Monday, 29 April 2013

Spring Breakers


WRITTEN BY: Harmony Korine
DIRECTED BY: Harmony Korine
STARRING: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, James Franco, Rachel Korine
RATING: 2 stars

Spring Breakers is a pointless film with a weak plot and bizarre characters, and yet, there is something about it that is mildly appealing - and it is not the dozens of close up shots of boobs. It feels less like a film in parts and more like a woeful clip from Girls Gone Wild or a really long exploitative music video. With all the sex, drugs and partying depicted in Spring Breakers, males under the age of 25 will love this film if for nothing more than the perving opportunities. I'm no prude, but when a film that only runs for 94 minutes is full of several slow-motion montages of breasts and bikini bottoms that do nothing to progress the plot, you have to wonder why you are watching it. With its theme of repressed young women finally freeing themselves, it is like a DD-grade, underdeveloped Thelma and Louise story.

The loose plot surrounds four girls who hate their small town and cannot wait for spring break. However, with hardly any money saved up for the trip, Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) decide to rob a diner and only tell their religious friend Faith (Selena Gomez) about it afterwards. The four girls then make their way to Spring Break to enjoy all the partying, alcohol, drugs and nudity they can until the police bust one of their parties and they are all arrested. The girls cannot afford the bail price, but local gangster/rapper Alien (James Franco) takes pity on the pretty girls and decides to help them. But at what cost has he bought their freedom?

I have a few general gripes with the plot holes. Firstly, why did the girls not get dressed when they were arrested before they were taken to jail? They even appear in court in their bikinis. In fact, they spend the entire film half naked, no matter what they are doing. Secondly, why are the girls so good with guns? Are we to assume that because they are from a small American town that they are therefore gun lovers? Because, their shooting accuracy is top-notch. It seems to me that writer/director Harmony Korine spent more time thinking about how he was going to film naked bodies than developing his story. Bonus points to him though for the Britney Spears references, especially one scene in which Franco sings at a piano. I won't spoil it with further details. Just know that I was still laughing about it minutes after the scene had ended.

Much has been said about this film being R-rated and such a departure for former Disney stars like Gomez and Hudgens. But with all the boobs on screen, the most you see of these girls is them in bikinis and consuming some drugs. While it is not something you would want a 12-year-old child to see, they are certainly not the target audience here. Benson is the stand-out performer though among the girls. As bad as the film is, it is almost worth seeing just for Franco's portrayal of Alien. He has based his character on a real person and it is a remarkable performance. He is seedy, creepy and hilarious, and steals every scene.

If spring break in real life has the potential to be anything like this film's depiction, then seeing Spring Breakers is enough to put so much fear in parents that they will never let their children out of their sight ever again.




Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Iron Man 3


WRITTEN BY: Shane Black, Drew Pearce
DIRECTED BY: Shane Black
STARRING: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle
RATING: 4 stars

At this point in the Iron Man franchise, it seems Robert Downey Jr can do no wrong. He could do just about anything with the character and everyone would swoon over him. Quite simply, Downey Jr owns Tony Stark so well that it is doubtful anyone could ever step into those shoes again and do it justice. It is greatly due to him and his charisma that this franchise has been such a success. The plot in this third instalment, which has been loosely drawn from the comics, has adapted the story well, while the special effects and cinematography are also to be admired. Iron man 3 is the type of film that basically does everything well and fans of the previous films are sure to love it.

Iron Man 3 begins with a flashback to New Year's Eve in 1999. Iron Man Tony Stark (Downey Jr) is wooing botanist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) when he is approached by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) in a hotel. Killian is rejected by Stark and years later joins terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) for a violent act of revenge. Meanwhile, Stark struggles to deal with the realities of life post his Avengers heroics.

The action sequences in Iron Man 3 are top-notch. Jon Favreau has handed over the directing reins to the very capable hands of Shane Black, who previously worked with Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black also co-wrote the screenplay and pulls it all together nicely. The plot is cleverly crafted to provide strong character development of the hero, as he deals with his anxiety and stress after what he experienced in The Avengers.

I have raved on enough about Downey Jr already, but I will add that his delivery of one-liners is spot on and hilarious in this film. Pearce is also a fantastic addition to the cast. He seems to relish playing villainous roles and gives a great performance in Iron Man 3. Paltrow has a bigger and more integral role in the third film as Stark's love interest, Pepper Potts, and she gives a convincing performance. Don Cheadle is also his reliable self as James Rhodes. I had my doubts about Kingsley at first, but by the end of the film, I was completely sold. It is a different type of role for him and he delivers the goods.

This Marvel franchise is one I will never tire of and I hope they keep making more quality superhero action adventure films like it. 





Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Drift


WRITTEN BY: Morgan O'Neill
DIRECTED BY: Ben Nott, Morgan O'Neill
STARRING: Myles Pollard, Xavier Samuel, Sam Worthington, Lesley Ann-Brandt
RATING: 3 stars

Maybe it is because Drift was filmed in my home state that I automatically had an affinity with it. Filmed in Western Australia's beautiful South West region including Margaret River, Augusta, Gracetown and Nannup, Drift first screened at the Margaret River Pro for the international surfing crowd and was received positively. Seeing it for myself, I realised why. Unlike a lot of other "surfing movies" that are tacky, or others that are so technical they cannot reach a wider audience than surfers, Drift has a decent plot, good acting and some great cinematography that captures the surf.

