Reviews of

American Hustle,  12 Years a Slave,  August:Osage County, The Railway Man,

                                     Grudge Match, Lone Survivor, Out Of the Furnace, Jack Ryan:Shadow Recruit,
                                                                                  That Awkward Moment


                                                                                            Lone Survivor (15)
                                                                                                                                 Director: Peter Berg
                                                         Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster,



Late on the night of June 27, 2005, an Special Operations Aircraft inserted, a four-man Navy SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team between a pair of Afghanistan mountain peaks. Their mission was labeled Operation Red Wing.

Adapted from the non-fiction book “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10,” "Lone Survivor" tells the true story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s harrowing five-day journey across Afghanistan after the Redwing operation he and is team were on went disastrously wrong.

"Lone Survivor"opens with Luttrell (Mark Walhberg) being removed from a Black Hawk helicopter and flatlining on a hospital recovery table. After flashing back to give us some back story and introducing the various characters Luttrell and his Navy Seal team of three ( LT Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster), are dropped onto the slopes of Sawtalo Sar Mountain in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province for surveillance and reconnaissance. Their mission is to monitor a village said to be occupied by Ahmad Shah and his group of Taliban fighters.

After scouting the terrain and failing to find a good strong radio signal they settle down for a rest. Unfortunately whilst doing so they are discovered by three shepherds who are herding goats in the area. The Seals are then left with a dilemma,kill the shepherds or release them in the knowledge that they will  give their presence away to the Taliban. After a brief argument where each has their different viewpoint team leader LT Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) makes the fateful decision that sets not only his own team but others who are drawn into the conflict on a coarse with disaster and tragedy.

What follows is a 30-minute firefight as the Seals try and escape the hoards of Taliban fighters who are swarming over the mountainside. Writer/director Peter Berg (Battleship,The Kingdom) brings us some of the most brutal and harrowing fight scenes put on film since the very similar themed  "Black Hawk Down". Lutterll and his team desperately throw themselves off cliffs in order to escape bullets that fly around in all directions, wounds are captured in stark close-ups, and tumbles down Afghanistan’s rocky hills make use of slow-motion to highlight the bone-on-stone impacts.

If there is one fault with the film it is in the final third where,and it's given nothing away as the final outcome is given away in the worst spoiler of a title ever, Luttrell is taken in by some afghan villagers. The battle between the villagers and the Taliban hoards feel like it's from a different film after the gut wrenching violence that proceeded it and Luttrells final extraction feels a bit rushed and convenient.

However this takes nothing away from a powerful movie made all the more harrowing by the final images of all those soldiers who died after one soldier made a fateful decision on a barren mountainside far from home.






                                                                                 That Awkward Moment (15)
                                                                                                                            Director: Tom Gormican
                                                         Starring: Zak Efron, Miles teller, Imogen Poots, Michael B. Jordan



When Mikey (Michael B. Jordan)a doctor at a local hospital splits from his wife, he along with his two friends Jason and Daniel (Zac Efron and Miles Teller) make a pact to have fun and hold onto bachelorhood. However when each of the three friends finds himself in a serious relationship their bond starts to fray at the edges.

That Awkward Moment feels like a male friendly version on the rom com as the three sexist friends bed different women,make jokes about penis's and even do a bit of planking after taken some Viagra tablets.

Miles Teller plays the same character that he did in "21 and over",a smart talking ass who has a funny line for every situation whilst Zac Efron is,well,Zac Efron,all smile and very little charm. The scene at the end of the film in a bookstore where he declares his undying love for  Ellie (Imogen Poots) is so cringe worthy that you'll be watching it through your fingers and squirming in your seat with embarrassment.None of the three friends are particularly likeable, Mikey being so heartbroken by his wife leaving him that jumps into bed with the first woman who enters his doctors office.Whilst Jason  believes Ellie to be a prostitute because she shows all the signs, ( she wears ankle boots and has condoms and money in her room).

That Awkward Moment feels like a bad episode of the Zooey Deschanel TV series "New Girl". It might be good for a date night offering some laughs along the way. However I guarantee that you'll have forgotten about it by the time you drop your date off at the end of the night.
                                                                                     
                                                                                          Grudge Match (12A)
                                                                                                                                  Director: Peter Segal
                                                  Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin, Kevin Hart


Thirty years ago Henry "Razor" Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (Robert DeNiro) were two of the biggest boxers in the game. Each had won a hotly contested bout against the other and in order to decide who was the outright champion a third deciding tie was arranged. However on the eve of the final bout, Razor abruptly throws in the towel, announcing not only his retirement from the sport, but the cancellation of the fight.

