Monthly Archives: February 2014

Out of Sight (1998)

When I first saw this movie it was probably my first exposure to the work of Steven Soderbergh, Out of Sight sees Geroge Clooney making up for the previous year’s Batman and Robin. This movie also reminds us that before she became known to the world as J-Lo, Jennifer Lopez was once known for being an actress.

Bank robber Jack Foley (Clooney) is breaking out of prison when a cop Karen Sisco (Lopez) almost foils his escape plan. Having to improvise he bundles her into the boot of his car with him as his friend Buddy (Ving Rhames) drives them far away from the prison. Despite the circumstances Foley and Karen get to talking and find they actually enjoy each other’s company. However they have to return to their normal lives which involves Karen chasing after Foley who in turn is determined to complete one last job.

This film had a lot of attention on it’s release for the chemistry between Clooney and Lopez (as well as about  J.Lo’s behind) and it has to be said the chemistry between them is amazing. The scene where they are stuck together in the car boot  is sizzling with sexual attraction and you can believe they would both take the risks to see each other again while still intent on completing their own separate missions.

Granted I haven’t seen a lot of Lopez’s films but this is my second favourite movie of hers (after Anaconda of course). She makes for a believable kick-ass cop and her relationship with her dad rounds out her character rather than just being Clooney’s love interest. Maybe Lopez needs to return to the crime genre rather than the same old rom-coms she seems to be turning out lately.

As well as the romance, there is also a thrilling story to be told. Soderbergh mixes up the narriative with flashbacks to Foley’s time in prison and explaining how he got to where he was at the beginning of the film. It’s fun seeing the story come together and wondering what Foley’s last job will be and seeing him going up against the proper bad guys lead by Don Cheadle. The script is also fun and snappy whether it’s the sparring between Foley and Karen or Foley’s interactions with Buddy.

This is the film to show anyone when they talking about what on-screen chemistry is, although not the best example for dating tips. (Bundling a girl into a car only works in this film, not in any other situation, even if it is by George Clooney).

Rating 4.5/5 – sexy,fun and thrilling-if only all crime films can be as good as this.

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Banshee Chapter

After seeing some decent horror films last year I’m getting back into my horror groove. However so far this year there doesn’t seem to have been any horror films that have caught my eye. Can conspiracy theory Banshee Chapter give me new hope?

Inspired by the dug experiments performed by the United States Government over the years, the Banshee Chapter follows journalist Anne (Katia Winter) as she tries to find her friend James (Michael McMillian) who was investigating the drug dimethyltryptamine-19 (DMT-19) used during Project MKUltra. Her search leads her to  writer Thomas Blackburn ( Ted Levine) and discovers the dark secret behind the experiments.

This film is so frustrating because its such a mixed bag. On the one hand you have some decent scares, an interesting premise and competent enough acting. But then the film takes all the things that are good and messes it up.

There is a good build of tension at the beginning as we’re watching the camera footage of  James taking the drug and witness his (possibly) last moments. The  music that plays on the radio is creepy as hell and when everything went tits up I was getting properly freaked out.

The film is intercut with “found” footage of the experiments done in the 1960s. Shot in black and white and with a lot of things hidden from the screen it’s actually quite effective and terrifying. More of this would have been much more interesting.

So for two-thirds of the movie I was enjoying it. However as things go along the more you think about the stupidity of the characters. “Yes lets take some experimental drug by the government given to me by people I don’t really know, what could go wrong!” “Yes I’ll go out to the desert by myself to investigate strange occurences that won’t freak me out.” In my mind I kept thinking of Ghostface from Scream when he mocks Drew Barrymore’s stupidity by saying “Why don’t you just go and investigate a strange noise or something.” AND THEN SOMEONE IN THE BANSHEE CHAPTER WENT TO INVESTIGATE A STRANGE NOISE!

I know horror films would not exist if characters made smart decisions but faced with one stupid choice after another really got on my nerves after a while and was undermining the tension of the film.

The stupidity of the main characters is one thing, but then you have the stupidity of the US government in the film. First of all everyone seems to be able to get a copy of the leaked footage from the supposedly secret experiments as well as get their hands on the drugs, then later the protagonists manage to find a super-secret base in the desert relatively easily, and what do they find? THE DOOR IS OPEN! What’s the point in a big cover up if you’re going to leave the front door wide open for anyone to enter?

