The Wind Rises

Tuesday, 4 March, 2014

4 stars
The Wind Rises scene

As a boy Jiro Horikoshi wanted to become a pilot, but poor eyesight thwarted this ambition. Instead he pursued a career as an aviation engineer, helping the Japanese military develop fighter aircraft in the lead up to World War II, in The Wind Rises, trailer, the latest feature from Hayao Miyazaki (“Howl’s Moving Castle”, “Ponyo”).

Playing out over a ten year period, the story traces Horikoshi’s engineering career and his often arduous work, and also his meeting with Naoko, a girl he meets, and later falls in love with, while helping her injured maid, after the train both are travelling on derails during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

Voiced by a range of actors including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, and Stanley Tucci, “The Wind Rises” tells a touching story of childhood dreams and first love. While not entirely accurate historically, and replete with mildly disorientating time line leaps and lurches, this animated feature will nonetheless appeal to audiences of all ages.

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Margin Call

Monday, 19 March, 2012

3 stars

It’s not what you do, it’s the way you do it that gets results, or, if you are an unscrupulous investment funds manager, who is dressing deception up to look like smart business sense, ensures you live to fight another day, even if that means displacing subordinates, and, most likely, sacrificing the livelihoods of countless others.

This is essentially the gist of Margin Call (trailer), the debut feature of US commercial maker
J. C. Chandor, as it follows a group of money traders and executives, working for a New York based finance company in 2008, who, over a 36 hour period battle, whether they are willing or not, to avert bankruptcy and financial mayhem.

A round of redundancies has seen most of the workforce sent home, among them risk manager Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), who suspected a serious liquidity problem but couldn’t quite pinpoint it. His understudy, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), however soon works out what is wrong, but by now the company has just hours to save itself.

Margin Call still

Key personnel including Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore), and CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), assemble as night falls. The firm’s assets are worthless and therefore must be sold immediately before the market learns this, a move that will force many of the team to compromise their principles.

“Margin Call” explores the morals, or lack thereof, accompanying a number of the hard decisions the company’s managers take. CEO Tuld is all but indifferent, already eyeing a comeback once the dust inevitably settles, while trading floor head Rogers is deeply conflicted by the fraud he has decided to be party to.

Often though the narrative is weighed down by hollow platitudes and trite rhetoric. Actual events such as this triggered the GFC, plunging the world into recession, but here the tension is so watered down, the actual problem so vaguely defined, that a missed loan payment could be at issue, rather than potential economic meltdown.

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Captain Amercia: The First Avenger

Monday, 1 August, 2011

3 and a half stars

The premise

Captain America: The First Avenger (trailer), a sci-fi drama, is the most recent feature of filmmaker Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park III”, “The Wolfman”), and is based on the Marvel Comics superhero originally created by US comic book writers Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1940, as a way of speaking out against the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is determined to enlist in the army and be part of the US war effort during World War II. Despite numerous attempts to join, often under false names, his slight build and poor health always result in his applications being rejected. An invitation to participate in an experimental project however gives him his long awaited chance.

The play

Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a US based expatriate German scientist, has been developing a serum that will create super soldiers. He needs a guinea pig to experiment on though, and while there are plenty of volunteers, he selects Steve. Dr Erskine feels that what Steve lacks in physical prowess he makes up for in character.

Steve emerges from Dr Erskine’s procedure a transformed man, tall, muscle-bound, and possessing of abilities well beyond those of other soldiers. Despite this though Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) feels that Steve is not really up to front line duty, and instead places him on the recruitment drive circuit where he is soon dubbed “Captain America”.

While on a morale boosting trip to see soldiers in Europe, Steve learns that an old friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), is being held by Johann Schmidt a.k.a. Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), an ambitious Nazi general who has been conducting his own super soldier experiments, while also developing a formidable range of weapons.

Schmidt isn’t just interested in helping Hitler win the war, he plans to usurp the Nazi dictator and then conquer the whole world, with the help of an army he has created himself. Aided by intelligence agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Steve slips behind enemy lines and attempts to rescue Bucky, while also working out the best way to take on Schmidt…

The wrap

This instalment of “Captain America” is the final in a number of recent precursor films that have featured other Marvel Comics characters including Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor, and have told their back stories ahead of the release of The Avengers next year, where they, along with others, will all appear together.

