Movie Review: The Cobbler (2015)

April 16, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

TheCobblerBig

The Cobbler looked promising in the trailer. A cobbler played by Adam Sandler realises that he can turn into different people (in terms of physical appearance) by wearing their shoes. On its face, the film seems like a fable about what it means to walk in another man’s shoes, though in reality The Cobbler is just a dull comedy-drama that’s neither very funny nor very dramatic, and much shallower than the premise suggests.

Sandler plays Max, a traditional neighbourhood cobbler who lives with his elderly mother. It’s a sad existence for him, getting by alone in his workshop day to day, abused by clients with more money and better lives than him, and still wondering why his father (Dustin Hoffman) left him and his mother years ago. His only friend is the barber next door, played by the legendary Steve Buscemi.

So when one day Max discovers that he can turn into his clients by wearing their shoes, he decides to live the life he wishes he had. He becomes a dashing Brit (Dan Stevens), who has a stunning girlfriend and still gets plenty of attention from the ladies. He tries his hand at being a Chinese man, complete with an accent when he speaks English. But it’s when he attempts to be a criminal that things start spiralling out of control.

Despite an interesting premise, The Cobbler fails to flesh it out, instead going for cheap ideas, bizarre sentimentality (that borders on creepy) and a boring final act that revolves around a nasty property developer (Ellen Barkin). Rather than teaching Max how to sympathise with others by walking in their shoes, he abuses the power for his own benefit before becoming a cliched benevolent superhero of sorts. Everything is on the surface only, and this is confirmed by a predictable and silly ending.

There were plenty of opportunities for humour that went to waste, delivering at most smirks rather than genuine laughter. There also wasn’t much drama to speak of, and the only legitimate attempt involving Max’s father completely weirded me out. Thank God for Steve Buscemi, the only guy who really brought any life to the film with the exception of Method Man, who was menacingly good as a thug.

Having bagged the film out, it’s still probably one of Sandler’s best efforts in years. Seriously, his list of films before this one are all colossal critical flops: Men, Women & Children, Blended, Grown Ups 2, That’s My Boy, Jack and Jill, Zookeeper, Just Go With It, and Grown Ups. It’s frustrating, because anyone who has seen Punch-Drunk Love knows Sandler can act and isn’t exclusively confined to shit movies. The closest thing I can compare The Cobbler to is his 2006 film Click, which is also a magical fantasy comedy supposedly trying to teach a life lesson or two. But while Click at least had a few funny moments and some surprisingly touching scenes, The Cobbler doesn’t even have any.

It wasn’t so bad that it made me want to stop watching, but when you start feeling that a 99-minute film is too long it can’t possibly be very entertaining.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Seventh Son (2014)

April 12, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

seventh son

Seventh Son is a bleak illustration of just how difficult it is to make a good fantasy film in a single instalment.

Having heard all sorts of terrible things about it, I knew it was probably not going to be great, but as a sucker for epic fantasy action flicks, this one was supposed to have it all: a seemingly interesting plot about the “special” seventh son of a seventh son; witches and monster hunters; swords and magic; shape-shifters, snarling dragons, dudes with four arms, dudes who turn into bears and giant lizards — all of it presented with stunning special effects; and an impressive all-star cast featuring Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes (best known as Prince and then King Caspian in the Narnia series), Julianne Moore, Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Olivia Williams, Antje Trauer (from Pandorum), Alicia Vikander (who is apparently going to be huge after Ex Machina becomes a global hit), Jason Scott Lee and Djimon Hounsou.

And yet, Seventh Son failed to exceed my low expectations. Cliched, predictable, dull, with stock characters and a disappointing climax, the only thing it really had going for it were some impressive special effects and a handful of nice action sequences. Sadly, what everyone said about it turned out to be true.

The film is based on the novel The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney, which is actually the first in a series of books about a 12-year-old boy named Tom Ward, who as the seventh son of a seventh son is able to see supernatural things others cannot. His parents apprentice him to a Spook — basically a ghost/monster hunter of sorts — named Gregory, and so begins his adventure into a world of crazy stuff.

But while The Wardstone Chronicles, as the series is known, has 16 books, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Seventh Son is going to be a one-and-done effort given how cursed the entire production was. Ben Barnes was a late replacement for Sam Claflin. Filming began back in March 2012, with a target release date in February 2013. But the special effects team went bust and had to get a court-issued payment of US$5m to finish their work on the film. The guy who was supposed to complete the score left due to scheduling conflicts and they had to get someone else. Legendary Films then parted ways with distributor Warner Bros. The film was eventually released in France late last year and most other regions in February, a delay of almost three years from the initial target. When a film gets delayed that long you just know that no one involved thought highly enough of it to try and get it pushed through.

The finished product, as you might expect, is a bit of a mess. The biggest problem is the complete lack of character development, especially for Tom Ward. It appeared they made a decision early on to focus on the film’s bigger star, Jeff Bridges, who plays the master Spook to the apprentice. Bridges was given top billing and probably equal screen time to Barnes, and they made the story more about him than its titular character.

