Tag Archives: Cillian Murphy

Dunkirk (2017) (IMAX)

In anticipation of the release of Christopher Nolan’s new WWII epic Dunkirk, I was chatting with a friend last night about Nolan’s impressive back catalogue: Memento, The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar — arguably four of my top 100 movies of all time, or at least in the top 200 (or maybe 300? I’ve never tried to do a list). Nolan is that great of a filmmaker, and that’s why I’m always excited whenever he announces a new project.

Accordingly, I went to watch the very first session of Dunkirk today, and in recommended IMAX too. And I’m glad I did, because the 70mm film is a beautiful, visceral spectacle where the sense of immersion is amplified by the IMAX screen and incredible sound and soundtrack. It’s about as close as you can get to being in the action while sitting comfortably in your cinema chair.

Perhaps in response to the backlash of the complexity and melodrama of Interstellar, Nolan went for a much simpler film this time in Dunkirk, based on the true story of the Dunkirk evacuation during WWII as Allied soldiers found themselves under siege from the Germans in the Battle of France. It’s a lesson in “showing” rather than “telling”, as Dunkirk is all about a visual narration of what the soldiers experienced on the land, on the sea, and in the air. It features an ensemble cast with some notable names (Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy,  Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, and so forth) but not a whole lot of dialogue. It is sometimes chaotic and there’s a sense of not knowing exactly what is going on at times, which I felt was aimed at reflecting the sentiments of the soldiers living through the ordeal.

Unlike some war films you may have seen recently, such as Hacksaw Ridge or 13 HoursDunkirk is less about exalting heroism and patriotism and more about the realities of survival. It’s about ordinary people trying to get back to their families no matter what and civilians putting their lives on the line to serve their country. As noted above, the narrative is split into three strands — a group of soldiers trying to get home on the land, a civilian mobilised by the military to rescue the stranded soldiers on the sea, and two fighter jet pilots taking on enemy fire in the air. The three strands intersect, though the film does not follow a linear timeline, primarily for narrative and tension creation purposes. Despite this and the lack of one central protagonist, the film does feel cohesive and compelling thanks to the cast of great actors who can get the most out of just a few lines and facial expressions.

Nolan has come out and criticised streaming platform Netflix for its awkward foray into feature film productions. With Dunkirk, you can see why he feels that way because it’s a film that really needs to be seen on the big screen, preferably an IMAX one. It puts you right between the gunfire and the torpedoes and the corpses, with a booming soundtrack that keeps ratcheting up the tension and crisp sound effects that make you jump with every bullet that shoots by your ear.

The sheer scale is amazing, with breathtaking sweeping shots of the beach and the sea and the horizon, while the fighter jet sequences made it felt like you were sitting inside one as it turned and dipped and shot at enemy aircraft with machine guns. It felt like a movie without CGI because everything just seemed so seamlessly grounded in reality. And interestingly, there’s very little blood and gore in the movie for the sake of a more viewer-friending rating from the censors, but it somehow gets away with it. I do wonder, however, if the impact would have been even greater if Nolan ignored the classification and just went down the flying limbs route, or whether that would have instead taken away from the aspect of the war he was trying to depict.

At 106 minutes, Dunkirk is short for both a Nolan film and a war film, but I think that was all it needed given the intensity audiences have to sit through. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best cinematic experiences of the year, though it’s also a film that speaks more to the senses than your mind and heart. While there are indeed some subtle moving moments throughout the film, it is not as emotionally resonating as I hoped it would be, probably because of the way the narrative and characters are structured. I admire the film from a technical perspective and for the epic sensory experience it delivers, but years from now I may not look back upon it as fondly as some of Nolan’s other classics.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: Unfortunately for my wife, the immersive experience got too much for her (probably a combination of the size of the screen, the blaring sounds and the camera movements) and she had to leave the cinema to throw up. She hadn’t done that since we watched Cloverfield back in 2008.

