The Last Stand Review – Arnie’s All-out Assault!


Director: Kim Jee-woon

Writer: Andrew Knauer

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker, Peter Stormare


Release date: January 18th, 2013

Distributor: 107 minutes

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Schwarzenegger’s charming screen presence.

Worst part: He is only in half of the movie.

The saying “lived the life” is so easily thrown around nowadays. When people say it, I always try to pinpoint who exactly would best suit this phrase. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be the best choice. In his 65 years he has been a body builder, action movie icon, Governor of California and at the centre of multiple scandals. Now how many people can say they have done all that? The Last stand is his much anticipated return to leading man status. It may be a formulaic action flick, but it’s still a remarkable return to form.

Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s a fun thrill ride if you are willing to suspend disbelief. Letting some inconsistencies go is a part of escapist entertainment. The Last Stand may reach the last nerve of anyone still on a high from the last month’s crop of Oscar-worthy movies. But it’s their loss for having preconceptions. Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, a small town sheriff sick of protecting and serving. He looks over the town of Sommerton Junction. He is a tired, lonely and bored individual, but that’s the way he likes it. His only source of entertainment is the rag-tag group of deputies at his disposal. They will soon have their small town rocked by a large group of trigger happy tough-guys. It all starts when drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez miraculously escapes from FBI custody in Las Vegas. Hopping into a custom made sports car, he makes a dastardly run for the Mexican border. The only thing standing in his way is Sommerton and, of course, its bumbling police force. Owens must set aside differences with the townsfolk in order to stop the on-coming threat.

Johnny Knoxville.

Whether you like it or not, Arnie’s back! The Governator has overcome both a controversial time in office and his debaucherous past. After his wink-and-nudge performances in the Expendables movies, he has provided a much more subdued turn in The Last Stand. This is his first leading man role since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. He is, however, nowhere near as good as he wants to be. He struggles to deliver some of the many snappy quips and one-liners at his disposal. I’m going to forgive him, however, as his time in office took up most of the last decade. Despite his flaws, there has always been something mysterious about him. Both his physical presence and accent are comforting. As The Last Stand Progresses, he almost turns into an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. His presence certainly lifts the formulaic material here. This film harks back to ultra-dumb action flicks like Commando and Eraser. However, The Last Stand is nowhere near as strong as some of his best movies (The Terminator, Predator etc.). The movie, more than anything, is a warm-up. His next film is a prison break/drama co-starring fellow middle-aged tough-guy Sylvester Stallone. Let’s hope it’s an even bigger step up.

Jamie Alexander & Rodrigo Santoro.

This script, by Andrew Knauer, is a very perfunctory exercise in action movie excess. It serves only to provide a very simplistic narrative and some clichéd characters. Many of the characters are bumbling morons. The film offers such one dimensional character types as the ethnic comic relief, the rookie, the strong female cop, the town nut-job and the nice-guy sheriff. The FBI characters are also clichéd. Forest Whitaker is wasted as the angry FBI agent in charge of the case. People who wish to see this movie, however, aren’t  going to care. They want to watch Schwarzenegger stumble across the screen. The screenwriter must’ve known this fact. The script provides a few winks and nods to the actor’s past, present and future. He plays a surprisingly vulnerable character here. At one point, he sits down with the rookie cop on the force. He reflects on the past as he gives the kid some much needed advice. This type of acceptance is both rare and clever. Unlike Stallone, Schwarzenegger has now embraced his age, physicality and controversial persona. Schwarzenegger only takes up half of the movie (But takes up the whole frame whenever he is on-screen).

“You f*cked up my day off!” (Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger), The Last Stand).

Arnie & Forest Whitaker.

Both Schwarzenegger and South Korean director Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil) make this film entertaining. Jee-woon brings his kinetic and absurd style to this forgettable material. A lot of the time, foreign directors fail to adapt to the Hollywood system. Jee-woon, however, chose a premise that he could work with. His style is known to be a strange mix of hilarious and gory. He pulls it off again here, proving that foreign directors working in Hollywood sometimes get what they want. The action set pieces are shot and directed with flair. This film could’ve easily fallen back on excessive and irritating Hollywood action tropes. Instead, the camera lingers on certain characters, movements and deaths. The deaths, for example, have a slight comedic effect. Brains and guts are splattered all over surfaces. The violence in The Last Stand has a certain visceral edge. Ji-woon thankfully avoids unnecessary CGI effects. The final third is an engaging and kinetic bloodbath. In the true style of a western, the small country town is where the characters fight to the death. With its High Noon-style narrative, this is a western for people who hate westerns.

