Review: Concussion

will-smith-concussion

DIR/WRI: Peter Landesman • PRO: Elizabeth Cantillon, Giannina Facio-Scott, Ridley Scott, Larry Shuman, David Wolthoff • DOP: Salvatore Totino • ED: William Goldenberg • DES: David Crank • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin

 

 

The best way to describe Concussion is well intentioned. Will Smith plays the Nigerian-American physician Dr Bennet Omalu, the man who brought the link between the deaths of several former NFL players and the severe neurological condition ‘chronic traumatic encephalopathy’ (or CTE) to the attention of the world. However, it turns out convincing a billion dollar corporation like the NFL to acknowledge that their product is inherently dangerous to their money-making machines (I mean, players) ain’t a walk in the park.

On paper it sounds like an interesting story, even an important one, and indeed it is. The problem is that this film is dull. Dull, dull, dull.  Director Peter Landesman never succeeds in building the tension or drama to a satisfactory level, leaving the whole experience decisively underwhelming. This, combined with some questionable stylistic choices, means the films message about player’s safety over profit is boiled down to a bland by-the-numbers sports flick.

The strongest element of the film is its actors’ performances. Smith has previously struggled in other films to dump his real-life movie-star persona in favour of letting his character take-over and shine through. Thankfully, here this is not the case. Smith’s turn as Dr Omalu is both thoughtful and three-dimensional. In particular, his accent is convincing from the get go and remains consistent throughout the film. However, at times it is clear that the film is blatantly going out if its way to present Omalu as saint-like as possible, threatening to reduce him to a boring caricature. Luckily the subtleties of Smith’s performance prevent this from happening, but just. Baldwin, Brooks, and Mbatha-Raw are also quite watchable, though the romance subplot between Omalu and Mbatha-Raw’s character is sort of wedged in and could have done with a little bit more time dedicated to it.

Suffice to say that the problems with this film lie entirely within the director’s hands. Visually, the film is nothing interesting. Certain shots seem awkward and at a strange angle, others are too dark to determine exactly what’s happening on screen. The pacing of the film is also slightly off, taking too long to jump into the main plot then racing through the climax. Events stop and start and Landesman crams the slower moments with unnecessary scenes (namely, a car chase involving Omalu’s wife) in an attempt to create tension, but it doesn’t work. One of the more annoying aspects of the film is the musical soundtrack. The more quiet scenes often lose their impact due to the warbling of a nasally, guitar-stroking musician. If you couldn’t make out what emotions the scene unfolding on screen was supposed to stir in you, then no fear! The lyrics playing overhead will tell you exactly how to feel. Needless to say, this becomes tedious and fast.

Overall, the film fails to hit the right notes. The drama and emotion is watered down to a degree that makes it difficult to really care. Even Smith’s solid performance cannot salvage this dullfest, and when someone as charismatic as Will Smith can’t inject energy into a film, you know it’s bad. To give the film some credit, it does care about what it has to say- it just doesn’t say it very well.

Ellen Murray

 12A (See IFCO for details)

 122 minutes

Concussion is released 12th February 2016

Concussion – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Still Alice

still-alice

DIR/WRI:  Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland •  PRO: James Brown, Emilie Georges, Pamela Koffler, Lex Lutzus • DOP: Denis Lenoir ED: Nicolas Chaudeurge • MUS: Ilan Eshkeri • DES: Tommaso Ortino • CAST: Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Alec Baldwin, Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth

During the introduction of one of her lectures, linguistics professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is suddenly unable to remember, of all things, the term lexicon. Soon she starts to show further problems, she gets lost while she is jogging, she introduces herself to her son’s girlfriend despite the fact that he had already introduced them moments earlier. She becomes worried about these lapses in memory and is soon diagnosed as suffering from an early onset of Alzheimer’s, despite only having recently turned fifty. While she makes attempts to manage her symptoms, her condition soon worsens, leaving her family to try and adjust to her care.

Naturally, all attention for this film will be centred on Julianne Moore’s subtle and studied performance, which leads to the question of whether or not this performance overshadows the film as whole. While it is certainly true that Moore’s performance is in itself a lot better than the film that surrounds it, I believe it would be unfair to dismiss the film along those lines. What the writers/directors Richard Glazer and Wash Westmoreland, adapting the story from a bestselling novel by Lisa Genova, are aiming to do is to depict Alice’s condition from her own point of view and to have more of a focus on how much of an impact the disease has on her life rather than the effect it has on the people around her.

There is a very personal reason why the directors would want to depict Alice’s condition in this way as in 2011 Glazer was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, an incurable disease that weakens the body by wasting the muscles. This fact is the most felt in a scene where Alice delivers a speech at the Alzheimer’s Association where she describes just how awful it feels to lose your memories and to lose control over yourself. The film’s sensitive handling of its subject matter shows this personal reticence. While it does lapse into overt sentimentality at times, it never feels emotively exploitative, as perhaps it could have been, mainly thanks to the director’s understanding of her condition and of Moore’s fantastic lead performance.

