Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Tom Clancy (based on characters created by), Adam Cozad and David Koepp (screenplay)
Cast: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Alec Utgoff

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by Paramount Pictures. Now showing in the USA and opening in the UK on the 24th January 2014.

The latest edition to the group of films based on Tom Clancy's novels, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn't quite pack the punch which it should and also thinks that it does. While it has an interesting enough story, it tries to pack too much into it's hour and 45 minute timeframe and as a result comes up with a fairly mediocre action thriller which does nothing to jolt the viewer until the very end.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit takes us back to when Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) was an American student studying in the United Kingdom, which was when September 11 rocked his world and made him change his course in life. Years later, Ryan is now working for the CIA while putting on a convincing front of being just a financial analyst, and is living with his girlfriend, Cathy (Keira Knightley), who has no idea what he really does. When he uncovers a Russian plot to bring down the American economy, he travels to Moscow and places himself and Cathy in grave danger.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is unlike any other of the films featuring Jack Ryan, who has previously been played by Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Alec Baldwin. The main difference is that unlike The Hunt For Red October (1990), Patriot Games (1992), Clear and Present Danger (1994) and The Sum of All Fears (2002), this film is not actually based on a Tom Clancy book. It takes the characters which Clancy created and attempts to provide some answers to the question of where Ryan actually comes from and how did he get to become the incredible agent that he is. So does this work if we accept that this is the object of this film? Not entirely, as his early life is only discussed for a matter of minutes before delving into the world of conspiracies and evil doings. There is enough included to grasp who Ryan is and where he has come from, as well as how he and his future wife, Cathy meet, but Adam Cozad and David Koepp's screenplay just has a little too much packed into it to have any real depth or emotional implications.

Yet, you know you don't go and see a Jack Ryan movie in order to see a heartfelt piece of cinema. You see it for a clever political thriller with some really cool action scenes. As far as Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit goes as a political thriller, it just scrapes into the territory of success. Perhaps not the most suspenseful or fast paced thriller you will see, but it is still quite clever and interesting. However, the majority of the film is not particularly action-packed and it is the last 20 minutes that is the best of the film in this respect. The first half of the film is really quite slow and although the story is interesting, it loses it's thrill in it's pace.

 Kenneth Branagh obviously tries to do as much as he can to make the film feel important and to make it seem a lot more interesting. The musical score implies that the scene we are watching is of huge importance and that we should be in awe of it, but the script really does nothing to support this. If you are a huge Jack Ryan fan, you may think differently, but for people who haven't seen many of the other films and are unfamiliar with Clancy's novels won't see the big deal. Some of the camera work is impressive (particularly in the last few scenes), while some of it is not all that impressive. However, the location shots of the city of Moscow are pretty impressive.

Chris Pine was an obvious choice for the young Jack Ryan. He has no problems with the action roles and from his experience with this genre does well enough the title character of the film. It is by no means a challenging role, but he is convincing and brings his own to the character. Keira Knightley also does well as the future Cathy Ryan. The English actress has a most impressive and convincing American accent and she is a very likable character. Kevin Costner's role may be a disappointment to his fans. As Ryan's confidant, Thomas Harper, he really doesn't have a great deal to do in the film and as a result his time on screen is just a little boring. Kenneth Branagh is quite good as Ryan's enemy, Viktor Cherevin. He plays the Russian bad guy well and has the talent of directing himself very well.

Even if you are craving a bit of action in your film diet, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn't give you the big action you would be looking for. It's unfortunate that it takes so long to really get into the film and once it does get to that point, it is minutes off it's end.


Friday, January 17, 2014

12 Years A Slave (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 134 minutes
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Solomon Northup (novel), John Ridley (screenplay)
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano

12 Years A Slave will be released in Australian cinemas on the 3oth January 2014 and is distributed by Icon. Now showing in the USA and the UK. Please see local guides for details on times and locations.

!2 Years A Slave is without a doubt the most powerful feature film of the year. It has everything one would associate with a perfect film and potential award winner as it is completely unforgettable and immaculately made. As a result of it's perfect direction by Steve McQueen and incredible performances by all the actors involved as well as a wonderful adapted screenplay, the film is overwhelmingly emotionally powerful and honest in the most brutal way. It is a painful, but wonderful cinematic experience which consists of so many best achievements for the 2013 year in film.

