With a true story that's almost hard to believe, this inspiring biographical drama is made with attention to detail and a remarkable resistance to sentiment. And strong acting helps bring the characters to life, even if everything feels a little too carefully staged. But it's the real-life aspect that grabs the attention, and a central figure who's a remarkable example of the indomitable human spirit. The film also marks an auspicious step forward for Angelina Jolie as a director, telling a big story without giving in to the usual sappy moviemaking pitfalls.
Son of Italian immigrants, Louie Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) grew up in 1920s Southern California and by the time he hit his teens is on the way to becoming a criminal. But his brother Pete (Alex Russell) helps him channel his energy to running instead, and his natural skill make him a local champion as well as an American record-holder at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. When the war breaks out, he enlists and serves as a bombardier in the Pacific, surviving a plane crash before later going down at sea and drifting with two colleagues (Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock) for 47 days before being captured by the Japanese. From here he endures a horrific stint in a prisoner of war camp, taunted by the cruel commandant everyone calls The Bird (Miyavi), who takes particular notice of Louie simply because he refuses to break.
Jolie assembles the film as a big-budget epic, with massive set pieces as the plot cycles through several outrageous episodes before settling in on the prison years. Cinematographer Roger Deakins carefully contrasts Louie's sunny California youth with the much starker visit to Nazi Germany and the astoundingly bleak Japanese prison camp, with those endless days baking at sea in the middle. So the film looks terrific, drawing us into each chapter in Louie's story while building a sense of momentum. It's not quite as complex as it looks; Louie's darker moments feel a bit superficial. But O'Connell adds some weight to each scene, offering a kick of emotion as well as the charisma that convinces the men around him to draw inspiration from his tenacity.
Continue reading: Unbroken Review
The most impressive thing about the sixth entry into this noisy franchise is that it's both more preposterous and more self-important than ever before. Which is no mean feat. The cast and crew clearly went for something bigger and more explosive, but by removing their tongues from their cheeks they leave us laughing at them rather than with them. Even so, some of the crazed action scenes are breathtaking.
The story picks up right where the last one ended: Dominic and Brian (Diesel and Walker) have taken the fortune they grabbed in Rio and started an idyllic life in the Canary Islands. Brian and Dom's sister Mia (Brewster) have even produced an adorable baby. Then US Agent Hobbs (Johnson) appears asking for their help in capturing the villainous Shaw (Evans), who is collecting military technological gadgets for some nefarious purpose. And they agree to go along because Dom's presumed-dead girlfriend Letty (Rodriguez) is working with him. So they reassemble the team (Pataky, Gibson, Bridges, Kang, Gadot and Carano) and get started in London.
Yes, this chapter takes place in Europe, which gives the filmmakers new landmarks to race past in their elaborately orchestrated chase sequences, throwing cars like toys at every plate-glass window in sight. The first night-time set-piece in London is fairly incoherent (and nonsensical), but things get better from there, with a whizzy bit of competitive driving for Dom and Letty and a few other showdowns before the action moves to Spain for a couple of massive, gob-smacking action sequences that would boggle the mind if we thought for a second that they were even marginally possible.
Continue reading: Fast & Furious 6 Review
This overlong comedy is so episodic that watching it is exactly like sitting through five episodes of a sitcom back-to-back. It's funny and enjoyable, with characters we enjoy watching, but they continually spiral back to where they started, and in the end we feel like there's been a lot of fuss about nothing. Even so, the script offers plenty of hilarious observational humour, and the cast is thoroughly entertaining.
Reprising their roles from Knocked Up, Rudd and Mann play Debbie and Pete, who turn 40 within a week of each other. But Debbie isn't coping very well with it, and her emotions swing wildly from steamy lust to fiery rage while Pete just tries to hang on. Their daughters (played by Apatow and Mann's real daughters Maude and Iris) each have their own issues to stir into the mix. And then Pete's needy father (Brooks) turns up with problems of his own, forcing Debbie to think about her own distant father (Lithgow). Meanwhile, the economic crunch is causing problems for both of their businesses.
