Tag Archives: quickie

Quickie: The Monuments Men

monuments-men-posterWith the Nazis stealing all the paintings and sculptures they can lay their hands on, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) enlists a crack team to help the Allies reclaim the stolen art.

Trying to find new and interesting stories to tell about World War II may seem like a bit of a stretch, but with The Monuments Men, George Clooney has done just that. So just how he’s managed to turn it into such a mediocre film is somewhat of a mystery.

Clooney has assembled quite the cast, including Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin, but many of them feel underutilised and underdeveloped. We’re led to believe they have some kind of history together but this is never explored, and as such we never really care about what happens to them.

The plot also feels somewhat disjointed and lacks cohesion. It flits back and forth between different plot threads, none of which ever really grab your attention and struggles to find a balance between a lighthearted and serious tone. It even descends into some good ol’ fashioned American flag waving by the end.

There is some fun to be had, however, and there are some nice interchanges between some of the characters, with Bill Murray and Bob Balaban probably the standouts. The period detail is also excellent and helps create a really believable setting.

The Monuments Men recalls classic war movies but ultimately fails to have similar dramatic or emotional impact. Great concept, poor execution. Sorry George.

2 and a half pigeons2.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Sightseers

Tina (Alice Lowe) and her new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) are escaping from her overbearing mother for a caravanning holiday around England. However, what starts as trips to tram museums and the like soon takes a dark twist that shows Chris’s true colours.

Ben Wheatley’s Kill List was a somewhat twisted affair and his follow-up film, Sightseers, is no different.

First and foremost it’s a comedy, but a very dark one. There’s a black-as-night core to the film that is at best unsettling and at worst really rather gruesome. But that’s where it excels. The mundanity of caravanning and visiting pencil museums, for example, juxtaposed with insanity and brutality is the crux of the picture and it works excellently. There are even a few nods to Kill List, making the whole thing seem even more twisted.

But it is funny, too. There are a few great one-liners as well as some rather bizarre surreal humour. Both Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (who also wrote the film) deliver their lines brilliantly, often with deadpan sincerity.

There are a few story issues here and there, however. It feels a little like a sketch turned into a film, and there are times when parts of the story don’t quite knit together or feel a little abandoned.

Sightseers is a very British film, particularly in its humour and, as such, might not appeal to everyone. However, if you do have a penchant for British wit and fancy something a little different, Sightseers is a lot of fun.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Ender’s Game

In 2086, aliens known as Formics attacked Earth but were halted by the heroic Mazer Rackham. Fearing the Formics will return, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) of the International Fleet recruits some of the most gifted young people in the world to guard against an attack. One of these young people is the incredibly gifted Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield).

Over the past few years, young adult fiction has become a genre of its own, and Ender’s Game is the latest film to fall under that category (although the book was written in 1985). However, it never has enough excitement or substance to match most of its peers.

The main problem with Ender’s Game is that it tries to cram far, far too much into its two hour run time and, as such, spreads itself far too thin. Ender’s time being trained on the space station takes up the majority of the story but then throws in a rushed climax and frankly bizarre denouement that feels like it belongs in a different film. Throw in some scarcely explored family issues and a flimsy romance and the whole thing feels rushed and hastily cobbled together. There’s enough story to spread over two films but is barely interesting enough to fill one.

There’s a really quite dark undertone to the film, which is interesting but it still feels rather lightweight. Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford do a decent enough job in their respective roles but never set the screen on fire.

This is the first time science fiction has had the ‘young adult’ treatment on screen on this scale but it’s not one that will live long in the memory. There was potential here, but it’s ultimately wasted.

2 pigeons

2/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Now You See Me

A group of four magicians known as The Four Horsemen (Isla Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco) are enlisted by a mysterious fifth party to undertake a serious of impressive, and illegal, illusions that begin attracting the attention of the authorities, and in particular FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo).

Now You See Me starts off on the right foot. We’re treated to a bit of close-up magic that actually involves the audience, immediately inviting us to buy into what’s on screen. Even up until about half way in, we’re still in a world of mystery and illusion. However, it all suddenly starts to fall away. Gone are any trace of nuance or intricacy and in comes a paint-by-numbers action film complete with car chases, fight scenes and a ridiculously unnecessary romance.

Most of the cast do reasonably well with what they’re given, but none are particularly stand out. Woody Harrelson probably provides the most personality of the four leads, with Dave Franco and Isla Fisher being really rather nondescript. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are also fleetingly entertaining but never do more than hover around the periphery.

Jesse Eisenberg’s character comments at one point that with magic “the more you look, the less you see”, and the same could be said of Now You See Me. Look too closely and the whole thing starts to unravel – some rather sizeable plot holes and laughable exposition prevents you from ever fully engaging with the film. However, there is some fun to be had. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige this most definitely isn’t, but take it at face value and the various twists, turns and red herrings should provide just enough to provide some popcorn entertainment.

