2013 Movie Blitz: Part 1

February 17, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I’m trying my best to get through as many 2013 movies as I can so I can complete my best and worst lists for last year. And since I’m scheduled to be a consultant again at this year’s TTV Oscar’s broadcast, I better get a move on and finish watching the last few movies outstanding on the Best Picture nominee list. Don’t worry, it’ll be done. In the meantime, here is the first batch of my 2013 movie blitz!

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

lone_ranger_ver12_xlrg

Guess what? One of the biggest flops, not to mention most-panned films, of 2013, The Lone Ranger, is actually a fairly decent film. I don’t know why critics hated it so much, whether it was the well-publicized budget cuts, the high expectations or weird Johnny Depp fatigue, but to be honest I enjoyed it as much, if not more, than most of the Pirates of the Caribbean films from the same director, Gore Verbinski.

Armie Hammer (both of the Winklevii in The Social Network) is John Reid, a scrupulous lawyer who would eventually become the titular character. His sidekick is the more famous and higher-billed Johnny Depp, who plays a Comanche Indian by the name of Tonto. Together they try and take down a notorious outlaw played wonderfully by William Fichtner. Strong supporting cast includes Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper, Stephen Root and James Badge Dale.

Now I know the film’s name does not make sense considering the Lone Ranger clearly does not act alone, but that doesn’t stop it from being a solid piece of entertainment fuelled by the chemistry of the two charismatic leads.

I can understand if people are sick of Depp playing these oddball characters, but he’s funny as Tonto in the same quirky way that people love him as Captain Jack Sparrow. In fact, the entire film has that same adventurous, them-park-ride vibe running through it like the Pirates franchise, and it baffles me how people can love that but hate this.

The action is extremely over the top as well, but it’s done well in a surreal kind of way, and my main complaint is the bloated length of 149 minutes, but I said the same thing about all the Pirates movies too.

It’s nowhere near one of the top movies of the year, as Quentin Tarantino rated it, but The Lone Ranger is definitely a lot better than what most critics would have you believe. I enjoyed it for what it is – a light, comedic action popcorn blockbuster.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Grown Ups 2 (2013)

grown_ups_2_new-poster

Grown Ups was yet another new low for Adam Sandler, one of the worst films of 2010 and the nastiest comedy I had seen in years. It was basically just a bunch of dicks (I mean, comedians) being mean to people less fortunate than them, and it wasn’t funny.

I don’t know what possessed me, but I ended up watching Grown Ups 2, which brings back Sandler and his group of friends such as Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade, with Salma Hayek and Mario Bello playing two of the wives.

And make no mistake, Grown Ups 2 is a horrible movie – something I knew from the opening scene when a wild deer pisses over everyone in Sandler’s family – BUT you know what? It’s actually better than the first one.

I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true, despite the fact that Grown Ups 2 has not discernable plot and simply follows Sandler and his buddies around as they carry on with their daily lives back in Connecticut, where they grew up.

There are some puerile and downright awful attempts at comedy as expected, most of which are pee pee, poo poo and lame sex jokes. Having said that, this time around the characters are not as mean-spirited as they were, and are in fact more the butt of the jokes than the ones dishing them out.

There are two reasons why laughed a few times. The first is the always legendary Steve Buscemi, who has a slightly meatier role this time after a light cameo in the first film. The second is the surprisingly comedic Taylor Lautner (of Twilight fame), who is perfect as the douchey fratboy alongside a nearly unrecognizable Milo Ventimiglia (from Heroes).

Grown Ups 2 is still a crap movie, but fortunately, and sadly, it’s better than its predecessor.

1.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Runner Runner (2013)

runner_runner_ver7

He’s talented and charismatic and not afraid to make fun of himself, but he’s still Justin Timberlake, so I need to dislike him on principle. Throw in Ben Affleck, one of my favourite directors but least favourite actors, and I knew the chips were stacked against Runner Runner from the beginning.

Timberlake plays this college kid called Richie Furst, a genius with numbers (yeah right) whose greed gets him into trouble and leads him into the world of online gambling. I’ve always been sceptical of these online gambling sites, and fair enough, Richie discovers that he’s being cheated by the system. However, instead of going to the authorities he takes his find to the web casino’s owner Ben Affleck, who ends up taking Richie under his wing and introduces him to the high life.

As these stories typically go, Richie discovers that not everything in the high-roller world is roses and must find a way to redeem himself while fleeing the inevitable danger. To add to the cliché is the potential love interest played by Gemma Arterton, who just happens to be Affleck’s ex-lover.

