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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) surveys the wreck of SouthJet Flight 227.

After disaster strikes mid-flight, SouthJet Flight 227 goes into an uncontrollable dive. Pilot Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) somehow manages to land the aircraft – an aircraft which should have been unlandable. The media declare him to be a hero. However a storm is brewing. Medical tests conducted on Captain Whitaker after the crash show that he had a huge amount of alcohol and cocaine in his system…

After a wonderfully visceral opening detailing the moments leading up to and after the plane crash, the film shifts down a gear and transitions nicely into compelling drama. However it isn’t long until this drama slows… and slows and finally sinks into a mix of alcohol-fuelled depression and self-loathing. The film then only really picks up again for the emotional final act, where Washington faces a hearing to determine whether he is culpable for the crash or not. It’s a strange movie in some ways: a mix of action, slow drama and surreal Big Lebowski-esque moments such as John Goodman’s appearances – where he appears to the strains of Sympathy For The Devil and is usually there to give Whip alcohol or other ‘substances’.

Washington seems to lurch from great acting to being on autopilot but you can’t really blame him because there often isn’t much for him to wake up for. The story of addict Nicole (Mary Reilly) is woven around the crash and post crash story line, seemingly to add extra interest, but it isn’t long before this story thread fizzles out and she disappears. When this happens you realise she was probably only there to help flesh out the story and to help develop Whip’s character a little more through the relationship she forms with him.

Interestingly you do naturally find yourself routing for Washington, not wanting him to get found out. After all surely the incredbible manouerve he achieved, and the lives he saved are to enough to balance out his irresponsible drug and alcohol use? But if this was real and he wasn’t charged: on his next flight he could very well be carrying your family or loved ones. So yes this makes you think a little.

The end is very poignant and will touch an emotional nerve, but sometimes like being drunk, the first 30 minutes is the best part and most of what follows is easily forgotten. 5/10

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Miguel (Benicio del Toro), Elena’s henchman helps Ophelia (Blake Lively) to get stoned while she is held hostage.

This is an Oliver Stone film but it starts badly and initially feels like a lightweight post ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ overly-contrived female fantasy. An impression only re-enforced by the narration from O (Blake Lively). O is Ophelia a beautiful blond hippy/surf chick. She tells us she lives with and loves two men, Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch). Ben is smart, soft and warm and ‘makes love’ to her. Chon is also smart but in a different way. He is an ex-Iraq war veteran and is cold and hard. He just ‘fucks her’. So they get to share her but she gets everything. Thankfully this ménage et trois works well in the context of the story and gives the main characters much of their motivation in the events that follow.

Things are complicated : Ben and Chon run a large drugs business, growing and selling the best marijuana anywhere. However not everyone is happy with their expansion and some in fact see it as a business opportunity. Enter Elena Sanchez (played by a mostly very impressive Salma Hayek). She is a drugs baron and head of the brutal Tijuana Cartel. She doesn’t think twice about ordering the raping, torturing, mutilating or more commonly the decapitation of anyone who gets in her way. Now Elena wants a big cut of Ben and Chon’s drug business and has decided that O will be her leverage to get that…

This is a good film, despite the slightly inauspicious opening. The acting is believable, the script solid and the story is tense with a lot of twists and turns. You will often think you know where it’s going but it will then take a different path. The ending however is disappointing. I can’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil the film but I was hoping for something a bit deeper – maybe the pain of seeing the destruction of something beautiful (O, Ben and Chon’s relationship) and then the thrill of the creation of something new and more realistic would have been a good way to end the film and to make you think you had seen something meaningful. This is hinted at as one direction the story could have gone in, as Elena starts to plant barbs beneath O’s skin: “Sure they both love you but you realise they must love each other more or they wouldn’t share you”. An impression further reinforced by the hardening and animalising of Ben. Previously he is portrayed as soft and altruistic – he puts money from his drug’s business into education and sustainable energy in Africa. He is forced by Elena and circumstance to do very bad things in order to keep O alive, including the framing, torture and burning alive of one of her henchman. O watches on and looks shocked.

However ultimately the film does takes a viable route and can be summarised in just a few words “What would you do for love?”. The answer seems to be “Anything”. Seeing something so ugly come from something so beautiful, and from something held in such high regard is actually quite frightening. 7/10

Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) and Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) relax on Block’s yacht.

Well first of all don’t watch this film at the cinema. It’s not really worth it. It was hard for me to put my finger on what was exactly wrong though. I suspect the answer is actually a lot of things : the story isn’t amazing, the acting while not bad is not always quite ‘right’ for the film, and you never feel enough of an emotional-connection to most of the characters to care about them. It seems like  Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is the only one that counts, but with him there are problems too which I will get to later.

