Saturday, 25 January 2014

Ranthology 2014 - Part:One

It's been a strange start to the year. I've seen film after film, with multiple nominations and hardly anything that seems to deserve the level of praise. Maybe I've lost the plot but here are my thoughts on some of the recent films:

American Hustle (2013) - With actors like Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner leading the cast, my expectations were sky-high. On paper, this sounds like an extraordinary film. Instead, what I found was a haphazard, oddly-written film that constantly swerved from serious to comedy and didn't actually commit to either. Loosely based on a true story, it revolves around a sting operation orchestrated by FBI agent DiMaso (Cooper), who forces con-artists Rosenfeld (Bale) and Prosser (Adams) to expose politicians involved in illegal dealings, including Mayor Polito (Renner). Along the way, Rosenfeld's alcoholic and unpredictable wife (Lawrence) also gets involved and the plot thickens. To be fair, the actors have done an excellent job individually - but the words coming out of their mouths let down the talent in every scene. David O. Russell has always been a very hit and miss writer-director for me. While I found Three Kings (1999) and The Fighter (2010) almost flawless, I'm confounded by the popularity of the very mediocre I Heart Huckabees (2004) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012). This film has joined the ranks of yet another potentially brilliant film, that really wasn't brilliant at all.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) - Such a pretty film; shame about the lack of a soul. Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, this is the story of a dreamer, who constantly goes into a fantasy world to escape from the reality of his very normal life. When his work throws out a challenge, he unwittingly finds himself embroiled in an adventure far greater than any fantasy he could ever have conceived. Based on a 1939 short story of the same name, the Walter Mitty of this age accomplishes far more than the original dreamer character was ever meant to. The visuals are stunning and the transitions between reality and fantasy are absolutely flawless. But once again, it is the story and the writing in general that has let this film down. While trying to be the Life of Pi of 2013, it ends up being confused about whether it is a feel-good, 'believe in yourself' film or an out-and-out comedy - and ends up being neither.

12 Years a Slave (2013) - Amended and updated here on 9 March, 2014.

The Railway Man (2013) - Another true story; another historical film. This one is based on an autobiography by Eric Lomax, a British soldier, who was captured by the Japanese in World War II and forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway with thousands of others. After he got caught with a radio he put together, he was tortured for days and the horrors from that period followed him through his later life. After much persuasion from his wife and his best friend, he embarked on a journey to find his captor and confront him. While this is a moving story and definitely a well-made film, with solid performances by Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgard, the question I ask is the same as for the film above. Why is this story important enough to be made now? At the risk of being political, I wonder if it really has to take almost 7 decades to expose war crimes and the horrors of prison torture. If so, will the stories from Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo get told in my lifetime? Probably not.

Grudge Match (2013) - Sylvester Stallone (aka Rocky Balboa) and Robert De Niro (aka Jake La Motta) team up in this film to play a pair of ageing boxers, who come out of retirement for one last match. This would have been such a fun film, if they hadn't decided to take themselves seriously. Which they did. So the film feels stale, forced and quite boring, to be honest. Really not worth the time.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) - Part of Tom Clancy's universe, this film is possibly one of the worst they have made so far. With an absolute lack of tension and suspense, with very awkward direction (Kenneth Branagh) and flat acting (Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh), this was one of the more boring films I saw at the cinema this year.

So some good, some bad, some average - but nothing that stood out so far.