Thursday, 28 February 2013

I Give It A Year

STARRING: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Simon Baker, Anna Faris, Minnie Driver
RATING: 3.5 stars

I think I liked this film more than a reasonably intelligent film reviewer should. It has several flaws – the main one being a weak plot, which is usually of paramount importance for me – and yet, I found myself laughing out loud so much during the screening that it didn't seem to matter that it was lacking in substance. It's hilarious. Ali G writer and producer Dan Mazer wrote and directed this film, which should give you an idea about the sense of humour. There is one scene that depicts the funniest and prolonged threesome you will probably ever see in mainstream film. It's worth watching just for that.

After only several months together, Josh (Rafe Spall) and Nat (Rose Byrne) get married but soon find they are not as compatible as they first thought. Both are soon tempted by other people – Josh by his ex-girlfriend Chloe (Anna Faris), and Nat by a potential new client named Guy (Simon Baker). Josh and Nat try to get through the first year of their marriage believing it is the hardest period of any marriage and even seek guidance from an unusual counsellor named Clare (Kerry Howard).

The female leads in this film were all fantastic. Byrne is becoming a very good comedic actress. I think I actually prefer her in comedy now than drama. Faris is as delightful as ever and is always a welcome addition to any comedy. Minnie Driver was surprisingly very funny too with her snappy attitude. Baker oozes charm and appeal. He could flirt the pants off any woman with that grin. He is perfectly cast. Spall is also endearing, even with his character’s embarrassing quirks.

Inevitably with a film that relies so much on gags, not all of them work. The scene where the family is looking at holiday photos and see some private sex photos falls flat. It looks much better in the trailer. There is also an unnecessarily long scene where the couple are sorting out their will, which is not at all funny. But other scenes, such as when Guy tries to woo Nat in a boardroom with doves and a violinist, work very well.

I Give It A Year is not to the standard of other British films like Bridget Jones's Diary, but it's still a lot of fun for a date night.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Oscars 2013

I loved so many of this year's Oscar contenders. Many were not just films that critics and people from the industry would admire – they were box office hits. That made it all the more interesting to see who won the top awards.

Despite the variety of films, it actually wasn't a very surprising Academy Awards this year. While the awards were spread out over several films, there was little doubt over who would win the major awards. The biggest surprise was that the sound editing category was a tie. The big winners of the night were Argo and Life of Pi. I thought the Academy got it almost perfectly correct this year. How refreshing! I did however, think that Jackman and Chastain deserved to win over Day-Lewis and Lawrence.

Seth Macfarlane was also a good host. He seemed to divide people, but I thought most of his jokes were clever and not too offensive. There were also some good musical numbers from Adele, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Hudson and the cast of Les Miserables.

Here is a list of the winners from the 85th annual Academy Awards:
Best Picture: Argo
Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Directing: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Foreign Language Film: Amour
Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Argo
Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Animated Feature Film: Brave
Production Design: Lincoln
Cinematography: Life of Pi
Sound Mixing: Les Miserables
Sound Editing (tie): Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty
Original Score: Life of Pi, Mychael Danna
Original Song: Skyfall from Skyfall, Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
Costume: Anna Karenina
Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
Documentary Short Subject: Inocente
Film Editing: Argo
Make-up and Hairstyling: Les Miserables
Animated Short Film: Paperman
Live Action Short Film: Curfew
Visual Effects: Life of Pi

On The Red Carpet

I must say, there were far more hits than misses this year. Most people - even Helena Bonham-Carter - looked good. White was also very popular this year.

Best dressed:
- Queen Latifah. Proving bigger can be better.
- Jane Fonda. You know I love it when older women dressed wonderfully. Gorgeous in yellow.
- Reece Witherspoon. Love that shade of blue on her.
- Sally Field. Another older woman rocking the red carpet in a beautiful red gown with a long tail.
- Salma Hayek. Amazing in a black and gold dress.

Worst dressed:
- Adele. She needs to try something other than black.
- Jennifer Aniston. Too puffy and it didn't work.
- Jessica Chastain. The colour blended too much with her skin tone.
- Anne Hathaway. One word. Nipples.
- Amy Adams. She is fast-becoming a red carpet disaster on every occasion.

Best dressed couple:
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. They are so cute!

