Locke Review – The Slow & the Steady


Director: Steven Knight

Writer: Steven Knight

Stars: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott


Release date: April 18th, 2014

Distributor: A24

Country: UK

Running time: 84 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Tom Hardy.

Worst part: The antagonistic boss character.

Over the past few years, cinema has displayed its potential to make the most tedious aspects of life appear invigorating and interesting. Most commonly, this refers to comic books, TV/film/book series’, and true stories. Eclipsing these blockbuster conceivers, the survival/bottle genre takes limited locations, characters, and concepts and develops invigorating narratives and thematically-sound thrill-rides. In British auteur Steven Knight’s new thriller Locke, a car is taken for a spin and pushed to the limit for a full 90 minutes.

Tom Hardy.

Facing such antagonists as highways, freeways, and Give ways, we take major risks whenever we step into our cars. Automobile travel, forcing us to share with others and attack those who refuse to play by the rules, pushes Locke‘s narrative and its straight-laced lead character. Here, the thriller vibe kicks in from the get-go. Overcoming its questionable and, to some, risible premise, Locke is a philosophical, dexterous, and ambitious joyride. Unafraid to stick to its impressionistic conceits, the execution separates Locke from other bottle features of recent memory. Before Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) steps into his car, the audience is introduced to a chilly British night. With Locke’s plight fighting its way to the surface, the first five minutes relish in the premise’s most intriguing ideas. After a long work day, Locke hops into his car ready to face his greatest obstacles. Driving from Birmingham to London, he uses his car-set phone to update people on his status. His wife, Katherine (Ruth Wilson), and their two sons, Eddie (Tom Holland) and Sean (Bill Milner), eagerly await his return. Preparing for a vital soccer match, the beer, sausages, and jerseys are all laid out for the occasion. At the same time, Locke’s lover, Bethan (Olivia Colman), is giving birth to their lovechild in London’s St Mary’s Hospital. Aiming to reach her location before the labor period finishes, Locke’s true feelings become shockingly clear.

More Tom Hardy.

Perplexingly, there are even more pressing concerns for our misfortunate and steady-handed protagonist to deal with. From the opening frame, Knight’s screenwriting and direction merge amicably to deliver an uneasy and relentless creation. In control of this unique experiment, Knight takes theatre and novel tropes and transplants them effortlessly onto the big screen. As, essentially, a one-man show, Locke proves that big-budgets, labyrinthine sets, and multiple plot-lines aren’t always needed to create complex dramatic stories. The narrative, unlike most survival thrillers, avoids cliches, saccharine moments, and ridiculous leaps of logic. This thriller doesn’t put anyone in danger. Instead, the drama examine’s one man’s choices and the ripple effects they’ve created. With his personal and professional lives in disarray, Locke’s 90-minute journey pulls at the heartstrings and throws tempers and allegiances into dangerous tailspins. If his infidelity wasn’t bad enough, Locke abandons his duties as a construction foreman just a few hours before a major concrete pour is set to take place. Known to put 110% into each assignment, his sketchy and unforgivable actions in the present place any future employment prospects in jeopardy. Talking to his boss, Gareth (Ben Daniels), and assistant, Donal (Andrew Scott), over the phone, Locke’s patience and guile amplify the movie’s magnetic and transcendent aura.

“I want to know that I’m not driving in one direction.” (Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), Locke).

Even more Tom hardy!

Bravely, and appropriately, this car-staged thriller talks down to those against Locke’s every decision. This post-GFC drama, depicting honest people carrying out desperate acts for pride and desperation, delivers a heartfelt apology to the working class man from the one percenters. With Knight taking on sensitive characters and gritty topics, his style emphatically supports his lead character’s impulsive decisions. However, despite the well-intentioned effort, the voice-driven antagonists occasionally come off as obvious and treacle. Gareth, screaming every word whilst refusing to listen to Locke’s sound advice, hurriedly becomes an unnecessary hindrance. Thankfully, Knight injects sympathetic and electrifying traits into his lead character. As the epicentre of this crumbling universe, Locke’s witless resolve and steely resilience is worth the price of admission. Pushed by a figment of his imagination – resembling his father – Locke is a intelligent and unhinged presence. Regretful and likeable simultaneously, the titular character anchors this already intense and effortless feature. Hardy – known to take on menacing roles in big-budget features like Lawless, The Dark Knight Rises, and Warrior – insatiably adapts to this subtle and direct role. Gripping onto a Richard Harris-esque accent, Hardy’s purposeful mannerisms and distinct tone amplify his memorable turn.

