A Second Look at ‘Paper Towns’

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Daire Walsh takes another look at Jake Schreier’s Paper Towns.

 

She may be known across the world as a fashion model, but with a number of projects currently in development, we can expect to see the film career of London native Cara Delevingne gathering pace over the next 12 months or so.

 

After making her big-screen debut as Princess Sorokina in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina in 2012, she also had a key role in The Face of an Angel, a psychological thriller from Michael Winterbottom, which was based on the real-life case of murder suspect Amanda Knox.

 

Later this year, she will reunite with Wright on Pan (an origin story centering on Peter Pan and Captain Hook), while in 2016, she will take on the role of Enchantress in David Ayer’s eagerly-anticipated DC Comics ensemble, Suicide Squad.

 

In terms of budget, Jake Schreier’s Paper Towns pales in comparison to both Pan and Suicide Squad, but considering the success that The Fault in Our Stars – which, like Paper Towns, was adapted from a novel by John Green – had from a similar-sized budget, there was always the potential for the film to reach a wide audience.

 

However, whereas The Fault in Our Stars arrived on screens in 2014 just two years after the publication of Green’s novel, Paper Towns has taken a total of seven years to make the same transition. This is somewhat suprising, as the film rights for the book were acquired in the same year as the book was published (2008), and when you consider the length of time it has taken for Green’s best-selling book to arrive in theatres, the core fanbase will be wondering if it was truly worth the wait.

 

Set in Orlando, Florida, Paper Towns focuses on Quentin “Q” Jacobsen (Nat Wolff), and his relationship with childhood friend Margo Roth Spiegelman (Delevingne), who moved into his neighbourhood at a young age.

 

After initially being inseparable, “Q” and Margo eventually drift apart (as she becomes more popular), until Margot arrives at his bedroom window one evening asking for his assistance as she seeks revenge for the betrayal she has suffered at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, as well as some of her closest friends.

 

“Q” reluctantly helps her, but following a night filled with high-jinks, he is happy in the knowledge that he has managed to re-connect with the girl of his dreams. However, it is soon revealed that Margot has run away for the umpteenth time, and with the help of his best friends – Ben (Austin Abrams) and “Radar” (Justice Smith) – “Q” attempts to discover what has happened to her, and where she can be found.

 

While Shaileene Woodley was already established as an actress before appearing in The Fault in Our Stars (she was Oscar-nominated for her role in The Descendants), this had the potential of being a star-making turn for Delevingne.

 

Yet, despite being advertised as one of the leading stars of the film, Delevingne actually has precious little screen-time throughout the film. Indeed, much of the drama is driven by her absence from the story, and focuses more so on the close bond that “Q” and his friends enjoy.

 

This is, of course, consistent with the trajectory that the source novel takes, but it is actually Wolff (who also worked on the aforementioned The Fault in Our Stars) who is likely to gain the biggest plaudits in the long run.

 

It is difficult to find fault in the performances of the principle cast, and as the best friend of the much-discussed Margot, Halston Sage is a particular stand-out.

 

Unfortunately, although it is a film that has many fine ideas and intentions, Paper Towns never quite comes to life in the way that director Schreier (whose previous film, Robot & Frank, was highly-acclaimed) would have intended.

 

It does attempt to cast an analytic eye over the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but you are often left wondering why it is that “Q” finds Margot so desirable. That being said, the main issue the film faces is regaining momentum following an uneventful middle section.

 

During this juncture in the narrative, “Q” tries to decipher the enigmatic trails that Margot has left behind, which will ultimately end with a road trip to one of the eponymous Paper Towns.

 

This is when the film comes to life again, and with Sage and Jaz Sinclair’s Angela joining the three best friends on an exhausting journey across America, the influence of John Green becomes more evident.

 

There is also fun to be had in opening act, when “Q” and Margot embark on their adventure into the night, and even though it isn’t a comedy in the truest sense (or at least not a broad one), there are some well-judged laughs along the way.

 

In the end, however, the subject matter of Paper Towns simply isn’t as heavy as that of The Fault in Our Stars, and as a result, this is probably why it feels somewhat incidental and inconsequential, though not without merit.

