Film Review – The Other Woman

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

The Other Woman (M)

Directed by: Nick Cassavetes

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

What does one do when they want to write a script but don’t have any original ideas? They take some from other movies and mash them together. It has been done for decades. The Other Woman is another in the endless list of guilty parties, however, the cast is watchable enough and the laughs are (mostly) fresh enough to warrant a passable film. Writer Melissa Stack has taken elements of Sex and the City and The First Wives Club for another “you go girl” chick flick comedy about women getting mad and even with the guy who has cheated on them.

New York lawyer and serial dater Carly (Cameron Diaz) feels that she may have finally met the man of her dreams in the dreamy Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) after having waded through decades of duds. After two months of dating bliss, her bubble is burst when she discovers he is married to Kate (Leslie Mann) and the two begin an unlikely friendship, supporting each other and ultimately, hatching a plan to get even. The cherry on top of all his lies is that he is cheating on both of them with the much younger Amber (Kate Upton), who they take under their wing and include in their revenge plan.

The Other Woman‘s major strength is Leslie Mann, who steals the film right from under every other actor’s nose. Her character is the most rounded – the dedicated but flaky stay at home wife who supported her husband’s career left to pick up the pieces after taking such a blow. But Mann is able to elicit empathy while delivering the strongest laughs. Diaz appears to not even bother trying to get laughs, she must know she is not there for her comedic talents. Amber is written as the ditzy eye candy but Upton is rarely given the chance to show it. (She hardly ever gets the opportunity to speak).

There are some clichéd revenge sequences – feeding him oestrogen, putting his toothbrush in the toilet. They’re childish and unimaginative – but when they hit him with a laxative we have entered Wayans brothers territory. Possibly the worst scene in this not particularly believable film are knockouts Diaz and Mann pretending to have low self-esteem next to a bikini clad Upton. As if those skinny Minnies have anything to worry about.

Extra characters – Carly’s assistant Lydia (Nicki Minaj) and Kate’s brother Phil (Taylor Kinney) serve to merely extend the running time far beyond a reasonable 90 minutes. But clearly none of this is to be taken seriously, and if taken correctly, this can often be fun. Particularly those who get caught up in the eye for an eye antics.

Film Review – Muppets Most Wanted

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Muppets Most wanted (PG)

Directed by: James Bobin

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Re-capturing the magic that made a film a breakout hit can be tricky. It is often attempted, yet rarely achieved. As if they knew to expect a chorus of groans from audiences who had just enjoyed the deliciously delightful character comeback The Muppets (2011), the makers of Muppets Most Wanted warn us  in the opening song that this follow-up is not at the same level of quality. This clever piece of scripting – or lyric writing – that points to inadequacies, also continues what we know and love about the funny bunch of wise cracking fur-balls: the self referential, relentless audience winking.

Not long after their big comeback, the Muppets are approached by Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who convinces them to hire him as their manager and embark on a world-wide tour. But his plan is to steal expensive jewels from  every city they stop in along the tour. His way of achieving this is sending sensible Kermit to a Russian prison run by Nadya (Tina Fey) and replacing him with shady lookalike Constantine.

This follow-up is emotionally barron without the heartfelt input of Jason Segal. Moving this story from a relationship based adventure to a follow-the-clues crime caper means less time for warm and fuzzies about an orphan muppet trying to find his place in the world. Never mind, because there are still so many rapid fire jokes and pop culture references that most may not even notice. There is rarely a moment that passes that won’t have you erupting in a hearty laugh, and the array of cameos are still surprising and entertaining.

Film Review – Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II

Posted in Uncategorized on April 9, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II

Directed by: Lars von Trier

Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Seeing both volumes of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac saga back to back is quite an experience. While probably not his preferred way for audiences to see his work (there is a 5.5 hour full version floating around), chopped in half with footage removed was the closest we got in its theatrical release. Wishing to see the closest thing to von Trier’s vision, I buckled in for the full ride (there was an option to view the second volume another day).

I am still torn by this decision. Having underestimated how thought-provoking it would be, both volumes viewed in such close proximity was mentally exhausting. Two two hour-films felt like a full day of movie marathoning. A 10-minute intermission was far too little time to absorb the events and themes of volume I before heading back in to experience volume II. However, had I opted for a next day viewing of the second part I would have felt like I was cheating. Maybe I should have just re-thought seeing them on Friday night after a long work week.

