Dolphin Tale 2

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DIR/WRI: Charles Martin Smith • PRO: Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Steven P. Wegner • DOP: Daryn Okada • ED: Harvey Rosenstock • DES: David J. Bomba •  MUS: Rachel Portman • CAST: Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff

Gentle, sincere, and well-intentioned to a fault, Dolphin Tale was a modest box-office hit in 2011, capturing family audiences with the (mostly) true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin rehabilitated at Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium after losing her tail in a crab trap. Dolphin Tale 2 now offers more of the same, with the added comfort of familiarity, continuing the story as Winter’s keepers attempt to find her a suitable companion and enable her to remain at Clearwater. If this sounds exceedingly mild, that’s because it is. In fact, one of the problems of Dolphin Tale 2 is that its narrative is simply not as gripping as its predecessor’s, which had the development of Winter’s prosthetic tale as a genuinely suspenseful through-line. By contrast, Dolphin Tale 2 is more diffuse, and somewhat lacking in urgency, with Winter’s prospective companion, the juvenile Hope, not appearing until the film’s second half.

In addition to writer/director Charles Martin Smith, almost all the cast of the first instalment return, although the adult performers are given little to do, with Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman and especially Kris Kristofferson given just a handful of scenes apiece. As the teenagers who care for Winter, Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff acquit themselves earnestly, although as “human interest” they are necessarily secondary to the film’s main attraction. The dry land action, of which there is too much, also presumes a familiarity with the first film that may leave some younger viewers confused.

The film’s shortcomings as drama are compensated for by the animal footage. Winter (playing herself) is an affecting presence both with and without her prosthesis, while Hope – who is not visibly handicapped but will spend her life in captivity as a result of early separation from her mother – is equally appealing. Also featured are a boisterous pelican sure to charm children, and a remarkably beautiful sea turtle, named “Mavis”, whose eventual release into the wild provides the film’s sole instance of animal action within a natural habitat. Elsewhere, as the film is concerned exclusively with animals in captivity, the most arresting footage is that showing close-quarters interaction between dolphins and humans. Winter and Hope’s early encounters are fascinating to behold, despite being staged, while an early scene between Winter and Bethany Hamilton (a surfing champion who lost an arm to a shark, and here appears playing herself) intriguingly blurs the boundary between documentary and fiction feature, without labouring the parallels between the performers. In fact, the greatest appeal of Dolphin Tale 2 lies in its refusal to anthropomorphise the dolphins. We are repeatedly reminded that they are wild animals, and the limitations of their lives in captivity are not shied away from.

Refreshingly even-paced, Dolphin Tale 2 credits its young audience with a degree of intelligence not always catered to by contemporary children’s entertainment. Its educational content is smoothly integrated, and is certain to spark the interest of budding marine biologists, while the moral lessons about responsibility and perseverance are not heavy-handed and feel genuinely earned. A final montage of documentary footage showing Clearwater’s real-life work with disabled children and war veterans makes for an affecting close, though it is somewhat marred by a blaring soundtrack accompaniment that tries rather too hard to force us into the air to clap our flippers.

David Turpin

G (See IFCO for details)

86 minutes

Dolphin Tale 2 is released 3rd October 2014

Dolphin’s Tale 2 – Official Website

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztM-ajPfcfs

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Lucy

lucy

DIR/WRI:  Luc Besson  PRO: Virginie Silla • DOP: Thierry Arbogast  DES: Hugues Tissandier MUS: Eric Serra  CAST:  Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked

It’s the morning after for Lucy (Johansson), an American student who is outside a Taiwanese hotel with her new dodgy boyfriend. He has a dodgy delivery to make, and when she refuses to split the $1000 fee with him he handcuffs her to the briefcase – so she has to go in and make the drop to Jang (Choi).

 

Guns appear, Richard is shot, and Lucy finds herself opening the briefcase as all Choi’s goons hide behind riot shields. Inside the briefcase though are several packs of blue powder – some very special blue powder – and Choi offers the terrified Lucy a job.

 

It’s not really an offer: she wakes to find a bandage on her stomach and, like three other human drug mules, she’s given a passport and plane ticket and told to make the delivery. But before she even makes the plane, she’s beaten up in a strange cell – and the brutal kicking breaks open the drug packet inside her.

 

But this doesn’t lead to a fatal overdose; it rushes through her veins, blows her mind, throws her around the room like she’s caught in a hurricane, and makes her a near superhuman with inconceivable powers and abilities.

