Jupiter Ascending

jupiter

DIR: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski • WRI: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski • PRO: Bruce Berman, Grant Hill, Roberto Malerba, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski • DOP: John Toll • ED: Alexander Berner • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Hugh Bateup • CAST: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean

 

The Wachowski siblings have arguably struggled to reignite the commercial success of The Matrix, which altered the parameters of the science-fiction blockbuster in the late 1990s. Whilst their ambitious visual style marks them as visionary masters of their craft, critical opprobrium generated by films such as Speed Racer (2008) and Cloud Atlas (2012) points to an inability to reconcile an intense and elaborate visual technique with that of nonsensical and awkward plots. Such criticism has become the norm in the Wachowskis’ oeuvre and Jupiter Ascending does not appear to deviate from this career trajectory. Originally scheduled for release in July 2014, the film was delayed by seven months owing to an intricate editing process, casting a grim foreboding air over its future.

Written and directed by the Wachowskis (with more than a nod to Dune), Jupiter Ascending is a science fiction space opera starring Mila Kunis as Jupiter, a dissatisfied cleaner who discovers via genetically engineered ex-military hunter Caine (Channing Tatum) that she is the genetic reincarnation of the murdered matriarch of the intergalactic royal Abrasax family and rightful owner of Earth, the most profitable planet. The three Abrasax heirs are one of the ruling dynasties of the universe who harvest the planets once overpopulated to create a youth elixir that will see them live for millennia. When the Abrasax siblings discover Earth and their vast galactic inheritance rightfully belong to Jupiter, the duo embark on a frenetic galactic odyssey, intercepting the Abrasaxes attempts to kill her and reclaim ownership of Earth.

Adapting the classic big guy versus smaller guy narrative and attempting to elevate it to another level fails miserably in Jupiter Ascending and this is largely owing to the film’s egregious script. Whilst the reported $175 million budget for the film is clearly evident through its ambitious production design, resplendent costumes and intricately choreographed combat sequences, once the enterprising if not rather turgid spectacle has been stripped away, the audience is left with not much else. In an attempt to compensate for an over-investment into the film’s elaborate special effects, the Wachowskis infuse the narrative with a romance between the protagonists but this proves to be regressive, misplaced and underwhelming in a film containing convoluted sub-plots and involving too many archetypal characters delivering hackneyed and disjointed dialogue. All that is achieved is a chaotic core narrative with the film’s players evidently overwhelmed by the deluge of the CGI stunts involved and having very little else to do.

Kunis is undoubtedly miscast as the hapless toilet cleaner turned kick-ass action heroine and Tatum, as the hypermasculinised, saturnine, elf-eared hero, is just redundant throughout. Kunis struggles to connect with the oppressive characteristics of Jupiter and can only muster enthusiasm for the role once involved in combat. Only Eddie Redmayne as the dastardly, camp Balem Abrasax and Sean Bean as poker-faced Stinger appear to inject any sort of emotional depth into their characters, although Redmayne does border on the comical at times.

Unlike The Matrix or Cloud Atlas, which provided texts rich in philosophical musings and religious symbolism, Jupiter Ascending fails to offer its audiences anything other than a one-dimensional and disappointingly regressive visual saga of sci-fi fantasy and 1950s pulp. As craftspeople, the Wachowskis cannot be faulted for the dazzling spectacle they have created in Jupiter Ascending. Alas, this has come at a cost to both the film’s actors and audiences, who have just been deposited into a glaring void of ennui and confusion.

 

               Dee O’Donoghue

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

127 minutes
Jupiter Ascending is released 6th February 2015

Jupiter Ascending –  Official Website

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Third Person

P

DIR/WRI: Paul Haggis • PRO: Paul Breuls, Paul Haggis, Michael Nozik • DOP: Gianfilippo Corticelli • ED: Jo Francis • DES: Laurence Bennett • MUS: Dario Marianelli • CAST: Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde, James Franco

Cults pray on those of us who suffer from excessive feelings of disconnection and alienation. Paul Haggis, former Scientologist, wrote and directed 2004’s Crash, an Oscar-winning argument in favour of the existence of quasi-mystical ties that both connect and redeem humanity. Crash followed a group of individuals, including Matt Dillon’s glorious forehead, as they tottered across the faultlines of their various prejudices, each eventually arriving at something on the spectrum between an epiphany and just deserts. The film’s plot was contrived, its analysis of prejudice fatally unsophisticated; still, Haggis’ faith in the power of human engagement granted his characters a sort of grace. An inscrutable moral sense animated everyone, almost-but-not-quite saving them from two-dimensionality. It’s tempting to put it all down to a displacement of faith in wacky ‘religion’ to one in a Tao-flavoured personal spirituality.

