Tag Archives: Guy Pearce

Movie Review: The Rover (2014)

the-rover-poster

The Rover is David Michod’s highly-anticipated follow-up to one of the best Australian movies of all-time, 2010’s Animal Kingdom. Set in a world 10 years after a global economic collapse, the film stars Guy Pearce as a quiet and relentless anti-hero who sets out to retrieve his car from a band of robbers on the run, and during his journey forms a strange and uneasy bond with the abandoned brother of one of the robbers, played by Robert Pattinson.

I had very high expectations for The Rover because Animal Kingdom (review here) is THE film that restored my faith in Aussie movies. And like Animal KingdomThe Rover is a confident piece of filmmaking that is bleak, tense and uncompromising. But at the end of the day, I still have to consider The Rover somewhat of a disappointment even though it was probably exactly the way Michod wanted it to be.

The film is set entirely in Australia and has been marketed as a modern Western of sorts, taking advantage of Australia’s hot, dry air and sandy, desolate landscapes. It’s a visually impressive film, but it’s also one that doesn’t explain anything to its audience. There’s no voice-over or extensive opening crawl that explains to us how or why the economic collapse happened or what the world has become. All we know is that we’re in Australia, and it’s been 10 years since the collapse. Consequently, much of the intrigue of the film comes from discovering what the world is like (I won’t spoil too much), though you have to keep your eyes and ears open because all of it comes in little bits and pieces.

What it creates is an unsettling experience where you don’t really know what is happening and what will happen next. You are forced to put the pieces together to understand how this new world works and what the characters’ motivations are and why they’ve become the people they are. That’s what makes the film, despite it’s deliberately slow and considered pace, so compelling and compulsive to watch. It’s a fairly typical hook, but Michod’s direction and the screenplay by Michod and Joel Edgerton are so confident and understated that you never feel manipulated.

Having said that, The Rover can also be considered somewhat dull and nonsensical. Some of the slower scenes drag and don’t work as well as they should, and when you break the film down, it’s really quite a stupid story masquerading as something more profound. You can call much of the seemingly random stuff in it “realistic” and “unexpected”,  or you can call it “contradictory” and “pointless.”

The film offers more of an experience than a story in that you are just thrown into it and made to observe for about 100 minutes, and you come out of it knowing only what is shown to you on the screen. It intentionally under-utilizes its innovative setting, so much so that you might think it’s a waste, and anyone expecting to get a complete picture of a post-economic-collapse world will feel as though they’ve been cheated.

Despite what can be perceived as flaws, I found The Rover to be highly watchable thanks to the performances of two leads. We already know what we’re going to get from Guy Pearce, who honestly has to be one of the most under-appreciated A-listers ever (seriously, does anyone even remember that he was in Best Picture winners such as The King’s Speech and The Hurt Locker, and played the lead role in films like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Road, Memento, LA Confidential, The Time Machine  and Lockout, as well as the villain in Iron Man 3 and Prometheus?). But my goodness, did anyone think Robert Pattinson would be exceptional as well?  People said he was good outside the Twilight films (eg, Remember Me, Cosmopolis, Water for Elephants), but I thought he was just OK in those movies. Here, he is genuinely believable as a weak, slow-witted American redneck with stained teeth, and I’d be totally OK if he received some awards recognition for this performance (especially since he’s evidently trying so hard to break out of Edward Cullen mode).

Still, The Rover is nowhere near as exhilarating as Animal Kingdom, which may have set the bar too high. I applaud Michod for trying something different and a little daring for his sophomore feature rather than going down the commercial route (that’s probably coming next in his adaptation of the Afghan war book, The Operations, by the late Michael Hastings, and will reportedly start Brad Pitt), but I do wish The Rover could have been a more complete, satisfying story, rather than what ultimately feels like a short story stretched into a semi-experimental full-length feature.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Iron Man 3 (2013) (3D)

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The first Iron Man was an instant classic and one of the best superhero movies of all time. The sequel, Iron Man 2, bombed because it thought it could just take the successful template of the first film and make it bigger and louder (like what Michael Bay did for the Transformers franchise). So it’s great to see that the producers learned their lesson and turned Iron Man 3 into a home run. It’s everything fans could have asked for in a third installment – sufficient familiarity but also enough creativity and innovation to make it a completely different experience.

Iron Man 3 takes place after the events depicted in The Avengers (for those living under a rock, that’s the one with Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk) and has Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), battling demons from that bizarre alien experience. Mysterious terrorist attacks are happening in the US thanks to the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a new villain who may or may not be linked to someone from Stark’s past.

It seemed like a cookie-cutter premise from the start, and indeed, Iron Man 3 does take a little bit of time to take off. But once it does, director Shane Black (who also directed Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) takes the audience on a brand new adventure that has plenty of surprises and fresh thrills.

