Archive for February, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

Posted: February 22, 2015 in movie reviews


(out of five)

You get a lot of movie for the price of your ticket with The Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending, a crazy, fun, infuriating, difficult, fun, bonkers, expensive, fun, ludicrous, romantic, fun flick. It is flawed but is full of… fun. I had a great, cheesy time.

Jupiter Jones (surely a movie character has been called that before?) cleans bathrooms, until a half-man / half-dog zips her off into the greater universe because she’s… well, the Queen of the Universe. By birth. She doesn’t know it. Obviously. Who does?

Mila Kunis, one of the most beautiful people in the universe, plays Jupiter, and Channing Tatum, one of the most beautiful people in the universe, plays the dog. Together, they max the screen out on beauty, and, ultimately, it works.

The film is full of cool ideas, really strange characters, and endless cool design. It’s a CGI-fest, but not necessarily an annoying one. The Wachowskis know how to go big. This one is huge. And it’s fun, fun, fun. You’ll forget it the moment it’s over, and the story is ludicrous, but it’s… pretty awesome, at a very popcorn level. Eddie Redmayne delivers the campest, most ludicrous performance of the year, and it’s great. If you live in a marijuana-legalised state, go crazy.


Posted: February 16, 2015 in movie reviews


****1/2 (out of five)

Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour is vital, urgent, and breathtaking, not necessarily because of any razzle-dazzle in the filmmaking, nor in any spectacular conceit, nor due to any incredibly detailed argument. It is brilliant because it captures an intimate moment of history that will reverberate through the ages; a moment that would not have been captured had not a connection been made.

That connection was between Edward Snowden, Poitras, and journalist Glenn Greenwald. When Snowden decided to become a whistleblower he made a very canny decision: not just to contact his favourite journo but also his favourite documentary filmmaker. Thus, we have the whistle, blown, but we also have this incredible document of the whistle being blown, as it is being blown.

This is history in front of your eyes, from the most intimate perspective: about eight days of Snowden in a hotel room in Hong Kong, giving his acquired documents to Greenwald and Guardian journo Ewen MacAskill, then splitting for Russia. Not a re-creation, not a construction: Poitras’s camera in the hotel room as everything goes down. You see Snowden on email with his long-time girlfriend as she realises he’s never coming home; you see the human rights lawyers arriving to take up Snowden’s case; you see Snowden deciding how to leave the room, and disappear into a future that he has no idea about.

It’s thrilling, unbelievably thrilling. Even though we know Snowden is safe in Moscow (at least for now), the sense of danger (and paranoia, a huge theme of the film) is tangible. There’s a dazzling sequence where Snowden looks out of his Hong King hotel window, and Poitras shows what he’s seeing twice, which is a pretty Hong Kong Square. The first time, we get the sense of Snowden’s self-imposed imprisonment: he’s been in that room for a week (like Julian Assange has been in that Ecuadorean Embassy for some years now), and can’t simply venture out into the pretty Square; the second, we get the sense that the Square could be swarming with people wanting to snatch Snowden away – to who knows where. After all, the crimes he’s accused of are terribly punishable.

Snowden himself comes off as hugely intelligent, hugely ethical, and hugely likeable. I would want to be his friend if he wasn’t exiled in Russia. There is no sense of him seeking self-promotion – what kind of self-promotion leads you to exile? – but only of moral responsibility. Indeed, you just wonder why more people haven’t come forward about the necromancies of the NSA; perhaps it is only fear.

This film is full of incredibly intelligent, brave people, to the point of making one feel a little inadequate. It’s an international spy tale told in (almost) real time, and it’s the truth. Snowden’s leaks really put the US Administration into a scrambling, blubbering mess, and caused international outrage, and so they should have. Alex Gibney’s Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets was a brilliant film about Wikileaks and Julian Assange, but Poitras’s film is like an incredible photograph, capturing a singular moment in history. She was invited to be there by Snowden so, in some ways, it’s not her brilliance on display; the fact that Snowden chose her, however, is evidence of her brilliance on display. Regardless, it’s the documentary of the year. Amazing.