As the most realistic survival thriller to date, Locke expertly rests on handful of ideas, sets, and roles. Before its profound finale, the movie throws us in the driver’s seat and takes us on journey of regret, hope, and acceptance. With Hardy’s prowess in full view, fans will lap up this magnetic and visceral one-man production. For Locke, the road to hell truly is paved with good intentions.

Verdict: An intense and pacy thrill-ride.

Nebraska Review – Colourless Flavour


Director: Alexander Payne

Writer: Bob Nelson

Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach


Release date: November 15th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Vantage

Country: USA

Running time: 114 minutes


 

 

3½/5

Best part: The eclectic performances.

Worst part: The discomforting tonal shifts.

What exactly defines a director’s ‘body of work’? A signature style? A high-minded agenda? A rise or fall in overall quality? Simple answer: all of the above. This energetic term refers to a director’s all-encompassing works becoming cognitive parts of a much larger odyssey. One director sporting a stellar and eclectic filmography is Alexander Payne. Since I fondly appreciate his acclaimed works, I refuse to make a dim-witted pun about his last name. In fact, despite his rich and irritable cynicism, his movies speak the truth about monumental issues. Payne, with Nebraska, takes a wild detour back to his old stomping grounds.

Bruce Dern & Will Forte.

Thankfully, 2013’s Best Director nominees have charged head-on into informative and alarming topics. From Spike Jonze’s scintillating work in Her to Steve McQueen’s transcendent efforts in 12 Years a Slave, these filmmakers transformed a humble crop of dramas into the past decade’s greatest Oscar nominees. Payne, shooting previous Oscar seasons into the stratosphere, knows how this process works. Gracefully, the likeable and vague director writes love letters to his younger self. His movie’s personal touches hint at gargantuan promises and immense surprises. Thankfully, they all work to his movies’ advantage. Here, Payne places his heart on the line, and is almost willing to stomp on it himself to prove a point. The move follows a disgruntled family aching for change. In the opening scene, a decrepit and alcoholic old timer, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), is caught wondering the streets of Billings, Montana. Brought into the local police precinct, Grant is convinced he’s hit the jackpot. Carrying a sweepstakes scam letter in his jacket pocket, Grant strives to retrieve his staggering $1 million ‘winnings’. With Grant’s frustrated son David (Will Forte) forced to pick him up and drop him back to his lively residence, Grant’s literal and figurative demons become abundantly clear.

June Squibb.

Prodded by his wife Kate (June Squibb) at debilitating moments, his anger ever-so-slowly rises to the surface. Despite Grant’s bizarre  behaviour, David, running away from his own problems, drops everything to take his unhinged father on this mind-boggling journey. Payne fuses modernity and tradition in this kooky dramedy. In creating this dreamscape, the priceless director reaches into his ol’ bag of tricks. Nebraska instills his electrifying filmography’s more distinctive kinks. Like Sideways and The Descendants, the narrative rests its transformative quirks on one quaint road trip. Obsessed with road trips, deceptive schemes, and irritating family units, Payne’s style is brought to the forefront of this ageless and touching familial drama. However, despite my intentions, ageless may be the wrong word. This Best Picture nominee, like Philomena, examines people of vastly different age groups. Commenting on cliches and hearsay, the movie quashes any preconceptions about the elderly community. Yes, the elderly characters in Nebraska do yell at younger people and regale family members with tiresome tales. However, they choose do so because of hard work and free will. First time feature writer Bob Nelson gives these retirees distinctive traits and empathetic shades. Tugging at heartstrings and brain cells, Nebraska‘s fruitful narrative comments on an era as old as the movie’s lead character. Convinced this shade of Middle America could become obsolete, Payne’s emphatic direction hurls the movie’s issues into the spotlight. Pushing against the grain, the movie’s gritty conflicts and resolutions inject observational comedic moments and intriguing personalities into the sprawling narrative. Contrasting personalities, defined by life-altering decisions and brash revelations, add emotional depth to this otherwise discomforting tale.

