Tag Archives: Tom Hardy

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.

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

The Revenant (2015)

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I wasn’t as big of a fan of Birdman, last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, as most other people, as sublime an example of filmmaking as it is. Nor was I rooting for its director, Alejandro G Iñárritu, to win Best Director, not because he wasn’t deserving, but because I was rooting for Boyhood‘s Richard Linklater. This year, however, with just a couple of weeks before the Oscars, I’m seriously leaning towards rooting for both the director and his movie, The Revenant, without a doubt one of the most remarkably executed, jaw-droppingly beautiful and suffocatingly intense films of the year.

The film is loosely based on the story of 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was among a group of military hunters attacked by Native Americans in the wilderness. There is another major event that happens after this which I’m not going to share for the sake of those who haven’t seen the trailer. Yes, it’s in the trailer, but I was one of those people who saw the trailer after the movie and thought it gave away too much, spoiling a lot of big plot points.

Anyway, The Revenant is as harrowing of a movie experience as you can imagine. Centred around themes of survival, revenge and redemption, the film is highlighted by its brutal, visceral violence, juxtaposed against the harsh and unforgiving, but undeniably majestic beauty of the Lousiana Purchase landscape.

I was blown away. Part of it is Iñárritu’s spectacular visual style, filled with long takes and sweeping, constantly moving shots. The scenes are so fluid, so perfectly choreographed, the camera angles so unique — it’s the type of thing I thought was only possible in animation or video games, never in live-action feature films. I’m sure there are plenty of special effects, but it’s all done so seamlessly that the visual experience comes across as terrifyingly real. With the possible exception of his friend and fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, I don’t think anyone else could have done it with as much flair as Iñárritu.

Despite a 156-minute running time, which may be too long for some, there is never a dull moment. The film is always moving along, the story always progressing. As a fetishist for watching personal hardships in the wild (one of my favourite movies is Into the Wild, and I also really liked Reese Witherspoon’s Wild from a year ago), I loved the torturous solitary survival scenes. I don’t exactly know why — maybe it’s the man vs wild dynamic or the exhilaration from seeing the ultimate will to survive, or perhaps I just have problems.

The quieter moments have the effect of amping up the several major action set pieces in the film, which are among the most amazing I’ve seen this year alongside Mad Max: Fury Road. Everything is presumably choreographed but looks and feels raw and realistic, making the experience so much more tense than the modern CGI-dominated superhero action we’re accustomed to these days.

I read about the horror stories in making this film, how nearly everything was shot in natural light, an astounding feat in itself. I’m sure it was as freezing as it looked on screen, and Leo, who just picked up the Golden Globe for Best Actor, absolutely deserves his first Oscar for his portrayal of Glass. With not much dialogue to deliver, it’s a much more subtle performance than what he delivered in The Wolf of Wall Street, but boy did he go through hell to get the job done. His dedication and professionalism notwithstanding the success he has already achieved is impressive.

Likewise, kudos to the rest of the super cast, which includes Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domnhall Gleeson. Hardy, in particular, gives a marvellous performance that’s much more nuanced than it would have been in lesser hands, and I’m pretty certain an Oscar nomination is heading his way (though I’d still say Mark Rylance from Bridge of Spies is the favourite.

If there is something to nitpick, it would probably be that it is sometimes a little difficult to decipher what some of the characters are saying because of the way they spoke back then, coupled with the mumbling and the twang. That said, this is the type of film you can watch and figure out without understanding a single word of the dialogue.

When all the elements are put together, it’s hard for me to deny that The Revenant is anything but a modern masterpiece. The combination of Iñárritu’s visual style, strong script and masterful pacing, combined with the simple yet intense plot and fabulous performances, results in a unique journey that ranks right at the top of my 2015 cinematic experiences.

5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Child 44 (2015)

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I remember first seeing Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 in a bookstore, reading the back cover, and thinking to myself that the story will likely make a great movie. Stalinist Russia, a child killer on the loose — what’s there not to like?

Hollywood execs clearly agreed with me, and that’s why we now have the film adaptation of Child 44 by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), starring the always-brilliant Tom Hardy as an MGB officer at the center of the story. Playing his wife is the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, whom Hardy previously worked with on The Drop. Rounding out the superb cast are Robocop Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman and the ubiquitous Aussie Jason Clarke.

