Talking Movies

February 3, 2015

2015: Fears

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 11:20 pm
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Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowskis return, oh joy, in 3-D, more joy, with a tale of a young woman (Mila Kunis) who discovers that she shares the same DNA as the Queen of the Universe, and goes on the run with a genetically engineered former soldier (Channing Tatum), oh, and he’s part wolf… The unloveable Eddie Redmayne is the villain, but the extremely loveable Tuppence Middleton is also in the cast, and, oddly, there’s a cameo from Terry Gilliam, whose work is said to be an influence on the movie. Alongside Star Wars, Greek mythology, and the comic-book Saga it seems…

 

Fifty Shades of Grey

Jamie Dornan is Christian Grey, Dakota Johnson is Bella Swan Anastasia Steele, Universal are terrible gamblers. Take one novel: which is 100pp of hilariously obvious Twilight homage leading to pornography for hundreds more and an unsatisfactory ending; a sensation because of the ability to secretly read it. Now hire art-house director Sam Taylor-Johnson to make an R-rated film focused on the romance, after 5 Twilight movies of said romance shtick; and force people to say out loud what film they’re seeing, or at least be seen going to it. Sit back, and watch this gamble fail.

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Blackhat

Michael Mann returns with his first film since 2009’s uninspired Public Enemies. Chris Hemsworth, now officially a god in Iceland again, plays a hacker who gets a free pass from jail to help Viola Davis’ FBI agent liaise with her Chinese counterpart (pop star Wang Leehom) following a devastating cyber-attack in China which led to a nuclear incident. Hemsworth is distracted in his mission by Lust, Caution’s Chen Lien, and, if you’ve read the vituperative reviews, an appalling script. Mann’s been on a losing streak for a while, and his hi-def video camera infatuation only doubles down on that.

 

In the Heart of the Sea

March sees director Ron Howard take on Moby Dick. Or rather, tell the true story that inspired Moby Dick, rather than try and out-do John Huston. Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson are among the hapless crew of the whaling ship Essex out of New England that runs afoul of a curiously vindictive sperm whale in 1820. Martin Sheen starred in a rather good BBC version of this disaster its grisly aftermath at Christmas 2013. Who knows if Howard will match that, but he’ll definitely throw more CGI at the screen.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Joss Whedon takes off the Zak Penn training wheels and scripts this sequel to 2012’s hit solo. James Spader voices the titular evil AI, unleashed by Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man when fiddling about in Samuel L Jackson’s Pandora’s Box of Shield secrets. The great Elizabeth Olsen is Scarlet Witch, and Aaron Johnson is Quicksilver, but I find it hard to work up any enthusiasm for another ticked box on the Marvel business plan. Why? CGI and Marvel empire-building fatigue, a lack of interest in most of the characters, and great weariness with Whedon’s predictable subversion.

 

Lost River

What is the difference between a homage and le rip-off? The French should know and they loudly booed Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut as little more than Nicolas Winding Refn and David Lynch meeting up for a whimsical night out. Gosling also wrote this tale of a boy who finds a town under the sea down a river, and has to be rescued by his mother. Matt Smith, Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Eva Mendes, and Ben Mendelsohn are the actors roped in by Gosling to flesh out his magical realist vision of a hidden beauty lurking underneath decrepit Detroit.

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Far From the Madding Crowd
Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan), a wilful, flirtatious young woman unexpectedly inherits a large farm and becomes romantically involved with three widely divergent men: rich landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), dashing Sgt. Troy (Tom Sturridge), and poor farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts). John Schlesinger’s 1967 film of Hardy’s classic novel is a formidable predecessor for this May release. This version from director Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt), was co-scripted with David Nicholls of One Day fame; another man whose tendencies are not exactly of a sunny disposition. Can the promising young cast overcome Vinterberg’s most miserabilist tendencies?

 

Tomorrowland

Well this is a curio… Brad Bird directs George Clooney and Secret Circle star Britt Robertson in a script he co-wrote with Damon LOST Lindelof about a genius inventor and a parallel universe, or something. Nobody really seems to know what it’s about. But then given Lindelof’s resume even after we’ve watched it we probably won’t know what it’s about. Bird proved extremely capable with live-action in Mission: Impossible 4, but explicitly viewed the talky scenes as mere connective tissue between well-executed set-pieces; pairing him with ‘all questions, no answers’ man seems like a recipe for more puzzled head-scratching.