“I never knew the son of a bitch even wanted to be a millionaire! He should have thought about that years ago and worked for it!” (Kate Grant (June Squibb), Nebraska).

Stacy Keach.

Unfortunately, whilst returning to familiar territory, Payne doesn’t delve into anything original. The story, reminiscent of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and Paris, Texas, builds a cavalcade of overtly sentimental moments and tiresome cliches. Heading back to Grant’s hometown of Hawthorne, long-dead conflicts, long lost loves, and caricatures come out to greet him. Buying into Grant’s peculiar antics, the vultures – led by Grant’s old business partner Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach) – circle the unenthusiastic and ignorant lead character. Payne, refusing to sugarcoat certain situations and details, oddly embraces and rejects nostalgia and lower-middle class America simultaneously. This multi-millionaire – commenting on small-town America and economic turmoil – indulges in his perfunctory material. Aged care, family values, and the American dream are small fragments of Payne’s shattered perspective. However, despite the overwhelming agenda, Payne’s startling visual style and attention to detail stand above the conventional screenplay. Ambitiously shot in Black in White, Phedon Papamichael’s glorious cinematography lends poetic beauty to this cynical dramedy. Embedding itself into the consciousness within the first few minutes, the black and white photography turns a simplistic melodrama into a multidimensional character study. In addition, the quirky and efficient score lends gravitas to this comforting road trip. Plunking away, folk-blues sounds waft over certain sequences like none other. Hats off to Payne for that choice. Fortunately, the performances, more so than the visuals, hurls the audience into this darkly comic tale. Dern, an indie drama darling, establishes his immense prowess. Despite being the outsider in this year’s Best Actor list, his enigmatic and subtle performance elevates every scene. Saturday Night Live graduate Forte delivers his greatest performance as the miserable and amicable David. His character – picked on by sex-offending cousins, steely-eyed enemies, and rambunctious elderly relatives – is a step above most in this nostalgic romp. Squibb excels in her disarming role. Pushing her relatives to breaking point, her character becomes a terrible person doing commendable things. Meanwhile, Breaking Bad‘s Bob Odenkirk nicely rounds out the cast as the family’s more successful son.

Nebraska, despite the quaint charm and ingenious performances, is far from your typical comedic farce. Payne, not one to hide from the truth, places his thoughts and ideas in full view. His frankly modest perspective makes his characters walk that fine line between chaos and control. With Dern, Forte, and Squibb’s charisma saving all-important scenes, this eclectic road-trip dramedy transitions into a potent and thematically relevant adventure. Though not deserving of its Best Picture nomination, the movie, like its main character, is crazy in the sanest possible way.

Verdict: A cheerful and modest road-trip dramedy. 

August: Osage County Review – Family Firestorm!


Director: John Wells

Writer: Tracy Letts (screenplay & play)

Stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper


Release date: December 27th, 2013

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The biting dialogue.

Worst part: Streep’s hammy turn.

I believe it was the influential American author F. Scott Fitzgerald who famously said:”Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material”. If that’s the case, then both families in August: Osage County follow Fitzgerald’s words to the letter. With the Weston and Aiken families holding certain incidences and issues against one another, this moody yet insightful dramedy turns into a brash and unrelenting 2-hour thrill-ride. With its stellar cast, pitch-perfect dialogue, and alluring visual style, this movie surprises, frustrates, and shines when required. Just don’t tell anyone I talked about these people behind their backs. Yeesh!

Meryl Streep & Julia Roberts.