For starters, Iron Man is forced this time to spend a lot of screen time out of his suit, or in only parts of his suit, and must rely on his wit to get him out of dangerous situations. There are also several clever new inventions and ideas that show that the evolution of Iron Man is not just different looking suits, but actual functional improvements.

It’s also fantastic to see Gwyneth Paltrow, who has essentially played the damsel in distress in the first two films as love interest Pepper Pots, get to do some heavy lifting for once. Also taking on a physical, but different kind of role, was Don Cheadle, who provides the biggest laughs as sidekick War Machine, rebranded as the Iron Patriot. Unfortunately, every time I saw Cheadle’s face I was reminded of his dark turn as Captain Planet. Not his fault though.

Rounding out the stellar core cast are three excellent actors – the aforementioned Ben Kinsley, in a role I could imagine few others pulling off; Guy Pearce, also in a role few others could pull off (he plays a total freak geek who turns into a handsome devil; the last three films I saw him in were Lawless, where he plays a menacing eyebrow-less menace; Prometheus, where he plays a shriveled old man; and Lockout, where he plays a suave ex-con-turned-buffed-hero); and Rebecca Hall, in a role many others probably could have played (resurfaced ex-lover) but she excels here because she is so damn lovely.

The action in Iron Man 3 is also different and varied, so you don’t have to worry about seeing the same kind of sequences over and over. I can’t say much more without giving stuff away, but as usual, I urge those who want to see it to stay away from the trailers and gossipers because it will be a real shame to have some of the twists spoiled.

This is not a complaint, but I found it strange that after all that press about the film being co-produced by a Chinese company and that it will contain “Chinese elements”, there ended up being virtually no Chinese references. No scenes set in China. Maybe a Chinese actor in a cameo (can’t remember), but that’s it. Perhaps the “special” version released for Chinese audiences with bonus footage has something arbitrary thrown in for the sake of it.

Anyway, considering how difficult it is to inject freshness into a highly successful franchise, Iron Man 3 really is a very impressive effort all round.

4.25 out of 5

PS: Yes, there is a post-credits scene, though there is no reference to any of the other upcoming Marvel adaptations such as Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

PPS: I really didn’t want to see this film in 3D, but difficulties in acquiring a non-3D ticket on opening weekend forced me to fork out the extra dollars for the discomfort and added vision-obscuring tint. If I haven’t made myself clear, AVOID the 3D version at all costs! It adds absolutely nothing.

Movie Review: Lockout (2012)

Taken in space? I’m sold.

That, at least, was the advertised premise of Lockout, a sci-fi action movie co-written by French master (I use that term loosely) Luc Besson. Some time in the future, the US government decides to send its worst prisoners off into a maximum security prison in space, where they will be put under “stasis” (ie, sleep), for the duration of their sentences (I suppose to save money?). Somehow, the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace) ends up there, prisoners break loose, and there’s only one man that can save the day — Snow (Guy Pearce) — a former CIA operative arrested for murdering an undercover colleague.

Sounds pretty exciting, right?

Lockout hasn’t gotten many decent reviews but it’s not as bad as people have made it out to be. While Guy Pearce is not necessarily the man you would picture as a badass CIA operative (after all, he only recently played possibly the oldest man in the world in Prometheus), the Aussie actor is clearly the standout of the film. He oozes screen presence and actually looks the part, all buffed and toned. But it’s his ability to hit the mark on all of Snow’s awesome one-liners that makes Lockout an occasionally enjoyable ride. Even if the action doesn’t quite get there for you, the humour might.

Speaking of the action, that’s where Lockout struggles to differentiate itself from other films of the genre. The fight scenes are surprisingly meek and there’s not a whole lot of creativity. There is one combat scene that makes use of the space concept, but that’s about it. There’s almost not much of a climax, or at least one that is worthy of a mention. It’s a shame because it essentially wastes the fact that they are in space! Space!

The special effects also don’t provide much to talk about. In fact, while there are a few “outdoor’ shots, almost everything takes place inside the prison, so those expecting an spectacular spacecraft battles are likely to be disappointed.

The biggest problem with Lockout might be the villains. It’s a space prison with the worst mankind has to offer, but there aren’t any memorable baddies. They may be crazy or menacing but no one has any…personality. If you think of a film like Con Air, chances are you’ll remember an assortment of interesting bad guys. In Lockout, it never really feels like the bad guys were given a chance to do anything.

Despite all the complaints, I didn’t think Lockout was painful to watch. It could have been so much more, but instead it ended up just being an average sci-fi/action film boosted by a great comedic performance by Guy Pearce.

