Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Paris-Manhattan

WRITTEN BY: Sophie Lellouche
DIRECTED BY: Sophie Lellouche
STARRING: Alice Taglioni, Patrick Bruel, Marine Delterme, Michel Aumont
RATING: 2.5 stars


There are a lot of things to like about the French romantic comedy Paris-Manhattan. There are some very funny moments, outrageous ideas and quirky fun. Unfortunately, all those small nuggets of entertainment don't come together in a cohesive story. While the film is only about 80 minutes long, it felt like it was dragging on in parts. There simply wasn't enough to the plot. Debut writer/director Sophie Lellouche has made an ambitious effort, and while the film is quite good, it's not good enough.

Alice (Alice Taglioni) is an pharmacist in her 30's whose choices in life and love are influenced entirely by her favourite filmmaker, Woody Allen. When her family sets her up with Victor (Patrick Bruel) they hope he will help her get over her obsession, but getting Alice to grow up and face reality proves harder than any of them thought.

It seems like Lellouche has tried to write a story like Allen would. Perhaps that is where she has gone wrong. She tries to infuse intellectual philosophies into the film through the protagonists, but doesn't do it as effortlessly or convincingly as Allen. Having said that, there are some entertaining references to Allen's films that fans of his work will enjoy and some good laughs in several memorable comedic scenes. The cinematography is also enjoyable. It captures "real" France as opposed to a typical tourist postcard. It's still beautiful, but it's not full of Paris highlights as you would often see to entice international viewers to a French film.

Taglioni is a good leading lady. She's gorgeous but also believably dorky in some ways. The role suits her. Bruel is perhaps a little too old to play his character but he is charming in a very French sort of way. They are supported by Alice's sister played by Marine Delterme whose character is full of surprises, and Michel Aumont who plays Alice's father. The veteran actor is hilarious in this film.

If you do see this film at the cinema, make sure you stay awake for the final act - there's a very good cameo.


 
 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Liberal Arts


WRITTEN BY: Josh Radnor
DIRECTED BY: Josh Radnor
STARRING: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro
RATING: 3.5 stars

Liberal Arts is a love story between two unlikely people who not so much fall in love with each other, but rather fall in love with each other's intellect. They share a love of classical music and literature. One is on the cusp of growing up and the other is trying to ignore the fact that he should be a grown up. As with any pseudo-intellectual film, parts come off as pretentious, but Josh Radnor, of How I Met Your Mother fame, has written, directed, co-produced and starred in a film that is essentially poignant, sincere, witty and almost whimsical. There are problems with the story, but it's such a sweet film and an interesting take on the coming of age concept that you can almost forgive its flaws.

Jesse Fisher (Radnor) is a 35-year-old college admissions officer in New York who returns to his old college in Ohio to celebrate the retirement of his favourite professor Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins). Jesse has a romantic view of how college was and can't seem to move on. While there, he meets a 19-year-old undergraduate named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) and the two hit it off. As their weekend together draws to a close, Zibby makes Jesse a CD of classical music and they soon begin writing letters to each other. Eventually, a romance blossoms despite Jesse's better judgement regarding their age difference.

Aside from the romance, the restriction of age is a central theme of the story. Jesse obsesses about the age difference between him and Zibby, while her youth means Zibby still has no idea how to live beyond the walls of her college grounds. Meanwhile, Professor Hoberg is worried that his decision to retire means he's getting too old and doesn't know what to do with himself. He says to Jesse that no one feels like an adult and everyone wants to feel like they are 19 forever. It's a bitter-sweet examination of age.

The film references everything from Beethoven to Chaucer. There are also some not so subtle references to David Foster Wallaces' Infinite Jest and even Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series as the protagonists debate taste. It's a very funny scene and the kind of pretentious debate that book geeks, like me, will enjoy. You almost want to join their conversation. I also liked the scene in which Jesse literally does the maths on a notepad working out their age gap. There is also some great cinematography and beautiful montages of New York and the university campus with classical music playing in the background. It helps create that whimsical feeling.

Jesse is only slightly similar to Radnor's famous character on How I Met Your Mother. Nonetheless, he gives a strong performance and was removed enough that I never felt like I was watching Ted Moseby. Olsen gives another powerful performance, following on from Martha Marcy May Marlene. In many ways, her character is wise and intellectual beyond her years, until her teenage breakdown and naivety are revealed. Zac Efron does not have billing in the film but still has a memorable role. In fact, it is my favourite Efron performance. His character, Nat, is sort of a hippie who keeps bumping into Jesse late at night on the campus grounds and is very funny. Allison Janney barely utters a word until her final two scenes but she almost steals the film. She's wonderfully hilarious as a cold-hearted and bitter professor of English literature. Jenkins is also emotive and John Magaro portrays a troubled, young literature lover very well.

