Review: Hail Caeser

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DIR/WRI: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen • PRO: Tim Bevan, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Eric Fellner • DOP: Roger Deakins • ED: Dylan Tichenor • DES: Jess Gonchor • MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton

To utilise a recurring phrase from Hail Caesar the Coens Brothers always make prestige pictures. Though increasingly their individual filmic output seems to be instantly and strictly branded by critics as either serious fare or lighter fluff. Based on their own terse thoughts in interviews, it’s hardly a distinction the brothers make themselves. And yet here we are again, ostensibly and somehow undeniably at the lighter end of the sliding scale of seriousness.

Cards on table, I am avid fan battling to hold onto impartiality and discernment. Still, I can’t fight the feeling that the serious pictures are being a tad over-praised these days and the lighter pictures unnecessarily lambasted. Early word and trailers for Hail Caesar! were highly promising. The studio setting. The welcome presence of Josh Brolin in a lead role. Clooney looking to poke fun at acting hubris. What’s not to love? And since when have the Coens not wrangled tension, humour and even emotion out of a kidnap plot?

The elements are all present and correct. And yet something at the heart of the film fails to fire, leaving the entertainment soufflé stubbornly refusing to rise. Certainly, there are moments of quality and levity that hit the mark but they are scattered throughout the film like an bony archipelago where a spine should be. Hail Caesar! is brightly shot and endearingly performed by a terrific ensemble cast but crucially and fatally, it’s never exactly fun or funny.

It’s a danger for any reviewer to start reviewing the film Hail Caesar! with what could or should have been but I contend that the promotional materials promised one film while delivering another. Not an uncommon occurrence but insightful since the most effective trailers for this film pitched it as a thriller. And surely that was the connective tissue to ease an audience through this maze of murky plot and uneven tone. The central character Eddie Mannix (Brolin) is a Hollywood studio fixer and initially seems to be occupying a recognisably hard-boiled world. Everyone else is literally acting in a different movie – which may be a very meta-joke as Eddie flitters from film set to film set trying to quell problems – but it’s still an unsolved flaw at the heart of Hail Caesar! Summed up by the kidnapping of one of the studio’s biggest stars Baird Whitlock (Clooney) being drained of any tension by the audience being privy to both sides of the abduction from the get-go.

Again, the Coens are proved masters of making even this scenario sing but here it’s off-key. Thrillers need tension and so occasionally do comedies. Moments of potential interest like studio extras being braced for information are referenced in passing but not depicted – who doesn’t want to see that scene? And yet the Coens are clearly more enthralled with evoking this era on soundstages onto which Mannix walks to impotently watch entire musical numbers of impressive scale but scant narrative interest. In The Big Lebowski, the Dude’s drug fevered dreams still advanced the story and deepened character. As impressive as Channing Tatum’s dance sequence is, beyond the nimble hoofing, it has nothing going on under the hood.

Even by Saturday night multiplex standards, the whole thing starts to feel frightfully slight. Amiable performances alone aren’t enough. Ralph Fiennes returns to mining his recently discovered comedy chops and newcomer Alden Ehrenreich has fun as a drawling cowpoke pushed into a period drama but it’s all a little dramatically inert. Even the solace of great dialogue is mainly absent but of course, there is the occasional golden line.

Overall, one has to be careful and acknowledge historical precedent. The Coens’ body of work contains several films that have grown in affection and stature as the years pass. Personally, Burn After Reading and Intolerable Cruelty have risen off the floor and proved to have an afterlife. I fervently hope Hail Caesar! grows in prestige as the years go by. Hell, that would be swell.

James Phelan

12A (See IFCO for details)
105 minutes

Hail Caesar! is released 4th March 2016

Hail Caesar!  – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

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DIR/WRI: Joss Whedon • PRO: Kevin Feige  • DOP: Ben Davis • ED: Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Lassek • MUS: Danny Elfman, Brian Tyler • CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo

 

The first Avengers movie was always going to be a wonderful novelty geek fest, Hulk, Cap, Stark, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow and not to mention SHIELD getting together to kick some ass. It also had some good humor, pathos action, scenes that did not feel like they had been thrown into a Michael Bay blender. With those elements at its fore it is not surprising that it went on to be one of the most successful films of all time. Unfortunately, you can only do that trick once, the novelty is gone and the buzz of a Matrix style shot of the Avengers leaping through the air together to face the enemy does not have the same thrill as it did the first time.

