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When your cast list comprises of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner, and you have David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) behind the camera, expectations are naturally going to be high. Apparently too high. Based loosely on the Abscam scandal, this period drama (set in the swinging seventies) with thriller trimmings is solid but nothing more, which, considering the talent involved, is undeniably disappointing. It's tonally uneven and the dramatic elements are subsequently diminished, whilst the sorta-scheming- and-conning plot is bizarrely underwhelming and lacking a worthy payoff. Nevertheless, Hustle scores big with some well-timed comedy, Linus Sandgren's beautiful cinematography and an absolutely cracking score; and the top shelf ensemble cast, with Amy Adams in particular, are reliably watchable (and boasting humorous disco-era makeovers to boot). There's enough here to recommend a DVD viewing, although forking out the big dollars to see this on the big screen is unnecessary.
Ender's Game is the very definition of middling. Countlessly flip-flopping from fantastic to awful within the blink of an eye, it's an extremely hard motion picture to get a handle on, enjoyment wise. The concept of teenagers leading our world's unified military - adapted from Orson Scott Card's best-selling novel - is intriguing and writer-director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) mines it for surprisingly bleak moments of social commentary, especially in the potent final 20 minutes. For a flick that has been marketed as an adolescent-friendly sci-fi romp, it's assuredly dark and thankfully doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator, but, along with some good quality CGI spectacle, this is where the film's strengths largely stop. At the other end of the scale, the acting is woefully subpar. Ranging from lazy and one-note (Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley) to uncomfortable (Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld) to downright absurd (Moises Arias as the prickly Bonzo), there's little to praise in the work of the cast. Mind you, it doesn't help that there's a lot of truly horrendous dialogue that would make even Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis look silly. With the unexpectedly sombre narrative and a gripping finale this should've been brilliant, as is it's a passable futuristic voyage that, frustratingly, doesn't live up to its potential.
Chloe Grace Moretz has had some juicy roles in her (so far) short career: Isabelle in Martin Scorsese's Hugo, Abby in the spectacular Let Me In and of course, the hilariously invective Hit- Girl in Kick-Ass. All of those characters are mature beyond their years and Moretz nails them; but can she handle playing someone who acts her age? If this horrid remake is an accurate gauge then the answer is a resounding no. As the emotionally awkward Carrie, Moretz doesn't convince for even a split second. Seemingly stuck with one facial expression that is meant to convey fear, disappointment and embarrassment, it's a weak portrayal of an outsider who is meant to illicit sympathy but grates on the nerves instead. And this is even before you compare it to Sissy Spacek's masterful turn in 1976's Carrie. The young star is not the only problem in this underwhelming flick though; Julianne Moore is silly rather than spooky as Carrie's religious- nut mother, Marco Beltrami's score is depressingly uninspired and the penultimate climax (in the school hall) is criminally bland. I was truly expecting better with Kimberley Pierce (Boys Don't Cry, Stop-Loss) calling the shots, but alas, this is as tired and gormless as all the other cash-in horror retreads. Two memorable slow-motion deaths in the finale are the sole highlight and are impressive enough to bump this up half a star.
Katniss is back. But despite surviving the 74th Hunger Games and being
reunited with her family in the Victor's Village within District 12,
all is not well for the strong-willed heroine. Keeping up appearances
with fellow survivor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is a burden,
holding on to her true love Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is a struggle, and
keeping her family safe from the malevolent President Snow (a sneering
Donald Sutherland) is increasingly difficult. Yet that's not the worst
of it; Snow has declared the 75th year of the Games (aka the Quarter
Quell) as a past-victor event only. So it's round two under the dome
for Katniss, Peeta and 22 previous winners, most of who are trained
Before The Hunger Games was released two years ago the general feeling was that it was just the next young-adult novel adaptation attempting to cash in on the Twilight phenomenon. How wrong we were. Following on from the magnificent original and determined that their franchise would be built on maturity and intelligence, Lionsgate went all out to get the screenplay right, employing Oscar-winning writers Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine). As a result, Catching Fire refuses to pander to the lowest portion of the target demographic by evading clichés, melodrama and shallow sentiment; instead instilling a sense of real peril and genuine emotion into the proceedings, thus generating a level of gravitas seldom seen in these types of films.
