REVIEWS of:

Rush, Pain and Gain, Parkland,

Man Of Steel, Django Unchained, Flight, Pacific Rim,
Cloud Atlas
,


RUSH

Ron Howard hits top form again with Rush, perhaps his best film since Apollo 13, which in fairness wouldn't be hard when your last film was the awful "The Dilemma". Rush tells the true story of the mid-70s rivalry between drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt as they both compete against each other in their quest to become formula one world champion. Hunt played by "Thor" Chris Hemsworth was a live-for-the-moment womanising playboy,  whilst  his nemesis Lauda was the exact opposite, a man so dedicated to his sport that nothing else in life mattered.

It's the personal rivalry between the two that makes the film tick and both play off each other brilliantly. Hunt is coolness personified and a man that everyone loves,  especially the many women in his life. Whilst Lauda is a calculating man so focused on his goal  that he doesn't care what anyone thinks and that no one particularly likes  him. Howard, along with screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) have crafted a film that’s not just for lovers of Formula One. Hemsworth is surprisingly good as Hunt, and his presence will no doubt be the thing that gets people into the cinema, however it's Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) as Lauda who is the stand out performance. 

He is the one that you'll feel for, from his terrible accident at the Nurburgring Grand Prix, where he suffered terrible burns to his face and damage to his lungs. It would take a heart of stone not to feel for him as he is lying on an operating table having his lungs vacuumed out, to the climactic race where  he competes with Hunt for the right to be named 1976 F1 World Champion. Hemsworth’s performance relies largely on his own charisma whereas Bruhl’s performance feels like a character study of the man. The vast majority of the target audience won't have been born in the mid 70s and so will have very little knowledge of the events and people on the screen. 

This in itself is an advantage as the climatic race at the Mount Fuji Circuit in Japan, where rain reduces visibility and drivers risk death in the pursuit of the chequered flag is made all the more exciting if you don't know the outcome. As I've said previously Rush isn't just a movie for Formula One fans. It is a great racing movie, but its also a film with heart and which successfully captures the glamour, rivalry and brutality of the time. Don't miss it.

 


PACIFIC RIM

Guillermo del Toro - director of fantasy film Pan's Labyrinth, Blade II and Hellboy brings us Pacific Rim - a two hundred million dollar blockbuster where giant creatures from beneath the sea fight giant robots powered by humans. If you think that it all sounds a bit like Transformers v Godzilla then you would be pretty close to the mark. Charlie Hunnam, star of television hits Queer as Folks and Sons of Anarchy plays one of the robot pilots, with Idris Elba, star of the popular crime series Luther, playing his commander. We learn from a prologue scene that beasts called Kaiju are out to take over the planet with only giant robots called Jaegers standing between them and the destruction of mankind. 

Each country has their own Jaegers, whose pilots become like rock stars as the public watch them wrestle with the giant beasts as they emerge from the sea. With a running time of just over two hours you'll be looking at your watch as we're worn down by scene after scene of monsters being battered by robots. In between the scenes of destruction, which makes Superman's battle with General Zod in the recent Man Of Steel look like a fight in a playground, the director has added some bonding moments between the pilots, throws in a love interest in the shape of Hunnan’s co-pilot - Japanese star Rinko Kikuchi, and gives us two annoying scientists whose job it is to find an answer as to how they can stop the beasts destroying the planet.

I've a funny feeling that this movie will divide audiences and critics. Some will love it and feel like its a homage to Japanese manga/Godzilla movies whilst others like myself will be bored by the relentless destruction, the slow plodding story line and being made to feel like we're watching a WWF showdown between robots and monsters.

Overall a massive disappointment. Charlie Hunnam feels like a TV star in a Hollywood blockbuster and lacks the charisma to carry such a massive movie. I reckon this might do for his career what last year’s flop Battleship did for its star Taylor Kitsch. But you never know - I might just be wrong!