If you can’t believe that Schwarzenegger can tackle a bad guy off of a roof, and shoot him in the head at the same time, than I strongly suggest you avoid this movie. The Last Stand is both a kinetic western/action flick and a commentary on Schwarzenegger’s entire career. Like The Expendables 2, The Last Stand is a nod to 80s action cinema that is rather enjoyable.

Verdict: Arnie returns to form in this fun action flick. 

2013 Oscars Wrap-up


Hollywood has now spent 85 years celebrating its own astonishing achievements. What happens when you pat yourself on the back for this long? Do you ignore everyone’s screechy protests or, next time around, cater to the lowest common denominator? This year’s Oscars ceremony tried to have its cake and eat it too. There were some tears, laughs and the occasional tumble on the stage. But it still just wasn’t a particularly rousing event.

Seth Macfarlane had a gargantuan amount of expectations piled on top of him. 2012 was his year- giving him a hit film and the name recognition he deserved. His controversial comedic style and charisma had been brought to the stage many times before. So he should’ve been perfect for this particular event. Unfortunately, he only did a ‘meh’ job. Sure, he was a hoot. His charming grin and unique stance can make anyone feel comfortable. His voice is too a strange comfort. Yet his material on Oscar night flew over everyone’s heads. Normally given 7-8 minutes to introduce the ceremony, the host should try to get in and out succinctly. MacFarlane look close to 20 mins just to prove his point. His hit and miss style didn’t suit an already uptight crowd. Calling out Quentin Tarantino for using the ‘N-word’ in Django Unchained was just too brash. Macfarlane then fell back on Star Trek humour, silly voices and songs (as he always does). His sock puppet re-creation of Flight, however, hit the target. His song ‘we saw your Boobs’ was both vigorous and aided by hilarious audience participation (Naomi Watts chimed in in just the right way).

Academy Awards host Seth MacFarlane.

MacFarlane’s opening, however, was nowhere near as bad as some of the other skits. Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy’s sketch bombed miserably. It wasn’t all bad though. Channing Tatum and Jennifer Aniston put their comedic skills to good use. I suspect, however, that Tatum’s ‘waxing’ quip had something to do with his ‘balls-out’ performance in Magic Mike. With the jokes as hit and miss as the speeches, it was up to The Avengers to once again save the day. Robert Downey jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson have obviously developed a significant amount of chemistry. Besides, who doesn’t love seeing Samuel L. Jackson yell at people? The star of the night, however, was James Bond. The tribute, celebrating 50 years of Bond, shook and stirred everyone watching. After a rather confused and schizophrenic montage, Shirley Bassey lit up the stage with her rendition of Goldfinger. Adele also stole the show with her huge yet elegant frame. Her song Skyfall is easily one of the greatest Bond theme songs in the series’ history. Adele then picked up Best Original Song shortly after her performance. It was also the year for celebrating movie musicals. Having been 10 years since Chicago’s best picture win, Richard Gere, Renee Zellwegger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah owned the stage at one point to celebrate its success. Zeta-Jones went one further, however, with a show-stopping rendition of All That Jazz.

The awards themselves were what everyone, both at home and in the Dolby Theatre, was looking forward to. Macfarlane’s quip about the ceremony being similar to church was damn accurate. Everyone waited with baited breath for their name to be called out. The winners in every category were gracious and deserving. Christoph Waltz winning for the second time in four years was fun to watch. The Austrian actor gracefully thanked his peers before paraphrasing Tarantino’s stellar dialogue. Also graceful in victory was Anne Hathaway. Controlled, poised and beautiful; she lit up the stage. She scooped up every supporting actress award leading up to the Oscars for her portrayal of Fantine in Les Miserables. She earned all of them. Jennifer Lawrence shocked the crowd with both her bewildering speech and her trip on the stairs. While Daniel Day-Lewis’ victory speech contained the biggest laugh of the night. Who’d have thought the world’s most intensive actor would have a strong comedic side?