It’s not that Runner Runner stinks (okay, maybe it does a little), it’s just that we’ve seen this type of story so many times that nothing comes as a surprise. Paranoia, which also came out in 2013 and stars Liam Hemsworth instead of Timberlake, is pretty much the exact same movie but with a slightly different setting. You know there will be an initial high but then everything will fall apart and things will look hopeless until a “twist” involving a stroke of genius allows the protagonist to escape unscathed. Valuable life lessons are learned along the way, of course.

It’s better than Paranoia, which was even more boring, but RunnerRunner is at best a barely passable DVD rental if you have nothing else to choose from or if you really like Justin Timberlake.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

only_god_forgives_ver6_xlrg

I love Ryan Gosling a lot. Maybe not as much as some heterosexual women, but he’s up there in my list of favourite actors, plus he seems to keep churning out excellent, edgy films such as Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines. I was hoping that Only God Forgives, a crime flick set in Bangkok written and directed by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (who also directed Drive), would be more of the same, but unfortunately I have to tell it like it is and admit that this was a terrible misstep for Mr Gosling.

Brutally violent, deliberately paced, surreal and downright bizarre at times, Only God Forgives treads a fine line between art and pretentiousness, and in my opinion falls to the side of the latter.

Gosling plays Julian, an American ex-pat who runs a muay thai kickboxing gym in Bangkok that is really a front for a family drug smuggling operation headed by his sadistic brother Billy and his even crazier mother Kristin Scott Thomas. When Billy rapes and murders a local prostitute, it sets of a series of bloody events driven by revenge and Julian is unwillingly caught in the middle of it.

It’s a strange film that mixes sexual fantasies, violent visions, extended karaoke performances, gun fights, fist fights and swinging sword decapitations. There is a certain stylishness and visual flair about Only God Forgives that brings back memories of the brilliant Drive, but it’s also far more confusing and far less gripping. We get bursts of emotion from the characters but they don’t feel anything like real people, and their interactions are too minimal and deliberate to come across as genuine drama.

The result is a film that is very difficult to describe and understandably polarizing. Because of Drive I will always remain interested in what Refn has in store for audiences next, but on this occasion I think he missed the mark with Only God Forgives.

2.25 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 14

December 27, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Movies reviewed: Cloud Atlas, About Cherry, Dredd, To the Wonder

This is probably going to be my last 2012 movie blitz (at least for now) because I’ve promised to do my best and worst of 2012 before the end of this year and the days are running out! I believe I only have about 4 movies left to watch (I’ve discarded the rest), but since none of them will likely make either list I’m just going to leave them for later.

If this is indeed the last one then I’m going out on a high as this blitz is a great one, packed with some high-profile flicks from 2012.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

CloudAtlas-Poster

Cloud Atlas was one of my most anticipated movies of 2012, but for some reason the film either (1) never made it to Taiwanese cinemas; or (2) was only showing for such a short time that I missed it completely. I’m not sure what happened because it had been slated to be Oscar bait and one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, but perhaps it was the furore over the Asian-izing of white actors that sunk the film even before it made its way to Asian shores.

I finally got around to watching it the other day, and my reaction to it is mixed. I can see why it was so polarizing – there are elements about it which are amazing, but on the other hand it felt like an ambitious film like this was doomed to failure from the start. Success or failure, Cloud Atlas is without a doubt one of the most ambitious films ever made, and kudos must go to the Wachowskis (for those who don’t know, they are no longer the Wachowski “brothers” because one of them is now a “sister”) for even attempting a film of this size and complexity.

Spanning nearly 3 hours, Cloud Atlas is an epic set across six time periods, from the mid-1800s to the 24th century. Each period is played by more or less the same set of actors playing different characters, and that is where the ridiculed makeup and special effects come in (I’ll get to that in a sec). The reason why they got the same actors to play characters in different time periods is because they are supposed to be reincarnates from different lives, and the film is pretty much an exploration of the idea that people go through life after life, that they are bound to certain people in each life, and that actions in one life can affect or shape lives in the future.

The narrative jumps around between the six time periods, which can be confusing and daunting for some, but for the most part the Wachowskis do a stellar job of keeping the story flowing and bringing its core concepts to the forefront. That said, with so many interlocking stories and characters, it is difficult to afford all of them enough time to develop, and as a result I found parts of the film unsatisfying and lacking in emotional depth. There is a payoff at the end, but it took a very long time to get there.

