Deadfall: out in the cold… where it belongs

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Deadfall is a prime example of a film losing steam too quickly, making it an exceedingly weak and limp effort from The Counterfeiters director Stefan Ruzowitzky. What starts off as a promising, chilly crime yarn turns out to be yet another generic thriller.

Jay (Charlie Hunnam) has just been released from prison. Don’t worry, though, he’s really a (mildly) innocent man. He also isn’t your “average criminal,” because most criminals don’t happen to be former Olympian boxers. Who live by the border of Canada. Who get tangled up in some bad (read: nearly wacky) situations. It’s  just a real shame for Jay that two casino-robbing siblings, Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde), attempt to take advantage of him and his family on Thanksgiving. Their plan heats up, though, once Liza and Jay start to feel something for one another.

What is missing to make it work is any sense of investment from Ruzowitzky. He takes joy in constructing some of the film’s action, but when it comes to Hunnam’s character, his dopey love story and his conflict with his parents, Ruzowitzky appears more bored with it all than we are.

Besides being saddled with an archetype we’ve all seen before, Deadfall frequently switches from chronicling Bana and Wilde’s more far interesting dynamic to centering on the beef-head lead, who we are never really rooting for. Hunnam, normally a fine actor, shows no vulnerability in his role and consistently plays up a tough guy routine that’s nearly impossible to get invested in. Jay constantly gets screwed over and yet it’s still hard to really feel for him. While Hunnam’s performance is certainly at fault here, most of the blame falls on a weak and underdeveloped script.

The only actor capable of overcoming these trite situations is Eric Bana. Bana’s performance is the sole source of fun and danger in Deadfall. The only action we see is when Addison is around, and it’s all clean-cut, propulsive, and belongs in a far better movie than this. The more minimal set pieces are the only sequences where Ruzowitzky takes full advantage of the film’s setting, and it’s where the movie comes alive.

Yet, that’s when Hunnman returns as a walking and talking cliche and the movie sinks again.

The pieces are in place for a good, if routine, crime story, but unfortunately, they just never come together.

DVD Review: Life of Pi

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Life of Pi is a true masterpiece, and is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen.

Director Ang Lee has done what many thought could not be done, he turned the best-selling novel into a larger-than-life work of art. Not only that, but it is actually one of the best book-to-movie adaptations for a long time.

The film tells the story of Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma / Irrfan Khan), zookeeper’s son. Pi is uprooted from his home in Pondicherry, India, when his father decides to move their zoo to Canada. The family catches a ride on an ocean freighter along with the animals – imagine a modern-day Noah’s Ark. When a massive storm rocks the freighter, the boat sinks – and Pi finds himself one of the few to survive. He is all alone in a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a ferocious Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Yes, it sounds far-fetched and unrealistic – that’s what I though too. At every twist and turn, I expected to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. But I didn’t.

It is genuinely one of the tensest, most captivating movies I have seen in a long time. It takes a story of fantastical proportions and not only makes you believe it, but makes you care about it. The acting is magnificent, to say the least, with newcomer Suraj Sharma (teen Pi) tugging the heat-strings in all the right places, and Irrfan Khan (adult Pi) reservedly superb as naval-gazing narrator.

Simply put, Life of Pi is glorious. A marvel that takes cinematography to new heights with its crisp rendering of dreamlike landscapes and its fierce yet fascinating feline co-star, all while delivering a poignant and inspiring story of human endurance.

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The Blu-ray disc includes the following HD special features:

  • A Filmmaker’s Epic Journey: Not many Blu-Ray can tout over an hour-long documentary, The four-part making-of documentary shows the four-year filming process, and covers everything from the adaptation of the novel, filming, and the lengthy post-production process. The documentary includes interviews with the cast, and focuses heavily on Ang Lee and newcomer Sharma.
  • A Remarkable Vision: The award-winning visual effects are spectacular. Bill Westerhofer and the team at Rhythm and Hues visual effects show how they were able to make the film look realistic.
  • Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright: This feature focuses on the CGI used to create the tiger with the help of a real-life tiger.
  • Gallery: The feature gives a peak at the pre-production art, which you can watch in an auto-play slide show.
  • Storyboards: The feature shows the storyboards used for seven of the big scenes in the film.