The Spook is an intriguing character, but it defeats the purpose when the supposedly central protagonist, the Seventh Son, turns out to be a character you don’t care about and can’t really be bothered to get to know. In this film, Tom Ward is the most vanilla hero you could possibly come up with. We know he’s a cliched farmer’s son who grew up not knowing anything about the real world or his destiny. And apart from that, we don’t learn much more about his personality throughout the rest of the film, except that he’s a little horny and has no problem bending the rules for sexy ladies (in this case Alicia Vikander, who plays a witch — setting up the typical “star-crossed lovers” dynamic).

Ben Barnes, whom I’ve always thought is one of the prettiest actors of his generation, gets little to work with here. He’s a fine actor, but with such a thin plot and character there’s not much he can do to turn Tom Ward into a protagonist audiences can give a shit about. Jeff Bridges slurs his way through like he’s still The Dude from The Big Lebowski, while Julianne Moore is probably willing to hand back her Oscar to pretend she was never the baddie/witch/dragon lady she played in this film.

With the exception of a couple of relatively exciting, CGI-filled set action pieces, Seventh Son is a failure that never manages to escape an air of familiarity and predictability. The source material may have had a genuinely interesting world to offer, though it’s sadly something audiences would never know from watching this film. It’s easy to blame the script or the direction of Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov (who has received a couple of Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Film), but the reality is that it’s just extraordinarily difficult to make a decent epic fantasy in a standalone film, especially one that’s 102 minutes. It’s no wonder why the gold standards of the genre are Lord of the Rings, which is basically three three-hour films, and Game of Thrones, which is 10 hours per season.

Ultimately, Seventh Son is not terrible — it’s just another major disappointment. It’s a film that felt like it set out with high ambitions but everything about it suggests that it was aiming low.

2.25 stars out of 5

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

January 13, 2014 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

440775-the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-poster-art

I love Ben Stiller’s best work, but his resume has been a little mixed in recent years. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a loose modern adaptation of the 1939 short story by James Thurber, is very much a Ben Stiller project (he directs, produces and stars), and it’s definitely some of his best work.

Stiller plays the titular character, a negative assets manager who manages photographs for Life magazine. He’s a meek and mild mannered introvert, a bit of a loner, someone who escapes the banality and drudgery of his existence by “zoning out” into one of his elaborate and vivid daydreams. Without giving too much away, Walter finds himself on an adventure which requires him to track down legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (wonderfully performed by Sean Penn) through a series of clues. Helping him out is his secret crush (Kristin Wiig), whom Walter has joined an online dating service for despite working together in the same office.

As his journey gets crazier and crazier, Walter’s fantasies diminish in frequency, and the film’s simple message become apparent. But getting to that point is a lot of fun because you never really know what to expect next, and Walter is such a likable character that he infuses the film with plenty of warmth (despite the freezing conditions) and heart.

Walter Mitty is a grand adventure, a big, epic physical and spiritual journey that takes Walter to several isolated and extremely beautiful places around the world. The film is filled with amazing special effects, not only during Walter’s fantasies but also throughout his travels. Conversely, it’s also an odd, quirky little film that is only loosely attached to reality, with plenty of serendipitous occurrences and strange coincidences, and a slightly surreal feel that brings up memories of The Truman Show (incidentally, they originally wanted Jim Carrey for the lead role).

The result is an ambitious film doesn’t always work, but enough of it worked for me to make Walter Mitty a special experience. And make no mistake, the film is very funny. There are moments of comic brilliance scattered throughout the 114-minute running time, with a few generating some real belly laughs, though arguably it could have been a more consistently hilarious movie had they focused more on the comedy rather than the poignancy of the drama.

The performances are really strong. Ben Stiller plays the kind of character we’re used to from him (by that I mean closer to There’s Something About Mary than Dodgeball or Tropic Thunder), and he’s very affable here, while Kristen Wiig provides an attractive love interest who is believable because she’s borderline in Walter’s league. A bearded Adam Scott is also very good as the office dickhead, and he seems to relish the opportunity to play such a role. Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn have small but important roles as Walter’s mother and daughter, while Sean Penn is brilliant as the enigmatic O’Connell. There are some very interesting minor characters, such as an online dating services rep (Patton Oswalt) who strikes up an unusual phone friendship with Walter, and the nutty Greenlandic helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) who provides some of the best lines of the movie.

The ending of Walter Mitty was perhaps a little too neat and predictable for my liking, but apart from that I found myself captured by Walter’s imagination and his struggle for a more fulfilling life. The film has received mixed to polarising reviews, and I can understand that because it’s the type of movie where you either get caught up in the adventure and its characters or you don’t. I certainly did, which is why I think it’s one of the most likable and memorable movies of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: 47 Ronin (2013) (2D)

January 5, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

47_Ronin_poster

Every Keanu Reeves movie can be summed up with one word: “whoa.” Unfortunately, his latest, 47 Ronin, is not a good “whoa.” It’s not a horrible “whoa” either. On the one hand it wasn’t as rubbish as expected, though on the other it lacked the excitement of the crazy samurai action I had looked forward to.

I’ve been a fan of Keanu since the Paul Abdul Rush, Rush days — actually, even before that, back to the Bill & Ted era (“Socrates!”), but these days all the news we get from him are from people posting videos of him giving up his seat on the subway.

Anyway, while Keanu has been in movies in recent years, none of them high-profile since the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. That alone was reason to get me excited about 47 Ronin, supposedly based on a Japanese legend (one I didn’t know about until the credits rolled). If you’ve seen the trailers, however, you’ll know this film is set firmly in fantasy land, with witchcraft, mystical creatures and demons all part of the norm in its world.

Keanu plays Kai, a mysterious half-breed (half British, half Japanese) who was discovered in the woods and raised by Lord Asano, who has a whole bunch of samurai under his command. While he is a master swordsman who can duel with the best of them, Kai is not officially a samurai and is looked down upon by the samurai in town. One day a powerful Shogun arrives in town with Lord Kira, an evil dude with ambitions of ruling all of Japan. Kira is aided by a witch played by Rinko Kikuchi (last seen in Pacific Rimwho is so obviously a demon because of her different-colored eyes and demonic behaviour.

Anyway, yada yada yada, and Kai and the samurai are left without a master, thus rendering them ronin (ie, samurai without a master). The rest of the story is how they, led by Oishi (played by The Wolverine and The Last Samurai’s Hiroyuki Sanada) set about plotting their revenge. And there is a love story somewhere in there, with Lord Asano’s daughter Mika, who is in love with Kai, betrothed to Lord Kira.

The thing with 47 Ronin is that its silliness is only matched by how seriously it takes itself. There are almost no jokes in this movie, and all the laughs are unintentional, with the biggest ones coming from Rinko Kikuchi’s over-the-top performance as the witch. When there are colourful giant monsters roaming the land for no reason, a whole clan of monks who look like Voldemort living in the woods and massive samurai dudes with no face and act like robots, you would think they might have a bit of fun with it. But no. Instead, 47 Samurai is as straight as they come, which makes a lot of the drama hard to engage and difficult to swallow.

Speaking of drama, there was way too much of it in proportion to the action. I had expected 47 Ronin to about a bunch of badasses who travel the land doing justice against demons or whatever, but there was a lot of poorly executed “character development” which was completely pointless for a film like this. As a result, large portions of the film have little action and are focused on the limp romance and a long arc where the samurai trying to find swords — which is moronic considering Kai had just been to a place where he was shot at by GUNS! Hello? How about getting some of those instead?

Another struggle I had was listening to the Japanese actors trying to speak in English. It’s not that I had problems understanding what they said, but it was so obviously a struggle for some of them that it felt awkward sitting through. I guess at the end of the day it’s easier to make 50 Japanese actors speak English than trying to get Keanu to speak in Japanese. The special effects were also just OK in my opinion, a little fake in some areas though not to the point there it became a distraction.

For all its faults, 47 Ronin is passably entertaining for its 119-minute running time, which is actually more than I anticipated. There are a few solid action and battle scenes (though fewer than I expected) and some cool ideas and creatures that fans of feudal Japan and samurai manga/video games should enjoy. It’s just a shame that the script and direction sapped all the fun or adventure out of it, effectively wasting the interesting premise and potential for genuine excitement and thrills. They may have had the basic concept pointed in the right direction, but in the end, 47 Ronin fell well off the mark.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: I didn’t even know this was available in 3D.

Post-Oscars Movie Blitz: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

July 11, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

beasts-poster-2095741729

I have a bit of time on my hands right now, so I plan to get as much of my backlog cleared up
as possible.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is the last of this year’s Best Picture nominees I’ll be reviewing. It was the critics’ darling because it was imaginative and original, made on a shoestring budget, and spearheaded by young Quvenzhane Wallis, the youngest ever actress to receive a Best Actress nomination. Like the film, its success was a bit of a fantasy.

But I’ll be honest now and admit I didn’t love it. Well, more like I didn’t get it. At least not to the extent of those singing its praises.

It’s a hard film to outline. On a basic level, it’s about a five-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Wallis, who was 6 when the film was shot) and her fragile and emotionally charged relationship with her deadbeat dad. They live in an isolated community in Louisiana (apparently they really exist) ravaged by poverty. Meanwhile there is this fantasy element: melting ice caps bringing to life these prehistoric animals that are now coming their way.

So yeah, it’s weird, and no one can say it’s unoriginal. It’s a allegorical story that is deeply personal but set against a wide backdrop, and you never really know what’s going to happen next. It’s driven primarily by Wallis’s remarkable performance, which is full of natural strength and a sense of wonder that a more seasoned child actor probably wouldn’t be able to pull off.

But unlike a lot of others, my emotional attachment to this film was not particularly strong. As interesting as it was to watch, I never felt fully satisfied and was often frustrated with the story. And that whole magic realism thing with the monsters? Didn’t get why it was necessary and what it truly added to the narrative.

I wish I enjoyed it more but I have to tell it like it is. Beasts of the Southern Wild, while scoring points for originality, creativity and raw performances, wasn’t the masterpiece I had expected it to be.

3 stars out of 5

 
%d bloggers like this: