Sunday, 15 June 2014

Blended

WRITTEN BY: Ivan Mechell, Clare Sera
DIRECTED BY: Frank Coraci
STARRING: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Bella Thorne
RATING: 1.5 stars
 
In the past few years, many critics of Adam Sandler have wondered why he is still making films. His films are often ridiculous and have the same actors and same gags every time. Two of his most beloved films, The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, co-starred Drew Barrymore, so it makes sense that he would try to bounce back by getting his friend onboard for another Sandler-style romantic comedy. He has not written Blended, but his influence is definitely felt when watching the film. It is obvious that Sandler and Barrymore adore each other and by making Blended a film about family it may have a certain appeal to some viewers. But ultimately, most of the jokes seem to be aimed at 12-year-old boys, and with a running time of two hours, most people are sure to lose interest at the half-way mark, if not earlier.
 
Widower and father of three girls, Jim (Sandler), has a terrible blind date at Hooters with divorced mother of two boys, Lauren (Barrymore). Both parents have no idea how to raise children of the opposite sex. Jim treats his daughters like boys, including their hair cuts and clothes, and is especially struggling with his oldest daughter (Bella Thorne) who is going through puberty. Lauren is overly organised with sticky labels for everything and struggling to raise her out of control sons who miss out on a male presence because their father (Joel McHale) is hardly ever around. In a stupidly convenient circumstance, the pair end up taking their children on a family vacation to Africa and must learn to get along because they have to share accommodation.
 
The shining light in Blended is Thorne's performance. She is funny, sweet and a delight to watch. The rest of the young cast are mostly likeable but the poor script fails everyone. Barrymore does her best to ground the film but there is only so much one person can do to save a sinking ship. Blended is like a modern day Brady Bunch story that no one wants. 
 




 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Tinker Bell and The Pirate Fairy

WRITTEN BY: Jeffrey M. Howard, Kate Kondell
DIRECTED BY: Peggy Holmes
STARRING: Mae Whitman, Christina Hendricks, Tom Hiddleston
RATING: 3 stars
 
With fairies, pirates and magic, young children are sure to love Tinker Bell and The Pirate Fairy. Young girls will especially embrace the visual spectacle of the animation and the "girl power" themes, but young boys can enjoy it too. The film runs for about 75 minutes so it is a great choice for youngsters who cannot sit still for too long. As a Captain Hook origins story, adults will also enjoy the nods to the classic tale.
 
Zarina (Christina Hendricks) is a smart dust-keeper fairy who questions everything in her desire to learn more about the world around her. Intrigued by blue pixie dust, Zarina’s ambition and excitement get her into trouble with the other fairies and she flees Pixie Hollow to join forces with the pirates of Skull Rock. The crew, including a cabin boy named James (Tom Hiddleston) - who will later become Captain Hook - make Zarina the captain of their ship. When Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman) and her friends realise the danger, they work together to try to make Zarina realise the error of her ways.
 
Whitman and the other fairy cast members are solid and quite funny in parts. Hendricks is a welcome addition to the film and Hiddleston is also charming. It is not necessary to have seen the other Tinker Bell films to enjoy The Pirate Fairy. It is a sweet family film for the forthcoming school holidays.
 
 
 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Two Faces of January

WRITTEN BY: Hossein Amini
DIRECTED BY: Hossein Amini
STARRING: Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kirsten Dunst
RATING: 3 stars
 
Good psychological crime thrillers are hard to come by these days, so it is great to see a film like The Two Faces of January work so well. It is an impressive directorial debut feature from Hossein Amini, who is perhaps best known for his screenplay of Drive. The film is tense and has a few surprises along the way. Unfortunately, the ending falters and almost ruins the entire film. But overall, it is an intriguing and exciting film experience.
 
Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, The Two Faces of January is set in 1962. American con artist Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his young wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) are holidaying in Greece when they meet fellow American Rydal (Oscar Isaac) who is working as a tour guide and also scamming naive tourists. They have dinner together and bid each other farewell as the couple plan to move on to Italy in the morning. But when Ryder notices Collette has left a bracelet in the taxi, he decides to go back to their hotel to return it. When he arrives, he finds Chester in an unusual situation, dragging a seemingly drunk man, who has passed out, into his room. But actually, Chester has accidentally killed the man who is working for people who Chester swindled out of millions of dollars. Rydal is oblivious to what has happened and so he agrees to help Chester, who he has come to admire, and Colette, who he has a crush on, to escape Athens. He has no idea the drama he is bringing on himself.
 
The film presents an interesting character study of three very different people, who are all lost in their own way. Chester is a bad guy but does not think of himself in that way, and the jealousy he feels, fuelled by the growing fondness between his wife and Rydal, is fascinating. His character seems to unravel as the plot thickens and yet, he remains intellectually intriguing. Mortensen was a great choice for the role. Isaac has given yet another great performance and commands attention. His character may be crooked, but there is still a likability about him. His storyline about his late father also adds some depth to his character. Dunst is pretty, but not quite as alluring as perhaps the original script may have intended her character to be. Nonetheless, she has great chemistry with Isaac.
 
The Two Faces of January has some thrilling moments and a good cast. It is just a shame about the ending.
 
 
 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Frank

WRITTEN BY: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
DIRECTED BY: Leonard Abrahamson
STARRING: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy
RATING: 4 stars
 
There have been many films about a band's rise to musical stardom, but there has never been anything quite like Frank. The film is very funny, artistic and odd in a really good way. It also examines some dark issues, such as suicide, and has an important moral lesson under all its quirkiness and humour. Frank uses music to explore mental illness, feelings of being an outsider and the journey bands take when they dare to compromise their style to fit in with the mainstream. Essentially, it is about embracing who you are and being yourself.
 
Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) has an office job but aspires to be a musician and songwriter. The only problem is he lacks the ability to write a good song and wishes he had a troubled childhood to inspire him. One day, he sees a man trying to drown himself in the ocean. It turns out the man is the keyboard player for a band called Soronprfbs. Jon mentions to the band's manager Don (Scoot McNairy) that he can play the keyboard and suddenly he becomes a new band member. The group goes to a cabin retreat to record their new album, which takes much longer than Jon expected. Quirky singer/songwriter Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a papier mâché head all the time, seems to be a musical genius, although his talents are so unconventional that the masses have not yet embraced his style. While Frank supports Jon's ideas to make the band famous, other band members are less thrilled with the idea, including the always negative Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
 
The film does not spend too much time explaining why Frank wears the fake head except to suggest it is a defence mechanism. Despite not being able to show his face, Fassbender is powerfully emotive, proving he is a remarkable actor. Gyllenhaal is brilliant and brings a lot of laughs to the film. McNairy is also impressive, while Gleeson plays it appropriately straight in the lead role.
 
Writer Jon Ronson has based the story on his own experiences Chris Sievey, who had a comic persona called Frank Sidebottom. While Frank may be a little too strange for some viewers, it does a great job of being both hilarious and poignant.
 
 

Monday, 9 June 2014

22 Jump Street

WRITTEN BY: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rotham
DIRECTED BY: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
STARRING: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Amber Stevens, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare
RATING: 3.5 stars

