Monday, 23 February 2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

DIRECTED BY: John Madden
STARRING: Dev Patel, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Richard Gere
RATING: 3.5 stars

Muriel (Maggie Smith) is helping Sonny (Dev Patel) expand his hotel business while he also plans his wedding to Sunaina (Tina Desai). The current hotel has just one vacancy left, which poses a problem when Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) arrive separately to stay for a visit. Meanwhile, Evelyn (Judi Dench) is balancing her new career and a possible romance with Douglas (Bill Nighy), Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are figuring out if they want a monogamous relationship, and Madge (Celia Imrie) is juggling two wealthy suitors.

The original film was such a wonderful surprise that there was perhaps a bit more pressure on the sequel to be just as funny, charming and sweet. I am happy to report that it is as delightful as we all hoped. The original cast, director and writer are all back on board and the addition of Gere and Greig is refreshing. Gere in particular garnered squeals of delight from the packed cinema as women swooned at the first sight of him. Smith is as hilarious as always, saying everything people think but rarely say out loud. Dench and Nighy are also endearing and cute together, while Imrie has some great comical moments. Pickup and Hardcastle have the weakest sub-plot but are still enjoyable to watch. Of course, the film really centres on Patel, who clearly had a lot of fun with the role. Some of Sonny's decisions are questionable and cause unnecessary conflict, but the film culminates in a poignant message about life. There is also some fun traditional Indian dancing thrown in to please the fans. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a bit too long, given the first film already established so much about these characters, but it is still a lovely way to spend an evening.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Jupiter Ascending

WRITTEN BY: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
DIRECTED BY: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
STARRING: Channing Tatum, Milan Kunis, Sean Bean
RATING: 1.5 stars

Jupiter (Mila Kunis) hates her life, working as a cleaner. Desperate for money to buy a telescope like her dead father once had, Jupiter goes to a clinic to sell her eggs for easy cash. But before it can happen, Jupiter's life is threatened and she is saved by a hunter from space named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum). Meanwhile, in outer space, three royal siblings belonging to the House of Abrasax – Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth) – are quarrelling about who who should rule over Earth. It seems Jupiter is destined to play a vital role in their squabble.

I have a lot of thoughts about this film and almost none of them are positive. The countless plot holes were surpassed only by the lame dialogue, particularly regarding the romantic part of the story, which included a cliché kiss. Twilight gave us a more original love story. Most of the action scenes were flashy but cluttered, and they dragged on longer than necessary. Thankfully, the dragon/dinosaur-looking aliens looked very good and were probably the best aspect of the film.

It is as if the writing/directing team of Andy and Lana Wachowski thought that if they made Tatum keep his shirt off for a quarter of the film, the audience might forget how terrible it was. They even had him roller-blading/running in the air with his special gravity-defying shoes. It looks as ridiculous as you can imagine. Poor Kunis spent most of the time parading around in various dresses and running away from villains, although she did at least have one good fight scene. Redmayne was just plain creepy and over-acted. It is a wonder what even attracted him to the role. Equally, Bean's talents were wasted in his boring supporting role as Caine's mentor.

Quite simply, Jupiter Ascending is a mess and does not deserve anyone's hard-earned money. 

Monday, 16 February 2015

A Most Violent Year

WRITTEN BY: J. C. Chandor
DIRECTED BY: J. C. Chandor
STARRING: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks
RATING: 3.5 stars

Set in 1981, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a heating oil business owner living in New York. Abel has just put down a large deposit for a prime piece of land, which will push his business to the forefront of the local industry, but the balance must be paid within 30 days or the deal will be off the table. Abel also has other problems that could affect his expansion plans. His trucks are being hijacked by thieves, so his drivers want to start carrying guns for protection, which is illegal. Meanwhile, the District Attorney (David Oyelowo) is investigating the company for shady activity.

This film has a Godfather feel to it, especially with Isaac looking like a young Al Pacino. Abel repeatedly comments that he is not a gangster and does not want to be perceived as such – and he is almost believable. But of course, with his wife Anna, (Jessica Chastain) being the daughter of a mob boss, he cannot quite escape that life. Chastain gets to show off some remarkable fashion from the 80's while also being a tough and strong woman. Anna has Abel's back throughout the entire film, even when they disagree on the right path to take. Isaac and Chastain also work well together. Oyelowo is solid, but is in the unfortunate situation of playing a mostly good guy who the audience does not want to win. You cannot help but support Abel despite his flaws and missteps. Elyes Gamble is also fantastic as the driver whose weakness threatens to derail everything. Every scene he appears in is pivotal to the plot's progression and his character is sympathetic. With a running time of two hours, A Most Violent Year lags in parts. Some scenes are also too predictable, but there are still plenty of suspenseful moments to keep you on the edge of your seat. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey

WRITTEN BY: Kelly Marcel
DIRECTED BY: Sam Taylor-Johnson
STARRING: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Jennifer Ehle, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden
RATING: 3.5 stars

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is an English literature student who is sent to interview the handsome but mysterious billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the college newspaper. The pair are immediately drawn to each other, but Anastasia is a virgin and Christian is definitely not typical boyfriend material. He has a dark past, will not let anyone touch him, refuses to sleep in a bed with anyone else and does not do “hearts and flowers”. Oh, and he also has a secret red room where he unleashes his BDSM desires.

Based on the poorly written novel by E. L. James, the film is a far better depiction of the pair's intriguing relationship. Gone are some of the clunky scenes and dialogue in the novel, replaced with flirtatious humour. Writer Kelly Marcel and director Sam Taylor-Johnson clearly know exactly what to give the audience. As Christian introduces the innocent virgin to BDSM, Anastasia begins to learn about bondage, submission and sadism through a series of sexy scenes backed by a fantastic soundtrack. Surprisingly, the film is not as graphic as you might expect, but it is still raunchy. In fact, some of the most alluring scenes are in the banter and sexual tension between the protagonists, rather than the action in the red room. For those who have not read the books, the film may seem incomplete, particularly with the under-developed sub-plots, but there is a lot more to come in the sequels. With the focus of the plot in this first instalment being all about the kinky sex contract Christian wants Anastasia to sign, and beginning to peel back the layers of the brooding leading man, perhaps some may even find the story to be pointless. But I promise there is more to this plot later down the track.

The domestic violence debate is sure to continue too, but it is clear Anastasia is a willing participant who is eager to learn in this caring and monogamous relationship. Christian does not want to hurt Anastasia, and in fact, he is very kind and thoughtful about her needs and interests. Despite claiming to be unromantic, he does some wonderfully romantic things for her. It is his own abuse and dark past that make him the way he is. He is tortured and vulnerable, and essentially needs Anastasia to save him from himself. So, like many trashy romance narratives, it is about a sweet virgin taming the arrogant rake, but it is also more than that. While the novels struggled to make a worthwhile point, the film manages to steer the story in the right direction. We sympathise with Christian, and in some ways, may be able to empathise with Anastasia.

There is no doubt Dornan oozes sex appeal. Anyone who questioned his ability when his casting was announced will surely be silenced after seeing the film. He portrays the character's hunger, complexities and emotional pain so well. I was sceptical of Johnson's casting but was pleased to be wrong about her. She is sublime in her portrayal of Anastasia's naivety, humour and battle to get to know Christian. Chemistry is vital for Fifty Shades of Grey and the pair certainly have it in spades.

Fifty Shades of Grey was never going to be an amazing film, but it delivers exactly what its fan base wants. I am looking forward to the sequel.