Thursday, 26 November 2015

By The Sea

WRITTEN BY: Angelina Jolie Pitt
DIRECTED BY: Angelina Jolie Pitt
STARRING: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Melvil Poupaud, Mélanie Laurent
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Set in the 1970s, former dancer Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) and her novelist husband Roland (Brad Pitt) travel to a quiet seaside spot in France to find inspiration to write and hopefully love each other again after 14 years of marriage and an unspoken tragedy between them. Instead, Roland spends much of his time drinking, while Vanessa stays in their room sulking and believing Roland wants to have sex with their younger hotel neighbour Lea (Melanie Laurent), who is on a honeymoon with her husband Francois (Melville Poupaud).

There is a lot to like about By The Sea, but there are also several flaws that overshadow much of the enjoyment. The cinematography is gorgeous and the costumes are elegant. Jolie Pitt and Pitt both portray their characters well and their chemistry is as strong as it was in Mr and Mrs Smith. Roland and Vanessa take passive aggression to the extreme and it gives the real life couple a chance to explore some intense emotions. Unfortunately, the pace of the film becomes tiresome and several scenes feel repetitive, such as the mildly creepy voyeuristic moments. There is little dialogue in large chunks of the film and while some parts look beautiful, others are pointless. The biggest problem though is the resolution. When we learn why the couple are so depressed it is an unsatisfactory conclusion and the character motivations are questionable. It is also a shame that Laurent and Poupaud's roles are so under-developed given the film runs for two hours and has plenty of time to explore the newlyweds in more detail.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Truth

WRITTEN BY: James Vanderbilt
DIRECTED BY: James Vanderbilt
STARRING: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
In the lead up to the 2004 presidential election, 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) researches a potential story that suggests President George W. Bush was absent from his military service in the Texas Air National Guard while others fought in Vietnam. She assembles a team including Lt Col Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), newshound Mike Smith (Topher Grace) and journalism professor Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss) to track down the truth. Mapes eventually finds a document that she believes cements their theory as fact, and presents it to respected newsman Dan Rather (Robert Redford) to air the story on 60 Minutes. But afterwards, holes start to appear and soon everyone is questioning the story's validity.

Whether Truth is entirely accurate, or merely one version of events, the film still demonstrates the importance of reliable and fair reporting. There is no doubt the team took shortcuts and failed to tick all the boxes when assessing the reliability of the information they uncovered. Were they entirely ethical? No. Did it change the facts? No. Was the fallout from the scandal reasonable? That's certainly debatable. Depending on who you ask, there are varying opinions on how well Truth depicts what really happened. Rather gave his endorsement of the film, which was based on Mapes' book, but CBS had a different take on the story. Regardless, the film is engrossing and sure to encourage discussion about journalistic integrity and the relevance of journalism in the modern world.

Blanchett is as flawless as ever, running through a gamut of highs and lows in Mapes' career. Redford is more understated but equally compelling, and the pair are great to watch on screen together. The supporting cast is also excellent. It is the first time in the director's chair for Zodiac writer James Vanderbilt and he makes a solid effort. He cleverly shows the business side of news, including the weight on TV ratings and revenue, without making it boring for anyone uninterested in the media. The film lasts about two hours, but it is so gripping that the time does not feel long. Truth and its subject matter may be controversial, but its themes are as relevant today as ever.




Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part II

WRITTEN BY: Peter Craig, Danny Strong
DIRECTED BY: Francis Lawrence
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland
RATING: 3.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
The film picks up where part one left off, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) struggling to cope with the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who still wants to kill her. Meanwhile, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is coming to terms with the fact that she will never choose to be with him, especially if Peeta never recovers. But the love triangle is again pushed to the side as the war with the Capitol continues. Rebellion leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use Katniss for a propaganda campaign rather than letting her go to the frontline and kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But before long, Katniss is forging her own path to peace.