 

Elsewhere, neurological professor Norman (Freeman) is talking to an audience of academics and students about that very thing: since humans use just 10% of their brain (half that of a dolphin), what would happen if they could access the other 90%?

 

These two people are fated to meet, and when Lucy contacts French cop Del Rio, giving him unanswerable proof that he should round up the other drug mules quick smart, the race is on between Choi and Lucy: can she reach Norman in time to pass on what she’s learned? She needs regular doses of the drug to save her from falling apart – literally – and time is ticking: when she reaches 100% capacity she’ll cease to exist.

 

This high-actioner bears many of the hallmarks of a Luc Besson joint; thumping music, a Parisian car chase, gangs of gun-toting guys slow-mo shooting in corridors, and a fairly loose storyline. Lucy becomes a virtual God here for heaven’s sake, though she manages to easily deal with the astonishing overload she must be facing.

 

As will quickly become clear when you watch, this is Besson’s attempt to do Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in the 21st century. Early on we get regular cut aways to BBC-style documentary clips of nature raw in tooth and claw, and then we cut between them and Freeman’s sober intoning about the human mind.

 

It’s aiming high, and though the end sequence – Besson’s modern, special effects take on the tunnel of stars/wormhole/whatever it is from 2001: A Space Odyssey is certainly breathtaking and rather mind-boggling – there’s little emotion here.

 

The early regret Lucy voices that the more intelligent she becomes, the more her emotions fade (and the more she becomes less human) is about as profound as we get, Johansson becoming more a kind of mindless robot supercomputer as she gets nearer to 100%. Overall this often seems like a series of spectacular television commercials spliced with a selection of greatest sci-fi movie wish-list moments, but at a brisk 90 minutes this transcendental update of Besson’s 1990 Nikita is a ride worth taking.

 

James Bartlett

15A (See IFCO for details)
89 mins

Lucy is released on 22nd August 2014

Lucy  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Lego Movie

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DIR/WRI: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller PRO: Roy Lee, Dan Lin MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh DOP: Barry Peterson, Pablo Plaisted ED: David Burrows, Chris McKay DES: Grant Freckelton, CAST: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman

 

You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.’

These words, famously stated by gatekeeper Morpheus to describe The Matrix in the iconic film from 1999, might at first appear to have little to do with The Lego Movie. How could the Wachowskis’ dystopian diatribe against the hyper-real, mass-media environment of the late 20th century have anything in common with a film which functions at its most superficial as a 100 minute advertisement for children’s brick-based playsets? Yet, some clear parallels can be observed in the story of an average man, traversing a metaphorical rabbit-hole to be told that reality as he knows it is a deceptive construction; but he is a long-promised saviour, come to fulfil the prophecy of shattering this illusion and saving the world.

The hero of The Lego Movie may even be more expressive than The Matrix’s Keanu Reeves – the yellow-faced Legoman, Emmett (Pratt), a mild-mannered construction worker. His daily routine is dictated by ‘the instructions’, a technical bible which guides him on how to fit in, make friends, and be happy. The (Lego) Matrix undeniably has him: We see it when he looks out the window to greet the day (to see every other Lego-man and woman looking out the window, greeting the day), or when he turns on his television (to watch the universally-seen sitcom, Where are my Pants?). It is a ritual-driven world, pulled over his eyes to protect him from the truth – which in this case, is that its seemingly-benevolent ruler, President Business, is secretly planning to destroy the world.

When Emmett accidentally stumbles upon a priceless relic, the key to disarming President Business’ most deadly weapon, he is mistakenly identified as ‘The Special,’ an extraordinary person heralded as the saviour who will thwart President Business. Recruited into a troupe of renegade ‘master builders,’ famous figures who play by their own rules, the overwhelmed and underprepared Emmett begins his quest through a maze of secret tunnels, other realms, and the idea that the instructions are just the beginning.

The plot is as by-the-numbers as Emmett’s instructions, but the joy of The Lego Movie is in its execution. Writer/director team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller bring the same self-effacing reflexivity to The Lego Movie as we saw in their previous zany capers, 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which opens it up in a number of fairly astonishing ways for a film about Lego.  Themes of conformity vs. creativity, free will vs. fate and determinism, along with surprisingly on-point commentary about monopolist multinational corporations and the increasing specialisation of Lego playsets reducing creativity and self-determination are introduced – but, fittingly for a Lego movie, in a playful and accessible way that can always be broken down and reshaped.