What did you think of the Oscars?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Imposter

DIRECTED BY: Bart Layton
STARRING: Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Nancy Fisher, Beverly Dollarhide
RATING: 4 stars

There are some documentaries that stick with you for a long time. The Imposter is the perfect example of just that. Throughout the entire film I found myself repeatedly asking: "How could this have happened?" It gets under your skin. You feel pity, anger, frustration, confusion, sadness and relief. It is the kind of story that would seem like a far-fetched plot in a work of fiction, but it is all true.

The Imposter is told through interviews and partial re-enactments. In 1994, Nicholas Barclay, a 13-year-old boy from San Antonio in the USA disappeared. Three and a half years later, he is apparently found in Spain, saying he has survived being kidnapped and tortured. His family is amazed and relieved that he is alive. But things are not as they seem, which becomes increasingly more obvious when he returns to Texas, because he is not Nicholas. The boy is actually 23-year-old Frenchman Frederic Bourdin.

The film is both emotional and psychologically fascinating. Home videos and re-enactments are used almost like flashbacks and they are very effective. But the real fascination comes from watching Bourdin as he explains in his close-up shots how he managed to pull off such an extraordinary stunt and how he felt about his actions.

The only problem with the film is that it is too long. Director Bart Layton has tried to build suspense by revealing the details in small increments. But he need not have bothered with that technique. The story is gripping enough without adding that additional tension. The Imposter proves that the truth is often stranger than fiction.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Side Effects

WRITTEN BY: Scott Z. Burns
DIRECTED BY: Steven Soderbergh
STARRING: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum
RATING: 3.5 stars

Just when you think you know what Side Effects is about, the plot takes a sudden turn and it becomes something else. It begins almost like an exposé on the pharmaceutical industry and Western society's reliance on medication, before shifting gears and becoming far more sinister. Some have compared it to a modern-day Alfred Hitchcock film, but I wouldn't give it that great a compliment, even with Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Magic Mike, Ocean's 11) as the director. It felt more 90's at times in its style. What makes it enjoyable though is that it keeps viewers guessing and engrossed in the plot. If nothing else, Side Effects is a good suspense thriller.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is married to Martin (Channing Tatum) who has just been released from prison where he was serving a four-year sentence for insider trading. Soon after he returns home, she begins to relapse into a depressive state and nearly kills herself when she crashes her car into a wall. Emily agrees to regularly meet with Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who visits Emily's previous therapist, Erica Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), for more information about his new patient. They agree Emily should try a new medication called Ablixa, but a side effect of the drug is sleepwalking. When Emily commits a murder, Jonathan finds himself under serious scrutiny from authorities and the media.

Mara is fast-becoming a Hollywood darling with some gripping recent performances. Side Effects certainly adds to that list. She gives a very powerful performance. Soderbergh seems to bring out the best in Law, who he previously worked with on Contagion. Law is particularly good in the second half of the film. Tatum has a smaller role but is given an opportunity to play a more serious character. Zeta-Jones is the only one who was perhaps miscast. I didn't quite buy her in the role.

It has been reported that Side Effects may be Soderbergh's last feature film. I hope not. I think he still has some great work ahead of him.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Anna Karenina

WRITTEN BY: Tom Stoppard
STARRING: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Matthew Macfadyen
RATING: 3 stars

A lot of people complain that the protagonist in Anna Karenina is not likeable. But that's the point. Anna is a woman who gives up everything in her normal, boring life for a spark of romance that she thinks is love and it leads to her downfall. In many ways, it is a cautionary tale by iconic Russian author Leo Tolstoy. Anna is one of the great tragic figures in literature and her story has been adapted to film many times before, including a great performance from Vivien Leigh in 1948, but no depiction has ever come close to the essence of the novel. Sadly, while the latest attempt from writer Tom Stoppard and director Joe Wright is commendable, it too misses the mark at times.

Set in 1874, before the Russian revolution, Anna (Keira Knightley) is married to a government minister named Karenin (Jude Law). She is a mother to one son and spends much of her time at various social engagements in St Petersburg. She catches a train one day to Moscow to see her brother (Matthew Macfadyen) and along the way she meets Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams), who is met at the station by her son, cavalry officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Sparks fly between Anna and Vronsky, and she soon sacrifices her position in society to be with him. Meanwhile, the young Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) does his best to woo Kitty (Alicia Vikander), who is also infatuated with Vronsky.

