Life of Crime

Genre: Drama

Director: Daniel Schechter

Writer: Daniel Schechter, based on the novel “The Switch” by Elmore Leonard

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Mos Def (as Yasiin Bey), Isla Fisher, Will Forte, Mark Boone Junior, Tim Robbins, John Hawkes

Running Length: 99 minutes

Synopsis: Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of a corrupt real estate developer (Tim Robbins) is kidnapped by two common criminals (Yasiin Bey and John Hawkes), who intend to extort him with inside information about his crooked business and off-shore accounts. But the husband decides he’d actually rather not pay the ransom to get back his wife, setting off a sequence of double crosses and plot twists that could only come from the mind of Elmore Leonard.

Review: One can be forgiven, in the opening minutes of Life of Crime, for thinking that the projectionist had somehow played a reel of American Hustle by mistake. And indeed, the film does bear some resemblance to American Hustle, since both a crime capers set in the 70s. Life of Crime is the more low-key movie, and though the plot is sporadically entertaining, the film does not leave much of an impression by the time the credits roll.

There have been a good number of Elmore Leonard adaptations over the years, and this one sits in the middle of the pack. Having not read the source novel, I am unsure how faithful the adaptation is, but suffice to say that the plot and its twists would not be very surprising for anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of caper movies. Having said that, there are a good number of scenes which are set up quite well and the characters’ interactions are rather interesting to observe. Dialogue is also classic Elmore Leonard, which is to be expected since he was quite involved in the project prior to his death last year.

Jenifer Aniston is most known for her comedic roles, but has proven she has what it takes to be a thespian in some smaller movies. She is actually very good here, much better than I had expected, and easily becomes the emotional centre of the film. She is quite capably supported by the rest of the ensemble cast, and I actually enjoyed this ensemble more than the American Hustle posse of characters. However, the cast is less memorable than prior Leonard adaptations (a good handful come to mind – Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, Get Shorty), and although it provides light entertainment, the slightly meandering plot and relatively low energy level of the film did leave me feeling a bit underwhelmed at the end.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

Genre: Drama

Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Writer: Steven Knight, based on the novel by Richard C. Morais

Cast: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, Amit Shah, Farzana Dua Elahe, Dilton Mitra, Aria Pandya, Michel Blanc

Running Length: 122 minutes

Synopsis: Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is a culinary ingénue with the gastronomic equivalent of perfect pitch. Displaced from their native India, the Kadam family, led by Papa (Om Puri), settles in the quaint village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. Filled with charm, it is both picturesque and elegant – the ideal place to settle down and open an Indian restaurant, the Maison Mumbai. That is, until the chilly chef proprietress of Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin starred, classical French restaurant, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), gets wind of it. Her icy protests against the new Indian restaurant a hundred feet from her own, escalate to all out war between the two establishments – until Hassan’s passion for French haute cuisine and for Madame Mallory’s enchanting sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), combine with his mysteriously delicious talent to weave magic between their two cultures and imbue Saint-Antonin with the flavors of life that even Madam Mallory cannot ignore.

Review: Not every movie needs to be groundbreaking to be entertaining, and this is totally embodied in The Hundred-Foot Journey, a derivative, by-the-numbers culture clash movie that somehow manages to be light and enjoyable despite being entirely predictable from start to end. Much of this is due to the eminent Helen Mirren, who manages to elevate the film to a higher level with her performance, despite a really exaggerated Gallic accent.

Although this is a movie about food, Lasse Hallstrom has actually kept “food porn” sequences to a minimum – of course there are still scenes of cooking, but he seems more intent on showing the various interactions amongst the leads. That’s not a bad thing, and other than Helen Mirren, who is flawless in every scene, the rest of the ensemble cast are all also capable performers, which means that these interactions are never uninteresting. Hallstrom and his director of photography Linus Sandgren also manage to capture the beauty of the little French village, resulting in many sun-bathed, postcard perfect shots of Saint-Antonin. This is also augmented by an excellent (though somewhat clichéd) score by A.R. Rahman, almost on par with his work on Slumdog Millionaire.