If there is anything else to be taken from “Captain America” the message is clearly one of believing in your hopes and dreams. And while being endowed with superhero powers might also be a nice bonus, that’s probably asking too much. Otherwise nothing here will really surprise fans of superhero, or action films, in this entertaining slice of escapism.

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Easy A

Thursday, 23 September, 2010

4 stars

The premise

Set in the small Californian town of Ojai, Easy A is the second feature of US writer and director, Will Gluck, and is somewhat reminiscent of his debut film, “Fired Up!”, which like “Easy A”, was also set at a US high school.

Recounted mostly as a flashback narrative, “Easy A” throws the spotlight on gossip networks and the way people can manipulate their workings to suit their own purposes. Such networks or channels are of course double edged swords, and can quickly turn back on their operators…

The play

Olive (Emma Stone), a 17 year old high school student, is by her own definition a somewhat nondescript sort of person, someone we’re told Google Earth would have trouble seeing, even if she was a ten-story high building. So seemingly invisible is she, that people she has been at school with her whole life still have no idea who she is.

At the same time her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), tells Olive, that at almost 18, it is high time she experienced some serious boy-action, she meets Brandon (Dan Byrd), a gay student, who is often bullied by his classmates. He asks if she will act as his girlfriend in the hope a straight image will make his life more bearable.

After reluctantly agreeing two things happen. Olive’s reputation as a loose girl spreads like wildfire. Literally in fact, as we witness the gossip network in action. Erroneous word also gets around that Olive offers her acting services to nerdy boys whose reputations need a boost, and soon a string of less than popular boys are queuing up for favours.

Olive doesn’t have much time to enjoy her new found popularity though. Her antics have put Rhiannon off-side, and fuelled the ire of the school’s Christian group who want her expelled. But it is only after she offers to take the fall for a teacher accused of having an affair with a 21 year old (yes, that’s right) student, that things really spiral out of control.

The wrap

Despite being a tad uncertain of what it is trying to say at times, “Easy A” marks a return to form of the high school slash coming-of-age film, and brings thoughts of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to mind, with Gluck even slotting a brief homage to the work of John Hughes into the story.

While setting out to suggest that we’re all as bad as each other – those critical of Olive’s apparently philandering ways are often little better themselves – this thought seems to dissipate along the way.

The succession of wise cracking and sharp one-liners, often dispensed by Olive’s overly liberal parents, Rosemary (Patricia Clarkson), and dad Dill (Stanley Tucci), more than compensates for this shortcoming though.

And while “Easy A” probably would have only been half the film it was without Emma Stone in the lead role, I thought she was somewhat miscast as high school nobody Olive… sure Stone’s sassy wit was more than welcome, but she was simply far too attractive to pass off as somebody no one took any notice of.

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The Lovely Bones

Friday, 15 January, 2010

3 stars

The premise

Based on Alice Sebold’s book, and bought to the movie screen by renown director Peter Jackson, The Lovely Bones tells the story of 14 year old murder victim Susie Salmon who finds herself in a place between Heaven and Earth, aptly named the “in-between”.

From this fantasy like enclave she is able to witness the desperate plight of her family, and the shadowy movements of her killer.

The play

Susie’s (Saoirse Ronan) murderer is a serial killer and has brutally slain numerous girls in relatively similar circumstances but no-one has ever connected the dots.

He now appears to have Susie’s younger sister, Lindsey (Rose McIver), in his sights. Will he strike again, or can Susie somehow intervene from the “in-between”?

The wrap

Unfortunately Jackson leaves us in a metaphorical in-between of sorts for much of the movie, to the point that any advancement in the story, no matter how minor, comes as a great relief.

While the cinematography and CGI created “in-between” is stunning, the movie is easily 45 minutes too long.

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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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The Devil Wears Prada

Thursday, 7 August, 2008

4.5 stars

An oldie but a goodie. An “entertaining” DVD was requested for last weekend, so I obliged by hiring 2006 fashion flick, The Devil Wears Prada.

I took some time out on Tuesday night (since it’s here for a week) to listen to the commentary that director David Frankel and the producers made. It’s something I highly recommend, listening to the production crew talk about the making of a movie.

It seems Meryl Streep behaved like Miranda Priestly, the Runway magazine editor-in-chief whom she portrayed, with the producers admitting they were “scared” of her, and often reluctant to ask too much of her.

There were also some interesting insights into the actual filming process.

One scene towards the end of the story, apparently playing out on a street in Paris, was partially shot in New York. Camera angles and close ups made it virtually impossible to tell the difference though.

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