Ben Affleck’s Oscar win.

It was a tough race this year. All 9 Best Picture nominees will stand the test of time. They reached new heights both emotionally and technologically. The nominees had many similarities, yet they were able to branch out and find their own voice. Lincoln and Django Unchained both told stories about slavery, but they had the courage to tackle the subject from different directions. Life of Pi explored the depths of both the ocean and the soul. While Beasts of the Southern Wild, last year’s surprise hit, was a touching look at the human spirit. These films grabbed me when I first saw them and will probably never let go. Zero Dark Thirty was, shamefully, this year’s loser. Director Kathryn Bigelow looked on from the sidelines as Argo scooped up some major awards. Argo was my favourite film of 2012. It is a gripping, tense and occasionally hilarious experience. Its electric dialogue and performances stand proudly next to Ben Affleck’s involving direction. 15 years have passed since he won his first Oscar. Argo’s deserving Best Picture win proves that Affleck is a changed man and a true professional.

Best Part of the night: Argo’s Best Picture win

Worst Part: Rudd and McCarthy’s sketch

Amour Review – Romantic Regressions


Director: Michael Haneke

Writer: Michael Haneke

Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, William Shimell


Release date: October 24th, 2012

Distributors: Artificial Eye, Sony Pictures Classics

Country: France

Running time: 127 minutes


3/5

Best part: Powerful performances by Trintignant and Riva.

Worst part: The film’s monotonous pace.

Events such as death and taxes are inevitable. But when they hit it’s hard to control their wrath. The negative aspects of life are important to Austrian director Michael Haneke. His latest, Amour, depicts a story about how even the most fulfilled people can strenuously suffer in the end. Amour is a poignant drama that, unfortunately, takes too long to reach its inevitable conclusion.

Emmanuelle Riva.

Former music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) live a quaint existence. They spend their retirement in a small apartment overlooking Paris. They still love the arts and frequently spend time out on the town. That is until Anne’s health starts to cause them problems. One morning, she sits down to eat breakfast with her husband. During their conversation she spaces out and falls into a catatonic state. She eventually succumbs to multiple strokes and partial paralysis. Confined to her bed, Anne is taken care of by Georges. Georges must ease Anne’s pain before her life reaches its painful end. Films about the elderly are either up-beat or dour. Amour definitely fits into the latter category. Haneke’s body of work is filled with movies that both amaze and anger. With his cult-hit Funny Games, he depicted a home invasion whilst pointing the finger at the reality-TV-loving viewer. Cache(Hidden), on the other hand, explored both stalking and domesticity. The pacing and thematic issues of his other films are also in Amour.

Riva & JeanLouis Trintignant.

Riva & JeanLouis Trintignant.

Amour has good intentions. There is no denying that this love story is both personal and affecting on many levels. This is a realistic situation that is hard to discuss. However, it also discusses an issue that doesn’t have enough energy or tension to be presented on the big screen. Without any cinematic depth or investment, it becomes a very tedious and, at points, confusing film. It’s baffling that this film has garnered so much acclaim. The fact that it won the Palme d’Or (best film) at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, let alone that it’s nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, is a real eye opener. It fits the stereotype that a lot of ‘popular’ foreign films fall into. A Beautiful Mind discusses both mental illness and relationships in a much more enthralling manner. Haneke’s style is this film’s hindrance. Haneke loves breaking the fourth wall. Not in a glaring way, but in a much more subtle and profound fashion. His camera becomes a fly on the wall. His contemplative and discomforting direction may seem like an optimum choice. But it slows this film down to a crawl. Many scenes are overly long. For some reason, he loves both the intricacies of reality and life’s slow pace. Despite his issues, it’s rare that a well-known director can be anywhere near this subtle. The camera stays still throughout the film’s excessive 2 hour and 7 minute run time. In some scenes, his cinematography is atmospheric and beautiful. Only one or two shots are used for every scene. It’s a touching choice that allows the viewer to objectively view this story.

“Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.” (Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), Amour).

Trintignant & Isabelle Huppert.

Trintignant & Isabelle Huppert.

