This Means War Review – A-Lister Annihilation!


Director: McG

Writers: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg

Stars: Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Handler


Release date: February 17th, 2012

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Pine, Hardy, and Witherspoon’s chemistry.

Worst part: The inconsequential sub-plots.

This Means War had all the ingredients to be a perfect date movie. Good looking people and romance for the girls and intense action for the guys. But while the film may be a sweet representation of the battlefield of love, at points it bites off more than it can chew.

Chris Pine & Tom Hardy.

It’s a very simple premise that we have here. Renegade federal agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are all around smooth operators and at the top of their game on (almost) every mission. Their strong friendship is tested with the introduction of the sexy and intelligent Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon). With fate bringing FDR and Tuck to her in different situations, their dating lives intertwine into a potentially dangerous love triangle. They must now use any means necessary to steal the girl away from one another with only death and a vengeful Agency target standing in their way. For a story that almost falls apart at the seams, both the stylish direction and stellar cast keep This Means War together. Pine and Hardy prove why they are two of the most popular actors working today. Their dynamic, and at points touching, chemistry in every scene together elevates their conventional roles. With Pine’s character as the smooth talking womaniser with a heart of steel and Hardy’s character being an honest guy struggling with the single life, opposites attract as the snappy dialogue, based on their differing personalities, illustrates their engaging friendship.

Reese Witherspoon.

 Unfortunately, Hardy, proving himself a very talented dramatic performer in films such as Inception and Warrior, seems uncomfortable with the genre as many of his comedic lines and slapstick moments fall flat, giving him the immediate appearance of being miscast. Reese Witherspoon is a stand out as the girl stuck in the middle. As the honest yet ignorant female lead, her energy and bubbly personality creates an enjoyable interpretation of what is normally a bland central character, in the vein of Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day. Despite the strong relationships and charisma between the three leads, the characters themselves never feel realistic. With McG (The Charlie’s Angels films, Terminator Salvation) it comes as no surprise as his films have a distinct lack of humanity due to his heavy focus on stylised action and slick special effects. Pine tries hard with the material but can’t shake off the character’s insanely low brow attitude toward women and patronising attitude toward his best friend. Witherspoon on the o other hand is forced to epitomise the ‘ultimate’ female character. With her fun job, good looks, beautiful apartment and with two good looking  guys after her at the same time, the glorification of her situation and actions make her a shallow representation of women. Her character’s situation is also worsened with the constant commentary from her obnoxious best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler).

“Don’t choose the better man, choose the man who makes you a better woman.” (Trish (Chelsea Handler), This Means War).

Our love triangle.

Many comedic moments in This Means War are hit and miss, particularly in the first half. The gross out jokes and overt sexual references seem at odds with the film’s tone and become instantly forgettable. However as the rivalry between Tuck and FDR picks up, so does the level of set up gags, which actually come off as hysterical in many scenes. There are many over the top pranks, particularly when Tuck shoots down a drone watching his every move, that are wildly entertaining and develop a consistent pace. McG’s slick direction, the quick cut style of the hand to hand combat and the direct sound editing of the explosions and gun fights, deliver one fast paced and exciting action scene after another. McG also knows how to use his settings and cinematography to create the enviable life and skills of a spy. Scenes including Tuck and FDR ducking and diving around Lauren’s apartment unbenounced to her or each other, the action packed mission on top of a skyscraper in Hong Kong and a rather brutal game of Paintball are choreographed and filmed with the technical complexity that makes McG one of Hollywood’s most skilled action directors. This Means War sadly lacks a sense of urgency. The over reliance of its basic premise becomes tedious, as the forced villain plot quickly feels useless and only creates a largely predictable conflict for the three main characters. Til Schweiger (Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz from Inglorious Basterds) tries but has little to do in his one  note role as the slimy European antagonist.

Here’s the big, inexcusable problem with This Means War –  there are too many cooks spoiling the broth. Thanks to McG’s incompetent direction and the noticeable studio interference, this spy-comedy never get the chance to gather intelligence and execute its mission.