Visually, the film delights in its own ‘Lego-ness,’ with intangible properties like water, smoke and fire being rendered in the small round pieces and shiny plastic familiar from Lego sets, as well as using the interlocking characteristics of its bricks to great effect. While the action is largely computer-generated, it retains the erratic energy and aesthetic of stop-motion animation which perfectly complements the film’s humour.

The Lego Movie’s cast of characters is joyously brought to life by a hilariously self-aware script and lively voice-acting. Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt brings his characteristic brand of earnest positivity and expert comic timing to our hero Emmett, a character believably out of his depth.

There are no missteps in the huge supporting cast either; Elizabeth Banks makes for a punky, articulate heroine, while Liam Neeson’s conflicted Good Cop/Bad Cop is a particular highlight, and Will Arnett’s Batman may be one of the most enjoyably self-aware portrayals of the character in recent memory. (Your move, Ben Affleck.) Alison Brie, Nick Offerman and Charlie Day capably round out the ‘who’s-who of US sitcoms’ filling out Emmett’s team as the bubbly Unikitty, mutant cyborg pirate Metalbeard, and Benny, The 1980-Something Spaceman. (Keep your ears peeled too for other famous cameos, including Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill from 21 Jump Street reprising their double act as a couple of superheroes.)

The Lego Movie, particularly in a striking third-act narrative rupture, could maybe be read as a metaphor for the state of the Lego corporation as it stands in the 21st century –as a battle between individual, creative thought and disciplined, specific model-making. But it can just as easily be seen as a hilarious caper about what happens when you stop following instructions and start having fun. Built to last, The Lego Movie could be Toy Story for the 21st century.


Stacy Grouden

G (See IFCO for details)
125  mins

The Lego Movie is released on 14th February 2014

The Lego Movie – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Last Vegas

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Dir: Jon Turteltaub  Wri: Dan Fogelman • Pro: Amy Baer, Joseph Drake, Laurence Mark • DOP: David Hennings • ED: David Rennie • DES: David J. Bomba • MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • CAST: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline

Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline: these men are near death, relatively speaking. Sorry to ruin Last Vegas for you, but that’s supposed to be the punchline. How hard you take it depends on a couple of factors – your age, your IQ, whether or not you sat through those Hangover sequels. As with said sequels, what’s missing here is a plot structure as convincing or enjoyable as the blackout whodunnit of the original.

The men are in is Las Vegas to celebrate Billy’s (Douglas) engagement to a much younger woman. Having been friends since childhood, Billy and Paddy (De Niro) are no longer speaking, and the other two hope to save the friendship. From then on it’s just like a golden wedding anniversary down the local; someone sticks a drink in your hand and insists that you enjoy the supposed incongruity of senescent debauchery. Meanwhile, Mark Mothersbaugh’s score will give anyone who hasn’t experienced it a solid idea of what it’s like to spend time in one of those glass-bottomed Las Vegas elevators.

The thing is, these actors have been around for a while for a reason – they’re really good at what they do. Every time the film wants us to laugh at Morgan Freeman’s dodgy hip or whatever, some internal reflex of actorly dignity kicks in and the joke is tossed back – at the audience, usually. Even with Kline, whose comportment doesn’t quite have the gravitas of the others’, the fact that he’s in Bob’s Burgers is enough to let us know that he gets the joke. And anyway, everyone looks far too physically fit to really be identifiable with the sorts of old men we know and just-about tolerate. So the MTV-circa-1998-style bikini-wearing competition, the 50 Cent cameo, the younger women they all improbably tangle with, none of it is plausible enough to be funny. Encourage the septuagenarians you know to spend their golden years a little more wisely than these guys.

 Darragh John McCabe

12A (See IFCO for details)

105  mins

Last Vegas is released on 3rd January 2014

Last Vegas – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Oblivion

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DIR: Joseph Kosinski • WRI: Joseph Kosinski, Gajdusek, Michael Arndt • PRO: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Duncan Henderson, Joseph Kosinski, Barry Levine • DOP: Claudio Miranda • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce •  DES: Darren Gilford • CAST: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko

 

Given how character-driven science-fiction films are something of a rarity these days, when something like Oblivion comes along, it’s hard not to get swept away with the excitement or hype. That said, Joseph Kosinski – in his second film – is a master of meeting expectations. While Tron: Legacy was something of a beautiful mess, a two-hour Daft Punk music video, it worked on some level. Here, with Oblivion, he’s working with less gimmicks and more story. Set in the not-too-distant future, Earth has been left ravaged by an alien invasion. Although humanity has succeeded in defeating the aliens, Earth is almost uninhabitable and have migrated to an orbiting space station known simply as ‘the Tet’. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are the lone remaining humans on Earth, charged with keeping the security drones online which guard huge turbines that sucking up water and other precious resources. Naturally, things take off when Harper is attacked by the few remaining aliens and he witnesses a shuttle fall to Earth that contains a cryogenically-frozen Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko).

