Flight Review – Denzel’s Divulgence


Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: John Gatins

Stars: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood


Release date: November 2nd, 2012

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 138 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The plane crash sequence.

Worst part: Some awkward religious preachings.

Remember the events of January 15, 2009? US Airways Flight 1549 departed from New York City’s LaGuadia Airport. Shortly after take-off, fortuitous circumstances forced the pilot, Capt. Chesley Sullenburger, to ditch the plane into the Hudson River. Flight depicts a similar story of a brush with death and destiny. It’s a stirring achievement, capturing every detail of a startling and emotional narrative.

Denzel Washington.

Thankfully, this particular story is fictional. The idea of capturing a disastrous event from one person’s perspective is certainly an alluring one. Here, the pilot of a fateful flight is put on the chopping block. Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) wakes up early one morning with a raging hangover, bottles strewn all over his hotel room and a naked air hostess, Katerina (Nadine Velazquez), waltzing out of his bed. After an angering phone call, he snorts a line of cocaine and makes his way to the airport. His decrepit state is no match for flying, but he does it anyway. Obtaining a wink of shut-eye and tiny Vodka bottles on the flight, his fun times are disrupted by a heart-wrenching jolt. Rolling the plane in mid air before crash landing in an open field, his miraculous actions save 96 out of the 102 souls on board. Despite being labelled a hero, his issues are far from over. Whip must then collide with various ‘acts of god’ and the demons of his past, before incriminating evidence sends him into a deeper emotional spiral.

Washington & Kelly Reilly.

Washington & Kelly Reilly.

Flight is a profound and engaging film that is definitely not for the faint of heart. This character study, sure to anger some and scare others, is a truly vital experience for anyone used to being under the influence or in over their heads. This story of temptation is one of many to deal with mental instability and intoxication. It succeeds due to its compelling story of faith and well-being. Washington’s intense performance adds poignancy to his already solid character. Whitaker is clearly a troubled individual. The outcome of this investigation rests almost entirely on his behaviour. He never means to fail, yet alcohol and illicit drugs continually draw him back into making the same pathetic mistakes. Every time he looks into a bottle he sees a shining light which briefly takes him away from his gruelling problems. As a man without a family, hope or true identity, his story is about acceptance more so than finding a miraculous cure. Issues concerning trust and father/son relationships also become part of this heart-wrenching journey. He must find freedom before the press and airline officials take it away.

John Goodman.

John Goodman.

This story deals with faith in a way that never talks down to religion nor elevates it. This ‘act of god’ is merely a sign of something much greater for Whitaker. It allows him to make up his own mind about faith and humanity. But the film is not without its over-bearing moments. At one point, a cancer patient hammers home preachings about fate. It’s a funny scene, but one that could’ve finished with a much less abrasive conclusion. The accident helps Whitaker find solace through other individuals. Sub-plots, though effective in establishing Whitaker’s emotional complexity, fail to develop beyond a certain point. At one stage, he becomes intimately acquainted with a down-on-her-luck addict, Nicole (Kelly Reilly). The first half-hour provides a window into her degraded existence. She struggles to pay rent, frequently injects herself with illicit substances and almost falls into pornography. It seems she may become a much more important character. However, her involvement ceases when Whitaker is depicted in a more enlightening manner.

“Hey, don’t tell me how to lie about my drinking, okay? I know how to lie about my drinking. I’ve been lying about my drinking my whole life.” (Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), Flight).

Washington, Bruce Greenwood & Don Cheadle.

Washington, Bruce Greenwood & Don Cheadle.

Director Robert Zemeckis is, arguably, one of the most versatile directors in film history. He has gone from classic action-adventure (Romancing the Stone, the Back to the Future series), to uplifting drama (Forrest Gump, Cast Away), to imaginative motion capture-driven animation (Beowulf). Flight combines Zemeckis’ talents into a moving and thought-provoking experience. The plane crash sequence is one of the most vertigo and tension-inducing set pieces since Cast Away (his last live-action film). Zemeckis smartly concentrates on the emotions flowing through this unpredictable event. It should leave any viewer biting their nails or tightly holding the arm rest. This claustrophobic sequence, ironically, launches the film sky high. The supporting cast is vital to this personal drama. Bruce Greenwood is his usual charismatic self as Whitaker’s frustrated friend. Don Cheadle is an enlightening presence as Whitaker’s determined lawyer. In their first film together since Devil in a Blue Dress, Washington and Cheadle create a comfortable dynamic here. While the ubiquitous John Goodman steals the show as Whitaker’s vulgar and hilarious hippie-esque Drug dealer. He breathes a sigh of relief into an otherwise dark narrative.

Washington has delivered his most ground-breaking work in years. Flight is an electric and potent story of hope and redemption. Denzel, delivering his best performance since Training Day, grapples his A-list statues and never lets go. With so many intimate elements, Zemeckis’ new film is flying high.

Verdict: An intense and potent drama.

Django Unchained Review – Tarantino Tyranny


Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson


Release date: December 25th, 2012

Distributors: The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 165 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Dynamite performances from Waltz and DiCaprio.

Worst part: The excessive use of the ‘N-word’.

One of the most advanced languages on Earth has to be ‘Tarantino English’. Everyone in Hollywood would kill to speak it on the big screen. The dialogue of one of Hollywood’s greatest Auteurs has sky-rocketed him and many actors into the A-list. The director’s work has inspired film buffs and makers alike, while washing the modern film-going audience in a wave of blood and expletives. His latest, Django Unchained, proves that an ageing genre can be brought back to life.

Jamie Foxx.

Django (Jamie Foxx) is released from slavery by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Charming the inhabitants of America while hunting down criminals for the tempting rewards, Schultz makes a satisfying proposition with Django. If Django identifies Schultz’ next targets, then he will help Django free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Django, training promisingly in the art of gun fighting, is ready to meet his vicious enemies as a free man. Broomhilda’s owner turns out to be Plantation owner and Mandingo aficionado Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). On his luxurious ranch, ‘Candieland’, Candie must contend with his intimidating guests.

Django Unchained can be seen as many things. It’s an engaging and visceral mix of blaxploitation flick, revenge tale, black comedy and violent spaghetti western. Tarantino’s love of western tropes has lead to this anachronistic and lively experience (basically a mix of The Searchers, Blazing Saddles and Jackie Brown). The first act defines who these characters are and why we should support them. Breaking Django free in a tight first scene, Schultz and his new partner divide the land while eagerly searching for bloodthirsty wretches. The partnership builds overtime as Django stops being a stoic slave and becomes a fierce yet heartening anti-hero. The beginning moves at a cracking pace. This largely linear story is a much more reserved choice for Tarantino, known to be a director obsessed with subverting any storytelling style. However, when DiCaprio’s character enters the film, it slows down to focus on Tarantino’s fierce dialogue and tension-inducing conversations. This is Tarantino’s first film without his regular editor Sally Menke, and it shows. At 165 minutes, this already gritty and epic revenge fantasy is extended longer than required. This also proves Tarantino to be a better director than screenwriter, in need of Roger Avary(Pulp Fiction co-writer)’s cautioning hand in the script-writing stage.

