- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
"Thank god for me?", says Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence), after setting fire to her brand new microwave, ignoring her husband''s advice to not put something metallic in there. She then proceeds to furiously tackle some housework whilst listening to "Live and Let Die". Yes, thank god for Jennifer Lawrence, who steals the show completely with her utmost confidence and relentless energy in David O. Russell''s smart heist comedy that is no doubt the director''s best film to date.
That's not to say the rest of the cast under-performs. The big names in this star-studded ensemble, most of whom who have worked with Russell before, are all on top form, with even a bonus cameo appearance from a screen veteran who makes the most of his brief, uncredited appearance in which he scares the hell out of everyone by being a smart, bilingual mob boss.
Based on the ABSCAM (Arab-scam) sting operation in which a number of corrupt politicians were arrested for taking bribes, we first meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who hustle money off of desperate individuals ready to fork over large sums of cash over the promise of massive returns. Everything seems to be going swimmingly for this couple, an arrangement that is not only beneficial financially, but also in terms of embarking on a love affair. But their ideal world is shattered when FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) arrests the pair. Giving them very limited options, this ambitious Fed is looking to take down some of the biggest names he can think of, all for the benefit of his career.
The idea behind "American Hustle" is that everyone here is desperate to find their own versions of ideal happiness. And to do so what they resort to is deception. They lie to others, and sometimes lie to themselves. Irving''s volatile, tiresome relationship with his wife, Rosalyn, is one that will generate the most laughs, but it''s a relationship that is also the most thought-provoking. Irvin and Rosalyn are together for various reasons, and love barely features in them. And when the truth hits her, most devastatingly so when her husband''s mistress Sydney boldly faces off against her, Rosalyn is a vulnerable, teary, insecure mess, a scene for which Lawrence deserves an Oscar.
Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner, rocking a retro hairdo that is criminal by today's standards) is the major target of Richie's new operation, one that is barely approved by his agency superior Stoddard Thorsen (Louie C.K. in a priceless supporting role - how he clashes with Richie, who is technically his subordinate, is brilliantly written, and impressively played out). Carmine''s love and dedication for the state of New Jersey is unashamedly used and manipulated by the authorities to bag what they want, and in the end it's difficult to not feel some sort of remorse for an all-round enthusiastic family man who wanted nothing more than to set a good example to his constituents. It's a complex role Renner handles incredibly well. He is a good, honest man who initially turns away from such dodgy schemes, but with Irving''s relentless sweet-talk, he does succumb to what can be seen as the easy way out. His most memorable scene comes as he becomes aware of just what he has done, a scene that brings out the best in both Renner and Bale.
The "scam" itself is full of hilarious moments as not everything goes exactly to plan. One of many examples of this is having to settle for a Hispanic FBI agent to pose as a rich Arabian Sheik who will be providing all the false bribe money. The "good guys" are all desperate for their plans to succeed, and it''s in their sincere, earnest efforts that the sparks begin to fly and the script starts to have fun with unpredictable twists and turns.
"He wasn't necessarily in good shape, and he had this combover that was rather elaborate, but he had this confidence that drew me to him" says Sydney in a voiceover that explains the immediate attraction she had for her partner in crime. Throwing Richie into the mix and the bubbling sexual tension that arises with Sydney in the middle of it all, constantly flashing her side-boobs in her many different outfits, is a love triangle car crash waiting to happen. The three actors share an easy chemistry, as they try to get one step ahead of the other, there is barely enough time for them to take a breather, which is exactly the case for the audience watching their events unfold.
Are Sydney and Irving a steady enough couple to survive the cage-rattling by Richie? Is Richie only using Sydney to gain what he wants? If push comes to shove, will Irving choose his mistress or his wife? Can Irving really betray Carmine who is slowly but surely becoming a good friend of his? Where does Sydney''s heart truly lie? Should Rosalyn really be looking after a young son? The classic game of who''s conning whom takes place and for those wanting to get to the very top, security and freedom, difficult decisions must be made and it''s in these fascinating characters Russell's smart, sexy heist comedy is made complete.
"American Hustle" is an absolute blast from start to finish and it never lets go in terms of gripping the audience with its intriguing plot and unique characters caught up in highly entertaining scenarios. Released towards the end of 2013 in the States, it''s no surprise there''s a lot of awards attention surrounding this, and although it''s way too early to call it for the 2014 European film market, "American Hustle" will remain as one of 2014''s best.
If it was ever Naomi Watts' intention to pull a Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren and score an Oscar win by playing an iconic English female, she should have paid closer attention to the script that was handed to her. "The Iron Lady", was hardly a masterpiece, and yet it was okay enough and Streep's usual gravitas performance bagged her many awards, and with Dame Helen "The Queen" was actually an excellent offering from Stephen Frears that truly highlighted the confusion and difficulties surrounding the death of an international icon, the same iconic figure who is given a far less interesting portrayal than could have ever been imagined in Oliver Hirschbiegel's ("Das Experiment", "Downfall") biopic.
For what it's worth, "Diana"'s failure is not down to Watts' brave performance. At the centre of it all is the impeccably dressed, wigged, and made-up actress (they have really gone all out in trying to match the appearance - the resemblance is uncanny), who nails the (in)famous Panorama interview word for word, and really captures the essence of a woman trapped, constantly hounded by the press who can't get enough shots of her, as well as her desire for helping those in need and most importantly, for the purposes of this particular film, her search for true love after her well-publicised dissolution of marriage. It is a real shame to see such a performance, one that must have needed hours and hours of preparation to get just right, go to so much waste. After a couple of Oscar nominations, critics were highlighting this as the possible big win film for Watts, but all this changed when the film was finally released. The Diana she gets to portray is oddly one-dimensional, and does not give the actress enough material to play around with. Sure, in public she needs to be the perfectly behaved, well-spoken persona, but behind the scenes, there is very little change, and this consistent blandness is much of the script's fault, and not Watts'.
It is the focus on the love angle that puts such a drab spin on the narrative, as her "love at first sight" with brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews, surprisingly good, although he too, is given very little to work with alongside Watts) is played out in such ridiculous scenes of utmost unintentional hilarity that the film fails to sell a single thing it has to say about the lovebirds who could have had it all had it not been for Dr Khan's strong disapproval and distaste towards the media invasion of his privacy. The romance's low-point comes when Diana can't stop talking about how an actual human heart cannot really be broken, when she tries to cook a romantic dinner for him, with the two of them sneaking around like school children as their relationship blossoms. Hilarity and embarrassment ensue. Their methods of connecting are laughable, and when things go south for them, what should be heart-breaking does not even come close to matching such emotional heights.
Sudden awkward time-jumps play an important part in doing some shallow digging into the big achievements of Diana and her charity work, but these scenes seem to serve the one single purpose of recreating some of the famous pictures captured of the Princess of Wales. Most notable is her walk in the Angolan minefield: inspirational sure, but when it translates to the film with very little context to back it all up, none of it feels as powerful as it should have done. She makes speeches, public appearances, gives generous donations, and everywhere she goes the crowd loves the sight of her, but these moments come fleetingly. Which is frustrating, given how much more development the film could have used overall. "Diana" is not a short film by any means, running at 113 minutes, but it gets so caught up focusing on the elements that do not work, that it hardly finds the time to squeeze in anything of memorable importance.
That's the problem with "Diana". As much as everyone tries to give an intimate portrayal, it plays too safe and neat with the subject at hand, never steering the narrative to more interesting territory. It goes through the last two years of her life like a history textbook, this happened, then a few months later this, then she made a speech here etc. which explains why the film feels as dull as reading one. It episodic nature works against the biopic that has the ambition to do too much but in the end fails to come to grips with even a single aspect of its storytelling. The romance with the heart surgeon? Utterly cringe-worthy. This is not helped by the fact that she is also given a friend figure to rely on, acupuncturist Oonagh Toffolo (Geraldine James, yet another cast member wasted), whose only job is to spew out one ridiculous line of dialogue after another.
And let's not dwell too long on the portrayal of Dodi Fayed (Cas Anvar), who, if the film is anything to go by, is nothing more than a rich Middle-Eastern man who Diana uses as a rebound. What really happened between the two will never be known, but Dodi himself is given even less characterisation than the surgeon himself, which does not seem possible but the film oddly manages to achieve in the end.
Perhaps it is too soon to expect someone to properly tackle this internationally celebrated figure. There must be a biopic underway, something like "My Week with Marilyn", somewhere in the near future hopefully, not hugely ambitious timeline-wise, but a suitably poignant and sentimental exploration of an icon's life. This is sadly not that film, and Watts has quite severely burned herself out of this year's Oscar race with this one. Its dismal box office score goes to show how little interest there was, and its ridiculous plotting certainly could not have helped with the publicity. If you pay close attention to the promotional posters for the film, you will notice there isn't a single line of praise from any media outlet they can utilise. That is just how badly the film was received. Granted, Watts tries her best, but when the script has very little to offer, it goes to show not all well dressed-up Oscar baits have a happy ending, as "Diana" learned the painful way.