Liberal Arts is a cute independent film full of heart. It's worth a look.


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Perks of Being A Wallflower

WRITTEN BY: Stephen Chbosky
DIRECTED BY: Stephen Chbosky
STARRING: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott, Nina Dobrev
RATING: 3.5 stars


"We accept the love we think we deserve." If that isn’t one of the most beautifully heartbreaking quotes in film history, I don’t know what is. Love is the central theme in The Perks of Being A Wallflower, but not in a sappy and over-used way. It's about the various types of love we receive from friends, family, teachers and strangers, and how that demonstration of love shapes us during our formative years. While I had a lot of problems with this coming of age tale, including a lot of unresolved questions by the end of it, the more I reflect on the film, the more I like it. The Perks of Being A Wallflower tried to cover a lot of issues including suicide, molestation, first kisses, first sexual experiences, mental health issues, drugs and sexuality, as well as the usual high school themes of fitting in, prom and exams. It does all of this to varying degrees of success in a raw, uninhibited and emotional way.

Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel, Perks of Being A Wallflower is set around 1991 and centres on three protagonists. Charlie (Logan Lerman) has a lot of issues we aren't too sure about in the beginning, suffice to say he has some serious mental health issues after the deaths of two people he is close to in separate incidents - one in a suicide and one in an accident. A third problem is later revealed that will make you wonder how Charlie is not even more screwed up. He meets step-brother/sister duo Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) who introduce Charlie to a whole new world of friends, parties and music - including the much beloved 90's mixed tapes. Patrick seems confident and irreverent but is actually an outsider, nicknamed Nothing, and struggling with a gay relationship in which his partner will not admit he is gay. Sam was once promiscuous but is now trying to straighten her life and focus on furthering her studies. The film chronicles a year in the life of the trio as they bond and try to find their path.

The performances from the leads are very convincing. Miller, who scared me in We Need To Talk About Kevin, is equally as emotive in this film and almost stole every scene with his wit. I have no interest in ever watching a Harry Potter film, but Watson certainly seems to be taking her career in a vastly different direction with this role. She is sassy and strong but also has some emotional scenes. Lerman is also very strong. His character is quiet, awkward and troubled, which are difficult things to convey with such little dialogue (aside from his voice over letters in which he says a lot) but he does a great job of encouraging sympathy. Paul Rudd has a small but pivotal role as Charlie's english teacher, showing how important it is to have good teachers to shape a teenager's life. Meanwhile, Dylan McDermott is quite funny in his small role as Charlie's father.

What makes The Perks of Being A Wallflower worthwhile is that it is quirky, heartfelt, honest and unique. Children of the 70's and 80's will also enjoy the pop culture references including the Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Smiths and David Bowie. At times the film is very funny but also takes a very dark turn. Obviously, it is a story dear to Chbosky's heart. Unfortunately, I felt cheated that we never learn the full story about Charlie's past, but I suppose what we do learn is enough to get the point. I liken the film to a modern day Heathers, though perhaps it is not quite as convincing.


 
 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Skyfall


WRITTEN BY: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
DIRECTED BY: Sam Mendes
STARRING: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes
RATING: 3.5 stars

Even if you're not a James Bond fan, if you like action films, the chances are you will like Skyfall. I've never been a big Bond fan, though I have seen many of the films. After a while, they all start to blend into one and aren't all that memorable to those who are not die-hard Bond fans. But, what makes Skyfall so good for regular film goers, as well as the dedicated fans, is that it is not as gimmicky and lame in its sense of humour as the other films, although it does have a few thrown in there to keep the typical Bond theme going. Also, Bond is not as perfect as he has been in previous films. In fact, I can think of only one other Bond film in which our hero gets shot – and that's not a spoiler. So, in many ways we have a more believable hero. Having said that, Bond still does some super human, extraordinary things, of course.

Skyfall begins big and gets bigger. Bond's (Daniel Craig) loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is put to the test when her past comes back to haunt her, threatening MI6. Silva (Javier Bardem) is smarter than most villains and has a personal vendetta against M. Bond, who is battling against his aging and injured body to save MI6, is forced down an unconventional path that sees him return to his childhood roots as he strives to protect M and MI6.