Leonardo DiCaprio.

His directorial flourishes liven up the sprawling landscapes and action set pieces. Tarantino has never been one to back down from excess. Thankfully, Django Unchained is a master-class in excess, but done in a particularly inventive way. Never willing to downplay this already expansive story, he livens it up with anachronisms, spicy dialogue and gore. Each setting adds a distinctive harshness to every scene, while His rush-zoom effect adds a comic-book like affectation to this burgeoning western universe. This version of the american plains is an anarchic mess. Tarantino loves to splatter exaggerated amounts of blood across many shots. The Sam Peckinpah-esque gore becomes harrowing to watch, but it wouldn’t be a Tarantino flick if it didn’t. When Django and Schultz aren’t putting giant bullet holes into baddies, then a black man is getting ripped apart by dogs, mandingos are fighting to the death or someone is brutally tortured. Combining elements from contrasting time periods, Blackly comedic moments balance out the gruelling intensity. Some viewers, however, may find the comedic, and painfully excessive, use of the ‘N-word’ discomforting. Much like in his previous film Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino uses his characters as weapons against racism and prejudice. Times have clearly changed, and he wants this fact emphasised with as many intensifying slurs as possible.

“Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?” (Django (Jamie Foxx), Django Unchained).

Samuel L. Jackson & Kerry Washington.

Samuel L. Jackson & Kerry Washington.

This film should have been called ‘One Upon a Time in Tarantino’s Head’. He has done his research as far as capturing a disturbed and rounded depiction of the wild south. Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Leone both get their dues here. What also makes this adventure so compelling are the nasty characters and enigmatic performances on display. Foxx plays the smooth-talking Django with a unique range. Despite delivering greater performances in Collateral and Ray, he still a true acting force here. Sporting slick attire and quick moves, Django quickly becomes a better shade of bad-ass. Waltz steps back into Tarantino’s world after his revelatory performance in Inglorious Basterds. Charming his way out of any situation, his character is a welcome presence on-screen. DiCaprio provides a revelatory turn as the sadistic and cold-hearted Candie. His character’s blackened teeth and trimmed beard illuminate DiCaprio’s steely persona. His character will surely be added to the likes of other classic Tarantino creations. Samuel L. Jackson hasn’t been this entertaining in years. As the true soul of Candieland, his character is a heartless and vivacious individual.

It may seem impossible, but Tarantino has done it again! He has created a controversial yet rambunctious story of the American heartlands. With his trademark flourishes, this enthralling and delectable western becomes a gleefully hilarious bloodbath. As Candie would say: “Adult supervision is required.”

Verdict: A visceral and eclectic adventure.

Silver Linings Playbook Review – Dancing with Disaster


Director: David O. Russell

Writer: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker


Release date: November 16th, 2012

Distributor: The Weinstein Company 

Country: USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Dynamic performances from Cooper and Lawrence.

Worst part: De Niro’s slightly obnoxious character.

They say that “every cloud has a silver lining”. This metaphor illuminates the good moments in an otherwise dark existence. This idea is what Silver Linings Playbook explores in great detail. Positivity is the basis of this rewarding and genuine romantic comedy. Rom-coms are normally never this in-depth. But this film is worthy of its Academy Award nominations. Its charismatic performances and solid messages prove that Hollywood rom-coms with real heart and laughs can still be made.

Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence.

Silver Linings Playbook‘s story picks up with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) in a mental  institution. He seems fine, yet the doctors and courts insist that he has a problem. That doesn’t stop his stern and comforting mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) from taking him out of the asylum and putting him in her and Pat Sr.(Robert De Niro)’s home. His rehabilitation crumbles as he discovers and is re-introduced to several problems under their roof. Trying to get his marriage back on track, Pat seeks to become a better person and live every day to the fullest. His plans, however, are disrupted by promiscuous young widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Her mysterious and intimidating personality attracts him. However, her husband’s death has caused her own severely debilitating mental issues. With Pat’s family and friends, and Tiffany, by his side, he may hopefully find that desirable silver lining.

Robert De Niro & Jacki Weaver.

Whether it’s Jack Nicholson rising up against injustice in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder befriending one another in Girl, Interrupted, instability and rehabilitation prove to be Profound topics to put on celluloid. Much like this year’s hit indie-drama Smashed, a controversial yet painful topic has been discussed with a balance of sorrow and comedy. The humour here comes from a quirky sense of irony and awkwardness. The supporting characters react to Pat and Tiffany with a conflicting array of emotions. Between each psychotic episode, Pat and Tiffany relieve the tension by discovering the positives of everyday life. Silver Linings Playbook is an intimate and detailed examination of the effects of mental instability. It discusses Pat’s mental issues with a warming sincerity. Sidelined with mood swings and multiple restraining orders, Pat’s journey to success and happiness isn’t easy. Pat himself is an unpredictable yet heartfelt human being. His love for his unfaithful wife is what put him away. Unable to feel joy or comfort in things he used to embellish, his freeing quest to find happiness turns his conflicted personality into something worth cherishing.

Cooper & Chris Tucker.

Cooper & Chris Tucker.

The film delves deeply into his life, as multiple sources of his condition are discovered. He wears a garbage bag while jogging through the neighbourhood and throws acclaimed novels through windows. This erratic behaviour promptly alerts the viewer to Pat’s burgeoning diagnosis. Pat still is, however, an inspirational character. Interacting with his family while balancing a keen intellect and bright personality, he soon becomes the silver lining of many people’s lives. David O. Russell wrote and directed this uplifting story. His acclaimed works, including Three Kings and The Fighter, have received deserved attention and multiple Academy Awards. Known for on-set shouting matches with his actors, O. Russell is definitely one of the most keen-eyed and determined directors working in Hollywood today. His delicate direction and witty screen-writing bring life to a predictable story. It’s a story of boy-meets-girl, but peppered with several alarming nuances along the way. O. Russell clearly loves heated arguments (watch The Fighter for a definitive example). Here, every character’s realistic and dangerous problems collide at once. This leads to several breath-taking punches and insults being thrown across the Solitano’s house.

