Movie Review: Gloria Bell (2018)
Sun, 24 Mar 2019 17:37:00 +0000

A romantic drama, Gloria Bell explores second chances at love and all the attached luggage weighing down new opportunities.

In Los Angeles, middle-aged Gloria (Julianne Moore) has been divorced for 12 years. She works as an insurance agent and tries to stay involved in the lives of her grown children, son Peter (Michael Cera) and daughter Anne (Caren Pistorius). But most of all Gloria likes to dance at a retro discotheque, where she eventually meets Arnold (John Turturro), who has been divorced for a year.

They start a relationship which quickly turns serious, although Arnold appears to be tethered to his two grown but emotionally immature daughters. An evening that brings Gloria together with her two children and ex-husband Dustin (Brad Garrett) ends badly for Arnold, and threatens Gloria's budding attempt at a new romance.

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio remakes his own 2013 drama Gloria, this time in English and with  Julianne Moore in radiant perfection mode. Devoid of a traditional narrative structure and not free of meandering stretches, the film ambles along, tracing Gloria's ups and downs. Moore at least ensures that even the seemingly mundane scenes of club dancing and car radio singalongs carry the warmth of a genuine and expansive human spirit.

The emotional luggage accumulated by middle age is given a physical representation in the large bag Arnold places in Gloria's trunk. It carries his paintball paraphernalia, but symbolically weighs down their relationship with all his insecurities, mistakes and lingering dependencies. His phone is the rope, a metaphorical strangulation device interrupting the oxygen needed for the romance with Gloria to survive.

She is not without her issues, worrying about daughter Anne falling in love with a wandering Swedish surfer and son Peter already abandoned by his wife and left caring for a newborn infant on his own. Not to mention a colourless job, a hairless cat and a suicidal upstairs neighbour adding plenty of angst to what should be quiet time.

But at least Gloria is open about her life and has a semblance of balance between her personal needs and her family responsibilities. Arnold is falling through the cracks, and Gloria will use every device she knows, from companionship to sex to estrangement, in an attempted emotional rescue.

Gloria Bell features touches of humour to lighten the mood, the persistent hairless cat seeking to adopt Gloria a regular source of brief but welcome distraction. Gloria has to decide whether to allow a damaged man and an ugly cat into her life, as the unexpected challenges of middle age range from profound to bizarre.

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Movie Review: Sudden Fear (1952)
Sat, 23 Mar 2019 20:01:00 +0000

A woman-in-distress suspense drama, Sudden Fear features stylish tension, playful plotting, and an overabundance of wide-eyed acting.

Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) is an independently wealthy and successful middle-aged playwright, about to launch her new Broadway show. During rehearsals she insists on firing actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), because she does not believe he is handsome enough for the leading role. The show opens and is a great success.

On a train trip back to her hometown of San Francisco, Myra bumps into Lester. He is exceptionally gracious, they spend time together, fall in love and are soon married. Myra is deliriously happy to have found true love and starts planning to update her will to include Lester. Suddenly a woman called Irene (Gloria Grahame) appears in their social circle, and everything changes.

An RKO Pictures production with Crawford a driving force in pulling the project together, Sudden Fear has enough quality to engage. Romance, drama, deception and murder plots gel into a potent Hitchcockian noir package.

A slow and prolonged first half introduces the main characters but plays more like a fluffy romance than any kind of thriller. The suspense elements take off in the second half with a ticking clock, greed, a compromised conspiracy and a convoluted preemptive revenge plan. Director David Miller deploys plenty of panache and large serving of style as he focuses on Myra's predicament to deftly skip past some of the unlikely logic.

With Crawford fully committed to an almost silent movie level of overacting, Miller optimizes what he has. The dialogue all but disappears from the final 30 minutes, the excellent Elmer Bernstein music takes over and genuine tension is generated as despite the preponderance of plotters, nothing goes according to any plan. The twisty and hilly San Francisco locations (with some subbing by Los Angeles) echo the intermingling plots and add plenty of ambience.

The good cast contributes to the enjoyment level. With Crawford consuming the sets and her costars with her eyes, Jack Palance provides a robust counterpart as a complex charmer and struggling actor intent on proving just how good he is at romance. Gloria Grahame as Irene introduces a jolt of naked avarice, impatient to grab her undeserved slice of what rich society has to offer. Bruce Bennett and Mike Connors appear as brothers and lawyers Steve and Junior Keaney, the latter also entangled with Irene.

Miller throws in plenty of toys and red herrings to maintain an edge. Technology in the form of a sophisticated (for the day) recording system stands alongside playfulness represented by a wind-up dog gadget to amplify moments of revelation and tension. Any film where a tiny toy dog is transformed into a suspense device is tracking in the right direction.

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Movie Review: Battle Circus (1953)
Fri, 22 Mar 2019 03:26:00 +0000

A semi-documentary highlighting the difficult work of army medical units under fire, Battle Circus features a tepid romance floundering within a narrative void.

During the Korean War, Major Jed Webbe (Humphrey Bogart) is a battle weary doctor and part of the leadership team for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit 8666. Operating out of large tents near the front lines, MASH has to be ready to redeploy frequently and at short notice, and sometimes overnight. New arrivee Lieutenant Ruth McCara (June Allyson) joins the unit as a nurse, and Jed first saves her life during an enemy air raid and then tries to initiate a romance within the confines of a hectic military environment.

In addition to treating wounded soldiers and remobilizing to new locations, Jed and the other unit leaders including Sergeant Orvil Statt (Keenan Wynn) and Lieutenant Colonel Hilary Whalters (Robert Keith) have to deal with columns of displaced civilians requiring treatment, injured prisoners of war, enemy bombing raids, ambushes, foul weather, and the uncertainties of shifting front lines. Ruth initially resists Jed's advances and the other nurses in the unit warn her about him. But eventually a deep love emerges, although he refuses to reveal whether or not he is married.

Before the much more famous (but no better) MASH movie and television series, Battle Circus ventured to the front lines with doctors and nurses given the unenviable task of patching up bodies close to the arena of combat, although this is a field hospital with no visible blood or injuries, and remarkably pain-free and well-behaved patients. Director and co-writer Richard Brooks cobbles up a non-script most interested in featuring men-at-work putting up and taking down large tents, and occasionally dodging unconvincing and quite wayward enemy attacks.

Bolted on to the appreciation of American medical ingenuity under fire is a miserable love story, consisting of Jed lecherously pursuing Ruth. His pushiness to get his hands all over her borders on assault rather than romance. Regardless she falls passionately in love for reasons lost in the muddy terrain between the tents. Bogart and Allyson are far from convincing as medical professionals, and even less so as lovers, sharing no chemistry.

Brief glimpses of human drama poke their helmets out of the foxholes in the form of an injured Korean child who arrives at the field hospital near death, and later a delirious enemy soldier waving a hand grenade. The doctors carry on with their surgeries and disregard the wobbly intruder, just as this film is best ignored.

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Movie Review: Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1941)
Wed, 20 Mar 2019 04:17:00 +0000

A suspense fantasy drama, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde delves into the darkest recesses of the soul, where vile tendencies await an awakening.

In London of the late 1800s, Dr. Jekyll (Spencer Tracy) is a respected physician, engaged to be married to Bea Emery (Lana Turner), although her father Sir Charles (Donald Crisp) has so far refused to set a wedding date. Jekyll is interested in the duality of the soul, and is conducting animal experiments to develop a drug that can separate good from evil.

