Tag Archives: Aaron Eckhart

Sully (2016)

sully

Clint Eastwood. Tom Hanks. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

And seriously, nothing did in Sully, the true story of the US Airways Flight 1549 “crash” in 2009. I’m assuming there are people out there who might not know what happened (you never know), so I’ll just leave it at that.

As the title suggests, the film revolves around the flight’s captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, played by reliable Tom Hanks.  The film is not just a CGI-filled re-enactment of a famous event, but also looks into who Sully is as a person, how he became that person, and the fall out from the incident that changed his life and that of 154 others on board the fateful plane.

Other notable members of the cast include Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles, Sully’s co-pilot, Laura Linney as Sully’s wife, and Anna Gunn (from Breaking Bad) as a member of the crash investigation team. Special mention also goes to Holt McCallany as Mike Cleary, a particularly antagonistic member of the crash investigators who stands out, not as a “bad guy” but as someone who adds a lot of the tension to the drama.

I knew, in the safe hands of Eastwood and Hanks, that Sully was likely going to be a very good movie. Not surprisingly, it absolutely is, with fantastic performances, visually thrilling sequences, and heartfelt drama, but without going overboard in terms of painting Sully as some kind of saintly hero. I was surprised, however, by the structure, progression, and focus of the film—in a good way.

While the incident indeed lies at its heart, the film does not simply set it up chronologically as you would expect, filling up time and dragging it out before a climatic finish. Instead, it cleverly utilises a series of flashbacks and other cinematic devices to gradually build things up a very gratifying conclusion. It was a little slower than I would have liked at the beginning, but Eastwood’s steady-paced storytelling soon began to take effect, and by about the midway mark I was fully engrossed in the story.

The crash itself was portrayed splendidly. I’ll admit that the CGI was not perfect, but even though everyone knew what would happen, Eastwood still managed to create a gripping sequence that had me at the edge of my seat. That’s masterful filmmaking.

The emotional impact of Sully might not be as intense as some of my favourite Eastwood films such as Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Hereafter, and Letters from Iwo Jima, but keep in mind this is also not the same kind of movie. Sully is about a great man and the hope and inspiration he represents, and in my view it’s better and more effective in generating these feelings than Invictus. Not sure if the movie is going to get much love from Oscar voters this year, but I think it could very well be Eastwood’s best film since 2008’s Gran Torino.

4 stars out of 5

London Has Fallen (2016)

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I don’t care what anyone says; Olympus Has Fallen is an awesome action movie, warts and all. It may be outrageous, egregious, preposterous, but it’s still a damn exciting, all guns blazing, all balls baring popcorn thrill ride that deserves its nickname, “Die Hard in the White House.” Die Hard, by the way, is in my opinion the best action movie of all time.

And so I ignored the naysayers and forked out my money on the sequel, London Has Fallen, notwithstanding its 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 28% score on Metacritic. I’m telling ya, there are people out there like me who enjoy these kind of stupid movies, or else they wouldn’t have made a sequel for US$60 million. Oh, and for those who say White House Down was better, where’s the sequel for that?

Okay, first the bad news. London Has Fallen treks perilously close to the edge. There will no doubt be people offended by this movie, and I don’t doubt there are those who call it racist, xenophobic and fear-mongering. It doesn’t take anyone’s feelings into consideration for the sake of  cheap entertainment, nor does it apologise for having the fall to kill hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent people, including major world leaders.

Secondly, if you thought the first film was ridiculous, then you are in for a real treat. London Has Fallen takes the insanity to a whole new level, and there are no words I can conjure up from my shitty vocabulary that can do it justice. Suffice it to say it won’t be winning any awards for realism, adherence to gravity, and lack of plot holes.

Thirdly, the special effects, I’m afraid to say, aren’t first class. There’s no shortage of destruction and explosions in this film,   though a good chunk of it looks too fake for a movie made in 2016. I’m not talking Sharknado territory, but for a moderate Hollywood budget it’s a little on the weak side. While I can let some of the architectural collapses slide, the billows of black smoke are obviously CGI. Hey, at least they’re eco-friendly.

