Tag Archives: Paul Bettany

Mortdecai (2015)

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I was curious as to just how bad Mortdecai is — so, as any idiot would do, I watched it. Well, all I can say is that critics and audiences weren’t lying when they declared it one of the worst movies of 2015, and likely the nadir of Johnny Depp’s career. After this embarrassing performance, the former two-time “Sexiest Man Alive” is now officially just “Man Alive”.

Based on the British novels of the same name that few are familiar with, Mortdecai tells the silly adventures of the eponymous aristocrat (Depp), who runs into financial troubles and strikes a deal with a detective (Ewan McGregor), who is in love with his wife (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) to assist recover a stolen painting in return for 10% of the insurance money. And so begins a bunch of criminally unfunny stunts as Mortdecai and his tough man-servant, literally named Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany), set about trying to locate the whereabouts of the painting while saving his marriage and fighting off goons.

The whole feel of Mortdecai is one of a bad sitcom. It’s supposed to be light and tongue-in-cheek, but there is simply no charm or wit to be found. Depp has done the eccentric character thing for so long now, but he’s generally been able to find the right balance between character and caricature. Without anything to cover him up except for a badly glued-on moustache (which is actually one of the running gags in the film because he thinks it looks good, much to the chagrin of his wife), Depp delivers a shockingly pathetic performance that makes his acting in The Tourist seem Oscar-worthy. At times I wondered whether he gave a shit at all about this film.

Throw in Gwyneth generally amplifying her unlikableness, Bettany embarrassing himself with his laughably lame character, and Ewan McGregor not really doing much of anything, Mortdecai struggles to eke out even one funny joke. There  wasn’t a single joke in the film I found funny, and I doubt this was just a mood thing — I don’t think I could have found it funny no matter how I was feeling, which was actually being ready to be pleasantly surprised by this movie. Instead, it was worse than I had feared. From the very beginning I was already like, Oh no, so this is the tone they’re going with? This is going to be the annoying, over-the-top character Depp is going to be playing for the entire movie?

I won’t lie — I lost interest pretty quickly and never got it back, even when Olivia Munn popped up for a little bit as the nympho daughter of a potential buyer of the painting. The film was just flat all the way through, and it was one repetitive gag after another, all with the same cheeky, spoofy tone, but without any punch to the jokes. With no character to root for, silly action sequences and a meandering plot, Mortdecai soon became unbearable.

I wanted to see the film and say it’s not really that bad. But it is. I almost felt bad for these supposedly good actors embarrass themselves by appearing in what is meant to be a comedy, but I felt much worse for myself having sat through this shithouse movie.

1 star out of 5

Legend (2015)

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I know what you’re thinking, but no, Legend is not a biopic about me. Nor is it a remake of that trippy 1985 fantasy film with Tom Cruise and a unicorn. This one is actually about the notorious Kray twins, Ronald and Reggie, two mobsters who ruled London back in the 1950s.

Both twins, who have vastly different personalities and even look a little different, are played by Tom Hardy in a powerhouse performance. And yet, despite this and a brilliant supporting cast that includes Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, Taron Egerton, Christopher Eccleston and Chazz Palminteri, Legend largely slipped under the radar, pulling in just US$43 million at the global box office (against a US$25 million budget).

Legend has a mostly fun, energetic vibe to it, mixing the humour of the contrasting personalities of the twins — Reggie is the levelheaded one, while Ron is literally crazy — with brutal, unrelenting violence. There are also some dark shades to this story with Reggie’s abuse of his young wife (played by Browning), and credit goes to director Brian Helgeland (best known for directing the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 and penning the adaptation scripts to LA Confidential (he won the Oscar for it) and Mystic River) for controlling the rhythm and transitions so that the shifts in tone aren’t too jarring.

The problem with Legend is that it feels like it should have been a whole lot more than it was, given the stars, performances and source material. The story plays out too coventionally, and the developments are predictable despite it being a true story. It’s also too long, of course, with a sagging midsection and an anticlimactic ending. Further, while the Kray twins are fascinating people, it’s not easy to sympathise or empathise with them, making it difficult for audiences to connect with the protagonists. These problems prevent it from being the classic mobster flick it had the potential to be.

Still, flaws notwithstanding, Legend is a very solid mob film with some enjoyable sequences and a super cast. It’s another one of those good-but-not-great movies to throw onto the pile. It’s not quite The Departed, but it’s not quite Gangster Squad either.