The Hundred-Foot Journey offers no surprises from beginning to end, and the culinary journey of Hassan goes exactly as one would expect. The film does feel a little spent by its third and final act, however, and although the intention was surely to tug at the heartstrings of the audience, this third act is the weakest link and least emotionally resonant in my opinion. Its inclusion also draws the film out to just a hair over two hours, which is arguably a little too long for its own good. Fortunately, there is enough goodwill built up from the preceding segments that it does not diminish the movie by too much, and this cinematic equivalent of comfort food will surely be a crowd pleaser for almost anyone willing to give it a try. If The Hundred-Foot Journey were a restaurant, it probably won’t earn any Michelin stars, but will still get a solid recommendation via word of mouth.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom

Genre: Action, Romance, Drama

Director: Jacob Cheung

Writers: Kang Qiao, Wang Bing, Guo Jinle, Shi Heran, Zhu Yale

Cast: Fan Bingbing, Huang Xiaoming, Vincent Chao, Wang Xuebing

Running Length: 103 minutes

Synopsis: At the end of the Ming Dynasty, corruption is rife, a traitor is in power and the Jin army is threatening war. In the Northwest, famine is rife. Jade Raksha (Fan Bing Bing), a female pugilist thought of as evil throughout the empire, helps the victims of the famine by arresting and killing corrupt officials.

Meanwhile, the future successor of the Wudang Sect, Zhuo Yihang (Huang Xiaoming) is dispatched to Beijing to pay tribute to the emperor. He encounters Jade Raksha and sees that she is not the evil person she is rumored to be. Despite their differences, they begin to fall in love.

Review: Cinemagoers who are familiar with the source novel by Liang Yusheng will know that Ronny Yu’s iconic Bride with White Hair in 1993 did not do the novel any justice, and really the final product did not feel like a “proper” adaptation, more a wuxia film inspired by the novel. In this new 2014 incarnation, Jacob Cheung and his team of writers have managed to include a lot more of the novel and historical context into the film, but it is still a rather uneven effort.

The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom (what a mouthful!) runs a lean 103 minutes, but boy is it overstuffed, especially when it comes to the plot – incorporating political intrigue, a Romeo and Juliet-esque romance, a wuxia movie, and a half-baked “undercover cop” plot element in such a short amount of time is an unwise endeavour, since it just means everything is given short shrift.

The biggest problem to arise from this is that the central romance between Jade Raksha and Zhuo Yi Hang simply does not come across as being convincing, despite commendable thespian efforts from both Huang Xiaoming and Fan Bing Bing. Due to this lack of emotional heft, it is quite difficult to feel vested in either character, regardless of how hard the director tries. And tries he does, complete with an at-times overbearing score and a cheesy song segment that seems to have been transplanted intact from the early 90s wuxia films.

The film does have its merits, however, with impressive production design – the costumes (by the Oscar-winning Timmy Yip) in particular are quite well done, and the action choreography by Stephen Tung delivers, though annoyingly there are very few scenes in which the action is allowed to play out. While it may be a bit too emo and busy for its own good, The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom remains one of the better Chinese films I’ve seen this year to date, which says quite a bit about the state of the Chinese film industry these days.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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Deliver us from Evil

Genre: Horror

Director: Scott Derrickson

Writers: Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris Boardman, based on the book Beware the Night by Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool

Cast: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Chris Coy, Dorian Missick, Joel McHale

Running Length: 118 minutes

Synopsis: New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), struggling with his own personal issues, begins investigating a series of disturbing and inexplicable crimes. He joins forces with an unconventional priest (Edgar Ramrez), schooled in the rituals of exorcism, to combat the frightening and demonic possessions that are terrorizing their city.

Review: The problem with movies about exorcism is that audience expectations are pretty much fixed, and there’s very little leeway for innovation or for a movie in the genre to feel fresh. However, one does not need to reinvent the wheel in order to deliver the goods, as exemplified by the excellent, old-school The Conjuring in 2013. While Deliver Us from Evil is a couple of rungs below The Conjuring, it does manage to deliver most of the goods. However, possibly in its efforts to not seem overly run of the mill, Deliver Us from Evil also incorporates a familial drama and a buddy cop setup, both of which do not fare as well as the horror and police procedural elements.

Eric Bana is a dependable actor and even though the material here isn’t the most challenging, his performance as Sarchie is perfectly acceptable. Edgar Ramirez is rather wasted in his role as the unconventional priest, which provides too little characterization to make him a believable character, and he ends up being essentially a generic caricature of a “maverick exorcist movie priest”. Joel McHale is an odd choice as Sarchie’s buddy cop, and once again because his character is so thinly written, the wiseass police officer ends up feeling like Joel McHale being himself, in between episodes of The Soup and Community. It could have been an inspired casting choice but the pairing just doesn’t work very well. The same can be said of Olivia Munn, who is given the thankless, dimensionless role of being the troubled sergeant’s wife.

