Tag Archives: good

Family Affair; ‘Like Father, Like Son’ (2013).

21 Oct

Like Father, Like Son posterLike Father, Like Son is the latest in a long line of demure, unassuming family dramas from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Much like 2011’s I Wish,his latest enterprise also focuses strongly on the plight of misplaced children, featuring a pair of six year-olds who were incompetently swapped at birth. As the winner of the prestigious Jury Prize at Cannes, does it deliver the promised goods?

You betcha, it does. Like Father, Like Son centres around a busy architect called Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukushima) who lives with his wife Midori (Machika Ono) and their polite, neatly turned-out son. Keita. A harrowing call from Midori’s former maternity hospital results in the gruelling discovery that Keita is not really her or Ryota’s kid, but biologically belongs to a Mr and Mrs Saiki, who likewise have raised the ‘wrong’ boy. Nature battles nurture in Ryota’s mind as he struggles to reconcile tradition with his own emotions.

Both families rendez-vous at shopping centres and playgrounds in an effort to get along. While both mothers empathise in their shared ordeal, the two dads wage a socio-cultural war of words. Ryoto finds Mr. Saiki buffoonish and irresponsible, while Mr. Saiki finds Ryoto’s arrogant pretension hard to swallow – his ultra modern Tokyo apartment is total anathema to the Saiki family’s barely profitable electronic knick-knack emporium-cottage hybrid.

Like Father, Like Son captures a magic unique to its Japanese setting. A famously patriarchal society, as well as one traditionally obsessed with familial bloodlines, Japan is the ideal artistic soil for planting the seeds of a mismatched children story. Ryota is stereotypically onerous, forcing hated piano lessons on poor Keita and politely demanding dinner upon arriving home. While his archaic behaviour isn’t excused by the geography, it’s certainly contextual.

Mercifully, a vital sense of humour underscores the proceedings; a lack thereof would render Like Father, Like Son a very sombre affair indeed. The Saiki family’s whimsical, happy-go-lucky attitude is perpetually regarded with derision by Ryota, but Kore-eda shoots their personal scenes at home with a playful coyness that’s utterly charming. Rather, it’s Ryota’s insufferable snobbery that the movie lampoons, all the while championing diversity and unorthodoxy.

Spellbinding drama is a tough gig to maintain, and unfortunately Like Father, Like Son wavers and loses focus by the third act. Unnecessary distractions are peppered throughout, from aimless dialogue to gratuitously protracted ‘nothing’ scenes, which culminate in the last half-hour. The film infuriatingly delays the finale and drags out the runtime for no apparent reason other than arbitrary longevity. A generous 20-minute haircut would have really suited.

Whisperings of an upcoming Spielbergian remake of Like Father, Like Son seem somewhat counterintuitive. Although Kore-eda’s traditional ‘absent father’ yarn would place it in familiar Spielberg territory, the delicate finesse displayed here would likely be tarnished by the heavy-handed Hollywood movie-grinding machine. Lets leave the movie as it is – an overlong but gentle, intriguing and fabulously acted examination of Japanese social norms.

Simon says: finally, a refreshing change from the usual scares or cartoons of usual international Japanese cinema.

[Written for GCN]


Red Herrings in the Sunset; ‘Prisoners’ (2013).

26 Sep

Prisoners posterAt what point exactly did Jake Gyllenhaal become so goddamn old? Gone are the days where he’d either play the resourceful son (The Day After Tomorrow), an impressionable young cowboy (Brokeback Mountain), or a hot soldier lying around in his underpants (Jarhead). As an oily-haired cop literally exuding a negative backstory in French director Denis Villeneuve’s American début, Prisoners, he has finally joined the elders club, along with co-star Hugh Jackman, who let’s face it, was old before his time when we first met him in X-Men.

Jackman is a deeply religious and devoted father that likes to shoot deer; Gyllenhaal is a quiet, softly-spoken cop with a facial tic. Their paths cross when the former’s kid (and her equally adorable friend) go missing during a Thanksgiving thunderstorm, and what follows is a gripping crime drama full of plot twists, some supremely tense scenes and a veritable ocean of red herrings.

Prisoners fails to break even a square inch of new ground, but in digging up the long-established tropes of the suspenseful thriller it manages to strike gold. Yes, every single character is a stereotype, and yes the whole affair peddles the tired ‘family is important’ message, but Aaron Guzikowski’s clever script manages to keep us guessing before finally revealing the big ‘gotcha!’ moment, which even I didn’t predict.

A major flaw comes in the form of a minor – one of the abducted kids, Erin Gerasimovich, displays such wooden acting that in her handful of scenes you’re kind of glad she’s kidnapped and out of the action. On the other hand, both Jackman and Gyllenhaal turn in decent performances. Actually, because Jackman plays a white drunk with a missing kid though, he’s virtually guaranteed an Oscar nomination.