What sets this film apart from other adaptations is the style of the film making and the mise en scene. Wright, who previously worked with Knightley on Pride and Prejudice and Atonement (films I hated) has made the brave stylistic choice of filming most of the scenes almost as if it were a stage production. While it doesn't always work, it is an admirable effort. The cinematography and music blend well together and add to the tone of the period, especially in scenes such as the ball. However, the film was more than two hours long and did not need to be.

It's not a secret to readers of this blog that I think Knightley is the worst and most annoying actress to (dis)grace the screen. Having said that, I actually think she was quite good in this role. She didn't deserve any award nominations for it, but she did do the complex character justice. Law had an underused role as Anna's hopelessly betrayed husband, but props must go to him for immersing himself in the role and being almost unrecognisable under the full beard and glasses. Macfadyen, who was awful in Pride and Prejudice, was much better in this film. He was very funny and stole almost every scene he was in. I had my doubts about Taylor-Johnson for the role of the young lover but he too was quite convincing.

Die hard fans of the novel, like me, will have their issues with the representation of the story in this film. But if you're a fan of period pieces with lavish costumes then Anna Karenina is worth a look.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Cirque du Soleil - Worlds Away 3D

WRITTEN BY: Andrew Adamson
DIRECTED BY: Andrew Adamson
STARRING: Erica Linz, Igor Zaripov, Lutz Halbhubner, John Clarke
RATING: 3 stars

If you have never seen a Cirque du Soleil show live then you will probably enjoy seeing it in 3D at the cinema. If you have seen one (or more) of their shows then you may be as disappointed as I was that the magic of the show does not translate well to film. While it is great to get a closer look at what the performers do, especially in 3D, it also means that the mystique is lost, along with the grand spectacle of the show.

The film incorporates acts from the seven Cirque du Soleil shows running in Las Vegas in 2011 including O, Mystère, Kà, Love, Zumanity, Viva Elvis and Criss Angel Believe. Mia (Erica Linz) is a young woman in a small mid-western town who goes to see a travelling carnival where she is encouraged by a clown (John Clarke) to visit the circus. There, she becomes entranced by The Aerialist (Igor Zaripov), who seems equally as enthralled in her. During his act, he falls to the ground and they both fall through the ground into the dream world of Cirque du Soleil. They are separated and travel through the different tent worlds trying to find each other.

Highlights for me included the water-based show Le Rêve, Viva Elvis and the Beatles themed Love shows. The only problem was that the story line did not flow very well and some parts dragged on. While the film was enjoyable, it lacked the spark of a live show. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Paperboy

WRITTEN BY: Lee Daniels, Peter Dexter
DIRECTED BY: Lee Daniels
STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray
RATING: 3.5 stars

Brave and daring. That is how best to describe The Paperboy. It may also be a little confronting for some people, so don't say I didn't warn you. How the film was overlooked for so many award nominations, particularly for its stellar cast, I'll never understand. It somehow manages to blend genres to be gripping, dark, sexual and even a little funny at times. Director/co-writer Lee Daniels is the man who directed 2009's Precious, so you know he is not afraid to push the boundaries on film. Oh yeah, and Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron. It's a great piece of cinema.

Based on the novel by Peter Dexter, who also co-wrote the screenplay, The Paperboy is set in 1969. Investigative journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) returns to his home town in South Florida with his writing partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) to do research on a murder that Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) has been jailed for. The men believe Wetter could be innocent and enlist the help of Ward's younger brother Jack (Efron) and a promiscuous woman named Charlotte Bless (Kidman), who has become infatuated with Wetter since writing him letters while he was in prison. The odd group work together to try to set Wetter free but soon Jack falls in love with Charlotte, which only serves to complicate everything.

While the plot itself is intriguing and will keep viewers guessing, it is the performances from the actors that really draws audiences in. Kidman should have received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the ultimate white trash woman who falls in love with a man on death row. She is fantastic. In one scene where her character meets Wetter for the first time, the characters are so infaturated with each other from their letters that they are able to simultaneously orgasm while sitting metres apart and surrounded by three other men. It must have been incredibly awkward to film that scene and yet it works perfectly. I have been less than impressed with Kidman's acting in recent years, but she has won me over again with this role.