 

And so it goes. The Second Avengers film is finally upon us and it looks likely to earn as much money as its predecessor. The plot has Tony Stark trying to reactivate an AI defense project to protect the Earth. But of course all he manages to do is kick-start the plot when instead he accidentally creates the demented Ultron, cheekily voiced by James Spader. Soon destruction of the Earth is on the agenda, which of course is not much of a surprise.

 

I really wanted to love this film but instead liking it is all I managed to do. There is sterling work on display and the best CGI Hulk thus far. The standout fight sequence was between Iron Man and Hulk but what’s with all the visual allusions to 9/11 or did I imagine it?

 

All in all this felt like the most expensive television episode I’ve ever seen, it even begins as if it were the continuation of an Avengers film we never saw. Its over-burdened roster of characters leaves no breath for the subplots presented and there is only so much superhero action/destruction I can take in a 141-minute running time. That said there are plenty out there that will love it.

Paul Farren

12A (See IFCO for details)
141 minutes

Avengers – Age of Ultron is released 24th April 2015

Avengers – Age of Ultron – Official Website

 

 

 

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Lucy

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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: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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DIR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo • WRI: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Jeffrey Ford • MUS: Henry Jackman • DES: Peter Wenham • CAST: Robert Redford, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson

Steve Rogers – super soldier, war hero and man-out-of-time – is back in the world after a stint as a patriotic popsicle beneath Arctic ice. Captain America’s second solo outing since the so-so WWII epic that was 2011’s The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier sees Cap trading in his wartime crusade against Nazi pseudo-science outfit HYDRA for more cloak-and-dagger espionage under SHIELD. When the intelligence agency closes ranks after a masked super-soldier threatens even their highest levels, Rogers is forced into the fray against an unknown enemy who will ultimately lead him to question everything – particularly his place in a world that has more use for him as a weapon than a symbol.

It’s not exactly a new premise, seeing the quintessential poster boy for the Good Ol’ Days thrown into the morally ambiguous snarl of sleeper agents and sexy sexy spy tactics, but why should it be? The Avengers proved that our summer superhero flicks, smartly-scripted with a dash of character, can follow the commercial course without devolving into a by-the-numbers blockbuster, and The Winter Soldier certainly aims to carry that particular torch.

On the whole, what follows the much-lauded ten minute-preview released online proves stronger than even the ethereal and undefined “buzz” might suggest, the first hour or so delivering a story that is by turns entertaining and, dare I say, engrossing.

Dipping a booted toe into some genres and gleefully cannonballing into others, Cap 2 is a surprisingly subtle blend of nostalgic espionage and pulse-pounding action, all wrapped up under the stars and stripes of a superhero film. The fight sequences oscillate between balletic and genuinely bone-shuddering, rarely feeling overwrought thanks in no small part to a script that is well-paced and self-aware without bordering on trite.

Characterization is key to taking us through the hammier blockbuster aspects – every instance of Cap’s shield caroming off of another henchman’s head without somehow reducing it to patriotically-branded pulp is balanced by a quieter moment, such as Rogers sitting by the bedside of his now-aged love interest from the first film, or lingering in the doorway of a veteran rehabilitation meeting.

Johannson is again on form as the mercurial Black Widow, a glib foil to Evan’s po-faced Captain. Indeed, the leading man himself gets a chance to stretch actorly muscles typically left uncurled in films such as this, and it’s a genuine treat to watch him bring a quiet charisma to the ultimate blank slate that is Steve Rogers, a man with no life outside of his uniform.

However, just as those tracking shots ease their way down Black Widow’s catsuit as she strikes a pose after some particularly intense leg-grappling, I’m sure you sense a “but” on the way.