The ending also did not make much sense. After the film I had to go online to check what had happened and the answer just left me with even more questions and plot-holes to think over.

Maybe I was over thinking things too much. But to me the Banshee Chapter did not live up the hype I had read about it. Shame as it has a good premise but the execution leaved much to be desired.

Rating 2.5/5-fun to start with but too many plot holes and a rubbish ending fails to make this properly scary

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In a World…

Lake Bell has mostly been known for supporting roles in films such as No Strings Attached and What Happens In Vegas. Now she goes from supporting player to quadruple threat with her directorial debut which she also writes, co-produces and stars in.

Carol (Bell) is a vocal coach who wants to break into the world of movie trailer voicovers, however she has to overcome being a female in a predominatly male environment. Being the daughter of a famous voiceover artist (Frank Melamed) doesn’t make things any easier. However when she hears the “In a World…” line made famous by Don LaFontaine is due to be brought back for a movie trailer Carol soon finds herself in the running for the job and a chance to change her life.

I have a confession to make. I love movie trailers.  Its one of my favourite part of the cinema experience. They are so much fun. Sometimes they can even be better than the actual movie. So for me it was fun to see the behind the scenes of these people trying to win the job as voiceover for a movie trailer (The Amazon Games looking like a great paradoy of The Hunger Games), and the backstabbing and game playing that goes on.

Lead character Carol is a mixture of goofiness and charm and she is a character that is easy to roote for and sympathise with. Its nice to see Lake Bell in the main role for once and proves she can work just as well as any a-listers (a parallel to Carol’s story perhaps?) She also gives plenty of good material to her co-stars as well. Her father Sam is brilliantly played by Melamed, the character is so horrible to his daughters at times that he easily becomes dislikeable but there is moments showing his insecurities and fear of failing that shows you a three dimensional human being underneath.

There are many funny moments in this movie such as Carol’s encounter with fellow voiceover artist Gustoff (Ken Marino) in his hidden room at his party.  These are nicely balanced by a touching subplot regarding Carol’s sister Dani (Michaela Watkins)and her husband Moe ( Rob Corddry)going through some marriage difficulties and Carol’s romantic exploits are also nicely played and doesn’t overshadow the main arc of the film which is Carol making her stamp in the natoriously male dominated industry.

This film is perhaps more for film buffs who enjoy a look behind the scenes of the competietive world of voice over tailers, but Carol’s journey should also appeal to the average cinema goer who just fancies watching a good movie.

Rating 3.5/5-Lake Bell proves she’s a force to reckoned with-so watch out!

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Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey has had something of a career boost in the last couple of years, ditching the bad rom-coms and reminding us that he can act. This journey seems to be hitting its peak with Dallas Buyers Club, possibly set to give McConaughey his first Oscar.

The film is set in Dallas 1985, when Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is told he is HIV positive and has 30 days to live. Not prepared to just give up and die Woodroof does whatever he can to prolong his life which leads him to a Mexican hospital that provided non FDA approved drugs that seem to be working. He realizes he can make some money importing and selling these drugs to other patients bringing him into direct conflict with the FDA.

McConaughey and Jennifer Garner have managed to redeemed themselves for their previous film together Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, and Dallas Buyers Club is a much better film than that dud. But it also feels a rather average film at times. Its not one that I feel I would need to see again anytime soon, nor did it ever hit me emotionally like fellow Oscar nominee 12 Years a Slave did. The film just rumbles along as you expect, being predictable in the way it tells you this story. It’s odd that an amazing true story brings about an average film.

However what is outstanding are the performances. McConaughey has rightly been praised for his role. When we are first introduced to Woodroof he is not immediately a character you warm to with his homophobia and hostile nature, and though he goes through some changes after his diagnosis he doesn’t necessarily come over as likeable even if he becomes more sympathetic. His reasons for bringing the drugs to Dallas is to make money, saving lives is more of an afterthought. It’s refreshing that Woodroof isn’t made to be some sort of saint even though he does good things. At first what you notice about McConaughey’s is his massive weight loss, however you soon get drawn into his performance as Woodroof and can’t help but admire his determination not to fade away like the doctors expect of him.  