The story itself does veer sharply off into science-fiction tropes that you can see coming a mile off. That said, however, the film is so beautifully designed and staged that you won’t necessarily care. The film is thankfully 3D-free, which the director is adamant  was his own decision. Instead, you’re treated to huge landscape shots of Iceland, posing as a post-apocalyptic Earth and a clean-cut, Apple-inspired apartment where Cruise and Riseborough live. The film’s attention to design and detail can’t be understated. It’s such a treat to see a sci-fi film where the world seems, for the most part, utterly believable. There’s a real sense that the environment they are in feels and looks real. Indeed, much like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, it has that feeling of perfect design and usability. However, like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, it does suffer from a stale and overwrought storyline. As mentioned, the film does become somewhat predictable in parts and some of the dialogue does come off as wooden. It’s not due to the individual performances, rather the dialogue itself simply seems to be going in circles and not moving the plot forward. When it does move the plot forward, it somehow feels forced and written after the fact.
Tom Cruise is, as always, is a delight to watch. Whatever about his personal life / beliefs, he can never be accused of phoning in a performance. It is a little hard to think of him as a blue-collar worker, simply because you’re watching Tom Cruise be a blue-collar worker. His level of stardom is hard to separate from his roles. That said, he works effectively in this and is as convincing as he’s been in years. Andrea Riseborough, likewise, turns in a very competent performance. Fluctuating between ice-cold glares and moments of genuine heartbreak, it’s easy to see why she continues to gain momentum and bigger roles. Olga Kurylenko is decent, if a little understated in her role. Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, is simply window-dressing. He’s capable of far more than his role allows, but he’s simply not given any opportunity to move beyond the narrow parameters. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of Game of Thrones fame shows up as Freeman’s right-hand man, but little else. It’s a decent cast, overall and there are some moments where Riseborough, in particular, outshines Cruise.
For the most part, Oblivion is an entertaining science-fiction film that works well. The story itself is somewhat stale, but the power of the imagery presented, mixed with M83’s fantastic soundtrack will block out any qualms you might have watching it. Find the biggest screen and enjoy the first blockbuster of 2013.

Brian Lloyd

12A (see IFCO website for details)

124mins
Oblivion is released on 12th April 2013

Oblivion – Official Website

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Interview: Joseph Kosinski, director of ‘Oblivion’, starring Tom Cruise

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Brian Lloyd chats to Joseph Kosinski, director of Oblivion, which is released this week in cinemas.

Oblivion may be the second film by director Joseph Kosinski, but his credits reach far beyond Tron: Legacy. Having directed some of the most widely-known advertising campaigns in the last ten years, including the Halo 3 – Starry Night and Gears of War – Mad World to name a few, it’s clear that Kosinski is on the up and up. Indeed, his second film and he’s already working with Hollywood legend Tom Cruise. ‘Despite the stature he has, he’s extremely collaborative. He has opinions, he has thoughts – why would I not listen to that? Especially when he’s worked with directors I admire, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann.’ Kosinski goes on to mention how fun it was to hear stories about these directors, admitting that directors work alone. ‘We never work with other directors, as such. We’re isolated, working on our own projects so it’s really cool to hear about them and how they work.’

 

Joseph Kosinski, prior to becoming a director, studied architecture and design. Anyone who’s seen Tron: Legacy or indeed Oblivion will remark about the set design and its use of physical objects, as opposed to CGI’d sets. ‘If you’re not interested in design, I don’t know how you work on these types of movies,’ he explains. ‘I had a very clear idea of what I wanted it to look like. The skytower, up in the clouds, if you want to look for influences, it’s something like Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.‘ Discussing sci-fi films, I mention Ridley Scott’s use of physical sets in Prometheus, which Kosinski agrees with. ‘I wanted it to be as real as possible. It looks better, the performances are better. On the flipside, as well, there’s a lot less time in post. Compared to Tron, this film had 800 visual effects shots. Tron had something closer to 1,600. Some films are 2,000. A big tentpole film like this that has fewer effects shot helps keeps costs down. As long as you plan ahead, know what you want, it’s a great way to work.’

