Friday, 24 January, 2014

4 and a half stars
Her scene

If you’re going to have a relationship with your smartphone, and look around, many people would already seem to be, then surely you’d want your indispensable electronic partner to be akin to Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), as depicted in Her, trailer, the latest feature of US director Spike Jonze (“Adaptation.”, “Where the Wild Things Are”).

As the world’s first artificially intelligent phone operating system, she’s smart, agreeable, consoling, and as eager to please as she is to learn. For Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who is coming to terms with a divorce, Samantha is a veritable boon. It doesn’t take long though for both to form an usually close, and hitherto unheard of, bond.

Set in a hazy metropolis in the not too distant future, “Her” presents a vision of a technology dependent world devoid of joie de vivre, where love has become a commodity, and personal interactions are scarce. Here’s the question though, Samantha and Theodore share a love that may not be conventional, but does that make it any less real?

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American Hustle

Tuesday, 17 December, 2013

3 stars
American Hustle scene

US film director David O. Russell’s (“The Fighter”, “Silver Linings Playbook”) latest feature of deception, duplicity, and dishonesty, American Hustle, trailer, is based on a FBI 1970s sting operation, code named Abscam, that centres around the efforts of zealous law enforcer, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), to stamp out political corruption.

Enlisting the help of two con-artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who he arrested earlier, DiMaso sets up a series of elaborate operations designed to catch prominent politicians, including a seemingly squeaky-clean New Jersey mayor, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), in the act of accepting bribes.

For all its promise not even the saturated hues, big hair, and garishly expressive fashions of the 1970s, can redeem “American Hustle”, and with double-crossers double crossing each other, the story quickly becomes tangled up in its own bell-bottoms. Even if all loose ends are neatly tied up, your mind will have drifted to some other decade by then.

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Trouble with the Curve

Tuesday, 4 December, 2012

2 and a half stars

For those who live and breathe their work, the prospect of one day having to give it up, or retire, is surely something many would be loathe to contemplate. For ageing baseball scout, Gus (Clint Eastwood), it could be though that day is at hand in Trouble with the Curve (trailer), the debut feature of US film director Robert Lorenz.

In a distinguished career, Gus has picked some of the game’s greats, but with his eye-sight beginning to fail, Pete (John Goodman) his boss, is reluctantly giving thought to terminating Gus’ contract. Times are changing, and latter day scouts also employ various technologies to assess players, something that Gus is not at all happy to embrace.

Keen that Gus not be forced into retirement, Pete calls Mickey (Amy Adams), Gus’ daughter, and asks if she will go out scouting with her father. Now a lawyer in line for a partnership in an Atlanta law firm, Mickey, who has seldom seen eye to eye with Gus, is not pleased to be taken away from her work, but nonetheless joins him.

Trouble with the Curve still

While appraising the talents of arrogant up and comer Bo (Joe Massingill), Gus meets Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a player he signed some years earlier, but whose career was curtailed by injury, who now likewise works as a scout. Having taken a shine to Mickey, Johnny also decides to do what he can to help Gus out.

With Gus’ work and personal problems, an ambitious daughter who doesn’t know where to direct her energies either professionally and romantically, and the tensions associated with competing scouts vying to sign up the same player, “Trouble with the Curve” ends up biting off more than it can chew.

As a result many of the film’s threads go under-developed, depriving the story of any overall focus as it trundles to its inevitable outcome. This is unfortunate because “Trouble with the Curve” could have been an engaging baseball cum road trip story of reconciliation, and the search for one’s rightful calling in life.

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The Fighter

Friday, 21 January, 2011

4 stars

The premise

The Fighter (trailer) by US director and screenwriter David O. Russell (“Spanking the Monkey” and “Flirting with Disaster”), is a film – set in 1993 – about “Irish” Micky Ward, a boxer living a working class suburb of Lowell, in the US state of Massachusetts.

“The Fighter” follows the story of Ward’s return to professional boxing in the mid-1990s after a short stint in the ring during the late 1980s. His comeback was largely driven by his older half brother Richard “Dicky” Eklund, himself a former professional boxer, who notably went up against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978, but lost the bout on a points decision.

The play

Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) trains with Dicky (played by a particularly haggard and drawn, Christian Bale) for his comeback bout, through his return to the ring is far from glorious. The boxer he was meant to take on withdrew on account of illness, and was replaced by a much heavier opponent who didn’t take long to dispatch the hapless Micky.

Following the bout a promoter offers Micky a series of lucrative fights in Las Vagas, but the deal requires him to relocate there permanently, and also work solely with the promoter’s team of trainers. This raises the hackles of his mother, Alice (Melissa Leo) who also manages him, and of course the hot-headed Dicky.

Micky’s new girlfriend, Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), makes for another reason to stay home, so he rejects the offer, and Alice continues to line up fights for him. Meanwhile Dicky, at 40, and struggling with a crack cocaine addiction, eyes up a comeback himself, while continuing to relentlessly, and obsessively, push Micky forward.

The wrap

“The Fighter” is as much about Dicky as it is Micky, as he projects his hopes and aspirations through his younger brother. Realising his fighting career is over, Dicky’s only real solace – aside from lapses into drug addiction – is constantly reliving his fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, which in this context he wins, albeit contentiously.

While a lot of fighting takes place in the boxing ring, much slugging of another variety goes on behind the scenes, as Micky struggles to break the grip of both his overbearing mother, and troubled brother. He also struggles to win the family’s acceptance of Charlene, who his seven sisters especially disapprove of. It is here though where the real essence of the story lies.

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Julie & Julia

Friday, 16 October, 2009

4 stars

Set in 2002, Julie and Julia harks back to a time when the blogosphere still seemed like the wild west (some crazy stuff on that internet thing), and blogs were something someone else wrote.

Still there was – even in those times – gold in them thar hills as Julie Powell (Amy Adams) discovered when she set out to cook every recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, written by her idol US chef Julia Child (Meryl Streep), and blog about the experience.

As with any blogging venture it took her awhile to gain a following (too bad there were no internet marketers back in 2002) but this is what gives – aside from the food – Julie and Julia much of its interest, a movie based on a blog, the same blog that now makes occasional references to the movie (spoilers).

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Sunshine Cleaning

Friday, 26 June, 2009

4 and a half stars

Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) and her sister Norah (the ever versatile Emily Blunt) co-own Sunshine Cleaning, a company tasked with cleaning up sometimes quite gruesome crime scenes and accident sites.

While the sisters do well enough at restoring such places to their pre-tragedy condition, they have somewhat more difficulty in bringing a similar order to their personal lives.

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Friday, 23 January, 2009

4 stars

Catholic schools in the 1960’s, and earlier I presume, were austere, solemn, and strict environments. It was also a time when the church clergy commanded an unchallenged respect, and a certain fear, from the community.

A Catholic middle school is the backdrop for Doubt, and an intriguing my-word-against-your-word standoff between school principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) and the parish priest Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Doubt is aptly titled, for just when there appears to be clarity, uncertainty once more prevails.

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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Thursday, 22 May, 2008

4 stars

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, that being the day before the Battle of Britain, if the indications are anything to go by.

It’s quite a day though, despite the fact she finds herself penniless, homeless, and lonely, as she slums it with posers and wannabes on London’s social circuit that are, in the final analysis, almost as close to desperation as she is.

London lives it up, partying in beautifully appointed art deco apartments and nightclubs, all too indulgently, while bomber planes roar ominously across the gray skies.

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