Thirty years on and time hasn't healed the hate the two has-beens have for each other. Razor is now down on his luck, working in a steel mill and making sculptures from scrap metal. His money worries are not helped by the fact that he has to care for his old trainer (Alan Arkin) who is now in a care home."The Kid"meanwhile, has become a boozing womaniser who has used his local celebrity to buy a steakhouse and car dealership. Both have spent so much time away from boxing that there not even able to go for a run without nearly having a heart attack.

Eventually a promoter (Kevin Hart) arranges for both men to lend their skills to a video-game. When "Kid" ambushes "Razor's"motion-capture session a fight breaks out that is picked up by an onlooker's phone and immediately becomes an internet smash. Emboldened by the interest and seeing a way of making money Hart arranges for the old foes to re-enter the ring in an event he hypes as "Grudgment Day.

What follows is not without its charm as De Niro and Stallone are happy to send up their "Raging Bull" and "Rocky" persona."The Kid" drinks and does a Jake LaMotta sort of standup act in his bar whilst "Razor" is handed a glass full of raw eggs to knock down and cracks, “Fighters still do this? Looks like a lotta cholesterol".

Alan Arkin plays the typical feisty old guy which seems to be his trait nowadays whilst Kim Basinger plays the love interest and the real reason behind the boxers loathing of each other. De Niro is quite obviously hamming it up and enjoying doing so but it's Stallone who gives the best performance.He manages to find a way of humanising "Razor" who is a brute of a man who knows that he had talent but let it all slip away.

Most of the jokes are either at the expense of peoples weight or age and don't always hit the mark, "The Kids" jokes that are aimed at a lesbian heckler when he is doing his standup routine are a bit close to the bone and not for the easily offended. Wither a younger audience will warm to "Grudge Match" is open to debate.However for a generation brought up on De Niro and Stallone in their prime and who liked the recent "Last Vegas" or "Reds 2" this could just be a knockout.

                                                                          
                                                                            Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
                                                     
Director: Kenneth Branagh
                                                             Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh   
          
                    

Tom Clancys Jack Ryan novels and there film adaptions were some of the most tense thrillers of the 1990s and early noughtiies.From "The Hunt For Red October" in 1990 to "The Sum Of All Fears" in 2002 Clancy gave us edge of the seat thrillers that were packed with action and suspense. Unfortunately Jack Ryan Shadow Warrior is not an adaptation of a particular Tom Clancy novel, but rather an original story and it shows.

We first meet Ryan (Chris Pine) at College as watches the events of 9/11 unfold on television. Seeing the disaster he decides to join the marines and do his bit for his country. After his helicopter is shot down somewhere over Afghanistan and he is  badly injured Ryan finds himself in rehabilitation. It's from here that he is approached by Commander Thomas Harper ( Kevin Costner) who suggests that he could work for the CIA as a covert agent based in Wall Street with the mission of spotting possible terrorist money movements. During his rehabilitation Ryan also meets and falls for Cathy Muller (Knightley) a doctor who is aiding his recovery.

10 years on and Ryan who is now an analyst with the CIA  and has moved in with Muller,uncovers something suspicious involving a Russian corporation run by Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh,who also directs the film and who has the worst Russian accent every committed to film). Ryan is then approached by Harper and told that his country now need his services as it seems The Russians are planning to undermine the American economy  and commit a terrorist attack somewhere in the USA. Ryan is immediately sent off to Moscow and told to find out where the bombs going to explode.

Shadow warrior plays like a poor mans James Bond,Ryan even says at the end, the names Ryan Jack Ryan.Unfortunately Ryan is no Bond, in fact he's not even a half decent Jason Bourne.
The film feels dated and no longer relevant, someone should have told Brannagh that the worlds moved on from the Cold War. The acting is hammy with Brannagh playing his part like some pantomime villain. Knightly has probably the worst role as she chases Ryan across Europe and appears to be only there to play the damsel in distress. The scene where Brannagh threatens Knightlys character with an energy efficient light bulb has to be seen to be believed.

In fairness the problem might not be with Brannaghs direction,it's debatable whether Sam Mendes or even Paul Greengrass could have made much of  David Koepp's and Adam Cozad's woeful script.

The film is dedicated to Tom Clancy, who died on October 1, 2013.I imagine that he'll be turning in his grave.
                                                                                                          
                                                                                                          Out Of The Furnace (15)
                                            Starring: Christian Bale, Zoe Saldana, William Dafoe, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck
                                                                                                Director: Scott Cooper


A startling opening scene serves notice of the violence that lies ahead of us . At a drive-in movie theatre we are introduced to hillbilly Harlan DeGroat ( Woody Harrelson),a meth kingpin and vicious lowlife, as he shoves a hot dog down the throat of his date and violently beats an innocent bystander who happens to come to the distressed woman's assistance.