Thematically, the film follows the heightened stakes of Whedon’s alien attack on New York by attempting to ground Cap in some approximation of the real, the plot making vague gestures towards institutional paranoia and our hero’s waning faith in the powers-that-be. The hot-button topic of a secure state and the taxes it levies on personal freedom certainly forms the crux of the latter half of the film, but by this point a moment late in the second act has cast a new light upon events that ultimately dilutes all that went before and everything to follow.

In the interest of remaining as brief and spoiler-free as possible, suffice it to say that the core conflict of this film is the tension between a straight-laced soldier without a cause and the shady masters only to happy to provide him with one, so long as no questions are asked. In the grand tradition of the espionage thrillers it tips its hat to, The Winter Soldier is strongest as a tale about not knowing who the enemy is, of fighting in a brave new world of moral ambiguity where the word “evil” doesn’t hold the same currency it used to. The very last thing we needed was a flickering black-and-white montage narrated with a smug German (sorry, Swiss) accent whose sole purpose was to solidify this murky morality into solid black and white in time for our final battle, and yet that’s exactly what we got.

This descent at the end of the second act ultimately hamstrings the third, plonking us firmly back into a narrative of hero vs. villain and rendering all of the tropes that earlier seemed playful into reductive parodies of themselves. From here the plot aims for home along the path of least resistance – which, conveniently, intersects with that of most exploding aircraft, least concern for collateral human fatality and spends a great deal of time detouring around Scarlett Johansson’s hips.

Ultimately, the chink in The Winter Soldier’s armour is the same that plagued Snyder’s Man of Steel. Heart, humour, fantastic visual action and a solid villain – the bones of an excellent film were there and could likely still be excavated from an overwrought third act. Unlike MoS, Captain America: The Winter Soldier still makes it out near-intact as two-thirds of an excellent film, and certainly sets up some daring knock-on effects for the rest of Marvel’s ominously-titled “Phase 2”. However, while certainly the beefed-up super-soldier to its weak-chinned predecessor, The Winter Soldier ultimately pulls its punches and I can’t help but wonder at the Cap that could have been.

 

Ruairí Moore

12A (See IFCO for details)
135 mins

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released on 26th March 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier– Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Under the Skin

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DIR: Jonathan Glazer • WRI: Walter Campbell • PRO: Nick Wechsler, James Wilson • DOP: Daniel Landin • ED: Paul Watts • MUS: Mica Levi • DES: Chris Oddy • CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Jessica Mance

 

The opening shots of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin depict a human eyeball under construction by an alien machine constantly lingering just out of view. We know the machine is of alien-origin on account of subtle product-design touches: the glaring white nothing that makes up the background; the sterile shine glimmering from the artificial tissue bringing one to mind of Chris Cunningham’s groundbreaking, unsettling video for Bjork’s ‘All is Full of Love’. As the eyeball is completed the frame begins a gut-wrenchingly slow zoom towards the artificial iris, the would-be window into the human soul, but under the circumstances and accompanied by Mica Levi’s pulsing, otherworldly score the eyeball seems to glare back in an almost Orwellian fashion, thus setting the tone appropriately for this hypnotising observation piece.

Under the Skin tells the story of an alien seductress, prowling the streets of modern-day Glasgow seeking out vulnerable, lonely young men with a view to harvesting them for an unseen, unaddressed alien corporation for whom she presumably works. Unlike many lesser directors would have in his shoes, Jonathon Glazer keeps strictly with the alien’s perspective, a decision which seems initially crude and even potentially sadistic and yet as the story (or lack thereof) evolves one cannot help but recognize a series of uncomfortable tropes in human behaviour that for better or worse might define us as a species, under the gaze of an alien fly-on-the-wall.

