Review: Concussion

will-smith-concussion

DIR/WRI: Peter Landesman • PRO: Elizabeth Cantillon, Giannina Facio-Scott, Ridley Scott, Larry Shuman, David Wolthoff • DOP: Salvatore Totino • ED: William Goldenberg • DES: David Crank • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin

 

 

The best way to describe Concussion is well intentioned. Will Smith plays the Nigerian-American physician Dr Bennet Omalu, the man who brought the link between the deaths of several former NFL players and the severe neurological condition ‘chronic traumatic encephalopathy’ (or CTE) to the attention of the world. However, it turns out convincing a billion dollar corporation like the NFL to acknowledge that their product is inherently dangerous to their money-making machines (I mean, players) ain’t a walk in the park.

On paper it sounds like an interesting story, even an important one, and indeed it is. The problem is that this film is dull. Dull, dull, dull.  Director Peter Landesman never succeeds in building the tension or drama to a satisfactory level, leaving the whole experience decisively underwhelming. This, combined with some questionable stylistic choices, means the films message about player’s safety over profit is boiled down to a bland by-the-numbers sports flick.

The strongest element of the film is its actors’ performances. Smith has previously struggled in other films to dump his real-life movie-star persona in favour of letting his character take-over and shine through. Thankfully, here this is not the case. Smith’s turn as Dr Omalu is both thoughtful and three-dimensional. In particular, his accent is convincing from the get go and remains consistent throughout the film. However, at times it is clear that the film is blatantly going out if its way to present Omalu as saint-like as possible, threatening to reduce him to a boring caricature. Luckily the subtleties of Smith’s performance prevent this from happening, but just. Baldwin, Brooks, and Mbatha-Raw are also quite watchable, though the romance subplot between Omalu and Mbatha-Raw’s character is sort of wedged in and could have done with a little bit more time dedicated to it.

Suffice to say that the problems with this film lie entirely within the director’s hands. Visually, the film is nothing interesting. Certain shots seem awkward and at a strange angle, others are too dark to determine exactly what’s happening on screen. The pacing of the film is also slightly off, taking too long to jump into the main plot then racing through the climax. Events stop and start and Landesman crams the slower moments with unnecessary scenes (namely, a car chase involving Omalu’s wife) in an attempt to create tension, but it doesn’t work. One of the more annoying aspects of the film is the musical soundtrack. The more quiet scenes often lose their impact due to the warbling of a nasally, guitar-stroking musician. If you couldn’t make out what emotions the scene unfolding on screen was supposed to stir in you, then no fear! The lyrics playing overhead will tell you exactly how to feel. Needless to say, this becomes tedious and fast.

Overall, the film fails to hit the right notes. The drama and emotion is watered down to a degree that makes it difficult to really care. Even Smith’s solid performance cannot salvage this dullfest, and when someone as charismatic as Will Smith can’t inject energy into a film, you know it’s bad. To give the film some credit, it does care about what it has to say- it just doesn’t say it very well.

Ellen Murray

 12A (See IFCO for details)

 122 minutes

Concussion is released 12th February 2016

Concussion – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Focus

 Focus-Film-Trailer-Will-Smith-e1412937908941-576x341

DIR: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa • WRI: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa • PRO: Denise Di Novi • DOP: Xavier Grobet • ED: Jan Kovac • MUS: Nick Urata • DES: Beth Mickle • CAST: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Adrian Martinez, Gerald McRaney

 

As one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, Will Smith has dominated the box office for over twenty years. Grossing over $6 billion global sales, thanks to action blockbusters such as Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997) and I Am Legend (2007), Smith’s name on the billboard is generally regarded as a sure-fire guarantee to worldwide commercial success. After a four-year hiatus from the screen and a string of subsequent miscalculations, including critical catastrophe After Earth (2013) and a bewildering cameo in Winter’s Tale (2014), Will Smith appears to be in a somewhat acting void, in need of a cinematic masterstroke to regain the dizzying heights of former box office glory.

 

Focus is a romantic crime caper starring Smith as seasoned con artist Nicky Spurgeon. Jess Brennan (Margo Robbie) is the young and beautiful criminal novice who persuades a reluctant Nicky to teach her the tricks of his trade. She joins Nicky’s amoral empire of fraudsters, swindling their way through the obscenely wealthy, until Nicky realises their suppressed romantic feelings are a liability and unceremoniously dumps her. Three years later, as Nicky is about to undertake his riskiest scam, they meet up by chance in Buenos Aires and Nicky soon discovers he may have taught Jess more than he can handle.

 

Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) Focus is a slick and polished fast-paced romp, which oozes sensuality and decadence, drips of glamour and excess and seeps in self-indulgence and extravagance. Underneath its lustrous veneer however, lies a series of convoluted entanglements, an overinflated and well-worn plot and a narrative that remains too faithful to the conventions of its genre, it ends up on the whole, a rather predictable and messy affair. The film throws the kitchen sink of lacklustre sub-plots into the narrative without much consideration for originality or execution and ironically, Focus ultimately becomes a film that is afraid to take risks.

