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  • Trouble with the Curve

    Trouble with the Curve (2012)

    January 09, 2013

    Trouble with the Curve is the ultimate anti-Moneyball movie. Many members of the baseball community in the US, most of them relatively old, still have difficulty accepting that their game can be won by someone who's good at maths. Trouble with the Curve is a celebration of those old scouts you saw battling against Brad Pitt in Moneyball; the people who believe that it's all about athletic ability, and good old-fashioned gut instincts.

    Is Trouble with the Curve as good as Moneyball? No. Not even close. Moneyball was a film that had great flares of originality and snappy writing separating out the obligatory moments of sports cliche. Trouble with the Curve however makes no attempt to do anything new. It's exactly the same baseball movie that's been on the big screen since Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams. And yet, Trouble with the Curve still works. It's still watchable and rather solid. You don't have to look far to see why. It's all down to a certain man called Clint Eastwood, who proves he's still one of the best actors around.

    Will Clint Eastwood get another Oscar nod? It's quite possible. In fact, if it becomes public knowledge that this will be his last acting appearance, then you can almost say he's a dead cert. He had originally planned on Gran Tarino being his final acting role, and that probably would have been the better choice. That's not to say Trouble with the Curve isn't a good film. It is. It may be straightforward and filled to the rafters with cliche, but it's so solidly made that you don't really care. Sometimes it's just nice to sit back and watch a story be told beautifully.

    Read the full review at: http://www.city-connect.org/film-review-trouble-with-the-curve/

  • End of Watch

    End of Watch (2012)

    January 08, 2013

    You really should turn your nose up at End of Watch, but you can't help but be captivated by it. It's made up of pretty much every cop movie cliché going, and you've seen the plot more than a few times before. And yet, the bits that seem like they've been cut and pasted from other films are the real highlights. Quentin Tarantino is a master at this - making constant homages to other films, while still writing and directing them in a way only he can.

    What's even more surprising is that the version of End of Watch we see on the big screen is the product of a director losing his nerve. Originally, the plan was to make the film entirely from the viewpoint of the camera owned by officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), who's making what presumably is an illegal documentary. This reduces the scope of the film considerably, so it's not surprising that the director David Ayer couldn't follow through on the stylistic premise. It just doesn't make sense that Taylor would film everything; the big plot hole in most found footage films. In terms of style, the end result is rather inconsistent, but by allowing the camera to move more freely, Ayer's film is able to accomplish much more.

    End of Watch really is part of the new cop drama style that has drifted through both film and television over the past few years. While we used to be captivated by the procedurals that showed us the science and the method in police work, we're now much more interested in the people who wear the uniform on a day-to-day basis. This is why End of Watch works so well; it takes place during the highest moments of genuine human drama.

    Read the full review at: http://www.city-connect.org/film-review-end-of-watch/

  • Silver Linings Playbook

    Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

    January 03, 2013

    It's never very easy to tell what direction director David O. Russell will go in. He went from the superbly intelligent Three Kings to the more bewildering and uneven I Heart Huckabees in 2004. He didn't turn up again until 2010 with the Oscar nominated film The Fighter. It was supposed to signal a return to form for the director. With Silver Linings Playbook however, Russell makes another very uneven film.

    It's similar in terms of style to The Fighter in many ways, instead it's set in a nicer part of town. And The Fighter had a story that felt human and genuine. Silver Linings Playbook however feels very contrived, and has just about as much corniness and misjudged sentiment as a cheap rom-com dumped onto television on a late afternoon. It's surprising given the talent involved that it would end up this way, but David O. Russell can't seem to find his way through the mushiness.

    Former teacher Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) leaves a mental hospital after an eight month stint. He's been struggling with bipolar disorder ever since the discovery of his wife's affair destroyed his marriage. After leaving the mental hospital he moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). Pat then meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), with whom he agrees to partner in a dance competition, with the hope of catching his wife's eye to win her back.