 Based on a true story, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man from upstate New York who lives a happy life with his wife and two children. When he ventures to Washington DC with who he believes to be two businessmen interested in his talents on the fiddle, he is abducted and sold into the slave trade in the deep south. His first master is the sympathetic Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) who treats Solomon, who is now known by his slave name of Platt, with respect, but after giving one of his paid workers, Tibeats (Paul Dano) trouble, he is sold to notorious hard man, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Epps is known for "breaking" his slaves and when questioned by those who advise him otherwise such as Bass (Brad Pitt), he insists that he will do whatever he wants with his property. Soloman exhibits an incredible amount of strength and resilience to make sure her survives long enough to see his family and be free once again.

12 Years A Slave is an incredible and heartbreaking tale of one man's fight for freedom in the slave trade. Flowing at a perfect pace where nothing feels rushed and nothing feels left out makes the film consistently captivating and allows for a great deal of attachment to take place between the viewer and the characters on screen. McQueen's film is extraordinarily memorable for it's incredible tale of the fight for freedom and it's welcomed but full-on intensity.

The film itself does not sugar coat the issue of slavery and gives perhaps one of the most brutally honest cinematic looks at slavery in pre-Civil War in the deep south of America. While films such as 1939's Gone With The Wind has given us a slightly distorted or best possible outcome look at slavery in the past where the masters are sympathetic to and treat their help well, 12 Years A Slave looks at the true terrors many had to go through. The film is extremely graphic in certain scenes and this can be very upsetting for some and extremely uncomfortable to watch. A great deal of the ways which the slaves are treated in the film are not censored in any way, shape or form and will upset and dismay many viewers. Yet, you feel true appreciation for Steve McQueen not holding back and wanting to show people this terror to give them a real perspective of what slavery could be like. The film is so powerful in the way that it makes you feel shocked, disgusted and heartbroken, but you are also overcome with how beautiful the film surrounding the hard emotions are.

Although visually confronting at times, 12 Years A Slave is just a pleasure to the eye. There are some absolutely stunning shots of the Louisiana plantations and their surrounds of the cotton fields, bayou and woods. The amazing sunset shot over the top of the trees and the scenes which naturally such as these are accentuated by the amazing musical score. The score itself gives such an impact and as the same haunting music appears throughout the film, it starts to increase emotion more each time each time you hear it.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is magnificent as Solomon Northup. He completely personifies the character and changes as the film goes on as a result of his circumstances. Although you see a man who is being worn down by what he is going through, you also see a man with an incredible amount of spirit and so much fight left in him despite what he is going through. One of the most powerful moments in the film is when the camera is on Ejiofor as he sits and looks around the plantation and at one moment he looks straight down the lens of the camera and it is as though he is really looking at you personally and pleading with you to help him.. It is an amazing moment because looking into his eyes you forget that this is an actor and is really a man of unfortunate circumstances looking for help from anyone who will listen.

Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o is absolutely incredible in her first film appearance as slave girl and object of Edwin Epps' affections, Patsey. She is another character who has an incredible amount of strength in her. Although she does have a death wish as she believes it is her only way out of that way of life, she is still full of life. It is such a sweet scene where you see her in the field making her own dolls, as you see the young girl who is still there and dreaming of happiness. Her final half an hour in the film is just overpowering and heartbreaking. She is a true star and if Patsey is anything to go by, her future career is going to be legendary.

Michael Fassbender gives a perfect performance of such a complex character. Epps is absolutely brutal and a real monster, but there is something else there. It is almost as though he struggles to maintain his brutality and has moments when he is on the verge of giving into being sympathetic, but pulls himself back into believing that his slaves are his property and that he must do what he can to make his assets work for him. There is no denying that he is evil, but his evil is felt greater in some scenes than others. Fassbender is so interesting to watch and every scene he is in brings both a sense of dread and a sense of intrigue. The scene between him and Ejiofor chasing each other is a great piece of cinema and the two have a great chemistry in the oppressed slave and tough master relationship.