It's difficult to know just where you're supposed to start when it comes to complimenting every single aspect of "12 Years a Slave". Based on the shockingly true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in Saratoga, New York who was betrayed, abducted and sold into slavery where he was subjected to unthinkable abuse and cruelty for 12 long years (hence the title), Steve McQueen's ("Hunger", "Shame") third directorial effort, that made a big name for itself in the film festival circuits of 2013 (Telluride, Toronto, London) before it went on general release, will leave you speechless and intensely moved. This is a film of genuine, unflinching emotions, where no character goes to waste, where the pitch-perfect performances from its tremendous cast do wonders to capture the essence of their roles, and where a director with a sharp pair of eyes creates a harrowing atmosphere in one of the most uncomfortable eras and topics of American history.
Every single minute of the film's running time is a painful one, not that you'd expect it to be any other way. As he is torn away from his family, beaten severely, and forced to work exhaustively under the burning sun, Solomon's many encounters are what drive the narrative forward.
Condescending, money-grabbing Theophilus Freeman (brilliantly conniving Paul Giamatti who shines even in a role that lasts five minutes or so) wipes Northup's history clean to potential buyers. Northup is now to be called Platt, and is not to mention his previous status as a free man to anyone. Any sign of disobedience will lead to even more beating and whipping. His first slave owner is William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a considerate Baptist preacher, a rare character trait among the usual slaves' masters.
Violence and torture reach a new terrifying height, however, with Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), Platt's new owner who is the personification of evil as he terrorises his group of slaves, using the words of his scripture to justify his acts of punishment. He also has a twisted crush on one of his slave girls, Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), something Epps' jealous wife Mary (Sarah Paulson) does not allow to go unnoticed, by unleashing her own personal anger towards the innocent girl.
Ejiofor is magnetic in his lead performance, as his intense restraint becomes all the more painful to watch as Platt's life continues in such misery. He wants to fight back, of course, and yet with his surroundings he is completely powerless to stop the gut-wrenching injustice. This feeling of complete helplessness is further emphasised in one particuarly harrowing scene (one of many) that involves Platt hanging from a tree, with his feet barely touching the ground for support, whist everyone in the background (the black slaves, the white "masters") do not dare interfere. There is something so quietly passionate about what little Ejiofor says in words that even in silence there is profound sadness and fear that translate so well on screen. His extraordinary portrayal on screen certainly pays off in the film's rightfully tear-jerking finish, and you'll want to cry with him.
As for the two main villains of the film, Fassbender and Paulson are simply superb. Fassbender has a history of not scoring worthy wins with awards, but with this performance he has truly outdone himself, certainly his nastiest, most brutal and vicious one yet, and an Oscar win is certainly within reach (although this year he might again be overlooked given Jared Leto's unstoppable force - but more on that in a separate review of "Dallas Buyers Club"). The Epps couple have nothing but hatred and deserve nothing but exactly that from the audience, and this level of malicious energy is certainly not easy to watch. Paulson, so calm yet piercingly malicious at every turn with her words and deeds, is nothing short of hateful. They have a bad habit of reducing humans to nothing more than mere property, and their almost child-like claim on what's theirs is as resentful as it is disturbing. With a lot of "Best Supporting Actress" focus going to another member of the cast (read further on), there isn't a whole lot of praise heaped on for Paulson, but she is equally deserving of the highest of respect and admiration for her spot-on performance here.
The relatively smaller roles filled with big names are worth their short but memorable screen time: both Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard contribute significantly to the finished product, their roles playing pivotal roles in Platt's struggle for freedom. Woodard in particular has a heart-breaking story to tell, one she does so in a quiet, collected manner, making her poignant scenes more effective.
But the most gut-wrenching, breakout performance here is given by Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o, in her first debut feature film role who is also sweeping all sorts of deserving awards including a pretty dead lock on the Oscar. She has only a handful of scenes of actual dialogue but it's her raw, uninhibited approach to her role that demands not only your undivided attention, but also your sympathy as she is put through endless abuse from her owners. She's a hard-working, frail woman who accepts everything that she is given as fate, and perpetual cycle of violence she has to endure and the effects of such treatment are further accentuated by Nyong'o who gives this role everything she's got.
McQueen's third film is certainly a big leap in size and scale from his two previous pictures. But this sudden change is something the British director is more than capable of handling. He takes the element of suffering to a whole new level. That frightening sound of every whip crack, the horrendous sight of blood splattering, the disturbing view of the many deep scars left behind are only a few examples of what McQueen captures without any obvious censorship, allowing the scene to go on and on for maximum effect.
Knowing the fate of Solomon Northup won't diminish the power the film will have as a whole. Even though on the surface the final few moments may be a joyous one, there is still that painfully distressing feeling lurking around somewhere as the credits start rolling. And no matter how unsettling the film's theme may be, this is the number one must-see film of 2013/4.
Senator John McCain, Ms. Sarah Palin, ladies and gentlemen of the American Republican Party, please stop bashing HBO's latest TV movie Game Change, a portrayal of the fascinating 2008 American Presidential Elections. We all know Sarah Palin wasn't the best candidate for the Vice Presidency. We have all laughed at some of her worst, most ridiculous answers during interviews and debates. Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live absolutely ripped Palin apart and then Governor of Alaska was an international laughing stock. Now it's understandable for Palin to not want to be reminded of such unflattering events, but branding the film as "reductive," and blaming the left-wing Hollywood for making propaganda is ridiculous and does nothing for her already diminished reputation. If anything, she should be grateful to HBO and Julianne Moore, for painting such a human, balanced, and sympathetic behind-the-scenes story of what must have been an extremely difficult period in her life.
McCain (Harris) winning the Republican nomination to run for the 2008 Presidential Race was an incredible, unpredicted victory for the Arizona Senator. Facing stiff competition from big names such as Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, McCain, the Vietnam war hero, was about to face a relatively unknown young, inexperienced Senator of Illinois. But Barack Obama, his opposing Democratic candidate, had charisma, the star-power and appeal; something that was stealing away women, the independents, Afro-Caribbean, and first-time voters. McCain's senior campaign adviser, Steve Schmidt (Harrelson) realises that what their camp needs is someone who will bring back their spotlight, a game changer, a woman.
And so the search begins, and they find Sarah Palin (Moore), the Governor of Alaska. She's attractive, conservative, Christian, has five children, a son about to be deployed to Iraq, and upon meeting her, Schmidt is impressed by her love and support for McCain and his campaign. This is where everything starts to go wrong. The initial excitement starts clouding their judgement and their short-sighted ambition neglects to properly vet the Vice Presidential nominee. It normally takes weeks to carry out a proper background check. They finish in days, and settle on the popular consensus that she embodies exactly what they need to make it to The White House. The Republican Convention in which she formally accepts the invitation from her running mate is an instant hit with the political pundits and crowds alike and the team is more than ecstatic to hear that CNN has put them on equal level with the Obama-Biden camp.
Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson), another senior advisor of the campaign however, is not convinced and is sure that the Governor struggles on answering foreign policy questions. Palin cannot answer why North and South Korea are divided, she is unaware of the fact that Queen Elizabeth II is not the head of government in the United Kingdom, and she believes that it was Saddam Hussein who was behind 9/11. It would be safe to say that she doesn't quite know the difference between the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan. But is this really her fault? She was a small-town Governor with hardly any foreign-relations experience. The fact that she was thrown into the spotlight within days, being under pressure from nationally-broadcast interviews must have been an unimaginable challenge.
The excessive load of information and endless long hours take their toll, something Palin simply was not prepared for. She tries her best for the most parts, and yet the 24-hour news cycle brutally destroys her image, naming her as an incompetent, inexperienced idiot, constantly undermining her every move. And Moore, not only looking and sounding almost to a freakish level as the Governor, also captures the complex person behind all the media coverage. The pain of being away from her family for a long time, harassed by the media who love making fun of her, the difficult questions she faces from interviews all build up to an inevitable series of mini breakdowns.
She wasn't ready for this mass media showdown nor was she prepared for a campaign of this major scale, and it was a reckless move to include her in the first place. Throughout the film she cannot stop focusing on Alaska, clearly missing the only state she has ever known, and her obsession for her approval ratings in her home state begins to interfere with the campaign. Her longing for her home, her "babies" may seem stubborn and selfish, but at times can be heart-breaking to watch. McCain may have lost the Presidency, but Palin was the ultimate victim, unfairly dismissed and played as nothing but an advertising face for the Republican campaign. Moore is simply outstanding here, in a very fairly written role, and is successful in bringing out the untold, yet completely understandable background story that gives a fuller picture of the one-sided, Palin-bashing version of the election we're all used to by now.
