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The Deep

The Deep

(2013)
5 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

In 1984, a crew of fishermen set off from their small Icelandic island for what should have been another routine few days plying their trade in the North Atlantic Sea. This time however, their boat sinks, killing almost immediately, due to the freezing temperature of the water, every crew member except Gulli (”lafsson), an overweight schlub. Gulli somehow manages to swim for six hours in the treacherously cold water, reaching his island and walking for another two hours before reaching reaching a house. When a doctor from Reykjavik watches Gulli tell his improbable story on TV, he takes him to a Royal Navy facility in London to conduct tests on how he survived an ordeal nobody else ever had.
Following his American debut, 'Contraband', Icelandic director Kormakur returns to his homeland to tell the story of one of that remote country's modern folk-heroes. In Iceland, to this day, the fisherman occupies the sort of mythical status held by the cowboy in America. These guys are held up as supermen, braving some of the world's harshest conditions in order to earn a meager wage. While celebrating this lifestyle, Kormakur also de-mythologizes it. The crew of the trawler Breki are shown as a bunch of poorly educated drunks who would arguably be still alive if they treated their occupation with a bit more professionalism.
The film is split in two halves, the first detailing Gulli's ordeal at sea, the second showing his baffling of scientists who fail to come up with an explanation for his unlikely survival. A confused Royal Navy doctor describes Gulli as having "seal fat", a rare moment of humor in this grim Nordic tale. This second half reminded me a little too much of the 'Simpsons' episode where Homer is discovered to be the perfect candidate for an astronaut, defying NASA scientists with his out-of-shape body's tolerance for extreme situations. When Gulli beats three Royal Marines in a freezing water endurance test, you can imagine Icelanders feeling an immense national pride at the fact that one of their out of shape drunks can beat the best the Royal Navy has to offer.
Feeling often like a gritty reworking of M Night Shyamalan's 'Unbreakable', 'The Deep' holds your interest but, honestly, it's really just because the actual story is so fascinating rather than any great story-telling on the part of Kormakur. Technically, like most Nordic productions, it's a technically impressive piece of work and very well acted. Over the end credits though, we see archive footage of the real Gulli which only makes you wish you spent the previous 90 minutes watching a documentary version of this story instead.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

(2013)
6 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Attempting to sum up the premise of Anchorman 2 is pretty tricky, given there's not much of a story to draw on here. The script, from Ferrell and director Adam McKay, is a rambling, unfocused mess that dangles embryonic plotlines before us, only to let them awkwardly dissipate without any satisfactory conclusion. The movie's trailer features material that isn't actually in the finished film, suggesting there's a longer, likely even more rambling and unfocused awaiting us on DVD. As it stands, Anchorman 2 feels more like an extended series of deleted scenes than any kind of satisfyingly cohesive story.

It's the sort of movie that gives you the feeling it was a lot more fun to work on than watch. That's not to say it's without laughs. At times Anchorman 2 is hilarious but the laugh ratio is no more than about one successful gag for every five misfires. Much of the film is indeed painfully unfunny, particularly anything involving Carell, mainly due to jokes extended unnecessarily as though the creators are terrified audiences might miss the gag if they don't spell it out in minute detail. If you're happy to mine through 100 minutes of poorly played jokes for 20 minutes of comedy gems you'll happily enjoy Anchorman 2, but Ferrell has been given far too much control here and his untempered ego runs amok at his film's expense.
(Review by Eric Hillis)

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

(2013)
7 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

As a young man, Nelson Mandela (Elba) leaves his rural South African village for Johannesburg, where he becomes a lawyer, representing the city's poor blacks. Convinced by friends to join the political group ANC (African National Congress), he quickly rises through the ranks and leads a campaign of sabotage that makes him public enemy number one for the country's white ruling minority. Captured by the authorities, he is sentenced to life imprisonment. During his time in prison, Mandela's wife Winnie (Harris) campaigns for his freedom but her violent methods are diametrically opposed to her husband's peaceful philosophy.

The biopic is one of the most troublesome genres in cinema. While its literary equivalent, the biography, has the advantage of several hundred pages with which to tell its subject's story, in film you've got a maximum of three hours. It's for this reason that the best movies based on real life figures (eg. Lawrence of Arabia, Ed Wood) have narrowed their focus to a specific chapter of their protagonist's life. Attempting to cover a significant figure's entire life in a couple of hours is something of a no win situation. Unfortunately, this is the method favored by director Justin Chadwick and writer William Nicholson. An adaptation of Mandela's official autobiography, Long Walk might just as well have been adapted from the man's Wikipedia page.

This is life as a series of bullet points. The film moves so quickly and covers so much ground that we never get to know its subject and it seems afraid to ascribe any kind of personality to Mandela. Anyone who ever met the late South African remarked on what a unique sense of humor he possessed but there's little humor on display here. A lot more characterization is afforded to Winnie and the script pulls no punches in turning her into a villainous warlord. While Elba is very impressive, it's Harris who steals the show, utterly convincing as both the naive young woman infatuated with Nelson and the hate filled warmonger of later years. If it weren't for these two riveting performances, the film would be a slog but Elba and Harris command our attention. The pair, along with Twelve Years a Slave's star Chiwetel Ejiofor and director Steve McQueen, should feature heavily at next year's Oscars. The warcry could well be "The Black British are coming!"
(review by Eric Hillis)