“I do this! Time after time after time! I do all this shit for other people! And then I wake up and I’m empty! I have nothing!” (Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Silver Linings Playbook). 

Cooper & Lawrence.

Cooper & Lawrence.

Having directed Christian Bale’s outstanding turn in The Fighter, O. Russell is a masterful actor-director. He is able to draw remarkable performances out of actors far outside their comfort zones. Cooper, known as the ‘pretty boy’ in films such The Hangover and The A-Team, deserves every bit of praise for his performance here. Cooper’s facial twitches, wide smile and charismatic personality bring this difficult role to life. Lawrence proves, both here and in The Hunger Games, that she is currently the best young actress in Hollywood. Her enthralling persona, sarcastic tone and inherent sexuality add multiple layers to Tiffany’s damaged psyche. The chemistry between her and Cooper is electric and provides the best on-screen couple since (500) Days of Summer. Recovering from a disastrous run of poor material over the past decade, De Niro is back to his intense best. He proudly and distinctly embodies an irritating character. His character’s obsessive love of the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team is irrationally crazy in itself.

The film is as naturalistic and comforting as its Philadelphia setting. O. Russell proves once again that he can create truly affecting material. Credit also goes to Cooper and Lawrence for proving their Oscar-worthy talents.

Verdict: An enlightening and unique rom-com. 

Smashed Review – Wasted Winstead


Director: James Ponsoldt

Writer: James Ponsoldt, Susan Burke

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer


Release date: October 12th, 2012

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics 

Country: USA

Running time: 81 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Winstead’s naturalistic performance.

Worst part: Underdeveloped sub-plots.

Everyone, at some point in their lives, is exposed to alcohol. Alcohol is seen as a brief escape from reality. Temptation and redemption are the focus of Smashed. It’s a film that discusses an issue that is normally left alone. Alcoholism destroys lives in multiple ways, but this film is brave enough to delve into one person’s 12 step journey. Smashed is a balanced and thought-provoking study of how anyone can change.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Aaron Paul.

The film documents the rehabilitation process of Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Her marriage to Charlie (Aaron Paul) is made up of a love of sex, music and alcohol. Every day is spent drinking like a fish. Their inept decisions lead to unacceptable incidences such as bike-riding crazily through the streets. This inappropriate behaviour, however, changes when Kate lies to, and throws up in front of, her class of 3rd grade youngsters. Dealing with her increasingly offensive husband, her class, and her own internal issues, she decides to become sober. With the help of Vice-principal Dave (Nick Offerman), the 12 step program should hopefully change everything for the better. However, Charlie is actively against everything in this healing process.

Winstead & Nick Offerman.

Winstead & Nick Offerman.

Smashed promotes an alarming message about the effects of alcoholism. It’s a sweet, witty and honest tale of survival against all odds. This realistic issue is delicately emphasised as Kate pushes herself away from normality. From the beginning, the film illustrates Kate and Charlie’s fascination with the deadly substance. Whether she’s drinking in the shower or taking a swig before teaching, Kate is bluntly depicted as a troubled individual. We, however, are never allowed to judge the characters, as they must learn to accept and solve their own issues. It takes an embarrassing convenience store incident for Kate to realise what her affliction is doing. Smashed also smartly depicts why alcohol is seen as, as Homer Simpson puts it, “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” It’s lightly comic touch relieves the heavily dramatic weight of this identifiable issue. The laughs come from Kate and Charlie’s increasingly stupefying actions. When she wakes up under a bridge after a big night out, even she knows what has to happen with her life. Her perspective is illustrated with visual flair. Jarring at points; constant focus pulls, handheld camera work and cuts to black depict the heavy distortion created through consumption.

Winstead & Paul.

Winstead & Paul.

A heart-warming and important experience, Smashed also discusses how people are drawn together. Whether they are causing the problem or wish to help, the characters are suitably realistic. Her relationship with Charlie is a sad exploration into how her problems started. This couple celebrates their own inappropriate behaviour. Charlie sits at the back of the bar cheering on his drunken wife. As she belts out a hit song, both her and this appalling issue are placed in the spotlight. Unfortunately, their relationship is barely developed. This is mostly due to the lack of depth given to Charlie. He is simply the ‘enabler’. Smashed  unconvincingly focuses on the struggle between husband and wife, with every revelation being predictable or disengaging. The film succeeds, however, by establishing the importance of Kate’s journey. Studying her broken childhood, cynical mother and care-free attitude, this enlightening story of hope is based on redefining these vital elements of her existence. Several sub-plots fail to develop throughout. This slice-of-life story of survival and repression presents some key relationships but fails to explore them. Maybe this is a necessary decision; leaving us to question where Kate’s story may, or may not, end up.

“I like knowing that every little fuck-up I make is going to be a topic of conversation with a woman that I don’t know.” (Charlie (Aaron Paul), Smashed).

Octavia Spencer.

This grounded version of Leaving Las Vegas is supported by likeable performances from its ensemble cast. The actors filling these roles deliver a necessary amount of charisma. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the WorldThe Thing) is an energetic presence on screen. Providing equal amounts of sassiness and sorrow, Winstead delivers in an already solemn role. Her character is a likeable and strong-willed individual lost to temptation. Her humanistic turn is what propels the narrative as she constantly questions the people around her and her own life. Aaron Paul (HBO’s Breaking Bad) delivers in an underdeveloped role. Giving freelance writers a bad name, his character is a sympathetic yet problematic part of Kate’s life. He may be to blame for his marriage’s problems, but he becomes increasingly and sadly unstable without the love of his life. Nick Offerman is essentially playing a toned-down version of his character Ron Swanson from TV series Parks and Recreation. As easily the film’s smartest character, Offerman provides a needed sense of wit and jerkiness. Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) turns her two dimensional role into a memorable part of this story. Her character’s down-trodden past compels everyone around her.

The first step of overcoming any addiction is admitting you have a problem. Kate’s unforgivable actions lead her to become a likeable and realistic character. Smashed  examines the human soul while facing a controversial subject head-on.

Verdict: A humanistic and clever independent drama.

Pitch Perfect: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Review – Aca-ceptable


Group/Singer: Pitch Perfect Cast, Christophe Beck (composer)

Label: Universal Music

Genre: Pop, Acappella

4/5

Pitch Perfect was one of the biggest commercial hits of 2012. What gave the film a necessary punch was its pumping soundtrack. Whether the film is considered a coming-of-age teen comedy or a fun musical, its soundtrack reaches out as far as possible and, for the most part, its pitch…pretty good.