Palin does have her highlights however. Immediately after the announcement of her candidacy, the donations for the campaign sky-rocket, women and mothers love her, and she even holds her own in the first and only Vice Presidential Debate against the more experienced opponent, Joe Biden. The successes bring her ambition and she becomes less cooperative in certain areas. She knows how important she is, and this makes her unpredictable, "going rogue," which incidentally is the title of Palin's autobiography released after the 2008 elections.
Although anchoring mainly on Moore's award-worthy performance, "Game Change" has impressive supporting players who should also be getting some attention come awards-season. The ever-so reliable Harris is convincing as the worried candidate being associated with the not so flattering legacy George W. Bush has left for him to pick up. And the hilariously serious and often foul-mouthed but straight-shooting Harrelson is spot-on as the ambitious campaign director. Paulson is also excellent as the only other noticeable female in the group, quickly sussing out Palin's problems and being upfront and honest about it, rather than trying to sweep the problems under the rug.
What is more striking about "Game Change" is how honest it is about the depiction of modern day politics. It's shallow, superficial and utterly misguided in places. They love Palin one minute, and hate her the next. Even the campaign staff changes their minds about her frequently. She does one good interview and they flock to her, applaud her, and call her a genius. She makes a misstep, they're all against her, with secret meetings behind closed doors criticising her in the most unflattering ways. It's no wonder she struggled to keep it together throughout - it must have been a tricky environment to settle into, not knowing who your friends are, and how unpredictable the public response can be. How truthful all the events that are depicted here are still up for debate. But the important thing is "Game Change" offers a new perspective on a story we all thought knew well. And so please, if you're only shunning this film for political reasons, open your mind a little and be amazed and surprised by how engrossing and fair the film really is.
They say a mother's love is eternal. And with Andres Mischietti's debut feature, an extension on a short film he worked on previously, we're about to meet the mother of all mothers - one scary lady who shows us what it really means to cling on to her love of a child.
After what can be suspected as a bad financial deal during the 2008 economic crisis, we see a disturbed, distraught man getting ready to kill his two young daughters. Why he couldn't finish off his rampage at the comfort of his own home is anyone's guess, but the film goes on to show him driving dangerously quickly on a snowy, slippery road. The car flips, and ends up in the woods after what looks like some heavy tumbles. Miraculously they, including the two girls, all survive and walk away without a scratch, and find a mysterious, abandoned cabin which he believes would be the perfect place for their deaths.
But before he can work up the courage to pull the trigger on his unsuspecting daughters, a creepy dark entity quite literally surrounds him, lifts him up, and gobbles him up to protect the girls. Yes, who/whatever the titular "Mama" is referring to, first makes her appearance here. And she is not one to cross. The father disappears into oblivion, whilst the two girls stare longingly at the mysterious spirit that saved them.
5 years later, a search party financially provided for by the twin brother, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau - yes, the infamous Jaime Lannister in "Game of Thrones"), of the disappeared man, discovers this place. The girls have grown up, although they are behaving like animals having grown up in the wild for the past several years. They can't quite piece together how they survived all these years although evidence points to the massive pile of cherry seeds that exists in the cabin. Clearly something has been keeping these girls alive, although nothing in the world would ever make them think of "Mama".
Initially placed under the care of paediatric psychiatrist Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) for close observation, the girls then move onto the care of their uncle, which also places them with his girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), a bass-guitarist in a punk rock band who is less than thrilled by the news she now is in charge of raising two very difficult nieces she barely even knows. But it's not long before the family members bond, which serves as a main part of the film's middle section.
Of course, this jealous Mama spirit is a force to be reckoned with, as the girls see her as both a safe sanctuary but also a frightening being they shouldn't cross. And because this takes place within the medium of a film where characters never follow their basic instincts, it takes a while for the protagonists to catch on even when the signs and dots are right there in front of them. For example, like a haunted house, things do loudly bump at night, dark figures arise from nowhere, and there is an endless number of moths that follow the girls - this does serve a greater purpose in the finale, although not one that particularly pushes the horror genre. The children's drawings aren't what can be considered normal, with small spooky accidents jeopardising everyone's plans.
The truth behind the story isn't a particularly fascinating, clever, or original one. One that reminds us hell hath no fury for a woman scorned. Take a child away from its mother, and there will be hell to pay. And this was back in the 19th Century - her wrath and rage have lasted until the 21st. That's quite something. And there is a panicked, discovery process from a character who sees things one step before everyone else does, who goes on a frantic mission of conviction to solve the mystery surrounding the dark events, and when that person tries warning anyone of actual importance, no prizes for guessing what happens to this well-intentioned soul.
Struggling to develop believable links between the key characters, the big dramatic finale has far less of an impact. Between the two young sisters the child actresses (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelise) both do an immense job and interact brilliantly well with one another. Less well done is Annabel's relationships with the girls. Her growth and maturation throughout the few months feel rushed and despite Chastain's best acting efforts, the script does very little to explain or support her actions. A good length of time is spent trying to get some sort of depth materialised between the new mother figure and the two young children; one that was possibly to serve as a contrast between what the "Mama" spirit considers to be love and devotion and what the hard-working, initially uninterested Annabel manages to conjure up from her heart. But there is a distinct lack of any genuine emotions to fill the rest of the film when it's not trying to scare the audience.
But no matter how very little sense it makes overall, the director is never distracted enough to shy away from paying close attention to his highly effective chilling, gothic setting. It would be best not to think of this as a full-on horror, but more as a dark, twisted fairy tale fantasy. When Mama does fully manifest to become her normal self, the result is a hauntingly well-designed one (in actuality this role was played by a man - who would have thought?), also with stylish touches put on here and there in various flashback sequences to tell her origins story. And essentially if nothing else, "Mama" showcases promising talent - it further boasts Chastain's never-ending versatility as a lead actress, and a director who has firmly established himself as one to watch.
The White House is yet again under attack, with its hopeless defence systems (there are hardly any here by the way) and guards (again, hardly any) taken down effortlessly by meticulously organised bad guys who take control of what's supposed to be one of the safest places on Earth in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. But fear not, for we have Channing Tatum on our side. There are of course, some very important-looking people in suits in a crowded room trying to do their best to save their country from collapsing, but ultimately, it's Tatum and his one-man army that you know will protect the President of the United States.
Perhaps keeping in with the state of affairs in the current White House, Jamie Foxx plays the President, trying to sign a peace treaty and pull American troops out of the Middle East. It's not a wildly popular move, which explains the attack later on. One of his closest advisors the Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) is not too happy with the decision but supports the decision nonetheless. Elsewhere in the political arena Martin Walker (James Woods) who is planning to retire from his position as the Head of the Presidential Security Detail, leaving his trusted protégée Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in charge.
So how does Tatum's character fit into the whole thing? It turns out John Cale (Tatum) is an ex-military man and wants to join the Secret Service, and enters the White House for an unsuccessful job interview. With him is his estranged daughter Emily (Joey King), a politics-obsessed young girl who is over the moon about her little trip to the President's place of residence.
Ruining this family day-out and a rare father-daughter bonding experience is Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke), who eases past the security posing as video technicians with his team, and gets to work. First the Capitol Building is blown up; but never mind that...we only care about the White House. And when the Secret Service detail of the President is immediately wiped out, it's time for Cale to step up to the plate and smartly take down the bad guys, protect the President, make sure his daughter stays alive, and also uncover the deep dark conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of the government responsible for today's attacks. Quite a hefty amount of things to cover for a lone hero of the picture, but we have absolute faith in the f experience act that he will carry through until the very end.
And what follows is a series of ludicrous but entirely enjoyable scenes of bombastic action. The louder it is, the sillier it is, but ultimately where director Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day", "2012"), who has some first-hand when it comes to destroying the White House, excels in is providing as much fun for the audience as possible. When the big guns come out (both Tatum's, as well as the military weapons), there are very few moments where the film takes a breather, which is perfectly fine, for a film that wants to fully embrace the stupidity of some of its ideas. There are missiles, helicopters flying as low as they possibly can, a car-chase on the White House lawn, bombs, grenades, brutal fist-fights - it's almost as if the White House has turned into a gladiator ring and you almost expect Tatum to go around yelling "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED" to all those suits watching/listening from afar.
Ah yes, the suits. Locked up cozy in their briefing rooms providing some background information on some of our characters on the action field, they serve to deliver some lines of dialogue for the purpose of filling the script with words which otherwise would have been pages and pages of action choreography. They don't have much use further than that, which is why the various shallow dud roles don't do a lot of the famous faces much justice (Gyllenhaal and Jenkins in particular). They do piece some pieces of the puzzle together, adding some twists and turns into what started off as a simplistic plot, but all of that could have been done within the walls of the White House anyway.
Tatum, who has a knack for headlining a film as an action hero who is also capable of comfortably delivering wisecracks and gags, is very strong in the role, and it's difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. As likable as Will Smith once was back during the "Independence Day" era, Tatum is the one easily interacting with everyone in the cast, and the chemistry that the film benefits most from is one Tatum shares with Foxx. Cale, in this situation of national emergency, isn't too bothered about speaking with tact and caution to the leader of the free world. And together they have their share of bickering, with an entertaining bromance forming along the way. Foxx makes for one cool, suave yet grounded President, one who would charm your socks off on his campaign trails with his many inspiring speeches, which convincingly explains why he's the POTUS.