Violence runs throughout the film as Scott Cooper, the critically acclaimed writer and director of 'Crazy Heart,' brings us a drama about family, fate, circumstance and justice. Russell Baze (Christian Bale) leads a dead-end life,he works a meaningless steel mill job all day, and cares for his terminally ill father at night. His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) who has returned home from Iraq,is lured into a shadowy underworld of bare-knuckle boxing. Desperate to make money that will liberate him from a mountain of debt Rodney  goes against the wishes of his manager John (Willem Dafoe) and agrees to take a fall in a fight arranged by Harlan DeGroat . When his brother disappears and the police fail to solve the case, Russell puts his life at risk in order to seek justice for his brother.


If you've watched the trailer you might think that you are in for an action packed film, a sort of "Death Wish" meets "Deliverance". What in fact you get for your money is a film that's so slow that it almost stalls. Not one character is likeable and Cooper gives us a film that is so disjointed that you will have to fill in large parts of the plot yourself,for instance, after Russell has a road accident, with no explanation, no arrest or trial, he ends up in prison. Characters are so underused, in particular Zoe Salanda who plays Russell's girlfriend and Forest Whitaker as police officer Wesley Barnes, that it makes you wonder if large parts of the film ended up on the cutting room floor. Bale, who was so good in the recent American Hustle, and the rest of the cast mumble their way through the film, making it at times hard to actually make out what their saying.


Without giving anything away, as "Out of the Furnace" somewhat early on suggests an inevitable showdown between Russell and Harlan, when it eventually does come,and a lot of people will be checking their watches for it coming, Cooper gives us an ending that's so ludicrous you will be scratching your head as the credits role.


If you want to see Bale at the top of his game go and see "American Hustle"and catch this on DVD.



AMERICAN HUSTLE


With steely concentration, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) glues a toupée to the top of his head. Once the thatch of synthetic hair is in place, he meticulously combs the thinning hair on his temples over and around it. To complete the masterful act of male grooming, Irving blasts his new ‘do' with industrial-strength hairspray.

This is the opening sequence of American Hustle, the latest film by director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook). The film is loosely based on the 1978 ABSCAM scandal, a series of FBI operations designed to uncover corrupt government officials.

Rosenfeld is a portly, dishevelled fast-talking con artist who owns a few dry-cleaning stores but makes his real money through phoney money-lending scams. He then meets a new partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who uses a fake British accent to lull potential clients into believing she and Irving are trustworthy. After getting busted in a sting operation, the two hustlers are recruited by maverick FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who plans to use them to ensnare shifty politicians and Mafioso's .

The operation eventually involves Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) a good man who takes dirty money to rebuild his poverty-stricken city. Meanwhile, Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), becomes an unpredictable wrecking ball that could bring the entire operation crashing down.

Bale is fantastic in his role and once again changes himself for the better good of the part, the actor put on weight to play Rosenfeld the con man and would maybe have seen an Oscar nod in a year featuring a less-crowded field. Lawrence is also fantastic, as his unpredictable wreck of a wife. David O. Russell seems to be a director who can get the best from her and you wouldn't bet against her receiving an Oscar nod for the second year in a row.

Hustle can be confusing at times as it takes its twists and turns, and characters drift in an out of the plot. Watch out for a terrific cameo appearance from Robert De Nero in a small blink it and you miss it role, which just reminds you how good he was before he started appearing in such dross as "The Big Wedding"and "The Family". However it's is a film with no bad performances. Adams shines as Bale's accomplice and has never looked better on screen whilst Cooper is great as the loose cannon FBI agent DiMaso, even if he does have one of the worst perms seen in some time.

O. Russell proves that his last film "Silver Lining Play Book" was no one hit wonder and with Hustle he proves that he is the real deal. Sit back enjoy the ride and watch a group of actors and a director at the top of their game.



      
                                                                                          The Railway Man
                                                                            
                                                                                       Director: Jonathan Teplitzky

                          Cast: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jeremy Irvine and Stellan Skarsgård

"The Railway Man" tells the true story of Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), a troubled man who has never been able to move past the trauma that he experienced as a young POW when he was forced to take part in the building of the Thai/Burma railway during WWII.

 We first meet Lomax on a train in the 80's  where he meets his future wife Patti (Nicole Kidman). However, no sooner are they married and the memories of the suffering he experienced during the war return to him. He remains distant from Patti, and so she seeks out Eric’s friend and fellow survivor Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård).She learns from him that Lomax was tortured by his Japanese captors for secretly building a radio. 


The film jumps between the 80's and the 40's as the story is told in flashback.The one outstanding performance in a film that feels no better than a Sunday night ITV drama is that of Jeremy Irvine who plays the young Lomax.When you look at pictures of the real Lomax you would think that Irvine was his twin.