Jekyll and his colleague Dr. Lanyon (Ian Hunter) rescue barmaid Ivy Pearson (Ingrid Bergman) from an assault, and she triggers his lustful impulses. He completes his research, tests the drug on himself, and is physically and emotionally transformed into Mr. Hyde, an immoral, selfish and violent man. He proceeds to kidnap and assault Ivy. Initially Jekyll is able to control his transformations back and forth into Mr. Hyde, but soon loses control, with his evil side making unwelcome appearances at inopportune moments.

An adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story, the 1941 film version features a superlative and understated Spencer Tracy performance to help bring out the complex shadings of the internal human struggle between good and evil. With a deliberate one hour build-up, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde invests in its characters and builds to a second half filled with disconcerting behaviour.

In this version Jekyll's virulent tendencies are unleashed by sexual repression. Director Vincent Fleming hints at the burning desire between Jekyll and Bea as they sneak passionate kisses at every opportunity behind Sir Charles' back. Maybe because of Jekyll's audacious nature Charles refuses to set a wedding date, only worsening Jekyll's frustration.

With Ingrid Bergman in full-on seductress mode, the sultry advances of Ivy are the final push. She is available and incessantly flirtatious; he perfects his concoction, drinks the potion and embraces his evil Hyde self. What starts as a mode that can be switched on and off quickly progresses to a powerful and uncontrollable condition, Jekyll unable to determine when and where Hyde appears, evil proving remarkably resilient once given room to breathe and thrive.

Fleming excels in making best use out of brooding sets to recreate 19th century London. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde comes to life in a foreboding gas lit environment filled with cobbled streets, alleys and isolated park paths. Frequent fog and plenty of shadows complete the aesthetic.

On a couple of occasions Tracy's transformation is handled in real time with basic superimposed imagery and some shifty frame waviness, the effects basic but nevertheless achieving the objective. The actor does the rest, Tracy disappearing into Hyde's dark pool of soullessness with ferocious venom. The film is more unsettling than scary, the emphasis firmly fixed on revealing the ease with which human malevolence can dominate. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde reside in every person, their eternal conflict often decided by thin margins.

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Movie Review: It All Came True (1940)
Tue, 19 Mar 2019 03:16:00 +0000

A crime comedy musical drama, It All Came True is a weird mixture of gangsters, entertainers and dotty seniors, but gels enough to maintain interest.

Hardened mobster Chips Maguire (Humphrey Bogart) and his naive piano player Tommy Taylor (Jeffrey Lynn) are forced to flee Chips' nightclub in a hurry to avoid arrest when the police stage a raid. During the escape, Chips shoots and kills an informer using a gun he had previously registered in Tommy's name. The two men take refuge at the financially struggling boarding house run by Tommy's mother Nora (Jessie Busley) and her lifelong friend Maggie Ryan (Una O'Connor). Nora is thrilled to welcome back her son, who still believes Chips will help him become a famous musician.

The boarding house guests include the paranoid Miss Flint (ZaSu Pitts), washed-up magician The Great Boldini (Felix Bressart) and his scene-stealing dog, Mr. Salmon (Grant Mitchell), and Mr. Van Diver (Brandon Tynan).

Chips pretends to be a businessman named Grasselli and confines himself to his room, while Tommy reconnects with his childhood sweetheart Sarah Jane (Ann Sheridan), Maggie's daughter and now a feisty singer. Chips starts to go stir crazy, and eventually decides to convert the boarding house into a new nightclub venture with Tommy and Sarah Jane as the main attraction.

Made the year before Bogart's breakout roles in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, It All Came True is a curiosity. A slow and meandering start and a weak ending dominated by vaudevillian performances bookend the film. But the middle third surprisingly corrals the right amounts of wit, gentle romance, light gangsterism and sweet musical numbers into a decent enough package.

The main theme of a hardened criminal gradually softening in the presence of mother-like care is predictable enough, but Bogart plays along and subjects himself to plenty of self-deprecating humour. His fish-out-of-water presence in a room filled with stuffed animals towers over the film, although Ann Sheridan comes close to matching him in a spirited performance of her own as an entertainer who stands her ground but cannot hold a job. Compared to Bogart and Sheridan, Jeffrey Lynn is unfortunately bland.

The weaker parts of the movie have director Lewis Seiler surrendering arduous stretches to the  boarding house guests gibbering away about not much or performing versions of poetry readings and magic shows decades past their best-by date. The film's title is a reference to the imaginative tall tales spun by Mrs. Taylor, and many scenes have a static theatrical feel as the residents natter. Happily, the little bits of interaction with law enforcement and Chip's gangland colleagues push back with doses of energy.

As the nutty fluctuations in tone, subject matter and quality develop a charm of their own, It All Came True is neither good nor bad, just quirky.

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Movie Review: Isn't It Romantic (2019)
Sun, 17 Mar 2019 16:24:00 +0000

A satirical romantic comedy, Isn't It Romantic tries to poke lame holes at an already self-perforated genre.

In New York City, Natalie (Rebel Wilson) grew up not believing in romance, and is particularly disdainful of the fairytale representations of love in traditional Hollywood romantic comedies. She works as an architect, allows her co-workers to take advantage of her, and is blind to interest from colleague Josh (Adam DeVine). Rich and dishy client Blake (Liam Hemsworth) does not even notice her.

Natalie tangles with a mugger, is knocked out and wakes up in an alternative rom-com reality where the city is pristine, everyone looks beautiful, her apartment is idyllic and Blake is immediately smitten. She plays along and starts a relationship with him, while Josh starts dating model Isabella (Priyanka Chopra) after a meet-cute moment. But Natalie learns that all the fluffy romance is not the answer to her problems.

Making fun of romantic comedies is just too easy, as the genre never represents itself as anything other than modern-day retellings of boy-meets-girl lightweight fairytales with the absolute promise of a happily-ever-after ending. Isn't It Romantic loudly proclaims all the genre's formulaic faults before proceeding to replicate them, as the second half in particular fizzles out into boring predictability.

Natalie's frumpy and imperfect life, seen at the start and end, offers some organic opportunities to celebrate fresh perspectives on modern single living, but the script decides to spend most of its time in the sanitized fantasy of immaculate streetscapes and handsome happy people, and simply does not offer enough of a satirical edge. And so for a long stretch Natalie is stuck in a world overloaded with cliches, as is the film.

Todd Strauss-Schulson directs with little panache, and star Rebel Wilson as Natalie is caught between mocking romance and succumbing to the imperative of finding a happy ending, satisfying no one in the process.

Isn't It Romantic desperately does not want to be what it ultimately is.

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Movie Review: Invisible Stripes (1939)
Sat, 16 Mar 2019 19:10:00 +0000

A gangster drama, Invisible Stripes examines the lingering stigma of prison and the ever attractive shortcuts to riches offered by crime.

Cliff Taylor (George Raft) and Charles Martin (Humphrey Bogart) are released from New York's Sing Sing prison on the same day. Cliff still has a year on parole, but regrets his criminal past and is intent on living a straight life. Charles has a more jaundiced view of society and quickly seeks out his old mobster buddies and reenters the crime world.

Cliff reconnects with his mother (Flora Robson) and younger brother Tim (William Holden), a car mechanic who is engaged to Peggy (Jane Bryan). Tim is financially struggling, hot headed and eager to live the good life. Cliff has to talk him down from thinking about crime as a quick pathway to riches, but Cliff himself finds life as a parolee difficult, as employers are unwilling to trust him. The option of joining Charles' criminal exploits becomes more difficult to dismiss.