Although the film’s 153-minute runtime could have done with a half-hour haircut, Prisoners cherry picks the highlights from many’s a dramatic thriller that came before it to make for riveting viewing. Unfortunately, it’s also bursting with the genre’s tired clichés and the curtains are only drawn following an irritatingly derivative CSI-esque final act. Still, Hollywood needs to know that dialogue-driven dramas can still sell tickets, so check it out.

Simon says: bring a picnic.

[Written for GCN]

Berry Phone Home; ‘The Call’ (2013).

20 Sep

The Call posterHalle Berry’s career has had more ups and downs than Harry Styles’ underpants. She may have won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, but few other actresses have scraped the Hollywood barrel as often, or as spectacularly. Catwoman anyone? New Year’s Eve? If you approach one of her films without great expectations, you’re bound not to be disappointed. Well, not too disappointed.

Fortunately, my expectations for The Call were entirely off-kilter. This film sits on the upper end of the Berry Spectrum.

Opening with panoramic shots of a moonlit Los Angeles, we quickly zoom to ‘The Hive’, or the base of operations for 911 operators. Distracted by her uniformed love interest Paul (Morris Chestnut), experienced staffer Jordan (Berry) fatally botches a call that alerts a serial killer to his prey. While taking leave of absence to train new operators, a terrified teenager (Abigail Breslin) locked in the boot of a car rings in and Berry, in a double-edged effort to redeem herself and save the girl, takes the call.

Much like 2012’s Argo, The Call is a remarkably intense and unrelenting thriller that grabs you in a stranglehold within the first scene and refuses to let go for 90 minutes straight. Even the litany of would-be distractions, from the occasionally laughable dialogue to Berry’s preposterous 1990-era Whitney Houston wig fail to distract from the riveting chaos unfolding on-screen. Berry injects buckets of soul into her very likable character in what is her best performance in ages.

Director Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) expertly weaves the increasingly panicked conversation between Berry and Breslin while also juggling the drama unfolding on either end; Breslin kicks out tail lights and waves at passers-by, while the fascinating technical machinations involved in her rescue are shot almost documentary-style. Thanks to this movie, I now know the procedure, should I wake up stuck in a trunk on day.

Major props go to Breslin, whose character could have been painful had a lesser actress been cast; spending an hour fighting for her life in such a confined space without over-emoting or grating on the eardrums is an achievement. Michael Eklund plays the singularly horrifying abductor, whose general demeanour and overall motivation for the kidnapping makes him ten times creepier than all of Insidious: Chapter 2’s assorted monsters combined. The total lack of Bond villain-esque monologues is indescribably refreshing too.

The decision to turn Jordan into a foolhardy vigilante in the grand finale serves as a disappointing disconnect, reeking as it does of a director neither trusting his own material nor the ability of his cast to pull it off. Thankfully, however, it’s only a minor hang-up that validates itself with the absolute final scene, which acts as a campy if wonderfully satisfying shattering of genre conventions and, deliciously, audience expectations.

In the pantheon of movies that focus on phone conversations, The Call is leagues ahead of When A Stranger Calls, stands head and shoulders above Cellular and even manages to keep Phone Booth on hold. Nail-bitingly suspenseful from start to finish, this is one Call you won’t want to miss.

Simon says: I’m fresh out of phone puns.

[Written for GCN.ie]

Time to talk about ‘About Time’ (2013).

6 Sep

About Time posterMuch like 2007’s Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2013’s About Time takes two genres that seemingly have nothing in common with one another and splices them together for the sake of originality. The amalgamation of romantic comedy with science fiction is aimed squarely at entertaining both the traditionally female rom-com fanbase as well as their legions of reluctant male company, but don’t be fooled: this movie is far closer to something like Love, Actually than say Looper or 12 Monkeys.

Richard Curtis (who has worked on the majority of British rom-coms of recent years) returns with another tale of hapless romance, moral quandaries and wealthy people with problems. Though this time there’s time travel! Domhnall Gleeson plays Tim, a shy guy who’s about as successful with women as he is in maintaining a decent haircut. Once his dad (Bill Nighy) informs him of a certain familial secret, his life is turned upside-down as he tries to balance using his “powers” for good while also serving his own interests in the relationship department.

What I like most about this movie is that, for the most part, balances the ‘rom’ with the ‘com’ quite well. For the first half of the movie, the two are seamless: as Tim’s hopelessly awkward attempts at romance prove futile, so they inspire fairly consistent laughter from the audience. But by the second and third acts, and especially towards the end, the humour beings to alternate between Curtis’ trademark brand of dramatic hoopla and funny scenes as opposed to weaving them together, and the switch can be rather jarring.

As with most romantic comedies, the result is notably cheesy and hokey, and will doubtless prove too saccharine for many to stomach. Though I have a fairly low tolerance when it comes to these movies, this particular one never made me as queasy as typical romantic comedies tend to do.  As with any movie featuring time-travel, logical inconsistencies abound (a plot twist involving babies makes absolutely no sense), but these are to be expected.

On the Venn diagrams of potential movie lovers, one would think there would be little intersection between the groups that love time-travelling science fiction and those that enjoy hokey romantic comedies. But About Time achieves what it set out to accomplish; it’s a quirky and funny if extremely forgettable Richard Curtis movie about white people and their problems. But if that’s your thing, you might love it, actually.

Simon says: It’s not even about time… It’s about MELODRAMA.

A lesson in fossil preservation; ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’ (2013).

10 Aug

Alan Partridge Alpha Papa posterDirector Declan Lowney knows full well that his latest filmic endeavour, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa will only appeal to a very select body of people. Such a group includes fans of Partridge’s many appearances on BBC Radio 4, general appreciators of Steve Coogan and those who enjoy the sorts of syndicated television shows that appear on Dave and G.O.L.D… That’s about it, really. The director made famous by his managing of the immortal Father Ted is all too aware of this, and caters accordingly. As a fan of such homely British comedy, I found this film to be an absolute hoot.

Just to be clear; Alan Partridge is a fictional character portrayed by Steve Coogan. He is a ridiculous, hilariously uncool yet strangely endearing disc jockey for North Norfolk Digital FM, who hosts a drive-time talk show, with the odd Fleetwood Mac or Willie Nelson tune thrown in for good measure. As the radio station is bought over by some shallow business-types with the intentions of making it trendier and more ‘cool’, the evening show run by Partridge’s colleague Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) winds up as collateral damage and is cut altogether. The disgruntled Farrell goes AWOL and besieges the station, shotgun in hand; but if Alan Partridge can’t save the day, then who can!?

Steve Coogan's Partridge manages to be simultaneously repugnant and charming.

Steve Coogan’s Partridge manages to be simultaneously repugnant and charming.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is a quintessentially British affair that relies on good ol’ fashioned wit, funny facial expressions and situational comedy to deliver the laughs, rather than inflicting us with a tirade of swear words or unlikely slapstick. When compared to the two other comedic movies out right now, it (thankfully) lacks the scatology of Sandler’s catastrophic Grown-Ups 2, and there are no foul-mouthed Melissa McCarthys or awkward Sandra Bullocks to be seen, as in The Heat. Rather, this is the sort of film that uses actual jokes to tickle our collective funny bones. From the comically obtuse to his beleaguered assistant Lynn (played by Felicity Montagu) to the demented Farrell, this movie seldom lets up in the humour department.

However, that said, I know for a fact I’ll forget everything that happens in this movie in a week’s time. It brings absolutely nothing new or shiny to the comedy table, and to call it unoriginal would be an understatement. Sure, the juxtaposition of hilarity against the backdrop of a siege is doubtless entertaining, and some of the writing displays flashes of absolute genius (the assorted pokes at the Irish are unanimously hilarious), but in the end this is the sort of film you’ll see on Netflix in a few months and say “Oh yeah, I think I saw that”. But while you’re in the cinema, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is breezy fun. Just make sure you’re into this sort of humour.

Simon says: one for the fans.

Unleashed in the East: ‘The Wolverine’ (2013).

6 Aug

The Wolverine poster2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine was universally panned and is (rightfully) considered an absolute disaster. A joyless production full of exposition and a noticeable lack of fun, the quicker we forget about its existence the better. Unfortunately, like spilled wine or, more accurately, a stroke, there were lasting implications: Wolverine as a character really needed a revamp. While The Wolverine may not quite rid the air of the putrid stench caused by Logan’s previous endeavour, it does manage to freshen things up.

Directed by James Mangold (the enigmatic man behind Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma), The Wolverine is based on the popular 1980’s comic miniseries in which our troubled hero goes to Japan. We learn that Logan saved a solider’s life during the American bombing of Nagasaki, and in doing so fostered a lasting sense of admiration in his indebted friend. Decades later, and quite out of the blue, his almost-dead comrade contacts Wolverine to speak with him one last time. However things quickly turn sour as everyone betrays each other and reveals their nefarious intentions.

Hugh Jackman reprises his role as Wolverine for the sixth time now; he officially holds the record for playing the same superhero the most amount of times in film history. This time he’s one hundred percent committed, and he’s not alone; joined by first-time actress Rila Fukushima in the form of fellow badass Yukio, the pair combined kick untold amounts of ninja, samurai and robot ass. This is an impressive début for the young actress and I look forward to seeing her in later roles.