Any male actor appearing here is, generally speaking, fulfilling a thematic bit-part. Never lasting longer than ten minutes, each of her male prey featured fill in a blank spot on Glazer’s imagined collage of human nature. This is Scarlett Johansson’s show to the final frame. Having spent the last few years ticking hot-girl boxes in largely meaningless blockbuster fare it would have been easy to forget what a fine actress she is when the material is right, and here the role of menacing alien succubus presents a character as suited to her as Jake La Motta was to De Niro. It is her deathly calm demeanour and factory-constructed flirtation that holds the centre of the film. It is her projected mood that allows the film to function as a mood piece. In everything from the still, observant frame through to the experimental score and the slick, subtle special effects this film stares the viewer down and without much traditional narrative progression takes one on a gripping, thought-provoking journey and none of this would be possible without Scarlett Johansson.

The sparse arrangement of the film’s action allows us space to ponder the all important conundrum of perspective and in doing so to realise that the whole affair is a series of Dante-style abysses glaring back at us from the theatre screen. Quite often the static frames and emotional gulf between the alien and the audience emanate a feeling of surveillance upon the footage. Often our only means of connecting to the action are through the human victims; lonely males on the fringes of Scottish urban and rural landscape, shot here with a view to depicting their jagged harshness more so than their tourist-appeal. I harbour a general detest for stories which raise achingly difficult questions in their duration and elect to deem themselves able to answer in the same breath. Here, respectfully, Glazer raises more questions about male reactions to sexualised femininity than anyone could be entirely comfortable answering and his film is more potent in its message for this.

His third film in, Jonathan Glazer has crafted a film more dense, thought-provoking, beautiful and disturbing than either of the other two films under his belt, even if it is nowhere near so riotously entertaining as 2000’s Sexy Beast. Regardless of the time he has taken to produce three features in total, he has utterly failed to produce anything uninteresting.

Donnchadh Tiernan

15A (See IFCO for details)
108 mins

Under the Skin is released on 14th March 2014

Under the Skin – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Her

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DIR/WRI: Spike Jonze  PRO: Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay   DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema ED: Jeff Buchanan, Eric Zumbrunnen   MUS: Owen Pallett   DES: K.K. Barrett   CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara

Theodore (Phoenix) decides to alleviate the perpetual loneliness he’s felt since his wife (Mara) left him by purchasing one of the new-fangled, fully sentient operating systems that exist in The Future. Each operating system is personalised to your needs so Theodore’s manifests as Samantha (Johansson); a funny, brash but sensitive female companion who quickly becomes a valuable presence in his life. As their relationship develops, Theodore begins to question the boundaries of just what we currently understand a relationship to be. Meanwhile Samantha begins to evolve too and what looks like a very typically-structured love-story about relationships morphs into a quirky drama about life, love and the existential quandaries of creating a constantly evolving, sentient artificial intelligence that has to deal with the tangled mess of human emotion that comes with love.

Her is a fascinating film to experience, partially for the contrast it constantly confronts you with. On the one hand it is a very conventionally told love story but the actual characters involved in the story are what make it stand out. You’ll constantly catch yourself having to be reminded that you’re just watching Joaquin Phoenix talking to a disembodied voice, so convincing is the situation the film presents. The key to that success is two-fold. Firstly, the word-building is seamless. This is unquestionably one of the most eerily believable depictions of the near-future we’ve seen in recent years. There are no flying cars, just neater smartphones with more impressive screens and the ubiquitous presence of a Bluetooth-style headset.

The film also trusts its audience in terms of how this world is presented. It never patronises the viewer with some bland audience-surrogate character that has to have everything explained to them. Rather the film simply presents its world as is and trusts you’ll pick it up as you go. It helps that the dialogue and writing in general are very natural; it never feels exposition-y. There’s also far more humour than you might expect, this is a genuinely laugh-out-loud funny film. Be it the film’s surprisingly well observed commentary on videogames, the humour that innately arises from the nature of the leads’ relationship or just good old fashioned, well-timed swearing; Her never takes itself too seriously which helps add weight to the more grounded and sombre moments.