Based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage Country is an honest, brutal, and claustrophobic adaption. With Letts taking control of his productions’ adaptations, his guiding hand proves useful, effecting, and practical. Here, like with previous adaptation Killer Joe, his characters are trapped in certain settings and situations. Trust me – his characters are unenviable, childish, and torturous! No one would ever want to spend a weekend away with these people! So, efficiently, Letts brings his characters straight to us. However, despite the flaws, August: Osage County‘s performers make this adaptation somewhat tolerable. This meandering dramedy begins with the Westons living in complete disarray. Hiring a Native American nurse/housekeeper, Johnna Monevata (Misty Upham), Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) relays personal stories to her about life, loss, regret, and literature. To his cancerous (in multiple ways) wife Violet(Meryl Streep)’s dismay, Johnna listens intently to Beverly’s every word. However, as Beverly’s sudden disappearance becomes a major hurdle, Johnna, despite Violet’s irritating attitude, must care for her. Soon enough, the Weston and Aiken clans show up to give Violet their best wishes. Violet’s three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis), follow one another back to their old home. With memories, tempers, and heat-waves flaring, the three sisters band together to overcome each other’s burgeoning problems. Barbara, separated from her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), struggles to control their daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Not to be outdone, Karen’s hotshot fiancée Steve Huberbrecht (Dermot Mulroney) breezes into town with his bright red Ferrari and interminable personality in tow.

Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, and Abigail Breslin.

If that wasn’t enough, Violet’s sister Mattie Fae Aiken (Margot Martindale), her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper), and their son ‘Little’ Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) throw themselves into this sprawling recipe for disaster. To continue on with this family reunion/meal theme, August Osage County is chock-a-block with characters willing, but unable, to stir the pot before its contents boil over. All family reunion movies have the potential to knock themselves for a loop. With multiple characters, story-lines, messages, and hurtful one-liners flying across comforting settings, The Big Chill is still seen as a meaningful fluke. Letts’ writing style, made famous by the play, places personalities and ideologies against one another. Director John Wells (The Company Men) ably adapts to the egos and auras floating through his ambitious projects. Handling impressive ensembles competently, Wells is undoubtedly an actor’s director. His attentive style elevates mediocre characters from the doldrums whilst shining spotlights in their eyes. Despite the previous comment’s darkness, Wells’ controlling direction and attention to detail elevates this otherwise frustrating affair. However, Wells can’t detach this project from its stage-based roots. Walking an uneasy line between stage and screen, the movie’s scope, subtext, and characterisations are pushed overboard. Unfortunately, Wells and Letts butt heads over this movie’s intentions. Showcasing Oaklahoma’s countryside at opportune moments, Wells seems intent on separating this narrative from the play’s restrictions. However, Letts sticks to his creation’s most claustrophobic aspects. Sadly, this confrontation throws this dramedy’s tone off balance. With Wells and Letts’ visions not reaching their true potential, this dramedy awkwardly mixes Secrets & Lies‘ dramatic beats with Death at a Funeral‘s farcical hijinks. Despite the narrative’s faults, August: Osage County hurriedly sweeps up its audience. Targeted at 40-something women, the movie, after its sombre epilogue, delves into modern romantic-drama’s typical and uninspired traits.

“Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.” (Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts), August: Osage County).

Meryl Streep, Margot Martindale, and Julianne Nicholson.