Desperately needing money for tuition fees Princeton student Richie risks and lose $17,000 at poker (all his savings). Not understanding how he could have lost, he puts the plays through an algorithm and concludes that the poker-site must be cheating. Angry he flys to Puerto Rico to confront the owner Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) and this sets up a chain of events whereby he ends up working for Block in a senior position. Of course Block’s business isn’t entirely reputable and Richie is soon in over his head. The FBI starts sniffing around, and Richie gradually begins to find out what Block is really up to but is it too late for him to get out?

Justin Timberlake is actually quite a good actor (he put in impressive performances in both The Social Network, and Southland Tales for example) but here he seems a little miscast. His student turned senior gambling boss never has the weight or depth to make you believe he is really capable of some of the things he does. He also often looks quite physically small against Ivan’s business partner Rebecca Shafran (Gemma Arterton, his romantic interest). Is he really that small or is she just quite large? I suspect the former.

The key to this film is really making you believe that Richie Furst could be you, me or anyone of us.  He’s an outstanding but otherwise normal student who ends up hopelessly out of his depth in lawless Costa Rica. His career, future life, his own father and even his own life are all at stake. It wants you to feel the fear that you could be easily be him, that you too could lose everything. This is where it falls down. It never fully achieves that, and as a result comes across a little bland and ineffectual at times. Without that deep connection between viewer and main character the story isn’t as exciting or menacing as it should be. If you have a spare hour and half by all means watch it. It’s just average not terrible. 5/10

“Listen to my words, and hear his face”. Evan (Ben Stiller) and Franklin (Jonah Hill) get tough with a perp.

Ouch! No one likes the Neighbourhood watch, nosey busybodies who don’t actually do anything to deter real crime. However in the town of Glenview, Ohio – this is about to change. When faced with the lack of a proper police investigation after a colleague’s bizarre death, dedicated and upright citizen Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller) forms ‘The Neighborhood Watch’ to do it properly. He recruits Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill), and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). However life is not easy for the newly formed group. They are egged, ridculed and ultimately left to deal with an alien invasion all by themselves.

For once a comedy that actually made me laugh. The outlandish story line is part of the fun, and it makes for even more outlandish jokes. One of my favourite parts of the movie is when Evan manages to kill an alien: “It’s travelled thousands of light years to get here, the first contact the human race has ever had with an alien and you killed it!?’, “Er..yes”. The group then pose for victory photos with the alien which gradually get more disrespectful as more and more alcohol is consumed. Eventually ending up in scenes of simulated sex and buggery (that’s anal sex if you’re not British).

The jokes can be a little hit and miss at times, and it will probably depend on your sense of humour as to whether you will enjoy them at all, but I enjoyed it – which is the important thing. Good performances from all the cast, and a special mention must go to Jonah Hill, who seems remarkably un-Jonah-Hill-like in this film, which is a credit to both his acting and dieting skills. Good fun and funny 7/10

“I could have just shot you but I want to get wet and dirty with you” A possible explanation for why Reacher (Tom Cruise) puts his gun down and gets into an unnecessary fight?

Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher or is he? Not according to fans of the books (written by Lee Child). To me though, as someone who hasn’t read the books Tom Cruise does a good job. I can however see that it’s unlikely he would have been cast if he hadn’t bought the rights himself – he certainly lacks the physical presence of Child’s 6 ft 5 hero.

Isolated from the books, this is a great crime thriller, brutal and uncompromising like Reacher himself. The story is well told and it’s superbly paced. Tension is cleverly created and built upon until the final scenes. A particularly good attribute the film has is ‘surprise’. It often confounds your expectations, as things happen slightly differently to how you might expect. This is taken too far at times though an there are a few moments which just make you think ‘Really?’ The overly clumsy and incompetent baseball bat wielding thugs are one and there’s a scene at the end of the film where Reacher has his gun to the head of the lead bad-guy but decides to put it down so that they can fight. This puts himself and his attorney friend Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) in great danger. It just doesn’t seem like something the usually no-nonsense Reacher would do.

Bad Points : Beyond a little sexual tension between Reacher and Helen there isn’t really any emotional depth to the film. Reacher is as enigmatic as he is unemotional and has almost no human relationships. As a one off film this works, but it’s hard to see a sequel being able to find similar mileage in the character unless he is fleshed some more. It’s a similar situation to that of Taken – a film that worked and was good for what it was but just didn’t need a sequel. A great crime thriller then, that somehow pulls off the feat of being both intelligent and stupid at the same time. He may not be perfect for the role but Cruise isn’t bad either. 7/10