Despite the lack of tension or thrills, it’s still an immensely rewarding experience. Unlike a lot of films made today, Amour never falls off balance in any way. It’s witty when it needs to be whilst building to its inevitably depressing finale. It’s a dialogue heavy yet profound narrative. Georges and Anne manage to charmingly reflect on their lives. George’s description of a friend’s funeral service, for example, is both hilarious and identifiable.  The film, however, never goes into great detail about relationships. Their relationship is never given any back story. Haneke’s slice-of-life direction only paints a detailed yet narrow portrait of their current situation. What works about this film, above all else, is the characterisation. Haneke and the actors have created a heartening character study. Georges is man blinded by determination and obsession. His moral and ethical codes lead him to make seemingly immoral decisions. Marriage is the only positive part of his life. In this situation, it’s understandable that he would irritate everyone around him. At one point, he slaps his bed-ridden wife. Not to be unlike-able or abusive, but because he is angry about her debilitating condition. Interactions between him, Anne’s nurses, and his daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) become frighteningly realistic. The only part of Amour worthy of an Oscar nomination is Riva’s breath-taking performance. Embodying every stage of Anne’s condition would’ve been a monumental task. Riva’s charming personality shines through every alienating and claustrophobic scene.

Amour is a confusing, dull yet profound film. Its interesting premise is let down by the execution. Haneke’s signature and controversial style has already enraptured critics. But the film’s lack of dramatic intensity most definitely won’t be for everyone. Sadly, the narrative isn’t interesting enough to be placed on the big screen.

Verdict: A potent yet tedious love story/character study.

Lincoln Review – Day-Lewis Destiny


Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn


Release date: November 9th, 2012

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 150 minutes


4/5

Best part: Daniel Day-Lewis.

Worst part: The film’s Subjectivity.

Abraham Lincoln, the United States’ 16th President, is one of the most important people in history. The world would be a completely different place without his determination and guidance. So who better to tell his story than another inspirational man? Steven Spielberg has handled this though-provoking and poignant story with care.

Daniel Day-Lewis.

Lincoln chronicles the last four months of the President’s life. It’s 1865. The Republicans and Democrats refuse to agree. It’s also four years into the Civil War. The Union and Confederacy engage in a bloody battle across America. Everyone wants it to end, but none more so than Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis). Lincoln aims to end both the war and slavery. His Emancipation Proclamation has already passed but the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is about to be put to a vote. With the help of Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) and Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), Lincoln must, by any means necessary, procure the last 20 votes needed to pass the amendment.

Day-Lewis & Sally Field.

There have been many films that deal with slavery and/or Lincoln himself. You can either go in all guns blazing (Django Unchained, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) or delicately discuss these important issues. With Lincoln, Spielberg has created his greatest work since Munich (he has made three big-budget films since then). This story clearly means so much to Spielberg. Getting Lincoln’s triumphant story across this way is an achievement. There are many parts of Lincoln’s life that would’ve been worthy of cinematic interpretation. But Spielberg has chosen one significant part to focus on rather than re-creating his entire existence. The four month period shown here is vital to both Lincoln’s personal and professional lives. Instead of re-creating the Gettysburg Address or Lincoln’s assassination, Spielberg provides important reminders of these incidences. The film is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s best-selling Lincoln biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Tony Kushner’s screenplay is a dialogue, and political discourse, heavy examination of a difficult time in America. People who love history and/or political science will love this daring look at Lincoln’s legacy. But people unaware of every detail will be catching up throughout the film’s 2½-hour run-time.

Tommy Lee Jones.

Directors and Presidents sometimes, metaphorically, walk hand in hand. Oliver Stone, for example, loves to push his agenda whilst placing certain Presidents on the big screen (W., Nixon, JFK). Spielberg never focuses too much on trademark flourishes here. There are no overly rambunctious or epic moments. Instead, we see a profound and vital interpretation of a monumental point in history. This is an unexpected and honest film for Spielberg. Schindler’s List and Munich are clearly both major influences here. Lincoln can be compared to other Spielberg films dealing with the same subject matter. Both The Colour Purple and Amistad discuss the ramifications of certain historical events. Amistad (his most underrated film) discussed both racism and prejudice whilst focusing on Djimon Honsou’s slave character. Lincoln, however, focuses on what white people thought of this issue. There are no prominent black characters here. Instead, their viewpoints are represented by Lincoln, his advisor and his political friends. Having no prominent black characters, or even dignified democratic characters, is a wholly subjective way of depicting this story. However, this film is an important reminder of how far democracy has come and how the republican Party has affected history. It also intelligently discusses how the world has treated people who are different. Comparing Lincoln’s administration to today’s Republican Party is cause for heated discussion.