I would have expected better from Scott Derrickson, who directed the far more disturbing Sinister and also The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but the scares for the first part of the film falls squarely into the “unexpected loud noises” and “animals jumping out from hidden places” categories. The second half fares better, but the exorcism sequence is about as run of the mill as it gets, almost as though Derrickson had a list in hand and checked off every clichéd sequence of every exorcism movie in cinematic history. I also have some issues with the cinematography, which is consistently dark and murky – understandable since Sarchie is a cop on the midnight beat, but surely some scenes could have had some additional sources of light apart from torch lights.

For a movie that’s purportedly based on a true story, much of Deliver Us from Evil feels too fantastical (yes, even for a movie about exorcism) to be grounded in reality. It also leaves several subplots unresolved and unexplained at the end, which can be frustrating since there’s obviously not going to be a sequel. However, it’s a decent horror film with reasonable production values, and the police procedural aspect is actually quite watchable, which is more than can be said of many horror films in recent years.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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Blended

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Genre: Romantic Comedy 

Director: Frank Coraci

Writer: Ivan Menchell, Clare Sera

Cast: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Terry Crews, Kevin Nealon, Wendi McLendon-Cobey, Bella Thorne, Joel McHale, Abdoulaye N’Gom, Jessica Lowe, Braxton Beckham, Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Kyle Red Silverstein, Zak Henri, Shaquille O’Neal, Dan Patrick, Jacqueline Sandler, Jared Sandler

Running Length: 117 minutes

Synopsis: After a disastrous blind date, single parents Lauren (Drew Barrymore) and Jim (Adam Sandler) agree on only one thing: they never want to see each other again. But when they each sign up separately for a fabulous family vacation with their kids, they are all stuck sharing a suite at a luxurious African safari resort for a week.

Review: Blended would have been a far better movie if it focused on the romance between the lead actors, rather than trying to milk each scene for maximum laughs (and failing more than half the time). This is the third time Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore have been paired together in a romantic comedy, and the decade apart has not diminished the duo’s chemistry – in fact, the film works solely because of the strength of this pairing. Whilst Blended is a serviceable film at its best moments, there are a fair number of issues that plague the movie. It’s a far better film than Sandler’s recent output, but since we’re talking about movies like Grown Ups 2 and Jack and Jill, that is a really low bar to begin with.

Blended runs at close to 2 hours, running long for a romantic comedy that breaks no new ground. Much of this is due to a really extended expositionary setup, running over 40 minutes, to (over)explain how the unlikely couple and assorted offspring gets “blended” in Africa. Save for the disastrous first date (almost entirely played out in the trailer, unfortunately), this could possibly be one of the most boring lead-ups I’ve seen in any Adam Sandler movie. Things start moving along at a better pace once everyone is in Africa, but even then the narrative for the movie is very loose, with the rest of the film presented almost in vignette style. There’s a surfeit of subplots, and again nothing that hasn’t been seen before – the tomboy daughter, the son that needs a father figure in his life, the ex-husband that never really goes away… The list goes on.

Despite being filmed in Africa, there is very little actual purpose served by having the cast situated in the exotic locale. There are some scenes of the African savannah landscape and various wild animals, but the Africans are definitely given short shrift, seemingly present in the film only as serfs to the “colonial masters”. The worst offender of all is Terry Crews, who leads what seems like a sleazy African take on a Greek chorus. There’s absolutely no purpose served in all of his scenes, and they can all be removed without impacting the movie in the least. Crews is just part of the attempt to do comedy in the film, and while there are scenes that are amusing, much of it ends up falling rather flat. At least to Sandler’s credit there are zero scenes that involve farting, pooping or vomiting (ok there’s one pissing scene but it’s actually pretty tastefully done).

It’s a thankful thing that the scenes with Sandler and Barrymore do much better, and that there are a good number of these in Blended. The duo shares an easy chemistry, and the casual banter between the two are far more humourous and enjoyable than much of the forced comedy the audience is forced to endure. Barrymore may not be playing a very deep or complex character here, but Sandler is at his best when the two share the screen. It may not be the most obvious romantic pairing around, but it works. Though it’s easily the weakest of the trio of movies (the other two being 50 First Dates and The Wedding Singer), Blended remains watchable because of this, and amongst the testosterone-laden Summer action films, Blended should find a sizeable audience looking for alternatives.   

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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Transcendence

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Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama

Director: Wally Pfister

Writer: Jack Paglen

Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy

Running Length: 119 mins

Synopsis: Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can… but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.