The title refers to the stench of prison garb enduring upon release, and what Invisible Stripes lacks in originality it more than makes up for in polish. This is Warner Bros. studio at their absolute sweet spot, director Lloyd Bacon delivering a straightforward and compact crime drama with a mix of established and future stars. Morality, repentance, family, social barriers, bank hold-ups, shootouts and the eternal dilemma between good and evil are wrapped into a tidy 80 minute package.

The film is based on a novel by real-life warden Lewis E. Lawes, a proponent of prison reform, and Invisible Stripes invests well-meaning effort in exploring the tricky seam between good intentions and societal barriers. Both the warden and Cliff's parole officer are on his side and want him to succeed, but trust for an ex-con is in short supply among business owners, factory workers and yard bosses. Despite Cliff's best intentions and notwithstanding the Taylor brothers' short tempers, he is more pushed back rather than pulled into the orbit of crime in order to survive.

The cast members easily fit into the material. George Raft is in his element and immediately convincing, while Humphrey Bogart generates his own electricity fuelled by abrasive resentment. In his second major role, William Holden is relatively bland and superficial compared to his more weathered co-stars. Jane Bryan as his generic girl gets one scene to shine, bumping up against the dreams and reality of rich society.

On a sour casting note, Flora Robson is asked to play Raft's mother despite being six months younger, and there is an ickiness to the excessive nuzzling between mother and son.

The stripes are invisible, but the film's overall slick proficiency is on clear display.

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Movie Review: 3 Days To Kill (2014)
Fri, 15 Mar 2019 03:08:00 +0000

An action thriller combined with a light-hearted family drama, 3 Days To Kill suffers from a significant identity crisis.

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is a CIA operative combating fatigue and a persistent cough, and his mission in Belgrade to terminate the international arms dealers known as Albino and Wolf does not go well. Ethan is then diagnosed with terminal cancer, given months to live and released from duty. He decides to reconnect with his Paris-based estranged family, and reaches out to ex-wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and teenaged daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld).

But Ethan's attempted return to domestic life is interrupted by the CIA's Vivi (Amber Heard), who entices him back to action by promising an experimental drug that may cure his disease. Vivi is determined to track down Albino and Wolf, and needs Ethan's efficient assassination skills by her side. Ethan juggles his renewed commitment to family life with bouts of surveillance and violence, and tangles with terrorist associate Mitat, a family man who could lead him to the mobsters.

Co-funded by European production money, 3 Days To Kill features the usual collection of vacationing American actors enjoying travelogue-like locales to boost tourism in the old continent. The talent surrounding the project does hold promise, with none other than Luc Besson conceiving the story and co-writing the script, and one-time action movie darling McG accepting directorial duties.

However, the premise is too similar to Besson's Léon: The Professional (1994), except that the budding fatherly relationship between the killer Ethan and his daughter Zooey never comes close to the requisite levels of tenderness. Instead 3 Days To Kill inserts decent action scenes within long stretches of boredom as Ethan plays hapless dad and makes very slow progress towards connecting with Zooey's life.

Elsewhere, flashes of comedy search for their appropriate place between the family drama and the action mayhem, while the quest to liquidate Albino and Wolf takes the far back seat in the family van, lurching forward in awkward bursts as the villains are reduced to props trotted out whenever some shooting is needed.

Kevin Costner and Hailee Steinfeld occupy the centre of the film and ensure a basic level of competence. Connie Nielsen disappears for long stretches, while Amber Heard wanders in as a superhero movie character demonstrating chill abilities to outdrive anyone and arrive at any scene at just the right moment, her icy quips deadlier than any weapon. In her element within all the Euroglitz, Vivi can just about kill with her attitude and shouldn't really need help to eradicate any targets.

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Movie Review: The Comedian (2016)
Thu, 14 Mar 2019 04:14:00 +0000

A romantic comedy and drama, The Comedian is frequently foul mouthed but rarely funny or romantic.

In New York City, Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) is an aging and caustic stand-up comic, well past his prime and best known for starring in the sitcom Eddie's Home from 30 years ago. His agent Miller (Edie Falco) struggles to find him work, and things get much worse when he assaults a heckler at a nostalgia night performance and is sentenced to 30 days in jail and 100 hours of community service. Upon his release Jackie is forced to borrow money from his brother Jimmy (Danny DeVito), whose wife Flo (Patti LuPone) cannot stand Jackie.

While fulfilling his community service hours Jackie meets Harmony Schiltz (Leslie Mann), who is also serving a community sentence for assaulting her cheating husband. They start a tentative friendship, she accompanies him to his niece's wedding, and he meets her overbearing father Mac (Harvey Keitel). But Harmony relocates to Florida, and Jackie is invited by his longtime rival Dick D'Angelo (Charles Grodin) to perform at an appreciation event for comedy legend May Conner (Cloris Leachman), where further surprises await.

At a running time of two hours, The Comedian is a solid 30 minutes too long. And most of these minutes are consumed by Jackie unspooling stand-up routines, most of them impromptu, but all of them exceptionally vulgar. Jackie is a deserved has-been, and his brand of humour is to insult as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Instead of making the point once and moving on, director Taylor Hackford repeatedly surrenders the microphone to De Niro as Jackie, and he proceeds to hurl an endless stream of bathroom and body function "jokes", consigning the film to the same gutter as the lead character.

Elsewhere four different script writers could not conjure up much of a story. This is bland older-man-meets-younger-woman-and-quickly-loses-her territory. The presence of stalwarts from the 1970s and 1980s in almost every role threatens to rescue patches of the film, but the combined talent of Harvey Keitel, Cloris Leachman, Danny DeVito and Charles Grodin is ultimately insufficient and they too run aground on the rocks of the mostly witless material.

Given the film's bloated length, it's remarkable how little is revealed about Jackie and Harmony, other than they are both short-tempered refugees from broken relationships and enjoy a full-throated screaming match. Perhaps they deserve each other, but these two abrasive characters cannot sustain much of a movie.

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Movie Review: Fracture (2007)
Thu, 14 Mar 2019 02:56:00 +0000

A legal crime drama, Fracture boasts an intriguing mystery and two worthy opponents squaring off on opposite sides of the law, although the plot is not as smart as it wants to be.

In Los Angeles, aeronautical safety expert Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) is aware that his wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) is having an affair with police detective Rob Nunally (Billy Burke). He waits for her to return home, shoots her in the head, and calmly surrenders to Nunally, confessing to being the shooter.

Hotshot deputy district attorney Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) is assigned the case by his boss Joe Lobruto (David Strathairn). Beachum is about to make a big money career move into the private sector to practice corporate law, and is already flirting with his boss-to-be Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike). The Crawford shooting appears to be a straightforward conviction, but Ted has meticulously planned his crime, and Willy will get sucked into a much more complicated case than he bargained for.

A cerebral chess game between a humiliated husband out for blood and a cocky prosecutor with one eye firmly on careerism, Fracture is a sharp and polished duel, benefitting enormously from the two lead actors. The showdown between veteran Anthony Hopkins and upstart Ryan Gosling is epic, and they are both at the top of their game. Hopkins is all about almost imperceptible eyebrow movements, knowing glances and shadows of smiles. Gosling is the confident steel of youth, riding his record of courtroom victories towards the dangerous land of arrogance.

