Tag Archives: film review

Safe House (2012)

Directed by: Daniel Espinosa 220px-Safe_House_Poster

Written By: David Guggenhiem

Edited by: Richard Pearson

Starring: Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds

This weekend I finally got round to watching the Cape Town based spy-thriller Safe House, more out of love for my city than any great excitement for the film itself as I had heard mixed reviews. My overall impression of the film was that it was desperately trying to be a Bourne-esque thriller with the look and feel of Tony Scott’s direction. However despite these legitimate aspirations they are no substitute for the basics which were lacking – solid and original story coupled with dynamic and engaging characters and performances. In a nutshell, it was Cape Town that was the star of the show for me.

The film starts off in a flurry of undercover meetings and spying glances from hidden observers with little being revealed as to what is happening.  Denzel Washington’s character Tobin Frost is a CIA agent who’s ‘gone rogue’ and is now being hunted by some comically typical looking villains through the streets of Cape Town. In his attempt to flee Frost makes his way to the US Embassy in Cape Town where his name is picked up by the CIA in Langley. My mind immediately flashed back to Bourne Identity where Jason Bourne walks into the Zurich embassy after years of being off the grid. Similarity number one, check.This weekend I finally got round to watching the Cape Town based spy-thriller Safe House, more out of love for my city than any great excitement for the film itself as I had heard mixed reviews. My overall impression of the film was that it was desperately trying to be a Bourne-esque thriller with the look and feel of Tony Scott’s direction. However despite these legitimate aspirations they are no substitute for the basics which were lacking – solid and original story coupled with dynamic and engaging characters and performances. In a nutshell, it was Cape Town that was the star of the show for me.

Unfortunately the story line boasts little originality. Ryan Reynolds plays the role of low-level CIA officer Matt Weston stationed in Cape Town desperately in search of a better posting elsewhere. The attempt at this backstory in the opening frames of the film is appreciated but it’s all pretty obvious what’s happening; ‘CIA agent dying for more action doesn’t realize the biggest day of his career is just around the corner…’ You can see it unravel before its begun.

Towards the end of the car chase and broken window saturated narrative there is a slight twist and reveal of who the real villain is and thus an attempts to vindicate Tobin Frost. But once again if you’ve seen the Bourne series, it’s nothing new. They may as well have cast Brian Cox from Bourne Supremacy and asked him to just repeat his performance for Safe House – a high level CIA officer who’s actually the villain!

Another problem with Safe House is that attention is divided between the two main characters Weston (Reynolds) and Frost (Washington). Tobin has all the potential but can’t deliver whereas Weston has all the attention and doesn’t deliver. Matt Weston is the focal point of the narrative given his backstory and love interests but I found my attention constantly drawn to the A-list Washington hoping there’d be more to him than a cold deadly face. I felt that more effort should have been dedicated to making Frost more of a villain. Give me reason to not like him so that when the twist comes towards the end I’m genuinely surprised and  emotionally invested. Instead I never really invested into his character which left me pretty unfazed when the twists are revealed. It wasn’t the emotional roller coaster it could have been. As for Reynolds – he looks like Damon but can’t act like Damon. Enough said.

From a technical point of view I quite enjoyed the look and feel. Critics have complained about the overly saturated look of film but I didn’t mind that. The editing had a Bourne feel which is understandable as the films shared the same editor. I enjoyed the cut and thrust of chases and the close quarter fight scenes except for the initial siege on the safe house. However one major problem I had was the lighting continuity during some of the fights scenes at night. This is not only limited to Safe House but it was noticeable enough to comment. There will be an exterior shot at night followed by a fight scene indoors but for some reason all the windows are white as though the sun is streaming through. Most people may not notice but I think it warrants a mention. I’m always left wondering how the director explains these blatantly obvious lights in their sets.

So where does that leave us? Well Safe House is not the worst movie you could watch (see Thor review below) and it does offer some fun action sequences. But overall it doesn’t offer anything new. Reynolds fails to convince and Washington isn’t given the scope to flourish. There is enough story to keep you hanging around waiting for more but it never really gets out of second gear. Overall it was the Mother City that impressed me more than anything else.