FLIGHT 

In “Flight,” a pilot rescues 96 people from certain death as he guides his plane to the ground after it malfunctions. However, what if he was drunk and had taken cocaine when the crash occurred? The great thing about “Flight” is that it’s never about how well the pilot, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), flew the plane. Rather, it focuses on the aftermath and how an alcoholic deals with the fame and scrutiny of his heroism. On one hand he finds love in fellow addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a lost soul. On the other hand he can’t let himself be happy. This is a sad, powerful and extremely well made tale of a great deed undone by a horrible disease. Sadly, six people died in the crash. “Someone has to pay,” criminal negligence attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) tells Whip and his friend/airline union rep Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood). The airline wants to blame Whip. Whip correctly insists the plane fell apart on him. A legal battle ensues, but this is never a courtroom drama.

Instead, writer John Gatins (“Real Steel”) and director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”) focus on the self-defeating and self-loathing actions of a man who should be embracing the adulation of those around him. “Stop drinking! Say no! Get away from the bottle,” we think, frustrated that Whip can’t stop when he knows he has to in order to ensure his freedom. If it was this easy, though, there would be no alcoholics. What you need to remember and accept for the film to work is that Whip, regardless of what he says, cannot control himself. Alcoholism is a disease that takes over one’s life and does not relent until you force it to do so. This is why the real strength of the movie is Whip’s battle with addiction and how it ruins his life, and how exceptionally well it is portrayed by Washington, who hasn’t been this good in years. Watch closely for the sad desperation in Whip’s eyes as he knows he needs to stop but can’t, leaving us to pity him.

One of the best scenes comes when Whip needs a pick-me-up, so his old friend Harling Mays (John Goodman, stealing scenes with great comic relief) comes in to get him high so he can be “right.” It plays for laughs, but it’s actually depressing. You’re never expected to like Whip, or even respect him. For example, there are moments in which Whip asks a surviving crew member to lie for him to the authorities. Everyone would be under oath to tell the truth, but do they owe it to Whip because he saved their lives? Each will respond in his or her own way, and there is no clear answer. What is clear, however, is that “Flight,” with its themes, performances and direction, is one of the best movies of the year.

 




                  MAN OF STEEL

Warner Brothers and director Zack Snyder (Watchmen) have a second go at re-inventing the Superman franchise, after the poorly received 2006 film “Superman Returns”, with “Man of Steel”. British actor Henry Cavill (“The Tudors”) has been handed the red cape this time round, with Amy Adams as Louis Lane. For those familiar with the 1978 film “Superman” and its 1980 sequel “Superman 2”, the movie will feel familiar as it's basically an amalgamation of both.

We start on the planet Krypton with the planet dying and Superman being sent to earth by his father Jor-el, (Russell Crowe), no rousing John William Superman theme tune this time sadly, and General Zod ( Michael Shannon) is being banished into a black hole. Straight after young Clark’s interplanetary space journey we meet him as a full grown adult. All is well up untill then but it's at this point the film hits the buffers, as it feels as if someone has cut a part of the film out and we have just missed out on Clark’ s childhood. Snyder for some reason has decided to show Clark’s youth in flashback. This decision ultimately breaks the flow of the film as it looks as if someone has thrown the footage in the air and joined it where it landed. Saying that, the flashbacks are probably the best segments in the film, as there's a connection between the young Clark and his father, played rather well by Kevin Costner.This emotion is lost in the other parts of the film - particularly between Clark and Louis who have as much chemistry as two people who have met for the first time and have nothing in common.