But unfortunately the Daniel Pyne script cannot rise to the quality of the actors. Once Crawford's crime is committed and his intention to engage in a battle of wits revealed, Fracture stalls. Willy is quickly placed into a corner by Crawford's pre-planning, and director Gregory Hoblit is left stranded outside the courtroom and having to consume about 45 minutes of screen time without many plot developments. The lazy interval is half-heatedly invested in a side quest relationship between Willy and Nikki that sucks energy out of the main story without adding much relevant content.

The mechanisms available for Willy to eventually try and turn the tables are not difficult to guess, and the film's late reveals are not as clever as Pyne wishes them to be. However, there is some character depth along the way, particularly for Willy. Through his humbling encounter with a twisted but ingenious man, the deputy district attorney is provided the opportunity to reassess the legend in his own mind and redefine what matters most.

Although the acting aces the writing, Fracture is nevertheless an enjoyably discerning joust.

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Movie Review: Silent Hill (2006)
Sun, 10 Mar 2019 16:52:00 +0000

A horror ghost story, Silent Hill toys with a few decent ideas but cannot escape it's video game roots.

Sharon Da Silva (Jodelle Ferland) is the young adopted daughter of married couple Rose (Radha Mitchell) and Christopher (Sean Bean). Sharon sleepwalks, has nightmares about a place called Silent Hill, and draws frightening sketches while in a trance-like state. Rose's research identifies Silent Hill as an abandoned coal mining town in West Virginia, suffering from a long-burning underground fire and now considered a ghost town.

Against Christopher's wishes Rose drives Sharon towards Silent Hill. Along the way she tangles with police officer Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden), then a car crash separates mother from daughter and Sharon disappears into the abandoned town. As she desperately tries to find her daughter Rose starts to encounter monstrous beings and horrifying imagery of violence and death in alternative dimensions, while Christopher teams up with police detective Thomas Gucci (Kim Coates) to try and find his family.

An adaptation of a 1999 survival horror game, Silent Hill is too repetitive and CGI dependent. Long stretches are consumed by Rose exploring spooky hallways and rooms within intimidating buildings, only to be attacked by a succession of pixel-created monsters. Given that Rose's death or incapacitation would mean the early end of the film, the lack of any real threat defangs the film's horror elements.

Director Christophe Gans compensates to some extent with reasonably impressive visuals and set designs, and if Silent Hill fails to deliver meaningful scares, it is at least good to look at. The abandoned town with fire burning underneath and ashes falling continuously from the sky is a spooky achievement.

Elsewhere distraught dad Christopher's parallel quest to try and find his wife and daughter is utterly useless, and it was an afterthought awkwardly added to the script to bolster the male content. Back in town, Rose gradually uncovers a mystery involving a bullied child, witch hunters, religious fanatics and a demon, with Deborah Kara Unger and Alice Krige joining the fun to try and explain a muddled narrative.

If there is a theme, it relates to fundamentalists creating their own hell as a happy place to justify their own existence. Radha Mitchell does the best she can within the confines of the material, and finally breaks out into kick-ass motherhood mode to end the nonsense.

Silent Hill is not entirely without merit, but this town needed more plots and fewer wandering corpses.

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Movie Review: Click (2006)
Sat, 09 Mar 2019 21:26:00 +0000

A social fantasy comedy with lessons about life, Click provides passable humour and some genuine warmth despite the predictable message fare.

Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) is an architect working hard to impress his insufferable boss John Ammer (David Hasselhoff), but at the expense of neglecting his wife Donna (Kate Beckinsale) and two kids Ben and Samantha. Michael also has little time for his parents Theodore and Trudy (Henry Winkler and Julie Kavner), and believes all his hard work will pay off when he is promoted to partner, but in the meantime life is passing him by.

Michael goes shopping for a universal remote control, and eccentric salesperson Morty (Christopher Walken) gives him a brand new unit for free, on the condition that it cannot be returned. Michael discovers that with this remote control he can mute and pause those around him, and fast forward through tedious parts of his life including chores and arguments, jumping ahead to trouble-free and pain-free moments of success. But soon the remote control starts acting on its own based on memorizing Michael's previous wishes, and he loses control of his life.

Mixing familiar elements from movies as diverse as It's A Wonderful Life, Groundhog Day and The Family Man, Click is unambiguous about pushing the message of life as a journey, not a destination. By the standards of Adam Sandler, this is a reasonably controlled and well-packaged effort, mixing his trademark juvenile bathroom humour with plenty of moments lamenting the personal fallout from the single-minded drive to achieve perceived career success.

Beyond the family-first mantra, the film's other theme is simple but also eternal: personal and professional life is a mix of good and bad, and there is no joy to be had in moments of triumph without the effort to get there.

For all the message-heavy emphasis, the crassness demanded by Sandler's fans is still here: director Frank Coraci delivers a succession of dogs dry-humping a large stuffed toy throughout the film. Farts in the face stand proudly alongside kicks in the nuts and pull-down-the-trousers antics to satisfy the child brains in the audience.

But proving again that when surrounded by enough talent on both sides of the camera Sandler can do better, Click also seeks out tender moments of reflection and sorrowful hindsight between fathers and sons. It's not subtle and the performances err on the obnoxious side (Walken and Hasselhoff the prime culprits), but Michael's fantastical adventure with the magical remote control has its heart in the right place.

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Movie Review: The Three Musketeers (1948)
Thu, 07 Mar 2019 04:44:00 +0000

A swashbuckling adventure, The Three Musketeers is reasonably entertaining but undeniably frazzled.

It's the 1600s in France, and d'Artagnan (Gene Kelly) leaves the countryside and heads to Paris, seeking to join the elite Musketeers, who form the King's guard. He proves his swordsmanship in a battle alongside Athos (Van Heflin), Porthos (Gig Young) and Aramis (Robert Coote) and joins them as they defend the King (Frank Morgan) from evil plots. The main threat is posed by the nefarious Prime Minister Richelieu (Vincent Price), who is seeking to trigger a war with England and regularly conspires with Milady, Countess de Winter (Lana Turner).

d'Artagnan meets and falls in love with Constance (June Allyson), who is one of the maidens of the Queen Anne (Angela Lansbury). The Musketeers set off on a mission to England to retrieve jewels from the Duke of Buckingham (John Sutton), but that is just the start of many adventures to try and thwart the persistent Richelieu.

A disorganized mess of a film, The Three Musketeers just about scrapes through. The energy level is admirably high and athletic swordplay setpieces erupt at regular intervals. Yet a lack of tonal cohesion, weird casting choices, characters rotating in and out of the movie with no explanation, plot points that border on incomprehensible, and plenty of seemingly important action occurring off-screen all combine to create a disconcerting experience.

Most of the trouble originates within a lazy script intent on thoughtlessly cramming too much of Alexandre Dumas' episodic stories into a two hour movie. With no appreciation for the need to focus to achieve depth or cohesion, the film thrashes around in shallow waters gasping from one side quest to the next, barely explaining why everyone is running around, or even who everyone is or why they matter.

Director George Sidney cobbles together enough swashbuckling sword fights to paper over most of the cracks, with Gene Kelly's athleticism put to great use. The lavish sets, locations and costumes often look gorgeous in technicolor, and a certain level of joie de vivre helps hustle the film along.

Gene Kelly as d'Artagnan and Van Heflin as Athos seem to be acting in two different movies. Kelly is all smiles as he peddles a light hearted attitude and half-threatens to break out into a song-and-dance routine at every opportunity. Heflin is dour, reflective and dramatic as he pauses often to drone on about his lost love.