Sarah Paulson, who plays Epps' wife, is also very good. Her character also has many layers which are to be examined when deciding what type of a woman she is. Like her husband, she has her moments when she borders on sympathy, but feels she has to reason to make it seem like she isn't sympathetic. Of course, she isn't sympathetic towards Patsey and here she demonstrates how fiercely loyal she is towards her husband by sticking around even though she threatens to leave. Paulson is quite scary at times and another very charismatic character. Benedict Cumberbatch also does well and Brad Pitt's performance is brief, but very effective.

Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave wants to show everyone the extreme hardships and horrors those in the slave trade had to endure, and that being free in the north didn't mean you were always free from danger. Intense and beautiful, 12 Years A Slave will be praised and remembered for years.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 179 minutes
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Jordan Belfort (book), Terence Winter (screenplay)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jon Bernthal, Joanna Lumley

The Wolf of Wall Street will be released in Australia on the 23rd January 2014 and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Now showing in the USA and UK.

The Wolf of Wall Street could not have avoided being highly anticipated. Let's face it, the majority of films being released at this time of the year usually have huge expectations on them. However, when you put the names Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese in the same sentence, you expect something pretty special. Yet, you also worry that these two pairing up for another critically acclaimed film may be too good to be true.

Well this is the news. The Wolf of Wall Street is another amazing piece of work by the dynamic duo. The story of the "Wolf" is intriguing and entertaining and keeps the viewer's undivided attention for the entirety of the film. The film is unexpectedly hilarious and pleasingly shocking at the same time, while also making you contemplate the ethics of the actions of Jordan Belfort. Leonardo DiCaprio is a force to be reckoned with in his fifth partnering with the great Martin Scorsese and the combination of these two proves once again to be a winner.

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the novel of the same name and tells the rise and fall of stockbroker, Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio). From his beginnings as a na├»ve but determined rookie of Wall Street, to his fall as a result of his illegal and unethical activities at his firm, Stratton Oakmont Inc., Belfort doesn't lead a boring life in any way shape or form. He enjoys the perks of the high life including the luxury apartments, Long Island property, unlimited girls and a ridiculous amount of drugs. His addictive lifestyle is extremely hard to give up, but the FBI is always watching him and one wrong step and he will have no choice but to give up his lifestyle and everything that goes with it.

Jordan Belfort's story is not one of a hero. At one point in time he was idolised by so many, but he is ultimately the villain of his own story. His actions and treatment of people are not desirable and it does absolutely make you look at the stockbrokers in the big city in a different way, regardless of whether they are like Belfort and his team or not. It's not likely that most of the things that went on in his office still occur, such as using prostitutes and strippers as a reward for good work actually in the workspace in work hours. Yet the film does make you stop and think about the ethics of someone such as Belfort and for the large majority of the film, he is not a very likable specimen.

However, this works in a big way. Belfort may not be likable and his practises not ethical, but his story is absolutely enthralling. You may not like him or what he does, but you love watching him. The whole film is incredibly entertaining and even if you do not condone his bad boy ways and his lifestyle, you can't look away. Scorsese has brought Belfort's story to the big screen in spectacular fashion. The Wolf of Wall Street completely captures the extravagance of his story and you feel as though you could be having as much fun watching the story as Belfort was living it. As a viewer you feel the thrill the stockbroker would have been experiencing living on the edge.

The screenplay, written by Terence Winter is also spectacular. It is a pleasant surprise and brilliant how hilarious it actually is, especially the scene where Belfort is at the Country Club. It is a brilliant thing to be able to take a true story and make it a lot more funny than what it would have been in real life. The one factor that may deter many people away from The Wolf of Wall Street is that it is a minute short of three hours. As much of a thrill as it is, it does feel like it is this long. Obviously there was a lot to get through and the three hours does seem acceptable for how much Scorsese had to cover. It is also quite obvious that what we are seeing is the shorter version of all the footage that would have been taken. There are various features of the film which are skimmed across at lightning speed and some things which can be seen as a bit confusing (particularly at the end) because they are not explained thoroughly.