Plot and Development: 6/10

Characters and Performance – 5.5

Directing and Edit – 6.10

Quality Rating 58%

Entertainment Rating 60%

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Collateral

Directed by: Michael Mann

Starring: Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx

Cinematography by: Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron

 

Collateral is a grungy thriller, which centers around the collision of two characters, Vincent (Tom Cruise) a hired killer for the mob and Max (Jammie Foxx) , a dedicated and diligent taxi driver. Upon hailing Max’s cab one night in LA, Vincent commences a 5 stop tour of city, heartlessly executing his targets that are due to testify against his employers. Max is caught up in the nightmare as the unwilling getaway driver for Vincent’s duties. Max gets personally involved when he learns that Vincent’s final target for the night is Max’s client directly before Vincent, the prosecutor of the case who exchanged business cards with Max with the hope of a future encounter.

The story of Collateral is fairly straightforward. There’s not really any backstory to the characters as most of the drama takes place within the taxi itself as Max drives Vincent around the streets LA – trying to understand who he is and why he does what he does. However despite the simplicity and somewhat ‘2D’ approach to the plot and characters, the script and direction by Michael Mann carry the film and keep the viewer intrigued throughout. The film captures the nightmarish reality of the saga for Max. He’s a cab driver who wants to get home at the end of his long nightshift and finds himself aiding and abetting a violent and dangerous criminal – under duress.

The performances and characters in Collateral are the real highlights. Personally I don’t enjoy Tom Cruise. I find him to be a product of the Hollywood movie star factory that has created a star with very little depth. However, in Collateral he does play the role of a heartless, cold and detached hit man that markets his abilities to the highest bidder. Cruise’s character is a bit of an anomaly which adds interest to the interaction between Vincent and Max. Although he’s detached and brutal in his violence, he’s interested and intrigued with Max. Their conversations revolve around how long Max has been driving, what his dreams are and whether he’ll call the lady who left her business card (the prosecutor). However, Cruise does seem to click into cheesy action star during the chase scenes towards the end. In these moments it became quite apparent that we are watching the ‘great Tom Cruise’ chase a man through the streets. Personally I feel that he loses his believability in these moments.

Whilst Tom Cruise may be the headlining star in the film, the headliner performance comes from Jamie Foxx. Max is a tired taxi driver, hoping to one day fulfill his dreams of owning his own luxury limo service. On this particular night he just happens to be the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Foxx’s performance draws the audience in and creates a feeling of empathy and frustration on his behalf. The uncertainty and unpredictability with which Vincent acts leaves one feeling nervous for Max’s safety. Foxx performs the role with such ease and sincerity whilst creating a character that is likable for the audience.

An interesting fact about the film is that it was one of the first Hollywood blockbusters to be filmed in digital format as opposed to film. This has a distinct effect on the film, coupled with the style and cinematography that Michael Mann as director has chosen to adopt. The film feels very ‘handheld’ and voyeuristic. You feel as though you are in the cab with the two men, witnessing first hand what’s unfolding. There’s a gritty, grungy characteristic to the film which isn’t seen on other Hollywood blockbusters. Whilst I didn’t enjoy it, I do appreciate it. I like it when a director utilizes the tools of filmmaking to help tell the story. Though not my preferred style, Collateral does have a distinct look and feel which carries the story and emotion of the film nicely. Collateral is a film worth watching – not because it’s brilliant – it’s far from that, but because it is somewhat fresh and interesting. Would I watch it again? Perhaps, but not very quickly. Despite the somewhat lackluster plot line and at times dubious performance by Cruise, Collateral does have something to offer in the tension and interpersonal conflict between two great characters.

