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The Back-up Plan (2010)
I want to say "Don't blame the actors..."
I like romantic comedies, occasionally (war movies and sci-fi are my go to normally). I know people are inclined to pan her, but I like Jennifer Lopez, and she has pulled off many fine and occasionally very funny performances in films as diverse as Angel Eyes and Maid In Manhatten. But here everything is forced. She's having a perfectly wonderful time, but the smile never quite reaches her eyes.
I like Alex O'Loughlin too. He's caught a couple of bad TV breaks losing out on two series before striking gold with Hawaii Five-0. He's a fine actor, when he's paired with someone who gets his style and gives him something to play against.
This, in a nutshell, is my problem with this film. Firstly, it must be said, the script is beyond terrible. It is very difficult to make cheese romantic or funny. This script does neither.
Artificial insemination as the punchline... laugh... I thought I'd never start.
The essence of romantic comedy is that the couple should sizzle. Alex is a handsome and athletic leading man, taking his shirt off and sitting on a tractor... sorry, one this is a horrible hackneyed and embarrassing cliché, two, other than goat's cheese and his inexplicable turn at night school (never really explained why he's going to night school to be an accountant but hey, they needed to give him something to do), he really has almost nothing to work with. He tries to give flesh to his character, Stan, and the script never makes Stan more than a cardboard cut out. Alex simply isn't the kind of actor who can work with nothing. Frustratingly, there are occasional glimpses of what might have been if he had anything to work with.
Jennifer Lopez is an attractive woman with a great body and a pretty face, and yes, she can act... but this turkey... she is just going through the motions. The script has the feel of having been written for her. It has very clear milestones, which it gleefully ticks off and moves on to the next predictable trope. Again, she is capable of far more, and the script offers her nothing.
Secondly, if ever there was a mis-match, this pairing is it. They are both pretty, pretty people, they have their own unique charms, but nothing about their romantic encounters sizzles. It is unforgivable in a romantic comedy that the leading couple have no chemistry.
There are some amusing moments, they are few and far between. Too few, and far too far between. The plot is lazy. It's a shame, because on paper it could have been fun. It's just painful.
Hawaii Five-0 (2010)
A reboot that takes a different view, but does not trash the spirit of the original series. I adored the original series, I grew up on it, so I did have misgivings about Hollywood's habit of taking an old, well-loved series and giving it a do-over. This reboot is great though, gripping and fun, and it doesn't fall into the trap of attempting to recreate the original while still paying homage to the original. This 5-0 is a thoroughly modern experience. Leads Alex O'Loughlin (McGarrett) and Scott Caan (Danno) are perfectly matched and the series' success is largely due to their charisma and on-screen chemistry. With the beautiful Hawai'i locations, this is high octane fun at its best.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Originally, I came home from the theatre and gave this a 6. I enjoyed it marginally more than the other blockbuster. But I have come to realise that 6 is unfair to the other movies I've given a 6 to, and the absolutely dreadful and badly cut together script for this film dials it down to a 4. Not even the dream team of Sir Patrick and Sir Ian with their mini-mes, McAvoy and Fassbender can drag this film up. Hugh Jackman is a great tough guy. He has made Wolverine his own, and usually that would be a good enough reason to watch, but not this one.
The good. The CGI is spectacular.
The bad. The plot. It leaps about from seventies to the future. Backwards and forwards, half the time the timeline of the story is so fudged you don't actually know what is happening. For instance, you clearly see Bobby (Iceman) die. Killed by the robots. But a little later he's alive and well. This is apparently caused by the few embattled X-Men leaping back in time so that they were "never there".
The hook is Logan going back to the 70s to prevent Mystique killing Trask. Because if she kills Trask (who designs the robots), after his death they take her DNA and are somehow able, because Trask's design exists to make his design really work just from a basic prototype. Trask really, really hates mutants. In fact his fellow mutant-hater Stryker comments on this. The reason for Trask's hatred and cruelty to those different to himself are completely unclear. We know why Stryker hates mutants. But Trask. No idea, and his answer to Stryker's question doesn't explain anything. It also seems a very strange hook to hang the story on. A scientist in the 70s develops a rabid hatred for mutants, and unilaterally creates a robot to destroy this one MAYBE threat. (Which wasn't any kind of threat until he started tinkering).
The CGI is spectacular. It is big, loud and utterly summer blockbuster. But without the humanity in the film, and the message that Xavier is more humane than most humans, we did actually get from the first movie thank you very much, without any real honest motivation for what Trask was doing, and the dizzying leaps back and forth in time this film is hard to follow or care about the fate of the characters. I have nothing against Jennifer Lawrence, she's a fine actress, but Rebecca Romijn's natural grace and calmness would have made for a more interesting protagonist. Jennifer simply isn't as graceful or as magnetic. (At least in this film). Mystique's reactions to the files she finds in Trask's office safe seem curiously out of character for the beautiful and deadly Mystique.