Third Person is an attempted rejection of that worldview. This is by means of obfuscation, sleight-of-hand, and an oftentimes nearly incomprehensible plot. We only have three storylines to deal with, at least. A writer (Liam Neeson) is working on a book in Paris when his young lover (Olivia Wilde) visits; an ex-soap actress (Mila Kunis) battles her child’s artist father (James Franco) for custody of the boy; a shady American (Adrien Brody) tries to help Monica (Moran Atias) find her daughter in Rome’s underworld.

So far, so Magnolia – so Love Actually. The cast is obviously strong, and bits of the scenery are in Adrien Brody’s mouth at all times. Something like the same graceful inscrutability is there. Mila Kunis’ Julia is a substantial and often unsympathetic creation, and the question marks that hang over her motivations are unusual in mainstream cinema. She’s the only character whose flaws aren’t retrospectively absolved by one or other of Third Person’s plot twists, under the weight of which the film starts to groan about halfway in. The sleight of hand that is the purview of the director of ‘Hyperlink Cinema’ (Roger Ebert’s term) then starts to look like self-abuse. Even the cinematography gets noticeably sloppier as things progress – a major sign of a lack of control or of money, of a piece of cinema ‘saved in the edit.’ And Crash’s misogyny rears its balding head. “Women have the incredible gift of being able to deny any reality,” a fatherly figure tells Liam Neeson. Monica is Roma, a thief and possibly a prostitute, and, ahem, ‘feisty’ – thus an irredeemable stereotype. And the ending – if only it were a statement of disgusted protest to walk out of a film once it’s over.

Third Person isn’t as terrible as the consensus has decided, but that’s the best thing I can say about it.

Darragh McCabe

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

136 minutes

Third Person is released 14th November 2014

 

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Cinema Review: Oz The Great and Powerful

DIR: Sam Raimi  WRI: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abair  PRO: Joe Roth  ED: Bob Murawski  DOP: Peter Deming  DES: Robert Stromberg  CAST: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weiz, Michelle Williams

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the merry ol’ land of Oz, so off I went in my sparkly red shoes (egg on my face though, cos there wan’t a ruby slipper to be seen in Raimi’s version) to a Sunday morning family screening of Oz The Great and Powerful.

Raimi’s film is essentially the origin story for the wonderful wizard. Oz (Franco) is a selfish circus con-man whose tendency towards smoke and mirrors has left him devoid of any real sense of self. Like Dorothy, he is swept away in a cyclone and transported to a strange and magical world where he is soon recognised as the man who is destined to rule all of Oz. In order to gain the throne and a room full of gold, he must convince them, and himself, that he’s the man they need him to be

Knowing Sam Raimi and his tendency towards playfulness I was unsurprised but no less delighted to see him open his film with 4:3 monochrome, where it stayed until we enter Oz, where he then revealed in all its 3D glory, all the beauty and spectacle we would hope to see in Oz.

The plot sees  three witches struggling for power over Oz (the place AND the man), one is beautiful, naïve Theodora (Kunis) who falls in love with Oz as she leads him to meet her sister Evanora so they can plot to kill the wicked witch who has been banished to the woods but they suspect to be planning an uprising. But things get complicated when he finds the “wicked witch” and she turns out to be the beautiful, wise and good Glinda The Good.

The production design, CGI effects and cinematography are absolutely beautiful throughout the film, which instantly removed the slight alarm bell of cynicism that might have existed in me around this project. But it’s clear from the outset that love and passion went into the aesthetic of this film. Special mention must go to Gary Jones for the unbelievably beautiful costume design. All the actors seem to be having a blast camping it up in their roles (does Franco ever really do anything else?) and it’s especially nice to see Michelle Williams in a happy film for once.

At almost two and a half hours, I couldn’t help but feel that the thin plot didn’t really warrant the lengthy running time, but having said that I absolutely adored so many aspects of the film that I never really wanted it to end. Raimi’s stamp is all over the film in the most wonderful ways! His flying cameras, his sharp visual wit and not to mention his horrifying witch and flying baboons, there’s plenty on display here to keep his fans happy. But what about the most important audience of all? The children. What’s in it for them? Magic, a cute monkey, a lovely little china doll, action, scary villains and most of all a wonderful sense of what epic 3D cinema should be. Big! From where I was sitting (which was surrounded by hundreds of children) they seemed very, very pleased with themselves. One thing it is missing though – singin’ and dancin’;  but I guess I can’t have it all.