All the ingredients for a brilliant political mystery thriller are there, but for whatever reason, Child 44 turned out to be a mild disappointment. It’s one of those films where you keep watching intently, expecting it to get better and blow you away at any second, but all you end up doing is wait and wait and wait, until suddenly you realise it’s all over and none of your expectations were met. And that’s not a good feeling after you just sat through 137 minutes.

I sense that some of the blame must go to the story itself. It’s actually very misleading to market this film as being about the hunt for a child serial killer. In reality, Child 44 is a political thriller with a tangential child serial killer subplot. The “mystery” is something that’s always lingering in the background, something the film comes back to repeatedly, but is never the focal point. Instead, the vast majority of the film is about depicting the terror of Stalinist Russia — how you always need to keep an eye over your shoulder, how people and the state can turn on you at any second; never knowing who to trust; the constant fear and paranoia.

As for the killer? There’s never really a proper investigation. There’s no real mystery, no shocking revelations. It’s just some guy who suddenly shows up halfway through and is revealed to audiences as the killer. I also had some trouble understanding the motivations behind Hardy’s and Rapace’s characters wanting so badly to find the killer. They don’t even have children and they have enough life-and-death problems of their own to deal with. As a result it’s almost like the whole child killer thing is just a hook to suck people in. It’s a red herring.

That said, I shouldn’t be penalising Child 44 for not being the type of film I anticipated. On the plus side, it is quite effective in its depiction of that period of history, and Tom Hardy delivers a superb performance as the complex protagonist. I also wasn’t as distracted as some people have been by the Russian-accented English — or at least the varied attempts at it — as I accepted early on that it’s just something viewers have to live.

What fails the movie, however, is a lack of genuine intrigue and sustained tension. There are perhaps too many subplots, none of which manage to gather any momentum. It’s just not that interesting, a shocker considering that the book is considered to be a riveting page-turner. And that’s a shame, because I’m sure there’s a compelling story buried in there somewhere.

On the whole, Child 44 isn’t terrible. It’s a solid production with strong performances, but it’s also quite a dull adaptation that is unable to bring out the most of the fascinating premise and whatever it is that made the book such a supposedly compulsive bestseller.

2.5 stars out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part IX

This could be the last blitz before my best of and worst of list for 2014.

St Vincent (2014)

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I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s a simple premise we’ve seen countless times — a grumpy old man befriends a youngster, and they each end up learning something profound from the unconventional relationship. But in this case, the superb cast led by Bill Murray, doing what he does best, makes St Vincent a funny, poignant movie that won’t blow you away but will have you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside by the time the credits start rolling.

Murray plays the titular Vincent, a mysterious, reclusive old man with a sharp tongue and sharper attitude. Struggling single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door, and Vincent, almost by accident, starts teaching Oliver the ways of life. Naomi Watts plays Vincent’s Russian “lady friend.”

Murray has turned his grumpy, deadpan face down to perfection, and it’s on full display in this film. It’s a shame we don’t see him much in movies these days because the man is a true comedy genius. It was also good to see Melissa McCarthy play a straight character for once and doing it so well. She’s much more than just a stock character — you really feel for her — and she has great chemistry and timing with Murray when they’re engaged in one of their hilarious spats.

I thought Naomi Watts was a bit of A strange casting choice for her character, but apart from that St Vincent ticks all the right boxes for a touching and funny drama parents can enjoy with their kids (I’d say 12 and above).

3.5 stars out of 5

The Drop (2014)

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This is one of those gritty and brooding crime dramas that’s neither forgettable nor particularly memorable. I thought it was pretty decent because of a smart script, confident direction, and strong performances from the brilliant Tom Hardy and the legendary James Gandolfini in one of his final roles.

Basically, the plot revolves around Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), a bartender who works a bar run by Gandolfini’s character, Cousin Marv. Marv used to own the establishment but sold it to Chechen gangsters, and now the bar is a “drop” point for illegal funds. Later, a robbery sets the story in motion, and Bob finds himself being targeted by both the cops and the robbers.