This is supposed to be a superhero movie. On this showing there was nothing that super, and certainly not that heroic about the film. Jossing every single thing that went before also seems to be an error of judgement. Watching it, I was basically praying for it to end. Not the way I want to feel about an X-Men film. Thoroughly disappointed.
CGI trumps plot and script
I get this is blockbuster, designed to put bums on seats to watch a spectacle. And boy is it spectacular. The problem is that the characters are basically one dimensional and the script is a thin series of clichés designed to fit between the epic CGI set pieces. Where the '98 Godzilla trumps this one, you actually care about the fate of the characters, their motivations are clear and make sense, which renders the final battle more interesting. This Godzilla has all the elements, the giant creatures, the embattled humans, the "son of dead scientist" fighting for his life and the lives of countless others. Him randomly meeting a lost child in the subway, an incredibly clumsy device, the child's parents surviving the attack of the mutos, without apparently messing up their clothes or hair... and then we have the deal breaker (at least for me), this IED expert whose job is to defuse bombs gets on an aircraft and becomes an instant expert in the HALO jump? Pardon me? The biggest problem is that the bits of humanity that happen in the gaps between CGI are not long enough for us to get much of a handle on the characters, and the general level of unfocused-ness about the plot makes it very hard to care about their ultimate fate. The actors do their best, but ultimately, when I got up to leave at the end, I didn't feel invested in the outcome. Big, noisy, but curiously detached and despite the huge set pieces not actually that thrilling. Disappointed.
Person of Interest (2011)
Confused and somewhat disappointed
I loved this series from the beginning, season one was great, season two kept up the tension and I was still in love with the concept - yeah, it's silly but so what? Does all entertainment have to make sense? It's gripping, well-paced (it has to pack a lot into 45 mins) and has two leads that work perfectly together. Jim Caviezel plays a very convincing middle-aged, damaged ex- CIA/Special Ops guy who has fallen down a bottle for a long time and had been considering suicide. His slow awakening from the point where he's a homeless and very dirty bum living on the street to the tough guy taking down the criminal before the criminal can destroy the life of an innocent is beautifully realised. And sure, he's a little stiff at the beginning, and that is totally believable. This is a man who has deep frozen his emotions in bottles of Wild Turkey. In Michael Emerson, the geek billionaire who has his own battles with his humanity, somehow the casting department has hit gold. Contrasting actors, whose on-screen chemistry make for some truly magical moments, set in a modern techno-thriller setting... great I love it. Kevin Chapman was an inspired cast as Fusco, the dirty cop who slowly realises he can regain grace, and his awakening as a character is one of the joys of the series. Then we come to Carter. I have to admit I was not a huge fan of this character, she seemed a little too trusting of what she was being told, which given her history was somewhat ridiculous. She had already been through the cynical manipulation to get her to do something that she intrinsically knew was wrong (her army days flashback took care of that), so her sudden trust of the manipulative CIA official (I am not American, but even I know that CIA is not supposed to operate on American soil) was bizarre. However, Carter grew on me through two seasons and even though she was never my favourite, the balance that these four characters achieved through to the end of season two kept my attention and my enjoyment of the series. Then we come to season 3. Now I am a fan of mixing things up, changing things, trying new directions, but suddenly we are confronted with a whole new slew of characters. They just kept adding characters. It got way too much. The central core of two, Reese and Finch, suddenly became largely sidelined in their own story. In order to add in all these characters, the story became stretched as more and more screen time was given to Root and Shaw. Now I love Amy Acker as an actress, she is always good value, but her rise together with the take-no-prisoners Shaw has divided things up too much. Shaw's dominance over Reese became more and more irritating. Then we come to the trio of episodes mid season 3. Oh dear. Not a fan of Carter, but through two and a half seasons we had this well-written, intelligent character who's struggles with what was right and what was legal were understandable and relateable. Suddenly virtually everything we have come to know about Carter is turned over as she turns vigilante. Through two and a half seasons, Reese has said to virtually anybody who would listen that Finch saved him, now suddenly it's Carter? Then we have the kiss. Actually for me the kiss worked. Two people who were uncertain if they were going to survive the night, and did care for each other. It wasn't romantic, it was caring. Good. Great scene. That's one scene in three episodes. The three episodes which lead to Carter's death were the heaviest handed gear change I have ever seen in a series. It was as though the writers hadn't seen or read ANYTHING that had gone before. From mid-season until the end, the series became more and more littered with characters, as the promise of a second machine rose into view, and the handling become less and less sure. Characters ran around seemingly directionless and powerless to change matters as Decima rose up to wipe out the Machine's effectiveness with their Samaritan system. Beyond wishing that the head of Decima should be wiped from the face of the planet as soon as possible, I found this new reality less and less involving. Now the team is broken. Carter is dead, the others are scattered, and according to Jonah Nolan as season four opens we are going to find these characters settling in their new lives, and the mission, the reason for watching, gone. In my book, not a great idea. I will watch, in the hope that something can be salvaged, but the last half of season three was a massive disappointment.