Yes, both of them own businesses. This is not the typical struggling 40-something couple, so it's not easy to sympathise with many of their issues. Fortunately, Apatow's dialog is packed with brazen honesty and an appreciation for rude gags that keep us laughing even in the absence of an actual storyline we can get involved in (although there's one major plot point along the way). Rudd and Mann were arguably the best thing in Knocked Up, so it's great to let them take the spotlight here, making the most of their sparky interaction. And aside from experts like Brooks and Lithgow, there is a continual stream of superb side roles, including Fox as Debbie's oversexed and possibly embezzling employee and McCarthy as a furious school parent (her big scene is expanded into a brilliantly improvised outtake riff in the closing credits).
Continue reading: This Is 40 Review
Wendi McLendon-Covey, Barry Mendel, Clayton Townsend, Ellie Kemper, Matt Lucas, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy - Annie Mumolo, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Director Paul Feig, udd Apatow, Ellie Kemper, Maya Rudolph, Barry Mendel, Clayton Townsend, Melissa McCarthy and Matt Lucas Thursday 12th January 2012 17th Annual Critic's Choice Movie Awards - Pressroom
Kristen Wiig finally gets her chance to shine in a lead role with this hilarious comedy. The film veers a bit wildly between silly playfulness and extreme rudeness, but it keeps us hooked by maintaining believable characters.
Despite some heavy setbacks, Annie (Wiig) is happy in her life with a casual partner (Hamm) and a low-pressure job. Then her best pal Lillian (Rudolph) gets engaged, and even though Annie's the maid of honour, every wedding decision is a battle with seemingly perfect bridesmaids Helen (Byrne), while other attendants (McCarthy, McLendon-Covey and Kemper) have issues of their own.
Meanwhile, Annie's encounters with a local Milwaukee cop (O'Dowd) are a confusing mixture of attraction and reticence. Then as Helen seizes control of Lillian's wedding, Annie's life seems to fall apart around her.
Every character in this film is a bundle of insecurity, sometimes very well hidden, and watching them all interact is hilariously entertaining. This is due to an unusually smart, lively script and razor-sharp performances. Even the story's annoying characters have some complexity to them, so as the rom-com structure unfurls, we go along with it simply because we are interested in these people and want to see where they end up.
Wiig is terrific at the centre, generating warm camaraderie with Rudolph and spiky rivalry with Byrne. And her chemistry with O'Dowd is enjoyably funny and cute. Meanwhile, scene-stealers like McCarthy, Clayburgh (as Annie's mum) and Lucas (as Annie's flatmate) bubble around the edges. There isn't a scene in the film that doesn't generate a solid laugh, often of the gut-wrenching variety.
And while a few gross-out gags go over the top, they at least stay essentially good-natured.
Even so, the film is far too long for a comedy; at least a half hour could have been trimmed away. It's not that the material isn't entertaining (we're never bored at all), but some tightening would have made the overall plot that much stronger, even if that meant losing some of the rambling improvisational riffs.
They may be hysterically funny, but they dilute the overall impact of the story and would be just as amusing as DVD extras. On the other hand, the mid-credits sequence is priceless.
George Simmons (Sandler) is an A-list star whose life is awash in alcohol and women. His lack of real friends becomes a problem when he's diagnosed with a terminal blood disease, so he latches onto struggling comic Ira (Rogen), hiring him as an assistant and confidant. The threat of dying makes George reconsider his life, and he realises he only ever loved one woman, Laura (Mann), who now has a family with Aussie businessman Clarke (a hilarious Bana). And when George's medical treatment succeeds, he decides to get her back.
Continue reading: Funny People Review
In a prehistoric woodland village, the goof-off Zed (Black) isn't a very good hunter, while the smart-but-shy Oh (Cera) isn't the best gatherer. After breaking the community's one rule, they're banished, heading off over the mountains. There they run into the biblical world, linking up with Cain (the hilariously slippery Cross), Abraham (Azaria) and Isaac (Mintz-Plasse) on the way to Sodom to rescue their enslaved semi-girlfriends (Raphael and Temple).
But a nasty soldier (Jones), scheming princess (Wilde) and flamboyant high priest (Platt) are in their way.