Review: Transcendence is Wally Pfister’s first directorial outing after a good number of collaborations with Christopher Nolan as his DP, and it’s clear to see that Nolan has made more than an impression on Pfister’s directorial style – it’s almost as though Pfister had morphed into a Mini-Me version of Nolan, except without as much directorial flair. Pfister had set out to make a weighty, cerebral sci-fi movie in the mould of Inception, but the end result is more heavy-handed than weighty, more befuddling than thought-provoking. While it starts off intriguing and tries its best to captivate the audience, the movie sags under its own overplotting, eventually imploding in a most spectacular fashion into a hole-ridden, completely unbelievable denouement, after going nowhere with its plot for more than an hour.  

There are certainly things to like about Transcendence – the film is handsomely shot (on 35mm film no less), and both Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany do a good job of being the focal points for much of the movie. Paul Bettany in particular turns in a particularly heartfelt performance, and becomes the emotional centre of Transcendence, and though it is definitely not intentional, Bettany becomes the person to root for in the film, eclipsing Rebecca Hall despite her continual presence. The technobabble is at least interesting for the first few reels, and the film does try its best to make a point about the over-reliance on computers and technology that plagues all of us these days.

However, for every positive aspect, negative aspects abound. The leading name on the poster may have been Johnny Depp, but he disappears for most of the movie, and given that he is playing an AI version of himself, it perhaps can be forgiven that his performance is flat and uninspired. The same goes for the rest of the supporting cast apart from Hall and Bettany, who are given nothing much to do except be devices for exposition. Even the usually great Morgan Freeman fails to impress, and that’s when you know something has gone awry.

Transcendence also makes the fatal flaw of trying to be smarter than the audience, but then actually not following through on the attempt. It’s immediately apparent – the movie is told from a flashback perspective of Max Waters, which essentially gives the ending away in the first five minutes. Usually this would mean that the movie has another reveal up its sleeves, but that’s not really the case in Transcendence, which leads one to question why the narrative structure was picked.

And in the second half of the movie, where nanotechnology plays a huge role, the script time and again requires audiences to fully suspend their disbelief and to accept the proceedings at face value. The technology is absurd, and the logic is nonexistent – this may be acceptable in a typical Summer action blockbuster, but not in a movie that’s trying so hard to be an intellectual one. It’s ineffective and rather insulting to the audience to be quite honest, especially given how the plot eventually writes itself into a very tight corner, and then plods to a long-expected but illogical conclusion that the audience has already (literally) seen coming from the start. And true to the shared DNA with Christopher Nolan, Pfister chooses to end off the movie with one final shot that is open to interpretation, much like Inception – the only difference being that I was absolutely not vested to even attempt any interpretation. Transcended, this has not.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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Cuban Fury

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Genre: Comedy

Director: James Griffiths

Writer: Jon Brown, based on an original idea by Nick Frost

Cast: Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O’Dowd, Olivia Colman, Kayvan Novak, Ian McShane

Running Length: 98 mins

Synopsis: In 1987 a 13-year-old, natural-born dancer with fire in his heels and snakes in his hips is working himself up to explode all over the UK Junior Salsa Championships. But when a bullying incident on the mean streets of London robs him of his confidence, our young hero finds his life diverted down a very different path. 22 years later, an adult Bruce Garrett (Nick Frost) finds himself out of shape and unloved, trapped in a downward spiral of self-pity and repression. Only Julia (Rashida Jones), his smart, funny, gorgeous new American boss, gives him reason to live. But she’s out of his league. Luckily for him, she also has a secret passion. Thus, Bruce is once again brought face-to-face with the darkest and most powerful of his inner demons. Somehow, someway, Bruce must learn how to unshackle his dancing beast, regain his long lost fury and claim the love of his life…and he’s going to do it all on the dance floor.

Review: I’m a big fan of dancing movies – Strictly Ballroom remains one of my favourites, but even the cheesiest dancing franchises will get me shimmying to the nearest cinema. Cuban Fury seems at first glance to be a perfect marriage of two genres – dancing and comedy – that we haven’t seen in quite some time, but unfortunately it doesn’t exactly live up to its promise. While still a perfectly acceptable comedy, the film runs rather limp for much of its running time, livening up in all too brief bursts.

