Tag Archives: Film

The French couldn’t be bothered to translate it to English. Typical.

The Intouchables (2012)

 Writer/Director

Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano

 The translator at the distributor working on the film ‘Les Intouchables’ was either very drunk or simply failed to show up to work on the day because The Intouchables is simply not English. A more accurate translation would be ‘Untouchable’. But perhaps the French filmmakers decided to screw the rest of the world over and leave us all wondering how the heck to pronounce the name of their film. I wouldn’t rule that out too quickly.  

Regardless of the naming fiasco, The Intouchables was a smash hit in France, where the general population were spared the debacle of having to figure how to pronounce the darn thing and could simply enjoy the slightly cheesy yet remarkably charming story. For many reasons the film should never have been a smash hit. The story is largely predictable, skirts dangerously close to racial stereotypes, no scratch that – it does racially stereotype and on top of all this, it lacks a punchy climax to pull it out of its bumbling pace. Whilst everything about this film points to it being another forgettable ‘dramedy’, its quirky nature and phenomenal performances help it crawl under your skin and lodge itself in your heart before you’ve even realised. 

The film is based on true events, telling the story of a rich, aristocratic quadriplegic, Phillippe who is in search of a new full-time care-taker. Despite interviewing a host of qualified applicants, Phillippe chooses the least likely, an African immigrant named Driss, who’s merely applying for the job in order to apply for welfare. It didn’t take long for the racial stereotyping get underway with the rich, uptight white man, who is thrust together (by his own choosing) with a black, unmotivated, immigrant who appears to be more interested in drugs and women than anything else. And so begins a ‘clash of cultures’, ‘buddy film’ where ultimately both individuals are positively influenced by their counterpart, despite coming from other ends of the city. As I’ve said before, on paper, there’s nothing new to be seen but that is the magic of cinema. The simplest, most cliche’d and uninteresting premise can be given a new lease of life through one of many avenues available to a director. In this particular case, Intouchables owe’s all its charm and success – in my opinion – to the casting and performances.

Driss played by Omar Sy is without doubt the start of the film. From his somewhat bombastic entrance he wins you over with his unpolished and refreshingly honest candour. Even his offside comments to the female personnel of Philippe’s estate come across with as harmless chirping than offensive harassment. 

Driss, like the film itself has a knack for getting under your skin and causing you to laugh at him as well as with him. As one might expect, Driss is taught the notions of discipline, etiquette and refinement as he’s transported from his world of poverty, unemployment and trouble with the police. Whilst Philippe offers Driss a lesson in living life respectably as well as a means of reputable income, he in return is offered the chance to live life fully, despite his obvious physical restrictions. 

The Intouchables is a feel-good, light hearted and memorable film that speaks to the heart far more than the head. Though it never strives to be the poster boy for cinematic mastery, it finds itself as an unexpected masterpiece in simple, engaging and memorable storytelling.  

Tagged , ,

Disconnect (2012)

Directed by: Henry Alex Rubin

Written: Andrew Stern

Stars:  Jason Bateman, Jonah Bobo, Haley Ramm

 

 

This week for date night we went to watch Henry Rubin’s latest film, Disconnect. We were deciding between The Company You Keep, Disconnect or Now You See Me, but the generally poor reviews and appearance of superpowers in the other two steered us away. Whilst probably not your typical date night movie, it was powerful and deeply impacting in a way that I wish more films were. 

 

The subject matter of the film was what drew me to the film in the first place – the increasingly destructive presence of digital connections in our lives which leave us further apart from one another and disconnected from the present. Whilst I love my iPhone and 3G connection, I’m trying to take steps to curb my addiction to social media. The constant need for a ‘like’ on a new Instagram picture or the instinctual act of refreshing my twitter feed seconds after I’ve already done so are areas that need addressing. But I digress.

 

To sum up briefly, the film follows three separate but slightly interconnected stories. The catalyst in each story is the use of digital communication and central role it plays in the disaster that ensues. Cindy and Derek, a young married couple grieving the loss of their infant son, have their marriage placed under fire when their identities are stolen via an online grievers support chat room. Robbed of everything and barely looking at one another anymore, they have their dark habits revealed by private investigator Mike Dixon (Frank Grillo) as he tries to uncover the source of the fraud. 