Posted: February 15, 2015 in movie reviews


**** (out of five)

Like its lead character, Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a methodical, thoughtful, careful, patient, intelligent, and extremely well-spoken film about a major subject – the gaining of the black vote in the United States in the 1960s. Not a biopic of Dr. Martin Luther King, it is instead a focussed study of the birth of a piece of legislation – resembling Lincoln in this regard – and, like that film, contains a lot of politics, back-room dealing, decision-making and compromise. In other words, politics. It’s a film about Martin Luther King as a political animal, the theories and tenants of peaceful protest as he applied it to protests in 1965 – in particular the march from Selma to Montgomery – and his relationships with his allies and enemies, and in particular Lyndon B. Johnson, who could be both at the same time.

The film crackles with absolutely fantastic dialogue (screenwriter Paul Webb, his only film credit!) It is also full of crackerjack performances, led by David Oyelowo as King, but with excellent turns by Tom Wilkinson as Johnson, Wendell Pierce (Bunk!) as Reverend Hosea Williams, Tim Roth as a truly repellant Governor George Wallace, and Omar J. Dorsey as James Orange. But there are so many actors in this movie – Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover (how good is that for casting!), Giovanni Ribisi as Lee White, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Stephen Root, Cuba Gooding Jr… all great, and contributing to a huge mosaic.

DuVernay has a lot to deal with, and if the film has a flaw it’s with the pacing; there are set-pieces, but much of the film is back-room politics, and some of these scenes, despite the dialogue always being fresh, are more successful that others. Any of the scenes with King and Johnson are good, and there is a spectacular scene between Wilkinson as Johnson and Roth as Wallace, all the more so because, well – both those guys are British, yo!

Oyelowo is spectacular as King, getting huge moments in the big speeches but also perfect in his quieter scenes, always trying for the best possible course of action, always trying to see the wood for the trees. Here is an actor you can see thinking. Again, he’s a Brit. You never notice. He gives a perfect performance, one of the best of the year. Carmen Ejogo is also excellent as Coretta Scott King, and their scenes together, which basically show that King was fallible, are powerful. But this is a movie where you come for the politics, stay for the politics, and then are moved to tears at the end. It’s amazing it’s been this long for this story to hit the Silver Screen. It’s hit it well.

Kingsman The Secret Service

Posted: February 5, 2015 in movie reviews


**1/2 (out of five)

There’s a lot of spitfire razzle-dazzle but barely any wit, panache or charm in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman The Secret Service, a huge bloated misfire of a movie that sits like a spew stain on the impeccable jacket of Colin Firth’s body of work. While the bounteous fight sequences have verve and style, the rest of the film does not.

Vaughn has stated that he wanted to make a “love letter” to the spy films and series he loved from the 60s and 70s, including the Flint movies, the films featuring Harry Palmer, The Avengers (the television show), The Man From UNCLE and the Bond films of Connery and Moore. But the film he has delivered feels like none of those. Instead, the most powerful resonance it has is, in tone, style, structure, script, pace and design is Kick-Ass. Vaughn has not made a 70s spy caper, but a Matthew Vaughn film, and easily his worst.

The lack of anything resembling a true laugh line or visual gag is a huge problem, but that wouldn’t matter if there was an underlying, easygoing wit, which there isn’t. Everything just looks like it’s trying way too hard. Firth, as superspy (and super fighter) Harry Hart, is terribly uncomfortable in the role, possibly because he was hoping to have some dry bon mots to deliver that never materialised. He’s stuck having to sip scotch in lieu of being actually suave (and god forbid he gets a chance to be sexy – there’s nothing sexy in the film whatsoever, which is completely the opposite of what’s going on in all the films and shows Vaughn claims to be honouring: they were all about being sexy).