Plot/Development 6/10

Characters/Performances 7.5/10

Cinematography 7/10

Quality Rating 68%

Entertainment 6.5/10

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How to Ruin a Good (Bourne) Legacy

Directed by:  Tony Gilroy

Written by: Tony Gilroy

Cinematography by: Robert Elswit

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton
When I heard there was going to be a sequel to the brilliantly entertaining Ultimatum I was thrilled. Then I discovered that Matt Damon (the heart and soul behind the franchise) and Bourne himself would not be the focal point of the story. From that moment on there was an uncomfortable inkling that this would be a hopeless disaster. And what a hopeless disaster it was.Humanity has a few distinguishing features that seem to stand out. One of which is not knowing when to stop a good thing. The latest example of this characteristic flaw is the fourth installment of the once great Bourne franchise – The Bourne Legacy. Why could they not simply leave Bourne to be remembered as one of the great trilogies of our time, a milestone in filmmaking and in particular the action genre? They (the producers/studio executives/ Tony Gilroy) had to milk the cash cow one more time – only to produce a tall glass of sour milk that will unfortunately  bring in millions and leave them feeling justified.

For starters Jeremy Renner doesn’t carry the same charm as Matt Damon. How can you not admire the innocent and sincere looking Damon? He is in a class of his own when it comes to performances (I’m thinking of Oceans 11 and 13 in particular). Renner definitely is tougher and more rugged but who cares? Bourne could charm you with his smile and break your neck with his hands all before you could blink twice.

However the biggest flaw in Legacy was the painfully simple yet deceptively cryptic plot-line. For the first 45 minutes (of 2 hours) I couldn’t work out what was going on – which had me intrigued. However as we waded through more and more code words and CIA departments the plot-line began to clear up. Aaron Cross (Renner) is a super soldier that needs an incomprehensible combination of childish pills in order to….who knows, keep from imploding? The whole film can be summed up in this line: Aaron Cross is a junkie in search of his fix whilst running from the government who wants him dead. Once I had worked this out my heart dropped at it’s lack of ambition. Where were the government programs of Identity and Ultimatum? Where was the intrigue, the mystery? There was none – it was that simple. They had strung me along with code names but once that murky cloud had cleared up, there was nothing more to see.

Finally for an action film there was very little action. I can think of two scenes in particular which hinted at the classic action that Jason Bourne found himself in but a part from that there was a lot of car driving, running around and conversation that went nowhere.

Overall the Bourne Legacy was a complete disappointment. Yes it had the same ‘Bourne-esque’ look as the previous three which is one thing that I did enjoy but there wasn’t the class or finesse that we’d come to appreciate. Oh for that classic train station scene in Ultimatum where Bourne guides the reporter step by step, or the Moscow car at the end of Supremacy or the embassy scene in Identity that really established Bourne as a trained killer. The magic was completely missing in Legacy. Tony Gilroy who wrote the screenplays for the first three films took the role of director and writer for Legacy. It would have been perhaps better if he had called it a day after Ultimatum and left the legacy of Jason Bourne live on unscathed.

Plot/Development: 5/10

Performances 6/10

Cinematography 7/10

Entertainment Rating 5/10

Quality Rating 6/10

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Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

After finishing the Fellowship I was eagerly anticipating watching The Two Towers. I havent been as excited for a sequel since the Bourne trilogy. I was excited to learn more about Middle Earth and the clans that inhabited it as well as journey with Frodo and Sam as they make their way towards Mordor. What would become of Gandalf? Would he return in some form or was he truly dead? These were all whizzing through my head in the week leading up to the second installment of the story. 

The Two Towers did not disappoint. In fact it somehow managed to exceed the Fellowship in some ways. So many sequels fail to deliver. A good indicator that a sequel will be a waste of time is when they make it simply because of the success of the first film. Think Shrek. Think Oceans 12. Yes Oceans 13 redeemed the trilogy but only after much thought and crafting. I was never worried about The Two Towers because from the get go it was always going to be made. Plus Tolkein had written it before and thought through the plot. Nevertheless, Peter Jackson and the team delivered an epic film which I thoroughly enjoyed. If anything I got a little bored of Frodo and Sam and their irritating guide Golem. Perhaps it was because I knew they wouldn’t reach their destination and I’d have to wait until the final installment. I think that removed some of the mystery. They wouldn’t die and they wouldn’t finish – so the surprise was already absent. However it didn’t detract from the overall film at all.