The weight of what goes on and what is explored in von Trier’s flashback filled story of the experiences of self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (played at different ages by Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg) is fascinating, fulfilling, overwhelming and challenging. The first half begins with a beaten Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) being found in an alleyway by soft-spoken and academically minded good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). Seligman takes her back to his small apartment to care for her and the pair proceed to exchange tales, her life experiences that got her to this point of physical abuse and him, metaphors that mirror her stories.

She tells of losing her virginity to a no-hoper Jerome (Shia LeBouf) and later in life the power struggle between them when  she ends up working for him, the sexual tally game she would play with her friend, in which whoever slept with the most men on a train ride won a bag of chocolates (this is where Seligman’s unusual, yet fitting fly fishing metaphor comes) and her relationship with her father.

Her sexual encounters range from the brief, to daring to awkward. One of her regulars, a married man with kids, rocks up on her doorstep one day with a packed bag wanting to move in with her. Uma Thurman offers a stunning performance and a major highlight in the four-hour running time as his wife, who follows on his heels with their children to tour them through the location of his infidelities.

Joe’s obsession takes dramatic turns as she dabbles in experimentation: a pair of well-hung, non-English speaking African men who quarrel about how they will have sex with her in a hastily organised threesome and underground meetings with a mysterious man (Jamie Bell) with a penchant for the violent of domineering style of kink. Some of her actions may be to the detriment of the health and safety of those close to her.

Less interested in shocking his audience with audacious twists or imagery, von Trier’s hyped up sex scenes were (at least in this version) frank and at time graphic, yet maturely handled in a non-sensationalist way. Close ups and montages of genitalia, whether in a state of arousal or not, have a textbook feeling to them. It feels more like school sex education footage than pornography. Despite all the thrusting, pumping and heavy breathing, and there is quite a bit of it, these are some of the most un-titillating portrayals of sexual intercourse, which perfectly reflect the character’s state of mind and attitude towards sex. For Joe, these encounters are experiments, an urge fulfillment.

Perhaps it was the fatigue setting in but the second half, which deepened Joe’s psychology and raised the stakes (she goes to irresponsible lengths to “get it on”) was surprisingly emotionally aloof. When we should be feeling a deeper connection to this complex individual, I felt at arm’s length. At times, I felt that I should be feeling devastation, some sort of gut punch. Yet, I did not. However, it did not impede my appreciation and even enjoyment of this exploration of themes and ideas that are rarely tackled. This is one rare occasion in which I am keen to see the deleted scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor.

 

Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2014

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

11.6

Directed by: Philippe Godeau

Starring: Francois Cluzet, Bouli Lanners

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Setting itself apart from the abundance of heist films, 11.6 (referring the millions of Euros brazenly stolen in this based on fact story) keeps certain details close to its chest. While the Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13 films, among others, make a point of uncovering each detail in the complex plans to steal money, gold jewels (or whatever) from highly secured bank vaults or casinos (or whatever), 11.6 is hazy on methods.

Toni Musulin (Francois Cluzet) is stuck in a menial security job, protecting loads of cash as it is transported in an armored truck, he is in a deeply unhappy relationship with his wife and his boss is a jerk. After 10 years of loyal service going un-reciprocated (the final straw is a simple request for leave that is not granted), he decides to “stick it to the man” by stealing 11.6 million Euros on one of his transportation trips.

Toni’s plight is perfectly captured in the first half of 11.6 – if perhaps slightly overdoing how down trodden and miserable he is. After a few scenes, we get it, but 11.6 tends to keep showing us. Then, after so much time is put into fleshing out his world, we are suddenly  kept at arm’s length while he plots and plans his heist. While this keeps the mystery alive and the audience on its toes, it is difficult to remain emotionally invested in the character.

11.6 captures the story with cold, steely cinematography – this is certainly not intended as a light and breezy Ocean’s knock off. Director Godeau is aiming for realism here, and for Toni’s surroundings to reflect his state of mind not a slick, glossy version of events. As a thriller it is sluggish, but it still keep you hanging on until the end.