Now that I’ve gotten the negatives out of the way, I’m going to come out and admit that I also enjoyed this sequel a lot. It’s actually refreshing to see an action film these days that doesn’t give a crap what anyone thinks, that doesn’t bow down to political correctness or sensitivities of the modern world. While it goes contrary to my personal feelings on terrorism (to be fair, it does touch the surface of the complexities on the subject but remains unapologetically Team America), I applaud how it doesn’t let such considerations get in the way of delivering some of the most batshit crazy action I’ve ever witnessed on the big screen.

The premise is delicious: the British Prime Minister carks it, prompting leaders from around the world to congregate in London for the funeral. And what’d ya know, terrorists unleash absolute mayhem on the city, hell bent on revenge against the US President (Aaron Eckhart). The only man who can save him? Of course, the dude who did it last time, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a one-man wrecking crew who is basically Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne, Liam Neeson and King Leonidas all rolled into one.

Returning to reprise their roles include Morgan Freeman as the US Vice-President, Radha Mitchell as Banning’s poor wife, Angela Bassett as the director of the US Secret Service, Robert Forster as the head of the Joint Chief of Staff, and Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense. That’s a heavy duty lineup right there, and I haven’t even mentioned the welcome additions of Jackie Earle Haley and Charlotte Riley. However, most of them don’t get to do much and are just there to bear witness to Banning’s epic rampage.

After the initial set-up, London Has Fallen speeds up and never takes its foot off the accelerator. It’s one car chase after another, one shootout after another, one hand-to-hand combat scene after another, one explosion after another, and one totally impossible situation after another. It’s basically two climatic episodes of 24 rolled into one (after the writers all had 10 beers each and just went “f&@$ it”).

Stylistically, the execution by Iranian-Swedish director Babak Najafi is pretty good. He’s not as well known as Antoine Fuqua from the first film, but I do like that he prefers to use moderately long cuts as opposed to rapid ones so we can actually see what’s going on. Despite all the mayhem on screen, I never once lost track of who was who or what was what.

If it’s a sin to find enjoyment in that sort of reckless entertainment then I’m guilty as charged. And it’s not like the film was taking itself that seriously — there are plenty of cheesy one-liners to remind us that they just want us to go along with them on this ludicrous escapist adventure. If audiences can accept the over-the-topness (that’s a word now) of say the Fast & Furious franchise then I don’t see why they can’t do so here.

My top qualm apart from the CGI is that, despite upping the ante from American politics into a global affair and escalating the stakes to go along with it, London Has Fallen doesn’t have quite the same amount of tension or intrigue as its predecessor. This is largely because Banning is rarely alone left to fend for himself and therefore we don’t get that same feeling of isolation and vulnerability. In Olympus Has Fallen he was doing his best John McClane impersonation, whereas this time he’s almost always got someone alongside him, whether it is the President or some MI6 operatives. That lone wolf quality we’ve seen with Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer and Bryan Mills and even John Wick just isn’t there this time, and it takes away one of the main reasons that made the original so awesome.

That said, while London doesn’t quite reach the heights of Olympus, it’s nonetheless a damn fun time at the cinema. Let go and embrace it for what it is. There’s no way anyone who goes in to see this film expects some kind of slick, intelligent action thriller that delves deep into the consequences of America’s war on terror. What you’re going to get is copious loads of crazy action, big stars, a healthy dose of cheese, and a movie experience that does the opposite of make you think. And we all need movies like that sometimes.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: I, Frankenstein (2014)

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I, Frankenstein, or as I liked to call it, I, Frankly-can’t-believe-Aaron-Eckhart-trained-6-months-for-this-shit, is already looking like a lock on my “worst films” list for 2014.

I knew it was not going to be a graphic-novel-to-film masterpiece, but I also had hopes that it would at least provide some solid popcorn entertainment. After all, Aaron Eckhart’s career trajectory has been on quite the upswing the last few years, and even though he’s made some questionable choices (such as Battle: Los Angeles, The Rum Diary and Olympus Has Fallen) over this period, none of his films have flat out sucked saggy scrotums — until now.