Porthos and Aramis barely register as the other two musketeers, but the ladies fare worst of all. Lana Turner is top billed but her role is almost incidental, June Allyson as Constance is both mis-cast and underwritten, and Angela Lansbury's Queen Anne is detached from most of the various plots.

The Three Musketeers gallops across the landscape with impressive bravado, but forgets to bring along any sense of structured significance.

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Movie Review: Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
Tue, 05 Mar 2019 14:04:00 +0000

A musical drama, Ziegfeld Girl examines the consequences of sudden fame on the lives of three women thrust into the spotlight.

It's the 1920s, and legendary Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld (who is never seen) is recruiting girls for his next big "Ziegfeld Follies" show. Sheila Regan (Lana Turner) is spotted working as a department store elevator girl. She is in love with her truck driver boyfriend Gil (James Stewart), but anyway joins the show. Young vaudeville performer Susan Gallagher (Judy Garland) is also recruited, although she is reluctant to leave her father Pop (Charles Winninger), a long-time vaudevillian, behind.

Sandra Kolter (Hedy Lamarr) is supporting her husband and classical violinist Franz (Philip Dorn) as he desperately seeks employment when she is offered a role in the Follies. Franz cannot accept his wife wearing skimpy outfits and parading in front of strangers, and leaves her.

The three girls make their debut, and their lives change forever. Sheila attracts the attention of the wealthy Geoffrey Collis (Ian Hunter), and embraces an alcohol-fuelled and lavish but shallow lifestyle, leaving Gil behind. Her brother Jerry (Jackie Cooper) befriends Susan, who has to adapt her singing style to appeal to more sophisticated audiences. And Sandra starts a relationship with the show's lead singer Frank Merton (Tony Martin), although they are both married.

Ziegfeld does not appear in a movie carrying his name, the black and white cinematography takes away from the spectacle, the running time of 132 minutes is too long, the sappy melodrama sometimes drips off the screen and some of the song-and-dance numbers include recycled footage from The Great Ziegfeld (1936).

And yet, Ziegfeld Girl still works remarkably well as an elaborate and multi-faceted drama about the price of fame. MGM unfurls the full glamour treatment in showcasing burgeoning stars Stewart, Garland, Lamarr and Turner in the lead roles, and the film is a whirlwind look at the shockwave of stardom as experienced by women offered an opportunity of a lifetime but no guarantees about the consequences. The performance number do cause bloat, so director Robert Z. Leonard compensates by maintaining fairly zippy pacing in the narrative scenes, and teases out the dilemmas facing the women. For all three, the abandonment of their pre-fame man is a turning point.

It's almost possible to sympathize with Sheila as she luxuriate in her Park Avenue apartment, admiring her numerous evening gowns and expensive jewelry, and drowning her guilt at abandoning Gil in copious amounts of alcohol. Although her story is the most prominent, Susan and Sandra also get plenty of screen time. Sandra is more pragmatic, choosing a job and salary with the Follies over poverty and starvation with Franz. And 17 year old Susan has perhaps the most difficult separation to endure: her father will carry on his touring vaudeville show without her, and she will have to unlearn most of what he taught her.

Ziegfeld's shows are lovingly recreated in the musical numbers directed by Busby Berkeley, including the traditional descending-the-stairs moments and the ridiculous over-the-top costumes and head wear. But the movie's highlights are the unexpected nuggets on the sidelines of the main show: Susan salvaging her audition by quickly understanding the need for subtlety in delivering I'm Always Chasing Rainbows; and later her dad getting his unexpected chance to shine in Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean.

Ziegfeld plucked girls from obscurity, taught them how to prance on-stage, and gave them a shot at accelerated stardom. The bright lights were enlightening for some, but blinding for others.

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Movie Review: The Other Woman (2009)
Mon, 04 Mar 2019 01:04:00 +0000

A domestic drama, The Other Woman adopts the perspective of the homewrecker but gets hopelessly lost in numerous emotional sub-plots.

In New York City, Emilia (Natalie Portman) is the second wife of lawyer Jack Woolf (Scott Cohen). She was a junior associate at his firm, they had a torrid affair and she broke up his admittedly unhappy marriage to respected doctor Dr. Carolyn Soule (Lisa Kudrow), who nevertheless remains deeply resentful about Emilia stealing her domestic life.

But Emilia is now having troubles of her own. She is still grieving the death of the newborn girl she conceived with Jack, and having trouble connecting with Jack's eight year old son William (Charlie Tahan). Emilia is also harbouring anger at her father Sheldon (Michael Cristofer), who cheated on her mother Laura (Debra Monk) and then abandoned the family. Although Emilia makes some progress with William, the numerous tensions threaten to overwhelm her happiness with Jack.

An adaptation of the Ayelet Waldman book Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (the movie is also known by this alternate title), The Other Woman is an overclocked and over-emotive melodrama about the problems of rich people. It's not much of an oversimplification to summarize the film as Emilia saying or doing the wrong thing, aggravating everyone around her, apologizing profusely, then purposefully striding into the next idiotic blunder. The kid William, irritating as he is, frequently demonstrates the more mature behaviour compared to his step-mom.

The film jumps from one emotional arc to another, loading Emilia with overwhelming distractions. Her various roles include homewrecker, grieving mother, hapless stepmother, helpless victim of the angry first wife, and angry daughter clueless that she is mimicking her father's behaviour. While in book form the multiple agonies may work, script writer and director Don Roos is unable to find a cohesive focus for a 100 minute movie, his central character sent spinning in numerous directions and getting exactly nowhere.

Some level of watchability is maintained by Portman and Kudrow. Both battle gamely against the inherent weakness of the material, and occasionally shine in portraying the gamut of emotions as two women unwittingly caught on either side of the same man. Scot Cohen is unfortunately a relative blank slate.

The Other Woman tries to carry too many burdens, and drops most of them in an uncoordinated clang.

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Movie Review: Neighbors (2014)
Sun, 03 Mar 2019 18:04:00 +0000

A raunchy comedy, Neighbors features a few nice touches about growing up, but is an otherwise juvenile exercise in party excess.

Married couple Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are proud new parents of a young infant and have just purchased their first dream home in an idyllic quiet neighbourhood. They are stunned when within days, the house immediately adjacent is purchased by a rowdy fraternity, with college bros Terry (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) in charge.

The loud parties start soon thereafter. Mac and Kelly initially try to play it cool and befriend the frat boys, but they are soon at their wits' end, and break a promise they made to Terry by calling the police. With Terry determined to create his own legend as a party monster, this triggers an all-out tit-for-tat war between the neighbours for the duration of the college semester.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne (playing up an Australian accent) share a smooth chemistry as the in-synch parents slowly adjusting to adulthood responsibilities but still determined to hold on to the hipness of youth. The scenes between them are easily the highlights of Neighbors, but unfortunately the film is less about the couple and more about the war of high jinx and wild antics with the rowdy frat boys.

And over at the frat house, director Nicholas Stoller does eventually include a few scenes with Terry and Pete questioning what the future holds once college ends, and challenging the ethos of all parties all the time. But these interludes are distractions, and the film is mostly about all the parties, all the time.

The script by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien is determined to cram in as much drug and alcohol fuelled craziness as possible within 97 minutes, and the film descends into a grey haze of sameness. In the meantime, all the other members of the fraternity remain stock sex-obsessed and barely defined characters.

The better moments involve the college dean played by Lisa Kudrow, who harbours a dry and pragmatic approach to her job of keeping fraternities in line, measured by media headlines. Mac and Kelly's attempts at maintaining a sex life in the presence of a curious baby, noisy neighbours and frequent episodes of extreme drunkenness also hit the funny mark.

