15th Feb2014

The Monuments Men – Film

by timbaros
images-102The Monuments Men was originally scheduled for release in December, 2013 in order to qualify for the awards season, but due to problems in the post-production (editing) process, the release was pushed back to February in both the UK and the U.S.
What were the problems? Trying to balance the dramatic element of the film with the comedic element. Did it work? In my opinion (and in the opinions of other film critics), it did not.
The Monuments Men, with the tag line of ‘based on a true story,’ is about a group of men during World War 2 who set about saving valuable works of art form the hands of the nazis towards the end of WW2.
George Clooney, star, director, co-screenwriter and co-producer, plays the head savoir of the art team, and got together his posse of friends to be in HIS movie. These friends include Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman. Other actors drafted to be in this film include Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and English actor Hugh Bonneville. The men play the team enlisted to find the works of art – some of older men were drafted because they were historians and architects and thus were drafted for their expertise.
The dramatic element of the film works fine: Men in the middle of a very dangerous war in occupied countries are tasked to retrieve stolen art. Deaths happen, scenes of fighting all around them, and the realistic looking art and set direction would’ve made for a good movie. It’s the comedic element that just does not work.
What you have onscreen is a mish mash of actors of different ages who are playing characters, but its the older ones who are the brunt of many jokes. Goodman has a hard time in basic training and just generally getting around due to his weight. Dujardin has a thick French accent this is made fun of, but is it funny? No. And Balaban is completely blind when he doesn’t have his spectacles. There is one strange scene where Balaban’s character has a standoff with a German soldier – nothing really happens in that scene but we are supposed to find it funny that both Balaban and the soldier don’t know what the other is thinking or going to do, until the soldier goes away, happy with the cigarette that was given to him. Huh?
Also, there seems to be a separate movie going on between Damon’s character, who is tasked with actually delivering the art to the rightful owners, and Blanchett’s character – lonely and vulnerable Claire Simone – a curator who is forced to allow the Nazi’s to steal valuable art. Simone pines for Damon, but he’s a married man, and his duty is to deliver art, and nothing more. Damon’s character pops back to the team from time to time to remind us that he is in that part of the film as well, in a way to connect his and Simone’s storyline to the rest of the men’s storyline.
The problem with The Monuments Men is that the film just does not work. Even at the end, when a very valuable and sentimental piece of art work that was stolen is found hidden away in a cave, there really is no emotional impact for the viewer. And in the final final scene, Clooney employs his father to play him as an older man to try to tweak some kind of final wrung of emotion, but it fails.
The Monuments Men was made for a whopping $75,000,000. It has so far grossed a paltry $30,000,000 in the U.S. It has just opened up in the UK. Clooney, in acting as the film’s driver, needs a wakeup call in that everything he does does not turn into gold. In this case, The Monuments Men turns to dust. No team will ever be able to save this piece of art.