As America's most iconic landmark starts getting taken apart, the film can't resist its strong patriotic tone when it comes to the finale. It lays it on slightly less thickly than the cheese-fest that happens in "Olympus Has Fallen" but nevertheless finds its moments of absolute hilarity whilst looking to be taken seriously. A particularly ill-judged scene that involves the daughter who pops up every now and again is the main "highlight" of such examples.
The rather dismal numbers this has been posting in the States may have you believe that this is a complete failure of a film. But of the two White House destruction films released this year, here is a far superior one - a film that knows its target audience, and really plays on piling on the fun for us all to enjoy, with far more appealing stars who make the most out of the fact that they know they should be playing around with this ridiculous concept rather than taking everything at face value.
With a love triangle that is as impossibly good looking as this one, it's difficult to know which pair to root for. But to put things simply, it's a showdown between a young James Bond (Tom Hardy) and a young Ethan Hunt (Chris Pine) who are also the best of friends. "I know that you would take a bullet for me, I would for you as well" says Tuck (Hardy) to FDR (Pine) Awwwww. Their bromance is shown in none other than a loud, kinetic action scene on the rooftop of a tall Hong Kong tower, something director McG (Terminator: Salvation) should be familiar with. But it's nothing special, with a modest scale that seems to be a waste on the two talented young actors. And just from watching the first ten to fifteen minutes or so of uninspired, highly ordinary footage, we immediately begin to worry whether the rest of the film will be as mediocre.
Thankfully, things get more interesting however, for both the leading men and the audience, when Reese Witherspoon enters the picture. As her bright and perky unlucky-in-love Lauren appears, it's no more a nice bromance, but a full-on war, hence the title. A slight misunderstanding involving a blind date and a chance encounter at a video rental store, the two men meet her within minutes, and are completely taken by her. Witherspoon, the talented comic actress who can do this kind of simple role in her sleep, is effective in showing us just why these two tough guys are bending over backwards to impress her. The snarky, sly interception of various dates begins, with the two spies, who have access to plenty of CIA's most advanced resources, smartly outdoing one another in the most spectacular ways. It's a nonsense screwball comedy, worked to maximum effect with the occasional action added. Of course, something like this can (hopefully) never happen in real-life - who knows how many laws these guys are breaking, using expensive resources and in short, stalking this poor girl who has to make a decision eventually. It would be a difficult decision for any woman - Pine or Hardy, Pine or Hardy.
A part of what makes this such a watchable experience is the entirely convincing chemistry Hardy shares with Pine. They're cheeky, funny, and seem uninhibited as they appear scene after scene bickering like two immature little boys. As they spy on Lauren she has no problem sharing all the intimate details of her two relationships to her blunt gal-pal confidant Trish (Chelsea Handler). FDR has small and delicate hands - and this of course has more troubling implications (to which FDR responds: "You know that's not true. You've seen it. You've seen it in Bangladesh, you know that's not true"), and Tuck is British - which apparently means the same thing. Hilarity ensues as the two spies are powerless to stop her rambling on about the most embarrassing facts about each other.
It's not all about the bromance however: because Witherspoon is paired with a priceless comedic supporting comedienne Handler. Her dialogue is rich with dry, sarcastic and sexually charged zingers, and with her deadpan delivery of the well-written lines, she is an invaluable addition to the already impressive cast. This allows Witherspoon room to develop her character more and although Handler's role may be plagued with predictable clichés of a borderline alcoholic, sex-obsessed, middle-aged woman, the fact that she adds a whole lot more quality laughter into the film works out as a massive plus. She even has the kind heart to volunteer herself to "try out" the two men to report back to her best friend who she would be most compatible with. An offer the two men can only listen to in horror as they wonder why Lauren is talking to "that old man".
Despite the obvious humour that drives a lot of the film's first half, the script also remains faithful to the more romantic side of the two sets of relationships. FDR, the womanising, club-hopping playboy who lived on one-night stands, is actually thinking of settling down with the girl who he is truly taken aback by. Tuck, the tough guy with a soft heart, reeling from his divorce and struggling to connect with his son whilst having to deal with the cold-shoulder treatment from his ex, also finds something deep and meaningful during his time with Lauren, a possible source to mend his broken heart perhaps. These back stories provide nothing original to what the actors have played in the past, but it works because Pine and Hardy play them so well. Yes, there is nothing romantic, ethical or legal about how these two spies constantly have their eyes on this woman by spending some hi-tech valuable national resources - but this is McG's world. It's not supposed to be taken too seriously. And once you get past the issue regarding invasion of privacy, it turns into an entertaining romp.
With appealing leads, McG sustains the intrigue surrounding his love triangle but where he fails to truly impress is with his action scenes which never find enough momentum. As a subplot, these two CIA agents manage to anger a dangerous mobster. And surprise, Lauren gets caught in the middle of something deadly. What follows is a highly unsatisfying car chase, followed by one anti-climactic shoot-out in which Lauren makes her ultimate decision, all too soon, with a far too convenient solution to give everyone a happy ending. It will make you cringe, but because of its consistent build-up, ultimately it's an ideal film for a brainless night-out. Three alternate endings were shot for the film, until eventually one was chosen for the general release. Now I haven't seen these other possible conclusions, but the "original" ending can be seen as the most "Hollywood" kind of finale, where everyone finds their own happily ever after, with no one exactly losing out on anything. And for a breezy action romantic-comedy, that's exactly the kind of perfect finish the film could have looked for.
With tensions in North Korea constantly on the rise, Gerard Butler's new action-packed outing tells a story that doesn't seem far too out of reach. Even in this fictional world where Butler is an ex-Secret Service agent now demoted to work in the Treasury Department behind a desk, North Korea is causing problems for the free world with their endless nuclear missile tests. Naturally, a meeting between the United States and its ally South Korea takes place in the White House, only for this highly-secured engagement to be hijacked by a guerrilla attack led by the North Koreans.
Well-armed bad guys dressed as tourists take over the White House in a laughable, alarming instant, and it's as though the trained men who are supposed to be guarding those highest in the government forgot to come into work prepared that day. Whatever the reason, everyone falls like leaves hardly putting up a worthy fight, in a pretty hilarious sequence that shows the audience, in slow-motion and backed by corny music, the gunning down of agent after agent who are helpless against the perfectly prepared villains. There's even a brave, well-trained dog that puts up a fight. Subtlety isn't exactly the film's strong suit, nor should it be.
Trapped in an impenetrable underground bunker with the terrorists is the President (Aaron Eckhart), Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo), among others who are played by less well-known faces, which means they matter much less. Not even the position of Vice President is worthy of having a relatively famous name play him. (Poor Joe Biden - this goes to show the public's general perception of that particular position.) They're pushed around and kicked about, as they hold important secrets that prove vital to the North Koreans' endgame. But enough about them, where on earth is Butler flexing his big action hero muscles?
And so it's the perfect time for retired agent Mike Banning (Butler) to jump back into action, and take on these guys all by himself. It seems like an unfair fight, but not to worry; Banning was one of the best agents Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett), the head of Secret Services, had ever seen, which means he can take on a number of bad guys, even after 18 months of being out of the field, have all sorts of injuries inflicted on him, and yet walk away fine from all the bloody mess. That's what "best" means - i.e. superhuman. Plus there's an element of surprise working to Banning's advantage. Having worked for the President for so long, he knows the structures of the White House inside out, and is able to use his invaluable knowledge to outsmart the bad guys who easily outnumber and outgun him.
Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) is now the Acting President and, in turn, forms himself a little emergency committee, which is essentially full of self-important, arrogant idiots who can't do a single useful thing in their stuffy meeting room, except to look incredibly worried and spew out dialogue such as "oh my god" and its variations as the terrorist's plan escalates. In dire times such as this one, Banning has no trouble speaking freely, straightaway calling them out on their silly errors, and generating some laughs for the audience for his sheer audacity.
Playing a man defined by his brute force and very little humanity, Butler absolutely nails the role that Bruce Willis similarly played more than a couple of decades ago where he, the lone action star had to rescue important people from a building (remember "Die Hard" anyone?). He has no trouble looking convincing as he beats someone to a pulp, he is disturbingly calm as he tortures someone for information (time is of the utmost essence here, no room for dillydally errors), and he has no trouble firing off sly one-liners at the bad guys. This role seems to have been tailored for Butler, and he seems to be comfortably in his place, doing what he does best.