If you have not seen this Academy-Award winning movie yet, buy it on the spot. You won’t regret it.

Cloud Atlas: ambitious and intellectual, but not without fault

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“All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended”, declares the  young, bisexual British composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) near the end of  Cloud Atlas.  That’s the mission  statement for this zany epic – based on a 2004  novel by David Mitchell – which alternates between six separate stories, set in  different historical periods, about the battle for love and freedom.

Besides Frobisher, the other protagonists include a crusading reporter (Halle  Berry), a bumbling publisher (Jim Broadbent), an oppressed clone (Bae Doona) and  a tribesman (Tom Hanks) from a post-apocalyptic future.  Many actors appear in  multiple roles, with heavy make-up sometimes used to alter their race or  gender.

That is as much as can be nailed down about the movie – to attempt a short and succinct summary of plot would be both pointless and frustrating.

What I can say, is that the film sets out to transcend various boundaries, including the boundary  between blockbuster entertainment and art cinema; it also rejects the notion  that a visionary project should be guided by a single individual.  Three of its  segments were directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, the siblings who brought us  the Matrix trilogy; the other  three are the work of the German director Tom  Tykwer, best-known for Run Lola Run.

But perhaps the real mastermind of the piece is editor Alexander Berner, who has the unenviable task  of linking all the stories together through sound bridges and match cuts.

  Overall, Cloud Atlas strives to go beyond what has been done before, and occasionally  succeeds.  Though sometimes awkward in practice, the ”colour-blind” casting is  the most radical tactic, a distancing device aimed at upturning our assumptions  about fixed identity.

Does this lumbering machine soar to the skies?  In a word, no. The  performances are often absurdly broad, and it’s unclear how literally we’re  meant to take the notion that different characters are reincarnations of one  another.

But at its best Cloud Atlas has an undeniable charge: it is a film that so boldly  risks incoherence that it requires the viewer, too, to take a leap.

It won’t be for everyone, but truly great movies so rarely are.

Broken City: Another awful Mark Wahlberg movie

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If you had to choose two actors suited to a political crime thriller, chances are Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe wouldn’t be the first names out of the hat. Never-the-less, they’re big names. The bigger the names, the better the film right? Right??

Cue Allen Hughes’s Broken City; the only proof we need to finally conclude that a film requires a lot more than well-established actors.

Wahlberg, in a not-so-unique role, plays Billy Taggart, a good cop in a bad town.

One night, Taggart makes a decision that changes his life forever. Years later, the city’s mayor (Crowe) remembers the cop-turned-private-eye and asks him to take on a new assignment. The mayor suspects his wife (an impressive Catherine Zeta-Jones – credit where credit’s due) of being unfaithful and wants the ex-cop to investigate.

So begins a twisted and unnecessarily convoluted tale as Taggart tries to find out what’s going on. That is, quite genuinely, the whole film right there. Taggart becomes confused. Taggart investigates. Taggart (on more than one occasion)  blatantly asks “What’s going on” and, in the end, Taggart finds out what was going on. Riveting.

On several occasions, Hughes places too much responsibility on his stars to carry the film on their own, believing that if he simply puts them in a scene together the actorly sparks will fly. This doesn’t work, however, unless they also have something interesting to say.

In Broken City, neither the over-complicated plot nor the overwritten dialogue ever grips. At times, it seems that barely any effort is being made at all, when Zeta-Jones, for example, makes a speech about human rights below a huge sign reading “Human Rights Campaign”. A little imagination, people, please. But that’s Broken City, a film that takes a sledgehammer to subtlety.