3 pigeons3/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Friends With Benefits

Friends with BenefitsWhen Dylan (Justin Timberlake) moves to New York for a big job, he and his new best friend Jamie (Mila Kunis) attempt to have a purely sexual relationship without any emotional involvement whatsoever. Can they manage it?

Everyone already knows the answer to this question whether they’ve seen the film or not, which is its biggest downfall. Whilst the horrendous amount of product placement is annoying enough, it’s nowhere near as annoying as the fact that Friends With Benefits very nearly managed to escape from the clutches of the middle of the road rom-com that the characters themselves are so keen to avoid, but ultimately ends ups decaying into mediocrity.

There are some genuinely funny moments here and much of the dialogue is witty and delivered snappily by the two leads. There is also a sobering and interesting story arc with Dylan and his dementia-suffering father that probably warranted more screen-time. However, just when you think this could break the mould or even ignore the mould altogether, it delivers exactly what you expect it to with a dulling inevitability. It also ends up feeling like little more than a vehicle for Timberlake, as many an eye is sure to be rolled at him flexing his muscles (vocal and actual) on more than one occasion. Of course, Kunis also manages to forget her clothes occasionally too. All of this doesn’t mean that Friends With Benefits is a bad film, just one that could have been so much more.

3 pigeons

3/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Seven Psychopaths

Seven PsychopathsMarty (Colin Farrell) is a screenwriter with writer’s block. However, when his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) kidnaps a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu, Marty becomes involved and gets more inspiration than he was hoping for.

2008′s In Bruges was somewhat of a cult hit, so when writer Martin McDonagh returned with Seven Psychopaths, there was a fair bit of anticipation. Whilst it doesn’t quite live up to the aforementioned Belgium-based rib tickler, Seven Psychopaths still has a lot going for it, particularly its witty script and some excellent performances. Rockwell and Christopher Walken especially give top-notch performances and steal pretty much every scene they’re in. Farrell also seems much more at home in this type of thing than straight up action films.

The story is somewhat scatterbrain with characters and plot threads jumping here, there and everywhere (a metaphor for scriptwriting and writer’s block?), but the interesting characters and sometimes hilarious dialogue keep it glued together. It is a brilliant script that has huge amounts to dwell upon once the credits roll and is a film that almost demands a second viewing. It’s also full of self-referential moments that tread the line of clever and covering up for the odd occasion of lazy writing, but it’s nowhere near enough to spoil what is a worthy follow up to McDonagh’s debut, even if it doesn’t quite hit the same high notes.

Chris

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Quickie: The Sweeney

Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) is an old-fashioned cop who plays by his own rules. He, along with partner George Carter (Ben Drew), are investigating a lead on a bank heist when a robbery and murder at a jewellery store causes them to pull the plug, leading Regan to believe they are connected through old foe Francis Allen (Paul Anderson). Regan tries to solve the crime the only way he knows as his superiors to try to shut him down.

The hardest thing to do when watching The Sweeney is having to suspend your disbelief. It gives the impression of a realistic cop drama but if you go into it expecting that, you’ll be disappointed. That these guys solve crimes with a baseball bat to the cranium makes you wonder why they haven’t been sacked and locked up. This is not The Sweeney of old but a re-imagining for the Danny Dyer generation. However, if you can overlook all that then there’s enough here to enjoy.

The film is much more character driven than one might expect from a film of this nature. As much a crime caper, it’s about a dinosaur of a cop whose methods and way of thinking have become obsolete. This plays into the film’s favour as, in terms of action and story, it blows its load too early, with the best set piece, a shoot out through London, occurring too early and leaving everything that follows a little underwhelming.

It also suffers from a truly awful script – “oi oi savaloy” is just one stereotypical retort embarrassingly wheeled out. Winstone and Drew are decent enough but they’re characters we’ve seen plenty of times before. Despite that, for a couple of hours of mindless entertainment, there are worse films to plump for; just don’t expect anything with brains.

Chris

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Quickie: Knocked Up

Knocked UpThere are now certain expectations when you see names such as Judd Apatow, Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill on a film’s billing, but Knocked Up moves away from most of those expectations to present a much more rounded experience that offers drama and sentiment as much as it does comedy.

Layabout Ben Stone (Seth Rogan) lives off compensation he receives for an injury and works on a website with his stoner flatmates that documents when nudity occurs in films. On a night out he meets the career-driven Alison (Katherine Heigl), one thing leads to another and they end up gettin’ it on, so to speak. However, due to a misunderstanding in the bedroom, Ben doesn’t use protection and Alison ends up pregnant. The two of them then have to overcome numerous difficulties to discover a solution that’s best for them and their soon-to-be-born child.