Movie Review: Transcendence (2014)

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Count me as one of the few people who don’t think Transcendence sucked balls.

I admit, given the hype surrounding the script and the star-studded cast, that the film is a relative disappointment, but I still found it to be an intriguing take on the man-vs-computer concept that’s thought-provoking on some levels and at least never boring.

Johnny Depp plays Dr Will Caster, a brilliant scientist who plans to develop a sentient computer that he predicts will create a technological singularity, or in his words, “transcendence”. His wife, Evelyn, is played by the wonderful Rebecca Hall, and his best friend is Max, played by Paul Bettany.

Of course, there are people out there somewhat uneasy about the possibility of such a creation, and they plan an attempt to derail the whole thing. One thing leads to another and soon Will is forced to insert his consciousness into a quantum computer in a attempt to cheat death. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that it worked, and the rest of the movie is all about the consequences of this and questioning whether the computer really is Will’s consciousness or just an imitation of it.

Trascendence, made for $100 million and made only $90 million at the box office, was both a commercial and critical failure for debut director Wally Pfister, previously best known for his cinematography work on Chris Nolan films (Memento, Batman Trilogy, Inception). Despite the film’s unique visual flair, the film was savaged for its lack of logic — even within its limited sci-fi story universe — and bad science, and it also didn’t help that it was released amid the recent Johnny Depp backlash.

For me, Transcendence may have failed to deliver the philosophical sci-fi experience it was trying to achieve, but it’s still not a bad film about the dangers and limits of technology and artificial intelligence. I thought it started off well in drawing audiences in and developing the relationships between the characters, which I thought proved crucial down the line in heightening and contrasting their feelings and emotions.

It’s far from the first sci-fi film to tackle the “control or be controlled by technology” premise, but Transcendence does feature some interesting ideas that I hadn’t seen or thought about before. I won’t give those things way except to say that it takes us not only out of the cyberworld and the world of the physical, but also ventures into the world of the metaphysical. The ramifications take us much farther than say something like 2008’s Eagle Eye or even last year’s brilliant Her (which is a vastly superior film, by the way).

Though the science is extremely sketchy (even for someone as clueless about science as me), I thought both the script (by Jack Paglen) and the direction did a fairly good job of blurring the specifics and using misdirection to fudge things so we simply have to take what is happening on screen at face value. The problem is that fudging can only take audiences so far, and at some stage the whole facade begins to crumble because the computer keeps doing impossible things on the one hand but doing impossibly stupid/illogical things on the other. And once you start to ask yourself why a computer this intelligent and omniscient would do this or not do that, it’s too late — the entire premise of the film collapses in a hurry. The irony is that for what is supposed to be a thinking-man’s sci-fi, thinking too much is the last thing you should do if you want to remain engaged.

That’s a deal killer for most viewers, but let’s face it, it’s not the first time a sci-fi film has failed to make sense. In my humble opinion, the obvious holes are what prevent Transcendence from being a great sci-fi, rather than what make it a completely unwatchable movie. There are enough positive things about it to not call the film a waste of time.

For starters, the eerie feeling the film generates is genuine. While it’s not a horror film per se, some of the things the computer is capable of in the film are genuinely creepy and will make you think twice about handing your life over to artificial intelligence. Secondly, the cast is awesome and contains big names I didn’t even realise were in it. In addition to the aforementioned trio of Depp, Hall and Bettany, there’s also Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Kate Mara. None of them get to do much, but a bit of added star power never hurt anybody (except in those Expendables movies). And thirdly, the film is stylish, imaginative and not as predictable as you’d expect. It’s well-made, solidly paced over the course of its 120-minute running time, and is never in danger of being a snoozer. That’s already more than you can say about most sci-fi flicks these days.

At the end of the day, Transcendence is never quite as intelligent or philosophical as it set out to be, nor is it as action-packed or exciting as a traditional sci-fi blockbuster. That said, I think those who approach it with an open mind will be pleasantly surprised by how much it has to offer.

