Tag Archives: George Clooney

Tomorrowland (2015)

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Tomorrowland, for me, came across as one of the more “meh” blockbusters of the year, and I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it when I first watched the trailers. I mean, come on, what kind of movie is based on a Disneyland theme zone? Not a ride like Pirates of the Caribbean, but a zone!

That said, the film sure looked good on paper. It’s directed by Brad Bird, who was at the helm of heartfelt and exciting animated films such as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. He also made one of the best action films in recent years with Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Tomorrowland‘s script was co-written by Bird and Damon Lindelof, co-creator and showrunner of Lost and the writer for Prometheus and Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Throw in George Clooney’s saggy face, rising star Britt Robertson and House himself, Hugh Laurie, and Tomorrowland started looking quite promising.

I admit it started off well, setting up the fun and wondrous tone early on with some cute banter between Clooney’s and Robertson’s characters. The visuals are absolutely spectacular, reminding me of the images of futuristic worlds that captivated me as a child, and I also liked the Disneyland ride tie-in (though strangely, it was with Fantasyland as opposed to Tomorrowland).

After the nice intro however, the film never quite settles in as comfortably as it should have; the pace sags and the concepts start getting less interesting. Things do pick up towards the end, but as a “big ideas” film, Tomorrowland doesn’t go as deep or have as many layers as I hoped it would.

George Clooney gets top billing, though this was really one of those films where the big star just lends his name to the project. I guess it’s still a substantial role, but he’s not in it as much as you would expect, as a part of his character’s story is told in flashbacks and is played by child actor Thomas Robinson (who bears a striking resemblance to him).

The real protagonist of the film is Britt Robertson, who is 25 in real life but looks very much like a young teenager in this. Kudos to the hair, make-up and costume teams for making her look so convincing, especially as I had just seen her in The Last Ride, where she easily looked old enough to be a graduating college student.

Another great casting choice was British child actress Raffey Cassidy, whom they intentionally tried to make look older for good reason. I thought she was very convincing and has a great future ahead of her.

On the whole, Tomorrowland is a solid piece of family entertainment that fails in its ambitions to deliver something truly special. Despite the amazing visuals, it lacked that sense of wonder and magic; it just didn’t have that “it” factor you find in the best children and family films.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Monuments Men (2014)

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I have a feeling that The Monuments Men will go down as one of the strangest most disappointing movie going experience of 2014. It had everything going for it — an interesting true story premise about allied heroes who try and salvage priceless art stolen by the Nazis during World War II; an excellent director in George Clooney; and a superstar cast including Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out, a lot. Technically, The Monuments Men as well made. The performances, the direction, the sets and the cinematography are all strong. And typically, and story about going up against Nazis are well received. But shockingly, The Monuments Men turned out flat, slow and frankly, a little boring.

It was an interesting choice for Clooney to try and make an old-fashioned army adventure movie. It doesn’t have the farcical feel of say something like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, but it’s also far from the gloomy tones of Damon’s Saving Private Ryan or the intensity of Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie. So the feel of the film is somewhat old, uneven, not comedic but not serious, generally light but occasionally solemn, and always eager to be “respectful” in its portrayal.

The result is just a bunch of guys who spend a lot of time discussing what they plan to do, but not a whole lot of time of them actually doing it. I had envisioned a rag tag team doing something very exciting and clever in the vein of an Ocean’s Eleven. Unfortunately, reality was a lot duller.

One of the problems is that there were too many characters involved, many of them split into smaller groups, meaning we kind of know them all a little bit but not enough to truly care about them. Clooney, in particular, was a leader but it also felt like he was in the background a lot. Instead, the focus shifted to the relationship between Damon and Blanchett, but there wasn’t enough time for anything substantive to blossom. I like all the actors in the movie — I just didn’t really like the characters they were playing.

Perhaps the true reason I struggled with the film is because I’m just not a huge art guy. The protagonists of the film are often asked the question — if any piece of art is worth a man’s life — and to me the answer is always simple: depends on the person who is giving their life up for the art. For them, it was obviously worth it, but for me it was difficult to feel connected with their noble ambitions.