It took Oscar winning director Sam Mendes to make me enjoy a Bond film as more than just cheesy action fun. He delivers fantastic fight sequences and two exciting train scenes. He also paces the plot well and keeps the action going. The only problem is that after two hours I was ready for it to end and it went on for about another half an hour. It didn't really need to be that long. I also enjoyed learning more about Bond's childhood. Writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan have gone to great lengths to give Bond a back story that can be further developed with future films. In the same way that Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise, it seems with this third instalment of the Craig-led Bond films we're getting a fuller story as well as some exciting thrills. It's no wonder Skyfall is already breaking box office records in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

The performances were also quite good. Bardem is creepy, weird and sexually ambiguous in his villainous role. He was almost like a flamboyant Hannibal Lecter meets the Joker. Dench is also stellar, finally getting an opportunity to make M a full-fledged and interesting character. It has been cruel to under-utilise her in previous films. Craig is also good and I think critics of the “blonde Bond” will finally be convinced of his abilities, though he's still not my favourite Bond. The supporting cast including Naomie Harris as fellow spy Eve, Ralph Fiennes as M's boss and Berenice Lim Marlohe as the sexy Severine are also good.

My main problem with the film was with the over the top product placement. “What was that?” M asks referring to a loud crashing noise. “VW Beetles,” replies Eve. Really? Was that necessary? We did see the cars crashing; we don't need to be told what type of car they are. What happened to just having these various products in the background and tricking audiences into feeling like they need a drink of Coca-Cola without realising it's because someone in a film looked like they were enjoying the refreshing drink?

Nonetheless, Skyfall is probably my favourite Bond film to date. I'd watch it again, which is more than I can say about the previous films. Anyone who isn't a fan can finally jump on the bandwagon too. You might miss a few inside jokes but you'll still enjoy it.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part Two


WRITTEN BY: Melissa Rosenberg
DIRECTED BY: Bill Condon
STARRING: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Peter Facinelli, Kellan Lutz, Michael Sheen
RATING: 3 stars

It has the world's most ridiculous title but probably one of the best fight scenes on film this year. Mass decapitations. What a brilliant idea. The final 20 minutes of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part Two is fantastic. Characters loved and hated during the previous films are killed off in such a thrilling way. There's so much violence and yet no blood, of course, because they're all vampires. It's a great climax to the series.

At the start of the film, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is getting used to her new life and new powers as a vampire while she and Edward (Robert Pattinson) raise their daughter Renesmee, who Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is also keeping a close eye on. But when vampire Irina sees Renesmee and thinks she may pose a threat to the vampire species, she alerts the Volturi. Their leader Aro (Michael Sheen) is looking for an excuse to cause more trouble for the Cullen vampires and makes the journey with his army to destroy them. Meanwhile, the Cullens recruit old vampire friends and werewolves to help them prove to the Volturi that Renesmee is not a threat in the hopes of preventing a vampire war.

I've been whinging about Twilight since the first book was released. I love vampire stories. They are spooky, sexy, mysterious and exciting. Unfortunately, the Twilight saga lacks a lot of those elements. The mass appeal of the books and films has always been lost on me. Give me True Blood, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries and even Christopher Pike's lesser known vampire book series for youngsters, The Last Vampire, any day over the Twilight saga.

What really annoyed me about the franchise is that the film makers chose to break up the final book into two films. It was so blatantly a money making exercise. The plot, while complex with its layers in part, could not sustain two full-length films. Hence, we had Breaking Dawn - Part One which was sappy and over the top romantic with nothing really happening until the end. Then, in this final instalment, the plot drags on again with broody characters standing around looking at each other like day time soap opera characters until the climactic battle scene, which by the way, has some more broody stares for 10 minutes before the action finally begins.

The performances are also lacklustre. Sheen is so over the top as Aro that it’s beyond ridiculous. He's a good actor, but not in this film. There was one moment when his reaction to something caused mass laughter from the audience but only because it was so bizarre. Also, and this is a completely vain point, but is Lautner ever going to sound like a man? He looked the part of a tough werewolf but every time he spoke I cringed. Seems he may have David Beckham Speech Syndrome. Surprisingly, Stewart is actually quite good in this film. It's by far her best performance from the franchise, perhaps because she is finally used to playing the character. Pattinson's performance is hardly memorable and the rest of the regular cast seem to be going through the motions too.