With its familial dramatic moments, strong-willed women, and picturesque cast, the movie acknowledges its monstrous advantages compared to similar Oscar-starved fare. However, with Letts’ piercing dialogue steering his thought-provoking story, the movie becomes a cynical, cold, and visceral black comedy. Like most families, August: Osage County crackles whilst set around the dinner table. Two table sequences – elevated by smashed plates, cruel jokes, punishing insults, and physical violence – switch from elaborate set pieces to hysterical and identifiable shouting matches. Charlie’s woeful attempt to say grace is met with kooky ringtones, rolling eyeballs, and mean-spirited laughter. Like most family gatherings, startling revelations, broken relationships, detailed anecdotes, and shattered perspectives define this movie. Several harsh one-liners are burned into the consciousness. Beverly, accepting of his alcoholism-controlled sanity, is inexplicably told to: “F#cking f#ck a sow’s ass!”. Unfortunately, the symbolism goes overboard from the opening frame. Violet, stepping out from the shadows during her first appearance, is defined by obvious idiosyncrasies. Receiving pharmaceutical-based relief from mouth cancer, this matriarchal character is disgracefully over-the-top and unlikeable. Unfortunately, Streep’s overt impersonation of Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There spectacularly misfires. Thankfully, everyone else is top notch. Roberts provides her best performance since Erin Brockovich. As a stranded-in-denial character, Roberts’ intensity and verve elevate certain sequences. In addition, Martindale and Nicholson provide scintillating turns in valuable roles. Meanwhile, the male performers become witty, kooky, and insightful comic reliefs. Cooper and McGregor steal scenes as the resilient husband-and-father figures. Mulroney and Cumberbatch provide impressive performances in understated roles.

Lacking Festen‘s dramatic weight and You’re Next‘s brutal murders, August: Osage County lacks subtlety and uniqueness. Despite the movie’s overt metaphors and broad characters, the emotionally resonant moments, cutting one-liners, and solid performances boost this intriguing and kinetic dramedy. Ironically, this movie is perfect for lazy days on the couch…at home…with the family.

Verdict: A frustrating yet entertaining dramedy.

 

Stoker Review – Hitchcock Homage


Director: Park Chan-wook

Writer: Wentworth Miller 

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney


Release date: March 1st, 2013

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Countries: USA, UK 

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Chan-wook’s direction.

Worst part: The cartoonish supporting characters.

In the first few scenes of psychological thriller Stoker, we are brought into a strange, spooky yet beguiling world. The audience is whisked through the woods as we come across one symbol and titbit after another. This technique develops one of many beautifully crafted sequences in this discomforting visual and intellectual splendour. Stoker sticks with you and never lets go whilst giving us one of 2013’s most enterprising narratives.

Mia Wasikowska.

Stoker is a creepily effective and moody assault on the mind and senses. Despite its minor inconsistencies, the movie sweeps you up in a visceral and gothic thrill-ride that would make Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick blush then pass out. This gothic thriller starts off with a crippling tragedy befalling the Stoker household. India Stoker(Mia Wasikowska)’s 18th birthday celebrations turn sour when her father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) is killed in a car accident. Her birthday then transitions into his funeral, as India and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) quickly realise that Richard was the glue that held their family together. Their time to grieve is also hurriedly interrupted by Richard’s charming younger brother Charlie (Matthew Goode). Charlie’s stay is met with a bevy of kooky supporting characters trapped inside India’s existence (including her concerned great aunt Gwendolyn (Jacki Weaver)), a slew of murders within the neighbouring town, and India’s mental, spiritual, and sexual transformations. Teenagers, huh?

Nicole Kidman.

South Korean director Park Chan-wook (OldboyThirst) is one of world cinema’s most acclaimed directors. His movies thrust themselves into your consciousness and irritably crawl under your skin. His distinct imagery and darkly comedic touches push the boundaries of modern crime/thriller cinema. Before Stoker was released, I was praying that Hollywood wouldn’t treat Chan-wook with the same distain and idiocy it treats other big-name foreign filmmakers. Thankfully, he is able to apply is distressing style to this Hitchcockian drama. His storytelling prowess and idiosyncrasies push this dour story along at a controlled pace. If you have seen Oldboy (soon to be ‘blessed’ with a Hollywood remake), you would already be aware of Chan-wook’s fascination with family ties, the bitterness of existence, and the power of revenge. Here, his story and character ticks are brought up in an effervescent and tangible fashion. His purposeful direction elevates Prison Break lead actor Wentworth Miller’s intriguing yet conventional script. Miller’s first big-budget screenplay leans too heavily on many of Hitchcock’s seminal horror flicks (Shadow of a Doubt, in particular). Thanks to a love of Hitchcock’s efforts, I could easily predict many twists and turns within this confronting story. This movie also takes a while to get going. This aspect, though beguiling, may turn some people away from Chan-wook’s influential material. However, this story contains more emotional resonance than anything you would have witnessed on the big screen in the past few months. Its alienating tone grated my nerves before I became increasingly intrigued. This seemingly pristine horror-thriller gleefully looks into the literal, metaphorical, incestuous, and Freudian shades of life.

Matthew Goode.

Featuring an array of sickly dark and light-hearted overtones, the narrative places a magnifying glass upon the ‘release’ of India’s inner demons. Stoker, featuring elements of Night of the Hunter, is a paranoia inducing examination of sanity, sensation, manipulation, and human connection. The movie continually transitions from kookily charming to gut-wrenchingly vile – turning into an ‘Addam’s Family meets American Beauty‘ style drama. The movie’s overt sexuality and infatuation with carnal desires are summed up in several enthralling sequences. A piano sequence featuring India and Charlie turns into a battle of brains, wits, and bulges. Here, the devil is in the details. Chan-wook’s style is immaculately plastered across the screen and spliced within each intricate frame. The applaudable craftsmanship is on par with Kubrick at his most alarming. His aesthetic ticks take the ‘conventional’ and turn it upside-down and inside out. His moody, atmospheric style builds every scene into a meticulous work of art. His fascinating editing techniques, in particular, are handled with care. One transition, in which brushed hair transforms into a field of tall grass, is simply jaw-dropping. Chan-wook’s methodical style is also applied to the sound design and cinematography. His eye for voyeuristic camera angles and movements pushes this narrative along at a refreshing click. Stoker is drowned in illusions and imaginative compositions. In fact, each plot point reaches a tension inducing and unique crescendo (throughout the second act, in particular). Every sound effect is burned into your skull like a lobotomy scar (a fitting description for this unnerving thriller). Crackling eggshells, gunshots, and the whistling wind will make you shift in your seat.

“He used to say: “sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse.”” (India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), Stoker).

Family values…

Thankfully, Chan-wook’s world isn’t developed this way for the sake of quirky aesthetic choices. His creation depicts parallels between puberty, independence, and masochism. Stoker‘s world is also a peculiar concoction of contrasting time periods. The Stokers live in a 1940s mansion fit with winding passages, creaking staircases, and bold colours. However, the Carrie-esque high school scenes contain many aesthetic idiosyncrasies reminiscent of 70s and present day settings. I’m not sure what Chan-wook is trying to say with this technique, but I still fell for Stoker‘s warped and precious universe. Stoker’s polarising characters also boost this studious look at the pheromonal and delusional mind. These people, reacting in vastly different ways to a major loss, are bafflingly and suspiciously vacant. India is a fascinating and vicious character ripped straight from Chan-wook’s previous efforts. Finding her way in life whilst coming to terms with death, destruction, and the opposite sex, she becomes a powerful force throughout this distorted coming-of-age drama. Credit goes to Wasikowska for persevering through the character’s many awkward and irritating transitions. India’s breakthrough moments, including the murder/’long shower’ sequence, chronicle Wasikowska’s immense talent. Kidman, thanks mostly to her “I can’t wait to watch life tare you apart” speech, conquers her minor yet profound role. Goode’s commanding screen presence pays off when required as his character’s menacing persona scintillates. Unfortunately, Weaver, Lucas Till and Alden Ehrenreich are given laughably one dimensional roles.

Despite the lack of Vampire lore and supernatural elements (given the title’s cultural relevance), Stoker is a moody, dour, and enthralling horror-thriller. Avoiding Hollywood’s ‘typical’ treatment of foreign directors, Chan-wook has crafted a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat from the enrapturing prologue to the polarising epilogue.

Verdict: A moody, dark, and affecting psychological thriller.

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. 

Shadow Dancer Review – Irish Brew


Director: James Marsh 

Writer: Tom Bradby (screenplay & novel)

Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen


Release date: August 24th, 2012

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Countries: UK, Ireland

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Enthralling performances from Riseborough and Owen.