Drift is inspired by the true story of Australia’s famous surf communities and the rise of global surf brands during the 60's and 70's such as Billabong and Rip Curl. As youngsters, the Kelly brothers - Jimmy (Xavier Samuel) and Andy (Myles Pollard) - and their mother escape an abusive home and want to start a new life. They travel from Victoria to WA and settle in a remote Australian coastal town. Years later, they are still there working too hard, not making enough money and barely having enough time to enjoy their passion of surfing. So the Kellys decide to open up a surf shop. They make some new friends along the way, including free-spirit photographer JB (Sam Worthington) and Hawaiian girl Lani (Lesley-Ann Brandt), who help start up their business. But they also encounter several hurdles such as financial pressure from a bank and ruthless bikers over a drug debt.

The plot is at times predictable, but it is nonetheless entertaining. A lot of embarrassing Aussie slang is also avoided thanks to writer and co-director Morgan O'Neill and when it is used it feels authentic. At the heart of the story, which is essentially a sport/surf film, is the brotherly love between Andy and Jimmy. They are fiercely protective of each other but they are also very competitive, which causes friction. The sibling rivalry is depicted well and they have great chemistry together.

Pollard is perhaps a little too old for the role, but it is not embarrassingly noticeable. He gives a strong performance as the protagonist. Samuel is building quite a resume for himself in the past two years and his performance in Drift should do well to propel him further in Hollywood. Worthington has been less than impressive in recent films, but his performance in Drift is a return to form. He is so much better when he does not have to put on an American accent. Brandt's character is intriguing but ultimately undeveloped, which is a shame. But she's a stunning "beach babe" and looks a lot like a young Halle Berry.

Drift is not an amazing film, but if you like family drama, surfing and beautiful cinematography, then you should probably see it.



Sunday, 21 April 2013

Olympus Has Fallen


WRITTEN BY: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
DIRECTED BY: Antoine Fuqua
STARRING: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune
RATING: 3.5 stars

There is no doubt that Olympus Has Fallen is over the top with its explosions, shootings and American patriotism, but it is such a thrilling, on-the-edge-of-your-seat ride that it does not matter how ridiculous the action or plot are. While much has been said about the film coincidentally mirroring the current North Korean political issue, it is refreshing to see a Hollywood film that does not make the Russians or Middle Eastern people the terrorists threatening the United States. Though, it is fair to say there are definitely some stereotypes in this film that may insult some people, that is hardly new for a Hollywood film.

When the White House is overtaken by a North Korean terrorist named Kang (Rick Yune) and President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is held captive, disgraced former secret service guard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) becomes trapped in the building. The United States security team, headed by Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), must rely on Banning's skills to retake the White House, save the President and his son, and prevent a nuclear disaster.

So often in action films, humanising characters is almost an after-thought, in favour of the action. But it is so much more gratifying when we care about the characters. This is what makes Die Hard the ultimate action film (aside from the one-liners and stand-out performance by a charismatic Bruce Willis). While Olympus Has Fallen is certainly no Die Hard, it does open with an emotive and action-packed prologue that lays the foundation for the protagonists. We instantly learn so much about them and their motivations, and we care for them, which is vital as events progress in the rest of the film.

It also helps that the cast is quite strong. Butler seems to have a knack for playing brutish tough guys, but his character is a lot smarter in this film. He reminded me of Jack Bauer in 24. Eckhart is a quality actor and even delivered an awful one-liner with conviction towards the end of the film, proving just how important it is to have good actors in these kinds of films to help lift them from that “lame factor” we often see in action films. Freeman and Angela Bassett, playing the secret service director, were also strong. Unfortunately, some of the worst dialogue was given to Dylan McDermott as a former secret service guard, while Radha Mitchell was underused as Banning's doctor wife and Melissa Leo overacted in some scenes playing the secretary of defence. Yune could have been better if his character was given more depth.

Olympus Has Fallen is definitely a film for action fans. In the safe hands of director Antoine Fuqua, it is much better than other recent action offerings like G.I. Joe Retaliation, Oblivion and Broken City.



Thursday, 11 April 2013

Kon-Tiki

WRITTEN BY: Petter Skavlan
DIRECTED BY: Joachim Ronning, Sepe Sandberg
STARRING: Pal Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Gustaf Skarsgard, Tobias Santelmann, Jakob Oftebro, Odd Magnus Williamson
RATING: 4 stars

True stories often make great films. This extraordinary tale of how a crew of adventurers sailed cross the Pacific Ocean on a balsa wood raft is both mind boggling and inspiring. Kon-Tiki is the most expensive Norwegian film ever made but it is money well spent on such a fine production. Nominated for a 2013 Oscar in the best foreign film category, Kon-Tiki has great visual effects and cinematography. It is supported with a good cast and enough suspenseful moments (thanks to some shark interactions) to keep the story going without falling into the trap of being unnecessarily drawn out like so many other “lost at sea” themed films.