Avoid at all cost.

Flight: No nosedive for this blockbuster

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Director Robert Zemeckis is back with Flight, his first live-action film since 2000’s Cast Away (his last few films – The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol, all animations). In Cast Away, the movie began with an intense plane crash sequence. In latest flick Flight, he follows that same pattern, with one of the scariest plane crash sequences in the history of cinema.

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a very experienced, very trusted airline captain who just happens to have a bit of a drinking and drugging problem. The night before a trip from Orlando to Atlanta, Whip partakes in excessive amounts of booze and some recreational cocaine with sexy stewardess fuck-buddy, Katerina (Nadine Velazquez), and on the flight itself, dumps a couple of mini vodka bottles into his orange juice.

Disaster strikes mid-flight, however, when the plane begins a deadly nosedive due to a mechanical failure – the plane crashing into a collision course that would surely have killed all 102 passengers if not for Whip’s impeccable flyboy skills. Whip remains cool, calm and collected and pulls off an incredible emergency landing by inverting the plane completely – something only very few pilots could have managed. As a result, only six souls were lost.

Back on the ground, battered but essentially unharmed, Whip finds himself the subject of an investigation by the NTSB – a troubling development, considering the empty vodka bottles and a post-crash toxicology report.

Enter Whittaker’s union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and lawyer (Don Cheadle) – the only individuals standing between Whip and some serious jail time.

Stories about alcoholism can only end one of two ways however: The guy is either going to have an epiphany and come clean, or something bad is going to happen. Zemeckis meanders through the story taking a bit too long to wrap up subplots dealing with Whip’s love interest (Kelly Reilly), an incredibly funny scene with John Goodman as Whip’s cocaine-supplier and a drawn out legal battle resulting in a public hearing where Whip must re-live the events of the crash.

While we never really delve into the reasons why Whip has given his life over to booze and drugs, Denzel’s stellar performance reminds us that whatever it is, it’s genuine. The movie belongs to him throughout – his performance so strong, so engaging, that it covers many of the story’s weaknesses.

When Whip defiantly insists that no one else could have crash-landed the broken plane, you believe it. Not because the movie’s story proves it, but because of the power of Washington’s performance: No one else could have played this difficult role so well.

Spielberg’s Lincoln: The final victory of a great man

Film Jam

Lincoln, contrary to its title, is not so much a biopic as it is historical analysis of two of the most important events in the history of the United States — the signing of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution which would ban slavery, and the end of the Civil War.

As the film opens, the audience is plunged straight into the horror of the American Civil War. Opening on a bloody battle scene, viewers would be forgiven for thinking this a typical Spielberg film – it’s not.

Lincoln is, in fact, the quietest of Spielberg’s most recent films, with an equally unobtrusive, delicately crafted, totally absorbing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis – the kind that compels you to lean in and pay close attention, neatly defining the charisma of a born leader.

After the battle, the action moves to January 1865 – the fourth year of the war. It is…

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Django Unchained: Big, crazy, and hugely entertaining

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Quentin Tarantino continues to justify his superstar status on the world’s cinema stage with latest film Django Unchained, his brilliant, bloody and thrillingly unpredictable revenge western about a freed slave unleashing hell on his plantation-owning enemies in the pre-Civil War American South of 1858.

Sort of an artistic companion piece to his audacious, history rewriting Second World War epic Inglourious Basterds, the film once again sees him taking a serious subject matter and moulding it into a deranged alternate universe, one in which the barbarity of a heinous system of oppression is exposed and cathartically avenged in ruthless and savage fashion.

Writer/Director Tarantino has paid his unique homage to plenty of genres before now; the gangster (Pulp Fiction), martial arts (Kill Bill: Vols 1 & 2), the grindhouse horror (Death Proof). Now he’s revived the spaghetti western with his usual fanboy enthusiasm.