 

Charlene Lydon

PG (see IFCO website for details)

130mins
Oz The Great and Powerful is released on 8th March 2013

Oz The Great and Powerful – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Ted

DIR: Seth MacFarlane  WRI: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild  PRO: Jason Clark, John Jacobs, Seth MacFarlane, Scott Stuber, Wellesley Wild  DOP: Michael Barrett  ED: Jeff Freeman  DES: Stephen J. Lineweaver  CAST: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane

Back when he was a boy, John Bennett (Wahlberg) made a Christmas wish: for his new teddy bear to come alive and be his bestest ever friend. Amazingly, that wish came true and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) was an instant celebrity (for a while at least), but never stopped doing his job: being John’s best ted.

John is now 35, and he’s been going out with Lori (Kunis) for four years. She’s got a proper office job and a boss (Seth McHale) who fancies her, while John is always late for work at his crappy car rental place. The reason? He’s always partying or messing around with Ted, and while Lori certainly has a sense of humor, she does think that maybe it’s time to grow up a bit. You know, maybe stop playing with the teddy bear and put down the bong once in a while?

So eventually, Ted moves out and gets his own place. He decorates it courtesy of Ikea, gets a supermarket job and even a ditzy blond girlfriend. But best buds are best buds – fur or no fur – and John keeps being drawn back into Ted’s wild world. When he skips out on Lori at an important office do in order to meet his and Ted’s all-time movie superhero in the flesh (I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s someone from the 1980s), Lori has had enough. John and Ted fall out too – a great fight in a hotel room – but can John man up, win Lori back and still be friends with Ted?

As you can tell, Ted is a pretty simple story. Director/co-writer/co-producer/Ted’s voice Seth MacFarlane is the driving force behind Family Guy, the snappier, sharper and cruder modern version of The Simpsons, and fans will recognize many of the actors here by their voices and be very familiar with the non-sequiturs, 80s references, spoofs, musical cues and, of course, a spicy dash of offensiveness (some of which is laugh-out-loud, even when it’s throwaway).

Therein lie the strengths – and weaknesses – of Ted, and sadly the latter outweigh the former. The story is so slight, the focus so awkwardly bouncing between the conventional romcom/drama story of John and Lori and the inherent humour in (and desire to see) a crude, talking bear. The two just don’t blend well in that way, and with so many ideas left hanging or included for no apparent reason other than a gag (and one particular one involving Ted that seemed a last minute idea about ‘who’s the bad guy?’), it all falls rather flat.

Ultimately, if you’re a Family Guy fan – and I am – you’re going to enjoy this just enough; it really is essentially just Peter Griffin and Brian the dog in disguise. If not, then you might find it a rather tedious mess; these characters come from a mind that’s used to writing 22-minute television programmes that have to go to the break on a joke or a cliffhanger; a film requires much more than that.

James Bartlett

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
106 mins

Ted is released on 3rd August 2012

Ted – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Friends with Benefits

it's your turn to wash up

 

DIR: Will Gluck • WRI: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck • PRO: Liz Glotzer, Will Gluck, Martin Shafer, Janet Zucker, Jerry Zucker • DOP: Michael Grady • ED: Tia Nolan • DES: Marcia Hinds • CAST: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman

Armageddon VS Deep Impact. Volcano VS Dante’s Peak. Capote VS Infamous. Antz VS A Bug’s Life. Whenever two movies with a similar set up are released within the a few months of each other, you can almost hear the ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ chant in the background. And while it would be nice to think that cinema is a broad enough medium to allow two movies about the same thing to co-exist, unfortunately there is always one clear winner. And this year, Friends with Benefits has beat out its competition No Strings Attached by a wide margin.

But this movie actually has less in common with that Kutcher/Portman flop than it does with something all the more surprising… Scream. Both movies are self-aware and post-modern, pointing out the traps within their genre but succumbing to them anyway. Both make pop-references both current (Louis CK! Flash-Mobs!) and ‘classic’ (Seinfeld! Nora Ephron!). Both feature the lead characters watching a bad example of the genre their extracting the urine from (Scream had Stab, and in this case it’s a spot on, so-bad-its-great rom-com starring Jason Segel and Rashinda Jones). But most importantly, both movies have attractive people running around trying not to get hurt, but we know they will eventually.

Justin Timberlake is fine as the recently dumped, new in NY guy with something of a troubled home life. Mila Kunis continues to blur the lines between cute and sexy with yet another lovable turn as a feisty and smart fun-loving creature. There’s some great support from the likes of Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg, Emma Stone, Patricia Clarkson and Jenna Elfman. New York is shot to perfection and the dialogue rattles along at the same pace director Will Gluck brought to his surprisingly brilliant hit last year, Easy A.