 

Amidst the array of tomfoolery, the bubbling romance between Smith and Robbie has the potential to sedate the film’s hyperactivity and offer a respite from the myriad of capering. Despite the evident on-screen chemistry between the two leads, this romantic element is unbearably teased out and the shenanigans keep coming at such a magnificent velocity, that by the time the romantic narrative has limped towards the final act, any remnants of a love affair has lost its appeal and gloss.

 

Regardless of its gleaming production and costume design, smooth technical style and frisky musical score, Focus is largely seductive because Smith and Robbie are the seducers. It is a testament to Smith’s experience and skill that is he able to maintain a semblance of credibility and finds the correct balance between poise, charisma and boyish vulnerability, adapting to the script’s strained meanderings without descending into farce or caricature.

 

After her memorable breakthrough performance in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), the role of Jess Brennan could be viewed as rather regressive for Margot Robbie. Although she plays the part of the criminal ingénue-turned-accomplished fraudster with exquisite style, the voyeuristic emphasis on her flawless beauty leaves a void in the development of her character and any emotional intelligence she attempts to display is thwarted by the overt emphasis on her physical allure. Devoid of Scorsese’s black comedy to ignite the character, sees Robbie hovering in limbo, neither vindictive enough to be the archetypal femme fatale nor vapid enough to be mere eye candy.

 

Focus is a crime caper that commits to such a formulaic narrative it struggles to breathe new life into the genre and severely fails to mark its own identity. The film is imbued with just enough energy and commitment from Smith and Robbie to keep it above water and although we have seen Smith do funny and charming countless times and Focus far from equals his previous work, his performance has enough respectability to at least see him move in the right direction.

Dee O’Donoghue

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
104 minutes

Focus is released 27th February 2015

 

Focus  – Official Website

 

Share

Cinema Review: After Earth

after_earth_trailer_1

 

DIR: M. Night Shyamalan • WRI: Gary Whitta, M. Night Shyamalan • PRO: James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Caleeb Pinkett, Will Smith • DOP: Peter Suschitzky • ED: Steven Rosenblum • DES: Thomas E. Sanders • Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Isabelle Fuhrman, Sophie Okonedo

The original teaser trailer for After Earth felt like an M. Night Shyamalan movie. In deep space, in the future, super-soldier Will Smith and his would-be hero son Jaden crash land on an unpopulated, savage world. But twist! It’s Earth!

But much like Shyamalan’s last disastrous venture, The Last Airbender, After Earth isn’t one of the director’s traditional twist-based thrillers, rather a sci-fi action adventure film. And once more the director is considerably out of his element.

Based on a story idea by Smith the elder, and written by Shyamalan and Book of Eli writer Gary Whitta, After Earth is a father/son bonding tale set within a clumsily considered (and more clumsily realised) science fiction universe. The whole venture feels like an excuse for Will to show off his son; Shyamalan certainly has no chance to show off anything here.

Set some 1,000 years after Earth is abandoned for environmental reasons, mankind has settled on a sunny, Grand Canyon-esque planet called Nova Prime (‘new one’ – not even the most embarrassing use of Latin this film demonstrates). Ranger Corps general Cypher Raige (Will Smith, overcompensating for how ordinary his real name is) has become the hero of humanity after defeating an alien invasion; in what would probably have been a much more entertaining movie to watch. He has perfected the art of “ghosting”, suppressing all fear so that the alien beasties can’t see him. But the death of his daughter at the claws of one of the creatures has scarred his relationship with his son Kitai (Jaden Smith), who has sort of been blamed for her demise despite being only about six at the time it happened.

Attempting to reconnect, Cypher takes Kitai on a mission with him, but soon enough an asteroid collision leaves them the only survivors of the starship once it crashes down to Earth. With Cypher’s leg broken, and the only working distress beacon in the tail section of the starship some miles away (alternative title: ‘Lost in space’), Kitai must venture into the sort-of-unknown to save the day and earn top-billing on the movie posters.

The lush landscape of Earth is now dotted with plenty of predators and poisonous nasties, mostly mild evolutions of creatures we already have – slightly bigger eagles, slightly bigger cougars, slightly bigger monkeys, slightly bigger leeches, ordinary-sized boars. But, due to science and why-the-hell-not-ery, the temperature plummets to below freezing after nightfall, meaning Kitai must race to reach a series of hot spots – thermal safe zones, assumedly where he can save his game and regenerate in case he is killed in his mission.

