DIR: Russell Crowe • WRI: Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios PRO: Troy Lum, Andrew Mason, Keith Rodger • DOP: Andrew Lesnie • ED: Matt Villa • MUS: David Hirschfelder • DES: Chris Kennedy • CAST: Isabel Lucas, Jai Courtney, Olga Kurylenko, Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe goes Oscar hunting in the director’s chair with The Water Diviner, a historical fiction about a father’s search for his dead sons after the WWI battle at the Ottoman. It’s clear early on that Crowe doesn’t have the subtle subjective hand to make such done-to-death subject matter any more compelling than what has gone before it.
Olga Kurlyenko is great to look at but can’t act. Russell Crowe can act and does his usual thing of being gruff and charmingly unapproachable, but his mood fluctuates too inappropriately in this. You watch it and can’t help but wish there was a better director to navigate the tone. But no, it’s Crowe that’s calling the shots. Admittedly though, there are some nice shots in it, with some nifty tracking across the scenery, particularly in his home that engages and might even surprise. Structurally the film is solid but becomes predictable and towards the end just downright pedestrian.
Like in any war movie the battle scenes are key. In this film they are terrible. Not for the want of trying, they’re shot at considerable scale and there’s no little amount of energy shown when the Aussies and Turks throw down. But, blurred slow motion has been outmoded since the turn of the last century and it’s largely used to compensate for an action scene’s lack of tension. Neither does Crowe feel the need to bother with such gimmicks as filmic realism. All I’ll say is this, if you shoot someones face from absolute point-blank range, it’s going to do more damage than a cut on the forehead.
The title refers to Russell Crowe’s less than holistic profession of someone who uses his senses to detect water underground and plunge it out. The efficacy of this is something the movie is pretty ambivalent about, but sees enough to allow Crowe’s character to suss out his sons remains in the rubble four years after they were killed. That’s fine, family connections and all that, but you can’t help but think the title was dreamed up as a way to shift the story along in order to draw some blood. One of the opening scenes with Crowe using his apparatus (coat-hanger) to find water and dig it out is dangerously close to the introduction in Their Will Be Blood. Possible spoilers here, but Russell Crowe is no Daniel Plainview. And he’s certainly no Paul Thomas Anderson.
It’s a perfectly serviceable film, it’s nowhere near bad enough to get angry at, it plays it safe enough to avoid offending, but it surely made it into cinemas because the director is Superman’s dad.
And that’s the frustration of this movie – I really, really wanted to care. Even if that meant expending energy in hating it rather than just thinking it was okay. Nothing. You can tell that Crowe had good intentions, this was more than an Aussie flag-waving exercise for him, he wanted to tell a story. But he doesn’t have the tools to do it, and no amount of twisted coat-hangers is going to change that.
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.
DIR/WRI: Terrence Malick • PRO: Nicolas Gonda • DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki • ED: A.J. Edwards, Keith Fraase, Shane Hazen, Christopher Roldan, Mark Yoshikawa • DES: Jack Fisk • CAST: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem
Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) love one another in France. They visit Mont Saint-Michel and spend time with Marina’s daughter in Paris. Difficulties arise following their move to Oklahoma and prompt Marina to seek help from the parish priest, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem). The priest struggles with his faith in the face of contemporary troubles. Marina goes back to Paris, but unhappiness provokes her stateside return, while Neil engages in a brief affair with Jane (Rachel McAdams).
Summarising the plot for a Terrence Malick film is perhaps superfluous. He favours meditations and asking unanswered questions in whispered voiceovers over conventional narrative structure and character development. Dialogue is sparse. Natural lighting, thoughtful sound design and classical music, the elements of his familiar style, create a veritable cinematic experience, providing reprieve fromthe bloody violence and banal histories offered by other commercial fare. His films constitute one of the most distinctive bodies of work in cinema history.
The Thin Red Line heralded Malick’s return, he having disappeared after directing two classics in the 1970s, Badlands and Days of Heaven. His take on the Pocahontas story, The New World, developed his wonder at the natural world and his questioning of divine presence. The Tree of Life proved his boldest film yet, with the most daring chronological shift since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Whythe dinosaurs? That film confounded or baffled many. To the Wonder follows the path Tree laid down.
The tall buildings in which Sean Penn’s character remembered his childhood in The Tree of Life marked Malick’s first foray into a contemporary setting. To the Wonder shares that film’s fluid camerawork, with few static shots, but Malick updates the suburban and household settings of his 1950s piece to the 21st century. Again working with DOP Emmanuel Lubezki, he lights kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms so as to make them enchanting. Their hair blowing in the breeze, Malick’s female characters dance and run in wheat fields bathed in sunlight; now they also dance in supermarkets, where Tatiana, Marina’s daughter, exclaims, ‘Everything is beautiful.”’ Images of trees and running water that recur throughout his work feature in To the Wonder, though perhaps less prominently than in The Tree of Life.
