Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Nights in Rodanthe: Movie Review

Nights in Rodanthe: Movie Review

Rating 5/10 for unromantic ladies and gents, 7/10 for the more romantic of you who want to cuddle up in the cinema
Cast: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Scott Glenn, James Franco, Christopher Meloni
Director: George C Wolfe
The cinematic pairing of Richard Gere and Diane Lane is a very popular one.
Their chemistry first melted the screens back in 1984's Cotton Club and then again in 2002's Unfaithful which saw Lane nominated for a best actress Oscar.
So it's no surprise to report they make a good couple in this film version of Nicholas Sparks' book.
(Sparks himself is no stranger to the romantic genre having reduced many to blubbering wrecks with The Notebook.)
Lane plays Adrienne Willis, an estranged mum of two, who offers to look after a friend's beachside B&B in Rodanthe, while contemplating a desperate plea from her husband (TV's SVU star Meloni) to let him return home.
There is only one guest booked in 4 days - Richard Gere's Dr Paul Flanner.
But Dr Flanner's in Rodanthe looking for redemption - not only from a local (Scott Glenn) but also to try and work out what to do to improve his relationship with his son (James Franco)
So with a hurricane forecast to hit the B&B, the pair batten down the hatches and prepare to weather out the storm.
What they're not prepared for though (but everyone else watching is) is how a couple of days - and one hurricane - will change their lives&.forever.
As you can probably tell from the rating of this film, it's very easy to dismiss it as romantic and sentimental film making, which tugs at the heart strings and is usually summed up by the adjective "Schmaltzy."
Gere and Lane make a good pairing again on screen with easy chemistry - however, Diane Lane gives the stronger performance of the two and is slightly more plausible in her redemptive arc.
But the film itself is nothing different from the usual formulaic romantic material (although you sense the stars, director and writer don't expect it to be)
The plot contrivances are there for reasons and glide you along the story toward its (inevitable) outcome.
The ending is fairly well sign posted and will reduce some to quivering messes as they leave the cinema (so best be prepared with some hankies).
The best way to judge if this is a film for you is this example from Nights in Rodanthe - if you find letter writing romantic and scenes of Diane Lane gazing wistfully into the distance, hiding letters from her teen daughter appealing, then it's your cinematic choice for the weekend.

If you wonder why she's not sat in front of a computer reading e-mails in this modern day and age rather than relying on the postie, then you're possibly better off avoiding it and joining the rest of the cynical masses.

Pineapple Express: Movie Review

Pineapple Express: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Danny McBride, Amber Heard
Director: David Gordon Green
Just what is it with actor Seth Rogen and producer Judd Apatow?
The pair have formed a pretty solid cinematic relationship - albeit one which barely sees Rogen transcending the puerile.
Many of Rogen's recent big screen forays have seen him portray a man child who is being pulled into adulthood, kicking and screaming.
In some ways, Pineapple Express is a slight re-tread of that character.
Seth Rogen is dead end Dale Denton, a process server by the day and pothead by, erm, day too. He goes from one banal serving to another, enlivened only by a toke as well as a creative way to serve notice on his unwilling victims.
Then one day after picking up some of the finest (and unique) weed around from his dealer Saul (a great performance from James Franco), his life is changed when he witnesses a gang hit - carried out by Gary Cole's Ted Jones and Rosie Perez's Carol the cop.
Terrified, he drops his smoked dope and drives off - but Jones realises where the dope's come from and the chase begins&.
Pineapple Express is a bit of a curio of genres - there is the stoner comedy mix supplied by Rogen and Franco (they decide to flee but only after they have taken enough snacks for the journey); the action violence (Cole's character is waging a gang war complete with multiple explosions and smatterings of violence) as well as the romantic relationship (Rogen's romancing Amber Heard's Angie Anderson school girl character) which is stuck in an uncertain rut.
And the opening, which serves as a kind of prequel, sees a US soldier tested for the effects of dope throws everyone off the scent.
It's almost as if director David Gordon Green and Rogen (who co-wrote the screenplay) have set out to subvert all the different trappings and expectations of film genres and muddied the waters.
Rogen is good - but he's blown off the screen by his partner in crime James Franco whose performance is just brilliant and is worth the price of admission alone.

