Spider-Man: Far From Home
Toy Story 4
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Alice (Taglioni) is a thirty-something, socially awkward, Parisian, obsessed with the films of Woody Allen. On her bedroom wall hangs a poster of the film-maker, and she imagines him speaking to her through snippets of dialogue from his films (voiced by a French Allen imitator whose attempt at a Brooklyn accent sounds more like Tony Soprano). She's dating the suave but slimy Vincent (Soulier), who pretends to share her taste in movies and music to keep her interested. Victor (Bruel), on the other hand, openly mocks her taste but is genuinely interested in Alice. Who will she choose?
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, they say. If, however, you possess none of the talent of the object of your flattery, you'll end up looking pretty dumb. Two things are made clear about writer-director Lellouche from this dreadful and charmless film: she loves Woody Allen and she isn't qualified to write the dosage instructions on a Lemsip packet, never mind a feature film.
The concept is essentially a reworking of the Allen scripted, Herbert Ross directed 'Play it Again Sam', with an imaginary Bogart replaced by a poster of Allen. The problem is, while Ross' film was a comedy which referenced Film Noir, Lellouche is referencing comedy through comedy. Her film is painfully unfunny, with none of the wit or insight you get from Allen's movies. The effect is akin to watching Bernard Manning perform a Larry David stand-up routine.
I found myself scratching my head at several points, trying to piece together what on earth I was watching. There are sub-plots which go nowhere and several scenes which confused me as to whether they were meant to be flashbacks or not. Bits of 'Hannah and Her Sisters' and 'Manhattan Murder Mystery' are clumsily reworked in a confusing manner. Allen wouldn't wipe his ass with this script.
Taglioni, a leggy Elle MacPherson lookalike, is ludicrously miscast as a nebbish and the only character who feels real is her father, the type of put-upon Jewish father who turns up regularly in Allen's movies.
The great man makes a cameo towards the end but it's not enough to redeem the film, even for the most hardcore of his fans. The greatest insult Lellouche gives Allen is in suggesting his best film is 'Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex', his most moronic comedy. Thank God for the French? Not this time.
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 (Ólafsson), 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.
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)
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)
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)