Verdict: A messy and uninspired spy-comedy. 

Safe House Review – Determined Denzel


Director: Daniel Espinosa

Writer: David Guggenheim

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard


Release date: February 15th, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 115 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The South African settings.

Worst part: The generic plot.

With popular actor Denzel Washington playing a hardened protagonist in this violent action thriller, you may feel a sense of deja vu. Films such as Training Day and Man on Fire prove that Washington still has what it takes to adapt to any genre. His latest effort however, will leave you wanting more from his earlier, distinguished work as Safe House surprisingly fails to spark any real excitement from its intriguing premise.

Ryan Reynolds.

This time, Washington plays Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA operative who went rogue 10 years earlier and is believed to be a traitor. His search for answers within the agency leads him straight into trouble with the CIA and a band of African rebels; both already watching his every move. On the other side of the coin, Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a rookie operative struggling to find his sense of belonging in the agency, is forced to look after a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Frost is brought to the safe house and brutally interrogated after his run in with authorities. Almost immediately, the safe house is attacked and Matt, quickly forced to prove himself, extracts Frost to the next safe location. Their varying ideologies of trust and protocol are changed drastically as they question their responsibilities, emotional attachments and the inner workings of the CIA.

Denzel Washington.

The conventional plot, dialogue and characters don’t lift this thriller above the standard Hollywood action film structure, however convincing and thought provoking performances from Washington and Reynolds manage to keep Safe House together. Their electrifying chemistry accentuates their largely differing personalities. Scenes early in the film of Reynolds’ character boxing, walking lazily through the hallways of the safe house, and bouncing a ball against a wall for hours on end, define his strong desire to prove himself beyond controlling one secure location. This is compared to Washington meeting with a buyer and brutally taking down and escaping from Agents and rebels, illustrating his vastly different skill set and level of experience when compared to Reynolds’ character while defining their yin and yang relationship. Reynolds’ performance is strongly defined by his facial expressions. His naturalistic reactions when forced either to kill someone or explain his situation to his girlfriend,  illustrate his strong emotional shift when discovering the crushing depths his new life has led him to. This also proves that Reynolds is vastly becoming one of the most dynamic young actors consistently working.

“You practice anything a long time, you get good at it. You tell a hundred lies a day, is sounds like the truth. Everyone betrays everyone.” (Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), Safe House).

Washington’s character is unfortunately given short shrift. Not only have we seen several, more developed, variations of his version of the anti-hero before, but the plot revolving around his search for answers becomes increasingly uninteresting as the film goes on. Also given nothing but basic characterisations are Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson. These talented, veteran actors are wasted in their small roles  that serve little for the story. The style of this film distracts from the clear and simplistic exposition given. First time Hollywood director Daniel Espinosa takes many leaves out of Tony Scott’s book while choosing to film South Africa as if through the eye of the follower. The cinematography, involving shaky hand held camera work and very low lighting, serve a purpose in conveying a sense of realism, but severely  detract from the film’s unique appearance. This becomes abundantly clear in the many action scenes peppered  throughout. Though the action is well choreographed and shockingly violent, quick cuts and problematic cinematography keep them from either being creative for even understandable. The settings and colour patterns of Safe House are presented effectively, delivering a gritty representation of both the African desert landscapes and decrepit Cape Town settings. While also serving a perfect reflection of this story of dirt under the fingernails of the CIA and the murderous extremes people will go to.

Ultimately, Safe House is an action packed yet forgettable thriller. Serving a message about the free world’s view of its governments and security, and the treatment of prisoners in US government controlled interrogations, may be convincingly handled, but the poorly handled cinematography and conventional story and character elements keep it from being the relevant and entertaining action flick it deserves to be.

Verdict: A star-studded yet underwhelming action-thriller.

Man on a Ledge Review – Falling Down


Director: Asger Leth

Writer: Pablo F. Fenjves

Stars: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris


Release date: January 27th, 2012

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The courageous cast.

Worst part: The gigantic logic leaps.