Unexpected Neighbors disrupt the suburbs, always with a lot of noise but not quite enough wit.

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Movie Review: Fear (1996)
Sun, 03 Mar 2019 16:15:00 +0000

A thriller with romance, psychological tension and some straight-out horror, Fear struggles to click in any capacity.

In the Seattle area, 16 year old Nicole (Reese Witherspoon) lives with her dad Steven (William Petersen), step mom Laura (Amy Brenneman) and younger brother. One day Nicole and her best friend Margo (Alyssa Milano) skip school and go looking for adventure at the rough local bar, and find new friends in the form of David (Mark Wahlberg) and his buddy Logan (Tracy Fraim).

Nicole and David quickly get serious, and although he is not in school he seems like the ideal sensitive and caring boyfriend. But after they get sexually intimate, David displays tendencies for uncontrolled violence. Steven suspects David is bad news and warns Nicole to stay away from him, but Nicole believes she may be in love, and the potentially unstable and manipulative boyfriend burrows deeper into the family's life.

A derivation of Fatal Attraction reoriented towards teenagers, Fear has neither the quality nor the polish to deliver effective entertainment. It remains best known as an early career outing for both Reese Witherspoon and Mark Wahlberg.

The film suffers from severe tonal shifts and jarring character transitions. While an undercurrent of typical father-daughter tension between pouty teenager Nicole and guilt-ridden dad Steven dominates the early proceedings, David as the main antagonist spends most of the first half of the film acting like the world's best boyfriend. His subsequent oscillation between raving maniac and apologetic nice guy fools no one, while his promising backstory involving a tough upbringing and hanging out with a group of thugs is severely underwritten.

Director James Foley, working from a Christopher Crowe script, jerks his film along with the characters. Fear spends far too long nurturing an idyllic young romance with a sensitive sexual awakening before jolting into violence and rushing into a horror climax featuring home invasions, shootings and animal cruelty imported from a whole other movie.

The acting is wooden, William Petersen a particularly plastic culprit, and most of the dialogue is at the sophomoric level. Witherspoon and Wahlberg are learning their trade, and their performances do not rise much above the material.

Ironically Fear works best during the romance scenes, with David doing everything right to ensure Nicole falls under his spell. Young love can be two-faced, but here it's a neck-snapper.

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Movie Review: Sisters (2015)
Sat, 02 Mar 2019 23:17:00 +0000

A raunchy comedy, Sisters benefits from sharp timing and chemistry of the two leads, but is otherwise one long endless scene of adults behaving badly.

Maura and Kate Ellis (Amy Poehler and Tina Fey) are sisters still trying to sort out their lives. Maura is divorced and has always placed everybody else's happiness ahead of hers. Kate is irresponsible, cannot hold a job and is a single mom to teenager Haley (Madison Davenport). They are both shocked and disappointed when their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) announce plans to sell the family home in Orlando.

While cleaning out their childhood rooms Maura and Kate decide to have one final bash in the big house and invite all their friends, but pointedly exclude Brinda (Maya Rudolph), Kate's frenemy since high school. The party is well attended but muted, until the alcohol and drugs start flowing and it turns into a raucous event. Kate is desperate to hook up with hunky handyman James (Ike Barinholtz), but the night will only get wilder and there are many scores to settle.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are a funny and fearless couple, share undeniable rapport and are unafraid to let loose and laugh at themselves. However, Sisters is unfortunately beneath them. The Paula Pell script works its way in fits and starts to the big party scene, and that is where it stays. There is some fun to be had with adults partying as if they were 20 years younger, but once the rowdy and juvenile antics take over the film quickly runs out of steam.

The funnier moments are the side quests burrowing deep into irreverence, such as Maura and Korean aesthetician Hae Won (Greta Lee) descending into an ill considered but hilarious pronunciation duel, or bad girl Kate drooling over tree trunk armed drug dealer Pazuzu (John Cena).

Every 15 minutes or so director Jason Moore briefly pauses the raunchiness for a brief interlude featuring more tender interaction, either between the sisters or exploring the dysfunctionality dominating the mother-daughter bond between Haley and Kate. The attempts to tackle themes of growing up and settling down appear slapped together and never convince, with James Brolin and Dianne Wiest reduced to caricatures in the parent roles.

The Sisters are ready and willing to deliver laughs, but need a more ambitious venue than one long night of irresponsibility.

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Movie Review: Before I Go To Sleep (2014)
Sat, 02 Mar 2019 19:29:00 +0000

A woman-in-danger psychological drama with thriller elements, Before I Go To Sleep starts with intrigue but quickly slips into nonsensical territory.

In suburban England, Christine (Nicole Kidman) suffers from a form of anterograde amnesia (the inability to form new memories). Every morning she wakes up believing she is 20 and single. Her husband Ben (Colin Firth), a school teacher, patiently explains she is 40 years old, they are married, and that years ago she suffered a brain trauma due to a severe accident and is now unable to hold on to new memories. Once she sleeps and wakes up the next morning, the cycle repeats.

In flashback, it is revealed that Christine is also secretly seeing neuropsychologist Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) on a daily basis. He is trying to help improve her condition, and asks her to record her daily memories on a digital camera but to keep it hidden from Ben. Christine does start to have flashes of memories involving a hotel room assault, a man with a scar on his face, and her former best friend Claire (Ann-Marie Duff). When she questions Ben, she learns he is keeping secrets from her.

Covering the same memory lapse condition featured in such movies as Memento (2000) and 50 First Dates (2004), Before I Go To Sleep uses Christine's inability to form new memories as a slow velocity drip (and juvenile narrative device) to introduce one new revelation every seven minutes. It is evident early on that Ben actively hides plenty of history from Christine, and the film plods its way towards uncovering all the secrets in the most heavy-handed way possible.

Along the way, Christine of course does not know who to trust, with Ben, Dr. Nasch and Claire all exhibiting various degrees of suspicious behaviour, by intention or omission.

But the main problem with the script by writer/director Rowan Joffé, adapting a book by S. J, Watson, is that every revelation further undermines the entire premise of the mystery. Christine's perilous situation, once revealed, can only be enabled by baffling incompetence at a grand societal scale, from everyone in her seemingly well-off middle class life. The plot holes are bigger than the plot, the television movie-of-the-week production values do not help, nor does the clumsy flashback to just two weeks prior to the opening scenes.

Nicole Kidman tries on an English accent with mixed results, while Colin Firth never gets a handle on Ben, who fluctuates wildly between caregiver, exhausted husband, and conniving schemer.

The final chapter unravels entirely, what started as a tense psychological drama disintegrating into a mundane freakout climax followed by gag-inducing attempts at sentimentality. Before I Go To Sleep is a memory well worth forgetting.

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Movie Review: Sleeping With Other People (2015)
Sat, 02 Mar 2019 17:52:00 +0000

A romantic comedy with a semi-serious focus on sex addiction, Sleeping With Other People is sharp enough to maintain interest, but sacrifices depth for raunchiness.

In a one-off encounter, college students Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) lose their virginity to each other. Twelve years later in New York City, they bump into each other again at a sex addicts meeting. Lainey is cheating on her boyfriend by repeatedly having sex with her lifelong crush Dr. Matthew Sobvechik (Adam Scott), who is engaged to be married to Emma (Katherine Waterston). Jake is afraid of commitment and ends every relationship by cheating on his girlfriends, preferably with their sisters.