This should hardly come as a surprise. It’s hard enough to make a film about Mary Shelley’s classic novel (and we’ve seen some bad adaptations over the years). A film based on a comic that “re-imagines” that classic novel doesn’t really stand a chance. I, Frankenstein makes Van Helsing look clever.

The premise is this. Imagine if Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was not a novel but based on real events. Then imagine that Frankenstein’s monster, who is immortal, lives on after the events in the book for a couple of hundred years until the present day, and in the meantime learns to be a super awesome demon-fighting warrior. That’s basically it. Well, there’s actually also this long and convoluted back story about a secret war between gargoyles and demons, who want Frankenstein’s monster to unleash the secret to reanimating an army of corpses. I won’t lie; I was confused.

Anyhoo, the first problem with I, Frankenstein, apart from the silly plot, is that it’s kinda boring. Aaron Eckhart certainly tries, though the characters and the dialogue are so trite that it feels like watching bad cut scenes from a late 90s video game. They could have made light of the whole thing and turned it into a semi-comedy fuelled by sharp, witty comments, but everyone in it, including Eckhart, takes themselves so dead seriously that it saps all the fun out of the movie.

The second problem is that for a movie that depends on action to be watchable, the action sequences in I, Frankenstein are over-the-top (in a bad way) and lacking in creativity. Worst of all it’s all destroyed by extremely fake computer graphics that also remind me of late 90s video games. The gargoyles and demons looked like they were cut straight from an animated film and looked unrealistic even amid all the darkness and chaos.

Thirdly, turning Frankenstein’s monster into a superhero just doesn’t feel right. He’s supposed to be hideous — stitched up crudely from an assortment of corpses — but instead we get the chiselled features of Aaron Eckhart and his incredibly ripped body with a few lame scars across his face and body. It’s almost blasphemous.

Speaking of Aaron Eckhart, I was appalled to learn that he trained 6 months for the role. He worked out daily, trained in Parkour and Kali stick fighting and followed a strict diet, all so he could have a about 2 minutes of extremely average-looking fight sequences plus 3 seconds of a topless shot. You can’t fault the dude for his dedication, but boy, it’s hard to envisage a bigger waste of time than that.

All the other performances from a cast dominated by Aussies were fairly uninspired. Bill Nighy plays the villain, and you can tell he’s happy with the cheque but not having much fun. Yvonne Strahovski from Dexter plays a scientist and love interest, while Jai Courtney, Miranda Otto and Caitlin Stasey (from Tomorrow, When the War Began) play gargoyles. Everyone looks embarrassed to be there.

The only positive I can point out is that the film was made in Melbourne, which I suppose demonstrates that Australia is capable of making a relatively major Hollywood blockbuster. It’s just unfortunate that the film they ended up making was I, Frankenstein.

1.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 12

Yes, there are still movies from 2012 that I have not yet finished reviewing or watching. But I am getting there. I swear. Here are four more film reviews.

Byzantium (2012)

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This was one I had been really forward to because it’s directed by Neil Jordan, and I really needed Saoirse Ronan to redeem herself in my mind after the disaster that was The Host. I’m still not 100% sure what to make of Byzantium, which is an interesting twist on the vampire genre and relies a lot on its brooding and melancholic atmosphere as opposed to cheap scares — though I wish I could have found it more engaging and frightening.

Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan are a mother and daughter vampire pair who have been around for a few hundred years by surviving on human blood. The story is dominated by a back story dating back to the Napoleonic Wars of how they became who they are, interspersed with their modern day exploits and typical (or not so typical) mother-daughter tensions. And of course, there are mysterious people hunting them down.

It’s a very dark (literally — the film is almost always poorly lit), bloody and violent film that provides a welcome escape from all the vampire lover fantasies we’ve had in recent years. I also loved the whole concept of how they are made into vampires and the way they transform when they feed. It’s different and haunting, driven by two very strong performances from Arterton and Ronan.