But the one trump card Scream has over Friends with Benefits was mystery. The ‘who did it/who’s gonna die next’ guessing game can’t be applied to a rom-com, as there is always only one outcome to these scenarios. Everyone and their dog knows these two will end up together, but while watching this, a little part of you will really want these two to remain just friends.

Rory Cashin

Rated 16 (see IFCO for details)

Friends With Benefits is released on 9th September 2011

Friends With Benefits – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJS-wWqVAyk

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Black Swan

Black Swan

DIR: Darren Aronofsky • WRI: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin PRO: Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver DOP: Matthew Libatique ED: Andrew Weisblum • DES: Thérèse DePrez CAST: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey

The struggle for complete perfection, leading to unhealthy obsession, one of the most potent and destructive human instincts is at the core of Black Swan. Natalie Portman embodies Nina, an innocent, protected and technically perfect ballet dancer in a New York City ballet company. At the start of the film, we witness her dedication and longing to be the prima ballerina and also the pressure her mother puts on her. Elegant Natalie Portman finds her perfect role, as Nina Sayers. She showcases her ballet training as a child, by transforming into a ballerina for the role.

From the outset, the viewer is transported into the world of ballet with Nina dancing the swan queen of Swan Lake on stage. The score is instantly distorted and disjointed and those familiar with the original score of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake will notice that throughout the film it is played backwards. This musical distortion by Clint Mansell corresponds with the warped tones of the film and the stunning use of camera movement and lighting by Aronofsky throughout the film. From the moment we are acquainted with Nina as she wakes up from her vivid dream in her bedroom, we see her world completely revolves around dance. Although clearly not a child, her mother who overtly was once a dancer herself, wields an intense influence over her and pushes her to succeed.

Her mother is played brilliantly by Barbara Hershey, executing transitions from sweet mother to distorted obsessive to tyrant with skill. Nina’s room is childlike despite her being a grown woman. It is predominantly pink and filled with ballerina stuffed-toys. This provides us with a disturbing backdrop to the bedroom scenes throughout the film. It also reminds us of her sheltered background. The atmosphere is dark, intense and suffocating as we follow Nina. We overhear with Nina in a dressing room that the company will be looking for a new swan queen for the new season as the current ballerina is passed her prime as ballerinas soon get. She is Beth Mcintyre played with vigour by Winona Ryder. Although her time of screen is brief, Ryder truly delivers some disturbing and critical moments as the reluctant retiring dancer and idol of Nina. From her first scene, Lily, provides the contrast or repressed side to Nina. Lily is played by the beautiful Mila Kunis, who holds her own opposite Portman’s Nina. Throughout the film, representing what Nina is lacking – a free and sexual being – Lily pushes her increasingly towards insanity in a quest to embrace her dark side in order to represent both the white and black swan.

We are introduced to the artistic director of the company, Thomas Leroy played with commanding presence by Vincent Cassel in the opening company-ballet class. He officially informs them of his quest to find a new swan queen. He swiftly picks ballerinas he wishes to audition for the role and Nina is one of them. Nina dances a beautiful white swan in her audition but Leroy is unconvinced that Nina can portray the black swan and so disregards her for the part. However Nina’s yearning for the role and pressure from her mother spurs her to speak privately to Leroy the next day. She informs him, that she has been practicing and asks for another chance. He informs her that it is her inability to let go that makes him think she could not pull off the role. However when she reacts aggressively to his advances he changes his mind and she gets the part. He quickly forces her to depart from her fragile innocence, when she is not dancing in order to be able to execute the black swan on stage. We see her struggling with her own pure nature and her deep desire to become a perfect swan queen. This conflict leads to her grip on reality becoming increasingly warped.

Truly deserving of the Golden Globe Best Actress Win, Portman is exceptional in this film. She portrays the two sides to her character with powerful and sinister distinction and tension. The internal and external struggle is played out beautifully and intensely, with an intoxicating synthesis of intense sensuality, suffocation and disturbia which ends in a powerful climax. It is a beautiful, sexy and equally terrifying cinematic experience that deserves all the recognition that it has received and is to come. Having studied ballet and being a lover of the art, I was interested to see how the ballet world would be translated in the film, but the potency of the film can be related to any rigorous discipline that can lead to obsession and gradually a descent into insanity on the road to unprecedented. As humans we all struggle with the tension of the dark and light in our lives. This is an extraordinary film that no one should miss.

Órla Walshe

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)

Black Swan is released 21st Jan 2011

Black Swan – Official Website

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