Wednesday, 27 May 2015

San Andreas

WRITTEN BY: Carlton Cuse
DIRECTED BY: Brad Peyton
STARRING: Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino
RATING: 2.5 stars

After a massive earthquake hits California, rescue helicopter pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) travels across the state to save his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Blake joins forces with English visitor Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) as they try to seek refuge and wait to be rescued. Meanwhile, scientist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) believes there are more devastating earthquakes to come and is interviewed by journalist Serena (Archie Panjabi) about the impeding disaster in an attempt to warn the community.

You know that saying, "It's so bad, it's good"? Well that is exactly how I felt about San Andreas. It is ridiculous, hilarious and corny. Unlike a lot of blockbuster disaster films, Ray is not trying to save the world, he just wants to rescue his family. In an attempt to add depth to the story, Ray is also haunted by an incident in his past where he was unable to save his other daughter from drowning. Unfortunately, there are several heart-to-heart moments between Ray and Emma discussing this tragic past that are badly timed. If you are struggling to stay alive and rescue your daughter, is that really the right time to talk about your dead daughter? It is also interesting that there are not really any bodies lying around even though a lot of people have clearly been killed during the earthquakes. However, given the recent devastation in Nepal, this is probably a good thing. This is unashamedly an action film and should not be offensive to people. The CGI is also quite good and there are a few moments that are quite suspenseful.

Even though Johnson cannot act, it seems most people are quite forgiving of this fact, probably because he looks the part of an action hero and appears to be a nice guy. Gugino spends much of her time being there just to show Ray's softer side, which is a shame. Daddario had some tough and clever moments, but did her clothes have to be so tight? She looked a little too glamorous for someone fighting to survive. She did however have good chemistry with Johnstone-Burt and Parkinson. Giamatti is a better actor than his role gives him credit for and Panjabi is also wasted. Small roles have been given to Ioan Gruffard as Emma's selfish new partner, Kylie Minogue in a funny turn as his snobby sister and Colton Haynes as Ray's colleague.

I am sure this film will do well, despite the fact that it is not very good.


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Woman in Gold

WRITTEN BY: Alexi Kaye Campbell
DIRECTED BY: Simon Curtis
STARRING: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Bruhl, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons
RATING: 3.5 stars

Based on a true story, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) is a Jewish woman from Vienna who is now living in the United States, having been forced to flee her home when the Nazis invaded Austria during World War Two. The elderly woman enlists the help of lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to take on the Austrian government to recover artwork that is on display at the Belvedere, which she believes belongs to her family. The most significant of all the art is Gustav Klimt's famous portrait of her beloved aunt Adele Bloch Bauer, which is deemed the Mona Lisa of Austria.

This is quite an extraordinary story so it is a shame that the film does not quite reach the heights it aims for. It is still enjoyable, but with a running time of about 100 minutes, the film felt much longer and some of the sentimental moments come across as sappy rather than authentically moving. That being said, Woman in Gold has a lot to offer in terms of its rich art and surprising Nazi history. The cinematography also beautifully captures Vienna's gardens and the Belvedere. Mirren is as reliable as ever and has great chemistry with Reynolds. He has some good moments, but at times it felt like he was miscast in the role. Katie Holmes appears briefly as Randy's wife but it is the most thankless role possible. On the other hand, Daniel Bruhl is a welcome addition as the Austrian journalist who tries to help Maria right the wrong. Tatiana Maslany and Max Irons are also fantastic in the flashback scenes as the younger Maria and her opera singing husband Fritz. Maslany in particular has some powerful moments and the film left me wanting more with some of the flashbacks. Antje Traue is also wonderfully cast as Adele. Lovers of art and history are sure to find at least some delight in Woman in Gold. 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

WRITTEN BY: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
DIRECTED BY: George Miller
STARRING: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne
RATING: 4.5 stars

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a former policeman whose family was murdered. He now has no life – just survival driven by his own madness in post-apocalyptic Australia. Max is soon taken prisoner at a community run by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who rations out the water supply to keep the poor people in line. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) works for Immortan Joe but turns against him, fleeing with his beautiful wives in search of the Green Place. Max then joins forces with the women to escape his captors.