The film’s strength undoubtedly lies in the chemistry between Rogan and Heigl. They work very well together and are able to confidently convey the problems that many who go through such a situation will no doubt experience. Paul Rudd also puts in a shift as Alison’s brother-in-law and there is plenty of crass humour for the Superbad fans from the likes of Jonah Hill and Jason Segel.

However, one of the main problems with the film is that it suffers from some all-too-familiar stereotypes. Essentially, all the women are power crazy nutjobs and the men are idiots who fuck everything up. This leads to a little too much predictability and we therefore end up exactly where we thought we would. Despite that, Knocked Up is light-hearted, easy to watch and provides enough humour and drama to successfully straddle both genres whilst providing a lesson in neither.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Film review: Ted

When little John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) makes a wish for his teddy bear to come to life, he’s astonished to find that it actually comes true. The best of friends, Ted (Seth MacFarlane) and John are inseparable. Fast forward and John is now 35 and he and Ted are still best buds, although his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) isn’t so thrilled with the pairs’ close friendship.

Ted

Ted comes from the creative mind behind Family Guy and American Dad, Seth MacFarlane, and it’s not difficult to see the influence. It very much comes across as a case of trying to make a film for the Family Guy audience without actually making a Family Guy film.

Pretty much everything is present from the crass humour to pop culture references, and as a good handful of the Family Guy voice actors are used, it’s even aurally very similar. However, Ted is deeper than it would first appear. At the heart of the film is a charming story about a man clinging on to his childhood and struggling to take the next important steps in his life.

MacFarlane is clearly a classic storyteller deep down and employs a host of textbook filmic devices throughout, such as the car chase, the fight scene, the sex scene, and plenty more. Whilst nothing groundbreaking, it does all add up to a much more complete cinematic experience than it could otherwise have been. This could also be an attempt for MacFarlane to try and prove that he has more to him than just scripting animated TV shows.

Childhood is a major theme of the film, and MacFarlane’s was obviously a major influence when writing it. There are nods to various films that have shaped many a person’s childhood, including Indiana Jones and Star Wars, as well as smack-you-round-the-face references to others such as Flash Gordon. Whilst this works for those who also grew up with said movies, it can be a little alienating for those who didn’t.

That’s not the only reason that some of the jokes miss their mark, which unfortunately quite a few of them do. Some of the cleverer, more subtle Family Guy humour has been lost and replaced with cheap expletive-based jokes and easy ‘haha-the-bear’s-taking-drugs’ jokes that do get a little tiresome, whilst some are aimed squarely at a US audience, thus becoming a little lost in translation for those of us across the Atlantic. This is a harsh criticism for a film made in America by Americans but it’s still worth highlighting that a chunk of the humour may go over UK audiences’ heads.

Ted is much more than just a Family Guy film and manages to find a nice middle ground between comedy and drama. Those expecting a laugh-a-minute may be a little disappointed, but at the centre of everything there’s a beguiling little story with entertaining performances from Wahlberg and Kunis as well as the wonderfully rendered Ted himself. This is a solid debut feature from MacFarlane and it would be no surprise to see him branch out and move further away from the Family Guy formula for future projects.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Quickie: Buried

BuriedAwaking groggy and disorientated, Paul Conroy discovers he has been buried alive following an attack on the truck he was driving in Iraq. With little more than a lighter, a pen and a mobile phone for company, he tries to somehow engineer an escape before time runs out.

A minimalist plot description for an incredibly minimalist film. Buried’s entire 94 minute runtime is set inside the wooden coffin with the increasingly desperate Paul (Ryan Reynolds) as he tries to get out of his wooden prison, and for those who suffer from any kind of claustrophobia, Buried is likely to be a rather unpleasant experience, forcing you to live every second of Paul’s torture. It’s quite a brave decision having one single location and actor, but director Rodrigo Cortés does a decent job of keeping the tension at a high level and manages to keep it from getting too stale.

However, whilst there are some intense junctures, it does fall foul of some rather silly moments that do give you somewhat of a reality check. An incident with a snake is one that stands out as particularly jarring. A slightly stronger script could have turned this into something truly excellent, but a thinly veiled anti war, anti corporate America message ends up detracting a little from the tension.

Ryan Reynolds was apparently the first choice for the role of Paul and he repays the faith in him admirably. He gives an eclectic performance, much more varied than many of his other roles, and one that likely came from the pretty horrendous conditions he was having to work in.

Buried is intriguing and engaging with some excellent moments, but falls just short of the potential it could, and perhaps should, have fulfilled.

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