 
 

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Review: Entourage

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DIR: Doug Ellin • WRI: Doug Ellin, Rob Weiss • PRO: Stephen Levinson, Mark Wahlberg, Rob Weiss • DOP: Steven Fierberg • DES: Chase Harlan • Cast: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Haley Joel Osment, Billy Bob Thornton, Ronda Rousey, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rex Lee, Emily Ratajkowski

When the idea of an Entourage movie was first mooted, it seemed like only a matter of time before it eventually came to pass. Four years have passed since the curtain came down on the popular HBO series, but despite covering plenty of ground during its eight season run, creator Doug Ellin clearly feels that the journey of Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his childhood friends has not yet been completed.

Rather than looking at the principle players a few years on, the action instead picks up just nine days after the end of the final TV episode. We learn that Vincent’s marriage to a Vanity Fair journalist (an absent Alice Eve) has proven to be unsuccessful, and we also discover that his former agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), has emerged from his short-lived retirement to become the head of a major Hollywood studio.

Following the re-introduction of each major character – including Vincent’s manager Eric ‘E’ Murphy (Kevin Connolly), his half-brother Johnny ‘Drama’ Chase (Kevin Dillon) and personal driver/assistant ‘Turtle’ (Jerry Ferrara) – we then jump forward several months, as Chase attempts to apply the finishing touches to his directorial debut, ‘Hyde’.

Although an exclusive segment with Piers Morgan gives the impression that everything is going according to plan, Chase makes his third request for extra funding, which causes considerable stress for an under pressure Gold. This latest turn of events requires him to visit the studio’s main financier (a Texan billionaire played by Billy Bob Thornton), but when he returns to California along with his son – who is portrayed by former child prodigy Haley Joel Osment – it quickly becomes apparent that increasing the film’s budget won’t be easy.

When you consider how successful the Sex and the City movies were at the box office, it certainly makes sense from a monetary point of view to transfer Entourage onto the big screen. A modest budget of $27.5 million means that it will more than likely be a money-spinner for HBO and Warner Bros, but in moving away from its cable television roots, does it justify its presence in a cinema?

The fact that Entourage has opted against toning down its content for a softer rating makes it unlikely that it will reach the same income level of Sex and the City, but this will certainly placate those who are hoping to see a similarly explicit approach from Ellin for his first feature film in 17 years.

Unfortunately, the film’s big problem lies in the fact that it just feels like a succession of television episodes rolled into one. At 104 minutes, it is roughly the length of four episodes, and when you consider that the shortest seasons of Entourage still contained eight episodes (the third season stretched out to 20), the ending of the film does feel incredibly abrupt.

The sheer volume of celebrity cameos is often a distraction as well, and with several key supporting characters being pushed to the fringes, it is questionable how much they really add to the plot.

Not including Ronda Rousey and Emily Ratajkowski (who feature substantially as versions of themselves), there are a grand total of 47 guest appearances. Ranging from movie stars (Liam Neeson, Jessica Alba) to television stars (Kelsey Grammar, Richard Schiff), as well as sports personalities (Thierry Henry, Tom Brady) and musicians (Calvin Harris, T.I.), securing the participation of the rich and famous has become an all too simple task.

Producer Mark Wahlberg is also in one the act, and while the adventures of Chase and his entourage were loosely based on the Boston man’s early days in Hollywood, the characters have evolved way beyond that point since the pilot aired in 2004.

Entourage is at its best when it has the four boys from Queens, New York on screen together, but it doesn’t really work when the sub-plots are explored.

The use of Rousey and Ratajkowski as love interests, for Turtle and Vincent respectively, never materialises, and whereas similar storylines were explored in full detail on the small screen, they hit a number of speed bumps in this expanded format.

Osment has a lot of fun with his role, and there is definitely a pleasure in seeing Ari trying to establish himself in the studio business.

However, the aforementioned film-within-film does come across as strangely subdued, and you can’t help but feel that a different approach may have led to more satisfactory results. Chase’s previous movie sets have come complete with explosions and extravagant car crashes, and the absence of behind the scenes turmoil is notable.

Overall, there is probably enough material to keep the loyal followers of Entourage onside, but there will undoubtedly be an air of disappointment about the final outcome. Those who are unacquainted with the TV series will more than likely find their patience wearing thin very early on, and if sequels are to receive a greenlight (Ellin has plans to make a trilogy), they would probably be best advised to take their money elsewhere.

