect however that those who are not fans of Star Trek are going to find a lot to enjoy, while fans will find this movie divisive in their opinions.

There is also the inevitable comparison the film draws between William Shater’s and Leonard Nemoy’s relationship as Kirk and Spock developed in the original series, and the new pairing of Pine and Quinto. It’s unfair because the new pair have not had nearly as much time to develop theirs, but they give it a red hot go and even if they never quite reach the potentially great heights, it is a great spectacle.

This is an action extravaganza not to be missed! It’s a non-stop thrill ride that will not fail to excite, but won’t set your world on fire. It will certainly give heart to the masses out there who are praying J.J. Abrams can resurrect Star Wars. Because if this film is anything to go by, that franchise is in safe hands.

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Review: Ironman 3

Remember when comic books were just for Nerds? Not anymore! The cinema has given a life to these once hand drawn heroes, and they command a serious amount of cash at the box office. Ironman 3 is the latest in a long line of movies from the Marvel comic book universe. It’s not even correct to say this is the third film, because technically it’s also a spin-off from the Avenger’s movie. But who cares right?

In the saturated superhero movie market Ironman stands alone as the more irreverent take on the genre. The first movie was a surprise hit in 2008 because of Robert Downey Juniors  take on Tony Stark and the films ability to weave the threads of the war on terror into its socially conscious plot. It was relevant,  fun, and for many people quite a refreshing take on the genre. Marvel unfortunately stumbled over a half baked sequel that had a woeful script, so does the third film bring any redemption?

Ironman 3 is a throwback to the kind of action movies we saw in the nineties updated to suit the present. I was half expecting to see Jerry Bruckheimer’s name attached as Producer, but instead when I saw Shane Black Director or Predator and Lethal Weapon so it all made sense. It’s a film for those who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, with just enough charisma and a few surprises to keep the rest of us happy.

Remember that movie Team America: World Police? Well Ironman 3 is exactly the kind of movie that movie was having a go at. In all these kinds of movies there is some kind of amazing new technology that basically lets the bad guys (or good) do whatever they need to do to get to the next plot point, while also setting everything up for some crazy action sequences. You know, screw logic! The movie moves too fast for you to notice that most of it doesn’t make much sense, but at least the film makers aren’t out to totally insult us.

Perhaps the best part of this film is Ben Kingsley as the enigmatic Mandarin. A mysterious Osama Bin-Laden style character that is not only genuinely interesting, but certainly the most surprising villain in any superhero movie. His much needed sub-plot and Robert Downey Jr. give this movie the class the second installment lacked. There is no doubt Robert Downey Jr. owns this character, his own past more than fits the tone and style of Tony Stark. This time out Stark is forced to deal with a kind of post traumatic stress disorder after the events in The Avenger’s (I’m told originally it was meant to be alcoholism but Marvel made them cut that sub plot entirely). I think hero’s are at their best when they’re struggling with their inner demons, and the contradictions of Stark make him a very memorable character.

Much of the films 130 minute running time is taken up with crazy over the top action sequences, none of which really stand out. If you can get past the ridiculous nature of what’s going on, it’s a popcorn thrill ride that is sure to excite audiences but it won’t leave you wanting more. Ironman 3 is at it’s best when it is original, surprising and challenging it’s characters. If there was just a little more of that, and a little less of a relentless mindless action and completely unbelievable science fiction it would have been more than just two hours of fun.

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Review: Oblivion

Oblivion is about as close to hard Science Fiction as a blockbuster Hollywood film has been since Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Drawing inspiration from a vast array of stories and movies from the genre, Oblivion is ultimately a mash-up of just about every science fiction trope you can find. It’s a sleek and sexy production, complete with the amazing visual and audio style of its Director Joseph Kosinski who made his debut with Tron: Legacy. It drives its story with a complex mystery that is engaging and thought provoking, but it struggles to find room for its characters.

Set around 2070 the story focuses on Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They are all that remains of humanity on Earth after it was devastated by Nuclear war against an Alien race dubbed the Scavengers or Scavs. They repair drones, automated killing machines that protect giant energy production facilities against what remains of the Scavs on Earth. These facilities are producing energy to send what remains of humanity currently residing in a giant space station orbiting Earth to Titan (one of Jupiter’s Moons). However, when Jack finds Julia (Olga Kurylenko) among the wreckage of a crashed space craft, he questions everything he knows about the war and his purpose.

It’s not a simple story, and the film knows it. It spends an awful lot of time on exposition that I would have preferred wasn’t so spoon fed. The structure of the story is episodic, in that every 20 minutes or so of its two hour plus running time you are drip fed another piece of information. It’s not a bad way to tell a story of this kind, but as you hurtle towards the end the twists and turns start to dry up as the writer clearly ran out of ideas. It’s a shame, because a number of the revelations are quite enjoyable, detailed, and thoughtful. It would have been best perhaps to simplify the entire narrative a little more to just these few, discard the rest, and give a little more breathing space to the characters.