The soundtrack for the film is extremely fitting and actually quite enjoyable itself. The cinematography has some very Scorsese-esque moments, but this is in no way a bad thing. Every shot is interesting and though there are some full frontal and confronting shots, the photography is perfect for every scene. The film and it's costume design, location and interior design is very reminiscent of the time period every scene is set in.

Leonardo DiCaprio has had many outstanding performances throughout his career, but this is one of his best to date. DiCaprio's Belfort is intense, proud, unpredictable and just a bit of an egomaniac, and he is absolutely fantastic to watch. He truly becomes his character and displays every facet of his personality. Even though the film is three hours long, you wish you could just on watching him because he is such a joy to watch. The scenes of him giving speeches in his office are just brilliant.

Jonah Hill is great as Belfort's best friend and wing man, Donnie. Margot Robbie, who plays Belfort's wife Naomi is an absolute starlet in this film and so convincing. Her American accent is brilliant and unless you knew better, there is no way you would ever guess that she was actually Australian. One thing this film is missing is enough Matthew McConaughey. He plays the role of Belfort's mentor when he first arrives on Wall Street of Mark Hanna and is so charismatic and hilarious. He is only in the film for a short time, but absolutely memorable regardless of how long he spends on screen.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an absolute pleasure to watch and for some may be the true definition of a guilty pleasure, because you know you shouldn't enjoy watching bad behaviour so much.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Book Thief (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 131 minutes
Director: Brian Percival
Writers: Markus Zusak (novel) and Michael Petroni (screenplay)
Cast: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Ben Schnetzer, Nico Liersch

The Book Thief opens in Australian cinemas on the 9th January 2014 and is distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Marcus Zusak's novel, The Book Thief is a classic. The book has captured the hearts of many around the world for it's beautiful and heartfelt story of a young girl living in World War II. Unlike many books, everything about The Book Thief presented the perfect opportunity to make an amazing film.

It's such a shame that The Book Thief is missing something so major that would have made it this wonderful film it could have been, and that is emotion. What we have been given by director Brian Percival is a visually beautiful film with a story which you know you should be shedding tears over...yet this is not the case. The Book Thief is by no means a failure, but it does not prompt your heartstrings into motion the way it should.

Young Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) has experienced an unhappy childhood and after her younger brother dies, her mother is unable to take care of her. She is adopted by a childless couple, gentle Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and hot-headed Rosa (Emily Watson). She quickly develops a father and daughter bond with Hans and he is the one who discovers Liesel's odd, but endearing habit of "stealing" books and using them as comfort in the harsh times of World War II in Germany. He helps her by teaching her to read and using the basement as a classroom just for her. The classroom is soon turned into the hideout for a young Jewish man by the name of Max (Ben Schnetzer) who's father Hans had made a promise to. While there are troubled times in the world, Liesel finds love and happiness in her new home.

The Book Thief really had so, so much potential. If it was done in the right way it could have been a potential Oscar nominee in various categories. It seems like a real shame that the amount of emotion the book could provoke could not transfer to the screen. Even if you had not read the book, there are scenes particularly towards the end of the film which you watch and know you should really be on the verge of tears, but you are not. This is no fault of any of the actors, as we know from previous roles that they are all fine performers and have no problem with evoking emotions in their audiences. Therefore we can only assume that they were not pushed by Percival and that the adapted screenplay did not provide enough opportunity for the actors in this way.

Yet, there is still beauty in the film. Visually the film is gorgeous and extremely convincing of such a time as seen through the eyes of a child. The village in which the family lives is wonderfully recreated for the time in which it is set. While being quite a pretty town, it is also quite depressing as a result of the inhabitants being burdened with war. The colour grey is used a great amount in the outdoor shots of this town and this adds towards the feeling of the inhabitants as grey is a colour associated with unhappiness. Other outdoor scenes of Liesel and Rudy (Nico Liersch) at the river are very beautiful. Because of the way that The Book Thief is visually perceived, it is a success because it captures the atmosphere of Germany during the war in a perfect manner.

Sophie Nelisse does very well as Liesel. She is extremely convincing and the viewer is sympathetic towards her from the very first minute. However, it really does feel as though she isn't given the chance to take her performance to the level where it would have an emotional impact on the audience.

