Category Archives: Drama

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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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: 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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Review: Zero Dark Thirty

There’s no denying the power of a “true story” when watching a film. The weight of “this actually happened” brings a gravity that you can’t fabricate, even if the scriptwriters have swapped facts for more dramatic elements. Unfortunately Zero Dark Thirty takes a slightly different road appearing more like a journalistic compilation of first hand accounts. The result is somewhere between a documentary without the revelations of any of the real players, and a movie with many dramatic inventions but devoid of entertainment.

Following the decade long search for Osama Bin Laden the film focuses on Maya, a CIA operative whose sole purpose has been to find him. She is depicted as the single-minded driving force behind the pursuit of leads to uncover the whereabouts of the Al Qaeda’s leader, culminating in the raid by SEAL Team Six in 2011.

Much of the films first forty-five minutes is the interrogation and torture of captives under the now defunct American detainee program. It’s hard to know what the point of this was, I couldn’t work out if the film was for or against torture and I also couldn’t work out why the filmmakers had chosen to depict the torture as they had done so. For a film resting on “first hand accounts” the sequences felt contrived, dishonest, and frankly boring. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Zero Dark Thirty gets a lot wrong when it comes to the torture of detainees. To me, this feels like torture-porn, added to create controversy without an honest attempt to ask any real questions.

It’s not until we get past the torture that the film gains any kind of momentum and becomes even remotely interesting. It’s about this point in the movie that things are starting to make sense, you actually know the name of one or two of the characters, and the filmmakers start developing them. Yes, that’s right, it takes about forty-five minutes before you get to see the characters do something we can understand and relate to. At 157 minutes, honestly, they should have started the movie here and just summarised the earlier events.

I’ve been quite negative about the film to this point, but it does have two very strong redeeming features. Jessica Chastain as Maya, and the actual raid at the end of the film. Chastain is excellent, she’s the only real developed character in the story and she does justice to her fiery red hair. She’s the films emotional centre, she brings the lighter moments, and she brings all the gravity. I love the concept of a strong independent and well educated woman bringing down the leader of Al Qaeda. Without Chastain I’m afraid this whole film would have been quite boring.

The other major success of the production is the raid itself. Cold, calculating, slow, methodical, and painfully brutal. It’s an amazing counter point to say the Bond or Bourne movies, a reminder of how it works in the real world. I’ve no doubt it will shock a lot of viewers, but probably not come as any great surprise. Regardless, it’s the films best moments, its only source of tension, but I’d love to get the perspective of someone whose life was affected by 9/11 because the movie strongly suggests the end is quite a cathartic moment.

It’s tough to believe everything presented in Zero Dark Thirty. The CIA have issued a fact sheet pointing out factual errors in the story, and many publicly available “first hand accounts” contradict the manner in which they are depicted on screen. There’s also been a tidal wave of criticism about the films depiction of Pakistan, right down to the language being spoken. It seems a great deal of what you see on screen is not even remotely what you would have seen or experienced if you were actually there. The main character Maya is also not a real person but rather a compilation of the many women who helped hunt down Bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty is not entertainment, it’s not even entirely believable. It probably does capture the major points in America’s efforts to track down Bin Laden, and it probably does justice to the raid itself. However if you’re going to make a movie like this you need to do more. I would have loved to learn more about the real world players, delved into the politics even if it was speculation, and felt a greater sense of what the killing of Bin Laden meant to the world. I feel this is a lost opportunity, but I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time.

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Review: Silver Linings Playbook

If you enjoy offbeat comedies with a dash of the deep and meaningful in the fashion of little Miss Sunshine, then you’re going to enjoy Silver Linings Playbook. It might be a little predictable and sometimes contrived, but each and every performer has brought their A-game! This ensemble cast entertain and engage!

Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released into the care of his parents Dolores, and Pat Snr, (Jacki Weaver, Robert DeNiro) after spending time in a mental institution. Pat is determined to find a “silver lining” to his life, get it back on track and reconcile with his ex-wife. However things become rather complicated when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who is just as troubled as he is.

It’s an interesting tale, one built on its characters and one designed to ask the question “who is really the crazy one?”. Each major character in the story has some kind of character flaw and its related to some kind of mental illness. Pat Snr is clearly suffering from at least OCD if not mild autism, while the rest all convey flaws like narcissism, high levels of anxiety, etc. It’s a welcome sense of depth and the film rely’s heavily on it. At times the two character who are meant to be mentally ill, Pay and Tiffany, are in fact the only sane people.

It’s also given the cast a chance to really shine. De Niro is fantastic, as is Jacki Weaver, they are masters of their trade and they prove it with excellent performances. Cooper and lawrence do more than hold their own next to them, which is a significant development as neither have really excelled in any kind of serious role before. It’s for these performances that I recommend seeing this film, because not much else is worth writing home about.

There is a formula starting to emerge for movies that deal with the difficult subject of mental illness. A set of unwritten rules if you please that revolve around making the subject matter appealing to the audience. You have to be serious, but not too serious. Because the characters have a mental illness, their behavior can be humorous. At times Silver Linings Playbook does this a little too much, often sidelining any plot, or logic to develop the story in a “cooky” manner. This is acceptable because in a film about mental illness, things do not have to make sense. I’m nitpicking, yes, but it is an emerging trend and I think it deserves to be called out.

The film also suffers a great deal from cliche, it borrows too heavily from the romantic comedy genre complete with all its conventions. I was a little disappointed that such strong characters were not given more story to chew on, but again, fortunately their strength holds the film for its two hour running time.

Silver Linings Playbook is a feel good movie with a good message at its heart. It’s a solid win as a date movie for couples this Valentines Day, it won’t tax you too heavily but it will delight.

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Review: Django Unchained

Say one thing for Quentin Tarantino, say he does revenge like no one else. Django Unchained is a masterpiece, a bloody epic Western unlike any other. Filled with wonderful characters, equally wonderful performances, and one of the bloodiest gun fights in cinema history. This is a film unlikely to disappoint.

Django (Jamie Fox) is a slave freed by Shultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter who requires Django’s services to track down an outlaw group of brothers. On the journey Shultz learns of Django’s German speaking wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who had been purchased by a ruthless Mississippi plantation owner, Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio). Shultz agrees to help Django free his wife.

There is nothing special in this story, and as usual in a Tarantino movie, it’s all in the telling. You’ll find drama, comedy, romance, and action wrapped up in the old school Western genre but still oozing a modern sense of “cool”. Watching Fox strut on horse back to an African-American Hip-Hop beat could just be one of the coolest moments in any film for a long time. Django Unchained does have wide appeal, but it’s definitively a movie buffs kind of movie.

This is Director Quentin Tarantino’s homage to the spaghetti western, complete with all the cheesy camera tricks and low quality musical recordings. It lacks some of the unconventional story-telling of his previous films, but it oozes his class and it continues his tradition of some of the best characters on-screen. This is a film where characters in extended conversations can be as engaging as the extraordinarily bloody gunfights. At a wopping 165 minutes, the film never once has you looking at your watch remaining riveting from start to finish.

Waltz, Fox, and DiCaprio are all at their best, and while Waltz is the one being recognised with awards I see no reason why the other two should not have been either. They all own their characters right down to their idiosyncrasies and character flaws. Tarantino certainly knows how to get the bets out of his cast, a talent I wish he could pass onto other Directors.

Django Unchained was officially a 2012 production despite its release in 2013, for that reason I’m naming it my film of 2012. My head might tell me that Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director will go somewhere else, but my heart hopes it comes to this movie.

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