Just like McConaughey, Jared Leto gives a great performance as Reyon, a transgendered HIV positive patient who becomes Woodroof’s business partner. Knowing that Reyon wasn’t a real person but one created for the film does perhaps lessen the impact of her plight some what, however there’s no denying that Leto gives a mesmerizing performance, and you hope he doesn’t have another seven year break before his next acting role. Although she hasn’t had as much attention as her male co-stars Garner also gives a sterling performance as the sympathetic doctor to Reyan and Woodroof.

It’s easy to see why it’s the performances rather than the filmmaking that has been gathering attention this award season. Go see it for the amazing performances but don’t be surprise if the story doesn’t grab you in the way it should.

Rating 3/5 –could be an Oscar on the way for the fabulous McConoughey in this otherwise average movie

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Austenland

Damn Jane Austen for being so lazy that she only wrote six novels, meaning that Hollywood has to find other ways to get Austen-hungry fans into the cinema. Based on the novel of the same name by Sharon Hale Austenland hopes to appeal to viewers who can’t get enough of Austen.

Jane (Keri Russell) is a 30-something American who is obsessed with everything Austen related. So much so that she books a trip to Austenland-a Jane Austen theme holiday run by the strict Mrs Wattlesbrook  (Jane Seymour) in England where the guests dress up and have actors playing up the Austen tropes. Here everyone is guaranteed to end their holiday with an ‘engagement’ . But can Jane find out who is her real-life Mr Darcy and who playing a game like Mr Wickham?

I normally don’t like to generalise films as being either a girl’s kind of film and a guy’s kind of film, but how much you enjoy Austenland will probably increase if you are a) female  b) enjoy Jane Austen’s novels and film adaptations and c) have a high tolerance for slushy rom-coms. As I fulfil all of these requirements I did indeed find myself enjoying Austenland.  It may not be the most demanding film but there was something charming about a film that doesn’t try hard to pretend it’s cool or edgy.

Main character Jane starts off as a bit wet and could very easily have bordered into annoying but Keri Russell (Waitress) gives a likeable performance making you want to spur her on rather than telling her to stuff Austen and spend her money in Las Vegas instead. Even though initially you may try to stop yourself getting involved in Jane’s complicated love affairs you do find yourself interested in which man she may end up with. Her friendship with fellow American guest Jennifer Coolidge and rivallry with Georgina King also provides some laughs.

And the resort is, as you’d expect, full of many handsome and dashing young men for the ladies to swoon over. Flight of the Concords star Bret Mckenzie is charming as stablehand  Martin, and although former Hollyoaks actor Ricky Whittle has little to do other than show off his torso-at least he plays to his strengths. JJ Feild (already use to Austen having played Henry Tilsey is ITV’s brillant adaptation of Northanger Abbey opposite Felicty Jones) is also appropriately smouldering as the Darcy-esque actor Mr Henry Nobley.

So if you enjoy rom-coms where you don’t expect to engage your brian too much, and you’re willing to suspend belief that someone would spend their life savings on an Austen-themed holiday then let Austenland work its charms on you.

Rating 3/5-undemanding romance that wears its love of Austen on its sleave

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That Awkward Moment

Romantic comedies have had something of a facelift of recent years, with studios feeling the pressure to appeal to both male and female comedies (becuase girls are only interested in rom-coms about shoes and getting married obviously-but thats another post).  So with that in mind That Awkward Moment aims to appeal to both sexes, with a look at bromances and plenty of nudity and sex alongside the romance. But will this tactic work, and more importantly be funny? 

When their friend Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) find outs his wife wants  a divorce, his best pals Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) make a pact to stay single with him. However soon all three are left in complicated romantic entaglements that threaten their quest for singlehood.

You can probably tell from the synopisis whether or not this will be your type of film. On the positive side, the bromance between the three guys works, which is good as a lot of time is spent in their company, and the three leads make a believeable group of friends. Their respective romances meanwhile has mixed results.