“Buzzard’s guts, man! I am the President of the United States of America! Clothed in immense power! You will procure me these votes.” (Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis), Lincoln).

Politics in full force!

Spielberg sometimes lets his sentimental side get away from him. There are many underdeveloped characters here that are depicted as saints. The huge ensemble cast, including Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, Jarred Harris and John Hawkes, is left to inject some life into thankless roles. To be fair, Lincoln is nowhere as saccharine as some of Spielberg’s other efforts (War Horse). Spielberg’s regulars, composer John Williams and Director of Photography Janusz Kaminski, prove here that they are two of Hollywood’s greatest talents. When the film is at its most rhetorical, Kaminski’s beautiful cinematography stands out. Sunlight and smoke, flushing into every interior dialogue sequence, lend Lincoln a much-needed earthy aesthetic. Occasionally framing him in his notorious and rousing portrait pose, Spielberg has brought a sweet yet tenacious Lincoln to life. Credit should also go to Day-Lewis. Worthy of his Academy Award nomination, the two-time Oscar winner is at the top of his game here. Adding to the remarkable make-up effects, Day-Lewis captures every one of Lincoln’s slight and unique mannerisms. Lee Jones also captivates in one of his more lively performances. Dishing out some truly disconcerting insults across Parliament, Lee Jones is a wryly and conquering presence here.

There is so much to both endure and enjoy in Lincoln. It passionately discusses the importance of both politics and freedom. It may not be worthy of 12 Academy Award nominations, but this is still a remarkable acting and directorial achievement. Honouring the President’s immaculate legacy, Spielberg’s latest effort highlights cinema’s artistic and social merits.

Verdict: Spielberg’s best film in quite some time.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Review – Fairytale Foibles


Director: Tommy Wirkola

Writer: Tommy Wirkola 

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Jannsen, Peter Stormare


Release date: January 25th, 2013

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Renner and Arterton.

Worst part: Janssen’s laughable performance.

Sometimes, Hollywood works in mysterious ways. It’s inexplicably both cynical and cyclical. For some reason, Hollywood’s latest craze has been to adapt well known fairy tales. Film (Snow White and the Huntsman, Red Riding Hood) and TV (Grimm, Once Upon a Time) are sweeping through every classic Grimm Brothers story. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is an example of how this plan can falter.

Renner & Arterton.

If you can’t stand the film’s premise – or even its ridiculous title – than be warned. The film itself is somehow a hell of a lot sillier. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), as we all know, survived a terrifying ordeal at the hands of a witch. In this version, their childhood survival tale inspired them to scour the lands for witches and dark magic. Celebrated for their witch hunting abilities, they wonder into a small town with their egos and weapons in hand. The disappearance of 11 children has prompted a state of panic throughout the cursed realm. These kidnappings are the work of terrifying witch Muriel (Famke Janssen). Hansel and Gretel soon realise there is more to this case than they ever could’ve imagined.

Famke Janssen.

Famke Janssen.

Taking this small story and fleshing it out is a brave idea. The story of Hansel & Gretel is one of the world’s most popular fairy tales. What is left, however, is a movie that tries too hard to cater to everyone’s desires. The film was pushed back from January 2012 to February 2013. This is never a good sign. The film, however, is not anywhere near as bad as it could, or possibly should, be. This is definitely a schlocky 21st century action flick. With this type of production, the film-makers have to convince the audience to look beyond the original idea. Last year, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter failed to live up to any kind of low-brow expectations. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, however, has done the best it can with dodgy material. Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola has proven himself to be a passionate film-maker. His surprise smash hit, Dead Snow, mixed two contrasting ideas- Nazis and Zombies. Here, he has swung for the fence. Trying his luck with both Hollywood and a much bigger budget, his latest effort is a mix of enjoyable and disastrous. It’s a hyper-violent and gratuitous 88 minutes. Expletives, nudity and blood splatters cover the screen at every turn. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a darkened twist on the legend, but still not a very inventive one.

