Review: In the Heart of the Sea

 

in-the-heart-of-the-sea-chris-hemsworth

DIR: Ron Howard • WRI: Charles Leavitt • PRO: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Joe Roth, Will Ward, Paula Weinstein • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill • MUS: Roque Baños • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw

 

In the Heart of the Sea is a film that longs to be a sweeping epic. Unfortunately, it rarely struggles above ‘meh’ on the emotional reaction scale. Flitting from one narrative arc to another without ever divulging anything important or meaningful to the audience, the film flounders under the weight of its own scale. Even Ron Howard’s skill as a director fails to lend any depth to this shallow puddle of a film.

That said, it’s easy to see why Howard wanted to make this film. Maritime films are a rarity in Hollywood namely due to their enormous production costs (indeed, this film had a budget of 100 million dollars and it looks unlikely that it will be recuperated in the box office). Being in an aquatic environment, however, really allows for a directors creativity to shine through. There are some genuinely fantastic shots throughout the film, particularly the ones that take place underwater. The films biggest drawback by far is its script. The plot follows a frame narrative, wherein author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), anxious to start the novel that would become the classic Moby Dick, interviews the only surviving member of an infamous whale-hunting expedition, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson).

Now an aging drunk, Nickerson is at first reluctant to recall the horrors that occurred during the voyage.  Urged on by Melville’s deep (or, at least, slightly deeper) pockets, our story begins to unfold. Having risen from a lowly orphan to a respected seaman, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself as First Mate on the Essex, a whaling ship captained by the rather pompous George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). Under pressure from their sponsoring merchant company to bring home as many barrels of whale oil as possible, the crew sets sail with then 14-year-old Nickerson (Tom Holland) aboard. Things go from bad to worse when, spurred on by over-fishing, the Essex travels into dangerous uncharted waters with the hope of snaring more whales. Once there, however, the ship is capsized by a gigantic white whale and our heroes find themselves adrift in an unforgiving wasteland of salt water.

There are so many elements to the plot- man v nature, fear of the unknown, exploitation of natural resources for profit, facing one’s past, etc.- that no single aspect is ever satisfactorily explored. The audience is never given enough to fully care and, as a result, characters are reduced down to ‘tick-the-box’ personalities.

The gruff-but-good-natured-leader-who-just-wants-to-do-right? Check!

The inexperienced-but-willing-to-learn-youngster-who-looks-upon-said-leader-as-a-mentor? Check!

The snooty-rich-guy-who-used-his-family-name-to-gain-his-position-for-which-he-is-completely-unqualified? Check!

The most interesting character by far is the white whale, who is apparently omniscient, and he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Also, while the film overall boasts bold visuals, certain wide shots of the ship at sea look hopelessly CGI’d and I’m certain that at one point the tip of a boom mike was visible in frame. With so many balls up in the air it’s unsurprising that the film ultimately falls rather flat. At the very least one can appreciate that a lot of effort went into the making of In the Heart of the Sea, but that alone cannot save it from being a mere drop in the ocean instead of an epic tidal wave.

 

Ellen Murray

12A
121 minutes (See IFCO for details)

In the Heart of the Sea is released 26th December 2015

In the Heart of the Sea – Official Website

 

 

 

Share

Blackhat

blackhat_header-620x326

DIR: Michael Mann  WRI: Morgan Davis Foehl • PRO: Thomas Tull, Michael Mann, Jon Jashni • DOP: Stuart Dryburgh  MUS: Harry Gregson-Williams, Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Leehom Wang, Wei Tang, Viola Davis

In 2002, moviegoers might have caught a glimpse of a trailer for Lucky Star, a Michael Mann film starring Benicio Del Toro, which featured all of the director’s visual hallmarks, including sleek cars, a nightscape of reflective surfaces, and a helicopter perspective of the city as a sea of blinking lights. Lucky Star seemed to centre on a globetrotting protagonist who was being pursued by powerful forces, both governmental and criminal, and a plot that somehow involved manipulating the market of tin-ore futures in Chicago and Hong Kong. In the end, there was no film, and this compendium of Mann-ish moments was really an advertisement for Mercedes. With Blackhat, Mann finally delivers a film on this very plot, featuring the very same ingredients and striking visual gloss. Its plot and characters, however, are as vapid as those of any 30-second commercial, but here are stretched to an unbearable 133 minutes.

