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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Here Paul (Michael Fassbender) is under Mallory (Gina Carano) and is either about to have a very good time or a very bad one.

An action film starring Gina Carano. In real life Carano is charming and has genuine action pedigree. She is a former Muay Thai kick boxer and was undefeated as a cage fighter until she ran up against half woman, half steroid machine Cris Cyborg and was left battered and semi-conscious on the canvas. You can’t get much more hardcore action hero credentials than that. The Seagals and Stallones of this world have only flirted with real fights and real pain. So she’s amazing here, right? Er… I’ll get to that.

Although the movie tries to be clever with it’s structure (something which doesn’t really work and makes it seem a bit of a mess) this is essentially a revenge story. Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is working as a contract killer but is betrayed by her employer Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). There is a botched attempt to eliminate her and then the rest of the film is her getting revenge by killing everyone who crossed her.

In the roughness of the fighting world Carano stood out for her good looks and big chest but in the movie world – to be brutally honest – she doesn’t stand out at all. In Hollywood if you need a female action hero then Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson or Anne Hathaway can step into the role. You don’t need to be a real fighter in a world of illusion. Carano has a raw brutality and power that comes from her fighting background but she lacks the kind of grace or balletic poise that made someone like Bruce Lee so watchable. The jury is also still out on whether realistic grappling moves work well in a movie environment. I’m not so sure personally.

Wisely though the role of Mallory Kane has been written to take advantage of Carano’s tough character. Mallory is a tomboy-ish rough and ready character who is very good at what she does and who isn’t particularly feminine. At times this personality works well, making you feel that you could be watching a new kind of female action hero and film. Here you go with it, that is until you realise the film lacks depth and that the story is essentially the same as every other revenge film. So what you end up with is a humourless hour or so of watching an efficient but charmless female action hero despatch enemy after enemy. Carano’s acting while not terrible – especially when you consider acting wasn’t her first career choice – isn’t exactly first rate either. Also *whisper this* – her voice has been altered in post-production.

The supporting cast is surprisingly high profile : Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor (a little miscast here as arch-villan), Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton and Antonio Banderas. However you suspect this is more to do with the reputation of the director (Steven Soderbergh) than either the quality of the script or screenplay.

An average action film with an average lead actor and a good lesson in why action heroes should probably not be real fighters. 5/10

Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) accepts congratulations from the inmates after recording his live album at Folsam Jail in 1968

All I knew about Johnny Cash before I watched this film was a few of his songs (Ring Of Fire, A Boy Named Sue, Walk The Line) and that he dressed in black. I feel like I know a lot more now but at the same time not necessarily as much as I hoped I would.

This is a biopic that tells the story of Cash’s early life and success, and it particularly focuses on his on/off relationship with the country singer – and writer of his hit “Ring of Fire” – June Carter.

Joaquin Phoenix is superb as a brooding Cash who feels constant guilt for his brother’s death, suffers from drug addiction and struggles with his relationship with his father. Importantly considering the part he’s playing, his vocal performances are spot-on and although you can of course tell it’s not Cash singing, he gets just the right amount of resonance and emotion into his voice. However this effect is slightly spoilt at times by it being noticeable that his live performances are overdubbed with a pre-recorded ‘live’ vocal track. It’s true that the quality of the singing is better this way but you do lose some of the rawness and spontaneity you get with a genuine live performance. That being said overall all the music is very impressive.

With less screen-time Reese Witherspoon is even better in some ways as June Carter, Cash’s main love interest (note Cash is already married). She displays a remarkable range in her acting, ably adding nuance and emotion through both facial expressions and body language. She is also vocally very capable. It is true she doesn’t have to carry the film like Phoenix, but she does very much bring June Carter to life as a real person.

