2013 Movie Blitz: Part III

March 16, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Diana (2013)

diana

Sixteen years after her tragic death, someone finally decided to make a big Princess Diana movie. But of all the types of films that could have been made, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (The Invasion) went for a sappy, melodramatic borefest that focuses on a very short period of her life.

Look, Diana is not as bad as some critics have made it out to be (ie, worst movie of the year), but it has been understandably panned because of expectations. Based on the book Diana: Her Last Love by Kate Snell, the film targets the tumultuous love affair between Diana (Naomi Watts) and British Pakistani doctor Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews, henceforth referred to as Sayid from Lost!!!).

So basically, the movie starts after Diania has divorced Prince Charles (who’s not even in it) and ends at her death a couple of years later. It suggests that she really only went out with Dodi Fayed, her last boyfriend, because she was trying to make Sayid jealous (and you don’t want to do that to Sayid!).

The problem with the movie is not that it is a romance. The problem is that it’s a very boring romance. They eat, they talk, the have sex, then they fight because Sayid doesn’t like the attention that comes with dating the most famous woman in the world. Then she wins him back, and the same cycle continues.

Naomi Watts delivers a good, albeit unconvincing performance as Princess Diana. By that I mean she did her best with the hair and the mannerisms and so forth, but she still looked and felt like Naomi Watts to me. Sayid, on the other hand, was great – at torturing people, that is — this time with boring conversations and tamper tantrums.

People who go into Diana thinking they are watching a biopic about the Princess’s life will be bitterly disappointed because it’s actually a romance that spans for just two years of her life, with the only other thing it touches upon being her fight against eradicating land mines. People who go into the film knowing all of this will still be disappointed because it’s crap.

2 stars out of 5

Oldboy (2013)

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I haven’t seen the original Korean version of Oldboy, which is based on a Japanese manga and widely regarded as a cult classic, but by all accounts it is miles better than Spike Lee’s US version, one of the biggest critical and box office bombs of 2013.

The premise behind Oldboy is fascinating enough, which is why I guess they decided to adapt it for American audiences. A fat douchebag played by Josh Brolin is imprisoned in a hotel room for reasons unknown to him for a whopping 20 years, with nothing but basic amenities and a TV set. When he is eventually set free after doing nothing except preparing for vengeance, he goes on a violent spree to find out who ruined his life, and why.

The problem with Oldboy is that the tone of it is all over the place and never feels quite right. It’s a crazy premise with a lot of gaps in logic and common sense, and the film can’t figure out whether it wants to be realistic or surreal. There are moments when the film feels like a comical farce, such as when Brolin takes on whole gangs of goons, but there are other times when the film feels dead serious and very disturbing.

And as for the mystery itself, though it keeps up the film’s intrigue factor it’s not really anything mindblowing, and the motivations actually turn out to be quite simple in the end. That said, the whole process of getting to that point is so ludicrous that the film falls apart when it is revealed why Brolin was imprisoned for so long. You also know that there is of course a twist, but it’s pretty easy to guess if you ask me.

Brolin is a good actor so you know he delivers here, but physically and with his performance, but it’s surprising how little he ages over the course of the 20 years, looking old when he went in and young when he came out. Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of the twins), who was brilliant in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is also very good but feels underutilized as this is such a male-dominated movie. In terms of the supporting cast, I was surprised to see Sharlto Copley put on a fake British accent, but I was very happy to see Samuel L Jackson launch some of his patented expletives while being tortured.

I don’t know if I will see the Korean original now that I’ve seen Lee’s version, but my guess is that if you’ve seen the Korean version you should avoid the American one. I don’t deny that Oldboy starts off on a fascinating note and is occasionally entertaining, but there were simply too many obvious problems with it for me to be fully engaged with it.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: I find it interesting that both Lee and Brolin were annoyed that the studio cut the film from its original length of 140 minutes, which they believed was a superior version, to a more manageable 105 minutes. Perhaps a director’s cut will better do the film justice.

Fruitvale Station (2013)

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I remember seeing a shaky, grainy video of a young black man being pinned down and then shot by police a few years back, but like many of these viral videos it was quickly shifted to the back of my mind. Little did I know that the short piece of footage would go on to inspire a critically-acclaimed film that would in the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for US dramatic film at 2013 Sundance.

Fruitvale Station, written and directed by Ryan Coogler (in his feature debut), tells of the story of what happened to 22-year-old Oscar Grant on the final day of his life. It could have easily been boring, or worse, melodramatic and manipulative, but instead Coogler has produced a powerful film driven by a dynamic performance from Michael B Jordan (whom I had seen recently in the underrated Chronicle).

The impressive thing about Fruitvale Station is that the events leading up to the shooting, which take up the vast majority of the 85-minute running time, do not feel like pointless filler. We get to learn what kind of person Oscar Grant is, what he has been through and what he has ahead of him. He isn’t painted as some kind of hero or flawless guy – he’s just a normal African American male from a disadvantaged background trying to get through life and be there for his young daughter.

There is a sense of inevitability running through the first part of the film, but it conjures up a feeling of dread rather than predictability. And when Oscar and his friends are accosted by police at Fruitvale Station, the “incident” itself is handled with a lot of raw emotion but also even-handedness. It doesn’t try to portray the cops as super evil or play up the race angle – it’s just one of those things where egos got the better of both sides and someone ended up doing something incredibly stupid and tragic.

I don’t know how accurate the film is compared to the real events, though some have criticized the film for inaccuracies and omissions, arguably to drive the filmmaker’s agenda for victim’s rights. All I can say is that from what I have seen, Fruitvale Station is a very impressive debut, a devastating, poignant drama that goes far beyond what was captured on a mobile phone camera back in 2009.

4 stars out of 5

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

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I was pleasantly surprised by the first Despicable Me, which, like many recent animated features, decided to focus on a villain (voiced by Steve Carrell) who’s not really such a bad guy. It was funny enough in places, sweet because of the little kids he eventually adopts, and cute because of those crazy minions, who are about to get their own spin-off movie.

Despicable Me 2 did not have to be made, but the success of the original guaranteed it. It follows on from the first film, with Carrell’s ex-villain, Gru, trying to juggle the responsibilities of looking after three little girls (Margo, Edith and Agnes). To get the ball rolling, the writers went for the most obvious plot device, which is to get the authorities (in this case the Anti-Villain League, or AVL) to recruit Gru and his villainous talents to help them catch a new villain.

I didn’t find Despicable Me 2 as funny as the first one. The story, largely surrounding Gru and his potential love interest Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), felt a little forced, and the attempts at humour appeared more geared towards younger audiences.

People who like the minions will get a kick out of this one, but personally I think a lot of their charisma has already dried up because it’s obvious they are trying too hard to be cute. Even the efforts to make the trio of little girls sweet may have gone overboard, making the overall tone of the film somewhat saccharine.

I’m surprised the film has been nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year. I’m not saying that it’s bad, but for me it was just serviceable and at best a fairly average sequel that’s clearly just trying to cash in.

2.75 stars out of 5