Over his career, Mann has recycled the same material – single-minded, technically proficient cops/criminals pursuing a prize or target, and choosing professional accomplishment over the comforts of home and a conventional romantic life. This repetition has usually been at least to a thrilling end, sometimes to appealingly abstract effect, and occasionally even reached into the sublime. With Public Enemies, and now Blackhat, however, the same old ingredients are entirely sapped of any flavour.

Chris Hemsworth is Hathaway, a genius hacker serving a sentence in federal prison, who is furloughed to aid a joint U.S.-Chinese investigation of a mysterious hacker who has sabotaged a nuclear plant in Hong Kong and robbed millions in a manipulation of the futures market in Chicago. Hathaway is paired with his former roommate, Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), who is now a cyber-security agent for the Chinese military, and Dawai’s sister, Lien (Tang Wei). The relationships between these characters are flat and unaffecting. Though never awful, Hemsworth’s performance sometimes appears to be a wan tribute act riffing on performances in Mann’s previous films. Apart from a few momentary sparks of interest from Viola Davis, John Ortiz and less than a minute of the enjoyably unsettling William Mapother, there is no-one to engage our attention. The villain is kept so distant as to serve virtually no dramatic function. Some energy might be implied by the fact that the plot takes the characters from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, to Malaysia, and finally to Jakarta, but it is all very frenetic to no particular point. In the end, it feels as if we have been on a plane for the duration of the movie and each new location has all the charm and colour of a Ryanair boarding lounge.

It isn’t Mann’s fault that we now recognise that the real menace to our wired world isn’t rogue “blackhat” hackers, but rather the security agencies of the big powers and their near-universal eavesdropping. Even so, his film works hard to blow its own credibility at every turn and emphasises just how out of touch it is by presenting the cyber agencies of United States and China as lacking the capability, firepower and ruthlessness of a few moustache-twirling baddies. Don’t dare write it in an email, but we all know this is pure cobblers.

Tony McKiver

15A (See IFCO for details)
132 minutes

Blackhat is released 20th February 2015

Blackhat  – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: Thor: The Dark World

Thor2

 

DIR: Alan Taylor • WRI: Christopher Yost, , Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Kramer Morgenthau • ED: Dan Lebental, Wyatt Smith • MUS: Brian Tyler • DES: Charles Wood • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård

The first Thor’s success came as a bit of surprise. It turned out to be better than anticipated and made far more money than anyone expected. It also solidified that Marvel’s grand experiment in bringing comic book-style shared-continuity to the big-screen might just work. With the critical and commercial success of last year’s Avengers Assemble, the next big question was whether these characters could still hold their own in their individual franchises. While Iron Man 3’s billion dollar box-office gross would seem to imply they could, that film had the trump card of starring Robert Downey Jr. In that sense, Thor: The Dark World is the first real test of the viability of these individual character franchises. With the most recent Thor (Chris Hemsworth) outing being the aforementioned juggernaut that was The Avengers, how does it stack up? Shocking (no pun intended, seriously), extremely well.

The hiring of Game of Thrones alumni Alan Taylor initially seemed like a gimmick but proves to have been a very clever move. While the obvious benefit carried over from Thrones is the staging of the large-scale battles and medieval tavern scenes, Taylor’s real talents are in making a stand-alone film that is still continuity-heavy without relying explicitly on what came before. Additionally he seems to have brought his skill of balancing an ensemble cast’s screen-time from Thrones as he does an impressive job here of giving almost every character some form of arc. Practically every secondary character gets a ‘big moment’ at some point and while some of them seem to just vanish from the film after performing their moment, that the film still maintains a fast (but never rushed) pace without feeling bloated or weighed down by all these extra characters deserves praise.

The novelty of the combining Viking aesthetics with Star Wars elements also works consistently well. The visual and sound designs combined have a strong, distinct personality which counterbalances the heavy use of CGI in giving the film an identity which is very much its own without the sense of ‘sci-fi/fantasy setting du-jour’ that many other CGI-heavy films suffer from. Additionally Brian Tyler’s score is hugely enjoyable, if not particularly ground-breaking.