Other roles are very limited, as the film has barely enough time to develop its central character. All those taken hostage put on an admiring level of bravery and patriotism, most memorable being Leo's Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan, who doesn't utter a single useful word for the terrorists even after she's punched and kicked in ways no elderly woman should ever be treated. As the main antagonist, Rick Yune has played a vicious North Korean before in yet another high-profile film, "Die Another Day", and he smoothly pulls off yet another one of those as he makes crazy demands and stares glaringly into the camera. The usually charismatic Eckhart stands firm and insists the United States of American doesn't negotiate with terrorists, and as a generally all-round likable actor, he looks as though someone the country could well vote for and in displaying courage and conviction, he doesn't fall short.
Under the assured hands of Antoine Fuqua, the man who gave us "Training Day", "Tears of the Sun", among others, he isn't one to shy away from brutality. There is a lot of fun to be had as the unrestrained pit-bull of Banning plows his way through the corridors of the White House, saving the day, although his mission is slightly derailed by having to focus on saving the President's young son, the film's weak point in selling the action. A lot of meaningless dialogue tries to pad out the script with some sort of character build-up but really, to no avail. What the film spends time on with this subplot doesn't ultimately matter nor does it fit into the bigger picture - it only wastes time, and the resources could have been put to better use - i.e. giving us more full-on action.
It's all incredibly silly, and this makes one hope that the actual White House does have better security than what is demonstrated here. Otherwise, if North Korea gets their hands on a copy of this film, America could all be done for. And the shamelessly patriotic message (any lingering shot of the American flag, falling oh so gloriously and slowly is an example) may even have you unknowingly side with the invaders. But all in all, it's a dumb, fun, easy watch.
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" was so inept that even its leading man Hugh Jackman recently admitted that it could have been better. Now teamed up with James Mangold of the Academy Award winning "Walk the Line" fame, Marvel's Adamantium-filled regenerating superhero is back and instead of going with another tiresome rehash of an origins story, we pick up right after the events of X-Me: The Last Stand". All you need to remember is that Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) aka The Phoenix went berserk and was killing everyone, leaving the tough task of ending her to our clawed mutant. They'd been lovers, which made the act all the more painful and unforgettable to Wolverine (Jackman) who's been having nightmares about her ever since. One of the down sides of being immortal like him is that you don't just lead an ordinary life with death guaranteed.
But an old Japanese acquaintance of his may be the key to solving all of his problems. A helpless soldier Wolverine saved all those years ago when the atomic bomb fell in Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) had since become one of the richest men in Japan with his business empire. Now he's aged and dying, and as a way of saying his final goodbye to the man who made all this possible, Wolverine is flown on a private jet to Tokyo, with a trusted employee of Yashida, Yukio (Rila Fukushima). After a mildly amusing thorough scrub-up scene in which swooning fans of Jackman will be delighted to see a teensy bit more than what they may have bargained for, Wolverine pays his respects to an old friend of his. A dodgy looking slick blonde oncologist with evil eyes (Svetlana Khodchenkova) also roams the room and Wolverine discovers why he's really been summoned to Japan.
Yashida is dying, Wolverine can never die. Here comes the match made in heaven. Knowing that Wolverine is in pain, Yashida offers up a trade, his onw mortality for Wolverine's powers. Yashida, in his mighty wealth and power, feels it's too soon to let go, and believes he'd be doing Wolverine a favour, essentially putting him out of his misery. Wolverine turns this offer down, claiming "you don't want what I have" and is more than ready to leave town. This is until Yashida dies, the oncologist with a secret gets up to no good, and Yashida's funeral turns into a Yakuza-led kidnapping frenzy.
Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the business tycoon's granddaughter, is the target, and after a lengthy chase that ends with Wolverine fending off the bad guys on top of one of those 300mph bullet trains, Wolverine and Mariko cosy it up in a nice little house by the river down south, although not before visiting a shady "love hotel" in which they need to pick a room out of all the specifically "themed" ones. As culture clashes go, here is something so mild and tame that it would be easy to often forget that this is in fact set in Japan. Sure there are ninjas flying around, samurai swords clanging against one another, arrows being shot around, but aside from a few laughs from how Wolverine conducts himself with a pair of chopsticks and how he doesn't know how to tie up a Japanese robe, Wolverine as a character doesn't develop much. He's still the angry, traumatised buff man we've all come to know over the years, and this trip to the east doesn't add anything significant - he's constantly referred to as a samurai without a master, but to what end exactly is never clear, and having a group of Asian actors in the supporting roles is just about what sets this apart.
Jean Grey pops up every now and again, with Janssen dressed in a white nightgown always in the most dream-like, hypnotic sequences that provide distraction for Wolverine on a mission. This would have been effective had the romance between the two been at all memorable in the past. Too much time has passed since we last saw them together, and even when they were paired up they weren't exactly the cinematic power couple of the last decade or so. "X-Men" has always been about the different mutants and their neat powers, the love-line merely served as a tick-box mechanism for the blockbuster series. A constant reminder was necessary in parts to hammer home the point that Wolverine and his soul are "tortured" but taking everything to this extent is clearly too dense and unnecessary without fitting in to the whole big picture.
For the first time ever there is clear vulnerability established in this immortal character. Due to a nasty little trick played by a sneaky villain his healing powers are compromised, which brings about an interesting angle when it comes to action scenes. Whilst this briefly gives Wolverine a chance to explore something different, even this is cut short in an absurd self-surgery scene that fixes everything instantaneously. And with this a lot of the fun evaporates into thin air, and without much contribution from the supporting players to back him up, this feels as generic and ordinary as any action film could be.
Jackman, looking every bit as the action hero he's played successfully since his first on-screen portrayal all the way back in 2000 (yeap, it was that long ago), still has the macho strength and charisma to single-handedly carry the film. You can't imagine anything more worrying and troublesome than someone looking like Jackman running towards you with indestructible metal claws in between his knuckles, and although the script never allows much depth or intrigue into his role, Jackman is highly effective in the brooding, moody version of his character, with or without the extra scruffy hair and beard he may or may not have kept from the set of "Les Miserables".
There is just about an adequate amount of slick action, in the first act (the funeral, the train, etc), which is where a lot of the supporting cast lend their talent. Of the two Japanese female newcomers, Fukishima shows she's better with martial arts than with delivering words (she and Jackman share little chemistry), Okamoto is sensitively sweet enough to play the potential love interest, with Will Yun Lee and Hiroyuki Sanada also participating in the action.
The biggest problem comes in the film's climax, or the lack thereof. Hidden twists are revealed, in which some characters do things that make no sense, and for those of you (un)lukcy to have caught the film's trailers would know of a giant metallic robot that attacks Wolverine. It's a wonder just why on earth such a tacky addition was a main part of the film's marketing, and the studios would have done better to keep that clunky piece of trash well under wraps until the film actually hit the screens.
The lack of a strong villain is also the film's major downfall: Khodchenkova tries her best to channel the sexy evil energy, but her hair and costume do her no favours by reminding us all of Poison Ivy, that disastrous, caricature villain from "Batman and Robin". She is tossed aside far too swiftly, and given the extent of her powers (they really are quite terrifying), she is no doubt the most wasted member of the cast. Perhaps the reason she was given such mediocre treatment was due to the fact that the director wanted to put more focus on the main showdown. So imagine the disappointment when even that falls short to deliver any hint of tension or excitement. Poorly choreographed and executed with no style used in the film's first half or so, the ending feels much too rushed and hardly satisfying.
Perhaps X-Men were designed to stick well together. As the post-credits scene suggests, a brief moment that packs in more punch and anticipatory fun than the entire lengthy final few moments, there is certainly an element of safety in numbers when it comes to these genetically enhanced mutants.
Despite what the title may suggest, there is no memory loss, alcohol, or any missed weddings and concerned family members involved in the Wolfpack's third and hopefully final outing to the big screen. The first "Hangover" was such a filthy, engaging comic delight (it was nominated for a BAFTA and was chosen as one of American Film Institute's top 10 films of that year) that it just had to be hacked up, ruined and squeezed for every penny in its dull sequel "The Hangover Part 2". Here comes the equally unnecessary and tedious "Part 3", a film that tries to recapture its glory days by utilising the funnier characters only to end up completely wasting everyone's talents. So long gone are the gaps in their memories, no sense of mystery, and with a completely new structure it's clear they wanted to go out with a bang.
What made the first entry so special is no more - what starts off as a potentially engaging set-up (the Wolfpack gets kidnapped by a ruthless gangster boss) quickly fizzles out as quite simply, nothing funny actually happens. After Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) steals a lot of expensive gold from Marshall (John Goodman), the Wolfpack is blackmailed to deliver Mr Chow as well as the stolen gold. Doug (Justin Bartha) is held hostage as the rest of the clueless gang consisting of Phil (Bradley Cooper) Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) go about completing this seemingly impossible task.