 

Whilst probably the weakest of the three narratives, Cindy and Derek’s story paints an eyeopening and heartbreaking picture of a marriage that has been hollowed out by a tragedy and the growing coldness of two lives. As Derek decides in a moment of determination, to take matters in his own hands and confront the suspected fraudster, we’re presented with a vivid account of the lengths someone would go to when they’re at a point of desperation. Everything in me screamed at him to allow the police and due process to take its course. It’s in these desperate situations that people are driven by frustration to do emotional and irrational decisions they could live to regret for the rest of their lives. Cindy and Derek’s trial did have the positive outcome of drawing them closer together again, but it could easily have gone the other way and ended up in another tragedy. 

 

The second story is that of ambitious reporter Nina Dunham and Internet ‘sex model’ Kyle who can’t be a day older than 18. If you are uncertain as to what a sex model is, let me save you from the potential mine field you’ll land in should you try Google it. Essentially, Kyle is one of a number of underage youths who are pimped out to paying customers to interact with via chat and Skype-like forums. Nina makes contact with Kyle eventually resulting in a CNN interview, exposing the exploitation that is taking place. Kyle is a good looking and seemingly confident kid who knows how to please his pimp and clientele, but beneath the shallow surface he’s a lonely and insecure youngster, caught up in a horrible world of drugs and exploitation. 

 

By far the most gripping, wrenching and cautionary of tales told in the film is that of Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo) and teenage bullies Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein). Son of hotshot lawyer Rich played superbly by Jason Bateman, Ben is an awkward, ‘emo’ looking teenager who loves his music – and appears to be pretty darn good at it. His father is forever connected to his Blackberry and their relationship is all but nonexistent. I don’t doubt there’ll be a new generation of absent fathers and husbands (as well as wives and mothers) lost not to business trips and long work hours necessarily but to their devices and constant connection to everyone else but those closest to them. 

 

Disconnect does some things very well, in my opinion. Firstly, the performances are superb. Jason Bateman and Frank Grillo produce some tragically realistic performances as fathers radically detached from their sons. Likewise, Colin Ford and Max Thieret who plays Kyle, are also very impressive. Kyle as mentioned above does well to mask the insecurity of his lonely character with the false bravado and confidence that he struts so well. 

Ultimately I think the direction by Rubin deserves praising. Disconnect provides a spine-chilling window into the potential harsh realities of middle class life. Personally I always thought bullying was something that was inevitable and par of the course for kids. But having watched this, I now have a far greater understanding of the seriousness of the issue. 

Every now and then I do enjoy a great heist drama, spy thriller or genuinely funny comedy, but its films like Disconnect that I always enjoy watching and believe should be produced more often – not because they entertain me for a mere 90 odd minutes, but because they have a lasting impact on my thoughts and actions long afterwards.

Tagged , , ,

Silver Linings Playbook

Directed By: David O. Russell                                                                                  Image

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Nominated for Best Picture and scooping up the Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence) prize at this year’s Oscars, Silver Linings Playbook is one romantic comedy I felt I needed to muster up the courage and attempt to sit through. Although I didn’t quite manage one sitting, over two sessions I completed the film leaving with some mixed emotions, much like the film itself.

 

Set in middle class suburban Philadelphia Silver Linings Playbook (SLP) tells the story of Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a lovable character battling with a bi-polar disorder as he tries to win back the affections of his estranged wife. The film starts with Pat being released from a psychiatric hospital and moving back in with his parents. After meeting recently widowed Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) the two strike up an unlikely friendship with Pat agreeing to enter into a dance competition with Tiffany if she agrees to help him send letters to his wife. As the story progresses, the two become closer with each helping the other deal with their own internal insecurities and disorders.

 

I think it’s safe to say that without the performances of Cooper, Lawrence and De Niro, SLP would not be the film that it is. For me, Cooper was the star of the show. Director David Russell and Bradley Cooper created an undeniably lovable character despite his obvious flaws and sometimes violent outbursts. In a scene that is bound to win the hearts of even the most cynical viewers Pat is up reading his wife’s set works at 4am when he suddenly launches the book through the window in an outrage. He then storms into his parents room to share his anger at the treatment of Ernst Hemmingway’s character. The scene is poignant insight into the mind of a bi-polar sufferer and instantly creates a connection between the audience and Pat. 