This is Nick Frost’s first solo outing, and while he remains a pretty charming actor with excellent comic timing (one of the opening scenes in which he digs into a four-pack of mini yoghurt tubs is a master class in precision comedy), and Rashida Jones turns up her charm to 11, the true stars of the movie are the supporting actors. Chris O’Dowd is impossibly slimy and abominable as the office lecher, and Olivia Colman shines as Bruce’s cocktail waitress sister, but the biggest scene stealer is Kayvan Novak. His portrayal of Bejan, a fellow dance student, is such a memorable take on what could have been a derivative, boring character, that he effortlessly steals Frost’s thunder every time they appear together.

A dance movie, even a comedy like this one, lives and dies by its dance routines. And this aspect is the biggest failing of Cuban Fury – not only is there a distinct lack of “proper” dance sequences (even the finale feels watered down), it’s quite easy to tell that even with (supposedly) months of training, Nick Frost is not a dancer and simply can’t convince as a lapsed salsa dancing prodigy. There’s a good office dance-off between O’Dowd and Frost, but it’s too little and arguably a little too late.

Thus, what should have been a cracking combination of dance and comedy ends up feeling a little short on both ends, and though it will still leave hardcore rom-com enthusiasts feeling satisfied, it would not do so well in the more critical eyes of a typical cinemagoer. 

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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Labor Day

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Genre: Drama

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard

Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg

Running Length: 111 minutes

Synopsis: Labor  Day  centers  on  13-­year-­old  Henry  Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith),  who  struggles  to  be  the  man of  his  house  and  care  for  his   reclusive mother Adele (Kate Winslet) while confronting all the pangs of adolescence. On a back-to-school shopping trip, Henry and his mother encounter Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), a man both intimidating and clearly in need of help, who convinces them to take him into their home and later is revealed to be an escaped convict. The events of this long Labor Day weekend will shape them for the rest of their lives.

Review: Sentimental to a fault, it’s hard to associate the director of Thank You For Smoking, Up In the Air and Juno to be behind the helm of Labor Day, a movie that would be perfectly at home in the canon of Nicholas Sparks movies, despite it not being a novel written by Sparks. Yet, Jason Reitman not only directed the film, but was also responsible for the screenplay, and it is such a stark departure from his previous work that it’s nearly impossible to reconcile.

Looking past that, it’s easy to see that Labor Day must have had some Oscar aspirations. The film is beautifully shot, and Kate Winslet once again hits it out of the ballpark with her portrayal of Adele. It’s a demanding role that requires the thespian to portray a broad spectrum of emotional states, and yet it has to be done with restraint, appropriate for a love-starved woman who has hidden away from the world. It’s a terrific, engaging performance. Josh Brolin puts forth one of his most charismatic turns ever, and it’s easy to see how anyone would fall for his Frank, who apart from being a convict, is about as perfect a mate as one could hope for.

Despite the great performances by Winslet and Brolin, Labor Day is really too schmaltzy for its own good, resulting in a film that becomes increasingly hard to take seriously. This is particularly apparent in the final reel, where there’s such a massive confluence of unfortunate events that the film firmly detaches itself from reality (and this potentially is more the fault of Joyce Maynard than Reitman, but having never read the novel I cannot say for sure). The film also suffers from mild schizophrenia, none more apparent than the pie-making scene, which seems to draw inspiration from the (in)famous pottery sequence in Ghost, and suddenly switches modes into a cooking program. It is almost as though Reitman couldn’t decide whether to make this a thriller, a romance, a drama or a Food Network special, and so he simply threw everything into the mix (pun not intended).

Labor Day ends up being a film that would work for a very narrow audience – if you loved the Nicholas Sparks movies, there’s a good chance that you will find Labor Day to be a gem amongst the testosterone-fueled pre-Summer flicks of late. One does hope that Reitman’s next project would bring his sharp, satirical eye back into focus, and not be another rather generic, near-mawkish film like this one.      

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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Need for Speed

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Genre: Action

Director: Scott Waugh

Writers: George Gatins & John Gatins, based on the videogame series created by Electronic Arts

Cast: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Michael Keaton

Running Length: 130 minutes

Synopsis: Based on the racing video game franchise, Need For Speed follows Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a blue-collar mechanic, who is set on revenge when the wealthy ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) frames him for a crime he didn’t commit. Tobey knows the only chance to take down Dino is to defeat him in the high-stakes race known as De Leon. However to get there in time, Tobey will have to run a high-octane, action-packed gauntlet that includes dodging pursuing cops coast-to-coast as well as contending with a dangerous bounty Dino has put out on his car.