Stunning scenery, gripping story in the Beowulf mould
In terms of realism, it perhaps lacks something in the depictions of the Vikings, but come on, this is a science fiction actioner. And as such it works very well. The characters have dimensions to them, the plot is straightforward, and in terms of the big set pieces this is done very well indeed. Jim Caviezel is excellent as the "human alien" Kainan, whose space ship crashes in 709 AD Norway, and unleashes the monster, the Moorwen, who destroyed his own people. The gradual acceptance of Kainan into the vikings' group forms the emotional heart of the story as he comes to care for the people he's landed among. This isn't Shakespeare, and it is a great deal better than many bigger budget and more highly advertised films (Beowulf itself, for instance). It is well worth checking it out on DVD. A good evening's entertainment.
Intriguing storyline which goes to the heart of human existence
Truly the questions this film asks leave me wondering. So let's start with the film itself, as a scifi thriller, it's beautifully executed with some stunning visuals, to the extent that sometimes it has the feel of a travel advertisement. The story hangs together well, with strong central performances which keep you engaged. Some of the ethics are quite complex, and you have to ask if the machine's intent is really hostile, or is that just the interpretation characters are putting on it because they don't understand. And we fear what we do not understand. The intent here is clearly to tell a story in such a way that you walk away thinking about it. Job done. I came away thoroughly entertained, and thinking more about singularity and transcendence than I have in quite a while. If you are after a Saturday afternoon blockbuster with a lot of action, this might not be the film for you, but if you prefer your action with a little more intrigue, this is a great film.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
This is a film about faith. And commitment. It's beautifully shot, and Jim Caviezel's performance as Jesus is truly inspired. The use of Aramaic and Latin lends a powerful authenticity to the proceedings, and the events depicted are from the Bible (or certainly from the King James Version which I possess). These are the good points.
I was raised a Christian, and as such I have to say that the lengths that the Director goes to in this film horrify me. I have no doubt that Mel Gibson's faith is profound, and his leading man, Jim Caviezel, is known to be a devout man. Truly only a devout man would have had sufficient faith to carry him through making this film. The level of sadism presented in the story goes far beyond the depiction of the last hours of Jesus' life into areas of cruelty which are simply horrific.
This is where I have a problem with the film. I have read the Bible, cover to cover. I have a good imagination and I am well versed in matters historical, including all the nasty parts. Frankly there are many crossing points in the movie where depiction turns into voyeuristic sadism. Jesus suffered and died on the cross for mankind's sins. I know that. But there is knowing a thing, understanding a thing, and then having that thing laid out for you in minute and brutal detail. The effect was that I felt deeply uncomfortable with myself for having watched. In the same way that I would feel revolted with myself if I slowed down to view the details of a car crash on the other side of the road.
Putting this as simply as I can: a man's torture and death should never be the subject of a film made for entertainment. Not in this way.
I would like to give the film many more stars for Jim's performance, and his co-stars
but I can't get away from the level of sadistic brutality, I am sorry Mr Gibson, but this was simply too vicious.
Angel Eyes (2001)
Unusual and charming film
When I look around at reviews of movies on this site I honestly wonder if I am seeing the same films.
Angel Eyes is one of those curiously (and, in my opinion, unjustly) maligned films which is actually a great deal more complex than the naysayers would have you believe.
Jennifer Lopez has rarely been better. She strikes all the right notes as a feisty, and lonely, Chicago cop, Sharon Pogue who has made some difficult choices in her life and finds herself at a crossroads, alienated from her family.
She meets "Catch" when he saves her life during an arrest that goes wrong. These two lonely individuals are at odds with life, carrying a great deal of personal pain, and they gravitate together perhaps recognising a need in each other.
Jim Caviezel is superb as Catch. He has the right qualities of subtlety and stillness to make us believe in the damaged soul that Catch is.
This is a lovely, understated film about loss, loneliness and the redemption of love. Well worth a watch.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)
Didn't think it was possible to make an action series boring
But this is so bland. The characters so predictable. Agent Coulson is actually fairly tiresome, his number two is so po-faced as to be devoid of personality. When Lucy Liu did the cold, personality-free act, it came off as intriguing. Sadly, Ming-Na Wen is not the same kind of actress. She just comes off as being entirely disinterested in what is going on around her. Though, to be honest, on the showing so far one can hardly blame her. The younger cast members are mostly cookie cutter characters who don't really seem to fit in this universe. The two young geek characters actually look as though they wandered in from High School Musical and got stuck.
So. Disappointing so far. That said, I plan to continue watching. I love Marvel's characters, and it has a great pedigree, Joss Whedon has made some of the most entertaining television of the last twenty years. I miss Firefly badly. I had hoped that this would be another Whedon smash hit, so I will give it some more time.