Jake and Lainey recognize that they both use sex to destroy relationships, and decide to become friends and not sleep together. They develop a strong bond, confiding in each other, hanging out and often being mistaken for a couple. Lainey remains preoccupied by Matthew, but also starts a relationship with single dad Chris Smith (Marc Blucas), while Jake sets his eyes set on his boss Paula (Amanda Peet). But they both find it increasingly more difficult to deny their feelings for each other, and the relationship is complicated when Lainey considers relocating to Michigan.

Mixing traditional romantic comedy components with an honest discussion around sex addiction and an inability to commit, Sleeping With Other People matches two damaged people suffering through the same affliction. Director and writer Lesley Headland creates an equal playing field, allowing both Jake and Lainey the freedom to sleep with other people. And the safe no-sex zone they create between them, complete with "mousetrap" as a safe word to signal unwanted arousal, is an intriguing twist for the often tired genre. And Headland pushes some boundaries in the topics of conversation between the two friends, including an audacious masturbation lesson.

However, the film does suffer from a single-minded lack of texture. Headland is unable to round out her characters or the world they live in, and almost every scene and conversation revolves around the same topic of sex and its impact on relationships. The unconvincing career scenes are perfunctory, while the secondary characters, including Dr. Sobvechik and Paula, are barely defined and exist solely as devices to measure Lainey and Jake's emotional progress.

Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie are serviceable without leaving much of an impact. Sudeikis brings an aloof smugness to the role that unfortunately serves as a barrier between actor and role. Brie is better, without quite getting the balance right between Lainey craving sex and longing for unattainable love.

Sleeping With Other People is willing to engage in adult conversations and does seek sensitive resolutions, but doesn't get out of bed often enough.

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Movie Review: Equilibrium (2002)
Mon, 25 Feb 2019 06:09:00 +0000

A dystopian post-apocalyptic thriller, Equilibrium borrows from familiar sources but delivers a polished dose of futuristic action.

After a third and devastating world war, humanity rebuilds as Libria, a totalitarian city-state governed by the Tetragrammaton Council and led by Father, who is only seen on giant video screens. Emotions are pinpointed as the source of wars and are strictly outlawed. Citizens self-inject the chemical Prozium II at regular intervals every day to suppress all feelings. "Sense Offenders" are hunted down by paramilitary forces augmented by trained assassins known as Clerics, and either killed on sight or captured then incinerated. Resistance fighters cluster in the destroyed Nether areas outside the city's boundaries.

John Preston (Christian Bale) is the most ruthless and respected Cleric, and eliminates his partner Errol Partridge (Sean Bean) when the latter is found reading books and nurturing feelings. Preston then arrests Mary O'Brien (Emily Watson), one of the resistance leaders, and her appeals to his humanity resonate. He allows himself to skip one dose of Prozium II and starts experiencing emotions, but has to hide his secret from his new partner Andrew Brandt (Taye Diggs) as he considers his next move.

The dichotomies of love and hate, desire and repulsion, ecstasy and agony are at the core of the human condition. Equilibrium posits a provocative solution to violence, one in which the extremes at both ends are truncated by virulent authoritarianism, the loss of elation presented as a worthwhile sacrifice to eliminate warfare.

While the gloss of originality is evident, Equilibrium leans heavily on many elements made famous by George Orwell, John Woo and The Wachowskis. The film's foundation is an amalgam of concepts introduced by 1984 and the stylistic gunfights popularized by Hong Kong action movies and The Matrix

The premise of a dictatorial government attempting to exert complete control over citizens' thoughts operating out of domineering monolithic government buildings and with a mythical leader incessantly spouting mind control rhetoric is straight out of Winston Smith's reality. And the Clerics' acrobatic gun kata fighting techniques are an evolution (complete with the introduction of pseudo-scientific principles) of the hyper-stylized one-against-many exquisitely choreographed close quarter gun battles conceived by Woo.

Director and writer Kurt Wimmer is left with the challenge of assembling recognizable pieces into a fresh whole, and despite the preponderance of plot holes, he excels. Equilibrium has the sleek, icy cold and grey look of a world stripped of individuality, artistry, colour, or any other triggers of human warmth. Thanks to a subtle Christian Bale performance, the story makes the most out of the star government killer developing a conscience. With editing just on the correct side of rational, the balletic action scenes pop up at the right moments, inject the appropriate dose of energy, and never dominate the narrative.

In its contemporary context the film also takes well placed shots at an over-medicated and over-prescribed culture. Libria only functions because the citizenry acquiesces to self-administering mind-altering medication, a state of self-inflicted zombiefication less inspired by fiction than reality. When Equilibrium oscillates in the narrow range between apathetic and aloof, it's time for an old fashioned blood bath to warm things up.

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Movie Review: Table 19 (2017)
Sat, 23 Feb 2019 17:57:00 +0000

A floundering comedy, Table 19 suffers from idea deficiencies and too quickly resorts to well-worn plot devices.

Eloise (Anna Kendrick) reluctantly accepts a wedding invitation from her best friend Francie, despite having recently suffered a bad break-up with Francie's brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell). At the reception Eloise finds herself on table 19 with other "randoms" placed in the room's furthest corner. Her tablemates are squabbling couple Jerry and Bina Kepp (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow), creepy guy Walter (Stephen Merchant), awkward high schooler Renzo (Tony Revolori) and the elderly Jo (June Squibb), Francie's nanny from childhood.

Eloise remains obsessed with Teddy, who is having a good time with girlfriend Nikki (Amanda Crew). But she is finally distracted by the attentions of the hunky Huck (Thomas Cocquerel), who never reveals his role at the reception. Bina is mistaken for a member of the serving staff, while her tensions with Jerry ramp up. Renzo makes no headway in attracting the attentions of any girl. Walter's odd behaviour intensifies, while Jo's wisdom helps her untangle the secrets at the table.

The premise of exploring the humorous stories of people who accept wedding invitations but should know better carries potential. But Table 19 maintains only brief momentum, and starts to fizzle early. The characters are uninteresting, their stories only good for a few laughs, and before long the film gets bogged down in predictable antics and stale arguments.

The screenplay by Jeffrey Blitz (with a story was co-conceived by Mark and Jay Duplass) is devoid of edge, and Blitz's direction cannot add any punch. A cake is destroyed, pot is smoked, bad karaoke is performed, and Eloise finds every opportunity to embarrass herself.

Meanwhile Jerry and Bina carry on an exceptionally tired and circular argument. Renzo wanders in from a bad high school sex comedy, and Walter's weird antics are quickly explained away. Of course, everyone proves to be nice and warm-hearted and the group pulls together towards the requisite contrived happy ending.

Just like the guests, Table 19 should have just stayed away.

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Movie Review: Rocky III (1982)
Fri, 22 Feb 2019 06:14:00 +0000

The third instalment in the franchise, Rocky III maintains the respectable quality of the series and finds a suitable new foe to juice up the boxing action.

Three years after dramatically winning the heavyweight boxing title, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is living the privileged life with his wife Adrian (Talia Shire) and young son Robert, although brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) remains stuck in a self-pity rut. Having easily defended his title ten times, Rocky is now more focused on marketing his name through product sponsorships and charity events, including a chaotic bout against wrestling champion Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan).