Review: It’s hard to imagine turning the Need for Speed videogame franchise into a movie – the games (numbering 20 or so installments) are very light on plot and focus mainly on the driving experience. Equally surprising is the choice of cast members – instead of the usual 6-foot hunk with a chiseled body and face, and a model-esque love interest with legs that stretch out to eternity, we have the small-ish Aaron Paul and the quirky-cute Imogen Poots as the central characters. And what’s truly intriguing is that it works pretty well – although the film runs way too long, the great acting chops and charisma from Paul and Poots is what makes the film much better than one would expect. That and the visceral stuntwork with the lust-worthy supercars, of course.

It is natural that Need for Speed will be compared to the Fast & Furious franchise, but the thing about this movie that it has no pretensions of trying to be a huge blockbuster. Its release date alone is indicative of this, and yet somehow this actually aids the movie since expectations while watching it are lowered. Instead of being fast and frenetic the entire time, Scott Waugh takes it slow and allows room for a bit more storytelling and acting. And this is where the film allows both Paul and Poots to really shine – Aaron Paul is a very, very good actor (anyone who has seen the Breaking Bad series already knows this for a fact) and he brings a gravitas to his role here that is seldom seen in an action film. Imogen Poots is the highlight of the movie, really, and her Julia is the most interesting female character that I have seen in an action film for a very long time. Sure, she still has to play the hapless damsel at times, but there is enough meat on the bone for her role apart from that.

Unfortunately Need for Speed goes against its own title and sacrifices a little too much speed for exposition, resulting in a film running over two hours long, definitely exceeding the attention span that most motorheads will bring to the cinema. Although there are three major action set pieces in the film, the final De Leon showdown actually feels like an anticlimax, especially when there’s really no mistaking how it would end. What’s truly great about the driving sequences in Need for Speed, however, is how real it feels, without the obvious digital manipulation that happens in so many movies in the same genre (Fast & Furious 6 was a particularly egregious offender). This is a film that has no CGI and should be respected for that fact alone. This is probably due to Waugh’s background as a stuntman, and the film ends up feeling more organic and comes across as being more believable. It’s not a stretch to say that this is one of the better video game adaptations I’ve seen, although that may or may not be a compliment since so many movies in the same genre have been essentially crap. Need for Speed is a reasonably entertaining diversion, which is about as good as it gets.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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Genre: Comedy

Director: Adam McKay

Writers: Will Ferrell & Adam McKay

Cast: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Meagan Good, Dylan Baker, James Marsden, Greg Kinnear, Kristen Wiig

Running Length: 119 minutes

Synopsis: With the 70’s behind him, San Diego’s top rated newsman, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), returns to the news desk in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” Also back for more are Ron’s co-anchor and wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), weather man Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), man on the street Brian Fontana (Paul Rudd) and sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner) – all of whom won’t make it easy to stay classy… while taking the nation’s first 24-hour news channel by storm.

Review: It is now undeniable that the original Anchorman (way back in 2004) has become a cult classic, chock-full of quotable quotes and finding an extended life in home video. The fact that it took almost ten years for the sequel to be made means that there’s a fair bit of pent-up demand for the movie (myself included, being a fan of the first installment). Although Anchorman 2 remains a very entertaining movie, there are more misses this time round, and an overly long running time means that Ron Burgundy and crew nearly outstay their welcome.

No one who willingly enters a theatre to watch Anchorman 2 would be surprised by what the film has to offer – essentially it’s more of the same, and that’s mostly a good thing. There are some side-splittingly hilarious sequences in the film, and much like the first movie there are some truly unfunny skits as well. The biggest problem Anchorman 2 presents, however, is that it’s running at almost two hours, and the places where the film falls flat feels much longer (and more painful) this time round.

It’s clear that Will Ferrell had employed his clout in Hollywood to amass a truly impressive list of cameos in Anchorman 2, albeit mostly contained in the finale which is a retread of a scene in the first Anchorman (and honestly, it was better the first time). Set in the early 80s, the film boasts an excellent retro soundtrack that would be instantly familiar to anyone acquainted with the period. Attention to detail also seems pretty spot on, and thus the film not only hits the funny bone but also plays into a nostalgia factor.

Amidst all the tomfoolery, the film actually makes a pretty astute comment about broadcast news that remains valid to this day. It’s not all low brow and juvenile humour, but the same can be said of the original Anchorman so it’s really not that surprising. However, the true intent of Anchorman 2 is clear: to strive to be a funny movie. Even though it’s not a great movie, it does manage to deliver a good number of laughs. And ultimately, that’s all it really needs to do to get a pass.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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