It’s an Acappella/pop soundtrack with a fun vibe. Without sounding like yet another Glee album, this compilation combines the positive elements of two genres. The album, just like the film, is divided between guys and girls. The groups combine a varying range of voices to create catchy covers of popular tunes. The first track is the Treblemakers (Boys) performance of Rhianna’s ‘Don’t Stop the music’. Their version is a refreshing take on this hit song; depicting a brave decision to switch between different demographics. Faring considerably poorer is their version of ‘Let it Whip’. The vocals ring false this time around, losing the catchy tempo of their previous cover. Luckily, they pick their signature style back up with a lively rendition of Flo Rida’s Right Round.

Recommendations: ‘Cups’, ‘Since U Been Gone’, ‘Right Round’.

It then turns to the girls. Following up modern hits with classic medleys, the album enlivens songs from multiple decades to capture a varying audience. The Barden Bellas (Girls) interweave ‘The Sign’, ‘Turn the Beat Around’ and ‘Eternal Flame’ into a chirpy and spirited number. The album’s stand out track is Anna Kendrick’s song ‘Cups’. Using only her sweet vocals and a plastic cup for percussion, her harmony sends shivers down the spine. It proves the Tony-winner’s talents as a true performer. The biggest medley comes from the girls, with the grouping of ‘Price Tag’, ‘Give Me Everything’ and The Breakfast Club‘s anthem ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ honouring the film’s love of pop culture and nostalgia simultaneously.

The boys and girls get to mix-it-up throughout the album. Despite obvious signs of auto-tuning, songs are infused with the stellar and unique voices of the entire cast. The cover of ‘Since U Been Gone’ is a fun version of an already enjoyable number. The ‘Riff-off’ is a stand out track. Featuring popular songs such as ‘S&M’ and ‘Let’s Talk about Sex’, both parties come out swinging as multiple tracks are ceremoniously blended together.

For the most part, Pitch Perfect‘s soundtrack is aca-ceptable. Rivalling this year’s soundtracks (including Les Miserables), this compilation is sure to please pop music fans and nostalgics alike.

Verdict: A Fun and fluffy soundtrack.

L.A. Noire Review – Cops, Criminals & Controllers


Genres: Third person shooter, Open world, Action-adventure

Companies: Rockstar, Team Bondi, Take-Two Interactive

Platforms: PS3, X-Box 360, PC

4½/5


Release date: May 17th, 2011

Mode: single player


 

The never-ending Grand Theft Auto series has taken the world by storm. Whether it’s the guiltless thrills of drifting through an open Pro-America universe or the weird giggle had with killing prostitutes with a muscle car, Rockstar have found their winning formula. So if something isn’t broken than why try to fix it?

Instead of tampering with already golden property, they have duplicated their delectable game development style to fit other genres. Along with the rollicking thrills already had with Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire continues their successes. A controversial premise to be sure- bringing life back to an ageing film genre while using film technology to create a cinematic interactive landscape. I am however happy to report that noir has never been this dark. It turns out gamers and cinephiles can interact every once in a while. Yipee!

Checking off the film noir tropes.

This cinematic adventure through L.A. streets is a gorgeous yet stifling way of connecting to a classier time. The story is about as comical and generic as 1950s detective thrillers come. Breaking it down; a rebellious cop named Cole Phelps, his numerous police partners and the scum of L.A. walk into a bar. Well actually…they walk in and out of several. This interchanging labyrinth of criminals and cowboys clashes whenever Phelps is on the scene. You already know this type of law-man; war veteran, smart pinstripe suit, trigger finger and a nasty scowl smudged into his face.

Speaking of faces, L.A. Noire has broken more ground than just L.A’s street scape.  Rockstar and Australian company Team Bondi have used 1950s archival footage and snapshots to create a truly authentic recreation of the City of Angels. Aerial photos capture a city kept inside many rectangular windows throughout history. The result stands alongside Rockstar’s similarly detailed universes. San Andreas and the american plains look conventional next to L.A. Noire‘s labyrinth of stark colours and outrageous panoramas. Its use of motion capture technology is also a positive. Having already stretched the bonds of film technology, L.A. Noire‘s characters deliver a startling level of immersion. Each face is rendered to perfection, with each wrinkle and facial expression adding to the already energetic experience.

One of many horrific crime scenes.

But what about the gameplay itself. Well, Rockstar’s open world formula has once again proven to be successful. Along with GTA and Read Dead‘s anti-hero lead characters, Phelps is yet another gun toting relic. Playing him is a treat, however, as this bad cop continually ignores the good cops and steals the spotlight. The aforementioned facial constructions look top-notch during the difficult interrogation sequences. CSI, eat your heart out  – the gamer is now in control! In each chat with members of L.A’s criminal circus, three choices- truth, doubt and lie- can be picked to analyse a crook’s answer. Get this right- you’re top cop. Get them wrong, however, you risk becoming the police station idiot. These difficult interrogations are still better than the car controls. Sure, the chases move well. But its hard to manoeuvre cars that handle like school-buses.

L.A. Noire is best served to a true media nut. With many references to films such as The Untouchables, Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, they can enjoy how one medium has cooperated with another to create one hell of a game. Just imagine what could come next. Goodfellas as a first person shooter, perhaps?

Verdict: The ultimate film noir experience!

This is 40 Review – Apatow’s Admittances


Director: Judd Apatow

Writer: Judd Apatow

Stars: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks, Megan Fox


Release date: December 21st, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 133 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The chemistry between Rudd and Mann.

Worst part: Its 134 min. length.

What is a defining part of life that is scary and unavoidable? Age. Age and wisdom define who we are as people. This pressing issue affects everyone in Judd Apatow’s new dramedy This is 40. The film is a coming-of-age tale in more ways than one. It’s also a funny, insightful yet slow jog toward one couple’s goals. One can’t help but notice, however, that Apatow’s comedy styling would be best suited to another format.

Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann.

Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann.

This story follows married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) as their lives begin to crumble. With Debbie having turned forty and Pete following suit, they contemplate where their lives have ended up. But bodily restrictions and regrets are far from their only problems. Pete’s record company is failing to gain the attention it needs to stay afloat. While Debbie is convinced one of her employees is stealing money from her clothing store. Also coming to a head are problems with their kids Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow), as both adjust to their bickering parents and their own inconsistencies. It’s up to Pete and Debbie to band together, before their afflicting issues cripple their marriage.

Rudd, Chris O’Dowd & Lena Dunham.