Whatever the reason, I found The Monuments Men to be an unsatisfying, punchless experience. All the pieces were there but just didn’t fit together. An interesting premise blunted by the lack of memorable characters, relationships or dialogue, and a general dearth of anything to get the pulse racing. A shame, and a wasted opportunity.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Gravity (2013) (2D)

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I’m probably biased because I am a massive fan of director Alfonso Cuaron (responsible for possibly my favourite movie from the last 10 years, 2006’s Children of Men, as well as the best Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban), but let me just put it out there: I reckon his latest, Gravity, could very well be a masterpiece.

I saw just one scene of the film in one of the trailers, so I went into it with relatively little knowledge of what it’s all about, potentially a key reason why I found it so engrossing. I won’t say much except that it takes place in space and is about a bunch of astronauts (headed by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) on a mission. It is unconventional and a bit of a “concept” film in that there is only a handful of actors, minimal dialogue and limited human interaction. But it is one heck of a ride, one that is packed with a wide range of emotions ranging from fear, horror, desperation and claustrophobia to serenity, solitariness and hope.

The script is written by Alfonso Cuaron and his son Jonas Cuaron. I don’t think there is anything exceptional about it or the dialogue (there’s not a lot of it anyway), but I do think it is Cuaron’s masterful direction that makes Gravity work so well. He employs a lot of his trademark long takes which I absolutely adore, some of which feel like they last for 5 to 10 minutes each (the film’s first scene has no visible cuts for about 10 minutes). I’m sure a lot of it is just clever effects and editing, but the feel of a long, continuous, winding shot that moves from place to place and character to character really immerses you in the moment and the action.

Gravity is also one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen and makes you wonder how Cuaron went about shooting it and creating the special effects. I assume pretty much all of it is shot in studios with green screens, but the end product comes across as frighteningly realistic and genuine (I say “comes across” because very few of us know what it actually looks like in space). The same could be said for the space stations and shuttles in the film, which, I assume again, are close replicas of their real-life counterparts. The stunning and soothing views of Earth from space are incredible as well, and provide a beautiful contrast to all the man-made chaos happening right above it.

I was tempted to watch the film in 3D because apparently it’s “worth it,” but I’ve heard that so many times now and every time I’ve fallen for it I’ve come away disappointed. That said, there were parts of the film where I thought 3D might work well, and if I had the opportunity (sadly, I probably don’t) I’d love to watch it again in IMAX 3D. Either way, it’s a film that definitely should be seen on the big screen for maximum appreciation.

As with almost all films with only few characters, the quality of the acting is vital. In this regard Gravity also delivers, with Sandra Bullock — who I’ve never been very high on as an actress despite her Oscar win for The Blind Side — giving one of the best performances of her career. She spends a lot of the film on her own but somehow still manages to make us connect with her on an emotional level and forces us to sense her fear and dread. Apparently Bullock was one of the last choices for the challenging role after the talks with the likes of Angelina Jolie, Marion Cotillard, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively and Natalie Portman fell through, but it has turned out to be a stroke of good fortune.

The other major role is played by George Clooney, the experienced wisecracking team captain who is so cool and calm under extreme pressure that it makes you wonder whether he is either a robot or a psychopath. Damn this perfect man (again) because he delivers a perfect performance, one I can’t really find any faults with.

I see a LOT of films, so I always welcome something that is a little different to your typical Hollywood blockbuster. It doesn’t mean I prefer them or will necessarily like them more (for example, I liked the concept of the 2010 Ryan Reynolds film Buried, though I didn’t think they ultimately pulled it off), but I find it exciting to experience something I haven’t before. Gravity is definitely something different, so I can appreciate that it is not for everyone. As I was walking out of the cinema, most of the comments I heard from my fellow viewers were negative, such as, “It was too slow and depressing”, “There weren’t enough people in it”, and “There’s too much internal psychological drama”. Even my wife thought it was just “OK”, not boring but not great either.

But for me, Gravity ticks all the boxes for a great film. It’s engrossing, exciting and intelligent, visually captivating, masterfully directly and skillfully performed. And it’s daring and memorable. It will dash the desire of anyone who ever dreamed of being an astronaut, and viewers used to more conventional films might feel like something’s missing, but apart from that, it’s as close to a masterpiece as any film I’ve seen in years.

5 stars out of 5!

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 6)

It’s been a while since I did one of these, but it’s not because I haven’t had any lined up. Here goes. I suppose this is the “drama” portion of my catch-up review blitz.

War Horse (2011)

I wasn’t as high on this Steven Spielberg epic as I thought I would be. As the title suggests, it’s about the life of a horse, from its birth in the early 1900s to the end of the First World War, and the lives of all the people it touches along the way. There’s not much to dislike about the film — it features a stellar ensemble cast, looks absolutely amazing, and is designed to tug the heart strings. Ordinarily, that’s more than good enough for me.

But for some strange reason I wasn’t blown away by it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not the biggest horse fan, or perhaps its because the ensemble cast meant there wasn’t a particular human character I could really connect with. Or maybe it’s because it was so serious, lacking in that light touch I had been used to from Spielberg movies. But it is overly long at 146 minutes and my guess is that I found the subject matter a little on the bland side.

Ultimately though, it’s still a fine piece of filmmaking from one of the masters. I just wish I liked it more.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants is remarkable in that it takes an interesting but unspectacular concept and turns it into a poignant, funny and unexpected gem driven by excellent performances.

Based on the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings, it’s about a Honolulu lawyer (George Clooney) who happens to be the sole trustee of a family trust that owns a lot of very expensive land. He’s filthy rich, but as usual, not content with life. Following a tragic accident to his wife, he is forced to confront his two daughters and the fact that his marriage wasn’t as perfect as he thought it was.

This is the kind of movie critics just love. Well-written and well-directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), and with possibly the best performance of Clooney’s career, The Descendants treads a fine line between genuine emotion and melodrama, but manages to come out on the right side. If you’ve seen Payne’s earlier films you’ll have an idea of the kind of dark comedy and tone that he is accustomed to creating.

I wouldn’t say I absolutely loved this movie but I did think it was wonderfully made and produced laughs and stirred up emotions I had not expected. While it probably deserved its Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, I doubt this is a movie we will look back upon in a few years as a classic, or even a particularly memorable film.

4 stars out of 5

Puncture

Captain America as a drug addicted lawyer? And it’s a true story? Yep, that’s what Puncture is all about. Chris Evans is Mike Weiss, who looks like a bum off the street but is actually a very smart guy with a law degree. The problem is, he doesn’t care much about anyone except himself, and is usually either drunk or on drugs.

Weiss and his partner take on a case where the manufacturer of a safety syringe (which would be perfect in hospitals) claims it was shut out of the market by the big bad pharmaceutical companies (sounds like a true story already). As the case progresses and the odds become more and more against him, Weiss starts developing a conscience and begins to genuinely care about the cause — with your typical “flawed protagonist finds redemption” vibe written all over it.

Essentially, Puncture is a darker, grittier version of some of the other little lawyer against big bad corporations kind of film. Matt Damon’s The Rainmaker comes to mind. But unfortunately, Puncture takes far too long to get off the ground that by the time I found myself engaged it was almost over. And no, it’s got nothing to do with Evan’s acting, which was fine, by the way.

I think it had a great story to tell and the final third was executed rather well, but it’s a shame that the film could not have gotten interesting sooner.

3 stars out of 5

The Beaver (2011)

This film had things going for it and against it. On the one hand it is directed by Jodie Foster and is called The Beaver (which is awesome), but on the other it stars megadouche and anti-Semitic psycho Mel Gibson. In the end, I decided to put my biases aside and watch the film, and I still can’t decide in the end whether I made good use of my time.

The Beaver deals with Depression by creating a bizarre scenario. Water Black (Gibson) is a depressed toy company CEO who handles his issues by speaking through a beaver hand puppet (as though it were a different person). And to everyone’s surprise, the beaver makes Black a huge success and enables him to rekindle his relationship with his wife (Foster) and son (Anton Yelchin).