On the other hand, the dreariness got to me a little as the film progressed, and I yearned for less melodrama and more excitement. The back story, to be brutally honest, was somewhat predictable and stale, and I think that is what dragged the film down and prevented it from being an exceptional vampire flick. A minor disappointment because of high expectations, but not a bad film to catch on DVD on a rainy night.

3.25 stars out of 5

Cosmopolis (2012)

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So I keep hearing about what a great American writer Don DeLillo is, and Cosmopolis is based on one of his novels. And it’s directed by David Cronenberg (who gave us the magnificent A History of Violence and Eastern Promises in the last few years). Sure, it starred Shovelface, aka Robert Pattinson, but Cosmopolis was definitely high on my list of most anticipated movies of the year.

What’s it about? That’s hard to describe, but essentially it’s about a young billionaire (Shovelface) trying to head to his barber in a limo and gets sidetracked. He meets a bunch of people (from his wife to an assortment of mistresses) and things suddenly start to spiral out of control. Just 109 minutes of people saying and doing strange, random, confusing things.

The film has gotten mixed reviews and two minutes in I could see why. Cosmopolis seems like a great story on the paper, but adapted to the screen and it just feels all wrong. Every scene and conversation feels painfully contrived, like they are trying to sound mysterious and befuddling. No one on the history of the planet has ever spoken like the characters in this film, and yet everyone in it speaks in the same way.

I like the feeling of not knowing what is going on as things are slowly revealed to me throughout the film, but this film tries way too hard to mess with the audience’s mind and challenges them to look for deeper meaning (the follies of capitalism and materialism, perhaps?) when there isn’t really anything to look for. At least it feels that way anyway.

Cronenberg’s direction is stylish and the film is atmospheric, and the performances are strong, though that doesn’t make up for all its faults. It’s disappointing because there was definitely potential here, but instead all Cosmopolis did for me was bore and frustrate.

1.5 stars out of 5

Killing Them Softly (2012)

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I was warned about Killing Them Softly, which received praise from critics but was panned by many regular people who watched it. In fact, I was warned by an aunt to avoid it at all costs because it might bore me to death. Being the sucker for punishment that I am, I braced myself and watched it anyway, and to be honest I just thought it was OK — not boring, not great. Just OK.

The premise is simple. Ray Liotta runs an underground gambling ring for mafia types and once held up his own den to steal money off his patrons. Armed with the knowledge if that it happened again that people would automatically point the finger at Ray, a couple of goons (Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy) are hired to rob the place. In the aftermath, a hitman played by Brad Pitt, who likes to “kill them softly” (ie, quick and relatively painless) is assigned to…sort things out.

This is one of those movies I probably would have fallen asleep in a few years ago, but nowadays I have come to appreciate the art of “slow storytelling” and have come to understand why certain films are paced in a certain way. Killing Me Softly is undeniably slow, with lots of well-crafted dialogue and pauses. But the dark and bleak noir atmosphere is definitely intriguing, and when the violence hits it is brutal and uncompromising.

Having said all that, there’s not a lot about the movie that makes it something I would want to recommend to others. It’s simply a well-made movie that is slow and gritty, with big name stars delivering the expected strong performances. I wouldn’t call it boring, though it’s not exactly entertaining either.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Expatriate (2012)

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Known as Erased in the US, The Expatriate is a bit of a “meh” film in the sense that it’s perfectly adequate but does little to suggest that it should be anything other than a straight-to-DVD film, which is is.

Aaron Eckhart is a former CIA agent (kinda like Liam Neeson in Taken) who is living with his daughter in Brussels while working as a security expert. One day he suddenly discovers that all traces of his existence have been “erased”, so to speak, forcing him on the run as his ex-colleagues all start dropping dead. So essentially the whole movie is about him trying to survive while figuring out what big conspiracy he has been dragged into.

It’s not the most original premise, but there are elements of the film that work effectively for this to be an above average thriller. But when you have movies like Taken and those from the Bourne franchise (which this film borrows from liberally), a movie like The Expatriate pales in comparison and feels almost redundant.