When you have a film with a title as blunt and unsubtle as Man on a Ledge, you are likely to get exactly what you ask for. The film is a very mindless and tedious action thriller with many talented actors forced through bland material and one ridiculous action set piece after another.

Sam Worthington.

This tale of living life on the edge starts with Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), an ex-cop who escapes from authorities after two years in prison. He books a room at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, eats a final meal, cleans up and steps out onto the ledge. With the citizens of New York captivated by his daring feat, his ploy for attention is based on his call for freedom. After being sent to prison by slimy real estate tycoon David Englander (Ed Harris) for a crime he didn’t commit, he must call attention while at the same time, using his younger brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his Girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) to break into Englander’s safe to find the answers. Cassidy also calls upon hostage negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) and his former police partner Mike Ackerman (Anthony Mackie) to help prove his innocence.

Elizabeth Banks.

For a film involving a man threatening to jump from a high rise building to prove his innocence, Man on a Ledge surprisingly lacks either depth or any sense of tension. The direction by documentary director Asger Leth is heavily played down, choosing to reside with chases and heists over chemistry between the characters involved in these life or death situations. Despite what should be a convincing hostage negotiation thriller in the vein of the original The Taking of Pelham 123, the film is way over the top in many aspects. With the film switching mostly between the ledge and the heist, this Ocean’s 11 style heist only serves to be filled with one conflict after another for our characters to get past. Not only does the heist feel completely out of place for this type of film, but the constant, useless and unfunny bickering between the couple completing the heist becomes tiresome within 5 minutes. Despite the film’s consistent pacing, it moves from one ridiculous and predictable plot twist to the next. With the many attempts of story twists failing to create an emotional response, the final scene of the film will leave you sighing audibly.Of the many plot threads intertwining through Worthington’s character, the only one that is interesting involves his dice with instant death.

Genesis Rodriguez & Jamie Bell.

Man on a Ledge does manage to stay faithful to the original premise of the man on the ledge. Both the man on the ledge and the hostage negotiator are compelling and sensitive main characters. Throughout the film, the flashbacks and exposition based on them describe just enough to make them interesting. This is also helped by both Worthington and Banks once again delivering dynamic performances with the little they are given. Bell tries and fails to deliver an American accent, While a frail looking Harris and sexy, lingerie clad Rodriguez deliver Over the top and embarrassing performances as Englander and Angie Respectively. Harris’ excessive hand gestures and bad Brooklyn accent make you question his legendary Hollywood status. Despite a strong positive of the film being Rodriguez dressed in skimpy pink underwear, having her talk in Spanish in an over the top way is one of her many failed attempts at comedy. The film is filled with bad dialogue and a poor sense of humour, leaving it in the dust as a forgettable action flick trying desperately to be a hard edged but enjoyable cop drama. The film also suffers from a heavy handed ‘Occupy Wall Street’ message. This is only used to create an exaggerated connection between Worthington’s character and the crowd looking up at him, based on either a comical or emotional response to his situation.

“Today is the day when everything changes. One way or another.” (Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), Man on a Ledge).

Ed Harris.

The film manages to make several innovative references to other film’s of its type. Both Dog Day Afternoon and Safety Last! are paid tribute as we see the varying influences of a first time feature director. Despite the poor direction and screenwriting, the cinematography is very competent and is put to good use. If you suffer from either claustrophobia or a fear of heights, you may want to avoid this film as the many brisk shots detailing his view of the city, and point of view shots looking straight at the ground, create a perfect representation of his uncomfortable position. The quick editing also helps to establish a strong emotional response to this nightmarish ordeal. Quick cuts used to create a feeling of immediate danger with each slip, trip and chase amplify his terrifying situation. Despite the large number of chases, slips, attempted jumps to attract attention and helicopters flying dangerously close to the scene, they do briefly lift the film above its dull personality. For what its worth, you do have to commend Worthington for his efforts. He conquered his fear of heights with his film by standing on the 21st floor of the real Roosevelt Hotel for most of his scenes. His determination makes him one of the most commendable young Australian actors working today.

