Review: In the Heart of the Sea

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ellen Murray

12A
121 minutes (See IFCO for details)

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

In the Heart of the Sea – Official Website

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Rush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stacy Grouden 

 15A (See IFCO for details)

122 mins
Rush is released on 13th September 2013

Rush – Official Website

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The Dilemma

The Dilemma

DIR: Ron Howard • WRI: Allan Loeb • PRO: Brian Grazer, Vince Vaughn • DOP: Salvatore Totino • ED: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill• DES: Daniel B. Clancy • CAST: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly
Vince Vaughan looks wrecked. It’s sad watching him in The Dilemma dragging his bloated corpse-like body around, his huffing, breathless delivery killing his lines – not that they don’t deserve it. The Dilemma has caused a bit of a stir in the States over its use of the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative. True to the form of these things, the speech where the word is used is about the only decent thing in this collection of tired routines and irritating characters.

Ronny (Vaughan) and Nick (Kevin James) are best friends. They build engines together and have an important meeting with General Motors in a few days. So when Ronny sees Nick’s wife (Winona Ryder) kissing another man (Channing Tatum) he can’t decide whether to tell him or not. An episode of Fraiser could – and did – deal with the same idea funnier, more honestly and in a quarter of the running time. But this doesn’t even have enough material for a 25-minute TV episode. As plot complications and comedy characters are thrown into the mix you get a sense of the desperation of filmmakers who found that what they had (standard comedy fallbacks like the inappropriate speech to disapproving parents or slapstick while spying on cheating couple) wasn’t enough fill up the running time. But when a film is two hours long, as this is, they can’t even have that excuse for putting out dross like this.

At first it seemed like this was going to be yet another comedy with a stubbornly straight male view of relationships, but in fact no one in this film behaves like a real person. Every relationship is contrived and unconvincing, especially the cynical attempt at bromance. Jennifer Connolly plays Ronny’s girlfriend, Beth. She’s intelligent, is friends with Nick and his wife, and Ronny wants to marry her. And yet he never tells her what’s going on. We’re never told why, because the writers clearly don’t know why, except that if he did there wouldn‘t be a movie. This film is a concept without a screenplay. Instead of dialogue the script consists of speeches (mostly extended metaphors about ice-cream or American football) that clearly had the filmmakers splitting their sides, but fall flat on screen. And it follows the worst rule of comedy that states that when one person is talking no amount of interruptions can stop them so everyone else is forced to sit and listen, helplessly, like defendants at a show-trial. I felt much the same.

Geoff McEvoy

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Dilemma
is released on 21st January 2011

The Dilemma Official Website

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Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons

DIR: Ron Howard • WRI: David Koepp, Akiva Goldsman • PRO: John Calley, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard • DOP: Salvatore Totino • ED: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill • DES: Allan Cameron • CAST: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer

Following the 2006 fantastical Church-bashing orgy that was The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard returns with Angels & Demons, similarly adapted from the outrageous imaginings of the mind of one Dan Brown. There was a time when Brown was one of the most controversial figures of the literary world, presenting as he did a hotchpotch of the most seditious conspiracy theories out there in a series of high-octane, and even higher-selling, novels. Brown, presumably still dizzy from the sight of royalty cheques, has yet to produce a follow-up to the aforementioned Da Vinci Code, but fans can keep their appetites whetted with this sequel-that’s-really-a-prequel. Not that chronology is an issue here.

Angels & Demons sees Tom Hanks reprise the role of Robert Langdon, Harvard Professor and Symbologist, with a particular penchant for religious iconology. Drafted in by his nemeses at the Vatican to lend his riddle-solving genius to their latest crisis, Langdon finds himself caught in the middle of the age-old battle between religion and science, or more accurately, the Catholic Church and that fabled band of medieval scientists the Illuminati. With the pope having just passed, the church is about to embark on conclave as it attempts to elect the next Holy Father. However, the Illuminati have other ideas and, having gotten their hands on a potentially lethal canister of anti-matter from the CERN headquarters in Geneva, they plan to bump off all four of the bookie’s favourites for the top job before blowing up Vatican City. Their intent on using anti-matter is symbolic of the struggle itself, representing as it does the ultimate question of existence itself.

