Movie Review: Child 44 (2015)

September 1, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

child 44

I remember first seeing Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 in a bookstore, reading the back cover, and thinking to myself that the story will likely make a great movie. Stalinist Russia, a child killer on the loose — what’s there not to like?

Hollywood execs clearly agreed with me, and that’s why we now have the film adaptation of Child 44 by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), starring the always-brilliant Tom Hardy as an MGB officer at the center of the story. Playing his wife is the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, whom Hardy previously worked with on The Drop. Rounding out the superb cast are Robocop Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman and the ubiquitous Aussie Jason Clarke.

All the ingredients for a brilliant political mystery thriller are there, but for whatever reason, Child 44 turned out to be a mild disappointment. It’s one of those films where you keep watching intently, expecting it to get better and blow you away at any second, but all you end up doing is wait and wait and wait, until suddenly you realise it’s all over and none of your expectations were met. And that’s not a good feeling after you just sat through 137 minutes.

I sense that some of the blame must go to the story itself. It’s actually very misleading to market this film as being about the hunt for a child serial killer. In reality, Child 44 is a political thriller with a tangential child serial killer subplot. The “mystery” is something that’s always lingering in the background, something the film comes back to repeatedly, but is never the focal point. Instead, the vast majority of the film is about depicting the terror of Stalinist Russia — how you always need to keep an eye over your shoulder, how people and the state can turn on you at any second; never knowing who to trust; the constant fear and paranoia.

As for the killer? There’s never really a proper investigation. There’s no real mystery, no shocking revelations. It’s just some guy who suddenly shows up halfway through and is revealed to audiences as the killer. I also had some trouble understanding the motivations behind Hardy’s and Rapace’s characters wanting so badly to find the killer. They don’t even have children and they have enough life-and-death problems of their own to deal with. As a result it’s almost like the whole child killer thing is just a hook to suck people in. It’s a red herring.

That said, I shouldn’t be penalising Child 44 for not being the type of film I anticipated. On the plus side, it is quite effective in its depiction of that period of history, and Tom Hardy delivers a superb performance as the complex protagonist. I also wasn’t as distracted as some people have been by the Russian-accented English — or at least the varied attempts at it — as I accepted early on that it’s just something viewers have to live.

What fails the movie, however, is a lack of genuine intrigue and sustained tension. There are perhaps too many subplots, none of which manage to gather any momentum. It’s just not that interesting, a shocker considering that the book is considered to be a riveting page-turner. And that’s a shame, because I’m sure there’s a compelling story buried in there somewhere.

On the whole, Child 44 isn’t terrible. It’s a solid production with strong performances, but it’s also quite a dull adaptation that is unable to bring out the most of the fascinating premise and whatever it is that made the book such a supposedly compulsive bestseller.

2.5 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part IV

April 11, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Dead Man Down (2013)

dead man down

Colin Farrell is back as his gritty self in Dead Man Down, a neo-noir thriller that’s not bad but probably at best a good video/DVD rental.

Farrell plays Victor, a seemingly depressed fellow who works for a ruthless drug kingpin, Alphonse, played by Terrence Howard. Alphonse is receiving death threats, and it seems Victor might not be who he really says he is. At the same time, he starts seeing a scarred woman across the road, played by the original girl with the dragon tattoo, Noomi Rapace. It’s all dark and gloomy; people are scheming, and many of them are going to die.

The cast is excellent, and there’s not much to complain about the aforementioned trio of Farrell, Howard and Rapace. The supporting cast which includes Dominic Cooper, Armand Assante, F Murray Abraham and Isabelle Huppert is also very strong.

I wouldn’t call Dead Man Down boring, but it’s not exactly super exciting either. There are a few moments of tension, but for the most part it’s just a bunch of moody gangsters plotting to kill each other. It’s a dark and serious tale of vengeance, but there’s nothing really helping it stand out from a lot of similar flicks that have been released on the market over the years. There are some interesting plot twists which can be viewed as genius or absurd, depending on your point of view, but at the end of the day it’s just a decent albeit forgettable thriller.

2.75 stars out of 5

Phantom (2013)

phantom

Submarine movies were pretty popular for a while (The Hunt for Red October, K-19, U571), so I was looking forward to seeing Phantom, supposedly based on a classified true story about how Russia and the US came perilously close to coming to blows during the Cold War.

Unfortunately, despite the great cast headed by Ed Harris, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Shredder (William Fichtner), Phantom turned out to be a strangely dull and unfulfilling film that fails to live up to expectations.

The first thing that should be noted is that the story is told from the Soviet’s perspective and all the aforementioned actors play Russians. But of course, they speak English, which already removes a layer of realism to the narrative.

Putting that aside, Phantom struggles because it’s not exciting. Submarine movies are known for their claustrophobic tension and friction between members when critical life-altering decisions need to be made. Phantom has those elements too, but for some reason the film’s pulse is flat and never projects a genuine sense of the scope of the danger. I thought this was perhaps it’s because we know nothing will happen, though the brilliant Thirteen Days, about the Cuban missile crisis, shared the same problem and was absolutely riveting cinema.

And the whole time I was watching the film I couldn’t stop thinking that I was listening to Fox Mulder because even as a Russian Duchovny can’t seem to get rid of that hypnotic voice.

It also has a really bizarre ending that is completely at odds with the rest of the film.

2.25 stars out of 5

The Numbers Station (2013)

numbes station

Is John Cusack still an A-list star? The Numbers Station suggests that he isn’t one any more.

It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a very good one either. Cusack plays a burned-out CIA operative who is sent to a secret US numbers station in the UK countryside. It’s basically a government information station that transmits secret messages via code, and Cusack has to protect it from attackers along with a female agent played by Malin Ackerman.

Of course, the station comes under attack, and Cusack is told that help will come in four hours. Meanwhile, he is given an order to secure the station by killing those related to the compromise. There’s a bigger plot involved that could effectively change the world, but that’s about as far as I’ll go with the spoilers. To be honest I found it a little too confusing and convoluted to remember anyway.

Cusack and Ackerman are good individually, but they don’t develop any genuine chemistry. The numbers station concept itself I also found very interesting, and some of the shootouts are well-executed, but for some reason it just didn’t give off the vibe of a high quality action-thriller. Was it because they were mostly stuck in one place? Was the plot unnecessarily convoluted? Was it just a lack of freshness in the way the story unfolded? Or a little bit of all of the above?

In any case, I felt The Numbers Station was somewhat of a letdown because it had the potential to be a lot more than what it was — which is passable, but forgettable entertainment.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Lifeguard (2013)

lifeguard

The Lifeguard, produced, written, and directed by Liz W Garcia, is an interesting little indie film about a depressed 29-year-old journalist (Kristen Bell in a daring performance) who leaves her life in New York to head back to her small hometown in Connecticut, where she begins working as a lifeguard at the local pool. There she meets a bunch of local kids and begins a relationship with one of them (David Lambert).

It’s a deeply personal film about life’s disappointments, failed expectations and vulnerability that comes from loneliness and isolation. It’s one of those films where you either connect with it or you don’t, and given the closeness in age between myself and Kristen’s character I could definitely feel her pain and frustration.

As good as Bell is in this film, her thunder was stolen a little bit by Mamie Gummer, a high school assistant principal who is coming to terms with the problems in her own life and marriage. The only thing I had seen Gummer in before was The Good Wife, where she plays a really annoying bitch of a lawyer, but here she is a revelation.

On the other hand, I don’t think The Lifeguard is ultimately anything special. There are some mildly amusing moments here and there but I think it would be false advertising to add “comedy” to film’s categorization as a drama. This is a serious film that with a melancholic tone, and as such it’s not easy to develop a lot of enthusiasm for the story. And as is usually the case with such films you have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to end.

Still, I quite liked it, though I also recognize that it probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

3.5 stars 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: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

May 5, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

This was one of my most anticipated movies of the Christmas/New Year period but I was too busy being a new dad to have an opportunity to check it out. I know not everyone agrees with what Guy Ritchie has done to the beloved detective but I quite liked Robert Downey Jr’s version of the character in the original film: a neurotic, slightly disturbed, fist-fighting action hero — who happens to solve a crime or two along the way.