    The film was released on the back of very positive reviews in the American press. This was followed by whispers that it could be a potential Oscar winner. It was also produced by Bod and Harvey Weinstein, two brothers who are notorious for their Oscar campaigns. They know how to win, just ask Colin Firth. Taking all of this into account, it's hard to shake the feeling that this is just Oscar fodder. It has all the necessary ingredients to be a winner, but given how poor it is compared to the competition, you really hope this doesn't succeed.

    Read the full review at: http://www.city-connect.org/film-review-silver-linings-playbook/

  • Snow White and the Huntsman

    Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

    June 08, 2012

    http://www.city-connect.org/film-review-snow-white-huntsman/

  • The Raid: Redemption

    The Raid: Redemption (2012)

    June 04, 2012

    http://www.city-connect.org/film-review-raid/

  • Red

    Red (2010)

    August 04, 2011

    Bruce Willis must love when these kind of roles come along. Granted, the gritty action roles that saw him diving down elevator shafts, blowing up planes with a lighter, and wearing a brown vest that you forget was originally white have long gone. But now he gets to be the sophisticated, smarter, wise cracking old man ? who still knows over a hundred ways to kill you using just his thumbs.

    That?s essentially what Red is all about ? veteran actors having a lot of fun going back to the glory days when they could play the action hero. Based on the much darker graphic novel, Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, a lonely and retired CIA agent who finds himself plunged back into his old world when a team of assassins obliterate his suburban home. It becomes clear to Frank that this attack has something to do with his past, so he sets off to get his old team back together. His team consists of Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), a man leaving in an old folk?s home and using his spare time to admire his nurses, Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), a man made paranoid by a drugs experiment that involved him taking LSD every day for years, and Victoria (Helen Mirren), a trained sniper spending her retirement running a B&B. Frank is accompanied along the way by Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a telephone operator who of course finds the whole experience of being shot at and kidnapped a bit of a turn on.

    What makes this film considerably better than other mediocre blockbusters is its sense of humour. Red knows that its whole concept is completely ridiculous, so it seeks to have fun all the way. Given that the graphic novel was darker and thinner on plot, Red does deserve praise for making itself a lighter movie with a better storyline. Sure it?s not the most original plot but it does serve its purpose. The clear highlight of this movie though is John Malkovich, playing the role of the mentally disturbed person yet again, but in this case he does it with such a comedic edge that it?s an absolute delight to see.

    Having said that, considering the people involved, it could have been a lot better. Granted, the stellar cast carry the film to its glory, but you can?t help but think that if the screenwriters and director had put in a little more effort into the concept then it could have been something very special. Plus we could have done with a bit more Morgan Freeman than we get.

    VERDICT: Could have been a lot better with the people involved, but it is a superb choice for a fun film on a Friday night. It certainly beats the latest Michael ?let?s have very loud robots who say very stupid things? Bay flick.

  • 127 Hours

    127 Hours (2010)

    January 07, 2011

    Now this is something special. A film that is for the majority set in one location and yet could very well be the most emotionally powerful movie of 2011, even though we are only a few weeks in.

    127 Hours is the true story about Aaron Ralston, a loner adrenalin junkie spending the weekend climbing through canyons in Utah when he suddenly gets his arm trapped by a boulder. As each attempt to free himself fails, Aaron finds his mental and physical state starting to deteriorate until he has to make a decision between keeping his life, or keeping his arm.

    Straight from the off we get the feel that this is a Danny Boyle film. The choice of music, the split screen over various images of groups of people all huddled together, from football (sorry, soccer) fan crowds to people travelling up an escalator. It is an early indication of a key theme - that Aaron even from the beginning is all alone. This is of his own doing however, as we see in the course of the film. When we first meet Aaron he is getting ready for his trip, completing ignoring his mother leaving him a message on his answer machine.