 

The film does pay homage to arguably the best era of sci-fi – the 1970s. Films like The Omega Man, Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run and Star Wars are all touchstones for Kosinski, but not as you’d expect. ‘Those influences come when you’re growing. It’s different to watch films after you’ve made a couple. They seep themselves deep inside you, but when you watch them again, they don’t have the same impact.’ Kosinski continues, ‘1970’s sci-fi were far more character-driven, simply because they didn’t have the tools we have. I thought Oblivion was going to be a much smaller film when I started. But the action and the spectacle is in support of the story and the character.’ It’s also notable that the film isn’t in 3D. Considering his debut is oft-considered one of the best films to make use of the technology, why did he not make Oblivion with it? ‘That was my choice, from the beginning. I looked at a couple of different formats, 48 frames. Brightness is really important to me. But with this being a daytime sci-fi, shot in Iceland, I really wanted the images to pop off the screen. With 3D right now, there’s a limitation with how bright it can be. Using Sony’s F65 Camera, it felt like the right choice to capture the detail of the landscapes, it’s very high-resolution.’

 

Not only is Oblivion not in 3D, it’s based on an original idea. ‘Getting any movie made is hard. An original film at this scale is a big challenge. It’s not that studios don’t want to make original material, but having something that already has an audience is a leg-up. And having someone like Tom Cruise involved is great. And to have him call me was a thrill. I pitched the story to him over an hour and he was immediately taken by the story and the character and it was something he hadn’t seen before. Having him attached gave it momentum.’ The script, written by Kosinski, was also co-written by William Monahan and Michael Arndt. ‘I wanted to work with someone who didn’t work in science-fiction, which is why I went to William (Monahan) first. But I had the sense that one screenwriter wasn’t going to take me to the finish line, because the film has so many elements. It’s a mystery, it’s a thriller, it’s got action. I also worked with Karl Gadsujek, a great writer who I really wanted to work with. And Michael (Arndt) gave it the final pass, who I’d worked with on Tron: Legacy as well. I’m just the keeper of the story, working closely with each of them and it ended up being the right arrangement for it.’

Oblivion is in cinemas from 10th April and stars Tom Cruise, Olga Kurlyenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman.

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Invictus

Invictus

DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: Anthony Peckham • PRO: Clint Easywood, Robert Lorenz, Lori McCreary, Mace Neufeld • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Joel Cox, Gary Roach • DES: James J. Murakami • CAST: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge

Clint Eastwood began his directorial career back in 1971 with Play Misty For Me. To date he has directed nearly thirty films and has won four Oscar®. Invictus (Latin for ‘unconquered’) takes its title from a short poem by William Ernest Henley, concerning hope and ambition. It is based on John Carlin’s book called Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and The Game That Changed a Nation.

Nelson Mandela was released from a Robben Island prison in 1990, after being inside for twenty-seven years. In 1994, Mandela was elected as President of South Africa. Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman, who Mandela himself has said is the only actor who can play him. Invictus is the story of Mandela’s period of office before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. Mandela wants to tackle problems such as crime and unemployment. He believes that the rugby team needs to make their country proud and succeed in the world cup. The South African rugby team known as the Springboks, is captained by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon, who gives a decent South African accent).

There are good supporting performances from Mandela’s staff, to name a few: chief of staff Brenda (Adjoa Andoh, making her Hollywood debut) – she is the closest individual to Mandela throughout the film; and security guards Jason (Tony Kgoroge) and Etienne (Julian Lewis Jones), who have different opinions on how the president should be addressed and guarded.

Eastwood superbly crafts the rugby sequences; they are very detailed and enthralling. In probably the most important scene, Pienaar has a conversation with Mandela, which is the key to motivating Pienaar and his team to triumph. In another scene, Pienaar visits the cell in Robben Island where Mandela was imprisoned for eighteen of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment. It’s a great scene and not overdone, it’s poignant and nuanced.

There has been criticism of historical inaccuracies in the film. After all, it’s a Hollywood film, which tells a true story on its own terms and does it well. Invictus will be a shoo-in for a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards®, especially as the new system nominates ten films, instead of five. It’s a good film, which audiences will enjoy.

Peter Larkin

(See biog here)

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Invictus is released 5th Feb 2010

Invictus – Official Website

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