Apatow clearly loves his own life. Putting too much of himself into each film, all four of his theatrical creations can be seen as pieces of a much greater puzzle. His breakout smash hit The 40-Year old Virgin discuses the ‘first time’ and the importance of adolescence. Knocked Up, the pseudo-precursor to This is 40, chronicles the nervousness that comes with having a child. Funny People is based on the acceptance of death. While This is 40 is about hitting the wall. The norms of society are examined with close scrutiny. Instead of depicting unrealistically happy people conflicted by implausible issues, Apatow’s illustration of marriage and parenthood is smart and appropriately realistic for a Hollywood Romantic-comedy. Pete and Debbie are basically an ideal 1990’s couple forced to deal with the issues of a new century. Feeling out of place and unable to help, their constant arguing grounds this couple in a realistic fashion. They angrily discuss everyday issues such as kids, bullying, friends, parents and, most importantly, money. Apatow’s involvement, to a certain extent, brings out the uncomfortable and jarring elements of this on-screen relationship. With Rudd essentially playing Apatow’s avatar, the involvement of Mann (Apatow’s real-life wife) and their kids unnecessarily hits too close to home. Writer/directors that Apatow has obviously  taken notes from could’ve avoided subjectivity to convey a clearer message and funnier film-going experience. James L. Brooks and Nancy Meyers would’ve improved the material at hand and injected a greater amount of wit into proceedings (watch Brooks’ Spanglish for a strong example).

“We had sex the other night. You should give me some credit for that.” (Pete (Paul Rudd), This is 40).

Megan Fox.

Megan Fox.

Apatow’s effect on Hollywood comedy in the past few years has been exponential. He has resurrected careers and reinvigorated gross-out humour. Here, he has proven just how important he still is. With a Robert Altman-esque love of cameos and a refreshing grasp on reality, he has created an ideal night out for family and friends. He has, however, repeated his biggest mistake in stretching an identifiable story out to an excessive run-time. His involvement in TV, including hit shows such as Freaks and Geeks and Girls, has affected his grasp on concise cinematic storytelling. While avoiding Funny People‘s monotonous pace and unessential revelations, he is still unable to focus on the most important parts of his own material. Subplots are picked up and dropped without a hint of warning or development. Important issues are also unresolved, disrupting this story’s all too vital messages about family values and the joys of life. The comedic tone changes abruptly throughout. Flipping instantaneously from heartening moments to situational comedic hijinks, Apatow’s choices seem to be muddled here. Having said that, many characters are carried by fun performances. Rudd and Mann depict the same loving yet sour relationship they achieved as the same couple from Knocked up. They are two of the most likeable actors in Hollywood, and, despite their coarse attitudes here, its still easy to see why.

This is 40 can be summed up in one scene. Debbie’s gynaecological exam leads to everyone in the room trying to determine her real age. This hilarious yet frustrating game details both the sour aspects of ageing and Apatow’s love of awkward observational comedy. Its a comedy with as much wisdom, bite and tedium as life itself.

Verdict: An enlightening yet tedious look at growing up. 

Gangster Squad Review – Guys & Molls


Director: Ruben Fleischer

Writer: Will Beall

Stars: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn

 


Release date: January 13th, 2013

Distributors: Warner Br0s. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Charismatic performances.

Worst part: Its lack of depth.

A girl, carrying dreams of Hollywood success, steps into a bus station. A creepy figure immediately lures the gullible blonde into a trap. However, the criminal was followed by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin). O’Mara defeats the criminal and his accomplices, finds the frightened girl and says “Welcome to Los Angeles.” From the get go, Gangster Squad establishes the ‘City of Angels’ as a seedy underbelly of the 1940s and ’50s. The film is nothing but a violent-as-all-hell piece of escapism.

Josh Brolin & Sean Penn.

Josh Brolin & Sean Penn.

The goons O’Mara took down belong to Jewish ex-boxer and powerful criminal Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). His burgeoning empire, comprised of drug trafficking, pimping and money laundering, continues to grow. With L.A. becoming the grimy centre of corruption and murder, Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) calls for the creation of a unique team of trustworthy and talented law-men. O’Mara leads the squad while battling the demons of his military service. He picks womaniser and war veteran Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), and detectives Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) for this small, blood-thirsty unit. They take down Cohen’s vicious organisation piece by piece. Cohen, however, has bigger plans and uses L.A’s corrupt cops and politicians to his advantage.

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone.

Gangster Squad is a fun, pulpy, lurid yet empty crime flick. Girls will love Gosling’s inclusion, but this cartoonish representation of L.A’s ghastly existence lives for action and excess. It’s a punchy and breezy farce that aims to please. Unlike most gangster/crime films that spring to mind, gunfights and explosions tell the simplistic story. Tommy-Guns and tenacity are all this squad needs. Both they and the baddies obliterate every neon-lit setting with a reign of bullets. The film seeks to modernise one of Hollywood’s defining genres. Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) elevates the car chases and hand-to-hand fistfights with violence and visual flair. Fleischer never tones down the carnage, especially when a henchman is needlessly and disgustingly dispatched. The Chinatown sequence had to be created after the Aurora Cinema shooting. It still works, capturing the district’s beauty along with tension-inducing thrills. The digital cinematography occasionally distracts during many set pieces. But Gangster Squad admirably understands exactly what it is and never swerves away from that. This Dick Tracy-esque look at a classier time never ventures beyond the shallow heights of its premise. Gangster Squad is predictable and forgettable. Its cliché-ridden script, by former L.A. detective Will Beall, fails to lift the film beyond the allure of kinetic visuals and a starry cast. Its got all the gangster film clichés including horrifically over-the top antagonists, morally-driven protagonists, predictable deaths and a problematic romance. The romance between Gosling’s character and Emma Stone’s femme fatale is hard to believe and lacks the chemistry both actors created in Crazy, Stupid, Love. She looks across a crowded club and a minute later is forever in his arms. He can’t be that smooth! Can he?! Worse still is Beall’s ridiculous anecdotal dialogue.

“The whole town’s underwater. You’re grabbing a bucket when you should be grabbing a bathing suit.” (Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Gangster Squad).

Penn as Mickey Cohen.

Without influential screenwriters like David Mamet and James Ellroy at the helm, the gritty one liners and monologues sorely lack believability.  Its enlightening thrills will hopefully inspire people to track down better material. Categorically, Gangster Squad sits uncomfortably between outrageous crime films such as Sin City and subtle character studies like The Public Enemy. It’s easy to point out several films Gangster Squad is paying homage to. The Untouchables, L.A. Confidential, ChinatownMiller’s Crossing and Public Enemies – these gangster/crime films have already revolutionised an ageing genre. Gosling and the rest of this A-list cast are charismatic in underdeveloped roles. Gosling’s performance is obviously based on some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men. His squeaky voice and mannered personality sizzle as his ‘James Cagney meets James Dean’ shtick energises. An impressive sequence is his stylish entrance into his favourite club. Walking and talking like a real cool-cat, his actions light up the screen. Brolin acts with his gruff tone and square jaw, once again displaying his engaging on-screen presence. O’Mara is the only multidimensional character, smartly questioning the moral and ethical responsibilities that come with vigilantism. Credit also goes to Penn. Penn’s excessive mannerisms and silly prosthetic make-up effects elevate the character. Much like Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone in The Untouchables, his performance stands out beyond the film’s earnestness.

In the hands of a better screenwriter, Gangster Squad could have rivalled the best film noirs of the past 20 years. It, however, becomes a series of enjoyable yet depth-less, tiresome and forgettable parts. Maybe, stick with playing L.A. Noire.

Verdict: A fun, pulpy yet shallow gangster flick.

Hitchcock Review – Psychotic Psychosis


Director: Sacha Gervasi

Writers: John J. McLaughlin (screenplay), Stephen Rebello (book)

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston


Release date: December 14th, 2012

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Helen Mirren’s steely performance.

Worst part: Anthony Hopkins’ distracting make-up.

Back in Hollywood’s heyday, prolific British director Alfred Hitchcock inspired a wave of crime/thriller films and film-makers. However, none of them were able to match Hitchcock’s own notoriety. A man with an original idea can seemingly rule Hollywood. He was a man who held a quintessential vision every-time he stepped behind the camera. HBO’s The Girl and Hitchcock have recently recreated important segments of the great director’s life. Hitchcock is a loving ode to his oeuvre, yet fails to create a succinct dramatic depiction of ‘The Master of Suspense’.

Anthony Hopkins.

This biopic picks up with Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) in the midst of the explosive success of his spy flick North by Northwest. Despite critical acclaim and studio access at his fingertips, he is pushed toward projects seemingly below his impressive status. Hitchcock becomes inspired by the story of convicted serial killer Ed Gein, depicted in the chilling best-seller Psycho. Hitchcock’s  privileged yet frustrating marriage to sympathetic wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) is tested as adapting the novel becomes the influential director’s obsession. An instant horror-thriller classic is brought to life through a painstaking journey. The consequences of Hitchcock’s questionable actions come to light. Fresh-faced actors and actresses, intrusive studio heads and the Motion Picture Production Code breathe down his bloated neck. But he must also contend with his wife’s suspicious friendship with screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).

Hopkins, Helen Mirren & Toni Colette.

Hopkins, Helen Mirren & Toni Colette.

Hitchcock created possibilities, exceeded expectations and infuriated the most important people in tinsel town throughout his illustrious career. Despite his influence on modern film-making, his professional life is as important as his degrading personal life with Alma. The story constantly jumps between the making of Psycho, a formulaic biopic, a psychoanalytic look into Hitchcock’s mind and a dramedy. This representation of Hitchcock’s perspective is lacking a sense of immersion. The storyline is filled with underdeveloped and unnecessary recreations of the great director’s experiences. Vertigo-inducing due to the film’s schizophrenic storytelling, Hitchcock creates only an elusive figure that barely delves beyond his own personality. However, the making of Psycho is the most involving aspect of HitchcockPsycho was one of Hollywood’s greatest success stories. It was independently funded, original, chilling, perverse and remembered for its shocking shower sequence. Hitchcock’s bizarre means of promotion, production and distribution succinctly build his reputation. Another storyline that works is Alma’s connection to her husband. Her love for Hitchcock subtly draws her closer while his brash love of blondes and film-making pushes her away. A polite and immaculate part of Hitchcock’s life, she still pushes her husband to continually prove his impressive reputation.

Scarlett Johansson.

Films such as Chaplin and Ed Wood provide in-depth and dramatic depictions of famous directors. They create expansive stories while depicting important parts of their lives. Based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Hollywood’s love of Hitchcock is proven to be invaluable. Sacha Gervasi (Anvil! The Story of Anvil) creates a witty and insightful interpretation of Hitchcock’s time with the infamous Bates Motel. However, Hitchcock unfortunately lacks both the visceral joys and in-depth character study elements needed for a truly meaty Hitchcock biopic. Gervasi paints a bright yet sanitised picture of vital events. Tonally imbalanced; unnecessary plot-lines and a goofy sense of humour decrease the film’s importance. It takes the ‘cock’ out of ‘Hitchcock’. It’s safe, pulpy and light-hearted while being uncomfortably dark in others. Hitchcock is visited by Gein in the subconscious. This Shining-like examination of Hitchcock may have been vital in a greater story, but in this goofy dramedy it’s noticeably unessential.

“Beware, all men are potential murders. And for good reason.” (Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), Hitchcock).

Mirren & Hopkins.

Hitchcock is a fun experience for film buffs; able to identify every one-per-second reference to trends, issues, directors and films of the time. The average cinema-goer may avoid this film as it ironically avoids telling this story for, ahem, the birds. The film largely avoids the director’s controversial actions and behaviour, instead developing his symbolic traits. Fact and fiction are dressed up to elevate this touching tribute to a glorious cinematic icon. The director’s unique figure and love of voyeurism are dutifully constructed, and that’s before the story develops his influential film-making techniques enlivened during the making of Psycho. Hopkin’s portrayal doesn’t help much. Hopkins emphasises the elements of Hitchcock that make him a baffling caricature. His confronting physical presence and multi-layered make-up effects are noticeable to a disastrous extent. However, it’s fun to see stellar performances from Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy, Ralph Macchio, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Kurtwood Smith as figures important to Psycho‘s creation.

Hitchcock was clearly the biggest presence in any room, eagerly providing imagination and a witty reaction to every word spoken against him. So it’s underwhelming that a film chronicling the work of The Master of Suspense partially lacks thrills, charm and, well, suspense.

Verdict: A confused yet witty biopic/retrospective.

Safety Not Guaranteed Review – Time Travel Unravel


Director: Colin Trevorrow

Writer: Derek Connolly 

Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni


Release date: December 26th, 2012

Distributor: FilmDistrict

Country: USA

Running time: 86 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The chemistry between Plaza and Duplass.

Worst part: Awkward moments of sketch comedy.

Time travel is a vital element of science-fiction. Time travel films like Looper became major hits last year and ignited heated debates on the subject. In the wake of this blockbuster fare, Safety Not Guaranteed hit the film festival circuit. This indie-dramedy is a sure fire winner, illustrating that low-key sci-fi should strive for recognition. It’s a sweet and inventive look at strange people toying with even stranger possibilities.

Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson & Karan Soni.

Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson & Karan Soni.

Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) is a lonely, unenthusiastic college graduate trying anything to get through each day. Failing to qualify for employment at a bar & grill, Darius is heavily and unhealthily reliant on her internship at a local magazine. However, life takes a turn when her boss Jeff (Jake Johnson) responds to an advertisement in a local newspaper. It reads “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. PO Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” Darius, Jeff and naive intern Arnau (Karan Soni) investigate the source of this unusual message. Their road trip takes them to a small seaside town, where the message’s author Kenneth (Mark Duplass) resides. Darius and Kenneth become acquainted and their eerily similar personalities draw them together. Safety Not Guaranteed excels at blatant honesty. The well written script, by first-time feature writer Derek Connolly, bases its humour on life’s inevitable restraints.

Mark Duplass.

Mark Duplass.

Safety Not Guaranteed’s weird subject matter may throw some people off, but human interaction is the main focus here. It not simply about how these conflicting personalities clash but how the world responds to the character’s perplexing desires. This quirky drama willingly balances between witty comedy and tragedy. Director Colin Trevorrow’s début feature is a profound journey into the heart and mind. His grounded direction makes this surreal story of time travel, regret and redemption easier to comprehend. Sparky dialogue, unadulterated humour and kinetic montages create a touching love story with a distinct independent film-making style. However, the film switches at points from intimate dramedy to awkward situational comedy. Despite Kenneth’s detachment from the community, his peculiar, and at points criminal, actions uncomfortably stand out in this heart-warming tale. This dynamic ensemble of cynical, immature and sarcastic characters provides an undying sense of charm. The characters are hauntingly real. They see the forest through the trees as their grasp on reality crumbles before their eyes. Fresh out of college, Darius is a rebellious and sardonic individual. The film’s opening scenes depict her solemn exile from the rest of her peers. Normally an unshakeably pessimistic lead character would divert the heart-warming story, but here her attitude is part of the bigger picture. Kenneth is both extremely paranoid and overly confident. Both traits somehow seem necessary for a character this deep into his own startling fantasy. 

“The mission has been updated. I’m going back for you now. All right. Do you trust me?” (Kenneth (Mark Duplass), Safety Not Guaranteed).

Plaza & Duplass.

Plaza & Duplass.

Similarly to Liberal Arts, a controversial relationship is softened by instant chemistry. Slowly building to an imaginatively silly goal, their relationship is enjoyable to watch. Their journey begins with an energetic interrogation. Darius’ intuitive reporter side clashes with Kenneth’s paranoia. They tussle with conflicting emotions and an Andy Warhol-esque assortment of Campbell’s Soup Cans. The horny yet charismatic Jeff and the hilariously shy Arnau complete this diverse cast of characters. Jeff’s reconnection with old girlfriend Liz (Jenica Bergere) is touching in certain scenes yet fails to connect with the story’s core themes. The film is grounded by naturalistic performances from prominent TV actors. Plaza (Parks and Recreation) is arguably the queen of dead pan comedy. She uses her snarky persona to illustrate her character’s misanthropic detachment from the world. Duplass (The League, Your Sister’s Sister) portrays Kenneth with his usual on-screen quirkiness. Kenneth is a tough nut to crack for this group of budding journalists. Is he insane, stupid, or in fact the world’s next scientific genius? Duplass’ Mumblecore roots energise his enigmatic yet sympathetic performance. Darius and Kenneth’s unusual personalities create a shaky yet sentimental relationship. They both have profound reasons for escaping the present. Their heartache pushes them to the edge as their promising relationship builds.

While Safety Not Guaranteed lacks the thrills of big-budget sci-fi, its heart is in the right place. The film poses the question “what would you do if you could go back in time?”, but never abruptly pushes the idea upon its audience.

Verdict: A clever and heartening sci-fi dramedy.

Jack Reacher Review – Cruise the Conquerer


Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Werner Herzog, Richard Jenkins


Release date: December 21st, 2012

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 130 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Tom Cruise.

Worst part: The laughable antagonists.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, films starring muscular heroes, one liners and brutal action sequences ruled the box office. The advent of CGI technology has sadly decreased the number of popcorn-chomping blockbusters of this type. With superheroes, aliens and models headlining blockbusters in the 21st century, it’s up to the remnants of decades past to rekindle a dormant sub-genre. Along comes Hollywood heavy-weight Tom Cruise in a role perfect for both a career resurgence and a nod to classic action films.

Tom Cruise.

Jack Reacher is a tense yet tedious ode to a time of anti-establishment messages and roaring gunfights. This thriller begins with a devastating act of terrorism in the heart of America. A man drives up to the top of a parking garage, slides a coin into a parking metre, puts together a heavy-duty sniper rifle and kills five innocent people. Disturbed war veteran James Barr is convicted and District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) considers it to be an open and shut case. His daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) however, also a lawyer, is convinced that Barr is an innocent man. Barr’s only testimony requests a mysterious ex-military loner named Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise). Reacher’s cunning detective skills inevitably attract attention from advanced criminals, led by the Zec (Werner Herzog) and Charlie (Jai Courtney). Reacher and Helen become uneasy allies at a time when trust may be much more dangerous than the truth. A gritty and visceral popcorn flick is needed every once in a while. Jack Reacher prevails in this case due its intensity and inventive thrills. The first five minutes are excruciatingly uncomfortable. The sniper sequence is a silent examination of the human psyche. One unending shot depicts the shooter’s perspective, choosing his targets carefully before pulling the trigger over and over again. This scene may hit too close to home in the wake of the Newtown massacre, but the scene propels the story forward.

Cruise & Rosamund Pike.

Cruise & Rosamund Pike.

Jack Reacher effectively reveals the key elements of this complex case. Director and writer Christopher McQuarrie (writer of The Usual Suspects) creates a dark, energetic yet smart edge-of-your-seat thriller. Our likeable protagonists face off against the creepy underbelly of America. Crime and national prejudices are examined succinctly. The west’s involvement with Iraq and Afghanistan is dutifully discussed as our characters comprehend with a world that has abandoned them. However, the story itself is riddled with overused tropes. This fun action flick quickly becomes a generic and forgettable detective thriller. Certain clichés detract from the intensity created earlier in the film, stretching this relatively simple plot out longer than needed. Jack Reacher becomes a relevant and thoughtful character study. Based on Lee Child’s best-selling novel One Shot, his Jack Reacher character is a familiar anti-hero with shades of something much more sinister. He carries only the clothes on his back and a bus pass to his next destination. Unlike most action heroes however, Reacher places people above order. Like the heroes of Sergio Leone films, he wanders America in search of trouble. His entrance into the film is priceless, depicting the loner who wanders into town without a hint of warning. The film is an enlightening homage to classic action/crime cinema.