    The only genuine human contact we see Aaron having is with two young girls that have got lost in the canyon. Even while showing off his climbing skills and knowledge of the canyon which results in him dropping a great height into a lake, you still get the feeling that Aaron isn't really with them. "I don't think we figure into his day at all" one of them says, summing his mental state perfectly. When Aaron does get trapped by the boulder however, not answering his mother's call and the video recorded memories of the two girls suddenly become the most important thing in the world to him. He is a man fighting a long 127 hour battle against his own mortality.

    Of course mortality is a big theme in this movie, but possibly more importantly it is a movie about denial. When Aaron gets stuck and we see the size of the rock and the size of Aaron, we knew there is only one way for him to get out of there. As he tries to chip away at the boulder desperately, we can see in his eyes that he knows there is only one way out. At one point he stabs himself in the trapped arm with his blunt knife brutally, as though he trying to ease himself into it.

    While Boyle's direction is as always uniquely compelling, it is James Franco who lights up the screen. A more cynical person would say that it's because most of the other characters have barely 5 minutes on screen each, but if anything it makes Franco's job even harder. It is however a superbly acted decent from daredevil show off, to hallucinating mental and physical wreck. Ralston's video camera plays a huge part in the plot as he documents the events of each day as he goes along. The fact that these video accounts are based on, if not exactly like, the one's the real Aaron Ralston filmed, makes it all the more unnerving and intriguing.

    There is a defining moment in this film when you know it is going to be something to remember. As the first twenty minutes or so go by, and Ralston is moving through the canyon alone after departing company with the two young girls, the rock finally falls and traps him against the canyon wall. We see Ralston's expression, hear nothing but silence, and then see the title 127 Hours appear in the shadows on the left hand side of the screen. Wonderfully done.

    VERDICT: Grippingly realistic and incredibly emotional, Danny Boyle firmly stamps his name down as a runner for yet another contender for the Best Director Oscar, and James Franco surely now is a certainty for a Best Actor nomination at the very least.

  • From Hell

    From Hell (2001)

    January 01, 2011

    From Hell can be whatever you want it to be. If you are looking for a horror film (which the trailers seemed to be catered for) then you're best of looking somewhere else for scares. If however you are looking for an intelligently scripted murder mystery then this will be ideal for you.

    Based on Alan Moore's graphic novel, From Hell gives a fictional (although surprisingly accurate) account of the hunt for Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer that roamed the streets of London in the late 1800s. Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) is a clairvoyant, opium-addicted detective that is placed in charge of the case. Abberline sees brief flashes of the victims in his dreams during the films more visual and unnerving moments. He is joined in his investigation by Sergeant Peter Godley (Robbie Coltrane) who in real life was involved in the investigation but never actually met Abberline until the final murder was committed. While the actual events never suggested that the prostitutes that fell victim to the Ripper knew each other, in this story they all work the streets together, including Mary Kelly (Heather Graham).

    The British accents may be a little hard to place for English viewers, but the film is fairly well cast. While Johnny Depp wasn't the first choice or even the second to play Abberline, in the end the Hughes Brothers made the right decision. A character that is intriguing and dark, it is right in Depp's strike zone, and he doesn't disappoint. Along with Coltrane's Godley, the pair has a Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson quality about them. Abberline is the eccentric yet brilliant detective, and Godley is the faithful companion who at many times appears to be the brighter of the two. Heather Graham's British accent only seems to manifest itself when she's angry, but it is still a very competent performance.

    The problem with From Hell is that it is expected to scare, but it aims for unnerve. The latter it achieves rather effectively, from the brutal murder scenes to the incredibly well crafted reveal of who the Ripper is. Abberline confronts the person responsible and explains how he has figured things out. We don't quite understand what he is saying at first, until the Ripper puts on the infamous dinner jacket and coat in front of him as his eyes turn black, which is as close to terrifying as this film gets. Still fairly close.

    VERDICT: A scary film it certainly isn't. Well crafted visually and intelligently scripted it is. An intriguing and slightly unnerving horror film.