As important as the world-building is, Jonze’s direction is the real triumph. The poster for this film is far more indicative of the viewing experience than you might think. It’s a simple close-up of Phoenix’s face and that is in essence most of the film. A lesser director might have featured some kind of animated woman or hologram (or a blinking red light if they were feeling particularly ‘clever’) to visualise Samantha but Jonze just elects not to ‘show’ her. Since a shot-reverse-shot is out of the question, the camera simply stays on Phoenix’s face throughout the couple’s conversations and it works far better than it should. You may feel by the end of the film that you’ve seen Joaquin Phoenix’s face from every possible angle but it really is to Jonze’s credit that he can shoot that in such a way that it’s constantly interesting to watch. It’s also a fiendishly clever work-around to compensate for the inability to show Samantha’s reactions. An actor of Phoenix’s talent and ability to disappear into a role is an ideal choice to carry an entire film such as this with his face alone.

It’s quite difficult to find much wrong with Her. To an extent the story loses momentum toward the conclusion and slightly contrives an endpoint to Samantha’s arc in a manner that feels like it was done out of a sense of requirement to the genre more than anything else. Throughout even this portion of the film though, the dynamic between the leads remains engaging and Phoenix gets to show off even further. Similarly the various facets of this vision of the future continue to be interesting to see and learn more about.

In any other year (read: any year where 12 Years a Slave wasn’t a contender), this would be a worthy film to win ‘Best Picture’ and it’s a film that definitely embraces the true spirit of sci-fi. It never comments on the society it’s created, it merely details and explores it and lets the audience come to its own conclusions. The world is believable, the characters are well-rounded and the performances (especially Phoenix and Adams) are effortless and compelling to watch. Her is much more than a simple love story yet it’s also, at its core, a thorough exploration of a relationship that just happens to be a little unconventional.

Whether your interest is comedy, drama or sci-fi, this film caters impressively well to all. Besides, Arcade Fire provides most of the music, what more could you want in a film?


Richard Drumm

15A (See IFCO for details)
125  mins

Her is released on 14th February 2014

Her – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Don Jon

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DIR/WRI: Joseph Gordon-Levitt  PRO: Ram Bergman   DOP: Thomas Kloss   ED: Lauren Zuckerman   MUS: Nathan Johnson DES: Meghan C. Rogers CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has enjoyed a great reputation as one of the most respected actors of this generation after his performances in films such as Brick, 50/50 and Inception. Now, one of American cinema’s brightest and most talented young faces has made the big transition to writing and directing. Don Jon, which he also stars in, is in fact his feature film directorial debut. But is that really what the draw of the film is? Let’s be honest, the thing that is most likely to attract people’s attentions is the fact that it is built around the concept of pornography and fits perfectly among the many other works representing American cinema’s childish fixation with sexual taboos. Unfortunately, there is no exception here. Childishness is once again the order of the day.

This is the story of a man whose friends call him Don Jon. He has earned his name through his reputation as a heartbreaker. Every night he goes out to a club, he brings a girl back to his flat. Yet, no matter how much sex he has in the course of a week, he still cannot get over the fact that he simply finds pornography better than the real thing. In fact, his inability to enjoy real sexual encounters leads him to rush to the computer after each session to look for a clip that will really be able to get him off.

In its best moments, Don Jon resembles the earlier works of Martin Scorsese. This is not only because its stints at black comedy seem to be on the same humorous wavelength as The King of Comedy, but also because of its representation of religion as a source of purifying source of penance and guilt. This is something Scorsese has always been concerned with, and shows prominently in the character of Jon who confesses his sin every week and recites his prayers as he works out.

We could also draw parallels between Jon and Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver or a mixture of Charlie and Johnny Boy from Mean Streets, yet more than anyone else he seems to resemble this generation’s version of Tony Manero. He is a heartbreaker after all, and while he does not dance, he seems to have an incredible magnetic charm that he uses to easily attract the opposite sex. However, much like Saturday Night Fever’s central figure, Jon has found his match with a girl who apparently loves to drive him crazy. Barbara becomes his ultimate object of desire. Scarlett Johansson, featured here in one of her most fun roles, plays this devilish temptress. Her irresistible beauty fits the femme fatale description perfectly and her lively fun performance is among the best things in the film.