Continue reading: Year One Review
With Nixon, Stone struggles to present a thoughtful biography of one of history's most reviled leaders and the only President in modern times to voluntarily leave office before the end of his term. Richard Nixon of course needs no introduction, and Stone takes a much different approach to the material here than he did with JFK, which remains one of my favorite films ever. Rather than focus on a single incident -- Watergate -- Stone endeavors to encompass Nixon's entire life and career, from his days as a young Quaker (complete with dying brothers) to two big failed runs at political office to the entirety of his troubled political career. All the highlights are here, at least in part: Kent State, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, and of course the tragic events of Watergate.
Continue reading: Nixon Review
Ben (Seth Rogen) holds onto drugs and buffoonery the way Andy in Virgin held onto childhood/teenage obsession. He spends his days smoking cannabis, making herpes jokes with his roommates and marking when celebrities get naked in films for a forthcoming website, FleshoftheStars.com. It's at a local club that he meets Alison (Katherine Heigl), a newly-promoted correspondent for the E! network. After a fumbling flirtation and a bevy of drinks, Ben and Alison return to her sister's guest house, willing and ready to make a mistake. That mistake blooms, after 8 weeks, into an unexpected pregnancy, forcing Ben into adulthood and Alison into a relationship that mirrors her sister Debbie's (Apatow's wife Leslie Mann) marriage to Pete (the reliable Paul Rudd).
Continue reading: Knocked Up Review
On the surface, I can't envision too many actors who look the part of a stereotypical 40-year-old virgin better than Carell. (He co-wrote the film with Freaks and Geeks alumn Judd Apatow.) You might even consider his role as the awkward weatherman in Anchorman as a warm-up to this part. Despite being severely handicapped by a lackluster libido, Carell's Andy Stitzer has everything that makes him happy: a great job at an electronics store called Smart Tech, an action figure and comic collection worth thousands of dollars, and a reliable bicycle that gets him to and from work every day.
Continue reading: The 40 Year-Old Virgin Review
At its core, Any Given Sunday is the story of Miami Sharks coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino - The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon) and his two quarterbacks, Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx - The Great White Hype, Booty Call) and Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid - The Big Easy, Innerspace). The quarterback is the most vital position in the game. He is the team spokesperson and field chief, and he serves as a crucial link between coaches, administration, and players. When legendary two-time Pantheon Cup (aka: Super Bowl) champion Cap Bowman ruptures a disk after a bone crushing hit, coach Tony is left with Willie Beamen (Foxx), an athletic, yet untested QB. His team has lost four straight and appears to be plummeting in a downward spiral with the playoffs right around the corner. He's got delusional team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) and sports analyst Jack Rose (John McGinley, doing his best Jim Rome impersonation) breathing down his neck because of his outdated coaching style, and a team of players he's losing control of.
Continue reading: Any Given Sunday Review
Similar to Natural Born Killers in style, the film includes black & white inserts, frequent use of hand-held cameras, overexposed shots, vivid close-ups, zip-switches from smooth to grainy, unique camera angles, time-lapse sequences, and hallucinogenic effects. Stone rounded up some of his Nixon crew to establish the technical aspects of the film, including director of photography Robert Richardson, production designer Victor Kempster, and editors Hank Corwin and Thomas Nordberg. The crew shot U Turn in just 42 days, entirely on location in the actual town of Superior, Arizona, fully utilizing the vast landscape. According to the film's production information, the filmmakers revamped four blocks of Superior's main street, even creating new restaurants out of unused storefronts.
Continue reading: U Turn Review
Ferrara's only consistently smart move has been casting Christopher Walken over and over again, since Walken can make a good movie great and a loathsome movie durable whenever he's onscreen. His 8-minute scene in The Addiction is the saving grace of that otherwise abysmal, unwatchable, and pretentious failure. When he starts talking about his vampiric bowel movements, or questions whether Lili Taylor has ever read Naked Lunch, there's a much-needed dose of humor in an otherwise terminally unfunny affair. You know those Gothic club kids who are too cool to smile and let you know they're actually having fun? The Addiction is that movie.
Continue reading: The Blackout Review