Hansel & Gretel in action!

This is a buddy-action flick that should be enjoyed with a $10 mega-bucket of popcorn. Wirkola’s direction shows off a kinetic and glorious sense of style. He has a child-like vision for every setting and costume at his disposal. He was clearly inspired by Spanish master director Guillermo del Toro. The forest and village settings, for example, provide a dark aesthetic for this farcical adventure. Meanwhile, the anachronisms in this fantasy-actioner are laughable. This film is all over the map in multiple ways. The accents oddly range between American, British and ‘European’. Perhaps he was thinking that no one would notice. Even more noticeable is the materialistic touch every leather-clad costume and weapon is given. Their arsenal is light-years ahead of the film’s period setting. Fold-out rifles, chain-guns, stun guns and even defibrillators are all on display. So too is Van Helsing’s notorious crossbow gun. It’s easy to point out the stupidity of the whole thing. Wirkola understands this issue whilst providing an unapologetic and energetic B-movie. In fact, one could argue that this is the new Van Helsing – stupid, schlocky and star-studded. The script, however, has more holes than a severed head. With Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) producing, you would think the comedic elements would work. Instead, one-liners and comedic moments fall flat. The film lacks a necessary balance between tongue-in-cheek and straight-faced (see del Toro’s Hellboy series for a definitive example of how this should work).

“I hate to break this to you, but this isn’t gonna be an open casket.” (Gretel (Gemma Arterton), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters).

One of many witches here.

Buddy-action flicks rely, to a certain extent, on the charisma of their actors. This is where the film marginally succeeds. In every scene, Renner looks like he doesn’t want to be there. When he delivers his lines, however, he displays why he is one of Hollywood’s most popular actors. Posing and smashing his way through every scene, he is still a likeable and convincing leading man. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Prince of Persia) is an underrated actress. Her ethereal beauty and soft voice light up the screen. She fares better than Renner here, proving she can compete with other female stars at the box office. Renner and Arterton’s chemistry distracts from the thin characterisation. Hansel and Gretel are your typical crime-fighting duo. They pose and fight with style whilst contrasting one another. Renner can play a cynical bad-ass better than most A-list actors. His version of Hansel is a predictably disturbed hero. Complete with an ailment that comes up more than once in the story. Meanwhile, Gretel is the optimistic presence. Her run in with a deluded fan-boy (Thomas Mann) is particularly charming. Mann, Janssen and Stormare become caricatures in this already over-the-top blockbuster.

Films like Shrek and Pans Labyrinth have already conquered this sub-genre. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a senseless yet enjoyable mix of dumb, dumber and dumbest. Even while relishing its opportunities, the film is still excessive and clichéd.

Verdict: Not ‘good’ but still enjoyable.

The Impossible Review – Real-life Resurgence


Director: Juan Antonio Bayona

Writers: Sergio G. Sanchez  

Stars: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Geraldine Chaplin


Release date: January 11th, 2013

Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures, Summit Entertainment

Country: Spain

Running time: 114 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The tsunami sequence.

Worst part: The film’s over-sentimentality.

Whether it’s horror (Hostel), action (Taken) or drama (Babel), film seems to have a serious aversion to travel. Instead of depicting a fictitious conflict, like in the films previously mentioned, The Impossible focuses on one of the most horrific natural disasters in history. It’s a tense, moving and surreal film that discusses what we, as humans, should cherish most.

Naomi Watts.

This English/Spanish collaboration follows the true story of a family caught up in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. We first meet them on a flight coming into Thailand. Bickering on the plane, Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) are a typical married couple. Keeping their kids, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), in line is their biggest priority. Exploring Thailand’s many attractions during Christmas time, their luxurious holiday seems to be going smoothly. However, Boxing Day morning will yield heartache. A sudden gust of wind is followed by birds hurriedly flying away and the ground shaking violently. The wave then wipes out the resort and its surroundings. In the Aftermath, Maria and Lucas are split from Henry, Thomas and Simon.

Ewan McGregor.