In a plot mechanic worryingly borrowed from space Viking movie Outlander, an alien being transported by the ship has also survived, and is after Kitai, who must prove himself a fearless hero like his father. The alien, a feral xenomorph thing that shoots needles, is called an ‘ursa’, from the Latin for ‘bear’, because screw education that’s why. There is nothing remotely bear-ish about these things.

There is almost a decent story in the pre-Earth sequences of this film, although Will Smith’s robotic delivery and 14-year-old Jaden’s slightly awkward performance don’t capture the militant father/struggling son dynamic as well as maybe it appeared behind the scenes. Smith Sr., reduced to Morgan Freeman impressions in Jaden’s ear for much of the film, gives his son as much room as he can to act the star, but the young performer is just not up to carrying a movie – especially with only CGI animals to perform against for much of the time.

The locations are lush but the CGI is poor, and when swarms of computerised monkeys rumble through the ferns it looks almost laughable. The action scenes in general are disastrous, with all but one of them cut short after only a minute – an aerial showdown with an eagle ends almost as soon as it begins.

While the architecture of Nova Prime is briefly interesting, the story leaves it so quickly that we never have a chance to be wowed by the $130m production values. The inside of Cypher’s ship looks like something out of Blake’s 7, all cardboard walls and hangar netting. They were going for a look, clearly, but they forgot to finish it. The one piece of design truly worth commending is in the Ranger Corps’ weaponry – they wield ‘cutlasses’, blade handles with control panels on them allowing the wielder to select the blade of their choosing to shoot out from it. It’s a nice idea, and gets a few brief clever uses; but if you’ll remember the last time a sword was the best thing about a film you were watching The Phantom Menace.

It’s impossible to know what anyone saw in this project. What is the moral? Certainly not environmentalism – mankind has only been gone a millennia and Earth looks gorgeous again! The father/son bond is central but never really pushed, and climaxes on a remarkably awkward joke that suggests not so much an understanding has been reached but that neither man is up to their line of work. Wedged in the middle is the most preposterous re-enactment of Androcles and the Lion you could ever hope to witness. The running theme of overcoming fear allows for a lot of The Secret-meets-FDR nonsense talk from Smith, suggesting fear is something we choose to have, even when watching our sisters get impaled by colossal lizard bug monsters, called bears.

Shyamalan’s failure is most of all not knowing how to control an action sequence, and he seems to have no sense of what audiences want from their thrill rides. Lacking pacing, drama, emotion, action and even a truly unique vision, After Earth is about as big a dud as Hollywood can hope to churn out these days. Not even the combined starpower of Mr. and Mr. Smith can save this one.

 

David Neary

12A (see IFCO website for details)

99 mins
After Earth is released on 7th June 2013

After Earth – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: Men in Black III

 

DIR: Barry Sonnenfeld • WRI: David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson, Michael Soccio • PRO: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes • DOP: Bill Pope • ED: Wayne Wahrman, Don Zimmerman DES: Bo Welch • Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Alice Eve

Men in Black III comes 15 years after the first offering and 10 years after the second. Over time, we have learned our lesson about sequels the hard way, and now assume that anything that comes after the original will suck all of the charm from what we originally fell in love with. Somehow, the Men in Black have timed their return perfectly and proven that, occasionally, sequels can add something special to the original.

For the forgetful: the Men in Black are a secret government agency dedicated to keeping track of aliens on Earth and dealing with any potential threats. They are as conspicuous now as 15 years ago, but when you have many gadgets available to you, one needn’t worry about being questioned. Nostalgia is the ultimate key here as we remember the previous offerings throughout.

Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and his young recruit Agent J (Will Smith) are under the instruction of Agent O (Emma Thompson). It’s important to be up-to-date on the alphabet in this agency and it seems as though our heroes are continuing to do well since we last visited them. Of course, this is the movies, and all good things must come to an end.

The hilarious Jemaine Clement plays an ugly alien named Boris the Animal who has managed to escape from a maximum-security prison on the Moon. Whilst this is inconvenient by anyone’s standards, unfortunately Boris has a major vendetta to settle with Agent K for the small matter of shooting his arm off. He hatches the ingenious plan of going back in time and killing Agent K. When K disappears without a trace, it seems his prodigy is the only one to notice. As J questions his absence he is met with odd looks and the information that K has been dead for years. The only option for J is to travel back in time and rescue his mentor from the alien threat before he is ultimately lost to time.

Josh Brolin expertly plays the young Agent K. So convincing is his performance that the audience would be forgiven for thinking that it is simply Tommy Lee Jones wearing an obscene amount of prosthesis. As soon as Brolin speaks in his effortless Jonesian drawl, we can almost feel the relief director Barry Sonnenfield is said to have felt at his convincing portrayal. His performance is so close to perfection, that it is almost unnerving until we settle into it.