Daire Walsh

 

15A(See IFCO for details)

104 minutes

Entourage is released 19th June 2015

Entourage – Official Website

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John Wick

 

DIR: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch • WRI: Derek Kolstad • PRO: Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, Chad Stahelski, Mike Witherill • DOP: Jonathan Sela • DES: Dan Leigh • Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan.

 

 

For several decades, there has been a great tradition of movie stars juggling their acting careers with musical interests. Will Smith, Juliette Lewis and Jared Leto would be notable examples, but there are some Hollywood A-listers who have made slightly more obscure contributions to the music industry.

The Toronto-raised Keanu Reeves would fall into this category, as many people would be blissfully unaware of his past experience as a bassist with alternative rock band Dogstar. With just two albums to their name over an 11-year period (1991-2002), they were a fairly unremarkable group, but they gain some form of media coverage during the mid-’90s, when Reeves opted to tour with them rather than reprise the role of Jack Traven in the widely-panned Speed 2: Cruise Control.

When you consider the reception afforded to this ill-conceived sequel, this seemed like a wise move on Reeves’ part, though it would have been interesting to see how he may have fared opposite Willem Dafoe as the movie’s principle antagonist.

However, 18 years on from this near collaboration, Reeves and Dafoe finally share the screen in the frenetic John Wick. Working under the direction of his former stunt doubles, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, Reeves feels at ease in the titular role, and this helps to make it his most satisfying film in a number of years.

When we are introduced to Wick, we discover that he has recently lost his wife (Bridget Moynahan) to an unspecified illness, and has received the posthumous gift of a Beagle puppy – named Daisy – as a way to help him through the grieving process.

Initially, he struggles to make a connection with his new companion, but eventually understands the significance that he can bring to his world. Further tragedy awaits for Wick, though, and when he refuses to sell his car to Russian gang leader Iosef (Alfie Allen), he breaks into his house, steals his vehicle and brutally kills his dog.

In an unfortunate turn of events, it turns out that Iosef is the son of New York-based crime boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), who Wick previously worked for exclusively as an assassin. Because of his cold-blooded efficiency, he was nicknamed Baba Yaga (“The Boogeyman”), and as he fulfils his lust for vengeance over the course of 101 blood-splattered minutes, we realise it is a title that has been well-earned.

Taking inspiration from a wide range of genres and disciplines (including the gun fu technique utilised to considerable effect in films like DesperadoKick-Ass and the Reeves-starring Matrix trilogy), John Wick has a body count that would put Taken to shame, and although there is an element of repetition moving into the final act of the drama, the film’s fast-paced nature ensures that it never becomes a lingering problem.

An extended nightclub fight sequence is a particular highlight, as is Wick’s bruising encounter with former acquaintance Ms Perkins (deliciously played by Adrianne Palicki). Both of these set-pieces take place in a hotel called The Continental, which is an establishment occupied solely by assassins.

It is ideas like this that helps John Wick to take flight, and if the reported sequels are to materialise, there is certainly plenty of creative scope for Stahelski and Leitch to develop interesting ideas. The impressive cast list also bodes well for their future projects, and despite making fleeting appearances throughout, Dafoe, Ian McShane and John Leguizamo all provide dependable support.

Nqvist (probably best known for his lead role in the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its sequels) is a menacing presence in a film that is largely shorn of good guys, but as the movie’s eponymous anti-hero, Reeves makes a welcome return to form.

While he has never been an actor noted for his range (in spite of a filmography that includes several comedic roles and a major part in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing), he has chosen a number of characters that are tailored to suit his stoic qualities.

Johnny Utah, in Kathryn Bigelow’s cult classic Point Break, showed that he had credentials as an action star, while in addition to the box-office successes of Speed and The Matrix, he found his feet in Richard Linklater’s visually-dazzling A Scanner Darkly.

It is perhaps unlikely that John Wick will enjoy the lasting appeal of his most popular films (some of the dialogue and plot contrivances are ropey to say the least), but when you consider some of the misfires he has had throughout his career (2013’s 47 Ronin failed to break even upon release), there is a certain pleasure in seeing Reeves returning to familiar territory.