Whilst ultimately the film is a love story with a predictable ending, it punches far above it’s weight as it deals with the fragile state of the human heart (and mind), the pain of rejection and the desperate search for renewal. Every character in the film is broken in some respect. Pat’s dad is a superstitious Philadelphia Eagles fan, willing to gamble his life’s savings on a single game in the belief that Pat is essentially a good luck charm. Like his son, he is prone to the occasional violent outburst. Pat’s friend Ronnie faces his own marriage problems whilst Tiffany struggles with sexual addiction in the wake of her husbands death. As is true in life, all the film’s characters are broken in their own unique way and rely on one another to overcome their own personal obstacles.

 It’s never easy making a film around subject matter as sensitive as mental illness but Russell manages to convey the tragedy of the disorder whilst still injecting light hearted moments to keep you from slumping into the valley of despair and depression. Ultimately everyone is dealing with the own issues and obstacles. Ultimately Silver Linings Playbook is less about a particular disorder than it is about shedding light on our own personal disorders and the need for collaboration and community in dealing with them.

 

Performances: 8/10

Plot/Development 6/10

Direction 7/10

Overall 7/10

Trailer

Tagged , ,

A Beautiful Mind (2002)

Directed by: Ron Howard 

Written by: Akiva Goldsman

Starring: Russel Crowe

A Beautiful Mind tells the  story of the schizophrenic Professor John Nash, mathematical genius and Economics Nobel laureate. The film is a prime example of the problem with the biopic genre; they fail to break free from a very “and then, and then” structure. The problem with the film is not in the performances or nature of the story but in its actual writing.

A Beautiful Mind is a good film, but it’s one of those film which deserves to be so much better than it actually is. Except for a stellar performance by Crowe, everything else in the film seemed to fall short of the potential that the story was calling for. A Beautiful Mind is one of those films which benefits from the viewer knowing what they are watching before hand. As a first time viewer I knew nothing about the plot, film or story of John Nash. This made the slight twist (it’s more of a reveal if you know Nash is schizophrenic) quite surprising and thus enjoyable. But once this turn was made in the plot, there was very little excitement or intrigue. The plot bumbles along until the final resolution, which is admittedly heart warming and satisfying.

Russel Crowe plays the role of the socially awkward and mathematically obsessed  Princeton scholar. His performance is a brilliant display of sincerity and believability. Crowe’s performance captured my attention and drew me in to the character. I quickly became intrigued by the awkward young Nash. However as the film progressed I moved from feeling curious to feeling genuinely sympathetic and concerned for him. Such a performances was necessary if there was to be any degree of success to the film. The viewer is plunged into a pit of frustration and disappointment each time Nash begins to lapse into his schizophrenic moments. This ability to control an audience and take them on an emotional journey is testament to the skill of the actor.

A Beautiful Mind does a great job of putting the viewer in the perspective of someone suffering with schizophrenia, but fails to hold ones attention to the end. The first half of the film is filled with promise. Once the revelation of Nash’s schizophrenia is made, there is little reason not to fast forward to end and watch the ‘happy ending’ that unfolds.

Plot/Development = 6/10

Performances/Characters = 8.5/1

Screenplay 6/10

Quality Rating = 68%

Entertainment Rating = 70%

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Bang Bang Club (2010)

Directed and Screenplay by: Steven Silver 

Cinematography by: Miroslaw Baszak

Starring: Ryan Philippe, Taylor Kitsch

The Bang Bang Club had all the potential to be an epic story-telling of the fascinating and insightful group of combat photographers during the dying days of Apartheid. It is this potential which deals the film its heaviest blow. The film is not the worst produced film to come out of South Africa – or Hollywood for that matter – but the very nature of the story is made to look cheapened and short changed by overall poor writing and directing.

Unfortunately for Steven Silver, he has no-one to blame but himself. The writer director failed to bring the most out of the story of the four courageous combat photographers who would stop at nothing to tell the story of the violence between the ANC and Inkhata Freedom fighters. To begin with, the performances were average at best. Ryan Philippe did the better of the two North American actors with his accent being bearable. The same can’t be said for Taylor Kitsch however who was simply woeful. He was brilliant as Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights but in this film I felt as though he was the same troubled and intoxicated teenager.  His accent was on another level of atrocious. Forced and without subtlety  it was excruciating to listen to. This leads me to one of my biggest issues with the film. Why on earth did Steven Silver allow every one of his male actors to say the word, “china” or “bru” after every sentence, regardless of whom they are speaking to? This baffled me to the point of anger. You don’t have to spend more than a day in this country to realize that we don’t say ‘my chinas’ and ‘Ja, howzit bru’ to everyone we encounter. The worst part of it all is you can’t forgive Steven Silver for being a foreigner – he’s a flippin local!