Mobius

Directed by: Eric Rochant

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Cecile De France

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Just like its “nobody is who they seem” characters, Mobius, is also a bit of poser. Acting like a steamy thriller but without the steam or the thrills, it is trying to convince us that it is something that it isn’t. And for the most part, we are under its misleading spell.

Providing the appropriate amount of international flavour, the Monaco set story has Russian secret agent Gregory (Jean Dujardin) recruit financial trader Alice (Cecile De France) to entrap businessman Ivan (Tim Roth). Her job requires her to get close to Ivan who is, understandably, suspicious. but while she is acting like a potential lover to him, Alice and Gregory find themselves attracted to each other.

Pairing the absurdly handsome Jean Dujardin and the seriously sexy Cecile De France should have resulted in fireworks. When this low-key, slow burn story promises big bangs but only offers up a couple of mild pops, it is the cast that hold our attention. The three keys actors give it their best go, but the pacing is slow and the storytelling lethargic with little payoff. But at least we are rewarded with a shirtless Dujardin.

Read my review for Bright Days Ahead here.

11.6, Mobius and Bright Days Ahead screen as part of the Perth Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, which runs from March 18 to April 6. For more titles, information and the full schedule, go to http://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/

Film Review – Vampire Academy

Posted in Uncategorized on March 8, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Vampire Academy (M)

Directed by: Mark Waters

Starring: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry

Half a star

Review by: Julian Wright

Uber bitch Regina and her Plastics would rip Vampire Academy, a Mean Girls inspired teenage vampire flick, to shreds. They would not hesitate to paste unflattering head shots of these blood sucking characters in their burn book and scribble down the most heinous thing they could think of. They would be outraged to think that these blonde, airheaded but smoking hot vampire teens, who try to make “cool” teen phrases happen, were modeled after them. If they all went to the same school, these vampires would not be allowed to sit with the Plastics.

The plot heavy beginning plays like the opening of a serial, catching us up in the story of two teenage vampire runaways. Half vampire, half human and guardian in training Rose (Zoe Deutch) and her friend who she must protect Lissa (Lucy Fry), a vampire princess, escaped from their isolated school and have been on the run for a year, living incognito in the city. We learn they were in a horrendous car crash at some point which claimed the lives of Lissa’s parents, the besties are psychically linked and that there are three types of vampires. And that is just the first 10 minutes. All that is missing is a “Last week, on Vampire Academy…” voice-over.

What would usually take about half a film to explain and explore is rushed through with lightning speed and will leave your head spinning. Before you have a chance to let any of this sink in, the girls are captured and whisked back to the isolated Vampire Academy where the girls, the headmistress and any other supporting character they come into contact with speak in exposition (“explain it all” dialogue rivals the far more complex Inception, where it is actually warranted). Thickening the plot is a bitchy classmate, a nerdie newbie and someone leaving bloody threats for Lissa.

This film struggles with conveying plot, which it thinks is super confusing and complicated, assuming that the audience, most of whom have already read the books, wont be able to follow it. In actual fact, this all boils down to who has the hots for who. Yawn. Being a Mean Girls/Twilight mash up, the girls spend the majority of their time pining for high school hotties. Adding an ick factor is Rose’s crush on her teacher.

From the director of Mean Girls, Mark Waters and adapted from the books by his brother Daniel Waters who wrote the sharp and unapologetically pitch black Heathers, Vampire Academy is dripping with potential, none of which is realised. It ends up being the complete opposite of what you might expect from the pedigree involved, with neither the wit or high school insight of Mean Girls or the edginess of Heathers.

Had the brothers been aware of the camp value of this scenario, this could have been a hoot, particularly with some of the cringe worthy dialogue that the actors have to struggle through. Instead of playing up the innuendo and suggestive dialogue, this is played with an embarrassingly straight face without even a hint of a wink to the audience. It is hard to believe that the Waters didn’t know what they had when Lissa says to her crush in a small chapel retreat “This was my special place before it was your special place.” At least it offers some unintentional laughs.

If candy canes were being handed out, Mean Girls would get four (“You go, Glen Coco!”) but there would be none for Vampire Academy.

Film Review – Last Vegas

Posted in Uncategorized on February 7, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Last Vegas (M)

Directed by: Jon Turtletaub

Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Old people are making a comeback. Sly, Arnie and pals are blowing up the screen with The Expendables franchise, Willis, Mirren and Malkovich are taking similar action in RED. Streep continues to be nominated annually for an Oscar. Are we finally fed up with the saturation of toned and tanned young starlets, with their cellulite-free thighs and wrinkle free faces? Or are we finally prepared to face and embrace our mortality? Anyone who saw and survived the harrowing Amour can surely handle anything age related now.

Serving as another outlet for the elderly to shine once again on the big screen – and as an FYI to the Hangover series that people over the age of 35 also like to get loose and messy in Sin City  – Last Vegas gathers some of Hollywood’s most talented, but less-frequently utilised gents for some tongue in cheek humour and to wax lyrical about the aging process.

At a funeral for yet another friend that has passed, 60-something Billy (Michael Douglas) proposes to his 30-something mid-life crisis girlfriend. And to the raised eyebrows of friends and family, she gallantly accepts.  Their big day is to be held in Las Vegas so Billy gathers his three best mates since childhood Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) for one last wild night of freedom…but only after their nanna nap.

There is tension between Billy and Paddy and Billy hopes to make amends, and the others bring along baggage too; Archie had a stroke and is being smothered by his son and Sam’s spark has gone from his marriage. The men try to recapture their youth, by indulging in clubbing, sexy young women and gambling, before the Grim Reaper comes tapping them on the shoulder.

The name of the game with Last Vegas is fun, which the cast and director have plenty of. And it is contagious. The first half is fuelled by laugh-a-minute gags and spot on comic timing by the capable cast. There is a hint of dramatics in the final moments in which Paddy reveals his greatest fears about aging. It is a poignant and honest moment, and Douglas is heartbreaking, that comes perhaps too far in the parade of grinding, scantily clad young bodies and crotch-thrusting humour. But better late than never. Last Vegas is a rare chance to face our fears of the inevitable – sagging skin, liver spots and receding hairline – with a helping of humour to soften the blow.

Film Review – Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (M)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley

Two stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Like something dragged out of a forgotten 1990s archive, or a copy of a copy of other, better CIA thrillers, Kenneth Branagh’s attempt to rejuvenate Tom Clancy’s famous character (after The Sum Of All Fears failed to spark much interest) plays like something we have seen a hundred times before. There is a distinct sense of deja-vu that hangs over this personality-less, lackluster spy film as it lumbers from one familiar sequence to the next.

After recovering from a war injury, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is recruited by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) to the CIA as an analyst in the wake of 9/11 -his cover is as a compliance officer at a stock brokerage . When he discovers that stock figures are not adding up over at a Russian sister-company, he is soon jetted off to Moscow for field work where he is promptly made the target of the worst, most unsuccessful assassin in film history.

Ryan soon suspects that company head honcho Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh) is planning to pull the economic rug out from under USA. With little experience, Ryan is placed in a position of life and death. An added obstacle is the arrival of Jack’s suspicious fiance Cathy (Keira Knightley) who has not been made aware of his chosen career and thinks he is having an affair.

What starts as a likable retread of familiar spy tropes (it feels like a trip down memory lane) with the charming Pine a watchable screen presence, soon becomes a chore of unimaginative, soulless and unbelievable story developments. Branagh rushes through his introduction to Ryan as if with his finger on fast forward as, within minutes, he goes from uni student to army officer to injured war hero to recovering paraplegic. A failed attempt at shorthand – so much information and potential character development is treated as an inconvenience.

Later, the haste and ease in which the CIA incorporate a civilian into their dangerous operation  to retrieve highly classified and secure information is laughable. Meanwhile, Branagh, as the villain, looks like something Mike Myers would have had a field day making fun of with his Dr Evil character in the Austin Powers film. The only thing this cliche character is missing is a cat to stroke. Branagh may have wanted to launch a new re-booted Jack Ryan franchise, but all he has succeeded in doing is running it into the ground. fortunately for Pine, he is attached to the far superior Star Trek re-boot.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.