Daire Walsh

16 (See IFCO for details)
101 minutes

John Wick is released 10th April 2015

John Wick – Official Website

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Run All Night

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DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: Brad Ingelsby • PRO: Roy Lee, Michael Tadross, Brooklyn Weaver • DOP: Martin Ruhe • DES: Sharon Seymour • Cast: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bruce McGill, Genesis Rodriguez, Common

 

When Pierre Morel’s action thriller Taken was first released in cinemas back in 2008, many people were surprised to see the then-56 year old Liam Neeson taking on the role of anti-hero Bryan Mills.

While it wasn’t entirely unfamiliar territory for the Ballymena man – earlier roles in films like Rob Roy, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins presented a physical challenge to the Academy Award nominee – it was seen as a departure for the man who has memorably brought real-life figures such as Oskar Schindler, Michael Collins and Alfred Kinsey to the big screen.

Yet, despite being filmed on a relatively meagre $25 million budget, Taken proved to be a resounding success, earning almost ten times that amount at the worldwide box office.

With two subsequent sequels proving to be even more profitable, Neeson has firmly-established himself as a bonafide action star, and although Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Silence may well find him back on prime dramatic form, he is showing no signs of turning his back on the genre that he has seemingly embraced with opening arms in recent years.

2011’s Unknown and last year’s Non-Stop had been marketed in a similar vein to Taken, and the towering Antrim-native teams up with the director of those films, Jaume Collet-Serra, in Run All Night. Taking place over the course of 16 hectic hours, Neeson plays ageing Brooklyn hitman Jimmy Conlon, who was previously a major player in the crime empire run by his best friend, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris).

He is estranged from his son Michael (Joel Kinnaman), who eager to distance himself from the murky world that his father operates, and is forced to don a Santa costume as he attempts to pay off an outstanding heating bill. Michael is a now-retired boxer (and incidentally shares his name with a real-life Irish Olympic medallist in the same sport) who is employed as a limousine driver around the streets of New York City.

This is helping him (and his family) to make ends meet, but his life is thrown into chaos one night, when he crosses paths with Shawn’s son Danny (an unhinged Boyd Holbrook) and he subsequently embarks on the run with Jimmy, who has had to take matters into his own hands to protect his offspring.

What follows is fairly standard fare, as the Conlons reluctantly team together to evade the forces that gather around them – most notably Common’s bespectacled assassin – and ensure that Shawn’s lust for revenge isn’t fulfilled.

Much like the previous partnerships between director and star, Run All Night is an efficiently-produced thriller, which allows Neeson to bring a grizzled edge to a tortured character. The addition of the energetic Kinnaman (who has made his name stateside in The Killing and also assumed the lead role in 2014’s Robocop remake) make the role of Jimmy less physically-demanding that Neeson’s more recent “geriaction” exploits, and in contrast to the often cringe-inducing interplay with Maggie Grace in the Taken series, there is a refreshing lack of sentimentality in the father-son dynamic.

However, the theme of family is explored in great detail, with the widely-explored “sins of the father” cinema trope forming a major part of the film’s narrative. Indeed, if anything, it often takes itself too seriously, which may be a little off-putting for its potential audience.

When it focuses on the nuts and bolts element of the story (which also features Vincent D’Onofrio as Jimmy’s long-time NYPD adversary), it has a firm footing, and despite being overstretched at 114 minutes, it manages to maintain its momentum ahead of the blood-splattered final act.

While it isn’t the goriest film you will see this year, it resists the temptation to drop below an R-rating, a move that made the Taken sequels seem alarmingly sanitised. This does lead to some occasional misfires (there are some sexual references that look like they belong in a completely different film), but with Neeson and Harris displaying confidence in their respective roles, they register as minor complaints.

If you try to analyse Run All Night in the context of Neeson’s wider back catalogue, it becomes clear that it won’t be a film that will have a lasting effect on fans of his output. How much longer he can continue in these action roles is also up for debate, but until then, his latest offering works as perfectly serviceable entertainment.

Daire Walsh

15A (See IFCO for details)
114 minutes

Run All Night is released 6th March 2015

Run All Night – Official Website

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The Art of Steal

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DIR: Jonathan Sobol • WRI: Jonathan Sobol • PRO: Nicholas Tabarrok  DOP: Adam Swica  DES: Matthew Davies • CAST: Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon, Katheryn Winnick, Kenneth Welsh, Terence Stamp, Chris Diamantopoulos

Since taking on the role of Stuntman Mike in Quentin Tarantino’s contribution to 2007’s Grindhouse, Kurt Russell has been largely absent from the silver screen. He did make an appearance in stepdaughter Kate Hudson’s short drama Cutlass later that year, and also co-starred in the little-seen sports film Touchback, but by and large, the immensely popular Tombstone actor has been keeping a low profile.