Though his style and determination to work on his own terms distinguish Malick as perhaps the ultimate auteur, he employs a remarkably collaborative approach to film-making. Along with Lubezki and regular production designer Jack Fisk, he works with five credited editors. Daniel Lanois contributed to the sound design, and Hanan Townshend, whose music featured in The Tree of Life, contributes original tracks that blend in seamlessly with music by the likes of Henryk Górecki and Arvo Pärt.
Actors contribute through improvisation, working without a script. They perform dramatic situations in vignettes, often wordless, where gesture, facial expressions, glances and touches are more significant. Characters develop plot points in voiceover, but more frequently they ask questions that Malick sees arising from the situations his troupe enact. Lacking the complex flashbacks, time shifts and dream sequences of The Tree of Life, To the Wonder is easier to follow.
Malick shifts his focus within family life fromchildhood and parenthood to relations between man and woman, love and marriage. He provides no inexplicable surprises (no raptors here), but there is evident wit in alluding, for example, to the contemporary world’s spiritual emptiness by having convicts act as witnesses to the couple’s civil marriage in a busy court. Malick explores these themes with questions that echo those asked in The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life: ‘What is the love that loves us?’
Malick deploys his extraordinary visual flair in enlivening the most banal events: clearing dishes, shopping, a family enjoying a day out. Improvisation with actors underpins his search for authenticity. “Stop being so serious,” Marina calls out. Neil plays with lamps in a motel room. The couple engage in flirtatious tomfoolery on a train. Ponderous voiceover detracts from the desired spontaneity, but his approach is naturalistic, showing events that we can easily relate to.
Such intense realism provides the first element of Paul Schrader’s ‘transcendental style’. Schrader identifies disunity between man and his environment that culminates in decisive action as the second part. In To the Wonder, Neil investigates problems with the soil and water table in Oklahoma. Industrial complexes loom in the background, and machines seem to attack the earth. Neil, an easygoing, earthy character, is caught up in an environmental crisis that threatens the community in which he lives. Fr Quintana struggles to reconcile his absolute belief in God with his difficulty in finding evidence of His existence as he deals with the decrepit world inhabited by single mothers, prostitutes and prisoners. Malick’s films are not about resolving such disparities, but transcending them.
Bardem’s troubled priest voices a Christian/Catholic perspective less obvious in Malick’s previous works, which can be read as more general metaphysical ruminations. Fr Quintana quotes from the Lorica of St Patrick. He believes God is present everywhere but struggles to see him. He wonders where Christ leads him and calls on Christ to teach him how to see. Such pleas resemble Pocahontas’ calling on Mother, Private Witt’s belief in the beautiful light and ‘all things shining’, and young Jack’s asking to see what He sees. Malick posits the priest’s need for reassurance from God with Marina’s search for love. ‘If you love me,’ she says in thevoiceover, speaking of Neil, ‘there’s nothing else I need.’ Is Malick suggesting that the love for and of another human being and thepriestly love of god reflect aspects of the same divine presence? Who knows?
Malick’s films, though incredibly beautiful, can leave contemporary audiences bewildered and dissatisfied. More audience members walked out of a screening of The Tree of Life than any other film I’ve seen. Filmgoers unfamiliar with Malick’s work probably expected something quite different from a film starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. That Malick’s films exist in commercial cinema is perhaps awonder. An admirable companion piece, To the Wonder should appeal to those who liked his earlier films.
12A (see IFCO website for details) 112mins To the Wonder is released on 22nd February 2013
DIR/ WRI: Neil Marshall • PRO: Christian Colson, Robert Jones • DOP: Sam McCurdy • ED: Chris Gill • DES: Simon Bowles • CAST: Michael Fassbender Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Noel Clarke, David Morrissey
I suppose you have to give Centurion’s director Neil Marshall his due – after directing the triple Ds of Doomsday, The Descent and Dog Soldiers, I’m fairly sure he could be Hollywood’s lap dog at this stage and putting his talents to misuse on unnecessary, hollow remakes of horror films. But instead he continues to plough his trade in England. His latest film may not be up to his previous work, but it is mildly entertaining and if this spring sunshine is too much for you, there are worse reasons than this to seek refuge in the cinema.
Centurion is his stab at the sword and sandals genre, telling the story of the alleged mysterious disappearance of the Ninth Roman Legion in Britain in 117 AD. For mysterious, read brutally slaughtered by the Picts – a confederation of Celtic tribes.
Basically, a ridiculous plot is put in place to serve the purpose of a small band of Romans being forced on the run and being picked off (is there a pun possible here?) one-by-one as they are pursued by the painted warriors defying the Roman Empire.
