The Mountain Between Us (2017)

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Every once in a while you stumble upon something that makes you fall in love all over again, with that irresistible magic that first sparked your passion. Every movie lover can trace their journey back a few years, or possibly decades, to the moment that they first realised movie magic existed. I honestly never thought that Idris Elba and Kate Winslet would take me there, back to that dim little movie theatre on the corner of James and Robertson Street. Looking back now, I realise this is probably a movie I enjoyed a lot more than I “should have” (because in reality The Mountain Between Us has almost altogether flopped,) but I at least hope you can agree that there is nothing not to love about Elba and Winslet on a snowy mountain, battling for survival in what is almost an adventurous romance.

Kate Winslet is the free-spirited Alex, a photojournalist eagerly awaiting her wedding the following morning, while Idris Elba is the straight-laced Ben, a brain surgeon who must desperately operate on a dying 10 year old boy interstate. An impending storm has stranded them both at Salt Lake City Airport, with little choice but to wait out until the morning. With everything at stake, the pair persuade a local charter pilot to fly them across deadly mountain ranges, with little concern for local aviation or the pilot’s failing personal health. And so it goes, a sudden fatal stroke cascades the plane into the snowy peaks of Utah and we are left to pick up the pieces of their extraordinary battle for survival. I don’t have to fill in the gaps here, as I’m sure your mind is already drifting to the many injuries, hypothermia … or maybe even mountain cougars, you’ll see it all.

Kate Winslet once survived a sinking ship in Titanic, and Idris Elba once thrived on the streets of Baltimore in The Wire. There is no reason why these dynamic actors shouldn’t carry enough dramatic weight between them to elevate a trek through the desolate snow-blanketed mountain ranges. But instead, they find themselves floating somewhere between drama and soap opera. But here I’ll attribute Elba’s surprising awkwardness to his first-ever crack at romantic lead, (p.s. just as you might have hoped he is nothing short of dreamy.) Based on the novel by Charles Martin, and propelled by the screenplay collaboration of Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, who share a wide scope of successful romance films between them, The Mountain Between Us has all of the mesmerising elements to succeed. Add Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, the visionary behind Paradise Now and Omar (a love story, mind you) and there’s no room for fault. But here the once epic vision fails and instead the beautiful mountains begin to look more like molehills.

Right – but coming back to my dramatic spiel in the beginning. For a reason unbeknown to me, I was enveloped in the charasmatic charm, mystery, drama and unfolding romance, so much so I almost shed a happy tear. The film may have altogether tumbled and it might have been dramatically corny, but my romantic soft spot overcame. So if you’re weighing up whether to watch this one, you need to first consider the pros and cons for yourself in order to really derive a solution. If you read this review and at any moment in time you felt compelled to throw up, I am inclined to tell you that this is definitely not a movie I would recommend for you. It’s so bad that it’s really good!

Here’s what the professional critics had to say … ‘This romantic drama is most compelling as a mild story of survival adventure. Contemporary romances often stumble over the first hurdle: Their dramatic obstacle.’ – Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media or ‘A perfect title for a movie in which neither the subzero temperature nor the romantic heat penetrates more than skin deep.’ – Peter Debruge, Variety

IMDb – 6.2  Rotten Tomatoes – 43%

★★★☆☆

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Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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All monster films fall into two kinds of categories – one that takes its time to reveal the monster and one that shows you the monster straight away. The star of this show is front and center for the entire 118 minute running time. We’re all accustomed to the mighty King Kong from Merian Coopers’ 1933 original all the way to 2005’s Jack Black reboot, there are just way too many spiels to list. But you’ll be happy to know this remake is engaging, mesmerising and Tom Hiddleston (I’m sold).

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ reset of the Kong legend returns to 1973, as the last American troops are pulling out of Vietnam. Colonel Packard, played by Samuel L. Jackson (I’m sold sold), is reluctant to leave the battlefield, suspended in an existential crisis as the war draws to a close. Packard’s right-hand man Chapman, Toby Kebbell, looks forward to returning home to his son, as do all of the other helicopter squadron members do. But on the other side of the world, Government representative John Goodman relentlessly pursues a hollow-earth theory expedition on Skull Island. A land mass perpetually overcast by violent storms, there is no limit to what could be discovered. He hires James Conrad, Tom Hiddleston, to be the skilled tracker on the mission to chronicle any findings, and piggybacks on the helicopter squadron to discover monsters, bombs and a grizzly John C. Reilly (Step Brothers).