Worst part: The monotonous pace.

Throughout history, Ireland’s lower and middle classes have been embroiled in violent social upheaval. Political thriller Shadow Dancer is based on a novel from the film’s screen-writer Tom Bradby. His Journalistic work for ITV news in 1990’s Northern Ireland was paramount to the success of this authentic and haunting story. The film balances between gritty realism and poetic storytelling, creating a harsh, subtle yet emotionally powerful account of one of the world’s most appalling political conflicts.

Andrea Riseborough.

The film depicts the Irish Republican Army(IRA)’s atrocities from the insider’s perspective. Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) is a single mother and pawn in a political and familial struggle. Still reeling from her brother’s death decades earlier, her emotional restraints are broken when she fails to follow orders. Arrested after her role in a failed bomb plot on a London underground train, Colette is given a choice by MI5 agent Mac (Clive Owen). She can either aid the British police in capturing important IRA members or spend 25 years in prison. With her son and mother in mind, Colette reports IRA incidents to Mac. When an IRA assassination plot is foiled however, paranoia sets in and everyone becomes a target of republican revenge. Both Colette and Mac must soon face their own problems within separate organisations.

Riseborough & Clive Owen.

Riseborough & Clive Owen.

Shadow Dancer meditatively becomes a heart wrenching slow-burn thriller in the vein of this year’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Following the film’s emotionally resonant first scene, the sombre tone of these horrific events establishes the core of this IRA thriller. This character study, documenting the separation between the law and anarchy, is defined by the similarities between Colette and Mac. Colette is morally driven and sensitive, determined to help the innocent people in her family by any means. From the nail-biting station sequence, her emotions illustrate the true despair of a broken home and divided country. The unique step this film takes is to develop Owen’s determined and sceptical detective character. Frustrated with his superiors, his paranoia pushes his illegitimate investigation of both Colette’s pressing situation and the practices of his own organisation. Riseborough and Owen are compelling in their chilling roles. Vastly different characters on the surface with similar shades of regret and redemption underneath, their disconcerting relationship brews intensely.

David Wilmot, Aiden Gillan & Domhnall Gleeson.

David Wilmot, Aiden Gillan & Domhnall Gleeson.

Capturing a nation’s identity through familial heartache and violence, Shadow Dancer creates a more contemplative view of crime than similar films such as 2010’s Animal Kingdom. Sharing many similarities with 2008 action-thriller Traitor, personalities and political conspiracies collide into a discomforting and powerfully relevant story. Director James Marsh (Man on WireProject Nim) smartly focuses on the emotional bonds created and then broken between people on both sides of the law. Unfortunately, the film provides a narrow focus on the IRA situation through Collette and Mac’s perspectives. Marsh seems intent on depicting one family’s influential role in the civil unrest; failing to convincingly develop this pressing social affliction. This choice sorely costs vital screen time for talented character actors including Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson and The Guard‘s David Wilmot as vital IRA members close to Colette. The handheld camera style creates a gritty and atmospheric presentation of certain events. The funeral scene stands out in this case, capturing a breathtaking account of the clash between authority and republican rights.

“Is it just because she has a pretty face?” (Kate Fletcher (Gillian Anderson), Shadow Dancer).

Gillian Anderson.

Gillian Anderson.

Marsh has combined his experience with documentary film-making with the ever advancing possibilities of fictional storytelling. A gritty sense of darkness is born here, as each character must begin to accept the depths they have fallen into along the way. The film becomes a claustrophobic aura of death and emotional despair, despite lacking the political intrigue of IRA drama The Crying Game. Belfast specifically becomes a symbol of Colette’s shattered mind. Decrepit and sombre, Marsh focuses on locations which illustrate the societal impact of a republican force fighting oppression from a first world order. Each interrogation is an enthralling and climactic dialogue sequence. A smoke-like haze covers these scenes creating a significant sense of dread. Each interrogation illustrates Colette’s increasing danger, forcing her to continually look over her shoulder in a cold sweat. The film’s sombre tone is fuelled by a washed out colour scheme. Even in the film’s happiest moments, dark clouds gather over Colette as her paranoia begins to take over.

Breathing new life back int0 Ireland’s film industry, Shadow Dancer depicts a much-maligned sector of the country’s history. Thanks to its refined cast and efficient direction, this stoic crime-thriller picks us up and shakes around throughout its taut run-time. It may even get people invested in this ongoing conflict.

Verdict: An intense and heart-breaking political thriller. 

My Brothers Review – Stand By Me


Director: Paul Fraser

Writer: Will Collins

Stars: Timmy Creed, Paul Courtney, Tj Griffin, Don Wycherley


Release date: August 17th, 2012

Distributors: Olive Films, Cinemax

Country: Ireland

Running time: 90 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The sibling relationships.

Worst part: The underdeveloped supporting characters.

Very few films have powerfully focused on the positives and negatives to come out of the passing of a loved one. This solemn part of existence is illustrated in My Brothers with a delicacy rarely seen in modern drama. Paying homage to Stand by Me and Star Wars, this love letter to 70s/80s Hollywood comes from a profound place of love and imagination. Bolstered by three solemn yet ambitious lead characters, this road trip comedy reaches for the more meaningful aspects of existence.

Timmy Creed.

Timmy Creed.

With the imminent death of their ill father, three brothers react differently and affectingly to their current predicament. Noel (Timmy Creed) feels punishingly afflicted with sudden responsibility when faced with his family’s future. Paudie (Paul Courtney) avoids the situation through immature behaviour. While Scwally (T.J. Griffin) is a naive young boy connected to a cheap toy lightsaber, despite having never seen Star Wars. To redeem their once happy connection with their father, the three brothers travel to a seaside town to replace his broken watch. With an unbalanced array of personalities and sombre feelings towards their current situation, the experiences and recollections they encounter may positively change their unsteady relationship.

Creed, Paul Courtney & Tj Griffin.

Creed, Paul Courtney & Tj Griffin.

My Brothers is a touching, charming yet sombre examination of family, memory, death and redemption. Paul Fraser (Once Upon a Time in the Midlands) has directed this solemn yet inspirational road trip film with a powerful emotional connection. The sombre tone, created through gorgeous cinematography capturing every raindrop and dirt road on their journey through rich, green hills, assuredly develops this story of the importance of both life and death. Unlike Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, in which three different stories of people affected by death fail to develop a powerful emotional connection to its important themes, the three brothers aren’t simply aiming for a relief from their current predicament, but aim to effectively tie up loose ends with one powerful act. With the watch symbolising their family’s happiness and responsibility, its repair will ultimately bring the three of them together despite their imminent loss of family connection. The acoustic soundtrack and wildly differing personalities clashing throughout their journey effectively capture an authentic representation of youth in lower class Ireland.

“If daddy dies in the holidays, do we still get time off from school when we go back?” (Scwally (Tj Griffin), My Brothers).

The road trip.

The road trip.

With a window into family happiness at tail ends of the film contrasting their currently crumbling lives, the three brothers are developed as realistically flawed yet loveable characters. Much like the works of J.J. Abrams and Wes Anderson, they not only provide gripping and believable performances but feel like representations of the director’s childhood experience. Their clashing personalities and poignant issues powerfully affect their families’ structure, yet their ailments allow for genuine comedic moments. They become more believable with every van malfunction, expression of bodily function and revelation of inner thoughts and desires. The characters also symbolise a separation between imagination and reality. The transformational Stand By Me elements of their journey on the road to personal development and realisation, along with Scwally’s immense infatuation with an important item, define important issues created by youth when faced with unavoidable experiences and difficult yet vital decisions.

My Brothers, a current hit at film festivals around the world, is an emotionally gripping experience. The sympathetic characters and bittersweet narrative create a realistic representation of the dramatic shifts in any desperate family when faced with loss.

Verdict: An emotionally powerful journey of family connection.