Very little has changed in terms of the characters. Doug once again ends up doing next to nothing as the captured hostage, Phil and Stu think they're clever coming up with action plans when they're really not (Phil especially remains as hateful as ever thinking he's the "cool" one), and a lot of comedy hinges on Galifianakis and his performance. But his awkward, superior attitude is far too self-satisfied to truly amuse and he barely has any recognisable hits when it comes to delivering the gags. The unfortunate events that unfold after he buys himself a giraffe in the beginning marks a relative high, but then it's all downhill from there. Even with "Part 2", any scene that involved the actor opening his mouth marked the film digging itself further into the ground - the same principle applies here. He is so disappointing in fact, that only with some firm support from a cameo appearance of Melissa McCarthy, on a comedy career high thanks to the massive success of "Bridesmaids" and her hit sitcom "Mike & Molly", makes him shine. McCarthy, clearly highly sought-after following her Oscar nominated stint in "Bridesmaids" doesn't disappoint even in her brief moment of chipping in to help generate the laughs.
Establishing links between this and the franchises starter is Jade (Heather Graham) the ex-stripper they met in Vegas, and remember the baby they got stuck with in the first film? Well he's grown up a bit now, which gives Alan the chance to "bond" with the poor child and therefore put his own daddy issues to rest. You see, Alan's father suddenly passes in the beginning and in the heavily promoted trailer in which he sings Ave Maria and makes a reasonably funny eulogy, we find that his father was never the fully embracing kind. (But to be fair, with someone like Alan, who would fully approve of this lazy spoiled waster with absolutely nothing positive on his character trait?) Once again Alan is involved in one of his long, awkward sequences in which he sorts out his feelings, becoming a father figure himself of some sorts to the now-grown child. The point of this scene? Difficult to say. What it achieves however is it makes Alan all the more unlikeable, which you wouldn't have thought was ever possible. But hey, director Todd Phillips has truly outdone himself in that area.
Trying to salvage what little credibility they have in the franchise, director Phillips decides to bring back Jeong in a more prominent role than ever before. But his tiresome focus on the supposedly funny Asian accent and the outrageous, ridiculous things Chao says, is not enough to carry this film on its own. Before you know it, the writers have all but run out of things for Chao to do, and he's blurting out meaningless lines such as "I love cocaine" which is only one example of endless dumb lines that keep on coming. He's a crazy "China-man" whose obsession with sex, drugs, and violence is supposed to be funny. It certainly was, a couple of films ago, when he leapt out of the trunk naked, but now he's become a parody of himself, an unfunny one at that.
After a needlessly convoluted set of plot developments takes the gang to Tijuana, Mexico, it takes them even longer to land them back in Vegas, where their troubles all first started. Although promising a climax of an impressive scale, things don't improve at all, which is why it's wise for them to not stick around for so long. After everything's sorted and the mess handled in the most anti-climatic method imaginable, the characters are in a hurry to get back home away from all the insanity. And chances are, you as the audience will probably be feeling the exact same thing, after enduring more than an hour of this comedy dud.
Here is a film that makes the mistake of thinking it's better than everything and everyone else. It thinks it to be the cleverest, most daring film out there - and whatever delusional bubble the writers, director, and cast live in, they seem to be under the impression that this thoroughly misguided notion of "lads on tour" is actually fun. Star power is never enough for a comedy, as is shown clearly with this final entry. Do yourself a favour and give this one a miss. Pretend this didn't happen and whilst you're at it, why not pretend "Part II" doesn't exist either? "The (original) Hangover" is good enough to stand on its own two feet, and doesn't deserve the damage in reputation the next two films undoubtedly inflicted on it.
Actor/director Robert Redford's mighty standing in Hollywood must be a good one for him to have attracted so much star power and talent for his latest directorial effort that is at best, distinctly average. Marketed as a clever political thriller, as well as a huge ensemble piece that promises to be quite the intricately plotted, complex and exciting piece of work, it shows a lot of promise from its opening scenes, but what we find is a gradual dip and slump in quality as it becomes clear the film doesn't have too much to say for itself. What it sets out to accomplish is not very clear throughout the film, and this lack of purpose and drive is what makes everything feel so stale - something that even the big names in the credits cannot quite rescue.
After years of hiding out, a notorious wanted fugitive is arrested by the FBI. As part of the anti-Vietnam War militant named "Weather Underground", Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) was wanted for a bank robbery that resulted in a murder a few decades ago. Her arrest leads to the sharp, ambitious young reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) to do his very own digging around the terrorist group Solarz was involved in. His investigation leads to Jim Grant (Robert Redford), a lawyer hiding out in Albany under an alias. Grant too has a lot to hide, and this recent turn of events of an ex-"colleague" is not doing him any favours. Plus this hot-shot reporter looking for a career-defining story, asking questions, visiting his work is also something he doesn't welcome into his life.
Leaving his young daughter (Jackie Evancho) with his brother (Chris Cooper) who is less than thrilled to be in contact with him, Grant decides to go on the run, although Ben is determined to get a story out of this due to his pushy editor's (Stanley Tucci) insistence. What exactly is Grant after? To clear his name from past crimes he wasn't involved in, maintain his innocence, and the only person who can do this is the elusive Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie) with whom he shared something special back in the day when they were both active in the militant group. This little reunion between the two is delayed for far too long as we see far too much of Ben's investigative journalism. There isn't anything wrong with showing us the methods, the keen reporter doing whatever he can to find a story he can print, but it's often what he discovers that's of little interest. There are children involved, adoption, paternity issues, but these don't contribute to the overall narrative. It only slows down and distracts us from what's truly important.
Despite being surrounded by tons and tons of information that end up being inconsequential in the long run, LaBeouf always has that convincing level of energy and passion in the lead role - his character is relentlessly searching something that's been buried for a good reason, but his inquisitive, curious nature, which is probably why he's so suited to be a reporter in the first place, comfortably comes out in this talented actor's performance. He's young, cheeky, and a kind of a brat, similar to roles he's had in the past and played well, and in a cast full of so many award-winning actors, he doesn't fall short at all.
Once Jim and Mimi do end up in the same room, it leads to a heartfelt, intelligent discussion about their values, beliefs and ideals - what they believed so passionately in the 70s don't quite hold the same weight in the current context. The trouble is, the two of them aren't on the same page. Jim seems to have moved on, and is comfortable with the way his life has turned out, leaving the past behind. But Mimi, even at her age, still questions the government, has her own political values, and doesn't give a damn about the law she doesn't agree with. Heck, when we first see Mimi, we see a 70-something year-old granny smuggling what's quite obviously an illegal amount of marijuana into the States. She smoothly avoids the attention of coastguards and goes about her merry way. Another theme that crops up is whether there is any regret, remorse or guilt about past actions. Whatever they do or don't feel can't excuse their actions, the characters know this too, and the heated exchange between the two, although brief, is a deep, insightful one: a worthy wrap-up of preceding events.
Aside from those already mentioned, other big names in the cast appearing include Brendan Gleeson (a retired cop with some secrets that could make Ben Shepard's story more interesting), Terrence Howard (an FBI agent taking lead on the "Weather Underground" crackdown), Anna Kendrick (an old flame of Ben who gives him some information), Nick Nolte (an old friend of Jim who he relies on for help), Richard Jenkins (, Sam Elliott (a man who knows where Mimi is) and Brit Marling (a love interest for Ben that pops up quite suddenly out of the blue but she too becomes a piece of the puzzle). Do they all serve a purpose to further the story or are they merely a distraction? They end up as a little bit of both, with understated performances all-round contributing to this greatly restrained piece. A lot of the roles are incredibly brief, and would have been perfectly adequate for less famous faces to fill them - but it would appear the prospect of working with a legend such as Redford is a highly sought-after experience for any actor.
It's not as informative or powerful as Redford's previous politically driven picture, the highly underrated and underseen "Lions for Lambs", but the appeal here is still huge, starting with the stars, its opening, and a neat finish that successfully plays on the chemistry between Redford and Christie. So then it's a shame the middle filling isn't quite as gripping as it should have been. It could have been shorter, and the many famous names should have been put to better use.
It's only natural to be scared when Russia goes ahead and places nuclear missiles in Cuba aiming it at the United States in the 1960s. In a constant state of panic, with everyone screaming about the end of the world and a real possible chance of an all-out nuclear war that will no doubt eradicate much of the Earth's population, it's no wonder Ginger (Elle Fanning) is having an existential crisis about the future of the planet as well as hers. She's only a young teenager after all, and when she should be out there spending time with boys, drinking and smoking, like her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert) knows best, Ginger finds herself constantly distracted by the fact that they could all be dead the next day.
Putting a more depressing spin on an already grey and gloomy atmosphere is the less than ideal situation back at home. She isn't to call her father "dad," she is to only address him by his first name Roland (Alessandro Nivola), and the relationship between her pacifist father and her mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) is, safe to say, on the rocks. His eyes start drifting elsewhere and eventually landing on Rosa, his daughter's inseparable best friend. There is some consolation to be had in the warm and caring godfathers she has, Mark (Timothy Spall) and Mark Two (Oliver Platt), always there for the lost young girl who needs some sort of stability back in her confused life - also putting in some time for that maternal angle is Bella (Annette Bening), an American friend of Mark and Mark Two.