21 Jump Street worked well because the filmmakers were making fun of the idea of creating a film based on a 20-year-old television show. It was hilarious and had fantastic cameos from many of the original television cast. In 22 Jump Street, the filmmakers are making fun of the idea of creating a second film when so many comedy sequels before have failed to generate laughs and impress audiences. It is that self-awareness that helps elevate 22 Jump Street above so many other action comedy sequels. It is still poking fun at action films and the bromances between lead characters in such films, although it perhaps pushes the homoerotic point a little too far in the sequel. Ultimately, 22 Jump Street is not as clever as the first film, but it still has plenty of laughs.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill), Jenko (Channing Tatum) and their undercover team have moved across the road to 22 Jump Street. This time, the pair must pose as students at a University to take down a drug ring that has been selling a dangerous new narcotic called WHYPHY, pronounced like wifi. As part of their investigation, Jenko becomes a member of the football team and befriends fellow player Zook (Wyatt Russell) who is suspected of being involved in the drug dealing, while Schmidt starts spending time with Maya (Amber Stevens) who lives across the hallway from one of the victims. But as the duo take different paths in the investigation and make new friends, it starts to effect the solidarity of their partnership.

Hill and Tatum look like they are having fun and that in turn makes the viewing experience all the more enjoyable. There are a lot of gags about their obvious physical differences and the film certainly milks it for all it is worth. Russell, who is the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, is also surprisingly funny. Stevens is a welcome addition, as is Peter Stormare who plays the villain. Ice Cube also returns as the Jump Street boss and he has some of the funniest scenes. 
 
Make sure you stick around for the end credits because there are some funny jokes and a surprise for fans of the original television show.
 
 
 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Palo Alto

WRITTEN BY: Gia Coppola
DIRECTED BY: Gia Coppola
STARRING: James Franco, Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Val Kilmer, Nat Wolff
RATING: 3.5 stars

When I read James Franco's book of linked short stories, I was drawn into the lives of his complex teenage characters struggling to find their place in the world. Writer/director Gia Coppola has adapted parts of the book and combined some characters to create her first feature film. Palo Alto is a dark film about teenage angst, and although it is slow in parts, it is a promising debut from yet another Coppola filmmaker.

April (Emma Roberts) is a virginal schoolgirl dangerously flirting with her soccer coach Mr B (Franco) who she spends extra time with when she baby-sits his son. She also has a crush on troubled teenager Teddy (Jack Kilmer). Meanwhile, Emily (Zoe Levin) offers sexual favours to every boy, including Teddy and his outrageous best friend Fred (Nat Wolff). April and Teddy struggle to admit their mutual affection for each other and soon their lives spiral down a path neither of them expected.

Roberts plays the sweet and innocent role very well and has great chemistry with Franco, who turns on the charm as the sleazy teacher. Kilmer gives a great debut performance and there are definite hints of his famous father in some of his facial expressions. In fact, Val Kilmer does have a small role in the film too, although the father and son do not share any screen time. Levin and Wolff are also solid.

Artistically, Coppola has experimented with lighting and has shot the sex scenes in an interesting way involving shadows and close-ups on female faces. It is effective in showing how the teenage girls feel about having sex.

Palo Alto is a departure from the book, but the film is an interesting take on teenage life.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Locke

WRITTEN BY: Steven Knight
DIRECTED BY: Steven Knight
STARRING: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott
RATING: 3.5 stars

Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) works in construction and is about to embark on a massive concreting project. He is happily married and has two children. But one discretion could see his personal and professional life crumble. Ivan had a one-night stand with a woman who became pregnant. She is about to give birth, so Ivan drops everything to be at the hospital for the birth of his child. It is a long drive to the hospital and during his journey, he has a series of life-changing phone calls with his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) who is just learning about the affair, his clueless sons who want him to come home to watch the football, his panicking colleagues including Donal (Andrew Scott) and the distressed woman who is about to have his child (Olivia Colman).

Hardy has proved to be one of the most impressive actors working today. He has a way of using his facial expressions to convey a range of emotions. So it makes perfect sense to cast him in Locke where he is the only actor the audience gets to see for 85 minutes. Even though most of the film is just Hardy driving a car and taking a series of phone calls, there is absolutely nothing boring about it. While he has the movie star good looks, Hardy hides it under a beard in the film, and yet it does not hinder his ability to express emotion. Indeed, it is his ability to engage the audience with his eyes and gestures that makes his performance so powerful.

