Sunday, 1 December 2013

Ranthology 2013 - Part:Five

The Counselor - Oh where do I begin? A film that stars Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz in the main roles - supported by Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Edgar Ramirez and so many other familiar and able actors - can not be, should not be, this terrible. To top it all, the film is written by Cormac McCarthy and directed by Sir Ridley Scott. How then could it go so wrong? Someone needs to explain to McCarthy and Scott that gratuitous violence and weird sexual moments alone do not make for 'good' pulp fiction (whatever that means!) - you need a story that the audience can follow at least. Instead, in The Counselor, character motivation remains a mystery throughout the film, the plot veers crazily all over the place and all the king's horses are not able to put it together, the very weird situations just do not add up and the dialogue is so stilted and downright bizarre that at times I wondered if the actors were laughing inwardly at what they were mouthing. Also, 'Jeezus' is almost every character's highly overused vocal reaction to surprising moments, t-h-r-o-u-g-h-o-u-t the film. Even misspelling the title with a single 'L' in an attempt to make it more pulp, is in parts sad and hilarious. Then there are the character quirks and costumes from hell. And the cheetahs. And the 'Chekhov's Gun' principle bashed to death (a number of characters, through the course of the film, describe a number of grotesque punishments they have heard about - and all of them are later played out on the protagonists). In the entirety of the film, there is one moment of excellent acting, and that is Michael Fassbender's final scene. Everything else is so painful that the film feels at least an hour longer than it actually is (117 minutes only). Please avoid at all costs!

Saving Mr Banks - The story of P.L. Travers, who wrote the Mary Poppins stories and Walt Disney - and their difficult relationship when they worked together to create the 1964 film of the same name. In parts funny, and in others a little tragic, this is a very sweet re-telling of a possibly harrowing time for all individuals involved. Regardless of what is fact and what is fiction, the film is beautifully written, brilliantly acted and is very entertaining. One of Emma Thompson's best performances of recent times. Well worth a watch.

Thor: The Dark World - Two years since my last Thor review, my feelings about Thor, the character, and Chris Hemsworth, the actor, have changed somewhat - all thanks to Joss Whedon's The Avengers and the more recent Rush. So, I went for this second instalment with a bit more hope. Big mistake! Despite a change of director (from Kenneth Branagh to Alan Taylor), a faster pace and a more realistic feel (as can be for a comic superhero story about a thunder god), this is still the worst series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is rife with bad dialogue, cluttered with terrible characterisations and is simply crap. The action is fairly decent though (save a couple of scenes where the green screen effect is so obvious, I wanted to cry). Mr Hemsworth is definitely getting more comfortable playing this character, which is a relief as he will be doing this for a long, long time. But Natalie Portman's Jane Foster is still forced, Anthony Hopkins's Odin is his worst performance ever and just don't get me started on the other peripheral characters. If this film is to be watched, and that is a very big if, it has to be for Tom Hiddleston's Loki. What Kenneth Branagh didn't do enough, and Joss Whedon relished doing, was bring out the fun in Loki. Of course Whedon not only directed Hiddleston, he also wrote the script. In this film, it seems that the writers have watched all of Joss Whedon's work over and over again and found out where he would throw in some smart lines and then gone ahead and written Loki's character. He is the saving grace - in fact, he is the only grace  - in the entire film: thoroughly amusing and exciting. So, big thumbs down to the film, and big thumbs up to more Whedonesque writing.

The Butler - A never-ending, oh-so-chronological history lesson on the African-American Civil Rights Movement that stars the who's who of Hollywood and still manages to be dull and boring. Oprah Winfrey is excellent in her first feature film role in many years, but everyone else lacks spark. Still, we will see most of the actors and crew nominated for Oscars of course, as this is one of those topics the Academy feels compelled to honour.

Philomena - Sweet, tragic, comical, and true story of Philomena, who goes searching for her son born out of wedlock, that was forcefully taken away from her by the church in the 1950s. Recently disgraced journalist Martin Sixsmith, accompanies her in her search and the film focuses on this journey they undertake - which ultimately affects Martin's life just as much as it affects Philomena's. A typical tragi-comic drama by Stephen Frears, which is good for a Sunday afternoon couch viewing.