3 out of 5

Movie Review: Seeking Justice (2011)

Nicholas Cage is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.  Whenever he makes a movie, it (and he) could be fantastic, or it (and he) could be complete garbage.

Considering his recent history and his well-publicised financial troubles, I would have bet that his latest film, Seeking Justice, falls in the latter category.  The film had little promotion and had generated less buzz, but on the other hand it did have an A-list cast featuring Cage, January Jones and Australia’s most underappreciated Hollywood star (now that Joel Edgerton seems to have finally broken through), Guy Pearce.  It also has a couple of TV stars, Harold Perrineau (from Lost) and Jennifer Carpenter (from Dexter), is co-produced by Tobey Maguire, and is directed Roger Donaldson (not exactly a slouch with films such as The Bank Job, Thirteen Days, Dante’s Peak, Species, The Getaway, Cadillac Mac, Cocktail, No Way Out and Bounty under his belt).  I was intrigued.

As it turned out, Seeking Justice is somewhere in the middle — neither great nor trash.  It tells the story of Will Gerard (Cage), who, after a violent crime, becomes unwittingly involved with a sinister underground organisation that is into dishing out vigilante justice — with a hefty personal price.  Jones plays his wife and Pearce is one of the leaders of the association.

It’s the type of film that probably would have gone straight to DVD had the big names not been attached to it (perhaps some might still think it probably should have gone straight to DVD).  It is aptly handled, with decent performances (with the exception of Jones, whom for some reason keeps getting these ‘young wife to middle aged dudes’ roles — she can’t act) and some genuine tension stemming from a cleverly crafted illusion that there is more of a mystery than there actually is.  It also avoids (and I think this was the right decision) any real intellectual debate on the merits of vigilante justice, which helps prevent viewers from being misled into thinking that Seeking Justice is anything more than light entertainment.

And ultimately, that’s exactly what Seeking Justice is — a passable action-thriller that is occasionally entertaining but nothing special and, when it’s all said and done, extremely forgettable.  Sad that’s considered pretty good for Nicholas Cage these days.

3 out of 5

Movie Review: The King’s Speech (2010)

My first impression of The King’s Speech (before I actually saw the film) was BORING!  A movie starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush about a stuttering British Monarch and his speech therapist set in the 1930s?  Forget about it.

But as it turned out, everyone — and I mean everyone — was raving about this film, and all of a sudden it was a frontrunner at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars.  So I put aside my prejudices and went to watch The King’s Speech, fortunately, not knowing a whole lot about it apart from what I wrote above.

And well, I was immensely impressed.  Given my aversion to such films, I find it extraordinary that I found The King’s Speech to be one of the best films of the year.   While it may or may not make my top 10 list (not sure until I put that post together — very soon!), I don’t hesitate in saying that it might very well be the best acted film of 2010, and I think Colin Firth has a terrific chance of nabbing his first Oscar.  Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce — everyone in it was exceptional, making the film a delight to watch.

At it’s core, The King’s Speech is about the relationship between two very different men — Albert, the Duke of York (Firth), who is a horrible stammerer (not a desirable attribute who someone that has to speak publicly all the time) and Lionel Logue (Rush), an unconventional Australian speech therapist.  Much of the film is dialogue, but the screenplay (by David Seidler) is so wonderful and the direction (by Tom Hooper) is so skilled that I was never bored, despite the admittedly slow pace.

There’s tension, light humour and charming banter, plus plenty of heart.  And really, it’s actually quite a fascinating story, handled with intelligence, subtlety and care.  It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but if even I can enjoy it as much as I did, then there’s hope for everyone.

4.25 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Animal Kingdom (2010)

Animal Kingdom opens around Australia on 3 June 2010

People like me are what’s wrong with the Australian film industry.  My initial reaction to Aussie films is always one of scepticism and prejudice.  If it’s Australian, then chances are, it’s crap.  I’m sure I am not alone in holding this kind of biased sentiment against locally produced films.  Is it because of the poor track record?  Is it because they try too hard to make something edgy?  Or is it because we’re so used to the big bucks spent on Hollywood movies that we look down upon the locals who make their films on, relatively speaking, shoestring budgets?

I don’t know what it is, but what I do know is that Animal Kingdom, the Australian film written and directed by David Michod, is the real deal.  The film may have won the World Cinema dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, but it wasn’t until I watched it at a screening last week that it stripped away my prejudice against it and most Australian films in general.

Animal Kingdom is an explosive crime drama set in Melbourne suburbia.  The story is told through the eyes of 17-year-old Josh ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville), who is thrust into the world of crime when he is forced to go live with his grandmother ‘Smurf’ (Jacki Weaver) and his three uncles — Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford).  They are a family of relatively small-time armed robbers and drug-traffickers, but their time is coming to an end thanks to a gang of renegade detectives who are taking the law into their own hands.  As J finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into their world, Animal Kingdom becomes a frightening tale of survival, as J is torn between his girlfriend Nicky (Laura Wheelwright), self-preservation and loyalties to his family.

If there is one word I could use to describe Animal Kingdom, it would be “riveting”.  Even though it is classified as a “crime drama”, the majority of the tension (and man, there is edge-of-your-seat tension throughout the entire film) stems from the relationships and power struggles between members of the Cody family.

Debut director Michod has created an incredibly intense world that is terrifying, claustrophobic and deeply personal.  When you are a 17-year-old and this is the only life you’ve ever known, where do you go?  Who do you turn to for help?

Animal Kingdom is a film that twists and turns, and although there is a certain feeling of inevitability, you never quite know exactly what is going to happen next.  What struck me as particularly brilliant was how well each of the characters were drawn out.  With the exception of perhaps Pope’s best friend Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton) and senior cop Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), every key character in this film is multi-dimensional and never turn out to be as they first appear.  They each have such strong personalities and traits that their interactions are always bound to produce fireworks and/or make you feel unsettled.

I used to have this idea that all the ‘good’ Australian actors end up overseas, but the performances in Animal Kingdom blew me away.  First-timer James Frecheville gives a wonderfully controlled performance as the protagonist J — a subdued man-child who prefers to be unseen but is forced to come out of his shell as matters spiral out of control.  While Stapleton and Ford both give solid performances, the standouts have to be Ben Mendelsohn’s Pope and Jacki Weaver’s Smurf, the two menacing and psychotic heads of the family.

Animal Kingdom should not be mistaken for an action-thriller.  I wouldn’t describe the pace as slow, but at 112 minutes it does feel like a long movie, especially towards the end when it took a while to come to the final resolution.

All I can say is go see it, not because we should support the Australian film industry but because it is genuinely a terrific film.  I do hope it does well at the box office, especially amongst locals.  It is by far the best Australian film I’ve seen since the 2001 Lantana.

4.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Road (2009)

There are quite a few excellent posters for 'The Road' - this is my favourite of the lot

Pound-for-pound, The Road is the most depressing movie I have seen in years, but it is also moving and strangely uplifting.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy (my review of the book here) and directed by Australian John Hillcoat (The Proposition), The Road stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a nameless father and son duo making their away across a post-apocalyptic America.

At first glance, The Road is a survival movie.  The world in which they live is not a pretty one.  Nor a safe one.  I don’t want to spoil it for those who don’t know much about it, but let’s just say McCarthy (and Hillcoat) don’t have much faith in humanity.  Even though I had read the book, seeing that brutal, horrific world on the screen still made my skin crawl.  There are a few scenes in particular that I will remember for a very long time.

However, at its heart, The Road is about a father’s unconditional love for his son.  Then tenderness with which the man cares for his boy brings a sense of hope into a hopeless world.  Despite how futile their efforts seem, you want them to make it.  You want them to live.

Visually, the film is amazing.  Hillcoat’s interpretation of the world McCarthy created on the page is grey, lifeless and frightening.  It’s not so much a visual style (like say Harry Potter 6) as it is a depiction of what our eyes would see if we were there in person.

As for the performances, Viggo Mortensen is sensational.  I can’t think of another actor better suited for the role than him.  On the other hand, Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son felt more replaceable.  He was more than adequate, but I wouldn’t call it an outstanding performance.

The book and the film have a number of differences – more flashbacks, less repetition and increased action – but the essence is identical.  Most of these changes are welcome and necessary for the adaptation to work, so I don’t have a problem with it.  Well, maybe except the extended cameos of Charlize Theron, some of which felt like were there just to give her more screen time.

The Road is terrific (in both senses of the word), but be warned – it is a slow paced film.  There are some short bursts of excitement, and though it is never boring, there are lengthy periods of patient observation.

On the whole, The Road is a worthy adaptation of an award-winning novel.  It might not have quite the same emotional punch as the book, but when all said and done, The Road may very well be the most important movie of they year.

4 out of 5 stars!

[PS: I can’t believe that ‘The Road’ is receiving a limited release in Australia.  For a film based on a best-selling, Pulitzer Prize winning novel and directed by an Australian with two Australians in key roles (Kodi Smit-McPhee and Guy Pearce), this is mind boggling to me.]

[PPS: Contrary to popular belief (okay, just mine), this film has no relation to The Lord of the Rings…except maybe Viggo Mortensen is actually Aragorn and Kodi Smit-McPhee is the son he had with Arwen…and the world is the way it is because Sauron finally got his hands on The Ring (ie Frodo’s ring, not the Japanese horror film).]