Well I finally got a chance to watch it recently, and as it turned out, the sequel was pretty much more of the same. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you enjoyed the shenanigans of the first film, but personally, I was looking forward to more evolution in both Holmes and Jude Law’s Dr Watson.

In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Sherlock investigates a series of murders and dodgy stuff he believes is connected to some sinister professor, as his trusty sidekick Watson prepares for his wedding to his long-time girlfriend Mary. The plot is actually rather convoluted, though that doesn’t really matter because the strength of the film again lies in Ritchie’s fast-paced action and Holmes’s personality quirks and one-liners. Rachel McAdams has a smaller role in this sequel and the main female role is given to the original girl with the dragon tattoo, Noomi Rapace, who plays a rather thankless gypsy.

Ritchie is a slick director, so you know you’re in for a high quality piece of entertainment. A couple of the action sequences (especially the one on the train) were done exceptionally well and the comedic timing was superb. If you’ve seen the original then you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect, and you’ll know that much of the film’s charm comes from the chemistry between Downey Jr and Law, a dirty, squabbling, scrappy odd couple that gets into all sorts of strife but always comes out on top.

My problem with A Game of Shadows is that it was too similar to the original. The story was different but the “feel” was virtually identical. It was terrific the first time round but another 129 minutes of it had me wanting something different. For instance, Holmes’s “prediction” of future events where time would fast forward (and slow down) as he talks about what he aims to do as he does it — that was cool in the first film and the first time he did it in the sequel — but by the fourth or fifth time I was desperate for something else.

I also would have preferred to see Holmes’s crime-solving genius in action, rather than always having it revealed in what I like to call “Aha!” moments, which inevitably occur just when you think Holmes and Watson have been beaten. I think it is more impressive if the audience is also presented with all the facts before having Holmes show us how he solved the mystery on the spot, rather than showing us all his elaborate prep work in hindsight through crafty flashbacks.

At the end of the day, A Game of Shadows is very solid entertainment that is every bit as good as the original. But personally, I wished it could have been more — or at least more different. For a sequel it was enough, but if there is a third film in the series the same formula won’t be able to cut it again.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2009)

February 27, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I read the first book and saw the first two Swedish film adaptations, but unlike millions of people out there, I don’t really get why Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is the biggest commercial book sensation in the world at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the first book (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) was pretty good, albeit a little long and tedious, and I thought the first film was phenomenal. The second film (The Girl Who Played With Fire — I have the book but haven’t read it yet) was pretty good, but nowhere as good as I wanted or expected it to be.

And now, the third and final (unless Larsson’s widow writes another one) volume of the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is about to hit Australian cinemas next month. I saw it at a critics’ screening earlier this week, and I believe hard core fans of the series will not be disappointed. It’s still not as good as the first film, but is a moderate step up from the second.

This one picks up from where the second one left off, and Lisbeth Salander (ie, Noomi Rapace, aka the ‘Girl’ in all the titles) is fighting for her life after being shot in the head (at the end of the previous film), but things are just getting interesting as there is a massive conspiracy behind everything and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nykvist) is there to get to the bottom of it.

Like the two earlier films in the series, Hornet’s Nest is a slow burn for the most part, with short bursts of excitement and exhilaration tossed into the mix.  Once again, the story is driven by the two central characters, both who whom are at the peak of their game in this one.

I actually consider Dragon Tattoo to be kind of a separate part of the trilogy because it’s a film that stands up very well on its own.  On the other hand, Fire and Hornet’s Nest are essentially one film, with Fire providing the set up (which is why it was weaker) and Hornet’s Nest providing the climax.

I can’t say I found the conspiracy to be particularly intelligent or engaging (to be honest I found it a little unnecessarily convoluted), though the way it was all brought together was ultimately quite satisfying.  The courtroom scenes were especially enjoyable, as was the climatic showdown in the abandoned warehouse.

That said, like Fire, I was expecting and hoping for more, something that would blow me away and justify the hype surrounding this series.  It didn’t happen, but on the whole, I was still pleased with the experience.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Still kinda looking forward to the American version.