More pressing than the question of existence, however, is that of who decided to recast the expired pope’s camerlengo as an orphaned Irish cleric in the shape of Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor)? It is an unfortunately comical turn from McGregor, made all the more baffling by the wide-eyed underling’s Troubles-coloured history. Visually, Angels & Demons is quite stunning, impressively bringing to life both Rome’s majesty and the machinations of the Vatican itself. However, the plot’s one dimensional nature (riddle-solve-riddle-solve) and bizarre climax lack punch, mainly due to its attempt to cram as many ‘Wow, really?’ moments in as possible.

Brown’s talent lay in his ability to catch the great (religiously) unwashed with its guard down and his skilful presentation of intriguing conspiracy theory as fact. His unprecedented success is doing so, however, has let the cat out the bag somewhat. With Hollywood having muscled in on his success, we are left with a mildly entertaining caper that never quite attains credibility.

Shane Kennedy
(See biog here)

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Angels & Demons
is released on 15th May 2009

Angels & Demons – Official Website

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Frost/Nixon

DIR: Ron Howard • WRI: Peter Morgan • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard • DOP: Salvatore Totino • ED: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill • DES: Michael Corenblith • CAST: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Rebecca Hall, Sam Rockwell, Toby Jones, Kevin Bacon

Frost/Nixon is a movie adaptation of an award-winning play, dramatising the events surrounding the most-watched interview in US TV history. The movie characterises contemporary figures, willingly being interviewed about their portrayal as part of the movie’s publicity (David Frost) and modern historic figures who have left indelible marks on political and cultural discourse (Richard Nixon). In being a treatment of one element of a larger-scale scandal and legacy, it is open to being doubly judged, firstly as a piece of entertainment and secondly as an account of a high-profile event.

The movie succeeds on both levels – it is a tightly wound, entertaining movie, with talented actors pedalling their trade. Characters are truly evoked on screen – in a lesser year Frank Langella would be a banker for an Oscar®, let alone a nomination, for his performance as Nixon. Certainly his actions and words become exalted but the standout scenes are those of the interview where what was considered his confession are delivered – quiet, reposed, fatalistic with discomfort. At one point a grimaced face looks to the camera and you need to catch your breath, the portrayal becomes so effective. This is his milkshake scene. Character is king here. Michael Sheen’s role as Frost should not be undervalued either; the man has carved out a niche of pitch-perfect portrayals, never impersonations, of historic figures. His character reflects a naivety and a guile, which ultimately proves key to the building sense of suspense and an oncoming battle.

You could put forward a hypothesis that everyone has some sense of who Richard Nixon was, his name has descended into such infamy – indeed as is remarked in the film, every political scandal of note since then has had the word ‘gate’ tagged on. Think of the countless times a Nixon mask has been worn in a bank heist movie or the parodying references to his sweaty brow and of course Matt Groening’s use of his dismembered head as a character in Futurama purely to continue to poke fun at him. It’s too easy to say the movie humanises him. The point of the exercise is not an exposé – no matter what the hearings prior to the Watergate scandal uncovered, they were a point of political order. The true accountability came with these interviews, a question and answer session beamed into American living rooms. People debate whether the result was truly a confession, or a futile effort at revealing already known details. Maybe the reality of what happened in the negotiations surrounding the interviews would portray a far more cynical set of motives. The movie, however, tells a story of a man conflicted by a desire to account for himself, tempered by material gain and proving his worth as a statesman.

A parallel is created with the travails of Frost and his desire to make an event without truly knowing his material. This is well done but in a way less interesting. An aura of respect and intrigue is effortlessly created around Nixon, almost through misdirection. Some sharp wit, reference to great achievements and depth of character are smartly included in a movie that also manages to be thrilling and suspenseful. Never once is there a sense we are watching an adaptation of a play and the lifelessness that can weigh down such a movie. Whether it is the script, use of mixed locales, the recreation of the era, the fact there is a call for claustrophobia at times or a combination of these elements, the movie is a comfortable watch with no niggling sense of why you are not engaging.

There are ‘robot-season movies’ and there are ‘end-of-year-season movies’, ‘Frost/Nixon’ clearly falls under the latter and may only attract a limited audience. This movie, however, can be watched and enjoyed with only cursory knowledge of the topic. It comes with a guarantee to compel your interest in the era and its people afterwards.

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