If you can stomach the premise and the actor, The Beaver is a solid drama that tells a serious story in a semi-lighthearted manner. There isn’t as much humour as you would expect, though I suppose it’s hard to be funny when you’re dealing with a mental illness that affects millions of people. I think Foster dealt with it respectfully and she injects the film with warmth and honesty, but I’m not certain that I was sold by it as a whole. In the end of the day, it’s still a family drama starring Mel Gibson, and neither is really my cup of tea.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Ides of March (2011)

I really need to get a move on.  It’s almost the end of 2011 and there are too many potentially good movies to be watched before 2012.  And so I began my (hopeful) end-of-year movie blitz with a 2012 Oscar frontrunner, The Ides of March, directed by, co-written by and starring George Clooney.

I’m a sucker for political dramas (I thought the 1998 John Travolta film Primary Colors was fantastic), and so I had high hopes for this film, which also stars some of my favourite actors, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei.  However, The Ides of March really belongs to Ryan Gosling, who continues to impress with a controlled, Oscar-worthy performance as Stephen Meyers, a junior campaign manager for Clooney’s (potential) Democratic presidential candidate, Mike Morris.

Without giving away too much, the film follows the young, bright and extremely capable Meyers as he tries to assist Pennsylvania Governor Morris in securing the state of Ohio in the Democrat’s presidential candidate race against an Arkansas Senator.  Securing Ohio effectively clinches the nomination (and essentially the White House), so it’s a big deal, but both Meyers and Morris are idealists who want to run the race with integrity and without compromising their values.  However, as they both find out throughout the course of the film, politics is a dirty game where the lines and boundaries and continually being pushed and blurred.  To what extremes will they go in order to get what they want?

I won’t divulge more than that except to say that The Ides of March is, at its core, a somewhat cynical political tale about the loss of innocence.  It begins slowly and is what some would call a slow burner, so it won’t be for everyone.  But I enjoyed every minute of it.  Apart from giving viewers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the shady deals, compromises and grey areas in these political processes — daily battles with competitors, internal power struggles, schmoozing journalists and smoothing out scandals — the stylish intensity that underlies the film from start to finish really elevates this otherwise unremarkable story (if you think about it)  to one of the best dramas of the year.

The perfect performances from the awesome cast must receive a significant chunk of the credit.  Gosling has already been nominated once (for Half Nelson in 2006), and this could be the year he takes out Best Actor at the Oscars.  Clooney (Syriana), Hoffman (Capote) and Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) are all Oscar winners and Giamatti is a multiple nominee, and each brings a touch of class to their character — all of whom possess a different side to what is originally presented.  And Evan Rachel Wood, who has a key role as a Morris campaign intern, is surprisingly good and steals a lot of scenes (no mean feat considering the company).

The Ides of March is a clever, well-executed drama with impeccable performances.  It’s probably not for the casual filmgoer looking for light, fast-paced thrills, but I think lovers of (American) politics and serious dramas will thoroughly enjoy it.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

The Men Who Stare at Goats is one of those light, quirky, darkly amusing comedies very loosely based on real events.  It features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.  It’s enjoyable, fascinating, and in no way meant to be taken seriously.  It’s not memorable, and is unlikely to win any awards, but it’ll give you a laugh and a good time for 94 minutes.

The film is told through the eyes of Ewan McGregor’s Bob Wilton, a journalist who ends up stumbling across the story of a lifetime – the US army’s attempts to develop psychic spies with super powers.  Yes, the US military actually tried to do this (and who knows, may still be trying to do this)!

You could be forgiven for thinking that The Men Who Stare at Goats is a Coen brothers movie in the vein of The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading.  It has that quirky feel from start to finish; you wonder what the heck is happening and what might happen next.  Every character Bob Wilton comes across is fascinating and hilarious, especially Lyn Cassady, perfectly played by the “so serious it’s funny” George Clooney.

But actually, The Men Who Stare at Goats is written by Peter Straughan (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), loosely based on the book of the same name by Jon Ronson.  It’s directed by Grant Helsov, who hasn’t done much directing and is more of an actor.  Hopefully Helsov will have more opportunities to direct after this film.

Anyway, there’s nothing particularly outstanding about the film.  It’s constantly amusing, but the big laughs are less frequent.  That said, it is clever, and somehow manages to stand on the fence when it comes to psychics.  The movie doesn’t endorse them as genuine, but it doesn’t exactly ridicule them as frauds either.  It does, however, suggest they may all be crazy!  My favourite thing about the whole film is that it makes constant references to Star Wars, especially because it stars young Obi-Wan Kenobi himself!

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: and yes, goats are stared at in this movie]

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

I really enjoyed Up and I thought Coraline was pretty good, but I still don’t consider myself a big fan of animated films.  However, Fantastic Mr Fox is making me reconsider that stance once again.

Initially, I had very little interest in seeing Fantastic Mr Fox – at first glance it looked like one of those weird, unappealing, low-quality stop-motion animations – but a couple of friends told me it was fantastic, and after all, the film is based on the book by Roald Dahl, just my favourite author growing up.

So I watched it, having no recollection of the book (which I am pretty sure I read years ago), and laughed harder than I ever thought I would. 

Fantastic Mr Fox (directed by Wes Anderson – The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) has my type of humour.  It’s dry, deadpan, random and crazy.  It’s quite Simpsonesque in many ways.  There’s a few clever recurring jokes that never seem to get old, and it’s a film that fully utilises the stop-motion animation techniques to maximise the hilarity.  Who would have thought jerky movements could be so funny?

George Clooney is perfect as the titular character Mr Fox.  His deadpan delivery and voice, which sometimes irritates me, was spot on here.  Supporting Clooney is a wonderful voice cast, including Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe, though none stand out as much as Clooney does.

At the end of the day, it’s really just a weird little story with some weird big laughs, but I have a feeling Fantastic Mr Fox could become a classic in years to come.

4 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Up in the Air (2009)

When I first heard about George Clooney’s new film Up in the Air, I thought it was the sequel to the 1994 basketball comedy The Air Up There starring Kevin Bacon.

Well, not as such.

The story revolves around Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man with a very unique job which I won’t divulge, but I will say it does require him to be ‘up in the air’ a lot.  Despite having to use his mouth for a living, Bingham shies away from human connection.  Enter Alex (Vera Farmiga) and Natalie (Anna Kendrick), two women who will turn his life upside down and make him question his life choices.

Up in the Air is the real deal – interesting premise, terrific script, great performances; warm, funny and very human – just about everything you could ask for in an A-grade drama comedy.  It’s not the type of film that will make you go ‘wow’, blow your mind or change your life, but it’s a film voters of awards will love (and from the awards it has already received, evidently so).

Up in the Air is co-written and directed by Jason Reitman, director of Juno and Thank You For Smoking.  If you have seen one or both of those films, then you’ll have an idea of the style and feel Reitman injects into Up in the Air.  It is a film dealing with serious issues and tragic situations, but somehow there are plenty of great laughs – certainly more than I expected. Full credit goes to Reitman and I have a feeling an Oscar nomination is coming his way shortly.

As for the performances – I’ve never been a huge fan of George Clooney because of that smug, dickish vibe he constantly gives off, but I have to admit it works perfectly here.  He is charming and funny and he makes you believe Ryan Bingham is real person.  Vera Farmiga, on the other hand, I am a big fan of, so I have nothing but praises for her subtle, believable performance.  And there’s the always-welcome Jason Bateman, who offers his usual stellar presence.

But it is the tiny chipmunk girl from the Twilight Saga, Anna Kendrick (I think she plays the annoying friend Jessica), that absolutely steals the show as the young hotshot.  I never knew she could act.  I think she’ll get a nomination as well and I wouldn’t be too surprised if she won.

If there is a complaint about Up in the Air, it’s that the film is a little flat.  Yes, there are ups and downs and it can get quite emotional, but there’s not much heart-thumping excitement. At 109 minutes, it’s definitely not a movie children would be able to sit through without getting restless.

Nevertheless, on the whole, Up in the Air is a quality movie that ticks most of the right boxes.  It’s unlikely to be one of those memorable films you’ll remember years down the track, but for now, at least, Up in the Air will come to mind when I think about the top films of the year.

4 out of 5 stars

[PS: Felt good to get that one out.  It’s been a while since I reviewed a movie!]