The film does waste its actors, with the likes of Melissa leo and Morgan Freeman in supporting roles that are so paper thin in depth that they may as well not have been there. Olga too is completely wasted, seemingly there for eye candy and to look worried from time to time. Cruise and Riseborough on the other hand do get enough time to develop themselves, and they make a decent job of it. You forget it’s Tom Cruise pretty quickly (which is high praise for him) and Riseborough does her best to cement the emotional core of the film. The ground work was laid, but the Director seemingly didn’t want to delve too deep into any of the characters.

Oblivion is just a cut above your standard Hollywood action film as it strives to tell an intelligent story, albeit with its emphasis on entertainment rather than anything deep and meaningful. There are a lot of heady concepts that could have created a compelling and challenging narrative, but the film steers clear of them. It stumbles towards the end, and ultimately leaves a trail of plot holes and head scratching moments. I think most audiences will enjoy what this has to offer, even if it’s just to marvel at its scope and marvelous visuals.

 

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Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, and Jim Carrey all in one movie? You would think that alone is a recipe for brilliance! Instead it’s a hundred minutes of awkward & sometimes absurd gags,  enough to make you smile, but nothing to send you rolling in the isles.

Burt (Carell) is a famous magician, and with his partner Anton (Steve Buscemi) they perform magic in the biggest theatre in Las Vegas every night. Until the world becomes hook on modern “reality” magician Steve Grey (Carrey). Now sacked, broke, and suffering a mi-life crisis Burt finds his childhood idol Rance Holloway (Arkin) who along with his assistant Jane (Olvia Wilde) inspire his love of magic again.

It’s the kind of story you would expect from an Adam Sandler movie, clichéd, formulaic, and riddled with corny and cheesy moments. It attempts to do the awkward comedy stylings of the successful Will Ferrel, but instead comes of a cheap second. It’s also almost completely devoid of any real magic, a complete shame in a film about magic.

The essentials of the story revolve around the concepts of old versus new, traditional magic versus the modern shock value reality television version, which is ironic given the whole film is based on modern awkward comedic styles bred from the likes of Saturday Night Live instead of traditional well scripted character comedy. It’s also annoying that given the movie’s theme almost all the “real” magic in the movie is CGI and clearly not even remotely real. There is scope here to provide some genuine magical thrills to accompany the jokes, but clearly not much thought has gone into it.

Alan Arkin brings some much needed light to the proceedings, capable of eliciting a smile with just one of his own while Jim Carrey turns in a good performance. Wilde and Buscemi struggle to rise above their mediocre characters, all while Carrel fills any silence with awkward sounds and uninspired dialogue. It’s a waste of talent in the end, especially for Wilde  and Buscemi who have played some amazing characters in both film and television of late. 

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone attempts to emulate successful films like Anchorman but doesn’t quite reach those lofty heights. It’s not a complete disappointment, it had me smiling and giggling for a great deal of the running time. But it never gets out of first gear, rely’s to heavily on cliché, and has no real magic of its own.

 

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Review: Safe Haven

Safe Haven is another Nicholas Sparks romance novel turned motion picture. There is no denying his popularity, especially among women, his stories do command box office takings. The most notable adaption of his work was 2004’s The Notebook, it’s a film aptly nicknamed “the movie your girlfriend will make you watch over, and over again”. Sadly, this new adaption is a cliched, and hollow film with only a few redeeming features. It may not be that audiences have had enough of Sparks, it might be that his stories have just gone stale.

Katie (Julianne Hough) in an attempt to escape a serious yet mysterious event lands in Southport, North Carolina where she falls for widower Alex (Josh Duhamel). Eventually her dark secret catches up to her, and she’s forced to confront it. If that sounds like a generic description for a romance story, well it is. Frankly it’s uninspired and full of plot developments that exist purely because they have to. Were it not for the twist or two as you near the final act of the film I would absolutely be slamming this film. Clearly Sparks has a gift for telling stories, but I was left so bored for the most part that it would be easy to think this a pure cash grab.

The major key ingredient to a romantic drama is the leading couple, the chemistry must exist! Unfortunately Hough, and Duhamel are nowhere near the class Racheal McAdams and Ryan Gosling. For the most part they could be replaced with cardboard cut-outs and dubbed voices and you would lose none of the sexual tension or desire. It’s a real shame for this type of film, and it’s what the marketting team have traded on. Look at every poster for a Sparks film, it’s the two leads in an embrace about to kiss. Ugh. Can I call this romance porn? Because like porn, there is no plot and the acting is terrible!

It’s probably at this point I should declare I am not a huge fan of romance movies, or even romantic comedies. I find the genre to be as vapid as brainless action movies without the  saturday night “popcorn” flick attraction. I certainly don’t mind then, I would happily watch The Notebook with my wife on occasion, although she would contest that. Regardless, even my wife found Safe Haven a tad boring, and a bit so-so.

This is a movie I’d recommend purely as a romantic date film, because there are no other options at the cinemas right now. Otherwise, steer clear, nothing to see here!

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