Set in 1947, Kon-Tiki tells the story of Thor Heyerdal (Pal Sverre Hagen) who believes South Americans settled in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. To prove his theory, he decides to sail, as he believes they did, on a raft from Peru. He recruits three fellow Norwegians (Tobias Santelmann, Jakob Oftebro, Odd Magnus Williamson), a Swedish cameraman (Gustaf Skarsgard) and an American engineer turned refrigerator salesman (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) to embark on the journey with him. The problems with the concept are that only one of the six men has sailing experience, Thor cannot swim and the only modern technology they allow themselves to have is a two-way radio. Thor risks his marriage to Liv (Agnes Kittelsen) by pursuing the adventure and along the way, the six men face many obstacles including sharks, storms and harsh reefs.

The expedition has previously been the subject of a book and an Oscar-winning documentary by Thor himself. But the film is still exciting to watch and will certainly introduce the epic story to new audiences. Thor himself was an intriguing man and the film delves into his obsession quite well. Hagen reminded me of a young Peter O'Toole in this film; it's a strong performance. Unfortunately, the other characters are not developed enough to match Thor. It would have been good to learn more about the other men's backgrounds and what their motivation was. We really only get a small glimpse into that. I had not read Thor's book, but after seeing this film, I was definitely interested in learning more about him and the rest of the crew.


 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Oblivion


WRITTEN BY: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt
DIRECTED BY: Joseph Kosinski
STARRING: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
RATING: 2 stars

I'm being very kind with this two-star rating, only because Oblivion is visually quite stunning. Director Joseph Kosinski showed audiences what he could do stylistically in Tron Legacy, which looked great but ultimately failed to engage most people. In Oblivion, he expands on that skill, providing some great cinematography and visual effects. However, in all other respects, including plot and acting, Oblivion is an awful film. The storyline takes so many odd twists and turns that it barely makes sense in parts. Kosinski worked on the screenplay with two other writers, which only served to convolute the story, rather than sharpen it. Ultimately, Oblivion tried to do too much, and as a consequence, it failed to achieve much of anything.

Oblivion is set in 2077. About 60 years earlier, aliens attacked the planet and humans used nuclear weapons to fight back. Humanity won the war but earth was left mostly uninhabitable. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of the last people left on earth and works on fixing drones, which are flying machines that kill remaining aliens, and collects earth resources for humans who are now living on Titan, a moon of Saturn. Jack has just two weeks left until his mission is complete and he can join people on Titan, but as he soon discovers, things are not quite as they seem. The plot gets quite complicated but I won't give away any spoilers.

Lately, it seems Cruise is doing just that – cruising through mindless action films and giving uninspired performances. Just because you're one of the biggest movie stars in the world does not mean you can be forgiven for such a long run of woeful films. He needs to do better to justify his big pay-check. Meanwhile, I'm dumbfounded as to why Morgan Freeman agreed to be in this film in a small but pivotal role. Surely this was a simple money grabbing exercise for him. Andrea Riseborough was good in parts but lacked any real empathy overall as Jack's sidekick and love interest, while Olga Kurylenko was beautiful but boring as Jack's other love interest. Both women are used more as pawns rather than key players in the film – it is always about Jack and his motivations.

Oblivion is just over two hours long. I got bored after the first 20 minutes. There were parts that were interesting and entertaining, but I doubt I will even remember this film a few years from now.




Thursday, 4 April 2013

Jurassic Park 3D

WRITTEN BY: Michael Crichton, David Koepp
DIRECTED BY: Steven Spielberg
STARRING: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough
RATING: 5 stars

Jurassic Park remains one of the greatest films ever made. It is epic. Although it was made in 1993, it is visually stunning and holds up well 20 years later, despite modern technological advances available in film making. Its subject matter and the moral question it raises of humans playing God are also still relevant today. Seeing the film on the big screen is a must and seeing it in 3D is an absolute delight. I have lost count of the number of times I've seen Jurassic Park over the years, and yet I still found myself jumping during the suspenseful scenes.

Billionaire philanthropist John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) invites palaeontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and palaeobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) to tour Jurassic Park, an amusement park on an island off the coast of Costa Rica. The park features dinosaurs cloned from prehistoric DNA found in mosquitoes. Hammond hopes the pair will endorse the park ahead of its grand opening. They are joined by chaos theorist Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Hammond's lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero), and Hammond's grandchildren Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello). But when the park's computer expert Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) disables the park's security system so he can escape with some dinosaur embryos, the dinosaurs escape from their electrified enclosures and wreak havoc on the island.

I am going to make a bold statement here - Jurassic Park is Steven Spielberg's best film. The man that gave us Jaws and Schindler's List really out-did himself with this film. In fact, it is because he filmed it so well in 1993 that layering the 3D effects worked so well. There is also a great cast led by Neill and supported by the charismatic Goldblum. Richards and Mazzello are also very good for such young actors. Only Dern is perhaps guilty of over-acting in her role.

I am not usually a fan of "re-doing" an old film in 3D but when it is done as wonderfully as Jurassic Park, it is well worth paying to see.