Much has happened since the first Men in Black movie hit our screens. The one noticeable shift in attitude between this and the first movie is that the semi-outsider narrative evident in the aliens then, has been transformed into an insider narrative as the alien threat walks amongst us unnoticed. It may simply be a sign of the times, but it is an important shift in social attitudes and is very effective here. It’s also refreshing to see megastar Will Smith has remained grounded enough in his meteoric rise to Hollywood royalty to effortlessly recreate the often-silly scenes required here.

So whilst it’s easy to remain unenthusiastic about the onslaught of sequels we are subjected to, this third installment of the Men in Black franchise is different. Packed full of ingenious monsters, hilarious comedic moments and excellent performances, Men in Black III is not to be missed.  Men in Black III manage to escape the danger of becoming dated by time and Brolin’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Nostalgia viewing at its finest, offering a surprisingly satisfying emotional payoff for something we weren’t aware we had been missing.

 

Ciara O’Brien

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Men in Black III is released on 25th May 2012

Men in Black III  – Official Website

 

Share

Hancock

Hancock
Hancock

DIR: Peter Berg • WRI: Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan • PRO: Akiva Goldsman, James Lassiter, Michael Mann, Will Smith • DOP: Tobias A. Schliessler • ED: Colby Parker Jr., Paul Rubell • DES: Neil Spisak • CAST: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan

A dysfunctional superhero movie has always been on the cards. However popular a hero is, it is always when their edge is sharpened or when their anti-hero personalities appear that they seem at their most interesting. To date, the output on this front has been a mixed bag, ranging from the mediocre (Mystery Men) to crimes against humanity (My Super Ex-Girlfriend). Iron Man of course and his alcoholic playboy alter-ego, Tony Stark debuted this year setting a new standard, while fans await with bated breath for Wolverine to make a solo run and of course Watchmen.

With Hancock, as well as the dysfunction, there seemed to be a promise of turning superhero conventions on their head. In needing neither to satisfy a fan base nor concern itself with loyalty to any back catalogue of stories there was potential to mould an intelligent and, more importantly, an entertaining summer blockbuster. With adult themes, sharp humour and characters being the main attraction, it looked as though brave steps had been taken in having the admittedly spectacular special effects play second fiddle to the story. So too the long list of credible directors attached to the project at various stages. The talent that did eventually line out suggested there was substance behind the premise: Will Smith, who has the Midas touch when it comes to the material he chooses, Charlize Theron, normally considered a serious actress who would hardly be slumming it in a brain-dead movie and director Peter Berg, while not having a solid track record, last stood behind the lens for the underrated The Kingdom.

Things begin positively and indeed for a chunk of the running time the movie delivers. Smith is on top form playing a recluse burdened with needing to save the citizens of LA from crime – a group becoming increasingly unappreciative of his efforts as he turns up drunk to save the day and inevitably causes more carnage than that he was trying to prevent. His attitude towards people is belligerent at best, caught in a cycle of frustrations of his own creation. An encounter with Jason Bateman’s PR agent sets the superhero on the road to reform and had this been the sole progression of the movie it could have been a triumph. This is the movie’s high point with some genuinely sparkling humour inter-cut with quieter moments from an excellent Smith, a real character at the centre of the story and all indications are a story of substance might be bubbling beneath the surface.

It is fair to say, however, that the fate of the film is sealed with a kiss. A revelation turns the film on its head, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, undermining everything achieved to that point. The humour and fun in the film is truly truncated for the audience and most certainly the players. Bewilderment is the best description of how to react to the second half of the movie – the writers seem to lose the courage to continue with the enterprise. What seemed new and engaging rapidly develops symptoms of the failings of other such movies. Every recognisable superhero from Superman to Spiderman and the rebooted Batman franchise have followed the standard routine of an exciting introduction to the lore of the hero before tagging on a weak villain plot with varying degrees of success. It becomes apparent that Hancock has followed suit and introduced us to an exciting character before letting the movie unravel under the weight of an extremely ill-judged twist.

The audience restlessly watches as the story turns mythological and gets bogged down in senseless detail that does not sit anyway well thematically. There are illogical character developments – Smith and Theron both loose the gusto in their performances and Bateman, who seems to have some Sisyphean-type commitment to playing sarcastic everymen, feels out of place for the remainder of the film, having been integral to its earlier charm. A hastily cobbled together conclusion hardly matters as the film has languished so badly, failing to deliver on any potential. The insights, wit and playing with superhero standards could have framed a smart story and still found time to demolish national monuments. Instead, the movie’s development is directly inverted to its main character’s reform and as Hancock begins to function better the movie itself becomes a frustrated mess.

Aside from superhero movies, the most apt movie to compare Hancock to is Groundhog Day, a film which took a concept and did not concern itself with the need to over-explain, or indeed explain at all and left its personable characters and story of surprising depth be the pivot for the movie. Hancock disappoints most on this point.

Share