The box-office failure of Grindhouse – the underwhelming ticket sales in the US ensured that Death Proof was released a stand-alone film on these shores – may have played its part in this regard, although he did turn down an opportunity to work with Tango & Cash cohort Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables.

However, it was only a matter before the Massachusetts native stepped back into the breach, and having first acted in a 1962 episode of Dennis the Menace, The Art of the Steal ensures that his extraordinary career has surpassed the 50 year mark.

Directed by Canadian helmer Jonathan Sobol – whose only previous feature-length effort was A Beginner’s Guide to Endings The Art of the Steal had earlier operated under the titles of The Black Marks and The Fix. Like many films in the genre, Sobol’s sophomore film kicks-off with a ‘heist gone wrong’, as well as the inevitable double-crossing for personal and/or financial gain.

Owing to his prowess on his prized motorbike, Russell’s Crunch Calhoun is the ‘wheel man’ on a crack team that includes his half-brother Nicky (Matt Dillon), master forger Guy de Cornet (Chris Diamantopulous) and veteran colleague ‘Uncle Paddy’ (Kenneth Welsh).

When a job in Warsaw turns sour, Dillon’s ‘Ideas Man’ is subsequently arrested, but following evidence he supplies to the authorities, Crunch finds himself on the receiving end of a seven-year sentence in a Wronki prison.

After gaining early release for good behaviour, Crunch becomes a third-rate motorcycle daredevil, with the help of his new girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick) and willing apprentice (Jay Baruchel), but is lured back into the game by his brother’s disgruntled former partner.

This forced him to, reluctantly, team up with Nicky once again, but the promise of a massive pay day for the capture of Gutenberg’s Gospel of James helps to aid their reconciliation. The appearance on the scene of a determined Interpol Agent and his informant sidekick (Terence Stamp) means that the reformed team need to be on their toes at all times, and always one step ahead.

With an impressive cast, and a director familiar with the surroundings of Quebec City and Niagara Falls, The Art of the Steal has the makings of a bonafide sleeper hit. Unfortunately, the end product is far too derivative, presenting the audience with scenarios and situations that have been explored in the past in a much more interesting fashion.

There is some pleasure to be had in the central performances, and there is plenty of spark between Russell and Dillon, who have always had the ability to elevate the most mundane of material to a greater level. Judd Apatow regular Baruchel does provide comic relief (especially in one moment that makes reference to Peter Weir’s Witness), and Stamp makes the most of relatively limited screentime.

Other members of the ensemble never quite register, however, with Winnick’s love interest marginalised for much of the action, while Welsh’s Irish accent seems to take a journey across several continents throughout the course of the drama.

In many ways, had Sobol opted to focus more on Crunch’s daredevil escapades (either partly or completely), this may well have been a more worthwhile exercise. As it is, The Art of the Steal is, at best, disposable fare, which comes complete with the standard final act plot twist/reveal.

With films like Fast & Furious 7, Tarantino’s upcoming The Hateful Eight, Bone Tomahawk and Road to Save Nome in the pipeline, as well as a possible Stargate sequel, Russell will continue to be a fixture in cinemas across the nation, and although the latest entry in his expansive body of work is a long way off being his best, his cult status remains very much intact.

 Daire Walsh

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
90 mins

Art of the Steal is released on 20th June 2014

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Cinema Review: Tracks

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DIR: John Curran  WRI: Marion Nelson  PRO: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman  DOP: Mandy Walker  DES: Melinda Doring  Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Emma Booth, Jessica Tovey, Melanie Zanetti

 

Since taking on the title role in Tim Burton’s long-awaited adaptation of Alice In Wonderland four years ago, Australian starlet Mia Wasikowska has seen her stock rising considerably with each passing performance. A noted ballet dancer in her youth, the Canberra native had previously featured alongside Gabriel Byrne in the critically acclaimed HBO series In Treatment, and could also be seen opposite Daniel Craig and future co-star Jamie Bell in Edward Zwick’s Defiance.

 

It was the coveted role of Alice Kingsleigh that truly put her on the Hollywood map, however, and although Burton’s CG-heavy re-telling of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novel wasn’t necessarily the ideal scenario for her to display her acting chops, subsequent parts in The Kids Are All Right, Jane Eyre, Lawless and Stoker have shown that she can hold her own in A-list company.

 

She was also seen recently in the Jesse Eisenberg vehicle The Double, but in bringing Robyn Davidson’s award-winning book, Tracks, to the big screen, American filmmaker John Curran has opted to give Wasikowska centre stage. Girls star Adam Driver (whose silver screen credits include Lincoln, Frances Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis) does offer dependable support, but for much of the film’s running time, the 24-year-old is sharing the screen with four camels and her faithful dog.

 

Curran’s fifth feature film depicts a remarkable nine-month period in Davidson’s life, when she embarked on a 1,700 mile journey from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean across the vast terrain of the Australian deserts. Having worked with camels for two years in Australia’s Northern Territory, Davidson finally began her arduous journey in 1977, with all her trials and tribulations captured by Driver’s inquisitive photographer Rick Smolan.

 

Davidson was originally reluctant to chronicle her adventures, but after recognising the sponsorship benefits that are available, she eventually decides to write an article for the famed National Geographic Magazine. Tracks was later spawned from this immensely popular piece, and was given the inaugural Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1980.

 

The importance that was attached to Davidson’s story inevitably attracted interest from the film industry, and in the years that followed the book’s release, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman (Wasikowska’s Stoker colleague) were linked to the lead role. Indeed, development on a potential movie adaptation started before Wasikowska was born, but for a variety of reasons, it has taken more than three decades for its arrival into multiplexes.

 

While the passing of time has perhaps made it difficult for the film to have the same relevance to a modern-day audience, the response at a variety of film festivals (including the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival) has made it a worthwhile venture.

 

In a physically demanding role, Wasikowska is in terrific form, and perfectly embodies the spirit that helped to make Davidson an enduring figure in her native country. She experiences an array of emotions during her expedition, but while there are times that she considers bringing her trek to an abrupt halt, she is ultimately determined to achieve her goal.

 

Whereas films of this nature normally focus on a singular journey, it is actually the people that Davidson encounters en route to her final destination that give us a true glimpse into the heart of the story. The inhabitants of Australia’s outback certainly have an impact on her journey, and force her to emerge even further from her comfort zone.

 

The most significant relationship of the film is undoubtedly the one between Davidson and Smolan, which is initially quite distant (Davidson views Smolan as both a nuisance and a distraction), but later becomes much more intimate. It takes a while for Davidson to fully realise how important Smolan is to her voyage of discovery, but the arrival of a more intrusive media presence shows us how sincere his motives are.

 

As with any film that aims to capture the Australian landscape (and it is a scenery that has been featured in a whole host of genres), Tracks has a very strong aesthetic, and in the capable hands of cinematographer Mandy Walker, it is beautifully realised.

 

The career of Curran as a film director has been erratic up to this point, and while he was lauded for his 2006 version of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, he was accused of self-indulgence in his sophomore feature, We Don’t Live Here Anymore. His most recent film was 2010’s Stone, which was a major box-office disappointment despite the presence of Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, and he will hope that Tracks will have a bigger reach in his home nation when it enjoys a general release in late May.

 

He has certainly done everything in his power to make the story accessible, and though some may feel that it falls into repetition at times, and allows its plot to meander, there is more than enough to keep cinemagoers onside. An autumn release may well have given it more sleeper potential, but it will pass through cinemas before the congested summer schedule, which can only benefit the film’s prospects in the long run.

Daire Walsh

12A (See IFCO for details)
112 mins

Tracks is released on 25th April 2014

Tracks – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Grudge Match

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DIR: Peter Segal WRI: Tim Kelleher, Rodney Rothman PRO: Michael Ewing, Bill Gerber, Mark Steven Johnson, Ravi D Mehta, Peter Segal DOP: Dean Semler  ED: William Kerr DES: Wynn Thomas  Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart, Jon Bernthal, LL Cool J

For a number of years, debate has raged as to which film is most deserving of the ‘best boxing movie of all-time’ mantle. For instance, whenever a new entry to the genre is greeted with some form of critical acclaim (such as David O. Russell’s 2011 awards favourite The Fighter), it is often described as the ‘best boxing film since Rocky’. Often, this seems like a heightened case of hyperbole, especially when you consider that Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull was released back in 1980, a full four years after Sylvester Stallone’s career-making turn as the ‘Italian Stallion’.