The all-star cast is blameless in all of this. Really, how can you complain about the likes of Tom Hanks, HalleBerry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant? Each of them play a wide range of characters from good to evil, and they each do it convincingly, as far as performances are concerned. What didn’t work so well was the makeup and effects needed to transform those actors from one race to another. This was something that didn’t pose a problem in the novel, and it’s hard to fault the Wachowskis for trying to overcome the issue by, for example, turning Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving into slanty-eyed Asians, and HalleBerry and Korean actress Doona Bae into white women. As good as makeup is these days, the results were laughable in many of the cases, especially for Sturgess and Weaving, who look like absolute freaks and more Alien than Asian.

But is that reason enough to bash the whole film? I don’t think so. They did the best they could under the circumstances, but for many people it will mean putting aside the absurdity of the characters’ appearances to enjoy the movie.

Like it or hate it, Cloud Atlas is a memorable film. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the masterpiece it set out to be, though it is certainly not the spectacular turd that some critics and audiences have labelled it. If you can ignore the freaky faces and immerse yourself into the story, Cloud Atlas could be one of the most enjoyable experiences of the year, complete with well-executed action and eye-popping special effects. I’ve heard on numerous occasions that it is a film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate, so on my first (and possibly last) viewing I’ll give it…

3.5 stars out of 5

About Cherry (2012)

cherry

The film is called About Cherry, but it’s really not about much at all. Technically, it’s about a naïve and pretty girl (Cherry — -played by Ashley Hinshaw, who had a small part in the underrated Chronicle) who sinks into the world of pornography, but in reality it’s just about a girl who decided to get into porn for a quick buck.

I thought it would a good, or at least interesting, film because it was backed by a strong cast of supporting stars headed by James Franco, Dev Patel, Heather Graham and Lili Taylor. I’m not sure why they were drawn to this project, the directorial debut of American author, journalist and activist Stephen Elliott, but I doubt this will end up being a film placed high on their respective CVs.

The biggest problem with About Cherry is the titular character, who is played well by Hinshaw but offers no real redeeming qualities or genuine personality. She’s just a girl who wanted to make money, and saw porn as an easy route (no pun intended). There’s no manipulation, no exploitation, no coercion or persuasion – it’s just a consenting adult wanting to make money. And that doesn’t make for very compelling viewing.

Sure, her career creates some friction in her life – with her best friend (Patel) who is painfully and obviously in love with her, a fact she has no trouble using and abusing to her advantage; with her boyfriend (Franco), a druggie lawyer; and her mother (Taylor), a deadbeat alcoholic – but honestly, it’s not that bad.

We don’t really gain an insight into why Cherry went down this path or why it escalated from solo pics to real sex, apart from the suggestion that her mother is a loser and she wants to get away from her. And besides, all these relationships are not resolved properly, with the James Franco arc being particularly bizarre, almost as though he decided to quit the film midway through the shoot and they had to come up with a rushed solution.

The film is made slightly more interesting by the presence of Graham, who plays a porno director who becomes infatuated with Cherry to the detriment of her long-term relationship. But the way this part of the story is wrapped up is stupid and could be perceived as an insulting message about the nature of human sexuality.

In the end, apart from the soft core porn scenes there just isn’t a lot to like about the movie. It’s not poorly made, and the performances are decent, but it’s hard to a connect with a film on an emotional level when the characters feel so remote and uninteresting. Maybe I missed the point of About Cherry completely. Frankly, I don’t care.

1.5 stars out of 5

Dredd (2012)

dredd

It’s unfortunate that the comic strip hero Judge Dredd almost always conjures up the image of Sly Stallone mumbling about something incoherent, with Sandra Bullock beside him wondering what the hell she’s doing. This “remake”, just Dredd, probably won’t erase the memory of the 1995 disaster, but it’s nonetheless a much much better film that’s surprisingly effective and exciting.

For starters, Dredd knows exactly the type of action film it wanted to be – brutal, violent, unflinching, dark, gritty and littered with hints of political messages. This time Karl Urban (who never shows his face) plays Dredd, a Judge who plays judge, jury and executioner in a dystopic future world. Most of the action takes place in a massive slum building block controlled by drug lord Ma-Ma, played awesomely by Lena Heady (from 300 and Game of Thrones). Dredd and a new recruit with psychic powers (Olivia Thilrby) are sent to investigate the building after a brutal execution-style killing, and find themselves trapped against a whole army of criminals.