In my comic books Lois doesn't know that Clark is Superman, but that’s not the case here, as from the first time they meet, Louis calls Superman Clark. What's that all about?!  The second half of the film is, as stated earlier, basically “Superman 2” again, as General Zod manages to escape his captivity and heads for Earth, intent on a showdown with Superman. For the next hour it's destruction on a grand scale as whole cities are destroyed. After a while the destruction becomes  incredibly tedious, and, I have to say made this reviewer rather bored. “Man of Steel” was shot in 3D, and it has to be it's the poorest that I have recently seen. The images were so dark that the 3D effects were almost negligible – so save your money and catch it in 2D instead. It's hard to criticise Henry Cavill in the role as he's given so very little to work with other than flying around destroying buildings and punching enemies. Hopefully with the rumoured green-lit sequel we'll see a bit more emotional depth for our hero next time. (Also Lex Luthor and a telephone box for our hero to get changed in. However on the subject of the latter, perhaps now, in this age of mobile phones the makers might worry that the audience won't know what a telephone box is when they see it!)

So, in conclusion - at the moment DC comics lags someway behind the quality of the Marvel films and I'm sorry to say that this film still doesn't bring them into the race. Overall - a major disappointment. Christopher Reeve can rest easy in his grave, as he still owns the famous red cape.



PAIN AND GAIN 

Director Michael Bay takes a change of pace from his usual mega-budget movies, (for a man who brought us transformers and Pearl Harbor the $25 million budget is loose change ) and gives us a film that owes more to a Cohens brother film than his own  action movies. Pain And Gain is true story of events that occurred in Miami in 1999 where a group of criminals  get involved in kidnap, extortion and murder.

Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo a fitness instructor who along with his none too clever  accomplices, Dwayne Johnson, stealing every scene that he is in as a jesus loving drug abusing  bodybuilder and Anthony Mackie,real steel, gangster squad ,kidnap a rich businessman in order to steal his millions.The only problem is that the three crooks are more three stooges than master criminals. What follows is an almost too hard to believe it's true story of blundering ineptitude where the crooks seemingly can do nothing right,including rather gruesome scenes where they try, with little success, to kill a man by running over his head with a van. A man accidentally having his head flattened by a set of weights and a small dog running around with a toe in its mouth. The police don't come over any better than the criminals, being shown as incompetents with only Ed Harris retired cop being left to chase down the gang of knuckleheads.

The violence makes the film hard to watch and at times and you're never sure whether you should be laughing at the black humour or grimacing. The problem is that you are always aware that what you are watching on the screen is a true story where people have ultimately lost their lives.One thing that this movie does prove is that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
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DJANGO UNCHAINED

Up to now, the outrageously talented writer/director Quentin Tarantino has made both tightly constructed, polished gems as well as outrageously sprawling works of near-insanity. And, at the same time, he has been a brilliant critic, somewhat like Jean-Luc Godard, making movies about movies, and deconstructing them in endlessly inventive ways. With Django Unchained, Tarantino has taken a small story and turned it into a big sprawl, and the fit isn't quite right.

Likewise  its ideas are so broad - slavery is bad, films never show it, etc. -- they may simply drift by unnoticed. The title comes from a great 1966 Spaghetti Western, Django, directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero (who has a nifty cameo in this new movie). Now Django begins as a pre-Civil War-era slave, played by Jamie Foxx. A bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) tracks him down and buys his freedom so that Django can help identify his next targets. This leads to a partnership, which leads to an attempt to free Django's beloved wife (Kerry Washington) from a brutal plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Samuel L. Jackson has a terrifying role as a mean, aged, loyal slave of Candie's. Much of the 165 -minute running time is devoted to shockingly bloody shootouts. Whereas Corbucci made his violence resonate, Tarantino's simply spurts and splatters. The best scenes are the talking ones, the negotiations, and since Django is so quiet and stoic, he becomes the least interesting of the characters. By the time the movie gets to its final third, with Django as its main focus, the energy simply fades.

Happily, one of Tarantino's lesser works is still one of the major works of cinema today, and Django Unchained still has enough to recommend it. Schultz and Django bonding over the story of Siegfried is one good moment, as well as the way that the duo parley their way out of a saloon surrounded by angry gunmen. The moments of discomfort do beg the question as to why they might be uncomfortable. Tarantino may not be unchained here so much as he is unravelled, but sometimes this needs to happen so that an artist can find new ways to pull it together again.



