Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Fading Gigalo

WRITTEN BY: John Turturro
DIRECTED BY: John Turturro
STARRING: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Sharon Stone, Liev Schreiber, Sofia Vergara
RATING:  2.5 stars
Part comedy, part drama and part romance, Fading Gigalo is a little all over the place. New York book store owner Murray Schwartz (Woody Allen) is closing down his shop and convinces his florist friend Fioravante (John Turturro) that he would make a good gigalo because he is a sensitive guy who knows what women need. Murray offers to be his manager/pimp by finding suitable clients, beginning with his own dermatologist Dr Parker (Sharon Stone) who wants to have a threesome with her friend Selima (Sofia Vergara). Another potential client is Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) who is a widowed Jewish woman carefully watched by Davi (Liev Schreiber) from the neighbourhood patrol.
I was surprised to learn Allen was going to act in a film he had not written or directed, but Turturro is a friend of his and it seems his film is almost like an homage to Allen. It has a similar style of music and cinematography, although it is not as witty or engaging. In fact, some of the "Jewishness" is a little in your face and could alienate some viewers. I also had an issue with believing that women like Stone and Vergara would need a gigalo to fulfil their desires, and particularly one who does not match their own amazing level of attractiveness (sorry Turturro). Nonetheless, the film has a decent moral to the story and is thankfully not a gratuitous look at the life of a gigalo.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Bad Neighbours

WRITTEN BY: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O'Brien
DIRECTED BY: Nicholas Stoller
STARRING: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco
RATING: 4.5 stars

As soon as I finished watching Bad Neighbours, I wanted to watch it again. I have not laughed out loud that much during a film in quite a while. First-time feature film writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien have included a lot of gags, but it is never over the top, and there is some great physical comedy from the talented cast of comedians. There is so much hilarity going on in the film that you will not even realise the minor story flaws until afterwards – and even then, it will not matter.

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are new parents missing the former partying days of their youth. But when a fraternity moves into the house next door, the couple begin to miss the peace and quiet they have grown accustomed to, so they try to get off on the right foot by visiting the college boys, which is led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco). After offering the guys some joints, they party with the college crew for the night and everyone seems to get along fine. But the peace does not last long, and soon the couple find themselves in a war with the fraternity.

A great aspect of this film is that Kelly is a key player rather than the token female wife/girlfriend who does very little but provide some semblance of a moral compass for the far more reckless man. In Bad Neighbours, Kelly is just as involved as Mac and Byrne gives a great performance. Rogen is also very funny, while Efron oozes sex appeal and Franco provides some great laughs too. The Franco/Efron bromance is also enjoyable to watch. Lisa Kudrow is also a welcome addition as the college dean.

The only real problem I have with the film is that Mac and Kelly seem to be the only neighbours worried about the fraternity. There is a scene showing how the boys get the neighbours onside, but I would still think that with the wild parties every night, the neighbours would get fed up pretty quickly.

Nonetheless, Bad Neighbours is so funny, you will be trying to contain your laughter so you do not miss the next joke. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Other Woman

WRITTEN BY: Melissa Stack
DIRECTED BY: Nick Cassavetes
STARRING: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Kate Upton
RATING: 3.5 stars

Less of a romantic comedy and more of a female buddy film, The Other Woman is a fun experience with some slapstick humour, physical comedy and a charming cast. Unfortunately, the film is 15 minutes too long and the plot unravels a bit at the end as physical comedy goes overboard. Nonetheless, it is a good film to see for a few laughs.

Carly (Cameron Diaz) is a successful lawyer who finds out her boyfriend of two months, Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is married. His wife Kate (Leslie Mann) oddly turns to Carly for support and advice. Soon they strike up a strange friendship and learn Mark has another new girlfriend, Amber (Kate Upton). The three women decide to get revenge on the cheater in several hilarious ways.

Mann is absolutely hilarious in this film. Her character is quirky, hysterical and innocent. Pairing her with Diaz's sultry and charming persona works well. Both actresses have clever comedic timing and great chemistry. Upton has little to do except flaunt her breasts and play the ditzy blonde bombshell, but for what it's worth, she does a perfect job. Coster-Waldau is suave and sexy but he has to overact a little towards the end and it is a bit silly. The outrageous Nicki Minaj also plays Carly's assistant and draws a few laughs, but mostly just because she is Nicki Minaj. Taylor Kinney is also a welcome addition as Kate's attractive brother.