3.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 3

That’s My Boy (2012)

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Adam Sandler, Adam Sandler, Adam Sandler. What the heck happened to you? That’s the question I kept asking myself throughout That’s My Boy (and every Adam Sandler movie I watch these days).

To be fair, I actually think That’s My Boy is one of Sandler’s better efforts in recent years (it’s not easy being worse than Grown Ups and Jack and Jill). It is a film that will divide and infuriate audiences because it is so politically incorrect, but I ascribe to the school of thought that as long as the material is funny it gets a pass. Sadly, not much of it is funny.

Sandler plays Donny Berger, a 14-year-old who impregnates his teacher (played by Eva Amurri and later on by her mother Susan Sarandon). I suppose this kind of behaviour was less frowned upon in 1984, because Donny becomes a huge celebrity and is high-fived everywhere he goes. Fast forward to present day and Donny has become a bum in need of cash, and his one life line is his estranged now-adult son, played by Andy Samberg (of the Lonely Island fame).

Most of the film is about Sandler trying to get back into Samberg’s life as the latter, who is clearly carrying emotional scars from his childhood, prepares for marriage to his wealth fiancee, Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester. It’s typical Sandler immaturity comedy, and a little bit of it pays off, but most of it doesn’t.

That’s My Boy tries to shock with themes such as paedophilia, statutory rape, incest, and so forth. The obscenity will offend, but I doubt it will produce laughs. The biggest problem with the film is a recurring theme in pretty much all of Sandler’s recent films — it comes across as mean-spirited. Tasteless I can stomach, but not this.

1.75 stars out of 5

Red Lights (2012)

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I am a huge fan of the unknown and supernatural powers, so naturally I was drawn to Red Lights, which received surprisingly little buzz.

Cillian Murphy plays a young psychic debunker working with Sigourney Weaver. The pair become drawn into a nasty confrontation with Weaver’s nemesis, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), who disappeared from public view 30 years ago after his biggest critic died under mysterious circumstances. Weird stuff happens, the stakes rise, things get dangerous, and the debunkers become more and more frustrated as Silver seems to be revealing himself as the real deal.

While Red Lights is not as good as it probably could have been, I found myself really enjoying it. Maybe it’s my fascination with the subject matter, but it was interesting watching how psychics are debunked and wondering whether there really are supernatural powers that can’t be explained by science. The film has some tense moments, but it’s the intrigue that holds it together. It’s just unfortunate the script could not have brought out more from the characters.

I liked the ending, but I didn’t love the excessive explanations and exposition that came along with it. On the whole, it’s quite a flawed film, but my personal fascination with the occult made it a worthwhile experience.

3.5 stars out of 5

Magic Mike (2012)

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So I keep hearing rave reviews about Magic Mike, a supposedly semi-autobiographical film about Channing Tatum’s time as a male stripper. But I reckon people just liked it because ripped guys took their shirts off. Talk about double standards.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film, and I can definitely see it’s appeal, but in my opinion Magic Mike is overrated. The main character of the film is actually Alex Pettyfer (otherwise known as Number Four), a young stud who gets introduced to the lucrative and sordid world of male stripping by Tatum’s character, the titular Mike. At first Pettyfer is shy and nervous working for boss Matthew McConaughey, but as he finds his confidence he starts to become brash and loses control.

It’s the typical coming-of-age, rise-and-fall tale where the protagonist learns some valuable life lessons by the end of it all. So what’s good about it? Well for starters the execution from director Steven Soderbergh is excellent — it’s a sensitive and insightful portrayal that doesn’t sanitize what happens behind the scenes of a male strip club but does it tastefully and without that sleazy after taste. Secondly, the acting is very good, and this was highly unexpected for me because I never thought Tatum or McConaughey could act. The supporting actors are also solid, with familiar faces such as Olivia Munn (The Newsroom), Matt Bomer (White Collar) and Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami) rounding out the cast.

Magic Mike is billed as a comedy-drama, but it’s predominantly a drama where the comedy comes naturally from the antics of a strip joint. The film gets darker and more serious as it plods along and ditches the comedy completely before the end. It’s no wonder why I found the first half much more enjoyable.

3 stars out of 5

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012)

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You don’t need me to tell you that any ensemble cast movie based on a pregnancy guide book (!) is going to suck. But I will tell you anyway. What to Expect When You’re Expecting sucks. Balls. The film is so far off what a real pregnancy is like that it should have been called What NOT to Expect When You’re Expecting.

The film actually starts off strongly with a hideous-looking Cameron Diaz and Glee’s Matthew Morrison participating in a celebrity dance competition that also includes NBA star Dwyane Wade, which was kind of amusing. But everything goes downhill from there, especially as we start jumping around from pregnant couple to couple, each suffering from a different set of circumstances that is supposed to reflect real life.

We’ve got JLo and Rodrigo Santoro dealing with adoption, Elizabeth Banks unexpectedly feeling awful throughout her pregnancy, an old Dennis Quaid and a young Brooklyn Decker, and a young Anna Kendrick and young Chace Crawford. All of them are having babies! And there is a father’s group where a bunch of fellas , including Chris Rock, gather to bitch about their problems. Oh, the humanity!

Aussie Rebel Wilson stole some scenes with her random boganness, but in general the film was an disingenuous money-grabbing turd that had almost no laughs and way too much sappy melodrama, feigned joy and manufactured elation. Don’ watch this film if you have a child or intend to have a child. Actually, just don’t watch this film.

1 star out of 5

Movie Review: In Time (2011)

I am more accepting of average sci-fi movies than most, primarily because I believe having an intelligent, creative premise means you’re almost halfway there.

In Time, the new star-studded sci-fi action film written and directed by Andrew Niccol (best known for Gattaca and Lord of War), has what I think is a brilliant premise — at some time in the future, genetic engineering has enabled humans to stop ageing physically past the age of 25, and the phrase ‘time is money’ has become literal.  All currencies have been replaced by time, which can be earned, spent and gambled just like money.  Everybody has a clock on their forearm that counts down towards zero, and when it hits zero, you die.

Naturally, people want time, and they’re willing to do just about anything to get it.  However, like money, some people have more than they know what to do withy, while others are living day-to-day, not knowing where the next minute or second might come from.  Though not entirely unique (Logan’s Run, for instance, has a similar premise), I found that to be a very compelling idea brimming with potential.

And so I was excited about In Time.  Sure it had Justin Timberlake (the hero from the ghetto), but it also had Amanda Seyfried (the poor little rich girl), Cillian Murphy (the ‘Timekeeper’), Alex Pettyffer (that’s Mr I Am Number Four, as a time stealing thug), Olivia Wilde (I’ll keep her role as a surprise) and that guy from White Collar (Matt Bomer).  Call me optimistic, but I was hoping that it would be this year’s Inception.

Well, I was wrong.  While In Time was not the painfully horrible piece of crap some critics have labelled it to be, it was undoubtedly a frustrating waste of a promising premise.  There were so many interesting places they could have gone with this film, and instead they went down an utterly bizarre path, one that completely underutilised the concepts the premise afforded.

I could forgive all the half-assed sci-fi concepts and stuff that made little sense and had no explanation (like the time transfer mechanism and the whole point of the system), but what I couldn’t ignore was all the false hope that the film built up in the first third but failed to deliver.  And my goodness, the loose ends they just kicked to the curb (Timberlake’s dad, anyone?)!

Timberlake and Seyfried make a cute couple and there are some slick action sequences, but the further the film went along the more disappointed I became in the generic direction it was heading.  Just because there is an emphasis on action and romance doesn’t mean the film cannot also be intelligent and challenge audiences to use their brains a little.

Then again, I suppose if all you’re looking for is a forgettable action sci-fi romp with sexy stars, then In Time might be enough.

2.5 stars out of 5!