At times this film felt like it had a checklist of ‘Cool Japanese Stuff’ and would not rest before ticking off every box: there’s a bullet train, ninjas, a love hotel, samurai, honour suicides, katanas, and virtually everyone wears a kimono at some stage. While this fevered collecting of Japanese references isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing, it does start to get a little bit silly after a while. I kept waiting for a jujitsu dojo or a trip to the fabled Pokémon Centre.

Jackman is cool, but this movie hits you over the head with Japan references.

Jackman is cool, but this movie hits you over the head with Japan references.

Two problems: the ending gets very cartoony very fast. While any film set in the Marvel universe will unavoidably contain elements of escapism and certain breaks from reality, this movie goes cuckoo-bananas in the last act without any real rhyme or reason. In a similar vain, the lack of gore in The Wolverine further undermines any sort of alleged dabbling in ‘realism’. I’m sorry, but if a superhero’s foremost characteristics are these metallic claws that shoot out of his knuckles… Maybe there should be a little more blood.

The Wolverine doesn’t quite manage to knock the original X-Men off the Marvel mutant pedestal of greatness, but it comes damn close. Featuring some of the series’ most spectacular moments, this movie is leagues better than that horrible film from 2009.

Simon says: hit and miss, but this is the best representation of Wolverine on film to date.

Simon says: 

7%?! ‘The Big Wedding’ (2013).

17 Jun

The Big Wedding posterOn the face of it, The Big Wedding doesn’t promise much. First of all, the super-generic title sounds about as exciting as eating Ready-Salted crisps at an accountancy convention. Secondly, Katherine Heigl is in it; her cinematic résumé is dotted with horrendous rom-coms and the sort of god awful  family-friendly dirges your mother would enjoy (Knocked Up, The Ugly Truth, New Year’s Eve – you get the gist). Thirdly, it has Robin Williams reprising his role as a clergyman from License to Wed, a molten turkey of a film. Finally, it’s impressively low score of 7% on Rotten Tomatoes inspires only fear.

But hold the phone, stop the cavalry, and don’t drop the bombs just yet – The Big Wedding is a surprisingly OK movie! Perhaps it was the abysmally low expectations going in, unavoidable given the above information, but the fact that this film didn’t wound me in any shape or form is nothing short of a miracle.

Yet another ‘White People With Problems’ movie, this time round several of the lead characters are noticeably more tanned than usual. Al (Ben Barnes) is marrying Missy (Amanda Seyfried), but the couple are hounded by a cacophony of problems convoluted enough to make Jerry Springer blush. Though Missy’s parents have issues, Al hails from a litany of oddballs: his crazy adoptive father Don (Robert De Niro) dumped the rather dull Ellie (Diane Keaton) for the hippyish Bebe (Susan Sarandon), even though the former bore him two children; a celibate doctor (Jared, Topher Grace) and an aggressive lawyer (Lyla, Katherine Heigl). Amidst it all, both his birth mother and Father Moinighan (Robin Williams) demand they undergo a traditional Catholic ceremony.

Don't fall for the apparent innocence; this movie is disgusting.

Don’t fall for the apparent innocence; this movie is disgusting.

So yeah, it’s a fairly big wedding alright. As you can probably gather from the synopsis, this movie is as hokey one can be, pelting us as it is with the traditional ‘family is important’ and ‘love is good’ cheese. Also, ‘non-American people are weird’, but we can let that one slide.

But where The Big Wedding works lies not in its story, dialogue, characterisation; from a technical standpoint, this film is fairly dreadful. What I enjoyed most about the movie is that it’s an R-rated comedy that actually deserves its label. A quick stroll past your local cinema will reveal nothing but the usual suspects – a laughably safe ‘comedy’ starring Owen Wilson or Eddie Murphy, the ‘hilarious’ family-friendly hijinks Ben Stiller and co., or another expansion of the tumour that is Adam Sandler.

The Big Wedding, on the other hand, is an American attempt at the antiquated ‘French Farce’ sub-genre of comedy that, for the most part, totally nails it. This is a bawdy, naughty, rowdy movie ridden with innuendos and under-the-table masturbation. Cunnilingus is explored in-depth within the opening scenes, nine-hour orgasms are discusses and everybody is having lots of sex with everybody else – they work the blue material. It’s also refreshing to see the typically mellow faces, such as Katherine Heigl or Susan Sarandon, play such unusual roles for them (a borderline demonic woman full of rage and a horny pastry chef, respectively).

Look, it made me laugh. Perhaps not for the duration, but often enough to ensure a fairly consistent grin on my part. A chimp could have written the script, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself immensely.

Simon says: don’t judge a book by its cover – or a film by its RT score.

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