My favourite part was the defense of Rohan at Helms Gate. That has got to be one of the most epic siege scenes in cinema history. I loved the interchange between calm and cool Legolas and the passionate and feisty Gimli as they slaughtered the oncoming enemy. The film’s climax for me was at the point of defeat, Aragon remembers the words of Gandalf to look to the west on the third day. Once again Tolkein has littered the plot with Biblical imagery. At that moment a shaft of brilliant light burst through the darkness vaporizing Orcs instantly. Suddenly over the crest of hill comes a single white horse galloping towards the battle scene with Gandalf leading the charge. Behind him is an army of men swarming to redeem the fighters of Rohan. For me that was a brilliant picture of Christ returning at the end of the age to vanquish evil once and for all and rescue his people from the clutches of death. As the plot continues it becomes clear that Tolkein has placed various images of Jesus in different characters. Gandalf is a loving fatherly type figure who wields a great deal of power – even if he’s not fully omnipotent. He also lays down is life for his friends in the caves and utters the words “You shall not pass” – resembling Christ’s “It is finished” on the cross. Finally, Gandalf returns on the 3rd day with an army behind him to rescue those that he loves from the evil forces that rule the world. Lord of the Rings is by far my favourite story in fiction as it echoes the greatest story ever to be told.

I’m excited to see The Return of the King which already is promising to be full of eschatological references.

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Limitless (2011)

Director: Neil Burger

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro

Written By: Leslie Dixon

I remember seeing the trailer for this film and immediately making a mental note to make an effort to watch it. Finally, this weekend I managed to get round to seeing it and whilst I was not blown away, I was neither disappointed.

The story follows aspiring writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) as he struggles with severe writers block and a subsequent slide in his life’s trajectory. Stumbling into his ex-brother-in-law he is given a mysterious new drug, which promises to unlock the full potential of the human brain. After taking the pill just once Eddie finds he is able to remember things from deep in his past and more importantly is able to church out the rest of his book for his publisher.

After going back to get more of the drug Eddie finds his ex-brother in law has been murdered by someone who is clearly looking for the drug stash. As Eddie’s brain is unlocked to its full potential he catches the attention finance tycoon Mr. Van Loon (Robert De Niro) as he climbs the ladder of corporate financial success. However throughout the plot Eddie and his girlfriend have to constantly evade a series of hit men who are prepared to kill in order to secure the stash of the mind enhancing drug for themselves.

The story, if not watertight is definitely entertaining for a first time screening. I feel though if I had to watch the film again I’d be quite bored quite quickly. Although I’m generally not a fan of Sci-Fi, this particular concept didn’t clash with me. I enjoyed the idea that there was a drug that enabled us to reach our full mental potential and it was definitely entertaining to see what that could mean. For instance remembering details from years ago that would come in handy now – that would be helpful.

However it must be said that Limitless could have been a lot better with regard to the story. There are some unanswered holes in the plot which don’t seem to make sense and the twist at the end doesn’t completely resolve many of the questions provoked throughout. It didn’t come together well enough for me. Leaving questions unanswered can work well for a film or they can just be annoying. In this case, they are simply annoying.

The filmmakers made obvious use of the color of the film to tell the story which I felt was interesting. When Eddie is off the drug, the look is fairly bland and cold with a lot of blue tones. When Eddie’s brain is operating at full potential, his world transforms into a bright and saturated world with warmer visual tones. I appreciated this use of technicality, even if it was a bit over the top.

Bradley Cooper played a good role as the lead in this. Hie performance was varied and believable which I appreciated. Robert De Niro enters quite late into the film but plays the part of a the intimidating executive very well. The film did well on both IMDB.com and Rottentomatoes receiving around 70% positive feedback from the audience.

All in all Limitless is a fun film to watch letting you escape and wonder what life would look like if we functioned at our full capacity. I wouldn’t watch it again, which means its not a classic but definitely worth a watch.

Characters/Development: 7/10

Story & Plot development 6/10

Editing and Color Grade 6.5/10

Technically – 6.5/10

Entertainment value: 6.5/10

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