The film is also pleasantly uncomplicated. The current trope of the modern superhero film seemingly being contracted to be about the War on Terror has been getting extremely tired. Between Man of Steel’s 9/11-times-ten or even Iron Man 3’s final act getting visually bogged down in unsubtle drone-warfare allusions, it’s refreshing that the movie about the space-god and his magic hammer is just about the space-god and his magic hammer. That’s not to say other interpretations aren’t available but Thor has the common courtesy not to be unnecessarily blatant. Which makes it all the more surprising that, in comparison to the first film, this one feels significantly less kid-friendly. Possibly as a result of having a Game of Thrones regular helming proceedings, the battles and general violence feel less outright fantastical and have more punch to them. There’s even a moment of rather explicit gore involving a limb being hacked off which just feels slightly out of place amidst the usual ‘comic-book-violence’. Add in some mild but repeated swearing and one really does get the sense they’re trying to aim for a slightly older audience this time.

Yet, of all the movie’s successes perhaps the most impressive is that it has managed to make Kat Dennings’ character tolerable. She’s actually funny this time and they’ve written her so that when she blunders into an action scene in the name of ‘comic relief’, you aren’t praying to your deity of choice that she’s killed by a stray anything just to end her interminable screen-time. She’s still a cardboard cut-out of character to whom the concept of character-depth would be more alien than the actual aliens, but not expressly wanting her dead is a definite improvement on the previous film. On the whole the comedy and slapstick elements have greatly increased in both frequency and quality (including brief appearances by a certain Mr O’Dowd and an hilarious cameo I wouldn’t dare spoil) which act to complement the increased overall darkness in tone and violence.

There are of course a few minor foibles. It is honestly impossible to genuinely gauge how this film would play to a more ‘casual’  audience. The film never loses itself so deeply in its own mythology and universe that it would become impenetrable to someone unfamiliar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or Thor in particular, but nor does it make any effort to truly explain (or rather, re-explain) the rules and the players. This is not necessarily a critique of the film seeing as that was always the point of the shared continuity of these films but while something like Iron Man 3 is grounded enough that anyone could jump right in and be able to follow it, I’m not sure if the same can be said of a film filled with magic hammers, Norse gods speaking ye-olde English and sci-fi elements existing alongside what’s effectively magic.

Villains are another issue. While Marvel films have long struggled to create truly memorable villains, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) seemed to be the exception and they’re clearly aware of this. Eccleston (practically unrecognisable between the make-up and the alternations to his voice) makes for a perfectly foreboding presence and his evil scheme is clearly laid out. The problem is that he only exists to be a villain, there’s no depth or intrigue and his only true purpose is to act as the necessary plot motivation to get Loki out of his cell so that the film can focus on him and Thor. Again this is not a problem for the already converted (go team Hiddleston) but it does indicate the beginnings of an attitude of pandering to fan-boys/girls at the cost of losing the more casual audience; the exact problem the modern comics industry frequently finds itself facing.

For what was ultimately a slightly shaky production (Portman’s presence being in question, numerous changes of director and composer), it’s almost a minor miracle that the film that emerged is coherent. However, it is a genuinely pleasant surprise that the film is as good as it is. It takes what was a reasonably solid first film and the goodwill built up by Avengers and improves on both. This is arguably the new high watermark for Marvel Studios and even sets the bar for the next Star Wars to beat. In many ways the film offers a glimpse of what a good version of the Star Wars prequels may have looked like. And it’s very good indeed.

If you aren’t sold on the superhero genre or the Marvel films in particular, this is unlikely to change your mind but for anyone already a fan of the genre and especially these characters, this is one of the best and most unashamedly fun popcorn movies of recent years. And as if it needs to be said at this point, the film doesn’t end at the credits.