Emily Watson is brilliant as Rosa. She completely personifies a woman of the times in attitude and in emotion. She is hard and seemingly cold, but you can tell that she has made herself this way in order to protect herself and her husband from being hurt too much by the hardships. She shows her softer side throughout the film in due time. Geoffrey Rush works very well with both Nelisse and Watson and does well himself. Although he does have one scene which stands out from the rest.

The Book Thief is a fine film about the how German families got by during the war time, but has too little books and emotions.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Her (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 126 minutes
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, Portia Doubleday,
Scarlett Johansson (voice)

Her will be released in Australian cinemas on the 16th January 2014 and is distributed by Sony Pictures. Now showing in the USA and opening in the UK on the 14th February.

Spike Jonze's Her is like no other. Cynical and thought provoking, yet incredibly sweet and romantic.

Her is a scary reminder of how dependant we are becoming on technology and the future we are heading towards as a result of this dependence, yet it is also a reminder of how beautiful life is. A sweet but unconventional love story which see's Joaquin Phoenix give yet another incredible performance is a pleasure to behold on screen and is an absolute must see.

Set in Los Angeles in many years to come, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is still recovering from his marriage breakdown when he decides to obtain a new Operating System (OS) which is a voice like our Siri, but actually interacts with you on a conversational level. Theodore's new OS, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johnasson) becomes more than just a great help with his technology, but soon helps cure his loneliness and gives him the companionship he has been craving. Like any relationship, these two experience ups and downs, but further complications were always going to arise when one of the two doesn't exist in physical form.

In the place in time which we are now, the idea of someone falling in love with a Siri type entity seems ludicrous. However, in Her, director and writer Spike Jonze establishes right from the beginning of the film how technology has evolved to become something which members of society are even more reliant upon. With this basis set for the film, the idea of a human falling in love with an OS does not seem as ludicrous. Everything seems to be made easier by technology that some people don't even need to take the online dating path and just need to purchase an OS and they have a new friend. As entertaining as it is on screen, it is startling to glimpse into the future and see the direction in which we are heading. Are we losing touch with reality? And then we can also ask ourselves, what is reality? Do we determine what is our reality and what isn't?

Yet before you start thinking that Her is a little heavy as it makes you question and fear the future, you realise what makes the screenplay truly brilliant. At the core it may be cynical and a little philosophical in regards to it's stance on technological dependence, but it is combined with a very sweet love story. The screenplay is incredibly well written to incorporate both of these and is often very funny. Listening to the way Theodore and Samantha talk to one another and hearing the way Theodore describes what he sees and Samantha describes how she feels and the way she sees the world when she cannot see it is intoxicating. It is easy to find yourself appreciating the beauty if words and how the way things are said can alter your perception of how you see things.

Her is also visually beautiful. The use of colour is amazing throughout the film and gives the film a completely unique atmosphere, as though we are not just watching a unique feel, but feeling something truly different as well. The creation of a dystopian Los Angeles is almost addictive, as you feel like you want to explore more of this new world. The city has grown in such an interesting way with an updated (and seemingly much more popular) rail system and an extravagant upside down airplane outside the Pacific Design Centre. Yet you have the contrast of beautiful nature such as the beach and a cabin in the woods in the snow. Music is also of great importance in the film and the musical score is very fitting for the film.

Joaquin Phoenix is so incredibly lovable in this film. Phoenix has often played complicated individuals in his past film and while Her see's him playing an unconventional character once again, this is perhaps the greatest connection he has established with an audience. He is so likable and you immediately feel sympathy for his character to the point where you feel you should reach into the world of Her and give him a big hug. In a film where reality is questioned, the way which he exhibits his emotions is extremely real. His character just adds to the beauty of the film and Phoenix's final scenes are perfection.