Gravity - Wow! Gorgeous, breathtaking, nausea-inducing, overpowering cinematic experience. This film may star A-listers Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, but this is not about them at all. It is a writer / director / editor's (Alfonso Cuarón and others) film, with special mention to the cinematographer (Emmanuel Lubezki). There is hardly a story, but the audience stays glued to the edge of their seat, with both hands firmly clasping the arm rests, twisting and turning their bodies as the action on screen unravels. The only film in many years where I had no control at all, as I was trapped to feel what the protagonists were feeling. And all this, despite the fact that I watched it in 2D on an ordinary cinema screen. Highly recommended for the full 3D IMAX experience!

Fifth Estate - This started off so well. Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange. Daniel Brühl as his close associate, Daniel Domscheit-Berg. The story of the notoriously powerful website, WikiLeaks. What could go wrong? A lot, as it turns out! Without giving much away, this starts off as the the story of WikiLeaks, but very quickly turns into a film that not-so-subtly plants doubts about Assange's sanity and his character. Although it isn't an outright propaganda piece, it tries to do a clever job of pretending to be a historical film, that also gives you an insight into Assange's megalomania, his paranoia, his neurosis. The problem with this approach is that the audience doesn't really know whether they are watching the WikiLeaks story or the Assange biopic - and intrinsically related as those may be, they are still very different films. As far as WikiLeaks is concerned, I have no interest in whether Assange dyes his hair, or whether he grew up in a cult, or whether he is a compulsive liar, as those stories have no relevance to what the website achieved in terms of non-mainstream / citizen journalism. Yet, halfway through the film, the focus shifts ever so slightly, and then ever so completely, that I lost all interest. Deeply flawed and very confused, the film holds merit only in that Cumberbatch and Brühl are at the top of their game - and it's interesting to see 'how it all began'. Otherwise, very avoidable.

Prisoners - Despite being a huge fan of Hugh Jackman, I have never deluded myself into believing that he is a great actor. He can definitely hold his own, but he rarely delivers beyond that. Prisoners was different. The film starts off with two families getting together for Thanksgiving dinner in a Pennsylvania town and by the end of the evening, the young daughters from both families have gone missing. The fathers (Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard) react in very different ways. While Howard's Franklin Birch worries and grieves and waits for the police to investigate, Jackman's Keller Dover very quickly takes matters into his own hands and starts on a very slippery slope where justice and revenge are no longer separate entities. As the religious Dover gets more and more desperate, and loses control of his humanity and his faith, we see Jackman deliver that desperation and that naked savagery in a way I did not think he was capable of. He is unbelievably good in this surprisingly powerful film. Another surprise is a very strong performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, who achieved fame through a fantastic cult favourite all those years ago, and has since then had a fairly mediocre career. In this film, he not only has a very interesting role, but he has delivered it to perfection, with characters quirks, et al. The trailer for this film reveals little - but suffice it to say that there is a lot more in store when you watch the film. Definitely recommended.

Blue Jasmine - One of the few Woody Allen films that had me hooked and involved from the first scene to the last. A fresh take on Tennessee Williams's play, A Streetcar Named Desire, the plot revolves around Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a former socialite who refuses to accept her new semi-destitute status even when she is forced to move in with her 'underprivileged' sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and her boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Jasmine's constant flashbacks into a life past with wealthy husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), her inability to be honest about herself with rich suitor, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), and her complete detachment from reality, all spiral out of control as the story progresses. Cate Blanchett is possibly the finest actress in Hollywood, aside from Meryl Streep, and in this film she is once again par excellence. She has played a very dishonest and disturbed character with complete honesty and dignity - and is absolutely mesmerising in every scene. If nothing else, Cate deserves her first Best Actress nod from the Academy for this one. Well worth a watch for the quality of performances from the entire cast.

2 comments:

  1. I had already scratched Thor off my list...sick of these Marvel heroes anyway. Gravity and Prisoners I wanted to watch and am so glad you have given them the go-ahead..now I can watch them happily. now I've added blue jasmine to my list Thanx!

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    1. Prisoners and Blue Jasmine have excellent performances, while Gravity is just gorgeous. I have to say though Saving Mr Banks really entertained me, even though I've never been a big Mary Poppins fan. Watch it if you have time. It's kinda warm and sweet.

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