Both parties spend the rest of their nightmarish ordeal searching for one another. This film is a truly affecting experience. This event was catastrophic is more ways than can be imagined. The tsunami swept across multiple Asian countries whilst taking over 200, 000 lives (over 42, 000 are still believed to be missing). Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) directs with a delicate and profound love of this subject matter. He has poignantly turned this true story of survival into a gruelling cinematic experience. Sure, people connected to this tragedy will suggest that this film comes ‘too soon’ after the event. But it’s a story that needs to be told. Both The Impossible and United 93 stand as important reminders of how historical events can change society. This story is based on a Spanish family. However, instead of Spanish actors filling these roles, Bayona and co. have chosen an almost entirely Caucasian cast. There are serious ethical problems with this decision. Yes, big names like Watts and McGregor can attract Oscar nods (Watts recently received a Best Actress Oscar nomination) and a significant audience, but this decision distorts accuracy and points out clichés.

The family.

All of the white characters are depicted as saints. The foreign and Thai characters simply recall shocking stories of survival and loss, become extras or represent the high number of corpses. Films like Babel and Contagion  provide a more in-depth study of serious political/environmental issues. Despite these complaints, the story itself is what propels this film. The film is tonally divided between several important parts. The first act combines the ‘before’ and ‘during’ stages of this disaster. It’s a tense examination of this ostensibly happy family. Complaints about the house alarm, junk food and work-lives back home may seem petty, but these conversations create an identifiable dynamic between all five family members. The Christmas Day scenes, including a haunting lantern ceremony, reveal a lot about this family. Despite constant reminders of the on-coming disaster, these scenes also concentrate on the ocean’s true power. This leads up to the disaster itself. It’s a climactic and truly brutal set piece. The ocean hits with a terrifying force as people struggle to survive its wrath. This intricate sequence may, however, hit too hard for people still affected by this disaster.

“Lucas, look at this place. They’re so busy in here. You get to go and do something. Go help people. You’re good at it.” (Maria (Naomi Watts), The Impossible).

The tsunami.

Bayona has a keen-eye for both authenticity and cinematography. The aftermath is where waves of emotion hit hardest. The immense destruction becomes truly visceral and dangerous. Captured in a panoramic format, Maria and Lucas fight for survival amongst debris, bodies and infection. These sequences are aided by the stunning and horrific make-up effects. Bruises, cuts and grazes are emphasised as blood trickles across every character’s skin. The last two-thirds show how courageous acts were vital during this harrowing catastrophe. Despite The Impossible’s brave depiction of nightmarish events, its over-sentimentality stands out. This is partly due to the, at points, manipulative score. Meanwhile, some of the coincidences and directorial tricks become slightly tiresome. Despite this, the performances truly stand out here. Watts provides the greatest performance of her career. Portraying a weakened and scared individual, she becomes a powerful presence. McGregor is once again charismatic in an emotionally charged role. His character becomes a symbol of hope when all is lost. Meanwhile, Tom Holland proves, on his début, that he is a young actor to look out for.

At points all too sentimental, this story of hope and loss is an untimely reminder of how humanity should operate. Stellar performances and direction are the film’s greatest assets, providing a range and beauty rarely seen in a big-budget production.

Verdict: A harrowing and moving cinematic experience.

Zero Dark Thirty Review – Ball-busting Bigelow


Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Mark Boal 

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong


Release date: December 19th, 2012

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, Icon Productions, GAGA

Country: USA

Running time: 157 minutes


 

5/5

Best part: Bigelow’s direction.

Worst part: Some slightly underdeveloped characters.

There has been a vast number of military procedurals since 9/11. Each with their own point to prove, they attain an understandable account of relations between the west and the Middle East. One director unafraid to discuss the War on Terror with a definitive and fiery passion is Kathryn Bigelow. Her latest film, Zero Dark Thirty, is arguably one of the best films of the past decade.

Jessica Chastain.

