American Hustle (2013) – Movie Review

This may be a case where heightened expectations play a factor, but I found American Hustle disappointing. The narrative feels kind of obtuse/unfocused/sloppy…pick a word. It just seems disoriented, and not in a deliberate, effective way. So a lot of flash and interesting shots, but not a very sharp-feeling overall effect.

The Good – Christian Bale. Amy Adams. Christian Bale. Nice 70s aesthetic in the look, feel and sound of the film. Christian Bale. This is the first time that I have truly enjoyed Jeremy Renner in a film (I still do not buy into the “star hype” with him, but this is a good, affecting performance). The humor, while spotty, comes through very well here and there. Did I mention that Christian Bale is superb in this? Man.

The Not So Good – The combination of directing, writing, scoring and editing muddies the narrative unnecessarily. This film could have been better if those aforementioned things had been conducted more sharply and cohesively in concert with each other. But hey, maybe the way it is is absolutely intentional on David Russell’s part. If so, then it is just not to my tastes. I found Bradley Cooper’s character to be unremarkable and lacking in genuine punch, and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance to be awkward and unconvincing for the most part.

The Takeaway – This film is okay. But the trailer had me expecting something dazzling, something great. Make no mistake, there is some serious spark from Bale and Adams, and a heavy dose of 70s aesthetic. But more than anything else, this is a lesson in how you cannot always trust the hype machine to deliver on its buildup (or other reviewers, for that matter).

6 out of 10 stars



The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) – Movie Review

Anyone expecting Ben Stiller to recycle the two principal intertexts for this story – the James Thurber story or the classic Danny Kaye comedy from 1947 – is likely to be highly disappointed. Superficially the plot remains the same, with Stiller playing a put-upon employee of LIFE magazine who is bullied by the new boss Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), but eventually discovers himself as a result of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to find elusive photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), who possesses an elusive negative needed for the final print copy of the magazine. Needless to say everything ends happily, with Mitty discovering to his delight that the photograph celebrates the work of all LIFE’s employees – journalists, printers, editors, photo-staff – who made the magazine such an American institution. He also manages to convince the love of his life, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) of the sincerity of his intentions. At heart, however, WALTER MITTY is a story of the importance of discovering yourself, even if the odds seem stacked against you. Walter learns to follow his inclinations, and by doing so fulfills his mother Edna’s (Shirley MacLaine’s) aspirations for him. Stiller gives a delightful performance, his character gradually changing from one of wide-eyed stoicism (which provokes him to daydream) into a person of quiet strength, who is not frightened of confronting Hendricks and telling the boss exactly what he thinks. At another level WALTER MITTY can be seen as an elegy for LIFE magazine, that bastion of American journalism, which has now become an online-only journal due to falling sales and changing reader preferences. The film uses archive material to show how it chronicled all the major events and personalities of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and how its staff (for the most part) were dedicated to their work. It’s the kind of magazine that doesn’t deserve to be taken over by superficial ignoramuses such as Hendricks, whose principal concern is for profitability rather than journalistic integrity.


10 out of 10 stars


The Counselor (2013) – Movie Review

A woman having sex with a car. A guy shaking a decapitated head out of a motorcycle helmet. A man getting killed by an automatic strangling device. All this and more in ‘The Counselor’, an over-the-top movie about a lawyer getting involved in a shady drugs deal that inevitably goes terribly wrong.

Apart from these extreme scenes, the cast is the main attraction of the movie. Top notch Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz are playing weird characters. They are all living in a world full of beautiful people, driving expensive cars and living in design interiors.

Add to this some dialogues full of absurd wisecracks like ‘The truth has no temperature’, and you get a film that could be great. With these ingredients, ‘The Counselor’ could have been an ultra cool film, something like a crossing between Tarantino and the Coen Brothers.

But somehow, it all doesn’t add up. For one thing, the plot is never completely clear. I tried to connect the dots, but I didn’t succeed. This is not in all cases a problem. In a film like ‘Syriana’ the plot was also hazy, but this didn’t bother me. As long as you go along with the general mood of a film, it’s not a problem when some elements are not spelled out. But in this case, too much is left unexplained.

And then there is the dialogue. There is a lot of it. Some of it is witty and sharp. Unfortunately, there are also lengthy monologues full of heavy philosophical thoughts, which are completely unbelievable and not helping the film in any way. Writer Cormac McCarthy failed in this respect. This film has some fine moments, but it is unbalanced and doesn’t reach its full potential.


6 out of 10 stars


Dom Hemingway (2013) – Movie Review

Richard Shepherd’s latest film is a maelstrom of bad behaviour in the best style of British crime comedies – it’s impossible to not liken it to Guy Ritchie and his ilk – but this one stands out from the crowd as it features a stunning performance from Jude Law – he may have started his career with man in touch with his feminine qualities but here he is the full monty as the mockney gangster on steroids. Law cannot be accused of a lack of a commitment – he throws himself in with palpable relish – and shouts and swears his way in a remarkably winning performance. Subtle it ain’t – but man it is genuinely entertaining, pure and simple.

The lasting impression is the tremendous energy of the script and Jude Law – it could really be a stage play in places – it is not often these days that movies create energy through an excellent script, rather than energy by effects – this does.