Much of the story centres Bob’s relationship with a neighbourhood girl played by Noomi Rapace and a dog. It’s one of those films where you feel as though something is brooding and tension is always building, but you’re not sure of where it is all heading.

The cast is superb, especially Hardy, who is a man of few words but conveys many emotions just from looks and expressions, yet it is often difficult to figure out exactly what is going through his head.

It’s a violent film that doesn’t necessarily shy away from crime drama cliches but is still clever and different enough to distinguish itself from the pack.

3.5 stars out of 5

By the Gun (2014)

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By comparison to the film above, By the Gun is a much weaker and forgettable crime drama. Ben Barnes plays Nick Tortano, a low-level mobster who wants to “be someone.”

So he works under a Boston crime boss played by Harvey Keitel, starts dating his estranged daughter (Leighton Meester) and recklessly gets himself into a lot of shit as he tries to make a name for himself. Something’s gotta give!

I like Ben Barnes. He’s one of the prettiest actors around and he’s a stage actor who can clearly act. But as hard as he tried, he didn’t convince me here as a Boston gangster. Maybe that’s why he’s stuck with roles like Prince Caspian and high-profile flops like Dorian Gray and Seventh Son.

By the Gun has enough grit but not enough originality to sustain its 109-minute running time. I didn’t care much for the characters nor their predicaments, and when that happens a crime drama is destined for failure. It’s not poorly made, it’s just so average that you start to forget about it as soon as the credits roll.

2.5 stars out of 5

Son of a Gun (2014)

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So many guns in this movie review blitz! Son of a Gun is a fairly compelling Australian crime drama with similar themes to the masterful Animal Kingdom. It’s not as good, of course, but by Aussie movie standards it’s not bad.

Rising star Brenton Thwaites, who is just everywhere these days, plays JR, a young convict who becomes acquainted with a notorious robber played by Ewan McGregor. Upon his release, JR is introduced to a mob boss, this beginning a life of crime where the stakes continue to be escalated and things spiral out of control before JR realises he is in way over his head.

Like Animal Kingdom, this is a crime drama seen from the point of view of a naive man-child, learning the brutalities of the world with one frightening lesson after another. It’s a twisted coming-of-age story of sorts, filled with thumping violence and rounded characters.

It’s unfair beyond that to compare the two films. Son of a Gun isn’t on the same level in terms of tension, intensity and plot or character development, and it’s much less effective at veering away from genre cliches, especially as the film nears its finale.

What does give it extra brownie points are the performances of McGregor, still one of the most reliable actors around, and rising superstar Alicia Vikander (who has like five movies out this year), who brings more depth than one would expect for a supposed token female love interest. I’m still waiting to see though why Thwaites, as solid as he is, is snapping up so many roles in Hollywood.

On the whole, Son of a Gun struggles to separate itself from similar films in the genre the way Animal Kingdom did, but thanks to the awesomeness of Ewan McGregor and Alicia Vikander, it manages enough appeal to drag it over the line in my books.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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It’s kinda shocking that I’ve never seen any of the original Mad Max films with Mel Gibson. Too campy? Too 80s? Too Aussie? (All baseless assumptions, by the way). Whatever it is, I’ve never really felt the urge to watch them. And so I wasn’t all that hyped up when I heard the the franchise was receiving a reboot 30 years later, surprisingly with original director George Miller returning and the super likable Tom Hardy replacing the now-super unlikable Gibson.

But rave reviews and strong word of mouth got me thinking that, against all odds, Mad Max: Fury Road might actually be a good film.

Well, I was wrong. Because Mad Max: Fury Road is a bloody modern masterpiece. In my memory it will surely go down as one of the best movies of 2015, one of the best action movies of the decade, one of the best Aussie movies of all-time and one of the most visionary post-apocalyptic movies ever.

You don’t need to know anything about the previous films; you don’t even have to know the premise or who Mad Max is. That’s the first fantastic thing about the movie — almost everything about the world in which the story is set is revealed by showing as opposed to telling. There’s no narrator, no scrolling introductory text — and yet from the very first scene it manages to immerse you into this strange and terrifying new future. The opening sequence introducing us to Mad Max is insanely tense and horrific, but it’s also a slick lesson in world-building and storytelling.