McConaughey is also a stand-out performer. It's easy to forget he can actually act when he often spends so much time on camera prancing around with his shirt off. His character in The Paperboy is multi-faceted and it's interesting to see his character arc through the film. Cusack is also rather frightening and the role is a great challenge for him. Oyelowo and Efron were probably the weaker performers but they still held their own. I can't understand half the things Macy Gray says but her character's relationship with Zac Efron's character is both believable and endearing. She plays the house maid but she is really a mother figure for Jack.

Although the film dips into a lull in the middle, it comes back for a strong finish. While The Paperboy is not a film I would recommend for the masses, simply because of its dark sexual nature and violence, it is a film I thoroughly enjoyed.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Safe Haven

WRITTEN BY: Leslie Bohem, Dana Stevens
DIRECTED BY: Lasse Hallstrom
STARRING: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Cobie Smulders, David Lyons, Mimi Kirkland
RATING: 3 stars

If you did not enjoy previous film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks' novels such as The Notebook, A Walk To Remember and Dear John, then Safe Haven will not convert you. This film is definitely just for fans of the author's work. Although it is different to some of his previous novels, in that it has more thrilling moments mixed in with the romance, the film is still essentially a rather typical Nicholas Sparks story.

Katie (Julianne Hough) is on the run for some mysterious reason and finally settles in Southport, North Carolina. There, she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower father of two young children, Josh (Noah Lomax) and Lexie (Mimi Kirkland), who run a general store. She also befriends her only neighbour, Jo (Cobie Smulders), and Katie finally begins to feel like she is free. But then policeman Tierney (David Lyons), who is hunting Katie down, sends an alert to police across the country saying she is wanted for murder. Soon, Katie's new life and hope for happiness is under threat as her past comes back to haunt her.

Hough has never impressed me in previous films but I was surprised that in her first role where she doesn't have to sing and dance her way through, she was actually quite good. As attractive as she is, Hough still has the girl-next-door vibe about her, which makes her endearing in this type of role. She also has great chemistry with Duhamel, who was also quite convincing as a daggy father. The wardrobe team has obviously tried to make him look as “normal” as possible and his dialogue also tries to tone down his sex appeal by making him more down to earth. The supporting cast is also quite good, including Aussie actor Lyons, who is both intimidating and a little frightening. Both Lomax and Kirkland also add some extra gusto to the film, especially Kirkland who steals just about every scene she is in. However, I still have difficulty watching Smulders in anything that is not How I Met Your Mother.

What makes Safe Haven really endearing is the relationship between Alex and his children. He lost his wife to cancer only a couple of years earlier and is desperately trying to hold onto her memory and be both father and mother to his young children. There is a kind of emotion in some of these sweet scenes that can only be so beautifully depicted by Sparks. Director Lasse Hallstrom has also steered the film well and Safe Haven certainly captures the essence of the novel.

As a fan of Sparks and the novel, I enjoyed Safe Haven. But to the men dreading being dragged by their female companions to see this film at the cinema, fear not, as there is enough suspense and action to nearly balance out the romance. 

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

WRITTEN BY: Tommy Wirkola
DIRECTED BY: Tommy Wirkola
STARRING: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Peter Stormare
RATING: 2.5 stars

Everyone knows the story of Hansel and Gretel but we've never seen it quite like this. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is as ridiculous as it sounds and is actually quite fun if you put your mindset to that of a teenage boy. This film isn't going to win awards, it's not going to stand the test of time to become a cult classic, in fact, it will probably be forgotten in a few years, but if you're looking for mindless entertainment and some scary-looking witches, then this is an excellent choice.

After working together as children to kill a nasty witch, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and his sister Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are left orphaned and decide to become bounty hunters who track and kill witches. But when the Blood Moon approaches, the siblings learn about a new evil that could hold the key to their tragic past.

Writer and director Tommy Wirkola has obviously learned some valuable lessons from similar fairytale films and made sure his does not overstay its welcome – it is the perfect length of just under an hour and a half, and it's mostly full of suspense and one-liners. What makes it so much fun is just how bizarrely violent some of the killings are and how it is done in a comical way. Among the methods are shooting, stabbing, punching, stomping and burning.

The problem is that Renner and Arterton lack chemistry as brother and sister. Renner's relationship with Mina (Pihla Viitala) is much stronger, as is Arterton's chemistry with Edward the troll (voiced by Robin Atkin Downes). Famke Janssen is the stand-out performer, playing the terrifying witch Muriel. Peter Stormare also has a small but good role.

The ending is set up for a sequel. If that happened, I could only assume every teenage boy loved it.