The film does have its fair share of one-liners and funny gags. What it simply lacks is a rewarding depth of any kind. The film not only lacks the tension of the aforementioned films by Scorsese and the painful honesty of Shame by Steve McQueen, but even the tenderness of a romantic comedy like The 40 Year Old Virgin. On top of that, it is never quite certain whether the lead character’s obsession with porn is that unhealthy – neither does he ever really feel like he is spiritually troubled by it. His confessions are as casual as routine check-ups to the doctor.

Even the characters seem to be all too detached from reality. It’s tiring to see yet another film that chooses to ignore the times’ financial condition, and it is all too easy to once again overlook the fact that there is no way Jon can afford to live an easy life in his own apartment apparently working as a bartender and studying in college. Even Esther, a troubled but positive older woman who attends the same course as Jon and for some unknown reason wants to become his friend, brings little believable emotional depth to the table despite Julianne Moore’s good-natured performance. Incidentally, Moore is also among the only main actors in the film who is not forcing an accent…

Don Jon is quite simply a well-packaged comedy, which predictably develops into a conventionally structured film. It is a cartoonish representation of reality, perhaps as genuine as the porn clips the lead character adores. Even the style of the film is over zealous and its uses of flash frames and slow motion are part of a tried and tested suit that has been worn repeatedly. The screenplay is not very impressive either. Its conclusions are bigoted and its characters nothing short of stereotypical. Of course, there is room to grow, and even Don Jon has interesting elements that show Gordon-Levitt has potential talent behind the camera. Perhaps all he has to be is more daring rather than simply provocative.

Matt Micucci

18  (See IFCO for details)

90 mins

Don Jon is released on 15th November 2013

 

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A Second Look at ‘Hitchcock’

DIR: Sacha Gervasi • WRI: John J. McLaughlin • PRO: Alan Barnette, Joe Medjuck, Tom Pollock , Ivan Reitman, Tom Thayer • DOP: Jeff Cronenweth • ED: Pamela Martin • DES: Judy Becker • CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Michael Wincott, Jessica Alba, James D’Arcy

 

One of cinema’s most notorious, beloved and familiar profiles – literally and figuratively speaking – Alfred Hitchcock has quite the lengthy filmography. It’s in the latter years where this movie picks up, right after his success with North by Northwest. Hitchcock is lovingly based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.

 

The titular figure, played through a palette of prosthetics by Antony Hopkins, is now sixty and anxiously in search of his next project. However when Hitchcock’s inspiration comes in the form of a particularly gruesome book based on Ed Gein, the media and film industry begin to question his competence. Surprisingly enough in those conservative times, a film based on a transvestite murderer who collected human remains for fun, was not a hit with the Studio heads – so Alfred decides to go it alone and fund the film himself.

 

For a film about the 1960 classic, the majority of the plot focuses not on Psycho’s set, but on on the tumultuous relationship between the Hitchcock himself and his long-suffering wife. Alma (Helen Mirren), in between curbing her husband’s indulgent consumption habits, working her magic on the set of Psycho and her very extensive gardening, starts working on her own side project with the dashing writer, Whitfield. Alfred is not happy.

 

The director of the comically tragic Anvil Rockumentary (and baby-daddy to Geri Halliwell), Sacha Gervasi is not the obvious choice as Hitchcock’s director but he certainly does a decent job. The film’s elements all gel quite nicely, amongst the most noticeable being the plot pacing; the glamorous production design which captures that fab 50s style; and not to mention a great soundtrack from Danny Elfman – who you might remember from such musical main title theme’s as The Simpsons.

 

The performances from the long list of A-list actresses do not disappoint. Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette and Jessica Biel all act up a storm; yet they are taught a thing or two by the veteran and still stunning, Helen Mirren. Hopkins, brings a boyish, vulnerable charm to the character of Alfred, however this is mostly down to his voice acting. Although it looked the part, it was quite hard to decipher any facial expressions under that dense mask.

 

Those expecting gritty dramatic realism will be bitterly disappointed, as this film sports a subtle hint of a syrupy sweetness amidst all the drama. While there’s a strong air of romanticism about the industry, mixed with one or two sneaky clichés, absolutely none of which stop Hitchcock from being an enjoyable, fun, suspenseful film.

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