With Rocky starting to consider retirement, hard-punching challenger Clubber Lang (Mr. T) works his way up the rankings and demands a shot at the title. Rocky's trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), now in frail health, warns Rocky not to face Clubber and reveals that all Rocky's title challengers to date were handpicked to prolong Rocky's reign. With his ego bruised and confidence shaken, Rocky has to decide whether to rise to the challenge and prove his true worth in the ring. He finds help from an unexpected source: former rival and champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

With the first two chapters having concluded Rocky's underdog journey from washed-up hardhead to champion, the search for new challenges commences. Written and directed by Stallone and economically edited into 100 minutes, Rocky III finds a worthy villain in the trash talking, perpetually angry and snarling Clubber Lang, forever embedding Mr. T's limited but effective persona into the cultural landscape.

And as a soundtrack to Rocky's quest to rediscover his edge, the song Eye of the Tiger by the group Survivor somehow manages to be both extraordinarily irritating and incredibly catchy, it's muscular chords instantly recognizable and allowing the film series to now boast two indelible contributions to the history of cinematic music.

Rocky III moves the action into the ring three times, once against Thunderlips, where humour and pain meet, and twice much more seriously against Clubber. Instead of the prolonged multi-round epics of the first two movies, here all the bouts are brutally short, cramming intensity into a few unforgiving rounds. It's a jarring shift for the franchise, and Stallone the director deserves credit for delivering fierce drama in the two battles with Clubber.

The action is still Hollywoodized in the extreme, with an unending flurry of punches landing in seemingly every second of every round, but there is no doubting the pugilist thrills on display.

Outside the ring the film ambles along a now predictable path. With the characters and relationships well defined into an optimized formula, Rocky III goes looking for new angles and finds a sharp one in the emerging bond between Rocky and Apollo. The former foes turning into friends, with Apollo helping Rocky to rediscover his hunger and evolve his fighting style, peaks with another not-bad training montage.

Whether he knew it or not at this stage, in forging the bond between Rocky and Creed, Stallone the writer was creating the foundation for both the short and long-term legacies of the series.

Neither a knockout nor a dive, Rocky III wins on points.

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Movie Review: Blood And Sand (1941)
Mon, 18 Feb 2019 21:55:00 +0000

A bullfighting drama, Blood And Sand is a melodramatic but nevertheless absorbing cautionary tale about fame's fickleness.

In Seville, young and confident Juan Gallardo comes from a humble family and dreams of following in his father's footsteps and becoming a great matador. His still-grieving mother Señora Angustias (Nazimova) worries her son will one day die in the ring, like his father. Juan travels to Madrid with a group of friends to seek his fortune. Ten years later, Juan (Tyrone Power) returns to Seville as an up-and-coming but still raw matador, and influential bullfighting critic Curro (Laird Cregar) remains sceptical about his talent.

But Juan marries his childhood sweetheart Carmen Espinosa (Linda Darnell) and within a couple of years becomes the best and most celebrated bullfighter in the country. With the world at his feet, Juan is entranced by the alluring beauty of the wealthy and spoiled Doña Sol des Muire (Rita Hayworth). He starts a steamy affair with the seductress and loses his edge, placing at risk all he has worked for, and soon his supremacy in the ring is challenged by his friend Manolo (Anthony Quinn).

Based on the book by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Blood And Sand is an anti-bullfighting bullfighting drama. The overriding theme is the sport's bloodthirsty and uncaring attitude, with the matadors lured in by dreams of riches, abandoning their education to pursue glory, exploited at the top and then discarded either to a gored death or poverty when their skills decline. The heartless core of building up and spitting out heroes applies to many sports, but here is sharpened by the mesmerizing pull of dancing with arena death every weekend.

The rise and fall of Juan is paralleled by the women in his life. Carmen's true purity propels him to his greatest achievements while Doña's adulteration paves a gilded pathway to ruin. Doña embodies in one person the allure and spoils of reaching the very top, as well as the capricious nature of celebrity. She will ensnare the next top matador as her lover when the time comes, and won't give a second thought about the has-been.

Tyrone Power throws himself fearlessly into the role of Juan, the actor finding the single-minded passion needed to seek fame jousting with angry bulls. Doña is Rita Hayworth's breakout role, although her undisguised and ravishing huntress mannerisms operate within a narrow range.

For a movie about bullfighting there is surprisingly little in-arena action. Director Rouben Mamoulian, working from a Jo Swerling script, builds up to one central showpiece event towards the middle of the film, but otherwise focuses on characters and allows all the emotions to pour out unconstrained by any attempts at nuance. With animated settings and earthy tones, Juan's journey is vivid, colourful and committed, Blood And Sand spelling out its messages in bold letters against the bloodied and shifting stadium soil.

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Movie Review: Cold Pursuit (2019)
Sun, 17 Feb 2019 18:40:00 +0000

A revenge thriller laced with dark comedy, Cold Pursuit applies a fresh gloss to the traditional lone avenger narrative.

In the fictional small ski resort town of Kehoe, Colorado, Nelson Coxman (Liam Neeson) is the local snowplow operator and a rugged man of few words. His quiet life is shattered when his son is killed by a drug gang, straining his marriage to Grace (Laura Dern) to the breaking point. Nelson tracks down local gang members one by one and extracts the ultimate revenge.

The thugs are all working for Denver-based drug kingpin Trevor "Viking" Calcote (Tom Bateman), a second generation mobster now hiding behind expensive suits and a stunning home, while obsessing about the diet and health of his young son. Viking mistakenly believes his crew is being attacked by the rival gang of Native American drug lord White Bull (Tom Jackson). A long-standing peace between the two gangs is shattered and a war of reprisals erupts, with Nelson still doggedly working his way towards full retribution.

With Liam Neeson's annual forays into action territory growing increasingly more routine, Cold Pursuit is an icy breath of fresh air. Director Hans Petter Moland remakes his own Norwegian vigilante film In Order of Disappearance, and in the process shakes up the formula with intriguing locations, interesting villains, and most of all a streak of virulent humour.

The snow-covered small-town setting offers opportunities for some breathtaking visuals, and Nelson's profession of clearing a ribbon of road through mounds of snow represents the aspiration of continued connectivity to civilization. Not to mention giving Nelson access to plenty of heavy machinery capable of causing severe damage to people and equipment.

Breaking open one man's vengeance story into a larger inter-cartel war risks diluting focus, but here works beautifully, helping to introduce a myriad of engaging characters. The responsibility for dishing out violence, action and humour is shared, and interwoven backstories of generations past come to the fore to enrich the film.

The humour is sourced from a commitment to unexpected details. Every character death is accompanied by a dedicated epitaph. Viking's smarminess is off the scale, his witty quips enforcing his delusional belief in his own mythology of respectability. Viking's only match is his ex-wife Aya (Julia Jones), and they are locked into the most domestic of custody battles.

Nelson's formerly gang-connected relative "Wingman" (William Forsythe) has a humourless eagle-eyed wife (Elizabeth Thai) desperate to ensure her husband does not get sucked back into bad habits. And on the edges of both gangs are quirky characters feeding subversive tensions, including a closeted gay relationship that proves pivotal.

Not all the pieces fit together. Laura Dern is largely wasted as Nelson's wife. A couple of local cops (Emmy Rossum and John Doman) are understandably overwhelmed by the outbreak of violence in their picturesque community. She is much more interested in playing detective than he is, but overall their story is superfluous. And the editing of the larger action scenes is muddled, Moland seemingly overwhelmed once the action moves beyond the more intimate one on one showdowns.

But despite some missteps Cold Pursuit is a wintery blast of blood-soaked fun, finding firm traction in the snow-covered terrain.

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