Thursday, 27 February 2014

Non-Stop

WRITTEN BY: John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, Ryan Engle
DIRECTED BY: Jaume Collet-Serra
STRRING: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong'o
RATING: 3 stars

SPOILER ALERT: Liam Neeson saves the day. Again.

But is that really a spoiler? Surely we have come to expect that by now? I am not sure at what point Neeson made the full transition to action hero, but I miss seeing him in more challenging and diverse roles. It is great to see him mix things up between Batman Begins and Star Wars with films like Schindler's List and Love Actually. In Non-Stop, he continues the tough guy theme we have come to expect after films like Taken and The Grey. Non-Stop starts off with a lot of promise. It presents a suspenseful cat and mouse game that will keep you guessing who the bad guy is as the action unfolds, but the film ultimately loses its way in the final half hour.

Bill Marks (Neeson) is an air marshal who hates flying. During a transatlantic journey from New York to London, he receives some mysterious and threatening text messages ordering him to have the government transfer $150 million into an account, or a passenger will die every 20 minutes. With the lives of 200 passengers at risk, he must act quickly to figure out who is behind the threat and stop them.

At times, the camera work is effective in demonstrating the frantic action that is happening, but at other times, it is almost nauseating. There are also perhaps too many red herrings, but there is enough character development to make it relatively interesting. Among the supporting cast - and potential suspects - are Julianne Moore who manipulates her way into sitting next to Bill, Michelle Dockery who plays a flight attendant, Lupita Nyong'o who has a thankless role as another flight attendant, Corey Stoll as a policeman, Scoot McNairy as a passenger, Omar Metwally as a Muslim doctor and Nate Parker as a computer programmer.

Non-Stop is a fun action film, helped by the fact that Neeson is so likeable even as a grumpy alcoholic, but it runs out of steam and by the end I was more than ready for it to stop.

 

 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Lone Survivor

WRITTEN BY: Peter Berg
DIRECTED BY: Peter Berg
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
RATING: 4 stars

For those unfamiliar with the heroic true story, calling the film Lone Survivor sure does spoil the plot and take away a lot of the suspense. That aside, the film is a truly amazing story of bravery and is apparently reasonably accurate in most parts. Writer/director Peter Berg has done a great job stylistically in capturing the long battle sequences, including lots of gruesome blood. I often cringe watching Hollywood films glamourising war and the over-the-top patriotism for the United States, but Lone Survivor never falls into that trap of isolating other countries from enjoying the film. It is also great to see the real men at the end of the film.

Adapted from the book written by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson, Lone Survivor is about a Navy SEAL mission in June 2005. Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) are sent on a covert mission to kill Taliban leader Ahmed Shahd (Yousuf Azami) but stumble across some goat herders. They decide to let them go but are soon ambushed by the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan and are forced to fight until they can be rescued.

The chemistry between the leads is important if we are to believe their closeness as a team and we really do feel that they are a brotherhood. Walhberg is solid despite perhaps being a little too old (and short) for the role of the giant Texan. Kitsch, Hirsch and Foster were also convincing and we are invested in each of their personal stories. Eric Bana is also a welcome addition as their commander Erik Kristensen. My only real criticism with the casting was that some of the Afghani characters were clearly Caucasians with beards or Indians. It is a shame that many Hollywood filmmakers still think it is acceptable to do that. Surely there are enough Middle Eastern actors looking for work who could be hired?

True stories of war often tug at the heart strings and Lone Survivor certainly does that. While it could have been 10 or 15 minutes shorter, Lone Survivor is such a harrowing story that it is definitely worth seeing.


 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Wolf Creek 2

 
DIRECTED BY: Greg Mclean
WRITTEN BY: Greg Mclean, Aaron Sterns
STARRING: John Jarratt, Ryan Corr, Shannon Ashlyn, Philliipe Klaus
RATING: 3.5 stars

Wolf Creek 2 carries on from the original, except much of the suspense is gone in the sequel, replaced with just more gore and violence. The moral of the story is essentially the same – don't be a dumb tourist, don't hitch-hike, and if you're going to the Australian outback make sure you have a plan. The enjoyable aspect about both these films is that they explore the eerie danger of being in the middle of nowhere and having to rely on the kindness of strangers. It is a terrifying thought that the person you turn to for help could be a crazed murderer – and tourists thought all they needed to worry about was the heat and spiders!

The other sad reality that the films highlight is that there are a lot of people who go missing in the outback. While the first film felt almost like a cautionary tale loosely based on a true story, the sequel just feels like it is milking the concept for a lot more than it is worth. It also claims to be based on true events, but it does not feel in any way real. Nonetheless, it is still strangely entertaining to watch these deer in a headlight victims struggle against a psychopath.

John Jarratt returns as pig shooter and serial killer, Mick Taylor, and he is just as creepy in Wolf Creek 2 as he was in the original film. In this film, Mick's character is further developed but almost becomes a parody. His reason for torturing backpackers is because he is a racist believing tourists are invading Australia. Director/co-writer Greg Mclean also dragged out one torturous scene, which caused it to lose some of its suspense by filling about 10 minutes with an Australian quiz and limerick battle between Mick and one of his victims. It was a bit lame.

The other cast of victims including Ryan Corr, Shannon Ashlyn and Philliipe Klaus are also very good and even though we do not have a lot of time to get to know them, we still feel some empathy for each one. The same cannot be said for a pair of policemen slain at the start of the film, but we do not need to know much about them. You could almost champion Mick for those killings because they are not the nicest law enforcers. In fact, that sequence could almost be a stand-alone short film. It was fantastic.

The outback landscape is captured beautifully throughout the film and the music is also used to good effect, whether it is being used to contrast horror or humour. I enjoyed the film, but it was about 15 minutes too long. Nonetheless, I would probably watch a third instalment.

 
 

 

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Le Week-End

DIRECTED BY: Roger Michell
WRITTEN BY: Hanif Kureishi
STARRING: Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum
RATING: 2.5 stars

Le Week-End is a bit like a Woody Allen film, but it is not quite as good. The film is a quirky romance with a valuable life lesson for ageing couples worried that the spark in their marriage has gone. But it is also slow-paced and it is difficult to maintain the momentum of the film, which for the most part, only involves two characters. It would perhaps have been better as a play. Nonetheless, the performances are good and it is always lovely to see imagery of Paris.

University professor Nick (Jim Broadbent) and teacher Meg (Lindsay Duncan) visit Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in the hopes of rekindling their romance after years of disappointment. Nick is an intellectual who has recently been fired for making a politically incorrect comment to a student, while Meg hates her job. Both are struggling to deal with their troubled adult son. While on their weekend getaway, they bump into Nick's former schoolmate Morgan (Jeff Goldblum) and soon everything starts to unravel. 

Broadbent is very good in this film and you cannot help but feel sympathy for his professional and personal plight. However, it is a little uncomfortable to watch him trying to be in any way sexual with his on-screen wife. Duncan's character is less likeable and yet somehow still surely relatable to many people. The scene of her trying to flee from a restaurant without paying for a meal is especially funny. Goldblum seems to be playing his usual wacky self. His character is integral to the final act but he is a little too extreme at times. 

Le Week-End is probably a thought-provoking film for long-term couples, but it is certainly not the feel-good romantic comedy set in Paris you might be hoping for.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

Nebraska

DIRECTED BY: Alexander Payne
WRITTEN BY: Bob Nelson
STARRING: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk
RATING: 3.5 stars

Nebraska is a heartfelt and realistic film about regular people living typical lives, and that is what makes it so appealing. At times the film is sad, hopeful, nostalgic and funny as we learn more about the characters. Being shot in black and white is also effective for the story telling. While I am surprised that such a simple film is getting so much award attention, it is great to see a character-driven story being praised over bigger budget blockbusters.

David Grant (Will Forte) has just been dumped by his girlfriend and is working in an electrical store. He is annoyed at constantly having to pick up his wandering, elderly father Woody (Bruce Dern) who is determined to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim a $1 million prize promised to him through some junk mail. David, his brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) and their mother Kate (June Squibb) do their best to explain to Woody that it is a scam to get him on a magazine list, but Woody is determined. David eventually agrees to drive his father to Nebraska to spend some quality time with him and prove the prize is a hoax.

Dern is wonderful as the lost, vulnerable and kind elderly protagonist. Odenkirk and Forte are both decent but not exceptional. But it is Squibb who steals most scenes with her comedic timing and no-nonsense persona. The scene at the cemetery when she is talking about all the dead relatives and people in town is especially hilarious.

Nebraska is a bitter-sweet film and certainly relatable. It made me want to take a road trip with my parents.



Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Winter's Tales

DIRECTED BY: Akiva Goldsman
WRITTEN BY: Akiva Goldsman
STARRING: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Will Smith, William Hurt
RATING: 1 star

I paid close attention to Winter's Tale but I still didn't quite understand it. The story, which has a lovely sentiment, is full of so many plot holes it was too hard to get passed them to enjoy the message. It is essentially a love story, but it is convoluted with angels, demons, the Devil, a magical horse, potions, miracles and some other vague supernatural things that are not explained properly. This film is a mess, which is both sad and surprising considering it comes from writer/director Akiva Goldsman, who also wrote amazing films like A Beautiful Mind and A Time To Kill.

Based on the novel by Mark Helprin, Winters Tale is about an orphaned Irishman living in New York named Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) who is a mechanic and a thief. When his gang leader, a demon named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), becomes disappointed in him, Peter's life is at risk. While on the run, he meets and falls in love with Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a rich girl dying of consumption.

The best aspect of this film is the cast. Findlay is a delight to watch. Her performance is the strongest and most endearing with a character that is both innocent and wise. Farrell is as good as he can be with the script he has been given and brings some charm. I cannot imagine what drew Crowe to his role other than to reunite with Goldsman. Maybe Crowe just wanted to practice his Irish accent? Connelly has a thankless role as the mother of an ill child who helps Peter. William Hurt plays Beverly's father and his character is interesting with his sadness and insight. In fact, I wanted to know more about him. Will Smith is just ridiculously bizarre in his small role. Every scene between him and Crowe had me giggling unintentionally.

I watched Winter's Tale to warn you not to watch it. That was two hours of my life wasted.





Thursday, 6 February 2014

Last Vegas

DIRECTED BY: Jon Turteltaub
WRITTEN BY: Dan Fogelman
STARRING: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline
RATING: 3.5 stars

Last Vegas has been described by many people as The Hangover for the elderly and that is a pretty good description, although I enjoyed it even more - and I'm from Generation Y. Last Vegas is still incredibly funny, but it is also a cleaner sense of humour than The Hangover, while still being wild enough to stay true to Sin City's reputation. It helps that the cast includes some of the most revered actors in Hollywood, who may be getting older, but still know how to poke fun at themselves, even if many of the jokes are predictable. Although the film starts to wean towards the end, once all the "old people" jokes have been made and the sentimentality starts to creep in, Last Vegas is still a very fun film that will make you laugh a lot.

Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert DeNiro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) have been best friends since childhood. When life-long bachelor Billy proposes to his much younger girlfriend (Bre Blair), the four men visit Las Vegas for a wild bachelor party. But when they arrive at Sin City, they soon realise things have changed along the strip and with their friendships.

Douglas has had a career resurgence recently and he plays the cool Billy very well. DeNiro takes on the role of a "grumpy old man" but that is mostly because he is a widower missing his love. Freeman is goofy and hilarious with some great moments as the divorced grandfather living with his over-protective son. Kline rounds out the lead cast as the man who has such an understanding wife that she wants him to have a one-night stand in Vegas but to not tell her about it. He has some of the more outrageous and sleazy lines, but he is great in the role. Mary Steenburgen has a role as a Vegas lounge singer and she is a welcome addition in an odd love triangle. It is also good to see Jerry Ferrara in a funny role that is not Entourage.

Last Vegas is sure to be a success among older audiences, but it is still a film that younger people can enjoy. I doubt, however, that we will see a Hangover-style sequel.


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Labor Day

WRITTEN BY: Jason Reitman
DIRECTED BY: Jason Reitman
STARRING: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith,Tobey Maguire
RATING: 3.5 stars

Is Labor Day a sappy love story? Well, yes, to a certain degree it is. But, before you write it off based on the trailer as a Nicholas Sparks type of romance, give it a chance and it might actually surprise you. There is more to the story than you might think and it would probably make a good play with such well crafted characters. Director/writer Jason Reitman manages to keep the suspense level high while also exploring the dynamic between the protagonists.

Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day tells the story of depressed single mother Adele (Kate Winslet) and her 12-year-old son Henry (Gatlin Griffith) who are forced to drive injured prison escapee Frank (Josh Brolin) to their home. Frank forces them to let him lay low for a while in their house during the Labor Day weekend while police search for him. As the weekend progresses, the mother and son get to know Frank and they form an odd relationship.

It is definitely not a glamorous role, but Winslet gives an understated and effective performance as a scared and fragile woman. Brolin is a great anti-hero and his character is quite complex. On the one hand, he is presented as a villain, but on the other, he gives the mother and son hope and becomes a role model to the boy. Griffith is also a great performer with some great emotional range. The use of flashbacks is a great way to show how these characters became this way.

You may have a laugh at the cooking scene depicted in the trailer, but with context it is clear that Labor Day is a far more layered film.