Friday, March 27, 2015

Cinderella (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Chris Weitz (screenplay)
Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Derek Jacobi, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Stellan Skarsgard, Nonso Anozie

Cinderella will open on Australian cinemas on March 26 and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios. Now showing in the United States and United Kingdom.

Disney's Cinderella is a lovely, charming adaptation of the beloved children's fairy tale. Rather than follow the trend of classic stories being retold with a difference, it stays true to the original story with many references to the 1950 animated film, which is ironically refreshing. Ella (Lily James) is a beautiful girl who lives in her family's country manor with her bereaved father (Ben Chaplin) in a faraway kingdom. In his last attempt of happiness and before his last fateful trip, he remarries and leaves Ella with an unloving stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and two horrid stepsisters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera). Ella experiences only heartbreak and hardships at the hands of her new family, but a chance encounter with the kingdom's Prince (Richard Madden) brings her happiness and when the ball is announced, she dreams of attending although her stepmother will do everything in her power to prevent this from happening. With the arrival of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), Ella does indeed become the belle of the ball.

Cinderella is Disney doing what Disney does best, putting the magic back into a story that deserves a little pinch of fairy dust to make it sparkle in the present. Even though the film doesn't bring too much new to the story, it is quite an exquisite adaptation which works as well in live action as it did animated over 60 years ago. It is a film that will delight families and lovers of fantasy. The thing is with a film like Cinderella is that one goes into the film knowing what to expect so there is no need for disappointment in the story or for the film being what it is. It is a light, simple story with classic themes which include courage and kindness.

Kenneth Branagh's retelling of the fairy tale stays true more than anything to the original Disney film from 1950. Much of the film is as though the characters have jumped out of the animation and into live action, with many of the colour schemes of the costumes in both films mirroring each other, the animals having the same names and the Fairy Godmother's magic words being "Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo" amongst other similarities. Yet Chris Weitz's screenplay does allow for background information on the characters which gives a greater understanding as to how and why things came to be. Ella was born a beautiful girl, but the reason she has such a beautiful nature is because she has abided by her mothers dying words everyday of her life which has moulded her into the person she is. These small differences to the traditional Cinderella flesh out the story and characters in a way which enhances the screenplay and keeps the story interesting while paying tribute to those that came before it.

Visually Cinderella is every bit the magical fairy tale. The production design of every location is absolutely exquisite and every part of the kingdom from the royal castle to the town markets are wonderfully designed. The costume design is incredible, particularly Ella's ball gown which is everything you would want it to be. Sandy Powell, who has been nominated for ten and has won two Academy Awards for her incredible talent in costume design, has once again done a phenomenal job. The pivotal moment in the film when Ella is transformed from simple into her ball-ready self is awe inspiring and so beautiful visually that is can bring at tear to one's eye. The cinematography and beautiful visuals of the film work perfectly together to create that magical atmosphere which is so craved in a fairy tale remake.

In what is surely a star making role for lead Lily James, she is physically everything one would hope Cinderella to be. Her performance is fine and is clearly what has been asked of her, but her character is somewhat troublesome. Despite the explanation of why she is so carefree and happy even in the most difficult of situations, Ella can sometimes lack the human quality she would need for one to truly connect with her. This isn't to say that she does not have emotional moments in the really moving scenes, but her passive and whimsical nature is on the exaggerated side where it becomes unbelievable. True this is a fairy tale where we should be leaving our sphere of reality behind, but belief should still lie in the characters emotions.

However, James works well on screen with her co-stars, particularly Cate Blanchett and Richard Madden who both give fine performances. Blanchett does exceptionally well as the Stepmother who's character could have been well overdone and exaggerated, but is more cold and ambitious rather than truly evil. Richard Madden as the Prince is actually a wonderful surprise. Not only do he and James have wonderful chemistry, but his character is one that is truly likable and also rather deep. He and Derek Jacobi share a truly beautiful scene of a father and son understanding each other for the first time. Helena Bonham Carter is also a charming treat as the Fairy Godmother who adds comic relief to the film, as does the hilarious cameo by Rob Brydon.

Cinderella is a exceptionally beautiful and charming retelling of the timeless classic. It does not attempt to change anything about the original, but rather flesh out the humanity behind the characters and remind people why they love this fairy tale so much. It will definitely be a favourite with little girls, but has plenty that other members of the family will appreciate.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Insurgent (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 119 minutes
Director: Robert Schwetke
Writers: Veronica Roth (novel), Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback (screenplay)
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Jai Courtney, Octavia Spencer, Zoe Kravitz, Ashley Judd

Insurgent is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Entertainment One.