CLOUD ATLAS

Humanity's fate has always hung between two forces: freedom and oppression. At any moment—in the past, right now and in the future—the decisions of individuals have the power to tip the balance. That's the main element in Cloud Atlas, an epic saga mapping the influence of individuals' choices through six stories covering five centuries.

It begins in 1849. A lawyer named Adam Ewing visits a preacher's plantation in Hawaii and finds his conscience awakened when he witnesses how slaves are mistreated, including the whipping of one named Autua. On his return voyage to San Francisco, Ewing discovers Autua has stowed away and needs his help. Ewing eventually decides to lend a hand—a fateful decision, as he'll need Autau's help to save him from a doctor who's been poisoning him to steal his gold. It's a dramatic tale Ewing recounts in a journal … that ends up in the hands of an aspiring composer in Cambridge, England, in 1936. There, Robert Frobisher informs his gay lover, Rufus Sixsmith, that he's seeking employment as a musical transcriber for a famous composer named Vyvyan Ayrs. Frobisher hopes the association with Ayrs will ignite his career. It doesn't. And when the older man learns his assistant is gay, the information becomes blackmail material. Despite that predicament, Frobisher writes his magnum opus, "The Cloud Atlas Sextet," a haunting work that vanishes … until it's rediscovered by an investigative journalist named Luisa Rey in 1973. Rey believes a nuclear power plant in San Francisco is a ticking time bomb, and an aging Rufus Sixsmith seems to be the key to unravelling the mystery. But he's killed before he can help her. And Luisa fears she's next. It's a story that Luisa records in a book …

… that publisher Timothy Cavendish is reading in London in 2012 when he suddenly finds himself in need of a large sum of money to deal with a crisis. He seeks the help of his rich-but-miserly brother, Denholme, who tricks Timothy into signing himself into a care facility for the aged—a facility from which he cannot escape. It's an outlandish story that eventually gets filmed… and watched 132 years later by a "fabricant" in the Korean city of Neo Seoul. There, consumers are served by manufactured clones. One of them, Somni-451, works as a slave-like fast-food server under the oppressive Unanimity regime. Until, that is, she's rescued by an agent of the Union resistance named Hae-Joo Chang, who opens her eyes to the truth that her cloned fellow workers are eventually "recycled" as food for other fabricants. Somni-451 and Chang try to overthrow the regime, recording a video message to all those fighting oppression… which helps explain how, 200 years after that, Somni-451 has become a goddess worshipped by a primitive group of survivors of mankind's nuclear apocalypse living in Hawaii.

There, Zachry and his tribe struggle to sustain life and to keep a tribe of cannibals known as the Kona at bay. Twice a year, though, they see the ships of another group of survivors, the mysterious, high-tech Prescients. And now the Prescients need Zachry's help to reach an outpost atop a mountain in a haunted forest. It's a co-operative effort that could ultimately determine whether humanity lives … or dies.

 


PARKLAND 

On 22nd November 1963 President John F Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. "Parkland" tells the story of the immediate aftermath of the assassination and how various individuals were thrust into the limelight because of it. Amongst the many characters we are introduced to are Dr. Charles Carrico ( Zac Efron) and head trauma Nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) who try desperately to save Kennedy's life after he was admitted to Parkland Hospital.

We also follow Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) who inadvertently filmed the assassination on his 8mm camera, local secret service agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), Robert Oswald (Lee Harvey's brother played by James Badge Dale) and his eccentric mother, (played by Jacki Weaver). Colin Hanks also pops up in a role, no surprise given that his father Tom is a producer. Whilst the starry cast might make you think that you're going to see some big blockbuster like Oliver Stone's JFK, then I'm afraid that you're in for a bit of a disappointment.

What in fact we have is a drama documentary that wouldn't look out of place on the Discovery Channel. Director Peter Landesman who also wrote the screenplay adds nothing to what we already knew about the assassination and we get is a bland run through of the aftermath of one of the most important events of the 20th Century. One for DVD only.