I think it was sensible for the film to keep it’s focus narrow rather than trying to cram in too much but for me it’s just a little too focused on Johnny and June’s relationship. After the opening 20 minutes, you don’t really learn a lot else about Cash apart from this and in particular, the middle section of the film becomes a little bogged down in this way. However their story is told well with genuine affection and is often touching. Cash is painted here as quite a pathetic figure, constantly craving the approval of his father and often descending into a spiral of drink and drug abuse when things don’t go his way. He spends a lot of the movie following after June like a puppy-dog apparently needing her by his side before he can display any kind of mental strength.

A quality biopic with great music and performances, and if you stick with it through the slightly bland middle section, it’s a rewarding one too. 7/10

Stark (Robert Downey Jr) spends more time out of his suit than in it in Iron Man 3.

“Since that big guy with the hammer fell from the sky, subtlety is kind of dead” a line said to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) by the head bad guy, and so it proves. Evil guys get regenerating limbs, breathe fire and explode while Tony Stark gets through Iron Man suits like a man with a cold gets through a box tissues. In fact Stark dealt with a whole alien invasion (The Avengers) with less suit casualties than here.

The enemy this time around is The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) a sinister terrorist who is not only capable of making outlandish threats – he can back them them up too. He now plans to kill the president and install a political-puppet in his place, but can Stark stop him?

I wasn’t a fan of Iron Man 2 and thought it was especially stupid when Don Cheadle also got an Iron Man suit. It just seemed to dilute the whole concept. If you give everyone a suit then what’s the point of Iron Man? However to it’s credit this film runs with this and dials the silliness and craziness up to 11 so that none of that matters anymore. In fact the scenes between Cheadle and Stark are some of the funniest here and now half of the main characters get to wear an Iron Man suit at some point. This film is really about what Stark can do out of his suit, and quite often when only partially wearing it.

Overall this is a big implausible mess, but it’s much better than Iron Man 2, and is full of variety, action, surprises and humour. Also good performances from all the cast. At the end of the film Robert Downey Jnr says  “I am Iron Man”, and he’s right.

7/10

You’ll see a lot of this : Maya (Jessica Chastain) arguing with her colleagues. Here she provokes an angry response from Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler) the Islamabad CIA Station Chief.

It’s amazing that 2 countries (the USA and the UK) who cooperated so closely during the invasion of Afghanistan still can’t agree on how to write Osama Bin Laden’s name. In the US it’s Usama, in the UK it’s Osama.

Anyway enough of that. This is a serious drama focusing on the CIA’s search and eventual capture/killing (I don’t think that’s a spoiler) of Osama Bin Laden. It’s tense, well acted and grounded in realism. The film doesn’t flinch when showing the torture and degradation of Al Qaeda terrorists, although you suspect that even so it is a little watered-down from what really took place. The lead character is Maya (Jessica Chastain) a CIA analyst who is very much devoted to her work, obsessive in fact. She is strong, determined but vulnerable. Again it’s pleasing to see a realistic female character in a film rather than either the 2 dimensional superwoman or passive victim characters we usually get.

The fact that much of this really happened connects you to the film more, but here is a slight problem because you already know what’s going to happen so there’s an inevitability about Osama’s capture which does reduce a little of the tension. What’s much more of a problem though is that the film lacks something to lift it above the level of a good drama. The story is told well but there’s no warmth between the characters, barely any relationships that go beyond a working one. To put it bluntly it’s hard to care about much other than the outcome. When one of the main female characters is killed, Jessica sheds a tear but you don’t, especially since her death was set up in such a way to make it look like the character almost deserved to die. In this film Maya will be the only character you care about.

The sequence showing the capture of Osama Bin Laden (when it eventually happens) is very well done, it’s tense, dramatic and because you know it really happened it’s also incredibly visceral. This is the real world where if a bullet hits you, it kills you. It’s far more dramatic and dangerous than any action movie set piece could ever be – which it is of course. Here people die in a split second with minimum fuss, not over 10 minutes of protracted slow motion kung-fu gun fights.

A well told, tense drama but for most of it’s length it lacks a certain spark to elevate it to something special. A terrific sequence showing the capture of UBL/OBL but then a disappointing ending.

6/10