Insurgent is a fine follow up to it's predecessor, Divergent (2014). After escaping from Erudite's ruthless leader, Jeanine (Kate Winslet),  Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) are hiding out with the members of the faction Amity as fugitives while they decide what their next move against Jeanine is. A twist of fate results in three of them encountering and lodging with the factionless, a group much bigger and better equipped than they ever thought possible who are led by Evelyn (Naomi Watts). Tris finds that Evelyn is just as keen to declare war on Jeanine, but first she has to battle her own demons and make peace with herself for how her and her Divergence have impacted the lives of those around her.

As the second film in the series based on Veronica Roth's novels, Insurgent is just as action packed and thrilling as the first film. The story continues without a lapse in momentum as it wastes no time in restarting the intensity experienced in the first film and reacquainting the audience with the characters. The film does not for one moment allow itself to settle and there are no moments of tedium as there is continuous suspense and unpredictability for those who haven't read the books.
Insurgent is exceptionally strong for what it is and that is a second film. As a first, final or stand alone film it wouldn't be of substantial quality, but it is a well done second film.

Again like the first film, Insurgent's production design is extremely impressive. The city turned wasteland is visually intriguing and extremely detailed. The musical score is a perfect fit for the overall suspenseful atmosphere of the film and adds to the intensity of the story. The CGI for the most part of the film is fine, but towards the end of the film starts to look purely computer generated and not realistic, which is never what viewers want to think even when they are well aware of what is computer generated. One has a hard time taking the final scenes in which Tris is at a height seriously as the unrealistic feel of some of the images is so distracting.

The characters themselves are really quite stereotypical of the young adult novel series turned film trend that is prevalent in cinema of this day and age. However, as a result of the cast being so good in their roles the normality of their characters is both forgiven and forgotten. We have the ballsy female protagonist, the male hero, the smart mouth and the bad guy, all typical characters but well portrayed by Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller and Jai Courtney. Each brings a great deal to their character while not overplaying the less than original character traits. The Divergent series of films are extremely well cast for this reason. Woodley once again proves her ability as a leading lady and shows so much strength in every scene throughout the film.

However, Kate Winslet's Jeanine has the opposite effect. Her character is full of normality and it isn't her acting that overdoes the character, it is the accompanying cinematography (particularly towards the end) that makes her evil characteristics laughable. Naomi Watts' Evelyn is an enigma, but not a tremendously exciting one. She does not come into intrigue until the final moments of the film and even then she does not show any particularly interesting character traits.

What one is left with at the end of Insurgent (unless they have read the complete series of books) is a loss as to where the last two films are going. The moment that can be described as the cliff hanger doesn't give away enough to make one really excited about the next film. Therefore as strong as the rest of the film is, the finale arrives and with it delivers a sense of indifference for the next film. Insurgent is a strong follow up to Divergent and a fine film in it's own identity, but unfortunately doesn't provoke a sense of excitement for the next two films.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Run All Night (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writer: Brad Inglesby
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Common, Boyd Holbrook, Vincent D'Onofrio, Genesis Rodriguez

Now showing in cinemas everywhere. Distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.

Underneath it's hard exterior of action and suspense, Run All Night  is a dramatic film about the ties between family and friends that just misses it's emotional calling but is nevertheless entertaining. One time hit man, Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is haunted by the ghosts of his past to the point where he is unable to function in daily life. The only person he can still depend on and call a friend is mob boss, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). By a terrible twist of fate, Jimmy's estranged son, Michael (Joel Kinnaman) witnesses Shawn's son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook) shoot a man dead and Danny wants to make sure Michael keeps his mouth shut by doing the same to him. In order to save his son, Jimmy instead takes Danny's life, which forces Shawn's hand to go after Michael to even things up with his long time friend.

Run All Night has an interesting basis and one that could push the film in the direction of a psychological thriller. The opportunity was there for the film to express the internal battle the characters of Jimmy and Shawn should have been feeling having to do something so atrocious to people they are personally connected to. It is something that is touched upon to an extent, but Run All Night wants to focus primarily on the action and suspense. It succeeds in this department as the film is indeed action packed and thrilling, but would have gone from being a mediocre film to a very good film had there been a greater emotional connection to the characters and their situation.