It’s a fairly simple Die Hard premise, though the look and feel of the film is closer to a futuristic version of the 2011 Indonesia masterpiece The Raid: Redemption – and it would be unfair to suggest Dredd is anywhere near as good as either film. But for the most part, Dredd is effective and should appeal to fans of the source material.

While the plot leans close to predictable, the action is explosive and thrilling, the special effects are sharp and the dialogue is darkly humorous. Plus Karl Urban and Lena Heady are just so good. It’s not quite enough to elevate Dredd above the rest of 2012’s top action flicks, but it’s not far too from the apex of the pack.

3.75 stars out of 5

To the Wonder (2012)

TotheWonder

The title of Terrence Malick’s latest romantic drama, To the Wonder, is very apt, as I am still wondering what the hell I watched. I’ve given Malick a lot of tries through the years, starting with The Thin Red Line, The New World and Tree of Life, and I’ve come away disappointed every time despite all the praises and accolades.

Like those films, my guess is that To the Wonder will polarise audiences, with some critics loving it (as evidenced by its Golden Lion nomination at the 2012 Venice Film Festival) and the majority of audiences hating it. I am siding with the latter.

The premise of the film seems harmless enough – a Ukrainian woman played by Olga Kurylenko moves to the US after meeting Ben Affleck’s character in Paris. She feels isolated and she returns to France – during which time Affleck dates Rachel McAdams – and then returns to try and rekindle the relationship.

But in typical Malick fashion, To the Wonder is all about the arty farty, the beautiful imagery, the barely decipherable whispering monologues (luckily this time there’s no Nick Nolte) and people dancing and prancing around in the meadows, staring out the windows, running around and flailing their arms about like lunatics.

All of this is done in rapid cuts (in one instance you get what feels like 100 snippets of two people frollicking through a cornfield) and minimal, almost inhuman dialogue, which makes it an unusual viewing experience but also a very annoying one. In short, To the Wonder is REALLY self-indulgent.

Maybe some viewers can appreciate the beauty of it all and understand what Malick is trying to do with this movie, but I found it emotionally unsatisfying and bordering on laughable. I thought I would love a film where Ben Affleck says almost nothing and where Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams are the lead actresses, but for most of the painfully long 113-minute running time I was either confused or irritated by it. Javier Bardem playing a priest who questions his faith was pretty funny though, albeit unintentionally.

Bad films that are supposed to be bad I can take, but pretentious films like To the Wonder really get to me. Or maybe we’ve all been fooled and it’s supposed to be a parody, though that doesn’t make the movie any better.

1 star out of 5

Book Review: ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn

August 9, 2013 in Book Reviews, Reviews

gone girl

(Note: See below for a chat with Sydney artist Hubert Widjaya about the book!)

I was looking for a ripper of a read to ease myself back into reading fiction and everywhere I looked on the bestseller lists was Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, a page-turning psychological thriller about a husband who suddenly finds himself pinned as the prime suspect of his missing wife.

The premise is seemingly typical, stereotypical even, but the execution is anything but.

It’s the kind of novel I can’t really describe in any detail or provide a summary of the background because there are so many delicious twists and turns that should be left to the reader to discover and savour. It’s not a thriller that coasts along in one direction until an “explosive” twist ending – Gone Girl is one unexpected detour after another that repeatedly attempts to derail everything you thought you knew about the story and the characters. I don’t want to say much more except that it’s messed up, in a wickedly good kind of way.

Part of the intrigue comes from the novel’s structure. Part One is told through the point of view of Nick Dunne, the husband who, like many of us, feels detached from the reality he is living in but is pressured into acting the way society expects of him. Nick’s first-person narrative is interspersed with timely diary entries from his beautiful wife, Amy Dunne, who recaps their love story from the beginning to present day. Part Two features the contrasting first-person narratives of Nick and Amy, which become increasingly intense as they go back and forth until the chilling finale.

The implausible but engrossing plot is driven by the strength of the characters Flynn has created, all of whom feel painfully real. Nick and Amy are deeply flawed but believable characters with complex personalities, which we gradually find out, layer by layer, like a peeling onion. A master storyteller, Flynn knows exactly how much of them to give to us and how much to withhold from us until the timing is perfect.

The character of Nick, in particular, really resonated with me. Many of the emotions and thoughts he expresses throughout the novel ring true — quite a remarkable feat considering Flynn is, apparently, a woman in a happy marriage.