Replacing Gary Ross in the director's chair, Francis Lawrence (Constantine) proves himself to be an outstanding choice. Demonstrating restraint in the quieter moments and a flair for gripping action in the louder sections, Lawrence feels completely at ease with this blend of drama and thrills. Understandably, he has now been hired to finish off the series (which will see the third book split into two movies). Although there's no dispute about who is the cherry on top: Jennifer Lawrence. Classy, fierce, passionate and commanding, last year's Lead Actress Oscar winner reinforces how good she really is with another mesmerising performance in a role that is now impossible to imagine with anyone else filling it. With Mockingjay parts 1 and 2 coming out in the next two Novembers, Katniss won't be leaving our memories anytime soon.
Following 22 year-old Oscar Grant III in the 24 hours prior to him being shot in the back by a policeman, this intimate drama opens with real-life footage of this horrendous act before going back to the morning prior and maintaining a simmering dread throughout. First time writer-director Ryan Coogler admirably attempts to avoid cheap sentimentality or narrative foreshadowing for the most part, however its difficult not to feel manipulated when we see Oscar - who has been in prison for drug dealing and violence - weep when he witnesses a hit-and-run on a dog. The other underlying issue is that a handful of the redemptive moments occur with nobody present, so its authenticity is questionable and again allows a sense of emotional tampering to creep in. That aside, Coogler overcomes these problems with an array of hard-hitting and affecting scenes that build up to an intensely powerful final act, despite the broad outcome known in advance. In the lead role, Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) is a revelation too. He's likable but flawed, a screw-up but not hopeless; you can see that Oscar could easily make something of himself if given half a chance, yet understand why no-one is willing to afford him that opportunity. Fruitvale Station doesn't break through to the top echelon of dramatic pictures, however 27 year-old débutant filmmaker Coogler should be proud of his achievement and get ready for a busy career in the movie industry.
Ridley Scott behind the camera. Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz in front of it. What on earth could go wrong? After sitting in a state of bored bemusement for 117 minutes watching this mess, the answer is clearly quite a lot. Ostensibly a sexy, gritty crime thriller, but in fact a frustratingly oblique drama about greed, sex and power, The Counselor sees Fassbender's out-of-his-depth lawyer chased by a ruthless Mexican drug cartel after a deal goes sour. A few rare memorable sequences - Diaz "appreciating" a luxury car, a deserted-road shootout - can be found, and Dariusz Wolski's cinematography is superb, yet it's impossible to really enjoy, or engage, thanks to the smothering pretentiousness of Cormac McCarthy's first original screenplay. The story aims for an unrelentingly grimy realism à la No Country For Old Men (adapted from McCarthy's novel), however comes off as forced, silly and entirely false. The first rate cast are fine, with Pitt's enigmatic middle-man and Diaz's sultry schemer standing above the rest, but the extended supporting cast - Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Bruno Ganz, et al - are completely wasted in glorified cameos. On paper this had all the right ingredients to be a gripping success, on screen its a muddled, dull and daft experience.
Thor was a big gamble for Marvel in 2011. One of the campier Avengers who was surrounded by full-blown fantasy elements, the Norse God with a big red cape and hammer wasn't even being played by a well known star. What a difference two years and a box office behemoth in the form of The Avengers makes. This sequel comes with virtually no risk and a lead actor who is now a bona fide A-lister, but it also comes with much higher hopes. Swapping Kenneth Branagh's Shakespearian influence for Alan Taylor's Game of Thrones experience, The Dark World has decreased it's regality and amped up it's grittiness, yet thankfully retains its sense of fun. There's definitely a feel of greater peril here, with no-one but Thor seemingly out of Taylor's reach for a fatal ending, however for every scene of despair or Dark Elven malevolence, there's a hilarious gag (Loki's shapeshifting and any time Stellan Skarsgard's nutty scientist is on screen are highlights) waiting around the corner. The action set-pieces don't disappoint either; the climactic battle is inventive, if not mind-blowing, and a couple of earlier melees - including an attack on Asgard - are exhilarating and keep the pace moving swiftly along. What elevates this follow up though is the pairing of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who, after two previous movies to build up their brotherly baggage and perfect their repartee, are scintillating whether in the process of a daring escape or just engaging in some general chit chat. Fulfils its blockbuster quota of action spectacle whilst adding a healthy dose of spot-on humour and sharply written dialogue - what's not to like?
Carving out a one-for-me (United 93, Bloody Sunday), one-for-them (Bourne Supremacy, Bourne Ultimatum) directing career over the last decade, Paul Greengrass has never failed to meet audience expectation, whether with his refreshingly inventive action fare or nail-biting dramatic pictures. Captain Phillips doesn't buck that trend. Narratively both compelling and nerve- racking, the (based on a true) story of what Richard Phillips went through when the freight ship he was captaining was boarded by Somali pirates is one you won't soon forget. Knowing the outcome prior to viewing won't affect the impact of Greengrass' movie; his heightened filming style, the unshakeable performances and the masterful score from Henry Jackman imbue Captain Phillips with edge-of-the-seat tension and emotional wallop. Tom Hanks delivers his best work since 2002's Road to Perdition - he's utterly gut-wrenching in the final scene - and he's given remarkable support by newcomer (and non-actor) Barkhad Abdi as the all-too-human leader of the pirates who, although committing despicable crimes, never turns into a monster. When Hanks and Abdi share the screen it's electric; the Hollywood heavyweight and a complete unknown craft out one of the year's most enthralling and combustible yin and yang relationships. Intense, commanding and affecting all at once... Greengrass is at it again.
You may think this film is your typical Tinseltown thriller - thanks to its impressive A-list cast - but don't be fooled; this is a dark, unrelenting tale that cares more about posing moral questions within its murky world than it does about providing narrative twists and turns. Aaron Guzikowski's screenplay delivers grim by the barrel-load, but also intelligence and maturity, whilst Denis Villeneuve's direction is haunting and suggestive without being manipulative or overwrought. Hugh Jackman is front and centre as Keller Dover, the distraught father who will do anything to find his abducted daughter, and he's given credible support by Maria Bello, Terrence Howard and Voila Davis, although it's Jake Gyllenhaal as the loner cop in charge of the disturbing case who is the standout. So far so good, yet there's one major drawback that stops this gritty affair being brilliant: its length. At two and a half hours long, a large chunk of its power is lost with a bloated middle act that should've had 30 minutes shaved off in the editing suite. Prisoners is a Zodiac-esque thriller that requires a strong emotional resolve, your undivided attention and a pre-movie toilet stop.
Based on the true story of one F1's greatest rivalries - between thrill-seeking British playboy James Hunt and the fiercely dedicated Austrian perfectionist Niki Lauda - Ron Howard's latest is, as the title suggests, a cinematic adrenaline rush. We get a quick and dirty intro into both drivers before we're thrown headfirst into their respective F1 careers, and specifically, the 1976 season that saw their on-track feud boil down to the final event in Japan, where heavy rain and treacherous road conditions provided a dangerous finale. Howard barely stops for a breath in the two hours of Rush; whether it's the edge-of-your-seat races or the turbulent personal lives of our competitive duo on screen, the movie never stalls or bores. One of Hollywood's newest A-list members, Chris Hemsworth, proves he can do more than hunky action roles with a wonderful and surprisingly subtle portrayal of Hunt, however it is, without a shadow of a doubt, Bruhl who really impresses. The underrated German actor imbues his Lauda with multiple layers and a slippery charisma in a spectacular performance that, with any justice, will garner him attention come awards season. Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography and Hans Zimmer's score are expectedly first-rate, however a special mention must go out to the sound design team who have constructed a thundering and immersive aural experience that positions you squarely in the high-risk, high-octane environment whilst sending vibrations through your chest and getting your heart pumping at a million miles an hour. Don't steer away if you know nothing of the subject, this movie is accessible to anybody who loves their sporting biopics or great motion pictures in general.
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