In Django Unchained, German bounty hunter Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buys and frees a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx). In exchange for Django’s help in identifying three men with big bounties on their heads, Schultz agrees to help him find and free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from whom he’s been forcibly and maliciously separated. Shultz, a loquacious, progressive, cultivated fellow who abhors slavery is pretty much the closest thing the film has to a character with a modern perspective and he frequently threatens to steal the movie.

Unfortunately for Django, his wife is working on the notorious Candyland plantation in the Deep South of Mississippi, owned by one Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) who enjoys nothing more than sweets and blood sports in equal measure.

As per usual, Tarantino uses his specific brand of comic violence – almost as much as he uses uninterrupted, drawn-out monologues. There are gallons of blood, exploding body parts and unflinching cruelty.

As the garrulous Schultz, Christoph Waltz essentially plays a benevolent version of his wily-tongued Nazi from Inglourious Basterds. Schultz has a respect for procedural correctness as well as violence: when he reaches into his jacket, you never know if he will produce a gun or a warrant.

Jamie Foxx, however, has less to work with as Django, even once he begins searching for his enslaved wife. He gets jazzy comic notes to play, savouring his freedom by wearing a dandyish royal-blue suit as he rides through a cotton plantation, but the film grinds him down – in all honesty, he’s a bit of a bore.

His plantation-working wife isn’t much better – Broomhilda is severely underwritten and her character never really shines through the trauma she endures.

Lucky for us, then, that Di Capri and Jackson are on hand to distract us from this problem- Leo’s portrayal of the bubbling sadism beneath the plantation owner’s charming veneer is spine-chillingly good while Jackson’s turn as Candie’s doddering henchmen, complete with oldage make-up and a frosting of white hair, also adds to the edge of unpredictable menace.

Primarily, however, this is a Tarantino film. Yes, he’s stuck reverentially to genre stalwarts, but you only need to see that the soundtrack features a James Brown/2Pac amalgamation to know this is no traditional spaghetti western. Although it’s too long and arguably self-indulgent, it’s big, crazy, and hugely entertaining.

A fierce but fiercely intelligent testament to Tarantino’s frequently questioned filmmaking proclivities and certainly among the best films he’s ever made.

End of Watch: Another visceral and hard-hitting cop drama from Director David Ayer

Film Jam

By Kelly O‘Brien

End of Watch Director David Ayer has long been obsessed with the thin blue line separating cops from criminals and good cops from their corrupt brethren.

He explored this theme when writing the morally ambiguous Training Day, in which a very angry Denzel Washington won an Oscar for playing a crooked cop, and when writing and directing the problematic but compelling Harsh Times, in which an even angrier Christian Bale played a crooked veteran trying in vain to join the boys in blue.

Though sticking with this tried and tested theme for his latest offering, Ayer does manage to inject some new life into End of Watch – a film about two upstanding cops who put their lives on the line every day. The twist in this movie is that the cops, for once, are the good guys.

Thanks to an incredibly tight script, the film…

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The Pact: Just another horror film

In cinemas this month, we have The Pact, an eerie ghost film about a woman returning to her family home shortly after her estranged mothers death.

Starring Caity Lotz (Annie) and Casper Van Dien (Creek), the kindest thing I can say is that it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. The Pact is yet another jumpy ghost story that will soon be forgotten.

At her sisters request, Annie returns home after many years to attend her mothers funeral. It becomes clear, thanks to some very obvious dialogue, that Annie and her mother didn’t have a good relationship and that as kids, Annie and her sister had to endure various levels of parental abuse. Brash and unlikable, Annie does nothing to make the viewer like her or feel pity for her. She is stubborn, idiotic, and fancies herself a rebel of sorts. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Shortly after, Annie begins experiencing paranormal activity in the house and teams up with local Cop, Creek. While I did find myself warming to him a tad, the well-meaning law officer is simply too vapid a character to have much of an impact. Dimwitted and unprofessional, Creek is yet another stereotypical and clichéd “horror-film” character with lots of testosterone and not enough depth.