The film chugs along at a frantic pace as the funny-named Roman protagonists, led by Quintus Dias, (spoiler alert!) run and fight, and run and fight…and hide…and then run and fight. Marshall has no intention of exploring any depth of character and motivation here, as simple premises are quickly interjected and disposed off in order to set up the action. As a result it’s pretty hard to actually give a damn what happens to this gang of Romans on the run. Truth be told, I spent the entire film cheering for the Picts. You’ve gotta love them.
Yet in its simplicity there are things to like about the film. The battle choreography is excellent and edited skilfully to provide the necessary thrills. The gore quotient is high and of good quality – there were a lot of ‘eyuch’-type sounds coming from those watching. The production design is top notch and the Scottish landscape is used to great effect; shot in drained steely colours with sweeping camera movements capturing the terrain with a keen eye.
The performances are irrelevant and the dialogue ludicrous. Most of the talent on offer here is wasted. The hardest part of the actors’ performances was probably to deliver their lines without falling about the place laughing. (‘Did nobody tell them never to f**k with the Romans’).
Though visually engaging, Centurion never strays from the template of survival set down in The Descent and Dog Soldiers, With its limp storytelling, superficial characters and repetitive structure, Centurion stubbornly refuses to veer from its basic narrative framework of survival and never extends beyond its one-trick pony of a game of ‘kill-chase’.
Rated 15A (seeIFCO website for details)
Centurion is released on 23 April 2010
DIR: Marc Forster • WRI: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade • PRO: Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli • DOP: Roberto Schaefer • ED: Matt Chesse, Richard Pearson • DES: Dennis Gassner • CAST: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, Jesper Christensen
Action, beautiful women, exotic locations and evil opponents all come together in the latest Bond movie that is a follow on to Casino Royale. In that movie, fans will remember, Bond’s love interest Vesper drowned in a cage in Venice. There was clearly some unfinished business left when James shot the baddie Mr White in the leg at the end of the movie. And no one had paid for the death of his beloved Vesper…
Quantum of Solace explains why she died and what Bond (Daniel Craig) is going to do about it. I watched Casino Royale again on video before going to see the film to get into the Bond mood. I think it helped because there is a distinct carry over: Mr White (Jesper Christensen) and Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) are again central characters.
And what about this title Quantum of Solace? What does it mean? I got out the dictionary.
For ‘quantum’ there are three choices:
‘A required quantity or amount, especially an amount of money paid in recompense’. Could this be a possibility? No. James wanted something specific but not money.
‘A portion or allotment’. No, definitely not. James never shared.
‘The smallest discrete quantity of a physical property such as electromagnetic radiation or angular momentum’. Most definitely not. Too small!
Then ‘Solace’ has two alternatives:
‘Comfort at a time of sadness, grief, or disappointment’. This is a definite possibility.
‘Somebody or something that provides comfort at a time of sadness, grief, or disappointment’. Definitely. James is not left alone to his grief.
James himself is very clear. He wants a little something. He wants REVENGE. Nothing less than the demise of the person or persons responsible for Vesper’s death in Venice, is what James requires. This is the quantum of solace that James seeks.
The film moves from one location to the next and excitement follows each time. Cars, bikes, boats and plane chases result. Bolivia looks fantastic and the wonders of Siena, Lake Garda, Austria and Haiti add to the colour and spectacle. It is a satisfying movie and is a delight to the eye. Lake Garda’s mountains and tunnels are ideal for the expected car chases in luxury high performance cars. The desert of Bolivia is breathtaking and the people in their national dress are very colourful and wonderfully photographed. Even the hotels are spectacular. Why should James Bond stay under cover in a cheap hotel when he can luxuriate in the best?
Dame Judy Dench as M provides the link between the exotic locations and even gets out of the office herself, quite unusual for the head of MI6 who traditionally stayed in the office, protected by Miss Moneypenny.
And alas, there is no Miss Moneypenny this time and there is also a distinct lack of gimmicky gadgets. James has the ability to make ordinary equipment do extraordinary things although MI6 (Universal Exports) appears to have updated its IT equipment, which is displayed to the full.
Although the key evil opponent Le Chiffre was killed in Casino Royale, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) is an able, evil and creepy-looking replacement. The premier lady in the story, Camille (Olga Kurylenko) is a South American with a grudge and measures up to all that is expected of a Bond lady.
This is the second of four movies that Daniel Craig has been contracted to make and he looks wonderfully fit and healthy as usual, making a believable Bond and displaying physical agility and acrobatics almost akin to TheMatrix with plenty of fight scenes, mayhem and death to keep the escapist viewers’ adrenalin flowing.
Did I enjoy it? Yes. Will I go again? Yes. There was a lot to see but the film moved so fast I got the impression that I needed to see it again, and perhaps view parts in slow motion to follow the action. Who got shot? Who shot whom? Yes, a very enjoyable evening.