3.5 stars out of 5

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

Movie Review: Priest (3D) (2011)

In the space of a few months, Priest went from one of my most anticipated movies of the year to just another film at the cinema.  Happens when the film’s release is delayed by three and a half months in Australia and the reviews are ‘unkind’ at best.

Nonetheless, I tried to keep an open mind about this film loosely based on a Korean comic of the same name, about an alternate world where priests are kick-ass vampire killers in an eternal human-vampire holy war.  The initial teaser trailers I saw over a year ago looked extremely promising — pure horror action, a stylish visual feast and one of my favourite actors, Paul Bettany.

But unfortunately, the critics that saw the film before me were right.  Priest just didn’t have it.  Nice to look at, sure, but it’s the perfect example of a failed comic book adaptation.  A great premise bogged down by a contrived plot, boring characters, poor dialogue and an unnecessary seriousness.  At just 87 minutes, Priest felt overlong, but at the same time strangely incomplete.  The result is an aesthetically pleasing, slick, occasionally frightening/exciting film that is ultimately forgettable and never comes close to living up to its potential.

Bettany did the best he could here, and is clearly the bright spot in an otherwise weak line up.  Karl Urban, Maggie Q and Cam Gigandet were all merely serviceable co-stars and uninteresting characters.

If there is something the film did do right, it’s the freakish vampires, who looked more like the mutated beasts from Resident Evil than Edward Cullen.  Not surprising, considering director Scott Stewart started his career in visual effects and previously directed Bettany in another supernatural action/horror, Legion, which involved angels and demons and has a similar feel.  The creatures in that film were pretty scary too.  Sadly, neither film was particularly good.  On the whole, Priest is probably better than Legion, but I personally thought the best parts of Legion were far better than the best parts of Priest.

I’d say Priest deserves some consideration as a DVD rental, especially when put up against straight-to-DVD films on the shelves, but in all honesty it could have and should have been so much more.

2 stars out of 5

PS: Shockingly, Priest has been released exclusively on 3D over here (at least from what I can gather).  Needless to say, as a post-production conversion, it was no more than another pointless money grabbing exercise.

Start of Year DVD Blitz: Part II

As Frank Costanza once said: ‘You want it?  You got it!’  Four more movie reviews to continue my Start of Year DVD Blitz.  I predict there will probably be one more after this.  Maybe two.  Or three.

Beautiful Kate (2009)

If Animal Kingdom was 2010’s best Aussie film, then Beautiful Kate was most probably the cream of the 2009 crop of Australian cinema.

In many ways, this was a typical Aussie film — low budget, set in the outback, sad and depressing.  But for some reason I was really affected by the emotions of this splendid movie directed by Rachel Ward.

It’s based on an American story by Newton Thornburg but adapted to Australian conditions, and tells the story of Ned (Ben Mendelsohn), a writer to returns home with his young girlfriend (Maeve Dermody) to his dying father (Bryan Brown) and younger sister (Rachel Griffiths).  Ned’s past his replayed through various flashbacks, most of which revolve around his twin sister Kate (Sophie Lowe) and their tragic youth.

This was the type of film that, perhaps as recent as two or three years ago, I might have scoffed at as another boring old Aussie flick.  But I was never bored with Beautiful Kate.  Because it deals with taboo subjects and has a lot of powerful scenes, I found myself engrossed.  A few sequences towards the end may have overstepped the mark, but this was still a small triumph.

4.25 stars out of 5

Creation (2009)

Paul Bettany is fast becoming one of my favourite actors, and Creation, in which he plays Charles Darwin, may be his best performance to date.

I’ve always been fascinated with the struggle between science and religion, and Creation is at the very heart of this battle, telling the story of how Darwin came about to write On the Origin of Species, one of the most important works ever written (for those who don’t know, it is considered the foundation of the theory of evolution).

I thought a film about writing a book would be rather dull, but boy was I wrong.

Little did I know, Darwin (a fellow Cambridge student — I remember walking past the house where he once lived) was once quite religious, and his wife and first cousin, Emma (played by Bettany’s real life wife Jennifer Connelly) was a deeply devout Christian.  And so it was actually a gargantuan struggle for Darwin to write what he did.