The 40's sections are not surprisingly the most interesting. However it's when we jump forward  to the 80's that the film hits the buffers.We're left with umpteen shots of Firth standing on North Berwick beach fighting with his emotions and doing not much else. Kidman is underused and disappears for large parts of the film. 

The only ray of light on an otherwise dull movie is when Lomax finds that his Japanese interrogator Takasi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada) is still alive and he sets about confronting him and exercising his own demons. Unfortunately by the time we get to this point in the film you'll be looking at your watch and wondering when the end is going to come. 

How Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky can make a film about the atrocities of the Burma Railway boring is a skill in itself.
Given the subject matter and cast The Railway Man has to go down as a major disappointment.




12 YEARS A SLAVE


At the time of writing, slavery drama "12 Years A Slave" has been nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards including Best Drama, Best Actor in a Drama (Chiwetel Ejiofor) Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o), Best Director (Steve McQueen), Best Screenplay (John Ridley) and Best Original Score (Hans Zimmer) and after seeing this powerhouse of a film you wouldn't bet against  it winning a number of these come awards night.

Director Steve McQueen has made a film that is nothing short of a masterpiece and one that is made all the more harrowing given the fact that it is based on a true story.

British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a free black man living with a wife and family in Saratoga, New York in 1844. The film tells the story of the a not-uncommon practice during that era where free black people living in the north were abducted and taken south to be used as slaves. Solomon, after a dinner celebrating his success in Washington, awakens in an empty room shackled to a wall. He is told that he is a now regarded as a runaway slave from Georgia named Platt. He is then shipped with a group of other "slaves" down the river to Louisiana where he discovers the terrible reality of his situation.

Aside from the constant brutality, he witnesses the breaking up of families, children taken from their mothers to be sold as slaves and the absolute power that white slave owners enjoy over their property. Sold to a relatively enlightened master (Benedict Cumberbatch), Solomon works with his fellow slaves at  picking cotton. His skill with the fiddle occasionally allows him to enjoy a few moments of respite from his work, but also increases his despair; witnessing the freedom and luxury of the plantation owners reminds him of the life he lost.

He suffers a great deal more pain when his owner must sell him to a psychotic plantation owner, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who sleeps with some of the women he owns and orders vicious whippings for what he perceives as disobedience or laziness. Constantly attempting to communicate with people he knows in Saratoga, Solomon finds himself betrayed at every turn by those he believed would help him.

Ejiofor is brilliant in the lead role, he embodies  the character so fully we totally believe in his resolve not to founder, and suffer when he does. Fassbender as "Epps" is just as good. You really do believe that this is a man capable of causing untold suffering to other humans. One scene in particular where Epps takes a whip to one of his slaves will make you turn away from the screen such is its brutality.

However perhaps the stand-out in a film full of wonderful performances is that of Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o who plays “Patsey,” an African slave woman who is subjected to horrendous abuse by the plantation owner Epps. This is her first American feature and you wouldn't bet against her lifting the best supporting actress come Oscar night.

12 Days A Slave is a film that everyone should see - it's harrowing, moving and come the titles it's guaranteed that you'll have to sit in the dark that little bit longer in order to regain your composure. Don't miss.



                                                

                                                   August: Osage County


" August:Osage County" based on the play of the same name and directed by John Wells appears to be mostly faithful to the play as the camera has little to do but let the ensemble cast belt it out, and belt it out they do.

In Oklahoma, in August, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), a poet with a drinking problem, lives with his wife Violet Weston(Meryl Streep), who suffers from oral cancer and is addicted to prescription drugs. They have three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis), and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson). Soon after hiring help to assist with the care of Violet, Beverly disappears. This brings the entire family, their significant others, and close relatives to the house. What ensues when this group is brought together is a chaotic melee, and none are exempt.

There is nothing subtle about the dysfunctional Weston family: drug,alcohol abuse, betrayal, physical and verbal abuse, jealousy, envy are all covered as each character implodes before our eyes and the familyspend the following days bickering, fighting, and hurting each other in whatever way they can.

This is certainly Meryl Streeps film as she goes at it with gusto and is given another chance to show off her generous talents as Violet, the pill-popping family matriarch with an acidic tongue. Julia Roberts plays her long suffering daughter while Margo Martindale also stands out as her sister. The cast includes a consortium of recognisable names and faces (Chris Cooper, Ewan MacGregor, and Benedict Cumberbatch to name a few).

The film will not  be to everyones taste,at times it can be slow,talky and it certainly does feel like a stage play.However the acting from Streep and in particular Roberts,in her best role for years is nothing short of brilliant.Streep and Roberts exchanging extreme profanities over the dinner table isn't a sight that you will see everyday.