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Ant-Man

Ant-Man was in 2015: Hopes until director and co-writer Edgar Wright walked because Marvel shafted him after years of development. I was highly interested in seeing Paul Rudd’s burglar become a miniature super-hero who’s simpatico with ants after encountering mad scientist Michael Douglas and his hot daughter Evangeline Lilly; when it was from the madman who made Scott Pilgrim Vs the World. When this deservedly nonsensical take on a preposterous property is being helmed by Peyton Reed; whose only four features are Bring It On, Down With Love, The Break-Up, and Yes Man; my interest levels drop to zero.

 

Terminator: Genisys

Quietly brushing 2009’s Terminator: Salvation into the dustbin of history in July is this script by Laeta Kalogridis (Pathfinder, Night Watch) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry). Game of Thrones’ Alan Taylor directs, which presumably explains Emilia Clarke’s baffling casting as Jason Clarke’s mother. That’s going to take some quality Sarah Connor/John Connor timeline shuffling. And this is all about timelines. Arnie returns! Byung-Hun Lee is a T-1000! Courtney B Vance is Miles Dyson! YAY!!!!! Jai Courtney is Kyle Reese … BOOOOOO!!!!!!! Did we learn nothing from McG’s fiasco? We do not need another muscle-bound actor with zip charisma.

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Fantastic Four

August sees Josh Trank shoulder the unenviable task of rebooting the Fantastic Four after two amiable but forgettable movies. Trank impressed mightily with the disturbing found-footage super-yarn Chronicle, and scripted this effort with X-scribe Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater (The Lazarus Effect). The cast is interesting; Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm, Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm, and Toby Kebbel as Dr Doom; but this has had a troubled production, and carries an albatross around its neck as it must bore us senseless with another bloody origin story.

 

The Man from UNCLE

August sees CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB man Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) on a mission to infiltrate a mysterious criminal organization during the height of the cold war. Steven Soderbergh nearly made this with George Clooney from a Scott Z Burns script. Instead we get Guy Ritchie and Sherlock Holmes scribe Lionel Wigram. Sigh. Hugh Grant plays Waverley, while the very talented female leads Alicia (Omnipresent) Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki will highlight the lack of suavity and comic timing of the male leads; particularly troublesome given the show was dry tongue-in-cheek super-spy nonsense.

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Black Mass

Poor old Johnny Depp is having something of an existential crisis at the moment. People moan and complain when he does his quirky thing (Mortdecai). But when he doesn’t do his quirky thing people moan and complain that he’s dull (Transcendence). September sees him team up with Benedict Cumberbatch and Joel Edgerton for Scott Cooper’s 1980s period thriller about the FBI’s real-life alliance with Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger, exploring how  the bureau’s original good intention of running an informant was derailed by Bulger’s clever connivance, ending up as a sort of state-sanctioned take-over of the criminal underworld.

 

The Martian

Ridley Scott just can’t stop making movies lately, but he’s having a considerably harder time making good movies. November sees the release of The Martian starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars after being presumed dead in a ferocious storm. The supporting cast includes Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Michael Pena, Sebastian Shaw, Kate Mara, and the regrettably inevitable Jessica Chastain. Damon must try to send an SOS forcing NASA to figure out how on earth to go back and rescue him. Drew Goddard wrote the script. There’s the reason this might work.

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The Hateful Eight

November sees the return of Quentin Tarantino. The writer/director who never grew up follows his rambling gore-fest Django Unchained with another Western. But this one is shot in Ultra Panavision 70, despite being set indoors, and has more existential aspirations. Yeah… Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, and Zoe Bell return to the fold for this tale of bounty hunters holed up during a blizzard, while newcomers to Quentinland include Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Nobody’s told Tarantino to stop indulging himself in years so expect endless speechifying and outrageous violence.