No way is this a great film – but Jude Law’s performance is full of sly humour, and Richard E Grant obviously loved being the dry sidekick – there is more than a touch of Withnail to the whole proceedings and he is superb.

Dom Hemingway avoids squeamish violence in the main and goes for the jugular in its script instead – it even has more than a touch of pathos admid the insanity. All in all, if you like films with some style, real laughs, and energy – and crude craziness – then this fits the bill better than most.


7 out of 10 stars


3 Days to Kill (2014) – Movie Review

I’m not quite sure what this movie set out to be – a serious CIA thriller, another Bourne/Reacher/Ryan attempt to duplicate what James Bond achieved and spawn a remarkable franchise, or a slapstick comedy that didn’t take itself too seriously, but delighted in the thrill of action and explosions in the same manner as films like Die Hard, Mr and Mrs Smith or This Means War did. But whatever its intention was, it failed.

Starting off as a set up to what could be a serious albeit cliched film – the journeyman agent, the one evil genius still at large, that one last job before calling it a day – the film quickly loses itself in a way that it never quite recovers from. With a wooden performance by Amber Heard, and scenes and dialogue that belong in a Robert Rodriguez film, 3 Days to Kill never lives up to the potential of what it could’ve been. Not quite action, not quite spy thriller, not quite comedy, and so many botched attempts at sentimentality that it becomes almost like a soap opera in its execution.

A solid performance by Kevin Costner, who’s gone along the lines of Liam Neeson in perfecting the senior bad ass role, but even Costner wasn’t enough to give this film plausability. I’ve watched it once and I think that was enough.


4 out of 10 stars


Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) – Movie Review

This is the Greenwich Village described by Bob Dylan in his memoir Chronicles — brutally cold and damp, unforgiving in the way only an urban jungle can be. Llewen Davis, as portrayed by Oscar Isaac, reveals a timeless cliché: the egocentric “artist,” careening insolently from one self-induced disaster to the next while flaunting a sense of entitlement that is completely undeserved. The guy is, in a word, an asshole — a fact that bitter, accidentally knocked-up Jean (Carey Mulligan) never lets him forget. As a music guy, I respect that all the music performances were shot and recorded live, not enhanced with post-production tricks. Most music films are so far off base they make my skin crawl. There are some cool songs — most of which are rendered top to bottom — as well as a couple-a funny send-ups. However, I heard nothing extraordinary, composition- or talent-wise. I’d recommend that Isaac not give up his day job. He’s a fine actor but an average singer-songwriter.

The performance that justifies the price of a ticket is delivered by John Goodman. With this cane-wielding, junkie jazz musician, the Coens have once again invented a character for Goodman that dominates the screen with unpredictable, genuinely frightening, sickly hilarious power. In this extraordinary turn, Goodman rivals, perhaps even surpasses, his appearances in Raising Arizona and Big Lebowski.

Inside Llewen Davis lacks the charm or brilliant cartoon quality of Oh, Brother, Fargo, or Intolerable Cruelty. It’s an expertly made small film with no heroes and some listenable music. If you’re hankerin’ for a dark, chilly, cheerless tale in which nearly everyone’s a self-serving dick, this is just the movie for you.

5 out of 10 stars



47 Ronin (2013) – Movie Review

For those who aren’t familiar with the 47 Ronin, this film does it’s best to bring the legend to the rest of the world. Although the film contains some great visuals, sets, music and costume design, infusing the story with fantasy elements and some new characters in an attempt up the action and appeal to a global audience is it’s greatest weakness.

The story of the 47 ronin is uniquely Japanese. It’s the concept of bushido and how much one, or many, is willing to tarnish their honor in order to restore justice. Unfortunately things have been simplified a bit too much and all we are left with is a rather typical action- driven revenge plot that could have benefited from being slightly more character-driven. The original story contains a much more intricate build-up to the final confrontation that not only tests the groups patience, but their leader’s resilience and cunning. Unfortunately, this film does away with these elements that made the original story so compelling. As good as the actors are (particularly Hiroyuki Sanada and Tadanobu Asano), i was definitely wanting more character development and drama throughout the film. Keanu’s character as an outcast is an interesting addition although he doesn’t really get much to do. His arc was fine but the character deserved more moments to shine. The villains were fine but could’ve been deeper. It would have been nice for Rinko Kikuchi’s character to have some back story in order to pit her against Keanu in a more emotionally driven confrontation. After all, these characters were created for the film, so why not add an extra layer of depth.

I can understand the desire to want to do away with the philosophical musings of bushido and character drama in order to push the action and fantasy elements, but the action, although generally exciting and visually interesting, lacked impact. I feel they missed an opportunity to really showcase the awesome fighting abilities of the samurai, instead opting for some CGI creatures and demons and a couple of averagely-lit night battles. The cut-aways seemed to cheapen the experience for me, especially during the seppuku scenes. It seemed to have been framed a bit too closely and the sound was a bit off. No doubt in order to keep it’s pg-13 rating. Nonetheless, there were some truly moving moments and I found myself ultimately enjoying the film. Illan Eshkeri’s score helped elevate the film’s emotional scenes and I found myself with tears in my eyes at certain points during the film.

Overall, I found the film to be serviceable. It had a lot of potential and it was better than expected, although I dared to hope for more. Some genuinely emotional moments and serviceable action and effects make this a good but flawed film.


7 out of 10 stars