As passionate as some people are about the franchise, there are just as many Twilight haters. For them, this film finally concludes the series. For the Twihards, there will no doubt be regular movie marathons, but at least it will be in the privacy of their own homes and will not have to engulf everyone else in its hysteria.


Friday, 2 November 2012

Alex Cross

WRITTEN BY: Marc Moss, Kerry Williamson
DIRECTED BY: Rob Cohen
STARRING: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Ed Burns
RATING: 1 star

I didn't realise how much I hated this film until I started talking to friends about it afterwards. It was clunky, lame and unsatisfying. If Alex Cross had been made 20 years ago it might be passable, but for a modern film to feel so dated is just sad. It was like a C-grade film version of the television show The Mentalist. It amazes me how some films even get the funding to be made while other workable scripts remain in a pile of unfulfilled dreams.


Loosely based on James Patterson's novel, Cross, the film tells the story of Detroit forensic psychologist Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) before his eventual move to Washington with the FBI. His wife Maria (Carmen Ejogo) is expecting their third child so Cross thinks it might be time for desk job. But first, Cross must deal with a mysterious hit man named Picasso (Matthew Fox) who seems to be taking out some very important people. Cross teams up with his best friend Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) and Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols), who Kane is secretly dating, to stop the killer.

Perry lacks charisma as a heroic lead. His character suffers great turmoil (which I won't spoil) in his quest to hunt down Picasso, and yet, I didn't feel enough sympathy for him. Meanwhile, Fox was so bizarre in his creepiness that he was almost cartoonish (those who criticised Guy Pearce's performance in Lawless should take note of this performance). However, I do have to commend him for his efforts to physically transform for the role. Burns was perhaps the most solid performer but even he seemed only half-hearted. Everyone else in this film was just plain annoying – even the children.

If you liked Morgan Freeman's portrayal of Alex Cross in Kiss The Girls and Along Came A Spider, and were expecting another good film adaptation of Patterson's novels, then forget it. Don't waste your time with Alex Cross. Read a book instead.


 

End of Watch


WRITTEN BY: David Ayer
DIRECTED BY: David Ayer
STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez
RATING: 3 stars
In a film like End of Watch, chemistry is everything. You can't have a buddy film without two good buddies. Thankfully for this film, the chemistry is fantastic between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena who play best friends and policeman working on the beat in Los Angeles. It's clear writer/director David Ayer is a fan of the complicated bromance. He's written films like U-571, The Fast and The Furious, and Training Day. What he has done with End of Watch is present the sometimes harsh reality of being a cop in a violent city including the arrogance and bravado of some police officers, but also the humility and the passion for the job. I wouldn't go so far as to say it is by any means a realistic depiction of the life of an law enforcer, but it does show some truths.
Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena) are police partners who patrol south central Los Angeles. They can be arrogant hotheads at times, being involved in a shooting for which there was an investigation that found they acted fairly, and picking fights with lowly criminals. But that is how they operate to keep things in balance. They aren't dodgy cops, but they are unorthodox. We also get an insight into their private lives with Mike's pregnant wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez) with whom he has been with since high school, and Brian's girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick). When the officers chase a driver for running a red light and confiscate cash and unique firearms, it sets a chain of events that leads a drug cartel to order their murders.
What is interesting about the leads is that in some ways they are very likeable but in other ways, they have such big egos that part of me was thinking that to some extent they brought on these events themselves. Both Gyllenhaal and Pena give convincing performance as friends and officers. They are also well supported by Kendrick and Martinez.

Unfortunately, the jump camera work and changing points of view became a distraction throughout the film. Some scenes were edited very quickly and it was hard to see what was happening while other scenes gave an interesting point of view but ultimately led to some queasiness. For example, the opening sequence gives the audience a view from the patrol car during a chase scene but it could make some viewers too dizzy to enjoy it. Brian is also filming his work for a side project and so he and Mike are often wearing cameras on their shirts, which gives a different point of view, but again, can be blurry and confusing. Even the bad guys have a camera in some scenes but it's a completely unnecessary motif.

My other problem with the film was that it was probably about 15 minutes too long. A lot happened, but there were times when I was bored and just wanted the plot to move along quicker. I also had a problem with the ending, which I won't give away, suffice to say it almost ends well but then falls flat.

End of Watch ultimately salutes the work that police officers do without putting them on too high a pedestal, realising that while the sacrifices they make are great, not all officers are in the job for the right reasons.