While there is much to admire about Glazer and Westmoreland’s approach to the subject matter, there still is the problem that the film is not as good as its main actress. Part of this stems from it visual style, which is quite unremarkable and where the only technique used to signify Alice’s experiences, the use of shallow or out of focus, is gradually dispensed with as the film goes on. This lack of visual imagination offers us no insight on what Alice is going through, making us more reliant on Julianne Moore’s skills to fill in those gaps. The film’s use of language symbolism is a bit on the nose as well, from Alice’s profession to the scrabble like game she plays on her phone.

For all these problems, what makes the film work as well as it does is largely in part down to the stunning central performance by Julianne Moore. While the timeframe that the film explores shows us Alice from when the earliest signs of her disease through her rapid decline, Moore shows us glimpses of the kind of person Alice used to be, which allows us to recognise just how much her mind is deteriorating. It is not a show-off performance full of large gestures and dramatic outbursts, but rather more reliant on subtle movements, both physically and emotionally. The scene that showcases just how convincing Moore is in her character comes when Alice, whose condition at this point has worsened significantly, discovers a video message that she had made while her condition was somewhat manageable on her laptop. The difference between these two versions of Alice, one with some sense of control while the other is meek and confused, is extraordinary, showing Moore’s talent, building the character but then slowly dismantling it, leaving someone who is recognisable while at the same time completely different from what they where before.

While Moore’s performance makes the film,  she does have some great support, most notably from Kristen Stewart as her youngest daughter, a wannabe actress and the only member of the family who attempts to try and understand Alice’s condition rather than cope with it, the respectful approach taken by Glazer and Westmoreland, though understandable, seems only to highlight the film’s flaws rather than its strengths. Still, its intention is undoubtedly sincere, and what it lacks in inventiveness it makes up for in heart.

Patrick Townsend

12A (See IFCO for details)
100 minutes

Still Alice is released 6th March 2015

Still Alice  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Rise of the Guardians

 

DIR: Peter Ramsey • WRI: David Lindsay-Abaire • PRO: Nancy Bernstein, Christina Steinberg • DES: Patrick Marc Hanenberger • CAST: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman

Christmas and Easter have come at once in the animated Rise of the Guardians, quite literally. The eponymous Guardians are a ragtag group of iconic (whisper it, in case the kids are reading) fictional figures who are tasked with safeguarding the children of Earth. There’s Santa Claus, reimagined as a burly, sword-wielding Russian. The Easter Bunny – voiced by Hugh Jackman in his natural Aussie accent – is a grumpy, boomerang hurling action hero. The Sandman is a silent fellow of miniature stature, while the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) is… well, the Tooth Fairy. Mischievous Jack Frost (Chris Pine) is volunteered by the moon itself – I’m not making this up – to join this group of righteous warriors when the Boogeyman (Jude Law, because British accent = Evil) makes his unwanted return to basically try and destroy all childhood hope. Initially reluctant to join, Jack is slowly persuaded to join the good fight, and will inevitably learn something about himself along the way.

 

Listen, films like Rise of the Guardians put reviewers in an awkward position. This is very much a film aimed directly at a young audience, so it’s a challenge to discuss through more cynical adult eyes. The moral dilemmas, characters, jokes and story will almost certainly engage young audiences. But this isn’t Toy Story. Heck, it isn’t even How to Train Your Dragon. There are few concessions made for parents and guardians. This, I guess, could be considered both a positive and negative.

 

The visuals offer relatively pleasant eye-candy. One review has already equated the film to ‘a toy box exploding’, which isn’t too far off the mark. It’s so colourful and energetic that even the silly old three-dimensional glasses cannot dim the vibrancy. A sojourn to the Easter Bunny’s multi-coloured layer is a mid-film highlight. Naturally, it can all get too busy, especially during the hyperactive action scenes, but Dreamwork’s rendering farms have mostly been put to good use. Composer-in-demand Alexandre Desplat keeps things buzzing with a suitably frenetic score that probably isn’t as good as his work on The Tree of Life, in case you were wondering.

 

The characters are familiar, but a mixed success in terms of execution. The Sandman – perhaps not entirely coincidentally the only one who cannot speak – is the most charming of the lot, and regrettably absent for much of the plot. It’s nice to see alternative takes on old Mr. Claus and the Easter Bunny, but the portrayals feel a tad off here. Jack is a bland protagonist, although the Boogeyman is an even blander adversary.