Mad Max: Fury Road is everything a post-apocolyptic action film is supposed to be. You will be on the edge of your seat and holding your breath for large chunks of time during this film, which is essentially a two-hour car chase. It is not even necessary to have seen the original films to understand what is happening because the premise is set up with a voice-over at the start. The film is a visual feast with gorgeous landscapes, wild costumes and even more outrageous vehicles. Hats off to the stunt team, who obviously had a lot of work to do, because the CGI is limited. Mad Max: Fury Road also has a powerful score, some of which comes from Immortan Joe's own travelling band, including drums and a flame-spitting guitar. It is ridiculous but it somehow works in this bizarre world.

Perhaps the only real – and slight – downfall is that we do not learn enough about all the characters. Even still, for a film with such little dialogue, there is a surprising amount of character development at least with a few protagonists. Hardy certainly fills Mel Gibson's big shoes very well. He is sexy, tough, enigmatic and moody. Theron is also brilliant in a gutsy role that will make feminists proud. However, there were some annoying damsel in distress characters too. Nicholas Hoult is also enjoyable to watch as one of Immortan Joe's goons and his character arc is one of the most satisfying.

Director/co-writer George Miller is a visionary filmmaker. I look forward to the next instalment in this franchise.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015


STARRING: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law
RATING: 3.5 stars

Desk-bound CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is bored of her unadventurous life so she volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of deadly arms dealer Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne) and prevent a global disaster. But fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) believes Susan is going to ruin the mission so he decides to try to complete it solo, but all he does is constantly get in her way.

The opening credits are a spoof of the James Bond films, and from there, it is a series of jokes about the spy genre. Writer/director Paul Feig, of Bridesmaids fame, cleverly reshapes the genre's clichés by making the men a little less tough and Susan an absolute star. The trailer makes it look as if she is going to be a fish out of water based on her disguises, but she is actually a highly skilled CIA agent. McCarthy tries out different looks, which add to her physical comedy opportunities, but she also gets to enjoy some action sequences and fight scenes. Perhaps what was most wonderful about the film was that there were no fat jokes. When Susan looked frumpy as an older woman, characters laughed at her, but when she dressed up, she was attractive and sexy. It is also great to see Byrne reunite with McCarthy and they have such fantastic chemistry. Byrne is without a doubt one of the best comedic actresses in Hollywood. Statham is also brilliant in an unusually goofy role, while Jude Law is entertaining as the suave agent Susan has a crush on and Bobby Cannavale has some fun moments. Allison Janney is also effective in her minor role as Susan's boss and Miranda Hart is also very funny as Susan's co-worker and best friend. Spy is slow to get started and needs a bit of editing down, but it is full of laughs. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Pitch Perfect 2

WRITTEN BY: Kay Cannon
DIRECTED BY: Elizabeth Banks
STARRING: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Hailee Steinfeld
RATING: 3.5 stars

After an embarrassing performance in which Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) flashes the American president, the Barden Bellas enter an international singing competition that no United States group has ever won to regain their status. Their biggest rivals look set to be the terrifying German team. Meanwhile, Beca (Anna Kendrick) is also secretly planning her career after graduation as a music producer.

The original film was such a surprise hit but the sequel was never going to have the same level of originality and fun. Nonetheless, Pitch Perfect 2 is still full of laughs, mostly thanks to Wilson who has a slew of outrageous jokes, as well as Hana Mae Lee who again has some great whispering lines. Some of the humour is a little racist and sexist, but it is spread around so evenly that it never really threatens to be too offensive. The sequel is also packed with great song choices and its story, which is centred around friendship, is full of heart. The film is a little too long but it is still very enjoyable.

Kendrick is one of the most down-to-earth and relatable actresses working today and it is hard not to adore her character. Wilson is this time given the primary love story and there is one very memorable boat scene for Fat Amy that will leave you in stitches. Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Flula Borg also make good quirky German villains. Hailee Steinfeld is a sweet addition to the cast as a legacy member of the Barden Bellas, but she has some annoying moments too. Her sub-plot is supposed to add a fresh of breath air to the story but it does not really work.

First-time feature film director Elizabeth Banks, who also returns as hilarious co-commentator Gail, seems to focus a lot on close-ups which is a bit jarring during the performance routines, but otherwise does a very good job. I look forward to seeing what she does next as a director.

Pitch Perfect 2 is not drastically different to the first instalment, but it does not really need to be either. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.