The Other Woman is an amusing film to see with female friends over the Easter holiday.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro

WRITTEN BY: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner
STARRING: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field
RATING: 3 stars

When The Amazing Spider-Man was released in 2012, I approached it with some trepidation. Unfortunately, my worst fears about the film were realised – it was far too soon to reboot the Spider-Man franchise and the new film was a complete mess. Surprisingly, the film was successful enough to garner a sequel. That was another bad idea. The Amazing Spider-man 2: Rise of Electro has a good villain and some great use of 3D and special effects, but the dialogue was so painfully lame that the film suffered from it overall. It also felt long and the plot twists were too predictable even for those not familiar with the comics.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is relishing the attention he is getting as Spider-Man but is struggling with his feelings for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) because he promised her father he would stay away from her. As he attempts to reach a happy balance and learn more about his father's past, Spider-Man is confronted by a new villain, Electro (Jamie Foxx), who is threatening the safety of New Yorkers. He is also surprised by the return of his old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) who further complicates things for Spider-Man.

Garfield is a far better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire and he again gives a solid performance. Stone is also very likeable and the real-life couple have decent chemistry on-screen. But it is Foxx who really impresses, playing a complex and oddly sympathetic villain. His character arc from an invisible geek to a powerful monster is fascinating. DeHaan is a good actor but he comes across as far more bratty than James Franco's Harry. Paul Giamatti's Russian The Rhino also feels a little over the top. Sally Field returns as Aunt May and has some mushy scenes with Garfield, but she ultimately has little to work with.

If you have never seen a Spider-Man film, you might enjoy this film. But if you want an introduction to the Marvel hero, I would sooner recommend Sam Raimi's trilogy or the comics themselves.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

WRITTEN BY: Jim Jarmusch
DIRECTED BY: Jim Jarmusch
STARRING: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin
RATING: 3 stars

Christopher Marlowe is a vampire and he has a picture of William Shakespeare hanging above his bed. This is the kind of brilliantly hilarious alternative versions of literary and musical history you will see in Only Lovers Left Alive – and it works. The film suffers from a weak plot in which not much actually happens for the entire two-hour duration, but the characters are so engrossing that it can be forgiven to some extent. Yes, Only Lovers Left Alive is a vampire film, but there is hardly any time spent establishing the vampire rules for the film and not much typical vampire action at all, aside from some feedings. Essentially, it is a character study where the protagonists just happen to be vampires.

Adam (Tom Hiddlestob) is a vampire who also happens to be a talented musician resisting the idea of becoming a famed rock star. He broods at home with his old technology and artistry, only associating with his friend Ian (Anton Yelchin) who gets him all the odd things he needs, like a wooden bullet. Meanwhile, Adam's long-time lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) is living in Tangier with her beloved books. When Adam starts to feel lonely – and perhaps a little suicidal – from their separation, Eve decides to visit him. But when Eve's sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives unexpectedly, she causes the lovers more than a few headaches.

The always charismatic Hiddleston plays one of the most entertaining vampires on film. He is moody, self-loathing, artistic and intriguing. It is great to see a vampire character with interests other than feeding on humans. At first glance, it feels like Swinton is too old to play Hiddleston's love interest, but they actually have great chemistry. She is obviously an impressive actress too, so she adds gravitas to the film. Wasikowska's character is so bratty and she seems to have a lot of fun with the role. Yelchin provides a lot of laughs too during his awkward exchanges with Hiddleston.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a fascinating film. I just wish writer/director Jim Jarmusch could have included more in the plot to justify its length. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014


WRITTEN BY: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor
DIRECTED BY: Neil Burger
STARRING: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller
RATING: 3.5 stars

Divergent looks set to appeal to fans of the novels and general film lovers. Like The Hunger Games series – as opposed to fellow teen franchise, the Twilight series – Divergent could also easily appeal to male audiences, as well as females. Although the protagonist is a teenage girl, most of the characters of all sexes are presented as tough, strong and independent people. The sets and costumes also serve to create the world effectively. At two and a half hours, the film is perhaps a little too long and drags as it explains the set-up, but once it gets going, the film is a thrilling experience.