All the pressure and paranoia start getting to Ginger and the detrimental effect starts showing in her relationship with those close to her. At first being the keen, idealistic youth, Ginger and Rosa are easily drawn and attracted to the nuclear disarmament group who frequently march in the hopes of achieving peace. That the youngster leading the protest on behalf of the teenagers is the handsome Tony (Andrew Hawley - who looks so much like Aaron Taylor-Johnson that I actually thought it was him until I imdb-ed the film to double-check) does help Ginger in particular spur on her interests in her little quest for peace. He buys her beer (half-pint, showing that he's a sensible guy), and she finds herself smitten.
Relationships take a turn for the worse when it becomes all too obvious for Ginger that Rosa is beginning to lose interest in the whole peaceful movement but is getting more hung up on romancing her father. Rosa, as the reckless young girl who is enjoying the attention of a well-spoken, well-read, intelligent, and charming man, has no objections when a the guy old enough to be her father starts some heavy flirting. Clearly affected by this complex situation, Ginger's views on the world once again takes yet another more bleak turn, and understandably so. And in her most challenging role yet, Fanning (the younger sister of Dakota) is absolutely phenomenal in the ever progressing role. Ginger is at the most fragile phase of her life, about to fall apart any second, and yet she doesn't, and manages to keep it together. Fanning has that unmatchable balance of strength, intensity, and vulnerability. Whenever she portrays true heartbreak, it's a simple yet incredibly powerful display of how Fanning turn on her fully convincing waterworks without much effort.
Equally good is Englert, who has a relatively smaller role despite what the title may suggest, in the more mature, fun-loving character. There are issues with some dodgy English accents, the worst offender being Hendricks, who has that overdone, over-cooked, "emphasise your every vowel to sound as posh as possible" type stuffy English accent that is more cringing to hear than anything else, at times diminishing the dramatic impact of her character. Nivola is as smooth-talking as ever, and the trio of shoulders for Ginger to cry on, Bening, Platt, and Spall, are all the warm foster parent-types that any child could realistically rely on and feel safe around.
The most striking problem with Sally Potter's delicate, independent drama is that it has trouble following up on its various narrative threads and spending enough time on them for full development. A lot of the supporting characters are very thinly drawn, and despite there are big names filling the various roles, even actors of their high calibre cannot bring much to their restricted roles. The structure here is a sporadic one, and rather than focusing on a few ideas to enrich whatever point the director is trying to put across, by covering far too much ground, but also very superficially, it fails to tell its story with a coherent, strong structure. So what finally happens to Ginger's relationship with Tony, if anything? And how about the disarmament marches? Is she still interested? Ginger is also quite the poet - how does that quite fit in to the whole story? The pacifist father has an interesting background - any further points on that? Lots of ideas touched upon, but never fully explored, you wish there was a little more time spent on each subplot.
But when it comes to the tension-boiling climax, in which all the secret feelings, locked up fear, terrifying frustration, all come out in the open, it puts on a great showcase for what Fanning can do as a young actress at the centre. Almost at her breaking point, she is close to losing all kinds of faith towards life and humanity as a whole. And having seen the various glimpses of her life in the past 90 minutes or so, we're hardly surprised she's ready to give up. Rather than ending the film on this complete downer, (made even more so by something else quite dramatic that occurs), it instead chooses to go about its final moments in a very thought-provoking and uplifting tone. There is plenty of warmth and tenderness in Fanning's final narration that nicely sums it all up. Ginger's life journeys are far from over, but even in this short period of time we can see that she has grown a fair amount, seeing past the world's flaws and accepting it for what it is. It's a lot of deep stuff, especially for someone so young to process it all, but the spot-on Fanning proves to be a very capable lead in this challenging drama.
The last "Last Exorcism" certainly was not the "last" as it is followed by this pretty disastrous sequel that is somehow trying to bridge a gap for a potential third entry to turn the franchise into a trilogy - because any mildly successful horror series must at least have three films to show for its financially lucrative status. The first entry was quite excellent - despite a very familiar premise, the film had a surprisingly fresh take on the genre - it had unexpectedly dark twists and turns, ones that spun something rather disturbing into the whole narrative. Nasty church leaders, equally horrendous family, and an innocent, religious girl of age caught in the middle of one horrendous satanic ritual. It ended on a slightly ambiguous but clearly satisfying note, one that signalled the danger of a sequel and therefore here it is: one disappointing scene after another strung together to overall achieve something so dull that could potentially put a welcome end to the series.
And yet trying to milk the franchise for as much cash as possible, here's the sequel, in which very little happens, and one that is frustratingly toned down when it comes to the shock factor (were they aiming for a lower age restriction rating or something? Certainly seems that way). Once again we have the same girl who's being pursued by a relentless demon that is determined to possess an innocent, pure body so that it can have its wicked, supernatural ways. What it really wants is not very clear, but we cease to care when it takes the narrative so long to make some kind of impact. Yes, Nell (Ashley Bell) is having difficulties running away from her troubled past, in which she was forced into a part of a creepy satanic cult that ended with a botched exorcism (aren't they always?) followed by a twisted, demented birthing ceremony in the middle of a huge bonfire.
Having moved into a nice group home for lost/traumatised girls (all of them automatically turning into a long list of victims - which isn't an entirely bad thing), Nell is settling in working away diligently as a hotel chambermaid although it's not long until the usual frightening occurrences start haunting her. You know, the usual bumpy things, twisty body contortion movements, frothy seizures, demonic voices, weird eye colours, odd movements etc. She wants to lead a normal life and is surrounded by good people and friends who could realistically help her do just that. But we all know it's only a matter of time until her hopes and dreams are completely shattered as problems start to escalate and show no signs of calming down. She becomes more and more paranoid, convinced that Abalam (that demon who never gives up) is far from done with her. She sees men wearing silly masks watching her whenever she roams around the city, she has trouble sleeping, and sometimes oversleeps. Yes, this is her list of problems. Hardly anything too fascinating is there?
The first installment was presented in an excellent use of the handheld camera technique, but with this follow-up, the style is completely gone and lost, falling back to the old standard way of filming without ever providing something else for the audience to enjoy. Taking away what made the stepping stone of the franchise unique and ultimately creepy, here the scares are instead all very generic and a lot of them without much memorable impact. There are a few effective moments, ones that really ought to have been present more consistently throughout.
It's unclear to see just where the film is headed; there is a lot of meandering, and an addition of yet more supporting players who don't end up doing much. There is barely any tension built thanks to the incessantly slow development and shallow focus even on our lead actress. And when it does come up in its big final showdown, (yes, yet another botched exorcism, what else?) you're in for a huge disappointment. As a complete unimaginative rehash minus the stylistic push, it all feels tedious and repetitive, one you wouldn't feel like enduring even for a second. It's no fun when there's a complete lack of mystery as to what is happening - as from the previous film we've learned all there is to know about this omnipotent evil force. The "climatic" scene is frustratingly short (but not sweet), and with cheap gimmicks that are difficult to admire when we have seen so many better versions beforehand. It's noisy, it's almost farcical, and a huge waste of time and potential.
Bell, the young actress who received enormous praise in her successful debut (some even suggested an Oscar nomination which isn't all that absurd a suggestion) doesn't seem to have any difficulty slipping back into her breakout role, although everyone else around her stands around rather awkwardly equipped only with their clunky dialogue to fend for themselves. Bell's purely innocent and completely clueless nature is always fun to watch as we sense that she's been marked for all sorts of bad things even from the very start. The dark effects the demon has on her are translated well thanks to the widely versatile Bell in various parts of the film. With her performance there are hints that "Part II" could have recaptured the glory moments of its predecessor but the sad thing is such thing never comes to fruition. As Nell completely falls apart thanks to the demon, this gives Bell a real chance to show off her talent and she shows that she really belongs in better films.
Perhaps if another sequel is given the go-ahead signal, it will allow the franchise a chance to stir things up and go all-out for a truly shocking finish. After all, this "Part II" ends on yet another cliffhanger with much potential, one that could surely be developed further, venturing into more daring territory that might certainly be worth a look, unlike this monotonous, pedestrian piece of work.
They first met in 1995. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) approached Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train from Budapest. They talked, they connected, and they parted, promising to meet each other six months later. They met again in 2004, with the hastily arranged meeting never having taken place. Once again they talked, they connected, and they prepared to part, only for the audience to figure out in 2013 that in fact, they didn't part. Turns out Jesse missed the flight he was supposed to catch from Paris back to America, and they had been together since then. Hurrah - two characters who are destined to stay together in the audience's eyes do so.
Sounds like a fairy tale romance gone absolutely right despite some noticeable hiccups on the way, but Jesse and Celine's relationship, as we're about to find out, is far from perfect. Now that he's divorced, Jesse has a teenage son living in America who he rarely gets to see, and with Celine they have 7-year-old twin daughters with whom they've settled down in Europe. Aside from the few familial complications, there is also that issue of keeping a long-term commitment going, making sure the two are still interested in each other after all these years, and that the brief moments of romance they shared back in 1995 and 2004 were not just strokes of luck and that they are truly in fact meant to be with each other.