Richard Drumm

12A (See IFCO for details)

112 mins

Thor: The Dark World  is released on 30th October 2013

 Thor: The Dark World  – Official Website

 

Share

Cinema Review: Rush

A-glance-at-upcoming-Formula-One-film-Rush-Formula-1-news-179927

 

DIR: Ron Howard WRI: Peter Morgan • PRO: Andrew Eaton, Eric Fellner, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Peter Morgan, Brian Oliver • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Daniel P. Hanley • DES: Mark Digby • Cast: Natalie Dormer, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde, Daniel Brühl

It’s a fact that some of the larger movie studios often copyright potential, marketable film titles long before the films themselves have ever been made. Given the slightly tenuous link between subject matter and title here, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Rush might be just such a title: Generic, ambiguous, and completely belying the exhilarating true story it presents to its audience.

Set neither in north county Dublin, nor focusing on the world’s biggest prog-rock band, Rush traces the rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s, from the humble beginnings of each in Formula Three, to their divergent paths to the big-time, climaxing at one hugely significant race which can be seen to define each man.

The structure of this film is somewhat disordered, jumping forward to Nurburgring 1976 before returning to a seemingly arbitrary point in 1970 and then vomiting expositional information as readily as James Hunt vomits before a race, an abject spectacle we bear witness to several times in Rush. Although this set-up is a necessary to build audience investment in the 1976 season – the central focus of the film – it is somewhat weakly done.

This is Ron Howard’s second collaboration with screenwriter Peter Morgan, the last being the excellent Frost/Nixon, focusing on the heavily-hyped interview between Sir David Frost and Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Unlike Frost/Nixon however, where the lack of egalitarianism between a British light-entertainment presenter and the President of the United States is never ambiguous, Rush is slightly unbalanced in portraying rivals Hunt and Lauda, who may be equally skilled as drivers, just with different priorities in other areas of life.

Chris Hemsworth’s Aryan swagger has been heavily utilised to promote Rush, but James Hunt is rather underdeveloped as a character and remains something of a one-note playboy throughout the film. While Hemsworth undoubtedly plays the mouthy ladies’ man angle quite well, the fact remains that Hunt’s arc is practically a ninety degree angle. Similarly, Hemsworth shows his limits when some of Hunt’s more sincere moments come off a little wooden.

It’s convenient and understandable to pitch the film as comparable to Frost/Nixon, making it about the rivalry between the two men. But Rush really feels like the story of Niki Lauda – and Daniel Brühl is astonishing in the role. Best-known outside of his native Germany for his role as Nazi poster-boy Fredrick Zoller in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Rush should by all rights make Brühl’s name in Hollywood. Lauda initially appears as a foil to Hunt: Unlikable and anti-social, the man nicknamed ‘The Rat’ gets a loan to buy his way into the higher divisions, while Hunt is shown eschewing sponsors, just getting by with a little help from his friends, drinking, partying and wooing beautiful women. Yet, as each man races towards a comeback at the final race of the season, in very different circumstances, Brühl impressively shapes the acerbic Lauda into a more compelling character than his glamorous British counterpart.

While narratively, Rush suffers from uneven characterisation and expositional scenes, it is technically very well-made. Expertly shot and mixed, the eardrum-searing screech of tyres and palpable shudder from a passing racecar make the F1 races portrayed in the film immersive and engaging. Similarly, the aesthetic of this period really is Howard’s forte. The film looks beautiful throughout, with every detail, from the cars, costumes and clubs to the lighting and filters effortlessly evoking the 1970s.

Rush, ultimately, feels much like a F1 race itself; It starts slowly, with no individual element immediately emerging as a lead to focus on, and while it swerves dangerously off-track once or twice, it gathers speed in its second act and ultimately builds to a nail-biting conclusion. It might not win a World Championship title, but it could definitely take the Grand Prix, especially with its central, star-making turn from Daniel Brühl.

Stacy Grouden 

 15A (See IFCO for details)

122 mins
Rush is released on 13th September 2013

Rush – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: Red Dawn

url-2

DIR: Dan Bradley • WRI: Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore  • PRO: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson • DOP: Mitchell Amundsen  • ED: Richard Pearson •  DES: Dominic Watkins • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Isabel Lucas, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck

Remakes continue to take up time on cinema release schedules. They’re nothing new, but there’s always a reason behind them. Sometimes it’s a property that thrives on reinvention. Other times, it’s allowing the story to be told fully with more resources, better cast and direction. Others, it’s simply a money-making experience; all involved need a quick buck and remaking a film is the way to do it. With Red Dawn, there is nothing redeeming about it. The original Red Dawn, scripted and directed by Communist-hating John Milius, is something of a cult favourite. Where the original is now viewed with a sense of irony and humour, this remake is something entirely different.