While Scarlett Johansson doesn't appear in the film in a physical sense, she gives a fantastic vocal performance. You may only be able to hear her, but you often forget that you are not seeing Samantha as her emotions are all so visible in her voice. It seems crazy how much you actually feel for her character as well, only to remember that this character is an OS and not a real person. Amy Adams plays a fragile character in Theodore's good friend, Amy. She does well, and like Theodore, is a very real character in a strange situation. Olivia Wilde has a small role as Theodore's blind date, but also does well and Kristen Wiig lends her voice to Theodore's adult chat partner, SexyKitten and is hilarious. The scene with Phoenix and Rooney Mara, who plays his ex wife Catherine, is so real that it is haunting. A meeting between once husband and wife on the verge of divorce where they start off on good terms, but end up fighting about the way things were, which also results in Phoenix's Theodore second guessing himself in a way that only an ex can make you do.

Her is pure brilliance in the way that it thoroughly entertains and shows you the beauty in the world, but is also cynical about the world. While the technology aspect of the film may make you question how real our reality is, the beauty of the film is absolutely real.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Saving Mr Banks (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 125 minutes
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writers: Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith
Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwatrzman, B.J. Novak, Bradley Whitford, Annie Rose Buckley, Rachel Griffiths

Saving Mr Banks now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios.

Saving Mr Banks is complete and utter joy. This joy doesn't just stem from the fact that it is a beautiful film, but also from the revelation that this film isn't just for Disney fanatics. It is a film for all to enjoy and appreciate.

In Saving Mr Banks Disney has made their best live action film in years. While many were worried that this would be a Disney film about Disney which means that it could have well turned into primarily a major marketing tool for the empire. Even though there are plenty of Mickey Mouse references in the film, there is a great deal more emotion than one could have ever expected thanks to an impressive screenplay and some truly wonderful performances, especially by Emma Thompson. In the film, P.L. Travers accuses Walt Disney of wanting to give Mary Poppins the Disney treatment and making her twinkle, yet Saving Mr Banks relies very little on sugar coating when creating a truly wonderful film.

The year is 1961 and author, P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) has finally given in to the demands of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and agreed to travel to Los Angeles to discuss the possibility of making her beloved "Mary Poppins" into a film. Travers has major reservations about Disney's movie making style and is not at all convinced that Disney will do her creation justice. While exploring the possibilities, Travers finds herself revisiting her childhood and remembering what "Mary Poppins" is really all about and it is not until Walt Disney realises what Mary Poppins really means to her that the film can really be made.

Saving Mr Banks is truly magical, but not in the traditional Disney fashion.  It is a film which has some absolutely incredible and memorable moments, some of which will have you laughing and others which will have you crying. While Saving Mr Banks is most well known for being the film about the making of Mary Poppins, it is just as much, or of not more a film about the early life of P.L. Travers. The screenplay, written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith does a marvellous job of combining the two and being able to give a comprehensive examination of both.

Even though it does take a good half an hour to really kick into gear, the film is both interesting and entertaining. There are some wonderfully uplifting and sweet scenes such as the beginnings of "Let's Go Fly A Kite" and the Disneyland scene, but also some very sad moments in the flashback scenes. The final scene in the Chinese Theatre is one that stays with you long after the film has finished. The flashback scenes of Travers as a little girl nicknamed Ginty by her dreamer father (Colin Farrell) are impressive not only in emotion, but also in visuals. The Australian countryside is accurately recreated and enables the viewer to feel and smell everything you would if you were actually there.

As the film is set in the early 60's, the world of Saving Mr Banks is very nostalgic. Such locations as the Los Angeles LAX airport, the Beverly Hills Hotel and Disneyland were given adjustments to take them back to the intended time period. The musical score employed is also very suitable to the time period, as is the costume design. The overall feeling of the film reflects a film which would have been made in the 1960's, but at the same time have a sophistication to it that reminds us that this is a modern piece of work. And even though we aren't getting Disney as a whole shoved down our throats, there is still enough Disney references in this film to keep the crazed happy.

Emma Thompson is absolutely exquisite as P.L. Travers. She gives an incredibly powerful performance and shows both the hard and soft sides of her character. We are able to see in her the process of walls being knocked down as a result of exploring the world of Mary Poppins all over again and letting go of grudges and the pains of the past. Her final scene at the premiere is a spectacular piece of acting and has a huge impact on anybody watching it.

