So there’s been at least one full length trailer for Need For Speed released since this teaser, but this is still far and away my trailer to beat for “film taking itself way too seriously in the trailer” of the year so far. That operatic music. That Aaron Paul voice-over. That overused slo-mo. Someone needs to remind whoever made this that their film is based on a 1990s Sega Saturn game. Seriously.
|'The only reason this film isn’t currently residing at the top of my mentally collated “Worst Films Of 2013” list is that I’ve seen Movie 43.'|
One thing that can be said for The Hangover Part III is that, unlike The Hangover Part II before it, it doesn’t simply rehash the plot and jokes of the original film. To be more precise, that is the one and only thing that can be said for The Hangover Part III. The only reason this film isn’t currently residing at the top of my mentally collated “Worst Films Of 2013” list is that I’ve seen Movie 43.
From its opening moments, this is a film which aims low and achieves lower still. Writer and director Todd Phillips seemingly goes into The Hangover Part III with the assumption that, having already churned out one lazy and mean-spirited sequel to 2009’s somewhat unexpected critical darling The Hangover whilst managing to turn a very tidy profit, he can essentially do anything he wants here and get away with it, no matter how poorly written, unfunny or offensive.
Phillips therefore spends most of the opening act ensuring Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is as unlikeable a presence here as possible, erasing any remnants of the socially awkward fool the character was introduced as two films ago and establishing him as an repugnant, despicable and obnoxious character towards whom it it impossible to have any feeling other than hatred. Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms clearly don’t want to be here at any point, and in the case of Cooper it’s hard to understand why he came back to the franchise for a third time with his cinematic CV recently going from strength to strength in movies a world away from here. As painful as it is to mention John Goodman’s extended cameo as crime boss Marshall, it feels necessary to do so if only to seriously question why the actor is anywhere near vacuous trash such as this.
After throwing away much of the set-up put in place in the opening act, Phillips wrongly assumes that what his Hangover franchise needs more of to succeed is excruciating gangster Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong). Spending the remainder of the film vying with Alan for most irritating screen presence of the year, Chow grates in every scene with Jeong’s performance consistently mistaking being offensive and outrageous for being funny. Indeed, considering The Hangover Part III is the third of a comedy trilogy, the humour here is disappointingly sparse. Admittedly when the jokes are present they fail far more often than they succeed, but there are regular stretches where Phillips doesn’t even bother.
Even with everything else he does wrong, Phillips manages to save The Hangover Part III’s most infuriating portion for the closing scenes. A cringeworthy montage in the final moments suggests the writer and director is under the impression that, in concluding the third and final part of his Hangover franchise, he has completed some important cinematic milestone which future audiences will be able to look back on and admire. Never mind the fact that this film would rightfully be almost certainly dead, buried and forgotten without a second thought if it didn’t have the Hangover label upon it. Let’s just hope the Wolfpack has now been culled for good.
|'as straight a detective story as you could hope to find: children are missing; Detective must find them'|
Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve's previous film, Incendies, has a solution to it that is at once fiendishly complex, emotionally fraught, surprising and devastating. Prisoners has no such thing and perhaps that is the main reason why I did not think it as good as some have, though having waited one-hundred and fifty-three minutes for the conclusion, I think I could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that it might be more important and significant than it turned out to be.
Certainly there are promising signs throughout that Villeneuve is leading us towards another Incendies-esque twister. The obsession with family is here still, present from Aaron Guzikowski's script and tangibly full of dread, as fathers Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin (Terrence Howard) search for their missing-presumed-abducted children. The mothers (Viola Davis and Maria Bello) aren't marginalised or paid lip service to: Bello retreats to near-hysteria, whilst Davis eventually shares somewhat in the sins of the fathers.
Perhaps the main problem with Prisoners is that Villeneuve treats the film as though it has a similar level of depth to Incendies where in fact this emerges as a much simpler affair, which could and perhaps should have been dealt with more succinctly. There are the questionable morals of, in particular, Keller, but beyond that this is as straight a detective story as you could hope to find: children are missing; Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) must find them.
What depth is here is actually not found in the lost and eventually quite uninteresting Keller. Instead it is Gyllenhaal, as a bemusing tattooed, blinking, detective, who seems to come from the old school but occupy the new. Villeneuve is working with the actor again on Enemy, which looks promising and paranoid in attractive measure and on this evidence, theirs is a working relationship that may well bear significant fruit. Loki - an odd name in the times of Marvel - comes with an unpainted yet fascinating background, and if the film does have something interesting to say on the usefulness or otherwise of violence then it is in Loki's occasional outbursts and their consequences. His characterisation looks like a fascinating attempt by the director to play with typical genre norms.
Meanwhile though, Prisoners continues to dip into fairly predictable and stock Cop Thriller territory. There's Christian symbolism all over the place, though Villeneuve seems uninterested in it (it's just something you have to have in this sort of thing) and Loki is eventually drawn into an internal argument over how to pursue the case. Villeneuve's film occasionally looks incredible (wide shots and anything at night is impressive) but it rarely gets out of a quite sleepy gear and its got nothing spectacular under its hood.
Go into Federico Fellini’s Roma expecting a narrative or even lucid characters and chances are you’ll struggle to make it through much of what the film has to offer. But enter into the spirit of Fellini’s genre-eschewing tapestry of vignettes, often linked only by their shared setting of the historic Italian capital, and you’ll find a cinematic experience rich and rewarding.
It feels as though Fellini obstinately wants you to work this out for yourself, throwing you into his film straight away without any handholding or preamble to help you find your bearings. The first fifteen minutes will bewilder you as to exactly what you’re seeing and why, as well as who, of the many people you are shown, you should be following. Only when a white-suited journalist (Peter Gonzales) arrives in 1930s Rome to stay with a large local family does any semblance of a story begin. Gonzales is actually supposed to be Fellini himself at eighteen years old, although the director does very little to make this clear to the audience - perhaps seeing his own role in his artistic vision of Rome as irrelevant, but more likely wanting the audience to find their way unassisted through both his film and the city it opens up.
Fellini switches back and forth between Rome leading up to and during the Second World War, and the city during the 1970s at the time the director is making his film, clearly intending to draw comparisons between the two time periods with varied success. It’s often more satisfying to take each section of Roma as its own entity: a distinct artwork forming part of Fellini’s cinematic installation.
It’s in creating these extended snapshots of Roman life that the director finds his greatest success. Anyone who has ever experienced life in any of the world’s big cities will immediately recognise the sensory overload Fellini achieves exquisitely in putting the city of Rome on screen. His is a vision simultaneously romantic and warts-and-all, beautiful and crude, honest and satirical. Every image here is wonderfully constructed, with Fellini’s cacophonous soundtrack providing a relentless urban assault on the ears, by which it is impossible not to be hypnotised. An early scene set during a hectic evening dinner on Rome’s streets is constantly punctuated by the clinking of cutlery on plates, babies crying, mothers berating their children, street performers singing and dancing, and at one point a young girl standing on her chair to recite rude versions of nursery rhymes. It’s impossible to imagine a film more authentically throwing you into life in the Italian capital.
It’s clear that Fellini is besotted with the city he called home for much of his life, but he delights in showing its flaws at least as often as celebrating its wonder. A night time sequence on Rome’s Great Ring Road in the 1970s, in which the traffic’s honking horns do battle with a torrential thunderstorm outside the Colosseum illuminated by the flames of an overturned truck nearby, feels like you are witnessing a captivating image of Hell itself on Earth. A 1940s variety show during another section is barely able to go ahead as the raucous crowd assembled to watch constantly berates and interrupts the performance. At one point a dead animal is thrown on stage by a heckler. An audience member quite accurately describes it as a combination of a “circus maximus and a brothel”, those in attendance enjoying watching the destruction of the performers more than the acts they came to perform.
Which links to another of Fellini’s messages here: the idea of Rome having descended from its lofty position in art, culture, science and technology to the place it has now become. There are allusions throughout to the glory of Ancient Rome being eroded by modern life, but also of a decline in Rome’s position from the early 20th Century to the 1970s. It’s an argument which Fellini manages to find a pleasing balance between agreeing with and refuting, ultimately presenting his ideas and images Rome of the past and present in order that the audience make up their own mind.
Roma lacks focus at times and feels as though it could have easily been tightened up somewhat from the sprawling two-hour patchwork Fellini presents. But in terms of creating a piece of art representing a city the director clearly knows and loves inside out in spite of its flaws, Roma is an engrossing and beautiful cinematic achievement.
Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.
Roma is out now
|'a film that creaks throughout with the weight of decades in production limbo'|
Adapted from the 1985 novel of the same name, author Orson Scott Card reportedly didn’t want Ender’s Game to become a film for at least the first ten years following its publication, until he wrote a screenplay himself in the mid nineties. The fact that it’s taken almost twenty years since then (almost thirty since the novel’s publication) for the film to be released should perhaps serve as a warning that this was never going to be a story that would easily transfer to the big screen. Had it been made in the eighties, or even the nineties, maybe Ender’s Game would have offered a more satisfying cinematic experience. As it is, this is a film that creaks throughout with the weight of decades in production limbo.
It’s a genuine shame, as Ender’s Game is a film you’ll want to like from start to end, your frustration building as every opportunity to build something worthwhile from Card’s story and the assembled cast amounts to yet another disappointment. The fact that the plot centres around children being drafted into a futuristic military school means the cast by definition has a large number of young actors. Whilst many of those on the periphery are never memorable (in their defense, most are barely given any chance to be), bigger names such as Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld do well. Most importantly, none of the child actors here annoy, which is a plus point for any film with so many young talents involved.
On the (much) older end of the scale, the talents involved are reliably solid, if never challenged at any point. Harrison Ford as Colonel Hyrum Graff wheels out his crotchety high-ranking military man with ease, managing to entertain whilst never breaking a sweat. Ben Kingsley is also reliably strong in a role which receives far too little screen time in the film’s final act to add anything truly meaningful to proceedings. Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) suffers the opposite fate, excised from the plot just when she starts to become genuinely interesting.
Many of Ender’s Games' problems come from the nagging feeling you’ve seen too much of this before. There are alien battle sequences strongly reminiscent of Independence Day, and a lot of the action that takes place on the military academy in space feels too much like Full Metal Jacket reimagined as a Children’s BBC gameshow, complete with Nonso Anokie’s clichéd drill sergeant watered down for a 12A audience. The Formics feel like an amalgamation of aliens from several other more successful sci-fi films and are too rarely seen to feel like anything more than generic enemies until it’s too late.
The other issue here is one of pacing and development. Again and again director Gavin Hood moves the story on to a new scenario, only to shift once again before any characters or ideas can be developed beyond rudimentary levels. The relationship between Ender (Butterfield) and his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin, again impressive but seen far too little to make an impact) feels as though it should be important, but never amounts to anything; the same can be said for the attraction teased between Ender and Petra (Steinfeld). Ender’s interaction with a mentally-controlled video game starts intriguingly, but is forgotten about for too long to resonate when reintroduced much later on. His progress through the military school also feels alarmingly quick and easy, occasionally explained by obliquely referring to him as something like a Matrix-style “The One”, but again this is ultimately left hanging and never properly clarified or resolved.
The talent involved here, particularly the young cast, means you’ll likely be desperate to warm to Ender’s Game a lot more than you ultimately will. Whilst there are elements here to enjoy in isolation, the persistent problems and overall slightness of Hood’s adaptation suggest that perhaps Card should have stuck with his initial instinct to stay away from a film version of his novel.
Ender's Game is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 10th March 2014.
|'the inevitable falling apart of both the group and the structure of the mission is handled well, rarely dipping into cliché, though there is a terrifically clunky 'shall we take a vote?' scene'|
Sebastián Cordero's Europa Report, filmed in 2011, is being pushed out onto various VOD platforms today, which seems something of an ill-deserved launch given its hold of a 6.5 IMDb average and a smattering of positive festival reviews. It's even more of shame considering that Cordero's low budget Sci-Fi Thriller is actually very good, a terrific example of what you can do with not much budget and a good story. It's also the sort of thing that, because of the budget needed, you don't actually get to see that often any more: an original story with, presumably, just enough budget requirements to make studios wary and not quite enough to convince them it can go all the way.
I've just finished reading James Smythe's The Explorer and, coincidentally, it and Europa Report share a remarkable amount of similarities. In Smythe's novel, the first manned deep space mission encounters several problems before it loses communication and drifts towards... something. In Cordero's film, the first manned deep space mission heads for one of Jupiter's moons, encountering several problems and eventually finding... something. There's a fascination in both texts too with discovery, something you feel both 'authors' feel we have lost. Both expeditions head, privately funded, to their destination not because they have to, but because they want to: because they can. In both there is a fascination with finding the unknown and documenting it, something most obviously shown in Europa Report's conclusion.
For something on its budget, it is not surprising that Cordero's film cannot maintain its own high standards throughout. Christian Camargo has a tendency to deliver things very flatly and is joined in that habit on occasion by Daniel Wu, whilst Embeth Davidtz and the other professor's 'interviews' are never convincing. There's also a retrospectively ill-advised Gravity-like scene which looks somewhat under-cooked considering how well we've now seen that sort of thing done, though kudos to the marketing department for resisting marketing the film on that scene.
On the whole though, Cordero makes good use of his two most recognisable faces (Sharlto Copley and Michael Nyqvist) and crafts for them and the rest of cast enough to do over a manageable time frame (this is less than ninety minutes) before the gang arrive on Jupiter's moon. The space travel sections might chug occasionally but they're so brief they never stick around for long enough to really seem tiresome.
Once the group land on the moon, Europa Report really takes off. There's an effective pulling of the rug from Cordero which works well and speaks to the bleakness of the conclusion and the inevitable falling apart of both the group and the structure of the mission is handled well, rarely dipping into cliché, though there is a terrifically clunky 'shall we take a vote?' scene. In the chaos that emerges from the moon's service, Anamaria Marinca emerges with a very fine, nuanced central performance that manages to encapsulate the coolness of leadership and the fear of terrifying situations. Eventually, she carries the film and she does so without looking flustered.
An attractively bleak Indie Sci-Fi, based on an original story with ideas, and a willingness to be succinct? This deserves to find an audience.
Europa Report is released on VOD in the UK on 3rd March 2014.
Richard Ayoade's Submarine is one of the best looks at young love in recent years (ever?) and, therefore, hopes for his directorial follow-up, The Double, are high. Whilst festival audiences have already had a chance to assess it, the rest of us will get our chance in around a month or so. Until then, there's this terrific, surprisingly industrial-looking trailer to assess it by, featuring some familiar faces for fans of Submarine.