Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Film Review: "Last Vegas" (2013).

"It's going to be legendary" in Last Vegas. This comedy film directed by Jon Turteltaub, and written by Dan Fogelman. Four friends take a break from their day-to-day lives to throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas for their last remaining single pal.

By October 2012, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen were cast. Initially, Jack Nicholson was attached to the project for the role of Billy in early development. Christopher Walken and Dustin Hoffman were considered for the role of Sam. Though the four male leads had crossed paths before at various times in their careers, this marks the first ever joint venture for all four men. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Atlanta, Georgia.

The film stars Douglas, De Niro, Freeman, Kline and Steenburgen. Its stars are such pros, they're so enormously charismatic and have such lovely chemistry with each other, it's hard not to be charmed by their mere presence on screen. All three stars deliver exactly what you expect from them -- nothing more, nothing new - but their onscreen familiarity is a strange comfort in itself. Yes, it's good to see these wonderful actors get together in, well, almost anything, but this broken-down jalopy of a movie is not, to put it charitably, an ideal vehicle.

A thoroughly unfunny misfire, Last Vegas manages the incredible feat of wasting more than a century of combined acting experience from its three talented leads. Originality is not the purpose of the film, the kind of old-fashioned entertainment that gives old-fashioned entertainment a bad name. The film is light on laughs and plays it safe far too often. It's dramatically and comically impotent. This wheezy comedy inspires little more than melancholy reminiscences of all four men's earlier work. Scripts this bad will sometimes seem fun with enough enthusiasm behind or in front of the camera, but the star power on display isn't enough to make this anything but a (hopefully) forgettable misstep for all involved. The film is a ghastly, ramshackle mess, lurching from gag to clunking gag and exacerbated by David Hennings' harsh cinematography, making everyone look considerably older than they are. An unfunny comedy that wastes a great, talented cast. Fun up to a point, but the joke wears so thin by the end that even the actors seem sick of it. It's a lame comedy is an utterly useless misfire that brings out the worst in all parties involved. It flirts with the dangers of the real world and is happy to nod to and momentarily invoke the zeitgeist but it ultimately decides to err on the side of safety. The film's weak script trips up a capable director and four legendary actors. Among the wisest things ever said about old age will always be the immortal dictum of Bette Davis: "Old age ain't for sissies." It also ain't for people whose skills have vanished completely but are pretending they haven't."

Simon says Last Vegas receives:

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Film Review: "American Hustle" (2013).

The trailer asks a question "Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, but you had to survive?” This is asked in American Hustle. This American crime film directed by David O. Russell, from a screenplay written by Eric Warren Singer and Russell, loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s and early '80s. A con artist, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive partner, Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into the world of Jersey to set up an elaborate sting operation on corrupt politicians, including the mayor of Camden, New Jersey.

The film is described as a "fictionalization", rather than a straight adaptation of the events which the film is based upon. The opening screen states, "Some of this actually happened." The film is loosely based on the 'Abscam' Operation. 'Abscam' was a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sting operation run from the Bureau's Hauppauge, Long Island, office in the late 1970s and early '80s. The operation initially targeted trafficking in stolen property but was converted to a public corruption investigation. The FBI, aided by a convicted con-man, videotaped politicians as they were offered bribes by a fictional middle-Eastern sheik in return for various political favors. The investigation ultimately led to the conviction of a United States Senator, six members of the United States House of Representatives, one member of the New Jersey State Senate, members of the Philadelphia City Council, the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, and an inspector for the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. The film's main characters; Irving Rosenfeld, FBI Agent Richard "Richie" DiMaso, Sydney Prosser, Mayor Carmine Polito and Rosalyn Rosenfeld were based upon the real-life figures; Melvin Weinberg, Anthony Amoroso, Jr., Evelyn Knight, Angelo Errichetti and Cynthia Marie Weinberg.

It stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams as two con artists. Who are then forced by an FBI agent, played by Bradley Cooper, to set up an elaborate sting operation on corrupt politicians. Including the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, played by Jeremy Renner. Jennifer Lawrence plays the unpredictable wife of Bale's character. Bale and Adams gave intense and emotional performances, especially Adams which explains why she so deserved to win a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination. Cooper gave his most raw and comical performance since Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Renner gave a great performance in his first non-commercial film. Lawrence also gave an equally intense and comical performance as Adams and Cooper. Which is also why she too deserved a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination.

Hard-hitting and stylish, American Hustle is the crime film of the year – and arguably one of the high points of David O. Russell's career. The film is so absorbing that whenever it cuts away from the plot, there is another, better plot to cut to. However, there moments where I found it irratating rather than interesting. But it's sly, with a biting sense of humor and emotionally satisfying elements. I suppose the film is worth every cent.

Simon says American Hustle receives:

Also, see my review for Silver Linings Playbook.

Film Review: "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" (2014).

“You're not just an analyst anymore, Jack. You're operational now.” Which is what Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit offers this summer. This Russian-American action thriller film is directed by and co-starring Kenneth Branagh and featuring the Jack Ryan character created by Tom Clancy. It is the fifth in the Jack Ryan film series and is also a reboot that departs from the previous installments. Unlike its predecessors it is not an adaptation of a particular Tom Clancy novel, but rather an original story. In this scenario, Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

The film stars Chris Pine in the title role, Keira Knightley as Cathy Muller (Ryan's fiancé), Kevin Costner as Thomas Harper and Kenneth Branagh as Viktor Cherevin, the film's main antagonist. The performances in this film were all superbly acted. Pine stars in the title role, becoming the fourth actor to play Ryan, following Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck. He delivered a great portrayal of the character, he had the gritty attitude of Ford, the boy scout, good looks of Affleck, but he reminded me the most of Baldwin when the character was introduced for the first time to the world. As Pine's portrayal is to a whole new generation. Pine once again demonstrates what a solid, convincing actor he is. He injected a commanding sense of decency and humanity to the role of CIA analyst Jack Ryan, making it his own. Under taut direction from Kenneth Branagh (who also plays the Russian heavy), Pine is convincing as a character who is pushing papers one day and dodging assassins in Moscow the next. Knightley gave a brilliant portrayal after inheriting the role after Gates McFadden in The Hunt for Red October (1990), Anne Archer in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), and Bridget Moynahan in The Sum of All Fears (2002). In here we get to see the early stage of the relationship and romance between Cathy and Jack before the latter stages in the previous subsequent films. Costner gave a great performance as the CIA agent Thomas Harper, Jack's mentor. Lastly, Branagh as the film's central villain Viktor Cherevin. He gave a terrific performance as I genuinely felt that he was Russian due to preparation and dedication for the role. He spoke flawless Russian for the role, which amazed me. No wonder why he is one of the great actors and directors of his background and generation.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit delights in an almost boyish way in the trappings of power: Russian villains and weapons of mass destruction, flags, ceremonies and political double-speak. However, the film is all plot and not enough characters. The people running around on screen have about as much depth as the sheen of sweat on Chris Pine's forehead. Jack Ryan is not much impressive himself. He's somewhat disgustingly virtuous: a flawless fighter for good and justice, a Superman without the cape. I spent half the movie wondering if this guy was ever going to show anything to mark him as vaguely human. But the film does offer a reasonably sleek and diverting reboot to the long dormant franchise.

Simon says Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit receives:

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Film Review: "The Book Thief" (2013).

From the first view of the trailer, you are asked "If your eyes could speak, what would they say?” Which is exactly what The Book Thief attempts to answer. This American drama film based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Markus Zusak, directed by Brian Percival and adapted by Michael Petroni. While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. Under the stairs in her home, a Jewish refugee is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.

The novel is written by Australian author Markus Zusak. The book is narrated by Death, it is set in Nazi Germany, a place and time when the narrator notes he was extremely busy. It describes a young girl's relationship with her foster parents, the other residents of their neighborhood, and a young Jewish man who hides in her home during the escalation of World War II. First published in 2005, the book has won numerous awards and was listed on the The New York Times Best Seller list for over 230 weeks.

The film stars Emily Watson, Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nélisse, Ben Schnetzer and Nico Liersch. The performances in this film were the driving forces in order to compensate for the typical Hollywood trans-mortified plot. Watson gave a great performance as the 'thunderous' wife and mother, Rosa Hubermann. Rush also gave a fine performance as the loving, light-hearted father Hans Hubermann. Nélisse gave the finest performance of all as the film's protagonist and tackling a delicate subject matter as this despite being only fourteen years old. Schnetzer gave a touching performance as the Jewish refugee and friend of Liesel, Max. Liersch also gave a fine performance as childish friend, Rudy.

In some ways, The Book Thief is undeniably powerful. The film is a stunning tribute to Zusak’s novel. It’s dramatically moving thanks to its well-acted performances and John Wiliiams’ score. However, it’s a bit too safe in its handling of its Nazi Germany setting, it offends some holocaust survivors, communists and Jews with its lack of authentic portrayal of the Holocaust. What may be most offensive to them is its sidestepping of politics and history in favor of simple human storytelling. But perhaps that impassive quality reflects what director Percival wants to say. By showing Szpilman as a survivor but not a fighter or a hero—as a man who does all he can to save himself, but would have died without enormous good luck and the kindness of a few non-Jews—Polanski is reflecting... his own deepest feelings: that he survived, but need not have, and that his mother died and left a wound that had never healed. It may be one of the best dramatic feature I've seen on the Holocaust experience, so powerful a statement on war, inhumanity and literature's survival. It illustrates that theme and proves that the film’s own love for literature has survived the chaos of that period -- and the hell that war and bigotry once made of it.

Simon says The Book Thief receives:

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Film Review: "August: Osage County" (2013).

"I thought we were having a funeral dinner not a cockfight." Which is what this family reunion is all about in August: Osage County. This American black comedy-drama film written by Tracy Letts and based on his play of the same name. The film is directed by John Wells. The film gives a look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.

August: Osage County is Tracy Letts' dark comedic play. It was the recipient of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago on June 28, 2007, and closed on August 26, 2007. Its Broadway debut was at the Imperial Theater on December 4, 2007 and transferred to the Music Box Theatre on April 29, 2008. The Broadway show closed on June 28, 2009 after 648 performances and 18 previews. The show made its UK Debut at London's National Theatre in November 2008. A US national tour began on July 24, 2009, with its first performance at Denver's Buell Theatre.

The ensemble cast is led by Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard and Misty Upham. Streep and Roberts gave the most over-the-top and enjoyable performances of their careers as the psychotic mother, with a terrible secret, and the damaged daughter, with her marriage in turmoil. McGregor gave his most dramatic performance of his career to equal the performance of Roberts as her emotionally damaged ex-husband. Cooper gave a great performance as he portrayed the tender loving and kind father figure to Cumberbatch's character. Breslin gave a fine performance as the tormented daughter of Roberts' character. Cumberbatch gave a dramatic and convincing performance as the emotionally distraught and child-like son to Cooper's character. Lewis gave her finest performance since Cape Fear (1991). Martindale gave her finest comedic and dramatic performance as the 'lovable' aunt and the wife with a ‘dirty’ secret about her son. Mulroney gave a comedic performance as the fiancé to Lewis' character and has a ‘sketchy’ plan for Breslin's character. Nicholson gave a fine performance as the more grounded one of the three sisters and has the naive lover of Cumberbatch's character who might find out his and his mother's terrible secret. Shepard gave a fine performance even though his part was only brief. Lastly, Upham, even though her character is the smallest role and has the least amount of lines she has a great acting quality to her that could become a star if she chooses the right roles.

It isn't as compelling on the screen as it was on the stage, but August: Osage County makes up for its flaws with Wells' smooth direction and assured performances from the cast, especially Streep and Roberts.

Simon says August: Osage County receives: