Movie Review: The Rover (2014)

September 6, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

the-rover-poster

The Rover is David Michod’s highly-anticipated follow-up to one of the best Australian movies of all-time, 2010’s Animal Kingdom. Set in a world 10 years after a global economic collapse, the film stars Guy Pearce as a quiet and relentless anti-hero who sets out to retrieve his car from a band of robbers on the run, and during his journey forms a strange and uneasy bond with the abandoned brother of one of the robbers, played by Robert Pattinson.

I had very high expectations for The Rover because Animal Kingdom (review here) is THE film that restored my faith in Aussie movies. And like Animal KingdomThe Rover is a confident piece of filmmaking that is bleak, tense and uncompromising. But at the end of the day, I still have to consider The Rover somewhat of a disappointment even though it was probably exactly the way Michod wanted it to be.

The film is set entirely in Australia and has been marketed as a modern Western of sorts, taking advantage of Australia’s hot, dry air and sandy, desolate landscapes. It’s a visually impressive film, but it’s also one that doesn’t explain anything to its audience. There’s no voice-over or extensive opening crawl that explains to us how or why the economic collapse happened or what the world has become. All we know is that we’re in Australia, and it’s been 10 years since the collapse. Consequently, much of the intrigue of the film comes from discovering what the world is like (I won’t spoil too much), though you have to keep your eyes and ears open because all of it comes in little bits and pieces.

What it creates is an unsettling experience where you don’t really know what is happening and what will happen next. You are forced to put the pieces together to understand how this new world works and what the characters’ motivations are and why they’ve become the people they are. That’s what makes the film, despite it’s deliberately slow and considered pace, so compelling and compulsive to watch. It’s a fairly typical hook, but Michod’s direction and the screenplay by Michod and Joel Edgerton are so confident and understated that you never feel manipulated.

Having said that, The Rover can also be considered somewhat dull and nonsensical. Some of the slower scenes drag and don’t work as well as they should, and when you break the film down, it’s really quite a stupid story masquerading as something more profound. You can call much of the seemingly random stuff in it “realistic” and “unexpected”,  or you can call it “contradictory” and “pointless.”

The film offers more of an experience than a story in that you are just thrown into it and made to observe for about 100 minutes, and you come out of it knowing only what is shown to you on the screen. It intentionally under-utilizes its innovative setting, so much so that you might think it’s a waste, and anyone expecting to get a complete picture of a post-economic-collapse world will feel as though they’ve been cheated.

Despite what can be perceived as flaws, I found The Rover to be highly watchable thanks to the performances of two leads. We already know what we’re going to get from Guy Pearce, who honestly has to be one of the most under-appreciated A-listers ever (seriously, does anyone even remember that he was in Best Picture winners such as The King’s Speech and The Hurt Locker, and played the lead role in films like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Road, Memento, LA Confidential, The Time Machine  and Lockout, as well as the villain in Iron Man 3 and Prometheus?). But my goodness, did anyone think Robert Pattinson would be exceptional as well?  People said he was good outside the Twilight films (eg, Remember Me, Cosmopolis, Water for Elephants), but I thought he was just OK in those movies. Here, he is genuinely believable as a weak, slow-witted American redneck with stained teeth, and I’d be totally OK if he received some awards recognition for this performance (especially since he’s evidently trying so hard to break out of Edward Cullen mode).

Still, The Rover is nowhere near as exhilarating as Animal Kingdom, which may have set the bar too high. I applaud Michod for trying something different and a little daring for his sophomore feature rather than going down the commercial route (that’s probably coming next in his adaptation of the Afghan war book, The Operations, by the late Michael Hastings, and will reportedly start Brad Pitt), but I do wish The Rover could have been a more complete, satisfying story, rather than what ultimately feels like a short story stretched into a semi-experimental full-length feature.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Iron Man 3 (2013) (3D)

April 29, 2013 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

iron_man_3_poster_final

The first Iron Man was an instant classic and one of the best superhero movies of all time. The sequel, Iron Man 2, bombed because it thought it could just take the successful template of the first film and make it bigger and louder (like what Michael Bay did for the Transformers franchise). So it’s great to see that the producers learned their lesson and turned Iron Man 3 into a home run. It’s everything fans could have asked for in a third installment – sufficient familiarity but also enough creativity and innovation to make it a completely different experience.

Iron Man 3 takes place after the events depicted in The Avengers (for those living under a rock, that’s the one with Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk) and has Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), battling demons from that bizarre alien experience. Mysterious terrorist attacks are happening in the US thanks to the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a new villain who may or may not be linked to someone from Stark’s past.

It seemed like a cookie-cutter premise from the start, and indeed, Iron Man 3 does take a little bit of time to take off. But once it does, director Shane Black (who also directed Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) takes the audience on a brand new adventure that has plenty of surprises and fresh thrills.

For starters, Iron Man is forced this time to spend a lot of screen time out of his suit, or in only parts of his suit, and must rely on his wit to get him out of dangerous situations. There are also several clever new inventions and ideas that show that the evolution of Iron Man is not just different looking suits, but actual functional improvements.

It’s also fantastic to see Gwyneth Paltrow, who has essentially played the damsel in distress in the first two films as love interest Pepper Pots, get to do some heavy lifting for once. Also taking on a physical, but different kind of role, was Don Cheadle, who provides the biggest laughs as sidekick War Machine, rebranded as the Iron Patriot. Unfortunately, every time I saw Cheadle’s face I was reminded of his dark turn as Captain Planet. Not his fault though.

Rounding out the stellar core cast are three excellent actors – the aforementioned Ben Kinsley, in a role I could imagine few others pulling off; Guy Pearce, also in a role few others could pull off (he plays a total freak geek who turns into a handsome devil; the last three films I saw him in were Lawless, where he plays a menacing eyebrow-less menace; Prometheus, where he plays a shriveled old man; and Lockout, where he plays a suave ex-con-turned-buffed-hero); and Rebecca Hall, in a role many others probably could have played (resurfaced ex-lover) but she excels here because she is so damn lovely.

The action in Iron Man 3 is also different and varied, so you don’t have to worry about seeing the same kind of sequences over and over. I can’t say much more without giving stuff away, but as usual, I urge those who want to see it to stay away from the trailers and gossipers because it will be a real shame to have some of the twists spoiled.

This is not a complaint, but I found it strange that after all that press about the film being co-produced by a Chinese company and that it will contain “Chinese elements”, there ended up being virtually no Chinese references. No scenes set in China. Maybe a Chinese actor in a cameo (can’t remember), but that’s it. Perhaps the “special” version released for Chinese audiences with bonus footage has something arbitrary thrown in for the sake of it.

Anyway, considering how difficult it is to inject freshness into a highly successful franchise, Iron Man 3 really is a very impressive effort all round.

4.25 out of 5

PS: Yes, there is a post-credits scene, though there is no reference to any of the other upcoming Marvel adaptations such as Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

PPS: I really didn’t want to see this film in 3D, but difficulties in acquiring a non-3D ticket on opening weekend forced me to fork out the extra dollars for the discomfort and added vision-obscuring tint. If I haven’t made myself clear, AVOID the 3D version at all costs! It adds absolutely nothing.

Movie Review: Lockout (2012)

July 14, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Taken in space? I’m sold.

That, at least, was the advertised premise of Lockout, a sci-fi action movie co-written by French master (I use that term loosely) Luc Besson. Some time in the future, the US government decides to send its worst prisoners off into a maximum security prison in space, where they will be put under “stasis” (ie, sleep), for the duration of their sentences (I suppose to save money?). Somehow, the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace) ends up there, prisoners break loose, and there’s only one man that can save the day — Snow (Guy Pearce) — a former CIA operative arrested for murdering an undercover colleague.

Sounds pretty exciting, right?

Lockout hasn’t gotten many decent reviews but it’s not as bad as people have made it out to be. While Guy Pearce is not necessarily the man you would picture as a badass CIA operative (after all, he only recently played possibly the oldest man in the world in Prometheus), the Aussie actor is clearly the standout of the film. He oozes screen presence and actually looks the part, all buffed and toned. But it’s his ability to hit the mark on all of Snow’s awesome one-liners that makes Lockout an occasionally enjoyable ride. Even if the action doesn’t quite get there for you, the humour might.

Speaking of the action, that’s where Lockout struggles to differentiate itself from other films of the genre. The fight scenes are surprisingly meek and there’s not a whole lot of creativity. There is one combat scene that makes use of the space concept, but that’s about it. There’s almost not much of a climax, or at least one that is worthy of a mention. It’s a shame because it essentially wastes the fact that they are in space! Space!

The special effects also don’t provide much to talk about. In fact, while there are a few “outdoor’ shots, almost everything takes place inside the prison, so those expecting an spectacular spacecraft battles are likely to be disappointed.

The biggest problem with Lockout might be the villains. It’s a space prison with the worst mankind has to offer, but there aren’t any memorable baddies. They may be crazy or menacing but no one has any…personality. If you think of a film like Con Air, chances are you’ll remember an assortment of interesting bad guys. In Lockout, it never really feels like the bad guys were given a chance to do anything.

Despite all the complaints, I didn’t think Lockout was painful to watch. It could have been so much more, but instead it ended up just being an average sci-fi/action film boosted by a great comedic performance by Guy Pearce.

3 out of 5

Prometheus Viral Videos and Websites

June 21, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews, Websites

The graphic that pops up after the credits in Prometheus

No, it’s not going to explain any of the gazillions of unexplained questions from Prometheus, the one film I think I might remember more than any other this year (given that The Dark Knight Rises isn’t out yet) — but it does explain why they got Guy Pearce to play a really really old man.

As it turned out, 20th Century Fox released a bunch of viral videos and websites for Prometheus. I know they want you to think they’ll help you understand the film better, but to be honest I don’t think they necessarily explain anything. Still, I have to admit they are intriguing.

The first one is Guy Pearce as a young Peter Weyland speaking at TED2023, which explains the origins of the Prometheus mission depicted in the film.

The second clip is one introducing David, the android played by Michael Fassbender. It’s my favourite.

The third is one of Noomi Rapace’s character Elizabeth Shaw asking for a chance to go on the space mission.

And here are the viral websites.  All of them, especially the last one, don’t have much, but it’s still interesting to see the amount of effort they’ve put into building a narrative to promote the film.

http://www.weylandindustries.com/timeline

http://www.whatis101112.com/

http://blog.ted.com/TED2023/

Movie Review: Seeking Justice (2011)

December 9, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Nicholas Cage is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.  Whenever he makes a movie, it (and he) could be fantastic, or it (and he) could be complete garbage.

Considering his recent history and his well-publicised financial troubles, I would have bet that his latest film, Seeking Justice, falls in the latter category.  The film had little promotion and had generated less buzz, but on the other hand it did have an A-list cast featuring Cage, January Jones and Australia’s most underappreciated Hollywood star (now that Joel Edgerton seems to have finally broken through), Guy Pearce.  It also has a couple of TV stars, Harold Perrineau (from Lost) and Jennifer Carpenter (from Dexter), is co-produced by Tobey Maguire, and is directed Roger Donaldson (not exactly a slouch with films such as The Bank Job, Thirteen Days, Dante’s Peak, Species, The Getaway, Cadillac Mac, Cocktail, No Way Out and Bounty under his belt).  I was intrigued.

As it turned out, Seeking Justice is somewhere in the middle — neither great nor trash.  It tells the story of Will Gerard (Cage), who, after a violent crime, becomes unwittingly involved with a sinister underground organisation that is into dishing out vigilante justice — with a hefty personal price.  Jones plays his wife and Pearce is one of the leaders of the association.

It’s the type of film that probably would have gone straight to DVD had the big names not been attached to it (perhaps some might still think it probably should have gone straight to DVD).  It is aptly handled, with decent performances (with the exception of Jones, whom for some reason keeps getting these ‘young wife to middle aged dudes’ roles — she can’t act) and some genuine tension stemming from a cleverly crafted illusion that there is more of a mystery than there actually is.  It also avoids (and I think this was the right decision) any real intellectual debate on the merits of vigilante justice, which helps prevent viewers from being misled into thinking that Seeking Justice is anything more than light entertainment.

And ultimately, that’s exactly what Seeking Justice is — a passable action-thriller that is occasionally entertaining but nothing special and, when it’s all said and done, extremely forgettable.  Sad that’s considered pretty good for Nicholas Cage these days.

3 out of 5