And so I won’t say much about the plot except to note that the narrative focuses on three main characters. There’s Max Rockstansky (Tom Hardy), a loner constantly battling inner demons and fighting for survival. There’s Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a warrior on a deadly mission of redemption. And there’s Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a pale-skinned “War Boy” brainwashed into worshipping a ruthless dictator (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who apparently played a different character in the original trilogy).

In an era when most action movies are predictably conventional and follow familiar arcs — whether it’s superheroes, long-running franchises or Taken/Bourne imitations — Mad Max: Fury Road stands out for being something completely different. The film is essentially a long, exhilarating car chase with one jaw-dropping action sequence after another. That said, don’t be mistaken in thinking it is anything like the Fast and Furious franchise, which relies on a mix of old and new star power and having to constantly one-up itself in the crazy stunt stakes. Fury Road is more raw, more strangely grounded despite its over-the-topness, more brutal, more unabashedly bizarre, and far more creative. Frankly, I’d never seen anything like it, and the film’s combination of thrills, suspense and horror blew me away.

That said, Fury Road also turned out to be a lot more emotionally involving than I had expected. Granted, it’s still predominantly style over substance, but there’s something about it — whether it is the strong characters, the brilliant performers or the construction of the narrative — that elevates its dramatic elements above your average action flick.

Speaking of performers, George Miller hit the jackpot with the trio of Hardy, Theron and Hoult. Max is a man of few words and spends a good portion of the movie in a face-blocking mask, making Hardy’s performance even more impressive. To be fair, he has had some mask experience after playing Bane, but it’s the quiet magnetism and emotions he exudes that turns Max into a hero you can easily root for.

As good as Hardy is, Max is actually more of a sidekick to Theron’s Furiosa, who absolutely owns the movie. Apart from sporting the best shaved head since Sinead O’Connor, the Oscar winner turns Furiosa into the heart and soul of the movie, a badass whose quest for redemption drives everything that happens.

And if you thought Theron had uglied herself up for Monster, then you ought to see Hoult as Nux — powdery skin, bald head, skeletal features and perpetually chapped lips. Amazingly, he still looks better than most people, though the sacrifice for his art is impressive. Without giving too much away, Hoult’s charm and willingness to do whatever it takes makes Nux an unusual and intriguing supporting character that might not have been nearly as interesting without his jittery, frantic performance.

As for the rest of the cast, the physically imposing Keays-Byrne leads a cast of grotesque villains, and balancing them out is a group of hot models led by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Zoe Kravitz. It’s good to see other Aussies such as Nathan Jones, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton and Megan Gale getting some burn. I like that Miller just let everyone speak in their native accents (maybe no one can do the Aussie accent properly), and yet the diverse mix of pronunciations is never jarring or feels out of place.

In all, Mad Max: Fury Road is a revelation. It’s one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in a long time, from the sandy Australian landscape to the visceral violence and the uncomfortable characters to the gritty machinery. While I’m sure there are plenty of special effects involved, the CGI never overwhelms like it does for many action films these days. The performances are top notch, and the story is simple but effective. At exactly two hours, the length is close to perfect for a film of this kind, though there were times when I felt a little burned out from the endless sand and moving parts. Minor quibbles aside, this is an unexpected masterpiece. It’s hard to see how the planned sequels could top this experience or provide something fresh to prevent familiarity fatigue, but after what I’ve just witnessed it’ll be hard to bet against George Miller again.

5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 6

This Means War (2012)

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I don’t really care for Reese Witherspoon, but I do like Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and I love Bane (Tom Hardy), and so I checked out This Means War, a romantic comedy about a couple of CIA operatives going to extreme lengths to win over the girl of their dreams.

The central joke comes from the farcical premise that two supposedly highly trained and professional men would backstab each other and use government resources for the sake of love. A lot of the laughs come from the guys trying to one-up each other and using their special agent skills for moronic purposes. (I don’t get it, personally, why Reese is so appealing, but I guess that’s just me.)

Unfortunately, This Means War cannot escape the fate of the generic rom-com. The idea is a good one, but it’s no more than a mildly amusing, silly, and unmemorable film trying to get by on the charm of its three stars. The editing is messy and the action scenes are poorly done. The intention of the craziness is to create some fun, but I got the feeling that the actors were enjoying it a lot more than the viewers.

The film has been savaged by critics but I don’t think it’s that bad, as they are a couple of funny moments here and there, but on the whole it’s just barely passable.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Lucky One (2012)

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Nicholas Sparks could very well be the devil. He drew us in with his debut, The Notebook, which everyone loves, but then since then we’ve been given one sappy melodrama after another.

The trend continues with The Lucky One, essentially a Zac Efron vehicle about a US marine in Iraq who is saved from a deadly blast because he found a photo of a pretty lady (hence he is “The Lucky One”). After returning home, he sets about finding this woman who “saved his life”, and when he does, he inexplicably starts working for her but can’t bring himself to tell her the truth for some reason.

Typical small town drama ensues, with sceptical busybodies, jealous husbands and young children all thrown into the mix. Of course, Efron plays this perfect guy who is just nice to a fault and the lady (Taylor Schilling) cannot help but fall in love with him. You can guess the rest.

This might be one of Sparks’ better novels — I have no idea — but it’s still a pretty difficult film to stomach. It’s directed by Aussie Scott Hicks, who gave us Shine, so technically the film is very sound. But the emotional manipulation and sappiness is just trite, and watching Efron prance around on screen pretending to be Mr Perfect is quite unbearable.

There is clearly a market for Sparks adaptations or else there wouldn’t be this many. What is clear though is that I don’t belong in this market.

2 stars out of 5

The Dictator (2012)

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I am a big fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. I love the characters Ali G and Borat, which show off his genius at improvisation and ability to generate laughs on so many levels. His main advantage was anonymity, which allowed him to dupe people by pretending to be this outlandish character. Now that he is world famous, Cohen has no choice but to head in the direction of scripted comedy. And unfortunately, he’s just not very funny when he does this.

Like the miserable failure that was Ali G Indahouse, Cohen’s latest effort, The Dictator, just isn’t any good. It’s sad. I can tell he tried, really hard, to infuse some of his trademark lowbrow humor into the script, but you can see the punchlines a mile away. Take away Cohen’s masterful spontaneity and he’s not much more than an average — if not somewhat obnoxious — comedian. He’s simply too obvious.

The Dictator is not a mockumentary like Borat or Bruno, but a straight-up comedy about the tyrannical but moronic ruler of the fictional North African Republic of Wadiya. You would have already seen some of the so-called best bits in the trailers, such as the sprinting contest where no one has the guts to beat the great leader. It’s an obvious parody of dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il.

Strangely, the film soon becomes a kind of Coming to America imitator as Cohen’s character is brought to the United States and becomes a regular Joe who has to fit in with the rest of society. He meets a boyish woman played by Anna Faris, meaning lots of sexist jokes, but of course he eventually realizes he may have feelings for her, turning The Dictator into a rom-com as well.

The result is a messy mishmash of genres, tonal unevenness and a lot of bad jokes mixed in with a couple of decent (usually very crude and/or politically incorrect and/or inappropriate ones). There is the occasional bit of satirical sharpness in Cohen’s political messages, though I’d still classify The Dictator as a letdown because it just isn’t consistently funny enough.

2.5 stars out of 5

Wanderlust (2012)

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One of my favourite actors (Paul Rudd) teams up again with one of my least favourite actresses (Jennifer Aniston) to bring us Wanderlust, about a financially strapped couple who escape society by moving to a hippy commune full of weird and wacky characters. (The two had previously worked together on 1998’s The Object of My Affection, and also on a lengthy arc in Friends.)

This is an interesting idea with great potential for laughs, and I was surprised that the film lived up to the potential somewhat. It’s a good movie for people who enjoy random humour and unusual situations, as there’s plenty of both. It makes fun of the “free love”, “non-violent” principles of such communes, but it’s not done in a mean-spirited way and actually makes them likable as opposed to just bizarre characters. So I guess what I am saying is that this is a rare movie that has both genuine laughs and heart.

The role of the husband is tailor-made for Rudd, who is at his best as the awkward bumbler who gets in over his head. Aniston, I will admit, is not too bad here either in this role (by that I mean not annoying). Her real life beau, Justin Theroux, almost steals the show as the nutty leader of the commune, and has probably the most hilarious sequences in the movie. Also worth noting are the couple who play Rudd’s intolerable brother and sister-in-law, Ken Marino and Michaela Watkins. They are awesome.

Wanderlust did awful at the box office but I think it’s a little gem of a comedy with some real wit and several laugh-out-loud nuggets of gold. It loses some steam towards the end and got unnecessarily messy in trying to create a crisis to serve as the film’s climax, but I think it is definitely one of the more underrated comedies of 2012.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Notwithstanding its less than ingenious title, The Dark Knight Rises is everything fans of Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy could have hoped for. It is every bit as satisfying as the finales for other film series in recent times, such as Return of the King and Harry Potter 7. For me, it is right up there with The Dark Knight, The Avengers and the first Ironman as the best superhero movie of all-time. It is without a doubt the most EPIC.

The Dark Knight Rises takes place 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight (which is fair enough when you consider that Batman Begins was released in 2005). Batman has not appeared inGotham city since he took the fall for the death of Harvey Dent/Two-Face in order to preserve the former district attorney’s pristine legacy, and Bruce Wayne has become a crippled recluse. But as Selina Kyle (Catwoman) says, “a storm is coming”, and we all know it won’t be long beforeWayne is forced to don his famous black suit once more. But will it be enough? (And trust me, this film will make you question it).

Christopher Nolan clearly went all out for The Dark Knight Rises. After the success of The Dark Knight, expectations sky-rocketed and the pressure was on to deliver in the concluding chapter. So Nolan and his brother Jonathan upped the ante on everything:

  • An intricate and ambitious plot that links all three films together and is loaded with back stories, emotional confrontations and twists and turns.
  • An enormous cast of characters, some old and some new, and many of whom have substantial roles and screen time.
  • One of the most physically imposing villains ever in Bane.
  • Fight scenes and battle sequences so mammoth in scale and intensity that it dwarfs anything and everything that has been done in the series.
  • Even the running time of 165 minutes sets a new record (Batman Begins was 140 minutes; The Dark Knight was 152 minutes).

So does bigger and longer necessarily mean better? Not always, but in this case the sheer epic-ness of the film certainly goes a long way in making up for its miscues. On the whole, The Dark Knight is probably still the most “complete” film of the series, but when placed in context, The Dark Knight Rises is arguably the most satisfying.

In my humble opinion, and I know it’s probably an unpopular one, Tom Hardy’s Bane is every bit as worthy of a villain as Heath Ledger’s Joker. For starters, Hardy’s physical transformation was astounding. It’s crazy to think that this was the same guy that I recently saw in This Means War. Even his physique in Warrior did not come close. The Joker was a mad dog, a psychopath, a switchblade that can cut you up in a lot of ways; Bane, by contrast, is calm, calculated, and a brutal physical specimen capable of tossing Batman around like a ragged doll. He’s a nuclear warhead.

The spectacular first scenes of the film introducing us to Bane set the tone so perfectly. It’s one of the most exciting sequences of the entire trilogy and reminded me a lot of the best Nolan’s Inception had to offer.

There are two other Inception cast members to make the jump to Gotham city. Marion Cotillard plays the lovely Miranda Tate, an executive of the Wayne Enterprises board who becomes the key to saving the company. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of my favourite actors and one of Hollywood’s most versatile (I mean, come on, Brick, 500 Days of Summer, Hesher and now this?), plays passionate young cop John Blake. He is the standout of the film, along with….

Anne Hathaway, who really surprised me as Selina Kyle, the master thief better known as Catwoman. I’ve always been a bit on the fence with Hathaway and felt she was a little overrated as an actress, but man, she nailed this one. Not just physically – the performance itself was brilliant, providing a much-needed exuberance and vitality to an otherwise intensely “dark” film.

The rest of the returning cast was also stellar. I can’t believe I haven’t even mentioned Christian Bale yet. There’s isn’t much to say except that he’ll likely go down in history as the best Batman ever. Not bad for a guy who has also been Patrick Bateman, John Connor, Dicky Eklund and The Machinist.

Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman; plus a few cameos from the big names from the two earlier films (sadly, of course, except Heath Ledger) – that is a ridiculous cast, and it amazes me that it never felt like they would overshadow or be a distraction to the film.

The only obvious weak links in the cast are two dudes I ordinarily love: Matthew Modine’s deputy police chief, who was responsible for much of the film’s clunky dialogue and lack of subtlety (I still love him; I mean, come on: Full Metal Jacket, Birdy, Married to the Mob, Memphis Belle, Pacific Heights), and Aussie Ben Mendelsohn, who was somewhat awkward and over-the-top as Wayne’s corrupt business rival.

I have a few other relatively minor complaints. After watching The Dark Knight Rises I went back and rewatched the first two films in the trilogy, and realized that they employed a lot more humour – something that was sorely missing in The Dark Knight Rises. The other thing I noticed was that Batman had more cool gadgets and made better use of his utility belt in the earlier films – in this one all the attention was on the Batplane.

If you really want to get picky, I suppose there were parts in the second act that felt plodding, but the same probably could be said for all three films in the series. All is forgotten by the time the epic third act rolls around in any case.

By the way, many of the plot points don’t make a whole lot of sense if you really think about it. But hey, this is a superhero movie about a guy dressed up as a bat, so suspension of disbelief should have been a prerequisite. And I’m sick of people trying to read into and getting caught up in the film’s supposed political and societal messages – why can’t people just enjoy a Batman movie for what it is? Please, no more September 11 analogies.

The Dark Knight Rises is far from perfect, but it’s one of those films where I just went, “stuff this, I just want to enjoy it.” Strictly speaking, it’s probably not a 5-star film, but what the heck.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: I wouldn’t recommend it if you haven’t seen the movie yet, but if you have, check out this awesome featurette.

Movie Review: Warrior (2011)

I still don’t really “get” MMA (mixed martial arts) — whenever I see it on TV it reminds me of a prison shower — but Warrior, starring Aussie Joel Edgerton and Inception‘s and soon to be The Dark Knight Rises’s Tom Hardy, has convinced me to give the sport a second look.

Warrior is, without a doubt, the best MMA movie of all time (given that the competition includes Never Back Down I and II, Fighting and Undisputed II and III), and is arguably one of the best films of the year.  You might say it’s 2011’s The Fighter (the true story of Micky Ward starring Marky Mark and Batman) — a riveting family drama disguised as a violent sports film.

Without the benefit of a “true story” behind it, Warrior does have the danger of being construed as cliched, but as always, it’s all about the execution of the story.  I don’t want to give too much away because the mysteries of the relationships play a big part in the film’s allure and sustaining the drama.  Tom Hardy is Tommy, a child wrestling prodigy who escaped his abusive father (and trainer) with his mother as a teenager.  Edgerton is his big brother Brendan, a former UFC fighter turned struggling physics teacher.  Nick Nolte plays their reformed father.  The event that brings them all together is Sparta, a $5 million winner-takes-all grand prix-style MMA tournament featuring the world’s top fighters, including a frightening undefeated Russian champion.

There is a sense of inevitability in this Gavin O’Connor film (he also wrote the script and co-produced), but it hardly matters because Warrior is a genuinely moving, gripping and explosive drama that touches on such universal themes as forgiveness, redemption and unbreakable familial bonds.  I don’t think the film would be what it is without the top-notch performances of its three stars.  Tom Hardy brings a brooding, tragic presence to the enigmatic Tommy, while Edgerton is picture perfect as the underdog fighting for his family.  And Nolte pretty much has his mumbling old man thing down pat, and is perhaps the most heartbreaking character of them all.

As for the fight scenes — while they are secondary to the film’s drama, and keeping in mind that I’m not a regular viewer of MMA, I personally thought they looked fantastic, as good as any film about fighting I’ve seen.  There were some fast cuts and rapidly changing angles, but I never lost track of what the fighters were doing, and most of all I found the choreography highly engaging and exciting.  There is perhaps an element of implausibility in how the story and/or fights unfold, but everything is handled with so much skill and sufficient subtlety that it becomes forgiveable.

Warrior made an emotional connection with me which made the film enormously satisfying to watch.  I’m not sure if it’ll be the same upon a second viewing or years on later, but for now, in my mind, it’s one of the best fighting movies ever.

4.75 stars out of 5!