Though The Pact was, overall, very tense and had its ‘jump-out-of-your-seat’ moments, it did nothing to stand out from the crowd. If it had been on TV, for example, I probably wouldn’t have watched it through. Not because it’s a terrible film, it’s not too bad, but it simply didn’t really engage me.

The best part of the film was when local clairvoyant Stevie (Hayley Hudson) attempts to connect with the presence in the house. This lasts maybe ten minutes and really does up the ante. Unfortunately though, it’s a case of too little too late and even Hayley Hudson’s eerily beautiful performance can’t save this film.

If you’re the type of person who likes laughing at badly scripted, badly acted, badly lit “horror” films, you might like The Pact. If not, you’re probably better watching something else.

The Avengers: an absolute Marvel

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With Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman still to hit cinemas, it’s looking like a definitive year for superhero movies as The Avengers storms the big screen and wins over critics across the globe.

The premise of the movie is simplistic – bad guy Loki hatches world-domination scheme, petulant but kind-heated good guys swoop in to save the day, Scarlett Johansson in leather looks damn hot. But somehow, somewhere along the way, it becomes a lot more than that.

Six gifted and special people, Iron Man (Downey Jr), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), have to come together despite their differences to stand against Loki, a Norse deity hell-bent on ruling the earth with an iron fist.

Usually, movies that feature an abundance of big name stars are not to my taste. Take, for example, New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day – lots of stars, not a lot of substance. The Avengers, I’m happy to report, is nothing like either of those films.

The cast, which features Hollywood A-listers such as Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow, meld fantastically with each other and with the storyline.

Prior to The Avengers, we saw Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. Each of these films, while not to be seen as prequels, did indeed do the job they were created to do – they gave the main Avengers depth, backstory, and character while being box office success stories in their own right. Granted, Black Widow and Hawkeye were left out of this process and, as such, weren’t developed as much as they could have been, but I see that as an unfortunate casualty of an otherwise fantastic development process.

Though I do genuinely love this new method, I have to note that some of the previous Marvel Movies weren’t quite up to scratch. It seemed as if the Captain America installment was not as thought out as either Iron Man or The Hulk and that it was only there to fill the gap until the 2012 release of The Avengers. I also thought that Thor, though it was a joy to behold 114 minutes of Chris Hemsworth, was a bit of a let down in places.

But whether it’s down to the previous films, the stellar cast, or Joss Whedon’s scriptwriting prowess, The Avengers itself is clearly the best
Marvel Movie to date. The acting is near impeccable, the action is raw and the jokes are hilarious. Stark is his usual cheeky self, Bruce Banner is broodingly deep and Thor is just as beautiful as he ever was. There’s also something disturbingly attractive about terrifically entertaining Asguard bad boy Loki played by the fantastic Tom Hiddleson who, according to many critics ‘steals the show’.

Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was also a breath of fresh air in this sneakily unique heavy hitter. He gives his character more depth than either Eric Bana OR Edward Norton (something I never thought I’d admit) and is both endearing and heart-wrenching in his portrayal of Bruce Banner. Instead of going for the “woe is me, I get angry and smash things” angle, his manner and acting style hint towards a deeper, more depressing self-loathing.

What I like about the film, is that it deviates from the traditional ‘Good vs Evil’ trend just the right amount. There’s the bad guy, obviously, and the quest to save humanity… but there’s also some interesting in-fighting and tension between avengers. It’s clear that they all come from different moral standpoints, and I think Joss Whedon did a great job using that to his advantage.

I also like the fact that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Here’s a Marvel Movie for people who like action movies, for people who like Marvel Comics, for people who always played the “Who would win in a fight…” game and, of course, for people who want to drool over Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson.

If you see nothing else this month, go see this. You won’t be disappointed.

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