More than just a misfire, this attempt at a rude comedy goes so spectacularly wrong that it actually contradicts its own jokes even as it's telling them. But then it undermines everything as it goes along, for example indulging rampantly in comical cruelty before trying to say something meaningful about the dangers of bullying. The real question is how the cast members could have agreed to make a movie in which they all come across as incoherent idiots.
The story opens as Dan (Vince Vaughn) clashes with his boss Chuck (Sienna Miller) then quits dramatically, taking newly retired Tim (Tom Wilkinson) and airhead newbie Mike (Dave Franco) with him to start a new sales company. But after a year, business isn't good, and the future hinges on making a massive deal with Bill and Jim (Nick Frost and James Marsden). The problem is that Chuck is also bidding for the business, so Dan, Tim and Mike fly off to Maine and then Berlin to seal the deal with a handshake. Impossibly they arrive in Berlin at the same time as Oktoberfest, the marathon, a gay S&M festival and the G8 Summit, with its accompanying anarchist protest. Meanwhile back home, Dan's wife (June Diane Raphael) is having problems with the kids.
Frankly, there is so much going on in this film that it's exhausting. It's as if screenwriter Conrad just threw everything he could think of onto the page and didn't worry if it made even a lick of sense. Every scene feels interrupted by a bit of random chaos that isn't remotely amusing. And despite making a movie that's obsessed with sex, the filmmakers are unable to decide whether they want to make fun of it or are terrified of it (so they end up being both at the same time). Each time something interesting or funny threatens to happen, it's sideswiped by something so breathtakingly bungled that we don't know where to look.
Continue reading: Unfinished Business Review
Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu continues to reject traditional narrative structures with this whizzy, ambitious exploration of celebrity, art and commerce. And the clever casting of Michael Keaton adds another layer of meaning to the whole film, which is shot as one long wildly entertaining single take and pointedly subtitled "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance". Blackly hilarious and darkly emotional, this is an exploration of how show business can push a person to the brink of madness. And maybe knock them over the edge.
Keaton stars as Riggan, once a top movie star known for his three Birdman blockbusters. But he hasn't done anything notable since, and is now trying to reboot his career by directing, adapting and starring in a Broadway play based on a Raymond Chandler story. The problem is that no one will let him escape from the iconic superhero character he's best known for, least of all Birdman himself, who mentally haunts and taunts Riggan at every turn. Meanwhile in the theatre, Riggan locks horns with costar Mike (Edward Nortan), a controlling show-off brought in at the request of lead actress Lesley (Naomi Watts). As opening night approaches, Riggan and his producer-friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) are also struggling with the demands of high-maintenance costar Laura (Andrea Riseborough), plus distractions from Riggan's daughter-assistant (Emma Stone) and ex-wife (Amy Ryan).
Inarritu and ace cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki tell this story as if it's one continuous snaky shot with the camera following Riggan through the maze-like backstage corridors, into the theatre and out into nearby Times Square streets. The virtuoso filmmaking is simply breathtaking, and it works perfectly because all of the characters are packed with pungent details and fully developed inner lives. The actors find all kinds of quirks that are both hilarious and darkly thoughtful, creating jagged interaction as they cross paths with each other, sparring riotously for attention. Every scene bristles with startling revelations and barbed jabs at the Hollywood system.
Continue reading: Birdman Review
Those who have read the blockbuster novel may be disappointed to know that author Gillian Flynn hasn't changed anything in adapting it to the big screen, so there aren't any surprises along the way. But they'll be glad to see the story so faithfully and skilfully adapted, with snaky direction from David Fincher and actors who add layers of new meaning to the characters. And non-readers are in for a thrillingly twisty experience as a mysterious conundrum shifts into a full-on thriller and then something much more intensely personal.