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March 22, 2012

Act of Valour

Weapons technology and American patriotism fetishist Tom Clancy presents a movie from Kurt Johnstad (co-writer of the bombastic 300) starring active duty Navy Seals. Surprisingly, it’s actually pretty damn good.

If you watched David Mamet’s The Unit you’ll recognise this world of American Special Forces popping up all over the world to orchestrate mayhem. The film opens with a truly horrific car-bombing in the Philippines, before trotting through retaliatory operations by our heroes in Costa Rica, the Horn of Africa, and Mexico, with a detour for the audience to meet the villains in Ukraine. Directors Scott Waugh (a former stuntman) & Mouse McCoy (a former motorcycle champion) developed the movie from talking to Navy Seals, and then decided to just cast them. So Lieutenant Commander Rorke and his best friend (and deputy) Special Warfare Operator Chief Dave lead Seals Ajay, Ray, Mikey, and Weimy into action. Actual actors opposite them include Roselyn Sanchez (Without a Trace), Nestor Serrano (90210), and intense Broadway star Jason Cottle as Jihadist villain Abul Shabal.

If Sam Worthington is the baseline of competency in film acting Rorke and Dave are discernibly just beneath his level, not least because of incredibly thick accents unpolished by acting school. However, bar a couple of awkward emotional scenes, it actually doesn’t matter as they really do bring it as soon as they’re required to banter and blitz. The best actor among the Seals is unsurprisingly Senior Chief Van O (a dead ringer for Bill Murray’s Steve Zissou), the eternally calm centre of this storm. Van O improvised from notes an entire interrogation scene with Alex Veadov’s opportunistic drug-smuggler Christo, thereby adlibbing the movie’s funniest line, “You’ve never seen Star Trek?! Oh, that’s just insane”, as he alternates charm and cruelty. The movie’s impressive action scenes were similarly actually choreographed by the Seals themselves from scripted notes by the directors.

The stealth attack on a Mexican village, frontal assault on a Mexican drug cartel stronghold, and a bloody subterranean battle are all incredibly authentic as a result. Canon’s ultra-light 5D digital camera is frequently mounted on helmets to provide a Doom-style immersion, with a Bourne-style fist-fight featuring a disturbing first-person POV as a heroine is thrown through a glass table and kicked in the head. A frenetic car-chase that culminates in a ‘hot extraction’ is this year’s best action sequence to date; the live fire (!) employed making it jaw-dropping. Presumably DP Shane Hurlbut wasn’t freaked because having been the victim of the Bale-out on Terminator: Salvation nothing scares him anymore. Importantly Act of Valour isn’t propaganda. It showcases a stunning act of self-sacrifice, and the presence of a wheelchair, eye-patch and coffin in the closing scenes attest to these missions’ cost.

What could have been a mere curiosity is elevated beyond its basic scripting by tactically canny action to become a good movie.

3/5

February 28, 2012

This Means War

Candy-floss director McG returns to what he knows best, after the disaster that was 2009’s Terminator: Salvation, but this action rom-com never fires on all cylinders.

FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are CIA agents. The nicely done cold open sees them bungle a covert operation in Hong Kong against terrorist Karl Heinrich (Til Schweiger). He swears vengeance against them, and their boss back at Langley (a bizarrely under-used Angela Bassett) swears at them while demoting them to desk duty as punishment. Bored out of their minds, their bromance is threatened when Tuck finds a date on an internet dating site and FDR accidentally makes a play for her just after Tuck’s successful date has finished. The date in question is workaholic Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), signed up to the site by her friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) following a humiliating encounter between Lauren and her cheating ex and his new fiancé. Lauren decides to date both guys, and the rivals funnel the resources of the CIA towards wooing her. Hilarity ensues…

Or rather it doesn’t. McG can actually fashion a decent sequence. He nicely spoofs Goodfellas with a long-take as FDR leads Lauren into the plum spot in a nightclub glad-handling all the staff and patrons along the way, and another fluid track sees FDR and Tuck independently bug Lauren’s house while she does the obligatory for McG sexy dance oblivious to their stealthy presence. The spectacularly funny highlight of the film is Tuck going full-on Bane thru a paintballing tournament to impress Lauren with his edginess. Tuck feeding FDR disinformation about Gustav Klimt thru his earpiece as FDR tries to impress Lauren is a delightful touch, as is Til Schweiger’s occasional appearances always being accompanied by a rumbling synth score which is as OTT as his Inglourious Basterds entrance music. But touches don’t make movies…