The final instalment in this franchise is exciting and action-packed with the Capitol becoming like one giant hunger games arena full of pop-up machine guns, waves of a thick sludge, and feral "mutts" eating people alive. However, I still believe it was a mistake to split Suzanne Collins' final book into two films. Lawrence, Hemsworth and Hutcherson are all wonderful in their respective roles, and their famous real life friendship transfers well into the film. Sutherland and Moore are also impressive and it is bittersweet to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final role. It is a shame that despite stretching the story into two films, Finnick (Sam Claflin) remains under-developed, especially because he is so great in the novels. Mockingjay - Part II wraps up the storyline sufficiently but I am sure the question about who Katniss should have chosen in the end will continue to be debated. If nothing else though, The Hunger Games has given the world one of the strongest and most admirable female characters of all time and that is worth celebrating.



Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Secret in Their Eyes

WRITTEN BY: Billy Ray
DIRECTED BY: Billy Ray
STARRING: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
About 13 years after a horrific unsolved crime is committed against the daughter of his colleague Jess (Julia Roberts), Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) gets a new lead and presents it to his former love interest Claire (Nicole Kidman), who is now the district attorney. The reason the crime went unsolved at the time was because it interfered with a counter-terrorism investigation, but that is no longer the case and Ray is determined the find the culprit years later.

I was entirely engrossed in the film from start to finish, although it was slow in parts. But upon reflection, I found too many plot holes and moments of convenience. That being said, Secret in Their Eyes is thrilling and edgy. This is a remake of the Academy Award winning film from Argentina. The narrative jumps back and forth between 2002 and the present day, which is an effective way of telling the story. Ejiofor carries the film and does a great job, especially in some of the more emotional scenes such as the discovery of a body that shocks the protagonists. Roberts is also compelling, but I am not sure why her character has to look so frumpy. Kidman, in comparison, looks far more glamorous but her character has little substance. The believability of the relationship between Ray and Claire is also questionable. Ultimately, Secret in Their Eyes is tragic, gripping and has a some good twists, but there are certainly some issues with the finer details.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

He Named Me Malala

DIRECTED BY: Davis Guggenheim
STARRING: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai Yousafzai
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
The documentary explores the events leading up to the Taliban's attack on Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who dared to speak out about the lack of female education in the country. It also chronicles the aftermath, including her speech to the United Nations.

Obviously, world issues such as politics and war have to be mentioned in this film, but it is really about the importance of education. Even for those who have read Malala's book, there are still some great insights in this documentary, including a look at her new life in England and her journey to becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. It was particularly interesting to watch her at home with her family, including her two younger brothers, her supportive father and her mother who is still getting used to western life. It was also great to see Malala being a normal teenage girl, giggling over attractive actors such as Brad Pitt and Australian cricketer Shane Watson. But really it is her powerful words about equality for girls and her enthusiasm about making important changes to society that are truly inspiring. Malala is a heroine and exactly the kind of person young girls should admire.






Monday, 9 November 2015

Spectre

WRITTEN BY: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth 
DIRECTED BY: Sam Mendes
STARRING: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes
RATING: 2.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
James Bond (Daniel Craig) receives a cryptic message from his past that sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation called Spectre. Meanwhile M (Ralph Fiennes) deals with the politics of keeping the 00 program running.

Spectre feels like a series of short films rolled into one with a plot that vaguely follows the Bond formula but barely makes any real sense. A lot of the action sequences are thrilling and the stunt team does an amazing job, especially during the opener in Mexico, an edgy train fight, and a swanky car chase through Rome. But several action scenes drag on and the film overall is painfully long, particularly given the plot is so jumbled. I kept looking at my watch every 15 minutes. Perhaps there were too many writers on Spectre and director Sam Mendes could not pull all the elements together well enough.

At times, it seemed Craig was as bored playing Bond as I was watching him. However, there were some emotional scenes for Bond in this instalment and it was great to have a skilled actor portraying those moments. I adore Waltz, but he has so little to work with in this film. There is so much build-up around his character and suggestions about his villainous past, but he is toppled over too easily in the end. Similarly, there was so much hype about casting a woman Bond's own age as a potential love interest or femme fatale, but Monica Bellucci has such a tiny and bland role, it was a total waste of her talent. Instead, the younger Lea Seydoux plays the real female lead, and while she is good, she will not be remembered as one of the best Bond women. However, it was enjoyable to see more screen time involving the supporting cast including Fiennes, Ben Whishaw as Q and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny.

Craig will have at least one more opportunity to play Bond. Hopefully, he can go out with a bang rather than another fizzer like Spectre.