When Nick (Ben Affleck) discovers that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, he has no idea what has happened. As recounted in Amy's journal, their marriage has been a whirlwind of sexy highs and dark lows, as both writers lost their jobs in New York and moved to rural Missouri to take care of Nick's terminally ill mother. As a result, their marriage ran aground, and Nick increasingly turned to his twin sister Margot (Carrie Coon) for support. As two police officers (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) investigate Amy's disappearance, the media circus begins to paint Nick as a villain, led by rabid tabloid-TV host Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle). So while he suspects Amy's stalker-like ex (Neil Patrick Harris), Nick has little choice but hire a high-powered lawyer (Tyler Perry) to defend himself.
Even at nearly two and a half hours, this film races along breathlessly as events and revelations continually shift the perspective. It's clear from the start that neither Nick nor Amy (in diary-entry flashbacks) are particularly reliable narrators. Both are a bundle of secrets, although Nick remains far more sympathetic. Affleck gives one of his most textured performances in years as a nice guy who struggles to look "nice" for the cameras. His isolation and confusion are hugely involving, which contrasts strongly to Amy's far too confident point of view. Pike manages to bring out the peeling onion of Amy's personality beautifully, offering telling glimpses of the real woman beneath the characters she seems to always be playing. And the supporting cast add details that twist their roles as well. Dickens and Fugit are a terrific double act, while Coon and Harris constantly offer surprising hints about their characters beneath the bravado and concern.
Continue reading: Gone Girl Review
Darren Aronofsky continues to ambitiously experiment with genres in this Old Testament blockbuster, but this is his first real misstep as a filmmaker, as the impressive parts simply don't add up. Still, there are flashes of genius as the epic struggle between good and evil is echoed both in the grand spectacle and within the characters themselves.
It starts with the original sin, which divides Adam and Eve's sons - brutal killer Cain and peaceful caretaker Seth - into warring factions. A few generations later, all that's left of Seth's righteous line is Noah (Russell Crowe), his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons (Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll), plus an adopted daughter (Emma Watson). After he has a vision that God is planning to cleanse mankind with a flood, Noah consults his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and builds an ark to save his family and all of earth's animals. He also gets help from the Watchers, rock-encrusted fallen angels who previously assisted Cain's descendant Tubal (Ray Winstone), who goes into battle mode to stop Noah.
All of this is inventively set in a post-apocalyptic landscape left in ruins after generations of fighting. And Noah is the last true believer tending to creation, refusing to eat meat (although he wears leather accessories) and ruling over his family like a tyrant. This of course creates various carefully scripted conflicts for his family over the months they're stuck in the ark. But the moralising is never as deep as it pretends to be.
Continue reading: Noah Review
While this thriller plays with themes of political ethics and ambition, it merely lets them simmer in the background. Director Hughes is clearly much more interested in macho posturing and the convoluted scandal-based plot, so he lets the cast members merrily chomp on the scenery but neglects to give us anything that engages our brains.
The broken city of the title is New York, where Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) covered up a shooting involving cop Billy (Walhberg) to protect himself seven years ago. Acquitted but disgraced, Billy is now working as a low-rent private detective when the mayor calls in a favour. He hires Billy to find out who his wife (Zeta-Jones) is having an affair with before it derails his re-election campaign against the passionate rising-star Valliant (Pepper). It doesn't take Billy long to get the incriminating photos, but clearly there's something much bigger at stake here, so he continues to investigate the situation, which uncovers such high-reaching corruption that Billy's life is in danger.
Demonstrating how little the film cares about its characters, Billy's long-time girlfriend (Martinez) is dispatched suddenly after a series of arguments during which she refuses to put up with his boorish, chauvinistic stupidity. Why she stuck with him this long is the real question. But this and other eccentric relationships in the plot are much more interesting than the dull property-development boondoggle that Hughes instead decided to focus on. The problem is that this leaves Wahlberg with the only remotely complex character, an intriguing mess of a man who overreacts wildly to everything and yet seems to want to do the right thing.
Continue reading: Broken City Review