Yet the family dynamics between the Conlons and the Maguires make an interesting case study. It is obvious who is the more responsible and loving son and it is the one who grew up with an absent father. Michael is incredibly hostile towards his father as he rarely saw him when he was growing up and left Michael and his mother to fend for themselves. He grew up to have a family he loves with two little girls and a son on the way and is an active member of the community. On the other hand, Danny has little respect and love for anyone besides himself and following in his father's footsteps by participating in illegal activities. Yet, Shawn was present for Danny's childhood. Run All Night provides a demonstration of how children will learn from their parents and this is part of who they become. As Michael's dad was absent, he learnt how it felt to not have a parent present and made sure he was there for his family and for others who were without fathers. He was immune to his father's violent world and he played no witness to it, while Danny grew up watching and learning from his mob boss father. This is not a case to make for all parents and children, but an interesting one to contemplate from this film.

Visually Run All Night has it's own character and is unique in it's own way. It's attempts to do something different with it's cinematography and has no lack of continuous camera shots and editing that creates havoc within itself. It is admirable that there is the intent to try something different and it does succeed in doing this, but these attempts do not add anything to the film. In particular the style of editing employed may try to support the high speed intensity, but it is creating more of a sense of craziness and mayhem. The film has plenty of fast paced action sequences which are suspenseful when the film as a whole is largely predictable.

Run All Night is a film that would have truly benefited from an emotional attachment to it's characters through the right direction and allowances in the script. What meek attempts it makes of being sentimental are lost in weak performances by fine actors. There is absolutely no doubt that Liam Neeson, Ed Harris and Joel Kinnaman are capable of delivering stronger performances with the desired level of emotion which their characters should have been granted. All the actors give borderline performances that are not bad for any reason, but not wonderful for a greater reason.

As an action film, Run All Night does enough to make itself watchable and enjoyable. However, the subject content not only allows for more, but demands more to be given as far as you can't be talking about killing your best friend's children in emotionally controlled circumstances.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Inherent Vice (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 148 minutes
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writers: Thomas Pynchon (novel), Paul Thomas Anderson (screenplay)
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherne Waterston, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Joanna Newsom, Eric Roberts, Bencio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph
Inherent Vice is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.

Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice is a wonderfully unique and nostalgic journey back to the very early days of the 1970's when Los Angeles was experiencing a change in identity. Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a detective living the hippy lifestyle who the officials, including Lt. Det. Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) ridicule and his friends rely on. When he is visited by ex-girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), he becomes caught up in a web of illegal activities and cover ups in a world where everyone he meets is somehow connected. However, when Shasta goes missing, it all turns personal for Doc.

Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel is a fine one. Anyone who has read the book will find that the film mirrors the book in the best of ways and Anderson has overcome the features of the book that may have been problematic in the process of adaption with style. However, the novel "Inherent Vice" is one that has divided opinions which inevitably leads to the film being quite the same way. Many people enjoyed the novel for it's nostalgic and vivid imagery, but Pynchon's writing style and method of storytelling can be troublesome for others. Those who are troubled by the latter will find that the screenplay is much like the book and therefore will not understand the attraction that others feel to it as they will feel that there is too much going on with too many characters. The psychedelic drug fuelled and sexual nature of the film will also take away from the enjoyment of other viewers. Yet with an open mind, Inherent Vice is a lot of fun and rather hilarious. The script is incredibly witty with colourful dialogue and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments.

However, Inherent Vice lacks the thing that one has come to expect from an Anderson film as such and that is the presence of impressive cinematography with amazing visuals. The film is nostalgic and very atmospheric of the times, but the one thing that is missed in the film as opposed to the book is the love felt for the Los Angeles landscape. It feels as though an opportunity is missed in this respect, as Pynchon's book lovingly created these vivid pictures of Doc's home beside the sea. These lingering shots of the featured locations are missed, but the nostalgia is created by the costumes and production design which add to the overall atmosphere of the film. The soundtrack is also completely fitting for the year of 1970 and is unique in the way that it isn't a compilation of over played songs from that era.