 

Mostly, Rise of the Guardians passes the time inoffensively. Some parts are downright silly. The frequently verbalised moral of the story is ‘You should believe what the moon tells you to’, which makes only a little more sense in the context of the film itself than it does written down here. Given that Toy Story 3 has irrevocably upped the game when it comes to tear-jerking family cinema, this is comparatively cheesy. Also (warning: critical pretension alert!) the whole film might well be a thinly veiled Christian analogy. Cheeky Dreamworks!

 

Still, the kids who were in attendance were gasping with delight, shock and awe throughout the screening: a simple, telling fact that pretty much renders anything else I had to say about the film completely redundant.

Stephen McNeice

Rated G (see IFCO website for details)
97 mins
Rise of the Guardians  is released on 30th November 2012

Rise of the Guardians  – Official Website


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Cinema Review: To Rome with Love

DIR: Woody Allen WRI: Woody Allen PRO: Faruk Alatan, Letty Aronson,
Giampaolo Letta, Stephen Tenenbaum DOP: Darius Khondji ED: Elise
DuRant DES: Anne Seibel Cast: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Penelope
Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig

Acclaimed as one of the great New York filmmakers, Woody Allen has
made a habit of searching outside his native city for inspiration in
recent years. Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream and You Will Meet
a Tall Dark Stranger were all filmed in London, and he also ventured
to some of Europe’s most exotic locales for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
and Midnight in Paris.

His sojourn in the French capital proved to be fruitful, as not only
was Midnight in Paris a major awards contender (Allen won his fourth
Oscar® for the film’s screenplay), but it was a surprise box-office
hit, raking in upwards of $150 million worldwide.

It is therefore no surprise to see the veteran helmer remaining in
Europe for his latest film, To Rome with Love, which, despite lacking
the invention or lasting appeal of Midnight in Paris, is a perfectly
acceptable addition to Allen’s canon.

Allen himself makes his first appearance since 2006’s Scoop, appearing
in one of four vignettes as Jerry, a retired opera director who
feels the urge to get back in the saddle when he hears his prospective
brother-in-law (tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower, but has
to think outside the box when he realises that he is not as
accomplished under normal circumstances.

Elsewhere, Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi are young
newlyweds who become separated in their new city, and fall into the
company of a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) and a movie star (Antonio
Albanese) respectively; Life is Beautiful‘s Roberto Benigni is an
ordinary Joe Soap who wakes up one day to discover that he has become
famous for no apparent reason; while the final story (in chronological
terms) finds Alec Baldwin’s famed architect dishing out relationship
advice to young protege Jesse Eisenberg as he struggles to choose
between his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) and her best friend,
played by Ellen Page.

All of the stories do work quite well on an individual basis, and
there are some familiar Allen traits that are clear for all to see.
The subject of infidelity (which has played a major part in his recent
films) is a common theme throughout, and Baldwin’s inexplicable
appearances during the scenes with Eisenberg and Page brings back fond
memories of the Allen-starring Play it Again, Sam when Humphrey Bogart
was the imaginary mentor for the film’s protagonist.

It is also interesting that he has chosen to give equal share in terms
of screen time to the Italian stars, with Benigni enjoying a welcome
return to mainstream cinema after a 10-year gap, and bright
young things Tiberi and Mastronardi making for an engaging screen
pair.

Overall, the film works better as a series of moments rather than as a
wholly satisfying picture, and there is certainly no danger of To Rome with Love
ever challenging films like Manhattan, Annie Hall, Sleeper
or Love and Death as one of his very best.

However, as a comedy, the film does succeed on a number of levels, and
there are plenty of laughs to be had along the way. Allen, despite
giving himself a limited enough role on this occasion, has some
trademark zingers and one-liners that only he could deliver, and
Baldwin is in his prime 30 Rock form throughout, stealing every scene
that he is in with plenty of gusto and no little verve.

For those expecting Allen to repeat the winning formula that
brought such attention towards Midnight in Paris, they will probably be
left disappointed by his latest film, but for those who still hold a
fondness for his ‘early, funny ones’ and are looking for something
that will help to pass the time in an agreeable manner (as well as
something with a penchant for absurdity), then they might well find
something to enjoy in To Rome with Love.

Daire Walsh

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
111 mins

To Rome with Love is released on 14th September 2012

To Rome with Love – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Rock of Ages

I heard the Cruise today, oh boy

 

DIR: Adam Shankman  WRI: Allan Loeb, Justin Theroux  PRO: Adam Shankman, Tobey Maguire, Matt Weaver  DOP: Bojan Bazelli  ED: Emma Hickox  DES: Jon Hutman  Cast: Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russel Brand, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Malin Akerman, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones

Musicals are the epitome of cinematic marmite. You either love them or you hate them. Rock of Ages is no different. The film tells the story of Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta) and their romance during the ‘hair metal’ era of 1980s Los Angeles. Sherrie and Diego work at the Bourbon Room. The owners, Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand) are about to put on the final concert of Arsenal, a heavy metal band that’s fronted by a mercurial singer, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). It’s here that Drew gets his big break and begins the story of the film. Concurrent to this, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bryan Cranston – who play a mayoral couple looking to wipe heavy metal from the streets of Los Angeles – are plotting to shut down the Bourbon Room and run them out of business.