Pineapple Express isn't a bad film - you'll probably leave the cinema having had a few laughs but in a bit of a haze about what exactly you've seen.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Young@Heart: Movie Review

Young@Heart: Movie Review

Rating: 9/10
Cast: The Young@Heart song chorus, Bob Cilman (chorus director)
Director: Stephen Walker
If I were to tell you that I had spent an evening with a group of septagenarians and octagenarians, you may raise an eyebrow.
If I were to expand on that and tell you that those 20 octagenarians had reduced me to near tears and wide grins with their singing, you'd maybe think I'd gone a bit nuts.
So let me explain - set in America, this film tells the story of the Young@Heart chorus, a group of 20 or so New England retirees who spend their spare time performing on stage.
There's nothing unusual about that, but this group spends their evenings giving us their unique take on pop songs from the likes of James Brown, The Clash, Coldplay, Talking Heads and in a slightly surreal decision, Sonic Youth.
The doco from Stephen Walker follows the group as, seven weeks out, they prepare for a new tour, ironically named "Alive and Well tour", under the tutelage of chorus director and musical manager Bob Cilman.
And that's all there is to it really.
Except for the fact, this is probably one of the most endearing and uplifting documentaries I have seen in a very long time; at turns, amusing and funny and then when you least expect it, heartbreaking and capable of reducing you to tears.
Throughout, we watch Bob Cilman try to coax the gang into getting their heads round the new songs he wants them to perform.
We see one soloist struggle through rehearsals to remember two crucial lines of James Brown's "I Feel Good" (which leads to tension on show night), the heartbreak of a duet of Coldplay's "Fix U" plagued by ill health - and while all this is going on, the doco is interspersed with music videos the Young@Heart Chorus has made (including Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere", and the Bee Gees "Staying Alive" - the irony of which isn't lost on anyone watching this)
These pensioners have more life in them than you've ever seen - when their director increases the number of rehearsals, they grumble and gripe like kids but just get on with it such is their joie de vivre.
Their enthusiasm is infectious - from the opening moments when a 92-year old woman sings The Clash's anthem "Should I Stay or Go?", I was hooked and moved by the journey the group goes on; not only do these singers have to worry about dying on stage, off stage it's a very real concern for them.
This is easily a contender for one of the films of the year as far as I'm concerned.

It has heart, soul and sadness in equal measures - and if you go to see it and it doesn't touch you at all, then I'm afraid you must have a heart of stone.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Burn After Reading: Movie Review

Burn After Reading: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt
Director: Ethan and Joel Coen
After the praise heaped on No Country for Old Men and its clean sweep of the Oscars, it'll be no surprise to some that the Coen brothers have returned to the familiar territory of screwball.
Burn After Reading is a film about various people working in the Intelligence spy sector who, to be blunt, seem to be severely lacking on the, erm, intelligence front.
At the film's beginning, John Malkovich's CIA analyst Osbourne Cox is being fired from the department he works in because of his drinking problems. As revenge, Cox plans to write a tell all memoir which would embarrass the CIA.
However, things aren't looking good for Cox - his wife's planning to divorce him to run off with her lover Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) and steals a copy of his memoir as part of the divorce case.
But as ever, things don't run smoothly.
The disc winds up in the hands of Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) who works at the local gym along with Chad (Brad Pitt).
Litzke's a desperate woman - turned down for funding for cosmetic surgery, she decides the only way to change her life is to blackmail Cox with the disc and so she enlists Chad's help.
To give away much more would ruin the world the Coens have once again created.
They're masters at bringing characters to life and exaggerating some of their crazier tics so that they seem perfectly plausible.

Pitt's Chad character is slightly detached from reality and when it comes to meeting Cox to blackmail him, he turns up in a suit - on his bicycle. Clooney's Pfarrer is convinced there is someone following him and Malkovich's Cox spends most of his time wandering about in a dressing gown and getting angrier.
There are some moments of violence in Burn After Reading which really do shock - having been put at ease with the idiocy of some of the cast throughout the film, the Coens' dose of brutal reality stuns you when it bursts onto the screen.

The one weak link in this cast is Tilda Swinton as Cox's wife - she is underused in the other woman role - but that gripe aside, Burn After Reading is silly, dramatic fun.
It's up there with some of their finer farces - O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo and the much under-appreciated Hudsucker Proxy.
It also has a last line which will either frustrate you if you've not enjoyed the film - or will make you nod your head in agreement at the absurdity of what you've just witnessed.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Max Payne: Movie Review

