Saturday, 30 November 2013

Closed Circuit

WRITTEN BY: Steven Knight
DIRECTED BY: John Crowley
STARRING: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent, Riz Ahmed
RATING: 3.5 stars

Part courtroom drama, part action thriller, Closed Circuit is an intriguing film with several twists and turns that will keep you guessing. While some films struggle to juggle two genres and do a film justice, Closed Circuit, which only runs for a little over 90 minutes, is able to keep everything tight and keeps audiences on the edge of their seats until the end.

When a terrorist attack happens in downtown London, the country demands immediate justice. Mysterious heroin addict Farroukh (Denis Moschitto) is charged over the crime but refuses to cooperate with authorities. Defence lawyer Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is assigned to the case along with special advocate Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), who insists the pair hide their previous affair so they can both work on the massive case. If the truth about their previous relationship is revealed, they could both be disbarred. They are also ordered not to contact each other while they gather evidence. Martin hopes to learn more from Farroukh, while Claudia deals with Farroukh's family and top secret documents that could threaten national security. But they soon uncover some dangerous information that leads to legal complexities, assassinations and corruption.

Unfortunately, the film has received some negative reviews from Americans who do not understand the English legal system. Australians should not have such a problem, since our system is based on the English model, although we do not have closed courts in the same way that the film depicts. Closed Circuit also gets caught up in some legal jargon at times, but it is not at all difficult to follow.

Bana is great in this film, learning to row for the role and also pulling off a good English accent. His character has some issues stemming from his divorce and relationship with his son, but he is also very smart and arrogant. It is interesting to see Bana take on such a different role. He also has quite good chemistry with Hall. The supporting cast includes Moschitto, Jim Broadbent and Riz Ahmed who are all solid.

Closed Circuit will probably be one of the most criticised and underrated films of 2013.


Friday, 29 November 2013

Delivery Man

WRITTEN BY: Ken Scott
DIRECTED BY: Ken Scott
STARRING: Vince Vaughn, Cobie Smulders, Chris Pratt
RATING: 2.5 stars

Delivery Man is a remake of the French-Canadian film Starbuck, which was only made in 2011, albeit with subtitles, which apparently many Americans simply refuse to watch. Writer/director Ken Scott is at the helm again for the remake and has not changed the film much from the original. Delivery Man has an interesting concept and raises some valid questions about parenthood, but it is neither poignant or funny enough to fit into any particular genre.

David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) is a lazy underachiever and owes $80,000 to loan sharks. Somehow, he still manages to have friends and family who love him. His girlfriend Emma (Smulders) is pregnant but has a hard time believing David can grow up in time to be a good father. But things take an odd turn for David when he learns he has fathered 533 children through anonymous donations to a fertility clinic 20 years earlier. At first, his curiosity gets the better of him and he starts looking into each child and trying to find a way to help them in their lives without them knowing that he is their father. But soon, many of the half siblings get together and decide to file a lawsuit to make the anonymous donor, known as Starbuck, reveal his identity.

I don't know who ever thought Vaughn should be a leading man because he does not have the charm or appeal to make it work. While he has his funny moments, I cannot help but think Delivery Man would have been far better with a stronger lead. Chris Pratt plays David's best friend and lawyer, Brett. He probably generates some of the biggest laughs but even he is not given enough opportunity to be funny. Smulders is also completely underused and her character could have been played by anyone, which is a shame because she has great comedic timing.

Delivery Man had so many interesting avenues it could have explored in its story. Instead, it merely scraped the surface. 



Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

WRITTEN BY: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt 
DIRECTED BY: Francis Lawrence
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman
RATING: 3.5 stars

Fans of The Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins should be happy with the latest film in the franchise. After the first film spent time establishing the elaborate world, Catching Fire is able to get straight into further developing the main relationships before the real action begins about half way through the film. It is thanks to director Francis Lawrence (Water For Elephants, I Am Legend) who joined the film after the original director, Gary Ross, dropped out. He has steered the story well through all the twists and turns of the plot including poison fog, extreme weather, a tidal wave and crazed baboons.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) become targeted by the Capitol after winning the 74th Hunger Games and causing a rebellion in the districts. They are forced to fake their romance while her boyfriend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) waits for her. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) considers Katniss a threat to his dictatorship so he enlists the help of Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to find a way to destroy her with the least amount of backlash from the districts.

Lawrence is arguably the most likeable and endearing person in Hollywood (perhaps Hugh Jackman is her only rival) and she shines in this film. Her character is struggling with the guilt of surviving the hunger games and stressed for what is to come next, and the young Oscar-winner demonstrates that internal drama well. Hemsworth has a bigger role in this film, which is a delight, while Hutcherson is solid. The rest of the likeable cast from the first film returns including Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks and Sutherland who are all entertaining. Claflin is among the new characters in the sequel and is both complex and charming. Viewers are not sure if he can be trusted or not. Hoffman is also a welcome addition to the cast.

While it is a little long, Catching Fire ends with a shock that will leave viewers intrigued for the third instalment.



Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Adoration

WRITTEN BY: Christopher Hampton
DIRECTED BY: Anne Fontaine
STARRING: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn
RATING: 1.5 stars

There is a scene in Adoration where for a very brief moment you think a mother is about to commit incest with her son. It does not happen, thankfully, and as an audience there was a collective awkward giggle and sigh of relief that it never happened. While the film does not quite reach that level of creepiness, it certainly is confronting in other ways. Nonetheless, like a horrific train wreck, you cannot help but be engrossed in the tale until the end comes and you realise what a pointless story it really was.