Tom Hanks, although not a mirror image of Walt Disney in appearance (besides the infamous pencil moustache), is wonderful as Walt Disney. He captures the essence of what the man was like and how much people adored him. It is in the Disneyland scene when the gates to the park open up and Hanks is standing there waving, that it hits you how much you really believe he is Disney as this moment is enough to give you goose bumps.

Colin Farrell also gives one of the best performances of his career as Travers Goff. Although he is playing an alcoholic who is down on his luck, he is incredibly likable and we can easily see why his daughter idolises him so much. Ruth Wilson is also very good as Margaret Goff, the fragile and heartbroken mother and wife. Paul Giamatti plays P.L. Travers driver, Ralph and he is a real treat. Every scene he is in is so much fun because of him and often very sentimental.

Saving Mr Banks is a film for everyone, not just the Disney fanatic. It is an absolute treat to encounter such a film where you are encouraged to feel a number of emotions and not feel as though you are exhausted as a result. Instead, you feel pure joy at seeing such a cinematic treat.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 161 minutes
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: J.R.R.Tolkien (novel "The Hobbit"), Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is now showing everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films

There is a lot to talk about when it comes to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Funnily enough this reflects the film and the series of films quite well. There is a lot going on in the film so it is only to be expected that there would be a lot to discuss. However, unlike the book to film adaptation, we don't have that much to talk about to make three posts about it.

There is absolutely no denying that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a very well made film and has intended to make the most of everything available to it. After the incredible success of Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's  The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit is extremely reminiscent of the former and maybe even trying a bit too hard to be it. It really depends who you are as to how you feel about this. Some people will be over the moon that they are lucky enough to be indulged once again with Middle Earth, while others just won't be able to get past the fact that three films are being made out of one book and therefore have added so much which wasn't in the original film. For a Tolkien fan, this film holds a lot of emotional baggage, both good and bad.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug begins where The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey left off, as Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the band of dwarves make their way to Erebor to reclaim their homeland. Along the way they come into contact with the elves and the people of Lake-town, while they try to avoid capture and death at the hands of the Orcs who are following them. As Bilbo tries to resist the power of the ring which he is carrying, he also must gather all the strength he can as according to the dwarves, he is the thief who must venture into the mountain and at all costs try to avoid being noticed by the fearsome dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

It is true that if you didn't like The Lord of The Rings you won't like The Desolation of Smaug. However, if you did like The Lord of The Rings, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will like The Desolation of Smaug. Taking the prior knowledge into the film that Peter Jackson and his team of writers have taken a reasonably short book (as opposed to the three book in The Lord of The Rings trilogy) and made three films out of it does tend to suggest that the film makers are indeed trying to reach for the stars. It is certainly trying to be another Lord of The Rings and in all honesty it does do well enough in doing that. The Desolation of Smaug really does have the same atmosphere as the previous trilogy and the story (with all it's additions) does play out in a similar fashion. Unlike it's processor, it does feel at times like there really is a little too much going on at once and one too many subplots. Comparing the film so much to The Lord of The Rings does seem like a sin, but given The Hobbit is basically part of the Lord of The Rings story, it is extremely hard not to.

The computer generated images used in the film are spectacular. The creation of Middle Earth locations such as Mirkwood, the Elf Kingdom and inside the mountain are incredible. The final scene in which the dwarves and Bilbo are taking on Smaug really is a visual masterpiece with the CGI perfecting the location as well as the enormity and magnificence of the dragon. The make-up used for characters such as the Orcs and the skin-changer, Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) is very well done and in the case of the Orcs, very scary. The action sequences are also enhanced by CGI and although very impressive, can get to the point where they seem just a little too far fetched and ridiculous. For example, the scene where the dwarves are being swept down the river in barrels and trying to escape the Orcs while Legolas (Orlando Bloom) holds them off is just way too choreographed to be taken seriously.

Martin Freeman once again does well as the lead character, Bilbo. He gets very much into character and is very consistent with this character from the beginning to the end of the film. The role doesn't call for any huge emotional scenes in this film and all of his establishment of character is done in the first film, but he does as well as anyone could in the role. Ian McKellen is always an absolute thrill as Gandalf and every scene he is in is enhanced by his presence.