Vogt-Roberts and the film’s screenwriting trio play out the occasionally troubling conflicts of Vietnam on the backdrop of a panicked survival group attempting to escape a forbidden island. The period setting throughout Skull Island is based on an appealing soundtrack by the stooges and Jefferson Airplane, but the updated man-vs-beast conflict of previous King Kong tales roots in the blood-soaked anxiety of war. The cycle of war is astonishing, and superbly written – unlike anything you’ve seen in any other King Kong film. The island is richly bathed in colour of both natural and post-production, but this unique style sets it apart from any modern re-imagining. Designs are impressive, creations are emotive and breathtaking … it’s showy … but it works.

Skull Island takes on the role of mixing in memorable actors in even the smallest parts of the film. Few of the characters are built upon more than an introduction or a rapid-survival failure. John C. Reilly is particularly spot-on, with a mix of mania and sorrow, in the middle of an extravagant tale of monsters. Goodman is a selfish deadpan, Jackson derails with his eyes fuming with rage and Larson delivers a kind of kindness and compassion that causes Hiddleston to run around in gas masks for her. The cast is sensational really, and in my opinion a great combination for an epic spiel like this one.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of Kong comes after you’re done reeling from the fun of the film. This definitely won’t be the last we see of this fantastic ape, but it’s the kind of messy enjoyable throwback that will leave you wanting more.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 7.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 79%

The Great Wall (2016)

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“A hybrid between a historical epic and an action fantasy, The Great Wall manages to be only a passable example of each genre, which makes it less memorable than it had the potential to be.” – Common Sense Media ★★☆☆☆

Matt Damon has earned his merits for action spectaculars with Saving Private Ryan, The Martian and the Bourne films, yet veteran Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou is an action world class master. Following Hero, House of Flying Daggers and the unforgettable 2008 Beijing Olympics ceremonies, Zhang Yimou teams up with the US for the co-production of the century, a whopping $150 million dollar project. And the result in a nut shell? It takes a white Hollywood A-List actor to save the Chinese world.

The Great Wall, a monument decorated with history, prestige and nobility, a place where the walls whisper ancient myths- and this is one of them. Matt Damon is William and Pedro Pascal is Tovar, two 12th century European mercenaries who scope the deserts of Western China looking for mysterious black powder. In the search for riches and fortune, the two best-friends push toward the Great Wall to make a deal, where they are met with a spray of arrows and an immensely organised and colourful Chinese army. Zhang keeps this swirl of colour, light and dizzying action as almost a distraction from the plot, which unfolds miraculously from a plan to escape.

The Great Wall’s action scenes exemplify a sense of fierce determination and precision, a shared responsibility that one will rarely discover in action spectaculars. Not only is the film thrillingly large scale, but it is visually euphoric, an artwork of colour and beauty amidst a prominence of computer-generated imagery. Although the film is often well-choreographed, it is very easy to be seduced by scenes of impersonal warfare and battle. But as the fighting slows down, and the characters evolve, there is little spark between our Caucasian and Chinese performers. But this is simply because The Great Wall is unlike any American blockbuster you’ve ever ever ever seen, and character development is minimally the focus in the inventive and thrilling action pieces that evolve before your very eyes.

I was born into battle.

I have little to say about The Great Wall, other than its fantastic ability to work as an action-adventure spectacular. In this, we see the triumph of the Chinese as sacrificial, determined and relentless warriors, in what can only be described as a tribute to China’s war history. But in the midst of this fierce patriotism is an entertaining blockbuster with eye-popping and breathtaking cinematography – that only follows the simplistic plotting of a Chinese myth. Watch this blockbuster on the biggest cinema screen you can find.

★★☆☆☆

Imdb – 6.3/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 36%

Live by Night (2016)

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Ben Affleck has proven time and time again that he is an outstanding director, fuelled by an entirely impressive expertise of filmmaking from his very first Gone, Baby Gone to his more recent and highly successful Argo. But with the release of Live By Night this weekend, Affleck turns a corner with his very own adapted screenplay from Dennis Lehane’s amiable gangster novel sensation.

Ben Affleck, as lead Joe Coughlin, returns disenfranchised from World War I, haunted by the arbitrary violence and barbarism that painted his life. Filled with refractory hatred towards those in power, Coughlin becomes an outlaw on the streets of Boston, living by night in search of the next bank to rob or gamble to gain in the era of Prohibition and underground distilleries, speakeasies and gangsters. It’s not long before Coughlin is drawn into the gang war of Irish Albert White and Italian Maso Pescatore, and not much longer again before Joe ends up in their employ, working in Florida to raise Prohibition, build casinos and gain revenge.