An origin story of how a young man (Taron Egerton, who will at least get a career based off this) is inducted into the titular secret service, the film is neither a parody of its genre nor the claimed “love letter” to it. It’s actually, and ultimately, just a substandard entry to the field, which really bottoms out as it name-checks the others (Bond, Bourne, even Bauer from 24), reminding you that they all do this much, much better.


***1/2 (out of five)

The most surprising thing about The Theory of Everything, which looks from the outside like a movie about Stephen Hawking, is that it’s a movie about Jane, his first wife. As gorgeously, perfectly played by Oscar nominated Felicity Jones, Jane meets an eccentric young science student at Cambridge, falls madly in love with him, and then devotes much of her life to him as he rapidly falls victim to motor neurone disease.

Of course, that student is Hawking (Eddie Redmayne, also Oscar nominated) and he goes on, despite his disease – which is truly crippling – to be one of the great scientific minds of the centuries, and certainly one of the most famously celebrated. But the quiet hero – and, as I say, the hero of this story – is Jane, and, indeed, this film is adapted from Jane’s book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen.

Once his disease hits him hard, Hawking actually falls away from the story – and the screen – quite a bit, and the movie puts front and centre something we all can relate to: feelings for someone else. The fact that Stephen falls for someone else too, and essentially tosses Jane aside, is a much more bitter pill to swallow, and the movie works a little too hard to balance their indiscretions and betrayals out. Really, Jane’s dalliance is understandable, while Stephen’s just feels astonishingly cruel. But the man has had a rough deal, and is truly brilliant, so one can see where the filmmakers were coming from, while finding it a little contrived.

Redmayne, as you may have heard, is superb, and he and Jones together make the movie. It has strengths and flaws in all other departments – the cinematography is at times gorgeous, at times way over the top, the score likewise, it’s too long, some of the supporting performances are by the book, and a lot of details are left out that we’re naturally curious about (the main one for me was the source of the Hawkings’ income in their earlier years) – but these two performers don’t miss a single beat, and have a real, dare I say it, chemistry. If there was an Oscar for Best Screen Pairing, by the cosmos, they would deserve it.


*** (out of five)

Julianne Moore is nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress for Still Alice, from screenwriting and directing partners Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. She plays Alice Howland, an extremely intelligent, beautiful and successful linguistics professor, who, upon turning 50, becomes afflicted with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The film is tasteful, controlled, quiet, almost stately; it’s beautifully shot in New York mainly in autumn and winter, features precise characters and perfect performances, particularly from Moore, who should and will get the Oscar. It is also a slog, hampered by two script-level fundamental flaws.

The first is that, playing its schematic early, the film becomes a sort of inevitable death march. Once Alice’s disease is discovered, we anticipate – not with pleasure – that the rest of the running time will essentially be a series of worse and worse symptoms on display, and that is precisely what we get. Although Moore performs each stage of Alice’s degradation exquisitely, it is not only an extremely depressing ride but a predictable one.

The other challenge is the film’s almost high-concept conceit: having Moore as a world authority on linguistics, and the disease gradually robbing her of words, is simply very, very contrived, and the concept is hammered to death. It’s too neat and it becomes grating.

Alice’s family are beautiful, smart and wonderful like her, and if they weren’t played by such excellent actors they would be insufferable. But Alec Baldwin, Kristin Stewart, Hunter Parrish (what a great actor’s name!) and particularly Kate Bosworth bring them all to life with precision. The Howlands are of a particular New York academic upper class, and they’ve got rigid spines, stiff upper lips and emotional resilience. This, at least, stops the movie from being mawkish – there are no scenes of anyone losing it, screaming, weeping uncontrollably or generally getting all tragic with it. But there is no denying that the film is depressing from the outset and never lightens up. While a fine showcase of a great screen actor’s talents, and an admirable depiction of an all-too-common disease, it is a grind, and one wonders if the filmmakers had an audience in mind.