“You think I’m a hero? I am not a hero. And if you’re smart, that scares you. Because I have nothing to lose.” (JAck Reacher (Tom Cruise), Jack Reacher).

Jai Courtney.

Jai Courtney.

This Dirty Harry crime narrative combines seamlessly with the revenge fantasy elements of Point Blank. This is a film with a profound personal edge. It’s as gritty as dirt underneath fingernails. The action sequences, for example, are taken to greater heights than most modern hand-to-hand combat sequences. every hit lands with a loud crunch as McQuarrie opts for unique camera angles instead of pesky quick cuts. While Cruise doing all of his own stunts allows for the film’s car chase sequence to be captured with pristine beauty. Tom Cruise is the most important aspect of this adaptation. Cruise caused major controversy when he was cast as the beloved character. Fans openly objected to the star’s casting saying he lacked the muscular build and towering height of the literary icon. The A-lister has silenced his harshest critics here. Cruise’s steely-eyed persona and startling intensity create a charismatic anti-hero. Cruise is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors. Couch-jumping and Scientology aside, Cruise is a true professional with a thirst for the unknown. Not since Collateral has he been this intimidating. He is able to convincingly deliver several silly lines of Child and McQuarrie’s gruff dialogue. “I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot.” This line stands out as Cruise grits his teeth and menacingly threatens Jai Courtney’s henchman character over the phone. 

Whether it be mad action fans or common film-goers, Jack Reacher is likely to entertain. Despite rather common narrative flaws, Reacher is bolstered by an energetic performance from the now 50 year-old Cruise. Its an action flick unlike most coming out nowadays.

Verdict: Cruise excels in this enjoyable yet clichéd action flick.

Life of Pi Review – Ang’s Adventure


Director: Ang Lee

Writer: David Magee (screenplay), Yann Martel (novel)

Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall


Release date: November 21st, 2012

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 127 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The sumptuous 3D sequences.

Worst part: The occasionally unconvincing CGI creations.

“Life is all about letting go, you should take a moment to say proper goodbyes.” This line from Oscar-calibre adventure Life of Pi explains one of the story’s many profound life lessons. Life of Pi is a story about embellishing what is there before it’s gone. This meditative fantasy film may give director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonBrokeback Mountain) his 2nd Academy Award. It would be a deserved victory for sure, as his new film is a splendid and spiritual survival tale.

Suraj Sharma.

Suraj Sharma.

Life of Pi is told from the perspective of Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel. The middle-aged Pi (Irrfan Khan) recalls his life from childhood to the present. Named after a Parisian swimming pool, its pronunciation gets him picked on at school. Pi’s enthusiasm for belief and integrity extends to spirituality. Born Hindu, he learns more about the universe and other cultures through Christian and Islamic studies. Ignoring his family’s atheist beliefs, Pi (Suraj Sharma) becomes an honest and independent individual. His life changes forever when Pi and his family are forced to leave Pondicherry, India, taking their zoo with them. However, disaster strikes when a storm destroys their cargo ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Pi luckily escapes in a resourceful lifeboat. A Hyena, an injured Zebra, an Orang-Utan and a Bengal Tiger join him as Pi must contend with both the dangerous crew and his own psyche.

Richard Parker (the tiger).

Richard Parker (the tiger).

Life of Pi is an amazing journey of self-discovery and spirituality. Lee has taken a commendable gamble adapting Yann Martel’s best-selling novel. Many directors before him including Alfonso Cuaron and M. Night Shyamalan abandoned the project. This so-called ‘unfilmable’ novel has now been adapted into a religious fable-like character study and unique survival tale. Lee is known for questioning the importance of belief and humanity. His delicate handling of the multi-layered source material is a testament to his sensitivity and constructive direction. He has created a world in which everyone is a symbol of divine purpose. Lee’s handling of Pi’s existence is both pleasantly comedic and heart-wrenching. Similarly to Cast Away and 127 Hours, a character is imaginatively brought to life through a punishing story of mental, spiritual and physical endurance. Without coming off as preachy, the film also outlines the importance of culture and faith. Pi is obsessed with absorbing the wonders of different ideologies. His knowledge of maths, French and religion evolves into an emotionally affecting and in-depth study of philosophy, metaphysics and precociousness. It’s hard to ignore the sheer quality of the world Lee has created. Not only is India a vibrant plethora of colour and contrasting influences, but Pi’s journey across the Pacific Ocean is one of breath-taking beauty. The shipwreck sequence is an enthralling set piece which defines Pi’s struggle to communicate with the gods watching over him. It’s a harrowing scene of survival against great odds and possibly the best shipwreck sequence since Titanic.

“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.” (Adult Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan), Life of Pi).

Pi’s journey is where the real heart of this story is, as Lee condenses the novel’s valued themes into a courageous quest across an unpredictable and dangerous environment. The film’s steady pace is attributed to Lee’s focus on this contemplative and metaphorical survival tale. Every day of Pi’s journey contains an unbelievable event. Scenes involving a whale’s majestic migration are as awe-inspiring as Pi’s attempts to control his blood-thirsty crew. The stand out sequence is the omnivorous island. Shaped like a person being laid to rest, the island is a labyrinth filled with deadly secrets and obedient  meerkats. These stunning sequences are enhanced by the effective use of 3D technology. Similarly to Avatar and Hugo, a master director has perfected the controversial process. Pi is portrayed by a multitude of actors over the course of this story. Sharma, in his first role, displays a kinetic balance of charm and determination. Acting against a green-screen for most of his scenes, he is a worthy talent for this arduous role. Sharma portrays a sympathetic soul with the will to overcome any obstacle. He ingeniously conveys a varied range of emotions in several heart-wrenching scenes. Khan and Rafe Spall’s story line bookends the film. Both actors are charismatic in their energetic dialogue sequences. Breaking down the story, their characters define the importance of two ideologies coming together through destiny. Another stand out performance is from the Bengal Tiger. Known as ‘Richard Parker’, the tiger is a ferocious and beautiful creation. Not since Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes has an animal been created with both depth and an understanding of its troubling surroundings. It’s a seamless CGI creation and an important symbol of the moral challenges Pi must overcome. 

A moving and thought provoking experience is garnered from this survival tale. Impressive CGI sequences prove film technology to be important for both story and style. While Pi’s quest for belief and hope is an inspirational example of how our decisions and interactions continually affect our way of life.

Verdict: A beautiful tale of survival and spirituality.