I’m a fan of Aaron Eckhart and I think he does a great job in it, but it’s hard to like a movie when you feel like you’ve pretty much seen everything before, except done better.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

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Olympus Has Fallen has been called “Die Hard in the White House”, and for once this description is apt. Of course, it’s nowhere near as good as (what I believe is) the greatest action movie of all time, but all things considered it’s about as good as you could reasonably hope for given the insanity of its central idea — the White House getting taken over by terrorists.

Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a former Secret Service agent who gets reassigned to a desk job after a tragic accident. The South Korean president visits and somehow the White House gets overrun by a mysterious terrorist. The US president, played by Aaron Eckhart, is held hostage, and Banning becomes the only man who can save him — and the world!

The premise is as corny as described, but to be honest I didn’t find it all that hard to swallow, thanks to director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter), the man with the coolest surname in Hollywood. Fuqua doesn’t make Olympus Has Fallen realistic (that’s impossible), but he allows us to sufficiently suspend disbelief through clever misdirection and never giving the audience time to think about the plot’s deficiencies by bombarding them with non-stop, blazing action. I just kept thinking, “Yeah, that could happen,” and went along for the ride.

Contrast that with another film I reviewed recently, Red Dawn, also about a foreign invasion of the United States (and one of the worst movies of 2012), and you too will appreciate Fuqua’s supreme filmmaking skills. Though both films have lots of guns and explosions and Americanism, Red Dawn bored me to tears, whereas Olympus Has Fallen had me mesmerised.

The film essentially copies the Die Hard template but ups the stakes about a hundred fold. A capable dude caught in a situation he didn’t expect to be in — but instead of a commercial building you have the White-freaking-House. One man against a whole army of badasses. A mysterious and brutal villain determined to weed him out. Epic gun fights, skilful hand-to-hand combat, exploding helicopters, falling from high places, sceptical allies on the outside, no friends on the inside. Awesomeness.

I’ve never really liked Butler outside of 300,  but here he makes an excellent Secret Service guy because he looks the part. Aaron Eckhart won’t be remembered as one of the best on-screen presidents, but he’s certainly not one of the worst either. He doesn’t get to do a whole lot in this film but he makes the best of what he’s got.

The rest of the supporting cast is stellar. As usual, there is the omnipresent Morgan Freeman in the type of role we have seen too many times; Angela Bassett and Robert Forster as anxious government officials; Aussie Radha Mitchell as the wife; Ashley Judd as the First Lady; and Melissa Leo — the standout — as the feisty secretary of defense.

The weak link was Dylan McDermott, another ex-Secret Service guy. It was probably more how the character was written than his acting, but he came across as totally unconvincing and lacking in personality. His story arc was also poorly conceived and concluded. Just crap.

Also crap is some of the pitfalls of the action film that Fuqua just couldn’t avoid, such as blessing our hero with obvious insights that somehow escape the common man (and all of the president’s staff), the usual America “f*%k yeah” moments, as well as the the odd annoying cliche. I also found it strange that a number of the more interesting plot points were either not explored or wrapped up prematurely. I can’t go into details without divulging them, but those who have seen the film will have an idea.

Nonetheless, Olympus Has Fallen turned out to be far better than I expected. Stylish, explosive and rarely a dull moment, it’s the action film that Die Hard 5 could have and should have been (instead of that silly Russian story). Actually, it would have been a pretty good premise for a 24 movie too, if they ever decide to make one. This is a movie I would definitely keep watching if I happen to stumble across it on TV in a couple of years.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: One of the best decisions the producers made was to make this a R-rated film (MA15+ in Australia), which allowed all the violence it needed to be effective. It will be interesting to see what type of film White House Down (which looks like exactly the same film except with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx), set for release in the summer, will be with what is expected to be a tamer PG-13 rating. My guess is it won’t be as good, but you never know with Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) at the helm.

Movie Review: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

After Skyline last year (and to a lesser extent, the overrated Monsters), the alien invasion movie was not high on my list.  On Friday night, I had a choice of either Battle: Los Angeles, The Adjustment Bureau and Red Riding Hood.  Some would probably advise to stay home and not waste my money, but these were all films that I was curious about.

Following a consultation with some friends, I decided to go with Battle: Los Angeles. The consensus was that The Adjustment Bureau was painfully average and Red Riding Hood was most likely trash (which would reflect the review I quickly glanced at from that morning’s paper).  Battle: Los Angeles had Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez, and it received some decent buzz in movie mags in the lead up to the premiere.  Besides, if all else fails, at least I get to see LA being blown up.

While Battle: Los Angeles was not fantastic, I probably made the right decision.  It was entirely predictable, with an archetypal progression for alien invasion movies and your usual host of characters.  The surprise of the attack, the carnage, the despair, the retaliation, the jubilation — it could not have been more ‘cookie cutter’.

However, I must admit I found it rather enjoyable.  Thank goodness for Aaron Eckhart, who delivered a bunch of cheesy, melodramatic lines so well that I wanted to believe him.  Kudos to the special effects team, who made the action look absolutely seamless.  And the action was relentless, loud and explosive.  It reminded me of a gritty war movie (say Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down or Letters from Iwo Jima), except with aliens.

Unfortunately, I would have enjoyed it even more had it not been for two problems.  The first is that the film was waaaay too long.  It was 116 minutes but dragged on in parts and could have easily been a more compact and manageable 90 minutes.  The second, which almost killed the film for me, was the handheld camera crap.

Man, it frustrated me to no end.  I understand the idea of the handy cam — it makes you feel closer to the action — but there needs to be a balance.  This was not Cloverfield, where the entire film is supposedly shot by amateur cam.  There is no point in having a shaky camera for a two-man conversation.  No matter how close it makes you feel to the action, no film is worth vomiting over.

On the whole, Battle: Los Angeles still exceeded my relatively low expectations.  In some ways it could have been better, but in other ways it could have been a lot worse.

3.25 stars out of 5!

Post Oscars Film Blitz

I was supposed to review these films one by one, but I really couldn’t be bothered.  So I decided to lump them into a ‘post Oscars’ film blitz, as all of these films were a part of the Oscars.  Kind of.

Here we go…

Rabbit Hole (2010)

I’m not usually into depressing films, but I was in a good mood and thought, why the heck not?  And seriously, they don’t get much more depressing than Rabbit Hole (I haven’t seen Blue Valentine yet, might add it to the list later).

For those who don’t know what it’s about, let’s just say it’s about profound grief and loss, and how to deal with it and move on.  It stars Nicole Kidman in her Oscar-nominated performance, Aaron Eckhart, Diane Wiest and Sandra Oh.

It’s an extremely powerful film, I’ll admit that, and it has some surprisingly amusing sequences, but on the whole, Rabbit Hole is a pretty rough 91 minutes to sit through.  I don’t know what else to say without giving away too much.

As for the performances, I know Kidman got all the kudos, but it beats me how after so many years she still can’t pin down that American accent!  In all honesty, I preferred Eckhart.  I found his scenes more engaging and wondered how Kidman got the nomination and he didn’t.

3.5 stars out of 5

Inside Job (2010)

I rushed out to see Inside Job after it won the Oscar for Best Documentary.  It’s essentially a film that attempts to explain how the Global Financial Crisis (ie the one we’re still recovering from) happened, and tries to apportion the blame to the various parties involved.

Ultimately, despite learning a great deal about the history of the financial markets, the financial instruments, and the GFC itself, I was a little disappointed.  Props for making this film because I know a lot of people (myself included) would like to know just what the heck happened, and how it happened.  However, I did find it somewhat dry in parts and a little too preachy, especially towards the end.  Just listen to director Charles Ferguson’s acceptance speech at the Oscars and you’ll get what I mean.

I am by no means trying to defend the greed and the corruption that plagued the system and led to the collapse, but I think it would have been good to see more of the human side of the crisis.  Rather than simply painting them as the ‘bad guys’ in all of this, I wanted to see what was going through the minds of these bankers and executives as they raked in the money without regard for the consequences — and I wanted to see how the crisis affected the lives of people on all levels of income and wealth.