As mentioned earlier, musicals are either in your taste or they aren’t. It’s very difficult for someone that has a passing interest in the genre to watch this film, given that they break into song every five seconds. Rock of Ages is a cheesy romp and it makes no excuses for it. Most of the songs are based in that era, including Def Leppard’s ‘Pour Some Sugar (On Me)’ and Bon Jovi’s ‘Dead Or Alive’ as well as some originals, too. It’s clear from watching the film that the cast were thoroughly enjoying their time on screen. Tom Cruise’s singing voice is surprisingly good and Russell Brand is playing a role he’s lived for the past thirty-odd years.

 

The young couple at the centre of the film are schmaltzy and corny beyond belief. However, the film itself is not to be taken seriously therefore this can be easily forgiven. Adam Shankman’s direction is straight-forward and to the point. Having worked on musicals prior to this, Hairspray being one of them, it’s clear he has a talent for the genre and it’s evident throughout. The plot and screenplay are all very much rudimentary and simply serve to bridge the huge musical set-pieces together. The film is very much a faithful adaptation of the musical and fans of it will not be disappointed. Rock of Ages is enjoyable and a tongue-in-cheek ode to a musical fad that’s best left in the history books. If musicals work no charm on you, however, you’ll find Rock of Ages a grating experience.

Brian Lloyd

 

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Rock of Ages is released on 15th June 2012

Rock of Ages – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USxhXb5VC5E

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It’s Complicated

Its Complicated

DIR/WRI: Nancy Meyers • PRO: Nancy Meyers, Scott Rudin • DOP: John Toll • ED: Joe Hutshing, David Moritz • DES: Jon Hutman • CAST: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell

Nancy Meyers is not your typical Hollywood director, i.e. male churning out pre-pubescent fodder for overindulged mall malingerers. Meyers makes mature fodder for groups of overindulged mall consumers. Her romantic comedies involve the lifestyles of the rich and embrace that tired cliché of a woman needing to find completion (i.e. a man) in her life.

In 2000, Meyers, gave us What Women Want. In 2006, it was Something’s Gotta Give. Now in 2010, Meyer’s has It’s Complicated, a romantic comedy featuring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.

Streep plays Jane Adler, a divorced 60ish restaurant owner, who, after a few drinks, hops in the sack with Jake, her ex (Baldwin) and rediscovers her mojo. They flirt with each other and with the idea of reconciliation. The trouble is, there’s a few stereotypes on the periphery. Jake’s now married to a thirtysomething loot-foraging ballbreaker (Bell) and Jane’s in the throes of dating Mr. Nice Guy (Martin). You guessed it – it’s complicated. Surely she won’t lose her chance to find future love by boozing her way to former lust?

Obviously it is to Meyer’s credit that she is making films for a certain demographic, but this could have been so much more than the anaemic, anodyne effort it is. There are some half-decent one-liners along the way, some playful banter and a few laughs provided by Baldwin hamming it up. There was always something about Alec Baldwin that made me think of him as a natural candidate for comedy. Streep has always shone in comic roles but is limited by the fatuous whimsy she’s given here. And her character never extends beyond being defined by the men in her life. Depressingly, Steve Martin again plays his post-career role of the emasculated lackey. I don’t know what’s happened to him; but his eyes seem to have disappeared. Perhaps some Faustian deal – ‘you give me money for old rope and I give you my eyes…’

Meyer’s one-track writing of well-to-do fantasy females searching for love in a lavishly constructed ideal of suburban America fails to rise up above the flashes of potential Streep and Baldwin provide. Meyer’s script takes no risks and plods along eventually disappearing up its own botoxed backside.

And yet, there’s a deeper-lying problem at work here.

Manohla Dargis, the NY Times film critic, recently said of Mamma Mia that ‘it’s a terrible movie…but women are starved for representation of themselves.’ Dargis argues that the Hollywood system is a ‘no win situation for women filmmakers.’

Of course, she’s dead right. There aren’t enough fingers on your hand to list the female directors working in Hollywood, despite their ‘resurgence’ in 2009. Bigelow is one of the most interesting and, of course, the major exception in that she directs action movies. Meyers exists solely in that comfort zone of romantic comedy. Hell, it’s even a genre that the men rule the roost in nowadays with the likes of Judd Apatow’s perverse reimagining of them for men to embrace. So there’s something rotten in the state of Hollywood. And sadly Meyers, and It’s Complicated, is part of the problem rather than the solution.

Steven Galvin

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for details)

It’s Complicated is released 8th Jan 2010

It’s Complicated – Official Website

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