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

(2013)
7 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Walter Mitty (Stiller) is a daydreaming, introverted "negative assets" manager at Life magazine. Obsessed with co-worker Cheryl (Wiig), he sets up an account with online dating website E-Harmony in order to contact her. Receiving an error message when he attempts to connect with her profile, Walter calls the site's helpline and is advised by helpline worker Todd (Oswalt) to do some traveling so he can make his profile more interesting. When Life photographer Sean O'Connell sends him a strip of negatives, including what he describes as "the quintessence of Life", Walter discovers said negative is missing. He sets off on a journey to locate Sean, retrieve the negative and make himself interesting enough to attract Cheryl.
James Thurber's short story is one that's been read by few yet has become a part of our cultural jargon. We describe anyone that makes unbelievable claims about their life experiences as a "Walter Mitty" type. Stiller's film, however, bears little relation to the source material and seems to borrow its title for marketing purposes, cashing in on cultural recognition.

There's a memorable moment in Stephen Frears' High Fidelity where Tim Robbins' character is savagely beaten by John Cusack and his buddies, only for the over the top scene to be revealed as no more than Cusack's daydream. It's a scene that's been ripped off many times since and has become a tired cliche at this point. The opening act of Mitty takes the gag to the extreme, Stiller indulging in increasingly over the top daydreams, mostly involving Wiig declaring her love for him or Stiller taking revenge on his smarmy new corporate boss (Scott). It quickly grows tiresome but when Stiller drops it in favor of a Paulo Coelho type journey of discovery plot the film ceases to bear any resemblance to the Walter Mitty archetype.
There's been much discussion of the increasing occurrence of product placement in Hollywood movies of late. I'm perfectly fine with it myself. I'd rather see characters use everyday real world products than fake ones that take you out of the reality of the film. Stiller's film, however, crosses the line from product placement into the realm of blatant advertising, rendering Mitty little more than a two hour collection of commercials.

It begins when Stiller calls the E-Harmony helpline and we're told by Oswalt of the advantages of that site over its competitors. Later, Oswalt makes a brief onscreen cameo, the purpose of which seems solely to tell us how tasty Cinnabon's produce is. Mitty is employed by Life magazine and the film bombards us with propaganda for the famous publication, including subjecting us to its motto no less than four times in the opening 30 minutes and musical montages built around its many famous covers. Papa John's Pizza, which cameo'd earlier this year in a shockingly blatant piece of advertising in Red 2, crops up again here when Stiller finds a branch in the middle of Iceland. The company logo is lit more clearly than Stiller himself and we get a lingering close up of a cup as Mitty recalls working for the company as a teen. The film is peppered with references to KFC, McDonalds, Facebook etc and you can't help wonder if the advertising was incorporated into the script or the script was written around the advertising. I almost vomited when Stiller had the cheek to have Mitty deliver a speech against commercialism at the film's climax. If this trend is to continue, whatever bodies are concerned with regulating advertising are going to have to impose some strong rules on Hollywood.
The bombardment of advertising makes it difficult to engage with the story but it's paper thin anyway. Now that Stiller has cut his teeth in commercials, he should return to making movies.
(Review by Eric Hillis)

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

(2013)
7 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Following on from the events of last year's opening installment, An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) and company set off for the Lonely Mountain, home of the dragon Smaug (voiced by Freeman's Sherlock co-star Cumberbatch). On the way, they run into trouble in the forest of Mirkwood, where they are captured by a group of elves, including Legolas (Bloom) and Tauriel (Lilly).
As a nine-year-old, I once badgered my old man into taking me to a triple bill screening of the original Star Wars trilogy. Some seven plus hours after we entered the cinema we emerged into the smoggy Dublin night. I was filled with adrenalin and mimicked fighting invisible stormtroopers all the way to the car park. My Dad, however, was a broken man. For him it was a torturous experience. I couldn't understand how he didn't enjoy such an event. Now, having sat through five plus hours of Peter Jackson's overblown Hobbit trilogy, I know exactly how he felt.

Watching Jackson's saga is an experience akin to attending a sporting event, one whose rules you don't understand. You can appreciate the odd moment of euphoria; a home run, a 147 or a well rendered set piece, but it's all out of context and the long stretches in between are mind numbing.
On the evidence of these first two installments, by the conclusion of this trilogy we'll have an eight hour saga (probably a few hours longer when the extended DVD cuts drop) that will feature about an hour of technically impressive but uninvolving set pieces and seven hours of talking beards. With said set pieces, Jackson shows what a talented and inventive director he is (the introduction of Smaug is a moment Spielberg would be proud of) but the scriptwriters are unable to keep things interesting in between these moments. There's simply far too much reliance on dialogue in this series and for huge swaths of the saga you feel like you should be watching this at home on HBO rather than in an IMAX screen in 48 frames per second 3D.
Jackson's 48fps experiment continues to be problematic. While it makes CG look far more impressive (a PIXAR movie could be something really special using this technique), human actors look like wax figures and quick camera movement can resemble a skipping DVD. There are moments when characters run that make you think you're watching one of those climactic chase scenes from Benny Hill.
The few positives include the incredible production design (I particularly liked Lake-Town, which reminded me of Robert Altman's Popeye) and the introduction of Evangeline Lilly, finally bringing a much needed element of sexual tension to Jackson's previously asexual Middle Earth.
It seems odd that a movie series of such a grand scale can be described as mediocre. The Hobbit is undoubtedly a spectacle but it's a boring spectacle, and a spectacular bore.
(Review by Eric Hillis)

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