Don;t get me wrong, I love a good blockbuster premise. Hell, we need a helluva lot more of them to maintain audience interest in big-budget fare. However, Man on a Ledge fails to follow up on its many intriguing promises.

Verdict: A stupefying and bland action-thriller.

Chronicle Review – Snotty Supervillains


Director: Josh Trank

Writer: Max Landis

Stars: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly


Release date: February 3rd, 2012

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 83 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The comedic hijinks.

Worst part: The tonal shifts.

With the current popularity of ‘found footage’ with box office hits such as Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity franchise, Chronicle should be seen as an original and natural progression for the genre. This documentation of the darker side of the super-human character cleverly identifies many connections to the inner workings of the teenage psyche.

Dane DeHaan.

Told via home video camera, we follow Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a moody and shy high schooler struggling to fit in. Beaten by his drunken dad Richard (Michael Kelly) and looking after his dying mother at home, his salvation is in his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), the most popular guy in school who is somewhat reluctant to communicate with Andrew. Their discovery of an alien specimen with their friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) leads to strong changes in their evolutionary charts. Their development of telekinetic powers makes Andrew the most popular guy in school due to his incredible manipulation of objects. However, his fall from popularity back down to the bottom of the high school spectrum leads Andrew to unleash his powers on others, drawing out his disturbing darker side.

DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan & Alex Russell.

The three teenage leads are very identifiable. Their views on pranks, high school popularity, and girls relate to the world of the crass teenager in a very realistic way. Russell and Jordan are very likeable as Matt and Steve respectively. Matt’s story of becoming a better person, while trying to impress cute video blogger Casey by quoting poetry, defines his changing views of humanity while adapting to his super humanity. The major draw to Chronicle is both Andrew’s descent into the dark and Dehaan’s performance itself. His portrayal of this emotionally scarred yet sympathetic character fixated on the destruction of the dark side of humanity is shockingly disturbing. Scenes depicting Andrew explaining his method of pulling out teeth and his description of the ‘apex predator to man’ define Dehaan’s creepy and saddening performance as instantly captivating. Despite the enigmatic performances and chemistry between the three leads, Andrews family life could have been focused on to greater degree. The plot surrounding his kind, dying mother and highly abusive dad feel forced into this film compared to the delicate story of personal torment surrounding Andrew in high school and his friends trying desperately to help him. While Casey is a wasted character only used to bring another camera angle into important scenes. First time director Josh Trank depicts his view of superhuman teenage angst as an allegory for puberty. Despite their bodies changing in very different ways to normal, the training and control of their abilities make these characters identifiable.

“Yes, it was the black guy this time.” (Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), Chronicle).

Our plucky super-humans.

The rules they set down after a freak accident describe their realistic view of great power coming with greater responsibility. Despite their strict rules, the moments of comedy, based on their fascination with their unbelievable powers, hit on every level. Tricking people around them using their telekinesis, particularly when Steve starts up a leaf blower to lift up a Girl’s skirt, becomes instantly funnier than it already was due to the reactions and witty quips by the three boys. This very unique take on the superhero genre is defined by its cinematography. Chronicle‘s use of handheld camera footage, to capture every second of their developing stories, makes it an intelligent and provocative thriller. Switching camera angles from different handheld sources, manipulation with the single camera by Andrew’s powers and scenes of exhilarating tracking shots, documenting the boys’ newly discovered flying abilities, are a thrill to watch. The first person view of their flight through the clouds is completely immersive, making the viewer feel they’re travelling faster than a speeding bullet. While the special effects are used to clever effect in many scenes, at points its use becomes too obvious. This is a situation where less would have been more as the glaringly fake effects and over the top final battle, complete with an over abundance of camera angles based on the number handheld sources, feel out of place with the rest of the film’s clever almost entirely single camera style.

In this ultra-slick era of remakes, reboots, and irritating trends, Hollywood has finally delivered its first truly phenomenal found-footage flick. Fitting its enjoyable lead performers into its tiny lens, Chronicle is sky high entertainment.

Verdict: A powerful and enjoyable found-footage drama.