The major flaw with this film is the flow of the narrative. There isn’t an overall story that is resolved at the end. One moment you’re in what feels like the middle of the story (which hasn’t developed, only progressed) and the next moment the whole thing is wrapping up. The first half is exciting but then you start to realize it’s not going anywhere other than following the events of lives of the photographers. This story was crying out for so much more; four friends caught amidst the violence and turbulence of a dying regime, capturing the crimes of humanity before their very eyes, and yet it just fizzles out with very little resolve.

Another gripe I had whilst watching was with the wardrobe department. Someone needs to find a new job. Who thought to put Kevin Carter in skinny jeans for the entire length of the film. It’s 1994 people! Furthermore, Robin Compley’s outfit looked as if it came off someone’s Pinterest board,  skinny jeans, flowing tops and braided hair. What a disaster.

Having said all this, there was something which blew me away, the cinematography. Miroslaw Baszak did a tremendous job. The shots were beautiful and the colouring magical. From start to finish, the film ‘looked’ great. The perspectives were interesting and the addition of ‘point-of-view’ type shots added to the tension, especially during the initial foot chase through the Sowetan hostel.

Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to lift the film from the ashes. Overall I was entertained, which I guess is something to give the film credit for, but this story needed a Scorsese or Soderbergh in the directors chair and a Aaron Sorkin to really bring it to life.

Plot development: 6/10

Performances 5/10

Cinematography 8/10

Quality Rating: 63%

Entertainment Rating: 70%

Tagged , , ,

Se7en (1995)

Se7en (1995)

Director: David Fincher

Cinematography: Darius Khondji

Editor: Richard Francis-Bruce

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey

Se7en (Seven) tells the story of a retiring city cop (Freeman) who takes his eager replacement (Pitt) under his wing for the last 7 days of his remaining contract. Instead of the last week being uneventful, the two detectives have to work together to catch a serial killer who methodically chooses and executes his victims according the seven deadly sins.

Se7en has been dubbed one of the greatest crime films ever made. It is masterfully pieced together into a cinematic crescendo of performance, directing, cinematography and editing that are all brilliant in their own right and work together to create a masterpiece. A word that adequately describes Seven is ‘timeless’. I watched it again last week and was amazed at the fact that it was produced over 15 years ago. It honestly could be released this year and be considered a brilliant film by todays standards.

A few notable features stood out for me. The first is the namelessness of the city the story takes place in. Visually it looks a lot like New York but the surrounding desert landscape rule this out. The decision to set the story in a city that is nameless and has no recognizable landmarks allows the story to be transcendent across all of humanity’s urban settlements. The idea of punishment and retribution towards those guilty of ‘sin’ echo throughout the horrific murders that take place. The serial killer, played chillingly by Kevin Spacey takes it upon himself to exercise punishment on those he deems guilty of committing one of the deadly sins. He acts as a divine authority choosing who gets to live and die.

One cannot watch the film and not be struck by the title sequence. Se7en started a trend towards well thought out and produced title sequences that have attracted nearly as much attention as films themselves. Se7en’s titles send a cold shiver throughout your body and masterfully foreshadows the killers meticulous dedication to committing murder.

The performances by Freeman and Pitt are central to the film’s success and their chemistry on screen is felt from early on. We see a much younger Pitt than what he is today and his eagerness and tenacity is great to watch, as he is far more measured in his performances these days.

Se7en will go down as a classic of the 20th Century. It is a brilliant example of every element of the film working towards a common goal of telling a spine chilling story. The final twist at the end is anything but predictable. The film could have ended brilliantly without it but its inclusion really does add to the epic nature of the story. In my mind it is a film that was way ahead of its time. A must see for all film lovers.

Plot/Plot development 8.5/10

Characters/Performances 9/10

Cinematography 8/10

Quality Rating = 8.5/10

Entertainment Rating 9/10

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Trailer: Gangster Squad (2012)

Gangster Squad is becoming one of the most anticipated films of the year. Set to be released in November it boasts a quality cast. These snippets of art direction, cinematography and storyline hint at an epic film coming our way.

Tagged , , , , ,