As with all other prominent films that Affleck has directed, he passes the juiciest roles to his outstanding co-stars, with Sienna Miller as the knockout mistress of Irish mob boss Robert Glenister and Zoe Saldana as the Cuban love interest on the Florida bootlegging operation. Here is where you might get confused, because you can also throw in Chris Cooper as the God-fearing local sheriff, Elle Fanning as the good girl turned prostitute, Matthew Maher as the leader of the KKK and another handful of religious conversion and zealotry to boot. It makes more sense when you watch it yourself, from start to finish. But as a lead himself, Affleck maintains his square-jawed Batman, an observer in his own life rather than a participator, a concept built into the fabric of Lehane’s novel.

What you put into the world will always come back for you.” Simply put, this quote perfectly sums up my take on Live by Night, as more than just merely a gangster movie, but as a whole take on human life and the value of luck and fate for those who take it.

Live by Night is a beautiful film of exceptional cinematography and outstanding filmmaking, and Affleck really shines as a director of brilliant actors and vying action. Affleck knows too well how to create a haunting gangster noir worth getting lost in.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 6.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 32%

Iron Man 3 – Unleash the power behind the armour (2013)

Tony stark is now a shadow of his former courageous self. He’s struggling with reality, love and depression, obsessed with recovering from the circumstances he experienced during The Avengers. The third Iron Man installment relies more on character and irreverence, which makes this a better film, equipped with more surprises and fewer clichés.

Killian is a socially awkward outcast turned criminal billionaire that begins working on a human mutation project which seems linked to an exclusive terrorist known as The Mandarin. Tony Stark’s last adventure left him in a complete wreck. But as the past comes back to haunt him he’s totally unprepared – and when the world’s biggest terrorist threatens to attack and demolish America, Stark decides to reassemble his war machine and put up one last fight.

Robert Downey Jnr. once again charms the viewers as Tony Stark, the complex and egotistical superhero with no real secret identity. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as the elegant and overly stunning Pepper Potts, who is thankfully featured on-screen more than in earlier films. Kingsley brings full weight and gravity to his character The Mandarin, his voice portraying a creepy yet powerful intonation. Guy Pearce who plays the mastermind Aldrich Killian, is part slick businessman and part mad geek who handles conflict surprisingly well.

The film is given a potentially vibrant Tony Stark, an improved Mandarin, a fantastic cast, phenomenal special effects and a bland and uninspiring script. It was disappointing in comparison to the previous big-budget Iron Man films. On the bright side it was a great pleasure watching Downey Jnr. and his wonderful performance that really pulled Iron Man 3 out of full despair. It’s highly entertaining, full of unexpected surprises and pulled by a phenomenally talented cast.

Battleship – The Infamous Board Game Comes to Life (2012)

Jon Hoeber has recently written an action-packed film based on the infamous Hasbro guessing game, Battleship. Battleship combines Air Force One, Independence day and a strong passion for the Navy to create an effects-driven battle against the forces of evil. Battleship is for those who found Transformers too challenging to watch and prefer a modest film that tests the limits of authenticity.

Alex is a careless slouch who lives with his honorable Navy officer brother, Stone. Shortly Alex wins affection of Sam, a tall and beautiful physiotherapist, the daughter of Navy Admiral Shane. He decides to straighten up and join the Navy, but it’s not long before their Navy ship discovers a large robotic armada in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Navy put Alex in charge and its up to him to save the day and return to the girl he’s so madly in love with.

The film has some marvellous visual effects but if you’re generally annoyed by plot holes and the concept of high-tech aliens being beaten by low-tech officers then this isn’t the film for you. However, director Peter Berg has layered patriotism and Navy loyalty into a film filled with morals, to recount the incredible sacrifices of fighting for your country.

Taylor Kitsch showcases his maturity as the leading actor with the troubled and agitated Alex. Popular singer Rihanna is surprisingly great in her first acting effort while Brooklyn Decker steals the spotlight through her delivery of charming physiotherapist Sam. Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgard raise the acting quality in the cast but often lack character development throughout the film. It takes half an hour before the aliens hit the screen but meanwhile Battleship introduces the fascinating characters and dramatic persona.

Battleship is a big budget action film perfect for fans of the genre. Peter Berg delivers a dubious yet clever retelling of Transformers but manages to improve the character development and special effects. Strong actors accompanied by a skillful soundtrack; sink into the enthusiastic Navel story that is Battleship.