While Inherent Vice provides a visually nostalgic imprint of Los Angeles in the year of 1970, it is also a snapshot of the times with a focus on a type of prejudice that was brand new. Throughout the film, the character of Doc is continuously ridiculed and insulted for being a hippy and living the lifestyle associated with being a hippy. The two girls of his life, Penny and Shasta were both once part of the hippy lifestyle, but they have both cleaned themselves up to seem more respectable in society and Penny in particular makes it no secret that she has conformed. This hippy hate in Los Angeles was the doing of Charles Manson and his band of followers known as The Manson Family. When the murders that shook Los Angeles were committed by this group of free spirits under Manson's spell, hippies were no longer seen as the innocent members of society they once were, but as sinister and a mark on society. Of course we see in Inherent Vice that this was not true of all hippies as there is nothing sinister about Doc and the movie does a fine job at demonstrating society's view on this sub-culture at this point in time.

The colourful characters and their wonderful dialogue are brought to life by way of perfect casting and fine performances. Joaquin Phoenix is truly brilliant as Doc Sportello. Phoenix brings a very natural comedic style to the role which is neither forced nor dull and it is a style which is perfect for the character. His character of Doc is incredibly likable and despite how much verbal abuse he receives throughout the film from almost everyone, remains so laid back (whether that be with some support) and harmless. It is a role which one can imagine Phoenix would have had a great deal of fun with as he is a real treat to watch.

Josh Brolin is also tremendously entertaining as tough talking cop, Bigfoot Bjornsen. Brolin's memorable character arguably gets some of the best lines in the film and is truly hilarious. Joanna Newsom, who's character Sortilege acts as narrator, does a wonderful job of holding her own in the film and is the personification of the typical carefree Californian girl of 1970. Benicio Del Toro and Owen Wilson are also very funny and entertaining.

Inherent Vice is not your average comedy and is completely unique. This uniqueness will be too quirky for some, but an open mind will lead to a rather fun experience at the hands of Paul Thomas Anderson.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Focus (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 104 minutes
Directors/Writers: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney, Adrian Martinez

Focus opens in Australian cinemas on March 5 and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Now showing in the USA and UK.

Although Focus often resembles artistic mayhem and confusion, it may be exactly the movie experience that cinema goers are craving for. While it wants and tries very hard to be smart, sassy and stylish, its falls short but remains fun, witty and entertaining while doing so. When amateur con, Jess (Margot Robbie) meets big time con, Nicky (Will Smith) she begs him to teach her his methods and to accept her into his glamorous world of trickery. The two soon find themselves not only working together to increase their fortunes, but also in a romantic sense. Yet, Jess can never figure out what is real when it comes to Nicky's affections and his intentions.

Focus is a long way from being a flawless film, but it is remarkably entertaining and enjoyable due to the screenplay's original execution and it's constant surprise element. The film has the nature of the con artist and the audience plays the role of the unsuspecting victim as they are confidant in knowing what is occurring, but this is what the film wants them to feel while it buries the truth under multiple layers. Focus is particularly unpredictable, but at the same time does not have a clean cut story as it's screenplay is more concerned with the surprise element rather than a smooth execution. The actual story is not as enthralling as the twists which it provides.

However, the film does indeed install an unexpected sense of paranoia in it's audience. With the methods of deception employed by the characters in order to carry out their operations, one realises how simple a theft of one of their possessions such as a wallet or phone may really be. Some of the bigger con jobs in the film are not quite as scary for the everyday person, but seeing the simplest of thefts occurring just in a jolt from a stranger is frightening enough to make you suspect everyone when you leave the cinema.

Visually Focus is absolute havoc. Editing which is attempting to appear stylish comes across as jumpy and uneven. The vast array of entertaining and fun images throughout the film are projected onto the screen with a wonderful use of colour, but the way in which these images are arranged and the choice of music to accompany them does little to enhance them. The musical score feels over used and overdramatises particular moments in the film to produce humour at undesired intervals.

The pairing of Will Smith and Margot Robbie is somewhat problematic. The two do fine jobs in their roles as individuals and are really perfectly cast as their characters. However, the lack of romantic chemistry between the two is extremely evident and makes the scenes that should be steamy between the two not so. As individuals, Robbie has the upper hand on Smith as she plays her role of Jess with greater emotional conviction. Smith still does well and remains likable throughout the film despite his downfalls.

Despite it's faults, Focus is a fun time to be had. It contains a great deal of unpredictability thanks to it's twists and turns that it can be forgiven for it's downfalls with great ease and just enjoyed for what it is.