Opening with a scene where Jesse is seen dropping off his son (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick - you know, the guy who played the demon child in the remake of "The Omen" - all grown up here and barely recognisable) at the airport after a fun summer together, we instantly sense trouble brewing as it's obvious Jesse wants to play a bigger part in his son's life, a significant portion of which he's already missed. Celine is at a crossroads as to whether she should accept a new well-paid job in the government. His son lives with his divorced mother in Chicago (whom, according to the son, "hates" her ex-husband), with Celine and Jesse living in Paris, miles apart from the States.
We join them on the last day of their family holiday in Greece. There are no doubt some beautiful backdrops and scenery, but that's all secondary to the two characters we want to focus on. Keeping up with the tradition and arguably the "Before" trilogy's (for now) most remarkable strength, this is a film in which we see incredibly long, single takes of characters talking. That's all they do, they exchange words. And yet, it's all so endlessly fascinating -it's sweet, charming, and consistently funny with quotable lines throughout its exceptionally well written script that covers a whole range of ideas and communicate them using its talented cast. Here is the funniest, most touching film you'll see all year, and there is no need for gross-out gags, no alcohol or drugs required, no frat-boys, no bachelor parties, and certainly no cheap laughs of farting or burping - just two adults having a conversation about real-life problems that everyone on some level will be able to relate to. The idea is as simple as that, and yet the result is nothing short of something spellbinding.
As usual Hawke and Delpy (who also co-wrote the screenplay) are absolutely brilliant - they have that magical chemistry that makes everything look so easy and natural. Coming across as completely spontaneous and effortless is no easy task, and yet the duo who have been at the centre of this romance manage this beautifully. As the cracks in the lovers begin to show, we are reminded that there is no such thing as the perfect relationship. Life happens, challenges present themselves, there are conflicts, and the longer two people are together, the more apparent this becomes. The courtship between the two is long over - now is the time for compromise and sacrifice, if they want to continue their lives. They disagree, they bicker, until eventually there is a full-on fight in the film's most climatic scene set in a hotel room, easily the best moment in the trilogy. The mounting problems they have faced over the years come to a head, harsh words are exchanged, but the film does well to remember that these characters are not larger-than-life, overly melodramatic individuals. Their arguments aren't as fiery or loud as say, what Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor get up to in the overlong "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" but are more natural and most importantly, relatable.
Unlike its predecessors there is a fair amount of screen time given to its supporting cast (a lovely insightful group of friends they meet on holiday), making use of different perspectives and views, although in the end keeping the narrative firmly grounded in the central couple. Sat at a lunch table, the group discusses a whole range of things - most of them to do with love, the stark differences between the nature of men and women, how modern day technology contributes to long-distance relationships for youngsters, having children, etc. With this scene, the script also successfully juggles a number of characters, and shows off that it can handle a lot more than just a couple. Once again, the natural, realism factor is huge here, and there is not a single dull moment in sight. Also a highlight, is Jesse, an author, discussing new ideas for his book - and given the way Hawke sells the premise, it's easy to wonder whether someone will actually take those ideas and get cracking with the writing - because it sounds far too intriguing to be left untouched.
Here is a sequel that seems to have been carefully planned out, not rushed through and thrown out on a whim for profit. A lot of consideration has gone into making a follow-up worthy of the high bar set by the previous two installments. There are no easy answers to the issues that arise, and yet there is something so wonderful about two people who love each other after all these years. Will this be the end of the "Before" franchise? I certainly hope not. Come on Mr. Linklater, Mr. Hawke and Ms. Delpy, I'm ready for at least three more films- all set nine years apart or so. As I can watch this couple talk for days on end.
Two important lessons to be learned from watching this film: that Jay Baruchel was in Clint Eastwood's Oscar winning boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby" (completely missed that), and that The Backstreet Boys are all alive and kicking, possibly getting geared up for a reunion. Watch the film, and you'll know what I mean.
If the apocalypse ever comes in your lifetime, perhaps it won't be a good idea to hang with a group of actors in your last moments on Earth. As "This is the End" shows, actors are self-confessed softies who only pretend to be tough for their roles - and this is a paraphrased sentence from Craig Robinson, one of the film's stars. As the day of reckoning outlined in the Bible gets underway, this isn't about a group of brave guys trying to save the world. It's about how they struggle to even save each other from themselves.
Jay (Jay Baruchel) and Seth (Seth Rogen) are old buds who meet up to spend the best weekend of their lives. And their interpretation of this involves hours and hours of gaming plus smoking marijuana. Seth in fact has been invited to James Franco's (James Franco) house-party packed full of Hollywood stars, one that Jay isn't particularly keen to attend, since he feels he doesn't fit in with that kind of fancy crowd. But they decide to go eventually, as who can really turn down an invite to a swanky gathering like this?
And oh what a fun party this is. James Franco's house (not actually his house in real-life but let's just go with it) is, needlessly to say, nothing short of an awe-inspiring creation, a real modern bachelor pad. Decorated with some outrageously stupid and somewhat hideous "art" there is plenty to be laughed at just by looking at the house itself. Franco lives just down the street from Channing Tatum, Seth says, possibly hinting at a cameo (wink, wink); one that certainly pays off. Inside it's a game of who's who in facial recognition - Mindy Kaling has some disturbing things to say about her desires for Michael Cera, whilst Cera himself seems to be more invested in singer Rihanna's bottom, for which she deservedly gives Cera a satisfying slap across the face. Emma Watson is also there hanging out, chilling by the pool, whilst Christopher Mintz-Plasse is understandably wildly annoyed when Cera blows some cocaine in his face. Also on the guest list are Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart and David Krumholtz.
Everything was going so well - until the world literally starts shaking. Once everyone steps outside, they see what's happened to Los Angeles. Everything is on fire, buildings have been destroyed, and the ground is splitting, swallowing those unlucky few into the lava-filled core of the Earth. Cera becomes hilariously impaled on a steel pike although in the end, a few survive, including Seth, Jay, James, Jonah (Jonah Hill), Craig (Craig Robinson), and unfortunately for some, Danny (Danny McBride) too. (Basically those who starred in all the stoner movies you can think of). Not knowing initially what caused this catastrophe, this group of misfits has no choice but to barricade themselves in James' bachelor pad, conserving on supplies, hoping for some kind of miracle or rescue. Days go by without much good news, and as if things couldn't get any worse, they begin to realise that whatever is roaming outside isn't a creature from his Earth.
So the world is ending, there is some kind of monster that is gobbling up anything that moves, and with this backdrop of mass panic, the cast's self-mocking humour, examining their various platonic relationships work to the maximum whenever anyone runs in conflict with one another. There are some brutal verbal attacks on the actors' various unsuccessful films, including straightforward jabs at the terrible "Your Highness" (they discuss whether there should be a sequel: and the answer is a resounding "no") and "The Green Hornet" (remember that film where they tried to turn Rogen into a superhero?), whilst Oscar nominated Jonah Hill receives some abuse himself for being quite the thespian in the midst of all the comedians. Rogen and Franco also get up to developing their hilarious idea for a sequel for their successful stoner comedy "The Pineapple Express" - let's hope this project gets to see the light of day.
The underlying theme here is that Jay, a Canadian actor not quite adjusted to the Hollywood lifestyle and culture, sees increasing distance from his one-time Canadian actor friend Rogen who seems to have "sold out" to popularity and celebrity. A lot of the dialogue was improvised by the talented cast, and in the many face-offs and explosive, hysterical verbal arguments their gross-out gags start spilling out and don't know how to contain themselves. Among the highlight is McBride, as the one man who wasn't even invited to the party in the first place, but just stumbled into Franco's bathtub for the sake of it to get up to no good.
Obvious nods to "The Exorcist" are fully in play here, as one of the friends goes through an unpleasant episode of demonic possession after a particularly unpleasant, hideous..."encounter" with an evil being (an "Evil Dead" spoof?). Whenever the film starts to feel a little stale and repetitive, it is ready to bounce right back into action using either some very effective foul humour or a string of guest appearances they have lined up. Watson on a swearing rant wielding an axe is a particularly memorable moment.
Essentially everyone is playing slightly exaggerated versions of themselves, which makes is very easy for the audience to completely accept and embrace them for who they are. Stripped from luxury, having to resort to the bare minimum, their idea of barricading their sanctuary is to duct tape the hell out of the walls and windows. With six mismatched but endearingly eccentric individuals squabbling over who gets to eat the last chocolate bar they'll ever get to see, here is a deceptively simple yet entertaining film that constantly yearns to be more in terms of scale. With a well-placed Whitney Houston hit-song, it wraps up, only to top itself up in its unforgettably glittering finale. As with many comedy films there are scenes that don't quite work, but the huge laughs in the midst of The Revelation is quite an achievement in itself.