There have been compelling arguments for either film being the very best of its kind, while some have stated that Rocky is ‘the greatest boxing movie’, whereas Raging Bull is ‘the greatest movie about boxing’, which does offer a vague (if nonetheless significant) distinction. What is generally accepted, though, is that both films have set a benchmark that has proven to be extremely difficult to follow.

Although, Stallone’s Balboa is a fictional creation, and Raging Bull’s protagonist (Jake LaMotta) was a real-life World Middleweight Champion, many have wondered who exactly would win in a fight between the two, and with the release of the Peter Segal-directed Grudge Match, we are given some form of answer to that quandary.

Eight years after he last donned a pair of red gloves for the nostalgic Rocky Balboa, 67-year-old Stallone is Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp, while Robert De Niro (who won the second of two Oscars for his portrayal of LaMotta) is his long-time adversary, Bill ‘The Kid’ McDonnen. During their prestigious careers, Sharp and McDonnen fought each other twice, with McDonnen winning the first duel, before Sharp gained revenge in their second bout.

A final grudge match between the two was anticipated, but when Razor unexpectedly announced his retirement, the opportunity for a definitive confrontation had passed. Some 30 years later, they come to blows once again during the production of a computer game, and when the recorded incident goes viral, a young up-and-coming boxing promoter (Kevin Hart) begins to sell the idea of a third fight between the pair (billed as “Grudgement Day”).

Drawing on the exhibition fight motif of Rocky’s sixth cinematic outing, much of the film details the arduous preparation that the two elder statesman have to engage in as they aim to be in tip-top shape for their elongated return to the ring. While Razor hooks up with his former trainer Lightning (Alan Arkin, in typical scene-stealing form), Kid finds himself working alongside his long-lost son (Jon Bernthal) from a brief relationship with Kim Basinger’s Sally Rose, a former flame of Razor.

Certainly, with two heavyweights like De Niro and Stallone, and dependable supporting players like Arkin, Basinger and Bernthal (who can currently be seen sporting a handlebar moustache in The Wolf Of Wall Street), there is enough of a pedigree to make Grudge Match a worthwhile endeavour. The major problem it faces, however, relates to the tone of the film.

Whereas Rocky and Raging Bull were dramatic pieces, Grudge Match is very much played for laughs, with more than a fair share of references to the back catalogue of the principle stars. In the form of Segal, the film certainly has a helmer who is comfortable directing comedy, but despite enjoying great success throughout his career, much of his recent output has been workmanlike at best.

Indeed, much of the time Grudge Match seems overly reliant on the easy charm of its cast, and although the key players do their level best, they can only sustain momentum for so long. Having set-up the trajectory of the story within the opening half-hour, the script also appears to lack some much-needed inspiration, in spite of the input by Entourage creator Doug Ellin.

It also becomes more and more clichéd during the final act, and it is disappointing to see the nature of the relationship between Razor and Kid changing when it would seem more appropriate for the levels of hostility to grow.

That said, there is still some pleasure in seeing two veterans of the screen (De Niro has now reached the septuagenarian stage of his life) meeting face-to-face in an intense, and physically-exhausting battle, and when the titular ‘grudge match’ finally takes place, it does provide a satisfactory climax to the action.

The use of stock footage and digital trickery at the start of the film to show how Razor and Kid developed their rivalry over the years is also rather impressive, and there are some fleetingly funny moments throughout, most of them involving Arkin and Hart – a very popular stand-up comedian on Stateside.

Perhaps it would have been more advantageous for Grudge Match to have been made back in the mid-1980s, when both Stallone and De Niro were able to convince as genuine contenders for a World Championship crown. However, for those who are still looking to answer the immortal Balboa or LaMotta conundrum, then Grudge Match will have to make do.