Richard Armitage, who plays the dwarf Thorin does well, although his performance borders on corny in the final scenes. Luke Evans as Bard is actually quite an interesting character and has a real sense of mystery to him. Evangeline Lilly's performance of the female archer elf Tauriel feels very overdone, while Orlando Bloom doesn't do too badly even though his Legolas doesn't have a great deal to work with. Benedict Cumberbatch's gives voice to both Smaug and also the Necromancer is quite interesting and fitting, particularly for Smaug.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will and has already done well due to the intrigue that Peter Jackson has created in his adaptations. His film making is known by all for being ambitious but successful and this film is a perfect showcase of his skills.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

August: Osage County (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 121 minutes
Director: John Wells
Writer: Tracy Letts (play and screenplay)
Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepherd, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Misty Upham

August: Osage County is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.

Pulitzer Prize winner, August: Osage County could not possibly have made its switch to the big screen in a more powerful way.

August: Osage County doesn't hold anything back and it's family politics are a heavy burden on the audience, but in the best possible way. It is almost confusing as to what type of film it actually is. Too heavy and emotionally draining to be a comedy, but too many laughs and speckled with black humour to be labelled a drama. However, there is no way of getting around the appreciation for its wonderfully adapted screenplay and also its quality performances, especially by the consistently brilliant Meryl Streep.

As the film opens on Beverly Weston (Sam Shepherd) describing how he and his wife, Violet (Meryl Streep) have an unspoken agreement in their marriage where he drinks and she takes pills, the foundation is set for understanding that this is one intense family. When Beverly disappears, the whole family is reunited which brings all the problems they have with one another to a head. The Westons three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis), who are all incredibly different try to keep the peace for their parents, but trouble finds them whether they like it or not.

As the above poster for August: Osage County suggested, this film is very much like being seated at somebody else's family dinner table and being confronted with all their problems. It is incredibly uncomfortable and often cringe-worthy and embarrassing, but there is something so wrongly entertaining and exciting about it. You want to go and tell everyone you know about it, if you didn't feel so tired and emotionally drained from it. This is August: Osage County to a tee. It is wonderful and exhausting.

The dialogue is brilliantly worded in a very well constructed screenplay, but this is only to be expected considering the author of the play, Tracy Letts also wrote the screenplay. The conclusion of the film doesn't offer any uplifting message which will not be to the liking of those who want to be given atonement. The opportunity is there to take from the film what you think it is trying to tell you. Whether it be that children exhibit the same behaviours as their parents whether they see it or not, that you can't choose your family members, that we are all covering up secrets or even if this is just a source of entertainment and you are not supposed to take anything from it, it is really up to the individual to decide. Visually there are some incredible shots of the Oklahoma country side throughout the film. It is really quite an oxymoron as the countryside is so peaceful, yet inside the Weston's house it is complete mayhem.

In conjunction with the wonderful dialogue, it is the incredible performances of complex characters which really make August: Osage County a success. Meryl Streep is such a powerful force as the head of the Weston family. Violet is not a pleasant lady, but she commands everyone's respect as the family's matriarch. Streep is incredible in this role and she brings out so many different facets of Violet's personality. She is a thrill to watch and highly entertaining, but always leaves you feeling unsettled and just a bit scared.

Julia Roberts also does her best acting in years. Her performance is so controlled and maybe a little too neat at times, but still very powerful. Her character is very much like her mother as she is very complex and Roberts is able to give us so much information about Barbara just through little moments throughout the film. Roberts and Streep have perfect chemistry as well, playing the tense mother and daughter roles very well. The chemistry also between Roberts and her on screen husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor) and daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin) is perfect. The scene between the three of them outside at night is unforgettable.

Every actor does very well in the film. Benedict Cumberbatch is particularly impressive, as his character of Little Charlie shows the true anxiety of being in a family like this. The scene at the bus stop between he and his father, played by Chris Cooper is perfect representation of how any normal person would react having to be subjected to this. Cooper is also wonderful, as his performance is not over the top, but subtle and powerful in its subtlety.

While often uncomfortable due to it's burdening weight, August: Osage County is powerful in a most welcomed fashion with memorable performances by a truly stellar cast.