It was an interesting film and an important one, but apart from a lot of anger and frustration, I didn’t get the deeper emotional connection and understanding I was expecting.

3.5 stars out of 5

No Strings Attached (2011)

This film was obviously not nominated for an Oscar, but the star, Natalie Portman, did win a Best Actress Oscar for another film (Black Swan), so I guess that’s my Oscar connection to justify this film being in the post.

I remember before the Oscars there were people saying that No Strings Attached is potentially so bad that it might derail Natalie’s Oscar chances.  Well, it turned out to be much ado about nothing.  And besides, No Strings Attached was not that bad anyway.  It was just average, which is not horrible considering that most rom-coms these days are.

Portman’s Emma and Ashton Kutcher’s Adam met when they were teenagers at some camp, and kept bumping into each other over the years.  Then Adam’s dad, played by Kevin Kline, does something despicable and sends Adam into a bender and eventually Emma’s house.  Yada, yada, yada, you know what happens, but they decide to have a ‘no strings attached’ relationship.  And yada, yada, yada, you know what happens in the end.

The film started off promisingly enough.  Director Ivan Reitman (pretty mixed bag as a director) infuses the story with quirky humour and likable characters (essential for a good rom-com).  There are some genuinely amusing moments and one-liners littered throughout, though mostly at the beginning.  Kutcher is kind of always the same — with that cheery, but mopey/dopey looking dude-face, while Portman gets to show her less serious side (with shades of her Saturday Night Live performances?).  The chemistry is there, which I must admit surprised me.

As usual, the rom-com shifts from comedy to romance as it strolls along to the predictable finale, and that’s where No Strings Attached fails to bring something fresh to the table.  And for what is really a sweet film at heart, it is inexplicably and unnecessarily dirty — I blame that on all the Judd Apatow films in recent years.

3 stars out of 5

Love and Other Drugs (2010)

The Oscar connections are getting more tenuous.  Love and Other Drugs features Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, the latter of which…hosted the Oscars this year!

Anyway, this is one of those films that I liked more than I should have.  It was marketed as a laugh-out-loud, silly rom-com about two promiscuous people, but that’s really only half true — because the second half, which is completely different to the first, is kind of a depressing ‘disease romance’ (I just made that up).  To me, both halves were pretty good, even though that does make for a fairly uneven film.

What I liked about the first half was the insight into the pharmaceutical industry and in particular medical reps who try and sell drugs to doctors.  And the start of the Viagra craze is always a fascinating thing to relive.  I think the film handled that part very well.  As for the second half, while the laughs died out quickly, I did find myself unexpectedly moved by the story and the emotions of the characters.

So yeah, I enjoyed it.

3.75 stars out of 5

Burlesque (2010)

Mmm…Cher once won an Oscar, and let’s face it, Christina Aguilera never will.  And it won a Golden Globe (a pre-cursor to the Oscars) for Best Original Song.  Oh, and Cher got a Razzie (the opposite of the Oscars) nomination for it this year!

Using the typical ‘small town girl in big city’ template, Burlesque follows Christina as she finds herself working in a burlesque bar (called ‘Burlesque’) where she’s just waiting to be discovered.  Cher is the owner, Kristen Bell is the rival, Eric Dane is the tempter, and Cam Gigandet is the potential love interest.  Fill in the blanks yourself and toss in a bunch of musical song and dance numbers from Christina and Cher, and that’s the movie in a nutshell.

Is it horrible?  No.  I actually expected a lot less, though I would have preferred it if they just went along for the ride and not taken themselves so seriously (because the unintended effect is quite comical).  At the end of the day, Burlesque is a Christina vehicle, and it certainly shows off her spectacular voice and not-too-shabby acting abilities.  It’s campy, musical and melodramatic, just as you would expect it to be.  And while it’s certainly nothing special, it is better than the Britney equivalent (Crossroads).

2.5 stars out of 5