Daire Walsh

12A (See IFCO for details)
113  mins
Grudge Match is released on 24th January 2014

Grudge Match  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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DIR: Adam McKay  WRI: Adam McKay, Will Ferrell  PRO: Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell  DOP: Oliver Wood  ED: Melissa Bretherton, Brent White  DES: Clayton Hartley  Cast: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, James Marsden, Meagan Good, Greg Kinnear, Kristen Wiig

 

 

Following its release back in 2004, Anchorman: The Legendary of Ron Burgundy became an unexpected comedy smash, grossing just under $91 million at the worldwide box office off a budget of $26 million. It brought the creative team of director Adam McKay and Will Ferrell (who had previously worked together on TV’s Saturday Night Live) a platform to develop the projects that were closest to their hearts, and also opened up several doors for co-star Steve Carell, who was best known at that time for his work alongside Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on The Daily Show, as well as a small-role in the Jim Carrey-starring Bruce Almighty.
With producer Judd Apatow also about to kick-start his directorial career, it is clear to see that Anchorman represented a pivotal point in the lives of much of the cast and crew. Indeed, many of them have enjoyed terrific commercial success since the original was released, but the idea of a follow-up to the ’70s-set satire has always been an enticing one for the main players.

 

The prospects of a second outing for Ron, Brick, Brian and Champ seemed bleak when Paramount Pictures decided against making a sequel in 2011, but a deal was finally brokered last year to make Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues a reality. The story picks up in the ’80s, where Ron and now-wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are co-anchors at GNN, and now have a six-year-old son named Walter. However, Ron’s life is turned upside down when legendary newsreader Mack Harken (a growling Harrison Ford) decides to make Corningstone the station’s new weekend anchor, and relieve Burgundy of his position.

 

Although Ron’s career eventually plummets, he is given a second chance when he is approached about a new 24-hour news channel that is being established in Manhattan. Along with his trusted team of Brick Tamland, Brian Fantana and Champ Kind, he embarks on the Big Apple, where they shake the very foundations of broadcast news.

 

Nine years is certainly not the biggest gap between films in a series (the recent sequels in the Indiana Jones and Tron franchises took a lifetime to come to fruition), but it is nevertheless a long time since Ferrell & Co. brought their off-the-wall characters to the silver screen. While there was little pre-release hype for the original, the publicity for Anchorman 2 has been cranked up significantly, to the point that everyone who has even a passing interest in the film industry will be aware of its existence.

 

With all this in mind, it would have been easy for the various participants to rest on their laurels, but the good news for the many fans of the originals is that it maintains the spirit of the first outing, and registers a high laughter rate throughout.

 

The five principle returning stars (Ferrell, Rudd, Carell, Koechner and Applegate) clearly have too much affection for their characters to simply go through the motions, and they are all given their moments to shine. There are also some welcome additions to the cast in the form of Dylan Baker, James Marsden (as sharp-suited rival anchor Jack Lime) and Meagan Good as Ron’s new boss/love interest.

 

Witnessing the parameters of Ron’s romantic life suddenly shifting (Greg Kinnear also comes into the equation as a new partner for Applegate) provides much comic inspiration for the film, as does a dark third-act plot development for our eponymous hero.

 

Though lovers of the original will undoubtedly garner immense enjoyment from this second-parter, comparisons will inevitably be made with its predecessor. Only time will tell if the sequel will become as quotable as The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, but there is no doubt that its successor is lacking that certain element of surprise.

 

Also, at 119 minutes, it does over-stretch itself, and there are certain segments in the drama that could have been completely exorcised from the final cut. Aside from Brick (who finds his true soul mate in Kristen Wiig’s oddball secretary Channi), Ron’s fellow anchors are not given a great deal to work with, and when the celebrity cameos eventually arrive (in a heightened version of the first film’s Battle of the Anchors), they are thrown at the audience at a most extraordinary pace).

 

However, there are certain aspects to the film that are an improvement on the 2004 offering, namely the more coherent narrative structure, which indicates a desire on the part of Ferrell and McKay to properly develop the trajectory of their numerous creations.

 

Should the box-office receipts reveal healthy returns, then we can expect that a third film will follow in the not-too-distant future. On the basis of this film, there is no reason why the projected target audience wouldn’t be interested in another helping, because although the likes of Ferrell, Carell and Rudd have enjoyed great success away from Anchorman, it is clear that they are appreciative of what these characters have done for their careers.

Daire Walsh

15A (See IFCO for details)

118  mins

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is released on 20th December 2013

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – Official Website

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