Max Payne: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Beau Bridges, Mila Kunis, Ludacris, Chris O'Donnell, Amaury Nolasco
Director: John Moore
The pantheon of small screen computer games adapted for the movies is littered with relative failures.
From the likes of Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Lara Croft, Silent Hill, BloodRayne, Hitman and Super Mario Bros, many have failed to ease the transition to the big screen.
The latest addition to the genre is Max Payne.
Based on the infamous and quite violent computer game, the film adaptation of Max Payne (played by Mark Wahlberg) centres around one man's quest to track down those who are responsible for the murder of his wife and baby.
Made to look like a robbery and without any substantial evidence, the murder investigation was soon shut down and its lead detective (Payne) assigned to the Cold Case desk.
But Payne's never given up and a mysterious death of a woman (forthcoming Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) reignites the case as a series of leads involving a new drug, pushes Payne back on the quest for vengeance for his slain family.
Joining Payne on his journey are Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) out to avenge her murdered sister, and BB Hensley (Beau Bridges) Payne's wife's former boss.
However, as Payne continues his investigation deeper into the project and company his wife used to work for, he delves deeper into a murkier and spookier world which threatens to engulf him.
Max Payne, the film version, is a curious beast - in some aspects, the film works brilliantly; its visuals such as the realisation of Valkyrie warriors floating in the sky over some of the drug addled characters are stunning and spooky at the same time.
Then, by the same token, some of the dialogue and acting is unbelievably wooden (Prison Break's Amaury Nolasco seems to do little but drip sweat and leer) - and some scenes play out as if they were cut scenes in a computer game, there to provide exposition and break up the action while the next segment loads up.
The shoot outs when Payne is trying to escape various evil-doers intent on bringing him down are violent, bloody and very similar to levels on a computer game (dodge the bullets, seize the incriminating file and shoot the door down as you escape)
Sometimes this plays to the film's strength; but on several occasions, it's simply there to showcase the amount of pyrotechnics the crew and its director Moore (who previously helmed the remake of the Omen in 2006) were clearly able to get their hands on with slow slots of various items exploding around the cast.
If you're a fan of the game, you may well get a little more out of it than I did - and given the ending, there does appear to be the possibility a sequel may be made.

Ultimately, as far as I am concerned Max Payne just misses the mark - it left me frustrated some of the more supernatural elements (such as the Valkyrie demons and ongoing references to Norse mythology) were sidelined in favour of a slightly weaker revenge driven plot.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Body Of Lies: Movie Review

Body Of Lies: Movie Review

Rating - 8/10
Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Director: Ridley Scott

Post 9/11, spy films have been gritty affairs when the celluloid landscape changed permanently the day after September 11th.
For a while afterwards, Hollywood contented itself with what have been termed "Just War" films (such as Black Hawk Down, Collateral Damage) and fantasy stories (Lord of the Rings) as the horror of what happened that day in New York proved too raw to reflect on the big screen.
But in recent years, there's been a resurgence in grittier, murkier post 9/11 films, where the muddier views of the conflict presented neither side in a good light (think Syriana).
Body of Lies is the latest addition to the genre and sees director Ridley Scott (Alien, Bladerunner) take on the 2007 book from Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
Leonardo di Caprio plays CIA operative Roger Ferris, an undercover operative, who uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader Al Saleem.
His shadowy al Qaeda like group has struck several times across Europe and is believed to be operating out of Jordan.
Ferris' work is watched from afar (via a series of satellites and constant mobile phone contact) by Ed Hoffman, a CIA head (played by Russell Crowe) who is impatient when it comes to tackling the ongoing war on terror and is insistent on getting results - no matter what the collateral damage is.
However, Ferris decides diplomacy is perhaps the best way to try and capture Al Saleem, so he teams up with Hani (Mark Strong) a charismatic and enigmatic Jordanian covert operations official.
But as the operation continues and Hoffman's impatience puts everyone at risk, Ferris starts to lose track of who he can and can't trust - not only with the success of the operation - but with his life as well.
Body of Lies is an extremely intelligent thriller - it starts off slowly and will feel to some, overlong.
However, as the film progresses, the tension and paranoia ratchets up and you find yourself completely immersed in it, with some quite realistic and graphic scenes of violence and torture providing the shocks.
Crowe and di Caprio are good in this - but as far as I am concerned, easily the best performance comes from Mark Strong as Hani - you're never quite sure whether how trustworthy he is as he exudes a level of quiet menace - and you get a sense that he could turn the gun on those he's working with while looking them directly in the eye and telling them not to worry.
Ridley Scott's direction is tight and despite the (at times) sprawling nature of the story telling as it traverses the globe, you never once lose track of what exactly is going on.