The plot, which is based on Doris Lessing's novella, The Grandmothers, is fairly simple. Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) are childhood friends and neighbours who fall in love with each other's sons, Tom (James Frecheville) and Ian (Xavier Samuel). Their affairs last years, ruining marriages and making many awkward situations.

Filmed in New South Wales, Adoration is visually beautiful, depicting the Australian beach and scenery. But there is some woeful dialogue that jars the presentation of the story. It seems more like a soap opera at times and the idea of a woman having sex with a young man she has known since his birth feels too dirty. Yet, I reluctantly found myself supporting the relationship between Roz and Ian, who seem to be genuinely in love despite the massive hurdle. Perhaps it was that which kept me intrigued with the story, although I ultimately felt little enthusiasm for the film, especially with characters who barely feel any remorse.

Given how disturbing the story is, it is remarkable that the film has such a good cast. Wright's Australian accent is quite good and only slips a few times. Watts unfortunately continues her terrible run of film choices following Diana because she is hardly impressive. Samuel is a stand-out performer, while Frecheville was too wooden at times. Sophie Lowe and Jessica Tovey play the younger love interests for Ian and Tom, while Ben Mendelsohn has a small role as Roz's husband but he has little to work with. Gary Sweet also has a thankless role as a potential suitor for Lil.

Ultimately, I cannot say I would ever recommend Adoration to anyone because it is so morally wrong without having much purpose.
 
 
 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Filth

WRITTEN BY: Jon S. Baird
DIRECTED BY: Jon S. Baird
STARRING: James McAvoy, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell
RATING: 3.5 stars

Sometimes you see a film that unsettles you so much that you are not quite sure what to make of it. Then, the more you dwell on the details, the more you realise just how clever the tale was. That is exactly what happened when I saw Filth. It is a bizarre story about a junkie detective, but the story is shrouded in mystery with layers of details that are only realised upon reflection. While the film is a funny satire, it is also a very dark and intriguing story.

Adapted from a novel by Scottish author Irvine Welsh, Filth's title has a two-fold meaning. First, it is the slang derogatory term for the police in the UK. But also, it is a reference to just how dirty and disgusting the protagonist – who is really more like an antagonist – behaves throughout the film morally, sexually and emotionally. While there were a couple of gaps in the plot that needed more context, the film certainly keeps audiences entertained.

Bruce Robinson (James McAvoy) is a depraved and debauched Edinburgh detective who manipulates his way through the festive season in a bid to gain a promotion and win back the affections of his wife and daughter. If Robinson can solve the murder of a Japanese student everything will work out in his favour. But something is not quite right with Robinson, who was once a good person but has gone down a dark path. As he drinks, snorts and sleeps his way through the investigation, it becomes clear that he has his own personal demons to contend with. Robinson is also a corrupt detective willing to step on top of anyone who gets in his way and belittling those around him, even having an affair with a colleague's wife and humiliating his only true friend.

McAvoy is brilliant as the self-loathing detective. His character is almost completely unlikable, except perhaps in his dealings with a widowed woman and her son, but McAvoy manages to humanise Robinson. McAvoy probably deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance. The supporting cast is also quite good, including Jamie Bell as a junior detective constantly embarrassed by Robinson, and Imogen Poots who plays another rival detective. She has one particularly pivotal confrontation scene with McAvoy.

Filth is a dark murder mystery but the black humour works well. It is confronting in parts, and certainly not a film for everyone. But, if you do not mind going a little out of your comfort zone, you will be rewarded by this film.



Friday, 1 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World

WRITTEN BY: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
DIRECTED BY: Alan Taylor
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddelston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston
RATING: 3.5 stars

The Avengers set the bar so high for people's expectations of the protagonists, that there was always going to be pressure on each of their follow-up individual films. The great thing about Thor: The Dark World is that Chris Hemsworth is amazing, both physically with his masculine presence and with his acting skills. The film also has some great visual effects and is very funny in parts. Importantly, it does not just rely on one character to deliver the comedy, with almost every major character given the chance to be humorous. The down side is that the story is convoluted and unnecessarily complicated to the point where I am not even sure I fully understood every detail. Further, while I can accept that in a Marvel world, things do not have to scientifically make sense, there were parts of the plot that were a little too convenient.

Many years ago, the villainous Dark Elves were banished from Asgard. But centuries later, they return with vengeance. Ruler Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is at a loss as to how to defeat the Dark Elves who want to use the powerful energy source Aether during the forthcoming alignment of the nine realms, including Earth. It is not really clear what evil they are planning. But, coincidentally, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) absorbs the power, which of course, prompts Thor (Hemsworth) to come to her rescue. Thor is so desperate to find a way to save Jane and defeat the Dark Elves that he turns to his imprisoned brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) for help.

While the film belongs to the charming Hemsworth, Hiddelston almost overshadows him with his cheeky villainous ways. His character has been well developed through three films now and is definitely one of the most well-rounded villains in a superhero film, perhaps aside from Magneto in the X-men franchise. Meanwhile, Christopher Eccleston's villain, Malekith, who leads the Dark Elves is severely under-developed, which is a shame. Portman has an integral role in this film and yet she lacks some much-needed spunk, as does Hopkins who seems to just be going through the motions.

Although he only has two scenes, Chris O'Dowd is hilarious as Jane's new potential suitor. His timing is brilliant. Kat Dennings also returns as Jane's intern and has some good one-liners, but it is Stellan Skarsgard who steals every scene he is in playing astrophysicist Erik Selvig.

Thor: The Dark World ends with a bang and sets up what is to come in the next film with two extra clips during the credits. While this sequel was fun, it was not too special. Even still, I cannot wait to see what happens next.