Based on Veronica Roth's novel, Divergent is set in futuristic Chicago where the city is surrounded by walls and the people live in factions based on their personalities. Dauntless protects the republic, Abnegation are public servants who feed the poor, Erudite works on technology and science, Amity does farming, and Candor believe in justice. At the age of 16, everyone must decide which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives, and if they choose a faction that is different to their family, they cannot associate with them again. Most stick with the community they grew up in, but some switch to factions that better reflect their personalities. They are helped in making the decision by a test. But Beatrice "Tris" Prior (Shailene Woodley) is a "Divergent" and does not fit into just one faction. She chooses Dauntless over Abnegation, where she grew up, but must keep her secret of being a Divergent for her own safety. During her probation, Tris becomes drawn to her fighting trainer, Four (Theo James), who harbours his own secrets.

Woodley has been winning over critics with independent films like The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, but Divergent is her first mainstream Hollywood film. She has great presence and is believable in the role. Woodley also has great chemistry with her love interest, James, who oozes sex appeal that will certainly make teenage girls – and women – swoon. The supporting cast includes Kate Winslet in a very different role for her as a villain, Jai Courtney as a mean instructor, Ashley Judd as Tris' mum, Zoe Kravitz who impresses as Tris' friend and Miles Teller as a frenemy.

Divergent is an action-packed film with the right amount of romance to balance out the drama. I am keen to see a sequel. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

WRITTEN BY: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
DIRECTED BY: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
STARRING: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan
RATING: 4 stars
I always thought Captain America was the least enjoyable Avenger to watch, mostly because he was a little too patriotic and therefore less appealing to anyone outside the US. He is also perhaps a little too straight compared to the likes of Iron Man and The Hulk etcetera. But, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier audiences get to see a more action-packed film, with a strong villain fans of the comics will love and a hero who is challenged and more charming than we have previously seen.
This film takes place after the events of 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger and 2012's huge hit, The Avengers. Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans), has been working for SHIELD and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) while trying to adjust to modern life. But he eventually learns that the good guys may not be so good after all. As the line between villains and heroes is blurred, Captain America realises he does not know who to trust. He turns to Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), to find out the truth.
The plot is both intriguing and rewarding for those following the Marvel story. Die hard fans will certainly already know the identity of The Winter Soldier but it does not make it any less entertaining as the full story unfolds. The action sequences are also effective with some frenetic editing, a uniquely thrilling car chase involving Fury and a memorable glass lift battle. There is also enough humour and light flirtations to keep things interesting for the protagonists.
Evans' acting is as strong as his muscles in this film. He also has great chemistry with Johansson, who has some great opportunities to kick arse. Mackie is a fantastic addition to the series, although his character's portrayal is a little different to the comics. Robert Redford co-stars as government authority Alexander Pierce and it is fun to see him in a superhero film. Aussie Callan Mulvey also appears as SHIELD Agent Jack Rollins, building on his Hollywood profile.
Captain America remains my least favourite Avenger, but I still loved this film and look forward to the next installment.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

WRITTEN BY: Wes Anderson
DIRECTED BY: Wes Anderson
STARRING: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law
RATING: 4 stars

At this point in Wes Anderson's career, it seems you either love almost everything he does or you are completely turned off by his quirky style and do not even bother watching his films. I am in the former category. If you are in the latter, you can stop reading this review now. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson has again assembled a stellar cast – yes, Bill Murray also makes an appearance – and Anderson has written an outrageously funny and endearing film. It is certainly one of his best films yet.

Set in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, the film spans three time periods – 1932, 1968 and 1985. Beginning in 1985, an aging writer (Tom Wilkinson) recalls the time in 1968 when, as a younger man (Jude Law), he stayed at the tacky Grand Budapest Hotel and met its enigmatic owner, Mr Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Moustafa recounts his story about being a lobby boy known as Zero (Tony Revolori) when the place was run by charming concierge, Mr Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). As he explains, when one of Gustave's favourite clients (Tilda Swinton) dies and leaves him a precious painting, he must steal it from her home to keep it away from her greedy family, including her evil son (Adrien Brody) and his hit man (Willem Dafoe). Zero soon ropes in his baker's assistant girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) to help them.

There is not one bad performance in this film. Feinnes leads the film and is utterly charismatic and delightful to watch. Revolori has not done much acting but he is in fine form and is worth keeping an eye on. Dafoe draws many laughs just with the look on his face through most of the film. Ronan provides some humanity, while Brody is hilariously villainous. Some of the other minor characters are also solid, including Jeff Goldblum as the executor of the woman's will and Edward Norton as an officer trying to figure out what is actually happening. There are also some great cameos, which I will not spoil.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a whimsical, odd buddy film with an intriguing storyline and plenty of laughs.