Body of Lies is an intelligent thriller and one which demands a little concentration from the audience - it's a chilling reminder of what lengths and on what levels (personal and professional), the ongoing fight against terror cells is being conducted.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D: Movie Review

Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Anita Briem, Josh Hutcherson
Director: Eric Brevig
Gimmicks.
They're always difficult to incorporate into films - and sometimes, even harder to fashion a film around.
So when Journey to the Centre of the Earth purported to be the world's first live action adventure in 3-D, I have to admit to having had a slightly bad feeling about what was to come.
Particularly having suffered the horror of Jaws 3D and the Creature from the Black Lagoon years ago...
While there is the amusement factor of seeing a cinema packed with everyone wearing 3-D glasses, you quickly realise that the novelty wears off and you have to sit there for around 90 minutes with oversize glasses on, which at times make you feel like Dame Edna Everage.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth is, obviously, based on the Jules Verne book of the same name - this time, Brendan Fraser (The Mummy 3) stars as Professor Trevor Anderson, a vulcanologist.
After realising his missing brother may have been onto something, he along with his nephew and a mountain guide, set out to see if there really is a world under the surface (as Jules Verne revealed in his book) - and to try and rescue his long lost sibling.
And that's it for the plot - basically the film will annoy anyone who wants a sensibly plotted, logical and sensitive discussion about how life underground could be sustained for millions of years.
Anyone who wants to see a series of encounters with cool 3D effects stretched over 90 minutes will be extremely happy.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth isn't a bad film- it's a pleasant and brainless enough diversion; and there is something amusing and endearing about seeing kids (of all ages) try to touch the effects springing off the screen.
Brendan Fraser is likeable enough as the lead and seems to have no problem playing second fiddle to what is essentially an effects driven cinematic foray.
Some of the 3D in the film is done simply for effect - such as a kid using a yo-yo, using a tape measure - but the occasions when the 3D is saved for actual sequences, it can be exceptionally well done (such as a scene on raft when the gang is attacked by flying piranha type fish) and actually quite frightening.
I don't know if Journey to the Centre of the Earth will spark a renaissance of 3D films (there is a brief mention during the film of heading to Atlantis as a potential sequel) but as a reminder of what can be done with the genre, it's not a bad entry - and will certainly give the kids something to do during the holidays.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Duchess: Movie Review

The Duchess: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Hayley Atwell, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper
Director: Saul Dibb
Stop me if you've heard this before. An attractive girl from a well-connected English family marries a man at the height of British aristocracy. Her motives are well-intentioned, though the marriage proves loveless.
The girl is much-loved by the public, lauded for her fashion sense, her charisma and her passion for societal issues.
Her husband's eye inevitably wanders, as does hers; and it becomes a marriage of three partners and of convenience. Oh - and her maiden name was Spencer.
Sound familiar?
Keira Knightley dons (yet another) corset to play whippersnapper Georgiana Spencer, who at 17 was married off to the insipid Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). Georgiana's sole purpose in the marriage was to produce a male heir.
A gambler and a drinker, Georgiana was politically minded - a trait not celebrated in women during the 18th Century. Over time Georgiana learnt to use her public notoriety for her own purposes; specifically furthering the career of politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper).
But all wasn't well at home. Despite taking several lovers of his own - including an in-house affair that continued beyond the Duchess' death - the Duke didn't take fondly to Georgiana's wandering eye. I'll leave you to join the dots as to what happens next.
The Duchess sets out to be an epic. In parts it succeeds: the set pieces are incredible. Knightley's costumes are like extravagant art installations. She manoeuvres two-foot high wigs adorned with ostrich feathers. Her waist is reigned in with corsets and bustles, she accessorises with stoles, parasols, and an abundance of hats.
But dressing up an A-list star in a corset doesn't make an epic.
Knightley does her best, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate her from one role to the next. Georgiana is feisty, determined, the object of a man's affection: familiar territory for fans of Pirates of the Carribean, Atonement, Pride and Prejudice and more. I'd like to see Knightley in a supporting role - as part of an ensemble for a change.
Ralph Fiennes does his best with the emotionally void Duke. But the writing is the character's undoing. The writers have created a deplorable character; a sexist, violent hypocrite who happens to be as engaging as a dead snapper.
He's not your archetype Hollywood villain which is refreshing, however it is still impossible to empathise with him. If the writers had allowed one redeeming trait - even helped the audience to like him a bit - it would be a far more interesting movie.

The Duchess never quite reaches the standard it sets for itself, but it should keep fans of Keira happy.

I look forward to the sequel: The Duchess: The People's Princess.