Writer/director Steven Knight has written a well-crafted script with a good blend of humour to balance out the drama. The use of lighting is also very effective. Locke may be a small budget film about an ordinary man doing ordinary things, but it is compelling viewing.
 
 

 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

WRITTEN BY: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth DIRECTED BY: Doug Liman
STARRING: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
RATING: 4 stars 
 
Action films are often guilty of having weak plots, while science fiction films are often so convoluted that they barely make sense. But sometimes, you get an action-packed science fiction film that has the right amount of fight scenes, character development and a clever plot that it is an absolute delight to watch. That is what Edge of Tomorrow brings to audiences. It is visually stunning with some great-looking alien creatures, has some thrilling fight sequences that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and for the most part, its story is not too predictable.  
 
Based on a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the film is set in the future. Humanity is at war with aliens who are trying to take over the world, but Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a coward and would rather work as a military public relations representative than fight on the front. His plans are eventually thwarted and he is forced to go into battle without any training, effectively rendering it a suicide mission. But, when he does indeed die, Cage wakes up and must relive the day over and over again while keeping his memories of each day. It seems no one else has any idea what is happening, but Cage soon realises that he might be able to change the direction of the war if he can just get the day to go right. So, he seeks the help of war heroine Rita (Emily Blunt).
 
Although it is a serious science fiction and action film, there are some good laughs that stem from the odd situation Cage finds himself in, which is a credit to the writers Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth. Such moments include when he tries to convince Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) of what is really happening and when he does start to convince some people of what he knows as he shows off what appear to be psychic powers. Even some of the death scenes are funny in a black humour kind of way.
 
I have often struggled to engage with Cruise's recent action films, but Edge of Tomorrow is by far his best work in years. Blunt is a fantastically strong and believable heroine, and helps elevate the film. Paxton is hilarious and steals a few scenes along the way. The remaining supporting cast are also quite good and the script is so strong that audiences will sympathise with them. Among the cast are Australians (who keep their accents) Noah Taylor as a scientist and Kick Gurry as a soldier.
 
Edge of Tomorrow is a fun film worth seeing on the big screen.
 
 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Grace of Monaco

WRITTEN BY: Arash Amel
DIRECTED BY: Olivier Dahan
STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella
RATING: 2 stars

The opening credits in Grace of Monaco state the film is not a biopic – it is a fictional film inspired by real people and events. I am not sure why writer Arash Amel and director Olivier Dahan chose to do that. The true story of Grace Kelly's departure from Hollywood to become a princess is actually an interesting one. There is no need to fictionalise or over dramatise anything. The film is very political and slow-paced, and it feels much longer than its 90-minute running time. The accents are all over the place and the film lacks any real substance. It is a shame because Grace Kelly deserves better.

The film begins with a glimpse into Kelly's (Nicole Kidman) acting career on the set of To Catch A Thief, but then flashes forward to her time as a princess and mother. Her husband Prince "Ray" Rainier (Tim Roth) has little time for his family and is too busy dealing with politics. When director Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton Griffiths) visits Kelly and offers her a role in Marnie, she is desperate to return to work, much to the disappointment of her husband's advisers. Everyone seems to have a problem with Kelly who cannot do anything right - she does not speak French, does not follow palace protocols and always says the wrong thing. Her inability to fit in causes a stir as tensions rise between Monaco and France. Soon, there are rumblings that someone is planning to overthrow the royal family's reign.

Kidman looks the part and has some wonderful costumes to strut around in, but the script fails her. With some better dialogue, Kidman may have had more success with the role. Frank Langella is reliable playing an old priest who advises the royal family. Roth is an unusual choice for the prince and unfortunately, he lacks chemistry with Kidman. Meanwhile, the supporting cast are hardly memorable.

Members of the royal family have criticised the film for its inaccuracies and dramtisation, and it is no wonder. Grace Kelly deserved so much better.