Held back from release by MGM’s financial woes, Red Dawn has been in the media for all the wrong reasons. Having the film heavily edited to accommodate the Chinese market – the original invaders were supposed to be the Chinese Army ‘repossessing’ American land / loans – and, as mentioned, being held by back MGM going under, it’s not surprising that Red Dawn is already infamous. Chris Hemsworth plays Jed Eckert (the role originally filled out by Patrick Swayze), a Marine returned from Iraq to his hometown of Spokane and living with his father, Tom Eckert (Brett Cullen, originally Harry Dean Stanton) and his younger brother, Matt (Josh Peck, originally Charlie Sheen). The North Koreans (yes, really) soon launch their invasion and begin their assault on Spokane and the American East Coast. Fleeing into the woods, Jed and Tom, together with a group of B-list teen actors (Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise, Josh Hutcherson) form a guerilla resistance and start fighting back against the North Koreans.
Dan Bradley, who previously worked as a stunt director for the Bourne trilogy, Quantum of Solace and countless others, shoots and cuts with a decent sense of pacing. Some of the action sequences are delivered quite well and wouldn’t look out of place in any other blockbuster. The problem here, however, is that he’s been let down by comically bad acting and laughable dialogue. Josh Peck, in particular, is devastatingly bad as Hemsworth’s brother and has all the charm of a toothbrush. Likewise, Hutcherson simply says his lines and waits to react. The screenplay doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The North Koreans invade – then what? Why haven’t they done anything else? Why did they only invade the East Coast? Why don’t we see any more of the invasion? Where are the Army? Had Dan Bradley been given a superior script and better actors, he could have made a fairly decent action film. Instead, Red Dawn is straight-to-DVD tosh that doesn’t have anything going for it.

Brian Lloyd

12A (see IFCO website for details)

93mins
Red Dawn is released on 15th March 2013

Red Dawn– Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

DIR: Rupert Sanders • WRI: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini • PRO: Sarah Bradshaw, Helen Hayden, Sam Mercer, Palak Patel, Joe Roth • DOP: Greig Fraser • ED: Conrad Buff IV, Neil Smith • DES: Dominic Watkins • Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron

Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron act up a storm in this alternate take on a classic Grimm Fairy tale. Thankfully Snow White and the Huntsman is not the 1950s-style housfrau romance we all remember but is delightfully darker, more violent and a smidgeon more feminist than its Disney predecessor.

A young Snow White’s free-spirited existence is altered forever when her mother passes away. Not long after, her grieving father and his troops manage to defeat a mystical army only to free their beautiful captor, Queen Ravenna. Enamored, the lonely/randy King Magnus plans some shotgun nuptials and ends up receiving a nasty wedding present from his new bride in the form of a dagger through the heart.

Under the rule of this powerful witch the state of the Kingdom rapidly deteriorates and Snow White is locked away for years (amazingly without even a hint of psychological trauma). On one of her long chats to her evil, melty mirror, Ravenna discovers that Snow White’s beauty and innocence is a threat to her tyrannical reign, so she sends her brother, Finn to the dungeon to kill the Princess. However, Snow White escapes in true Shawshank style and goes on the run with that handsome Huntsman and Finn on her heels.

The film’s selling point is definitely the stunning visuals; there isn’t a single shot that isn’t striking, stylish or downright beautiful. From majestic fight scenes, sweeping shots of snow-covered scenery, an avatar-esqe magical forest and some really spectacular effects; the only thing that really lets the side down is some Lucas-grade CG fairies.

But alas, Snow White and the Huntsman is all style and only a spoonful of substance. There’s a disappointing lack of tangible character development, with the majority of the backstory consisting of tired clichés. In fact, if it weren’t for the sheer talent of the cast, notably Theron and (I‘m surprised to add) Stewart, the film would have been as flat and unengaging as the dwarves attempt at comic relief.

Gemma Creagh

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

Snow White and the Huntsman is released on 1st June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman – Official Website

Share