This Means War is painfully short on jokes. Pine, Hardy and Witherspoon do their best (Hardy mugs particularly well) but the script is so slapdash that it’s never even explained why Tuck, a British national, is bafflingly working for the CIA, not MI6. The whole film is insanely predictable, there’s even the inevitable romance-destroying revelation of a secret near the end, but most gags fall very flat. Chelsea Handler is unbelievably awful, with her character displaying the corrosive effect of the Apatow School of Comedy’s success. Saying outrageously crude and coarse things may get cheap laughs as a shock, but if everyone starts saying such things in every comedy, then there’s no shock value anymore – all that’s left is just crudity and coarseness. This isn’t a good film, but Handler’s turn makes it one to avoid.

McG as producer is responsible for Supernatural and The OC, but as director he’s made a comedy whose best jokes and best uses of its high concept are all in the ads.

1.5/5

September 9, 2009

15 Minutes of Avatar

If Sigourney Weaver wasn’t in the cast you’d have the horrible suspicion that the writer/director behind this film was not James Cameron but George Lucas…

Cameron’s return came with not just a trailer but world-wide screenings of 15 minutes of scenes from the first and second acts of Avatar, chosen to give a taste of the film without revealing spoilers, as he explained in his introduction. They should then give a good flavour of what to expect from the 3-D CGI animation/live-action mash-up extravaganza that is Cameron’s first film since Titanic, but the taste is sweet and sour.

The first scene showcased was a briefing about the extremely hostile inhabitants of a planet the military was trying to colonise (how very Aliens) but as you paid more attention you realised with a shock that this wasn’t bad motion-capture CGI but actual actors, 3-D had somehow made flesh and blood look oddly unconvincing compared to the CGI animation that followed. The next scene where Sigourney Weaver explains the preposterous plot to Sam Worthington improves on that unsettling experience dramatically but most of the film will obviously be the CGI animation adventures of Sam Worthington in his alien avatar body goofing around on the planet. And the plot is preposterous. Worthington, a crippled military hard-man, has his mind inserted into the big blue body of a humanoid alien inhabitant of the planet, and ends up closely resembling Joshua the dog-man from Cameron’s TV show Dark Angel.

Is Terminator: Salvation’s star really the right choice to carry such a huge film? For a long time I thought it was Sam Huntington (sublime as Jimmy Olsen in Superman Returns) who had got this part, which would have made for a funnier contrast between avatar and human rather than the pathos Cameron is aiming for, but arguably also made us root for the hero more. Worthington’s not that charismatic a presence in the footage screened and he’s not helped, as he blunders about shooting at various ill-tempered beasties, by a script packed with very obvious punning which recalls The Phantom Menace painfully at times. Zoe Saldana’s sexy tough as nails native alien love interest comes right out of the Ripley/Sarah Connor stable of Cameron heroines but her accent is right from the Jar Jar Binks School of Racial Stereotyping.

As for the 3-D, if you like seeing shell-casings fly towards you or fronds sweep around as the camera tracks then the 3-D is great, and scenes of night-time phosphoresce are stunningly beautiful. However the action depicted feels very, very familiar – in one scene Worthington has to tame what is basically a pterodactyl and then fly off on it to, oh who cares? And ow! why do my eyes hurt? Avatar has all new glasses for the latest refinement of the technology but (leaving aside the fact that since 3-D’s first appearance in the 1950s an ever-increasing percentage of the population has to put 3-D glasses over glasses) 3-D is still at best a draining experience, and at worst a painful one, which is why most 3-D films in this latest wave have been around 80 minutes long. Avatar will probably march towards the 150 minute mark, and, combined with action that’s distinctly déjà-vu of Jurassic Park, Star Wars, et al, that’s a hard sell…

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