Bettany’s marvellous performance drives this film from start to finish, and I was amazed how moved I was by his story and his relationship with his eldest daughter Annie.  The narrative jumps around back and forth in time quite a bit, which was distracting at first (because I could only gauge the time through how much Bettany’s hairline had receded), but once I ot used to it I was completely captivated by this fascinating film.  The final scene was perhaps a little contrived but it didn’t dampen the experience for me.

I know a lot of people were underwhelmed by this film, but not me.  I loved it.

4.5 stars out of 5

Despicable Me (2010)

Universal’s first foray into CGI animated features was a success.  I can’t believe I had almost zero interest in this film before, which utilises the vocal talents of Steve Carrell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand and Will Arnett.  Perhaps it was the lack of promotion, but Despicable Me was every bit as good as, if not better than, Megamind, that other animated feature about a villain with a heart.

Despicable Me has a pretty familiar core — a bad guy who wants to be worse, but through a bunch of little orphans, becomes good.  However, I loved the humour, which uses a combination of clever references to real life, slap stick and outrageous jokes.  The kids are also very cute.  Not much to dislike here, though I grant you that this will unlikely go down as one of the more memorable animated features.

Nonetheless, I had a great time with it.  Not sure if it can challenge the other nominees in the best animated film category this year at the Golden Globes (Tangled, Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist) but it will sure give them a run for their money.  Or at least it should, anyway.

4 stars out of 5

Notorious (2009)

I was desperate to see this one (even though I’m not a huge fan of hard core rap) because I had always been fascinated by the Notorious BIG and that whole East Coast-West Coast feud thing with Tupac, which probably led to both their deaths.  I finally got a chance to watch Notorious the other day and it was just okay — a biopic where the subject and story were absolutely fascinating but the film’s execution was somewhat lacking.

The life of Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious BIG, aka Biggie Smalls, is one of rags to riches that was ultimately cut short at the age of 24.  The man was built like a barrel, but he was a rapping genius and had a way with the ladies.  I got to see all of that, but I still didn’t really feel like I got the essence of the man.  I’m not sure if it was the script or the performance of Jamal Woolard, but BIG never shone through, even though he narrated the freaking film.  Perhaps it’s because he was portrayed as not a particularly likeable guy — a bit of a sleeze, a serial cheater and prone to outbursts of violence, especially towards women.

Interestingly, I thought the two most sympathetic characters in the whole film were Puff Daddy (played by Derek Luke) and BIG’s mother Voletta Wallace (Angela Bassett) — and as it turned out, they were both producers of the film.

For a biopic, 123 minutes is not especially long, but Notorious felt long.  I did enjoy it because I was interested in the subject and his life, but this was a film that could have been so much better.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Tourist (2010)

Two of the biggest and sexiest stars in the world (Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie) teaming up with the director that brought us the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others — sounded like a winning formula to me.

Unfortunately, and inexplicably, The Tourist turned out to be a somewhat stale and poorly paced action thriller that wasted all the incredible talent involved.

As the title suggests, Depp is Frank, a tourist who by chance meets a woman named Elise (Jolie), who turns out to be a secret agent that turns his life upside down.  There are gangsters and British government officials (led by criminally underused Paul Bettany), and there’s the usual chase scenes, mixed in with a touch of romance and a couple of twists, but it all felt strangely flat and uneventful (despite the beautiful backdrop of Venice).

Both Depp and Jolie produced sub-par performances by their usually lofty standards, but perhaps the biggest problem was their lack of chemistry.  I really don’t know why, but they had such little spark that the romance, which drives the narrative, never felt believable.

At the end of the day, The Tourist was an average film (at most) that should have been much much better.  Just shows you can’t toss up a couple of stars and a hot director and expect brilliant results.

2.5 stars out of 5

End of Year DVD Blitz: Part III

Part II of my end of year DVD Blitz was downright awful.  Part III is still a bit of a mixed bag, but there are a few decent ones.  Here’s five more, and there will definitely be a Part IV coming soon.

Legion (2010)

I think this film screened at the cinemas but was gone as quickly as it came.

Starring Mr Jennifer Connelly (Paul Bettany), Lucas Black, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson and Kate Walsh, Legion is a film of two halves.  The first half was actually sensational — intriguing, exciting, bizarre and downright frightening at times, leading me to start thinking this was going to be one of the best biblical apocalopse movies in recent memory.  Weird mutating demonic people, a bunch of characters stuck in the cafe of a service station in the middle of nowhere, and an enigmatic, sinister looking dude who appears to be an angel — Legion really started off with a bang.

And then, about halfway through…everything just fell apart.  One minute I was on the edge of my seat, and the next, I was struggling to stay awake.  Unfortunately, the rest of film stayed that way until the end, failing to provide a final spark that would have redeemed the film.  Oh well.

It probably doesn’t deserve this high of a rating, but on purely on the strength of the first half of the film I’m going to give it:

3 stars out of 5

Chloe (2009)

This film had gotten plenty of publicity, and not just because it was based on the French film Nathalie, directed by Atom Egoyan, and features an all-star cast.  It was because Amanda Seyfried apparent gets her gear off.

While she does, of course, as does Julianne Moore, Chloe is really quite tame as an erotic psychological thriller (most of it is verbal).  But it’s still a pretty interesting, strangely compelling film about a woman (Julianne Moore), her husband (Niam Leeson), their son (Max Thieriot), and a prostitute (Amanda Seyfried).

Moore gives a knockout performance as always, and while the film was rather slow paced, it was atmospheric and well-made.  A great study into relationships and marriages.  A dud of an ending did put a damper on things though.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed it enough to give it:

3.5 stars out of 5

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

I had been meaning to watch this one and read the book on which it was based for quite a while, but somehow had done neither.  I finally got the chance to see this inspirational biographical film about Li Cuxin, a guy from a poor rural family in China who was selected to learn ballet and eventually became an international superstar, though it came at the cost of ‘betraying’ the country he was from.

Very amazed that this was an Australian production (even though it features predominantly international stars) because it was quite well made, if not a little heavy handed at times.  The thing that impressed me the most was that they managed to find two Asian actors who not only resembled Li Cuxin, but could also perform ballet, speaking English and Mandarin, and most of all, act.

This was probably one of those feel-good melodramas that I liked more than I should have because I love the true story so much.  And this is coming from a guy who absolutely does not ‘get’ ballet.

Li Cuxin’s youthful naievete, his courage and his resolve were really brought out in this film, which was at times infuriating but ultimately triumphant and inspiring.  This is one film I would recommend to people who want/need a kick to start pursuing their dreams — only, of course, if you are a hardcore Communist, because this film felt like a propaganda (or should I say anti-propoganda) film far too often.

3.75 stars out of 5


Let Me In (2010)

The Swedish original, Let the Right One In, is right up there as one of the best films I saw last year, and one of the best horror films I had seen in a long time (my review here).

And so it was with some trepidation that I approached the obligatory American remake, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield guy) and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass).

It’s kind of hard to review a remake when you have seen the original, but I did my best to approach Let Me In as a standalone film and judge it on its own merits.  I’m not sure if I succeeded or not, but nevertheless, I still found it to be a superior horror film — perhaps not as good as the original, but good enough to potentially blow away people who haven’t seen the Swedish version.

Set in New Mexico, the plot closely mirrors the original (of course, though Reeves said this was a remake based on the book, not the Swedish film), though it’s not a shot-for-shot remake as some have claimed that it is close to.  Smit-McPhee is Owen, the bullied boy who finds a friend in the strange and mysterious Abby (Moretz), who is not what she seems.  The two strike up an unlikely friendship/romance that will chance both their lives forever.

The two leads do have good chemisty, and as expected, the Hollywood version is slightly quicker in pace and more explicitly viceral in terms of scares.  It’s a fine horror film in its own right (though not a classic like the original), but I was sorely disappointed that they took out the scariest scene in the Swedish film (the ‘cat’ scene).

4 stars out of 5

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)

I thoroughly enjoyed the first 30 Days of Night, the one with Josh Hartnett and Melissa George, about a bunch of people stuck in an Alaskan town for 30 days without sunshine while vampires roamed the streets.

This straight-to-DVD sequel is a much smaller and less ambitious production, using lesser known actors (Kiele Sanchez, Stephen Huszar) to replace the stars in the same roles.  It continues about a year after the first film ended and follows Stella as she tries to overcome the grief from her husband’s death and somehow ends up in LA, where she finds herself fighting off a whole new network of vampires.

There’s a good reason why this one went straight to DVD — it’s your run of the mill, bloody, gory, uninspiring vampire romp with B-grade actors and lots of guns — but not a whole lot of genuine tension or thrills.  It’s adequate for what it is, but best to keep your expectations in check if you were a fan of the first film.

2 stars out of 5

There’s still more movies — Part IV to come shortly!