Even the supporting characters — from Nick’s twin sister Margo, possible the most sympathetic character in the story, his slick lawyer Tanner Bolt and his ailing father, to even minor characters such as the investigating officers and trampy local groupies — are memorable despite limited screen (page) time.

Thanks in large part to the characters and the twists, Gone Girl is a compulsive page turner pretty much all the way through. The story does somewhat spiral out of control towards the end, stretching the boundaries of believability — which is not surprising because something had to give with all those twists and turns. The narrative loses a bit of steam as a result, but it may have been intentional as it leads to a very interesting — and divisive — conclusion. Personally, I loved it because it shies away from conventional methods, though there are those who say the ending ruined the book for them.

The final word on Gone Girl: a cracking read that took me on a dark and unexpected journey into a world of murder, revenge, betrayal, madness and sexual politics. Written in a confident, honest voice from a skillful writer who treads the line between commercial genre and literary fiction and knows exactly how to manipulate her readers into thinking one way then pulling the rug out from under them.

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike / Nick and Amy Dunne

PS: Flynn is currently adapting her novel for the film version, which is shaping up to be one of the highly anticipated films of 2014, given it will be produced by Reese Witherspoon, directed by David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in the lead roles. Neil Patrick Harris is reportedly in talks to play a supporting character, and I have a fairly good idea which one.

Conversation with Hubert Widjaya

PJM: So, first impressions of Gone Girl?

HW: Highly entertaining, a great plot if very extreme. But what makes it so engaging is the first person shifts from Amy to Nick, etc. By writing in this way Flynn keeps you guessing as to who will get away with what and who is completely good and evil.

PJM: Were you shocked by some of the twists and turns?

HW: As to the main twist…slightly underwhelmed. Can’t quite put my finger on it.

PJM: Who were your favourite characters and why?

HW: Trying to think…who were yours and why?

PJM: I really connected with Nick, which is strange, considering what a douchebag he is. And of course you can’t hate Margo, the most level headed person in all of this. Plus Tanner was a good show and a great laugh with his typical lawyer antics.

HW: The cops were cool especially Boney she added a light touch which you need in books like this. But I agree with you re Nick. There’s something very believable about him. Big dreams as a real journo who loses his job, then decides to just do something less careery i.e. bar

PJM: I want to talk about the ending too, which divided a lot of readers. Without giving anything away, what did you think of it? A lot of people were looking for a conventional ending where people get their come uppance, but I think the ending Flynn chose works well.

HW: A conventional ending for a non conventional book wouldn’t have worked.

PJM: It’s bleak and filled with dread, and in some ways it works than your well-rounded conclusion or shock tactics.

HW: Was going to say that, the sense of dread, which made me think of Rosemary’s Baby.

PJM: I read an interview with Flynn in which she referred to Rosemary’s Baby as an inspiration. And last but not least, the film. We’ve got to talk about the film!

HW: I’ll say it again: I can so picture Affleck playing the role well…Oscar noms galore, as both leads have to pretend so many conflicting emotions. Who would have thought he’d be up there as one of the best directors currently?

PJM: Yeah, Affleck is perfect for the role. When I read the book I kept picturing his douchey face, haha. He is one of my favourite directors, but least favourite actors…well, maybe that is a bit harsh, but I don’t think he is a great actor, though this could be the role he’s been waiting for.

HW: True. Good Will Hunting…they’ve come along way from them apples.

PJM: What about Pike?

HW: Haven’t seen much of her work, but going on looks, she looks icy hot, ie, good casting.

PJM: I agree. And Neil Patrick Harris could be either great or too distracting. What do you think of Fincher directing?

HW: Good question. While reading I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading a Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-style book despite no plot similarities. The dynamics between men and women are shared, so perfect for Fincher. The twist of Seven meets the red herrings of The Game.

PJM: Final word on Gone Girl? And rating out of five?

HW: Fun, fast paced and good psychological insight on romance/marriage from male and female perspective. 4 bloodsoaked and tied up stars.

PJM: Haha. I like it a little more than that. 4.5 out of 5 for me.

Movie Review: Argo (2012)

October 23, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Argo, Ben Affleck’s latest film, proves two things. One, he is still a mediocre actor. And two, he is developing into one heck of a director.

Following on from one of my favourite films from 2010, The Town, Affleck returns to the director’s chair for Argo, a film about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis where 52 Americans at the US Embassy in Tehran were held hostage by Islamist students and militants.