Although there were some chemsitry between Jason (Efron) and Ellie (Imogine Potts) and their romance had some sweet and funny moments, the main problem is that Jason is a major douche. I just didn’t think Ellie should accept Jason back after he blows her off when she really needs him. It was bad enough he mistook her for a prostitute (in one of the many moments that don’t come across as believeable) after they first slept together, are we really meant to believe she would then take him back for something even more unforgiveable later? He would have to work a lot harder than that.

Luckily the other two guys were more likebale with Mikey being the most sympathetic of the three and Daniel being probably the funniest. In fact I was more invested with Daniel’s relationship with gal pal Chelsea (Mckensie Davis) than with Jason and Ellie. While you really feel for Mikey as he gets messed around by his ex wife and struggles to get bakc into the dating world, his situation with his wife is a bit predictable and doesn’t really go anywhere that interesting.

Sometimes the script has a tendancy to replace comedy and character development with crude jokes about sex and hopes that no one will notice. It’s this overeliance which may alienate some viewers. It feels at times that the filmakers were not confident enough with its talented cast and kept putting in the dick jokes just in case.

I expect my opinion will be in the minority as I’ve seen this film get a lot of hate since it’s been released, and yes it’s not particularly original or mind-blowingly hilarious. However for me, That Awkward Moments does have enough funny set peieces and one liners to stop it slipping into just another crude, witless comedy.

Rating 3/5-a fun if not hugely original or realistic take on modern relationships

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The Wolf of Wall Street

Comedy is not normally something I would associate with Martin Scorsese or with Leonardo DiCaprio. Yet thats exactly what they set to bring us in this black comedy based on the memoir of Jordan Belfort.

Taking a job as a stockbroker in 1987 Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio) takes his first step in the immoral world of Wall Street and begins conning many people out of their money as he gets filth rich off their money and indulging in a world of cocaine, prostitutes and excess. However the party can’t last forever and soon Belfort’s dodgy dealings start catching up with him.

The Wolf of Wall Street does not open quietly, with Belfort indulging in dwarf tossing, receiving oral sex in a car and taking drugs out of a prostitute’s bum. Subtle it is not, and thank god for that. Scorsese pulls you into Belfort’s world of excess and you can’t help but be swept away by it all, no matter how obscene it all gets. For most of its running time the film is a brillant, almost slapstick comedy with DiCaprio’s Belfort at the dispicable centre of the action.

I was surprised at how hilarious DiCaprio was. I know he’s a great actor but I didn’t know he how funny he was or what a great phsyical performer he is.  My favourite scene was when Belfort-incapacitated by drugs and lying on the ground of his country club tries to make his way to his car outside. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen on film in ages.

Although DiCaprio is the performance everyone will be talking about he is also surrounded by a great supporting cast. Standouts include Jonah Hill as a partner in Belfort’s firm Donnie Azoff (complete with comedy false teeth), and newcomer Margot Robbie also makes a memerable apperance as Belfort’s second wife Naomi and not just because of her now infamous full frontal scene. There is also a great cameo from Matthew McConaughey as Mark Hanna, Belfort’s former boss and mentor who is suitable bonkers with his chest pounding and advise to start taking drugs during the day, among other ‘interesting’ advise to relax.

Although the movie is at heart a black comedy the tone changes gear towards the last third of the film as the consquences of Belfort’s actions catch up with him, and his already messed up relationship with his wife falls spectacularly apart.

If theres any negatives to this film its that there is no one to root for in this film and there’s no moral to take from it (unless ‘if you’re rich you can get away with anything’ counts as a moral ) but Scorsese has dealt with many anti-heros before and by casting the naturally charismatic DiCaprio in the lead role you can’t help but get swept away by it all. His casting is vital to the movie as you need to believe that he could con so many people and be so blindly admired and followed by his collegaues.

Some viewers may feel that the film is glorfiying Belfort’s actions, especially as his victims do not get much of a voice in this film, although I find it hard to believe anyone would see this movie and want to emulate him. But maybe thats just me. Others may find that Belfort’s success after his conviction being a motivational speaker and writing his memoirs a bitter pill to swallow considering the lives he’s ruined. However in Scorese and Dicaprio’s hands you can’t help but be engaged in the story of Belfort, even if you are rooting for him to get his comeuppance too.

Rating 4.5/5 -Obscene, excessive and brilliant, Scorese and DiCaprio once again show why they are a team to be reckoned with.

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