  • The Informers

    The Informers (2009)

    December 28, 2010

    In June 2010, novelist Bret Easton Ellis answered questions about his new novel Imperial Bedrooms. For those of you who have read or seen the film version of Less Than Zero you will be familiar with the main character Clay, who is in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Rather fittingly, Ellis took some questions about his novels being adapted into movies. He said that he had a soft spot for Less Than Zero even though not one shred of dialogue or a scene was in the movie, and that he didn't think that American Psycho should have been made into a movie. Then finally when asked about his recent adaptation The Informers, he simply said: "That movie doesn't work for a lot reasons but I don't think any of those reasons are my fault."

    On the surface it may seem like it is most definitely his fault. Adapting the screenplay himself with Nicholas Jarecki, Ellis wanted the story to be a absurd, light-hearted satire about a group of people living hedonistic lives in 80s Los Angeles. Ellis and Jarecki spent three years writing the script and prepping it for production, with Jarecki set to make a directorial debut. Then, the studio decided they wanted a more experienced director to handle the project. Enter Gregor Jordan, who took the 150 page script, reduced it to 94 and turned the whole thing on its head. What was meant to be a light-hearted satire had turned into a grim soap opera from hell.

    There is no other way of saying it - The Informers is crammed to the rafters with grim filth. The characters are two dimensional at the most, and absolutely no one at any point is happy. Not one of them is remotely likeable either, each one committing one sleazy offense after another. The script isn't one of the best either - the conclusion of the film completely lacks a third act. At the premiere, one of the film's many stars (including Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger and Winona Ryder) Mickey Rourke was asked what inspired him to star in the film. "They paid me the right money" he replied, and walked away. After watching the film, many people will think that that can be the only possible reason.

    Then again, maybe the stars just know something we don't. People who have read the novel say that the movie is very similar in terms of tone and style, so maybe this whole idea of a soap opera from hell is intentional. Maybe these characters are supposed to be as bland and unlikeable as they appear, if so then mission accomplished. The only problem is if you want a satire you need a sense of humour, which this film completely lacks.

    VERDICT: The Informers is in no way imaginable an enjoyable experience, but then again neither was Requiem for a Dream. It will split audiences in half - one half will appreciate its content, the other will want to go home and take a shower. It will stay with you for a while though, which is a victory of sorts.

  • License to Wed

    License to Wed (2007)

    October 12, 2010

    It may just be me, but I find it impossible to dislike Robin Williams. He has a comic ability to steal the show and in some cases save it with solo effort, a similar quality shared with Jim Carrey. The only problem is License to Wed is only worthy of one star by itself, the only reason it gets a three is because of Williams' effort.

    When you have a premise as ridiculous and creepy as this you have to deliver on the comedy element, which this film fails to do. The struggling Robin Williams plays Reverend Frank, who runs classes subjecting couples through a series of ordeals to see if they are ready for marriage. In this case we focus on Ben and Sadie, played flatly by John Krasinski and Mandy Moore.

    It's hard to tell what is more creepy, the fact that Reverend Frank is spying on the couple 24/7 to make sure they don't have pre marital sex, or the fact that Mandy Moore's character Sadie is fully convinced that the reverend is doing the right thing. At one point to hone the couple's communication skills, Sadie must drive a car blindfolded while Ben directs her from the backseat. Through this ordeal Ben suddenly becomes the voice of reason finally realising the whole experiment is crazy, while Sadie preposterously believes that this is the right way to go. The whole thing is a farce.

    That being said, it does have a couple of funny moments that shows us what director Ken Kwapis can do while on form, for example the hilarious US version of The Office. Given that John Krasinski was part of the cast at the time the film was made, it's not hard to conceive that he was won over by the director. Surely he didn't look at the script at any point, at which point the natural reaction would be to run and hide.

    There is a possibility that the reason this film flat lines could be because Robin Williams' involvement isn't as big as trailers and posters suggest. He isn't really the main character. That honour goes to the happy couple with their cardboard cut-out personalities. Maybe if Williams had been given more screen time more of the comedy could have been salvaged, but all the same the jokes and storyline are just so predictably it borderlines sickly.

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