The movie itself centers on a fascinating but lesser-known aspect of a side story to the crisis in which US involvement was not declassified until 1997. Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA operative tasked with finding a way to bring back six Americans who escaped the embassy at the start of the crisis and took refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). At a time where the six Americans would likely be tortured and killed if discovered, Mendez concocted a plan that would have been unbelievable had it not been true: producing a fake sci-fi movie.

The timing was perfect, given Star Wars had taken off and Hollywood producers were scrambling to make rip-offs. But of course, if it were so easy to get them out the film would not be two hours long.

Argo doesn’t have much of that stuff you see in action films these days, but it’s still incredibly tense and exciting all the way through. The background and context to the crisis is swiftly and effectively dealt with at the beginning, and the initial scenes of the civil unrest expertly generate a genuine sense of terror and panic that lingers on for the rest of the film.

It could have been very easy for this film to become dull and stagnant, but Affleck sustains the tension through a series of well-crafted incidents and conversations, ensuring viewers never lost track of what was at stake and the imminent danger the Americans were in at all times. Needless to say, things were probably never that tense in real life, but that’s why this is a movie.

Credit has to go to Affleck for his brilliantly authentic recreation of 1979 Tehran, which as the end credits showed paid painstaking attention to detail. Everything from the architecture, the clothing and the hairstyles brought me back to those times, and I wasn’t even born then!

The performances from the all-star cast were solid. The ever-present Bryan Cranston (sorry, Heisenberg) was subtle as Jack O’Donnell, Mendez’s supervisor, and yet electrifying when he needed to be. Breaking Bad has already proven Cranston to be one of the greatest TV actors of all-time, and I hear maybe Argo has given him some Oscar buzz. John Goodman, who plays Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers, and Alan Arkin, who plays  director Lester Siegel, provide some of the more lighthearted moments and are both excellent.

As for the six US diplomats, the only actors I recognised were Tate Donovan (best known for being engaged to Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock) and Clea DuVall (whom I will always associate with The Faculty), but all of them were very good.

As it turned out, the weakest link was probably Affleck himself as Mendez. Apart from the lack of a physical resemblance (everyone else was pretty spot on), Affleck played Mendez with his usual “blank” face and unlayered line delivery. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh and perhaps the muted performance was intentional, but to be honest I never really felt as much for his character as I probably should have.

Overall, Argo is unquestionably compelling cinema and solidifies Affleck’s reputation as a director who knows how to craft impeccable dramas filled with thrills and style. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Town (2010)

December 19, 2010 in Movie Reviews

I finally got to see The Town, the Boston crime drama/thriller co-written and directed by Ben Affleck.  I had heard some good things about it, but I certainly did not expect The Town to be one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

There’s nothing terribly original or groundbreaking about the premise of ‘The Town’, ie Charlestown, a small neighbourhood that boasts the highest number of bank robbers in Boston.  Affleck plays Doug MacCray, a local crook with a shady family history and a hot-headed best friend, James Coughlin, played by Jeremy Renner (from The Hurt Locker).  An introductory heist introduces two key characters — Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), a pretty bank manager, and Adam Fawley (Jon Hamm from Mad Men), an FBI agent hunting them down.

The Town is an intense, emotional and explosive roller coaster ride that’s gripping from the very beginning until the final scene.  It’s incredibly sharp, well written, has a great cast, and the heist sequences are some of the best I’ve ever seen.  Affleck, who has never been the greatest actor in my opinion, has established himself as one heck of a director, and I certainly hope there will be plenty more to come from him in the future.

Affleck, Hall and Hamm are all solid — but for me it’s the brilliant Jeremy Renner who steals the show as the impulsive, reckless, but extremely loyal friend.  The guy exudes screen presence and put me on edge every time he appeared.  He was terrific in The Hurt Locker, where he was the ‘good guy’, but he’s probably even more effective here as a villain of sorts.  I was surprised the film didn’t get more love from the voters on the Golden Globes, but I’m pleased to see that Renner got the nod for a best supporting actor nomination (the film’s only nomination).

Another pleasant surprise was Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively, who has a small but important role as the local skank.  Lively has a tendency to annoy me on Gossip Girl, but I can’t deny she was amazing in this.  Well done.

There’s nothing I didn’t like about this film.  I’ve heard that critics are comparing The Town to the classic 1995 De Niro/Pacino film Heat. I was too young to remember the latter film favourably, but I am so impressed with The Town that I will definitely go check it out.

4.5 stars out of 5!

 
%d bloggers like this: