So… I saw some films in March then… I think January remains the strongest month so far this year, not to spoiler what’s coming or anything.
Cloud Atlas was the book of the month for my book club. I read it when it came out and didn’t much enjoy it, other than the Sonmi storlyine and not minding the Luisa Ray mystery. But I thought a few years might have mellowed my response to it. I started again – the tedious sea stuff was as tedious as before and I didn’t care much about any of it. So I decided to stop, watch the film (which I’d planned to see after finishing the book) and start again. I’m so glad I did, as the book was much easier to read after seeing the film (still didn’t enjoy the book that much though).
The film takes the bold step of changing the structure of the stories so instead of the Russian dolls style of the book, all six are interspersed. Some people may find this alienating, especially if they’ve never read the book, but I found it helped – not just to connect the narratives, but mainly to make the tedious sea bits actually quite interesting – no mean feat.
I didn’t mind the casting of the same actors in different parts although some of the racial changing was pretty badly done and there was the added surrealism of Halle Berry in white makeup looking just like Madonna. The gender changing was generally bad – done for comedic and caricature value rather than any serious takes on character interpretation. So, the experiment wasn’t always successful, but I understood the artistic reasons for it and thought it a brave gamble.
The visuals are utterly wonderful, especially in the Sonmi scenes, which remain the best part of it, even if a lot of the detail of that storyline (and all of them, but that one especially) has been removed for the film (and yet it’s still really bloody long!). The standout performer is Doona Bae (Sonmi) although Hugh Grant has fun camping it up as various baddies and Jim Broadbent relishes his two main roles as cranky/eccentric old duffers and Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, David Gyasi and JAmes D’Arcy also put real heart into things. Susan Sarandon is a bit under-used and Tom Hanks chews up the scenery something rotten. Didn’t he used to be a good actor? If so, it was many moons ago…
Oz: The Great and Powerful is a curious beast. I hated the first third of it – it was not only nodding to the Wizard of Oz, it was taking pastiche to its most ludicrous extreme. I haven’t read the books so some of that may have been close to the source material, of course. Everyone was overacting to a chronic degree and I thought I would hate it. But then it eventually finds the confidence to attempt to be its own film and it improves – it also looks gorgeous, something that’s a bit of a theme this month. The final third of the film is pretty good, as Oz realises what he needs to do and what he needs to become – these scenes are much more funny, fast and inventive than the rest of it. Other than that, it’s all a bit cheesy and predictable and the female characters are pretty badly presented (although perhaps this is Baum’s fault), mostly there because of love or hate for a man. But get used to that theme, there’s a lot of it coming.
Side effects is a funny old film. Rooney Mara is excellent, and Jude Law doesn’t annoy me as much as usual, so that’s good. Again, the gender politics of it are somewhat crappy – it’s all a bit reliant on the notion that women are hysterical and manipulative. One of the key twists is made too obvious too early, whilst another is simply ludicrous. Despite that, it’s a good film for keeping you guessing, and, like Flight was earlier this year, one that poses some interesting dilemmas. For the most part, I liked the pace, I liked the mystery… I wasn’t sold on the characters or the resolutions, which were all a bit too tidy for my liking – but it’s one that might be worth seeing.
Robot and Frank is both charmingly sweet and heart-rendingly sad. The story is of Frank (Frank Langella) who is an ex-bank robber with dementia. His son buys him a robot to look after him and the two form a bond. Along the way his warring but distant children (James Marsden and Liv Tyler) fight over how to look after him and he tries to woo the local librarian (Susan Sarandon) whilst railing against the digitisation of books as the library is being renovated. It’s one of those films that is perhaps trying to do too much – the digitalisation of the library is very much presented as a bad thing, yet we fall in love with Robot, so the film doesn’t quite seem to know what it’s saying about technology. The baddies in the film are total caricatures and Frank’s children are somewhat annoying. Despite these misgivings it has some very funny moments in it, some very sweet ones and others that will crush you. There is a twist that some people have said was a bit obvious but I completely didn’t expect it. I wasn’t entirely sold on the ending but this is definitely worth a watch – it doesn’t achieve everything it sets out to but it’s still one of the most interesting films of 2013 so far.
I’d like to tell you what happens in Welcome to the Punch beyond ‘white men running around container yards growling at each other and shooting each other’ but that’s all I remember. There is one female character who shows promise but she’s not in the film for very long, so it’s another one of those where MEN IN LEATHER JACKETS SHOOTING is a rilly important thing (see also: men in suits talking). There were a few men who weren’t white, I think, but the main men were (Mark Strong and James MacAvoy – both usually better than this). To be fair on it, I wasn’t really in the frame of mind to be concentrating on anything when I saw it – hence choosing the action flick – so the fact I don’t remember much of a plot might be my fault. But yeah, if you like people running round container yards shouting and shooting, watch this. If you don’t, then I wouldn’t bother.
If you watch the trailers for Paperboy, you would think it’s a story about an affair between Nicole Kidman’s character and Zac Efron’s character – possibly some sort of coming-of-age thing. And… it’s not, really. I mean, the relationship between those characters is part of it, albeit not exactly in the way you might think. It has some coming-of-age aspects, but Efron’s character is an adult, not a teenager. And there are a lot of other things going on, mainly involving Efron’s character’s brother, played by Matthew McConaughey. (Is it bad that I can rarely remember character names? When characters are played by big name actors I almost always see the actor before the character) or the criminal lover of Kidman’s character – John Cusack playing against type. Macy Gray acts as a narrator/storyteller as well as the housekeeper for Efron’s family. She is being interviewed about the situation and characters although it’s never entirely clear why (unless I missed it). It’s based on a book, so it might be the fault of the source material, but it’s another fil that doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to be. It’s also unremittingly grim, with a lot of sex, violence and sexual violence. And animal carcasses. And swamps. The characters are often a bit caricatured, too – and whilst it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen, it does feel a little pointless. I didn’t hate it, but I wouldn’t put it top of the recommended list, either.
Compliance is really difficult to discuss without spoiling things but at the same time, in order for it to be effective you probably need to know as little as possible about it as essentially the film is simply a replaying of the true-life events upon which it is based (except for aspects of the ending). If you have read up on the case before seeing it then there is not much in the film that will enhance your response to the events or the people involved. On the other hand, knowing what it is about might be helpful for some – there were walkouts in a number of cinemas and the showing I went to was no exception. Put it this way, whilst nothing hugely graphic happens it contains a lot of trigger material. The acting is great, especially from the two female leads, although I wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the direction. Much of it occurs in the back room of a fast food shop and some of the claustrophobia here is well done. However, there are a lot of strange ‘arty’ shots (eg of fries, a very, very long sequence of someone driving) that detract from the realism mode. The gaze veers uncomfortably from getting us to think about our own positions as spectators to considering whether the director himself (and it probably would have benevited from a female director) is a total voyeur. As other reviews have commented, we get a big reveal way too early as well. So overall, it’s an interesting watch to some extent but proceed with caution.
Identity Thief has been resoundingly trashed in all its reviews. Perhaps it was because I went in with very diminished expectations, then, that I found it pretty much the most enjoyable watch of the month. In order to enjoy it you do have to let yourself get swept up in crazy and suspend all disbelief but it’s quite fun as road trip/buddy movie. The thing does derail itself when Melissa McCarthy’s character starts to think about her image and when they decide they neex to give her a backstory to explain things – and the ending is a copout when I was hoping for something much more anarchich and subversive which might not have sold so well to Hollywood but would have carried on the sense of fun from the first half and provided a much more exhilirating ride.
Trance is perhaps the most frustrating film I have seen in ages. It has a lot going for it:good director, cast, soundtrack. Nice enough concept with the whole hypnosis thing, although it owes too much of a debt to Inception, which is a much better film. The look of it is very unusual – the trippy side of it emphasised through this slightly hyperreal world of colourful rectangles. Seriously – these people live in a world of rectangles. It’s quite cool but very weird. The opening third is pretty good-pacey and intriguing…but then it just (bar a couple of interesting twists) becomes annoying -for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Asian, black and gingerish make characters are nothing more than stooges. Secondly, Rosario Dawson’s character is meant to be powerful but all her power is derived through her sexuality and when you discover her backstory, sodme of the things she does are actually pretty repulsive and also seem out of character. She is shown fully frontal nude several times whereas all we get of the men is a little bit of chest. Hardly equal play. Anyway, the twists are just not satisfying enough to cope with the really troubling gender and race stuff going on. It had potential but totally blew it.
Mama is a slightly curious thing. Great performances from the leads (with Jessica Chastain almost unrecognisable) – especially the two child leads. Ropey old cgi, very unlikely plotting, ending that doesn’t make a whole heap of sense but is at least not that predictable. It also has some really neat twists on horror/creepy children tropes. Not entirely sure what we were meant to think of the lead couple though… their motivations didn’t seem to make a whole heap of sense, and the events that kick off the film were too rushed. The whole thing doesn’t really stand up but it’s entertaining enough, if nowhere near the standard of most other films that bandy Guillermo del Toro’s name about.