A big statement for sure, but both her and this film heartily speak to the masses about the past decade’s hottest topic. Zero Dark Thirty dramatises the work of multiple US agencies, all of whom with the same goal. Between 2001 and 2011, Osama bin Laden was at the top of every most wanted list. CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) is brought in to witness the routine of Pakistan’s US Embassy. Aided by fellow CIA officer Dan (Jason Clarke), their brutal interrogations uncover several leads. While searching endlessly for Al-Qaeda members, in particular a courier by the name of ‘Abu Ahmed’, the CIA division overlooking the region must also contend with constant allegations and terrorist attacks. Heading up the operation, Maya launches an all-out assault on bin Laden and Al-Qaeda’s hold on the Middle East. Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have reunited after their best-picture winning effort, The Hurt Locker. Whereas that film centred on one Bomb disposal unit, their new feature examines every aspect of the war against bin Laden. Despite bin Laden’s death in 2011, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may never satisfyingly end. Zero Dark Thirty has caused severe controversy since its conception. Clashes with CIA and Obama administration officials suggest that this story hits way too close to home. So-called ‘leaked’ information is combined with an in-depth analysis of the war on terror.  

Kyle Chandler & Jason Clarke.

The 2 hour and 37 minute length is vital for this immense story. Boal’s script is a cinematic dramatisation of startling personal accounts. Like a journalist’s presentation of the Middle East, the film’s objectivity allows for many interpretations. Bigelow and Boal smartly recreate certain events without either propagandistic or anti-establishment messages. This expansive story covers 10 years of terrorist acts and events within a shattered bureaucracy. Attacks including 9/11 and the London Bombings are depicted but never sensationalised. The boardroom rules over the battlefield here. The film’s daring examination of pencil-pushers and investigators grounds this intense struggle. Intelligence and surveillance may be vital, but human intuition is even greater. However, the bombings, shoot-outs and assassination attempts will leave anyone sinking in their seats. The film’s best sequence is the night raid by Seal Team Six on Bin Laden’s Compound. Tight, tense and violent; it’s a stunning action set piece devoid of unnecessary ‘Hollywood’ flourishes. Zero Dark Thirty never reverts back to standard action-thriller tropes. It’s subtly divided between cat-and-mouse chase, military procedural and intense thriller. With many post-9/11 military dramas, action and simplistic exposition tell the story. The film’s level of political jargon is about as intensive as a CNN newsroom. Evidence, gathered and shared between Pakistan and Washington D.C., extensively details how technology can create freedom. Yes, it’s refreshing that a Hollywood post-9/11 drama can speak strictly to the current affair-centred viewer, but that concept may be excruciating for everyone else. Films such as The InsiderAll the President’s MenMunich and The Kingdom provide a similar outlook on international political affairs. Zero Dark Thirty has caused controversy due to its graphic torture sequences.

“Can I be honest with you? I am bad fucking news. I’m not your friend. I’m not gonna help you. I’m gonna break you. Any questions?” (Dan (Jason Clarke), Zero Dark Thirty).

The Seal Team Six sequence.

Bigelow, however, never pushes things too far. No one is having appendages chopped off. Instead, heavy metal music is blared for days on end and male prisoners are humiliated in front of female CIA operatives. Despite these atrocities, both the American and Middle Eastern characters are depicted delicately. Bigelow and Boal find, and comment on, the humanistic elements of both sides without sitting on left or right wings. Bigelow is clearly one of Hollywood’s best action-thriller directors. Her tight, kinetic style comes to the forefront of both The Hurt Locker  and Zero Dark Thirty. Boal and Bigelow have expanded The Hurt Locker‘s Middle Eastern setting. The grit of the Middle Eastern desert is important to this harsh docudrama. The verisimilitude establishes a startling world that the American characters struggle to adjust to. Bigelow’s handling of Maya’s story is hauntingly personal. Maya is based on a real-life CIA operative whose name cannot be given for security purposes. Maya’s arc between naive operative and frustrated leader is chilling. She separates the men from the boys whilst living and working in a testosterone fuelled environment (much like Bigelow herself). Maya is courageously determined to capture bin Laden. Pushing papers and tempers around the office, her implausible hunches push her to continue on. The ubiquitous Chastain is remarkable here. Every emotion is etched painfully into her face. She presents her character’s exhaustive journey with a powerfully affecting turn. Charismatic character actors, including Mark Strong, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler and James Gandolfini, deliver powerful performances in small roles.

Bigelow and Boal have crafted a heart-thumping and intelligent thriller. Crafting the line between bureaucracy, democracy, and chaos, Zero Dark Thirty is an objective and affecting look at the greatest manhunt in history. Thanks to this immaculate cast and crew, this military flick transcends the genre and studio system.

Verdict: An intelligent and captivating military thriller.