15th Feb2014

Her – Film

by timbaros
images-101It is common nowadays to see people literally connected to their phones. It’s like a third hand for some, and for most it’s the one thing thing that they could not live without. Her, now in cinemas, takes the relationships with our phones even further in that it’s main character actually falls in love with his phone’s Operating System.
Theodore Twombly (played by an excellent and almost unrecognizable Joaquin Phoenix)  is the man who is in love with his phone. Well, he’s not actually in love with his phone but in love with the women’s voice who is the Operating System.
Twombly, recently divorced, fortyish, and obviously very lonely, is an expert letter writer (number 612 in his company) – people hire him to write personal handwritten letters to their loved ones. Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, Twombly’s life revolves around work, and his fascination with technology, which has him purchasing the latest gadgets with the most up-to-date systems. This includes his purchase of a new Operating System that is connected to both his computer and to his phone. However, this Operating System is not just a monotone voice with no personality (similar to Siri on Apple’s Iphone), it is a voice that appears to be specially made for him, a voice that he chose to be a woman. It is a very sexy female voice, whose name happens to be Samantha (the voice of Scarlett Johansson). In a world of futuristic looking buildings and lack of personal interaction, Her takes our relationship with technology (and specifically phones) to a whole different level (scary but perhaps realistic). Twombly is longing, perhaps hopelessly, to connect with that voice and hopefully with the person behind that voice. He is slowly falling in love with that voice, a voice that deep down he knows is just a voice. He tells Samantha his innermost thoughts, and starts telling people that he is in a relationship with Samantha. He even tells Samantha that “you helped me discover the ability to want.” But all Samantha is is the voice of a portable gadget and his computer.
Her messes with the idea (perhaps correctly) that we are all getting too dependent on our phones or laptops/tablets/desktop computers, that we are now living our lives talking, texting, socializing, falling in love – all done on our phones or on our computers. Twombly is not the only one who is in love with a voice, his upstairs neighbor Amy (Amy Adams) is also getting caught up in a relationship with the Operating System left behind by her estranged husband. And it seems that Twombly and Amy would make a perfect couple, but they both are so hooked on their device that they seem devoid of actually connecting to anyone real, anyone physical. Is this how our society will be in 20 years time? This proves just how strangely connected they are (and perhaps so are we) to technology.
Her is director Spike Jonze’s first film that he has written on his own. He wrote it three years ago over a long New York winter. Some of Her was shot in Shanghai which has shiny new skyscrapers and raised walkways, perfect for Her to show how people are in such a crowded city but yet strangely disconnected to each other. And as an added backdrop to the making of Her, Samantha Morton originally recorded the voice of Samantha, but in post production Jonze felt that Morton’s voice didn’t resonate the way he wanted it to. So he went with Johannson, who has perhaps one of the sexiest female voices in Hollywood.
Phoenix, who offscreen has a very strange and somewhat interesting reputation, originally felt that he was wrong for the part of Twombly, but his physical appearance in the film – glasses and mustache – make him look very unrecognizable. Phoenix takes his acting to whole different level in this film as most of the time it is just him (and ‘Her’) talking to each other, making us feel like we are watching a romance blossoming. Phoenix was very good in his last film – The Master – but in Her he is excellent.
Was Jonze trying to send a message with this film that technology is taking over our lives? That we are getting too dependent on technology and specifically our mobile phones? And that our mobile phones are never out of our sight for the reason being that we can’t live without them? Have a look around on your way home tonight. You’ll notice that most (if not all) of the people around you are on their phones, either listening to music, checking messages, playing a game, etc….or just simply holding it in their hands.
It takes a movie like Her to remind us that even phones can let us down, and that there is nothing quite like human interaction. Try it some time, you’ll like it.

15th Feb2014

Captain Phillips – DVD

by timbaros
images-100Captain Phillips is the story of man who is responsible not just for his ship but also for the lives of his crew members, it is a story of survival, action, adventure, human emotion and a look at a man who faces uncertainty.
In an Academy Award worthy performance, Hanks plays Richard Phillips, a family man from America’s Northeast who does not have a typical office job, his job is to captain ships to carry cargo through friendly and sometimes not so friendly waters. It is March 2009, and Phillips (this film is based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals, and Dangerous Days at sea, by the real Richard Phillips) is captaining the MV Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship that is travelling to Moombasa, Kenya via the Arabian Sea and past the east coast of the Somali coastline – international waters. Once the Maersk Alabaman reaches these waters, Phillips and his captain Shane Murphy (Michael Chernus), notice two objects quickly approaching their ship. They know right there and then that these two boats are not a welcoming committee. They know, from information provided to them by the U.S. government, that these boats are Somali pirates. To try to thwart them, Phillips makes a false announcement on the radio that they can hear. One of the boats turns around, but one continues speeding straight ahead towards them.  Luckily for Phillips and his crew, this second boat eventually turns around and disappears off their radar. However, later in the day, a single boat is detected on their radar, again heading straight for them. This boat eventually gets to within meters of the Alabama, with four Somali’s on board, who start shooting at the captain and his crew. Trying to stave them off, Phillips orders the water cannons to be turned on as a deterrent from them getting on board. One of the water cannons fails, so Murphy attempts to fix it, but is unable to, and the four Somali pirates use a ladder to get on the boat, rifles in hand, demanding money. Not content with the $30,000 Phillips has onboard to offer them, the situation becomes tense and violent. Phillips tries to outsmart them, and at the same time trying to keep the whereabout of the rest of his crew known to the pirate. The pirates, headed by Bilal (a scary and amazing performance by newcomer Barkhad Abdirahman), are very aggressive and don’t want the hijacking to get out of hand, and they want to find the rest of the crew, who are hiding in the ship’s engine room. The movie gets more dramatic and tense as things go very wrong and Captain Phillips is taken hostage aboard the Somali’s boat. From this point Captain Phillips accelerates its action, intensifies the drama, and shows the pain that Captain Phillips has while he struggles and tries to reason with his captors, all the while being in a very cramped space in the small boat. He senses deep down that this may be the very last time he will be on the water. He is convinced his captors are going to kill him.Greengrass, who directed United 93, Green Zone and The Bourne Ultimatum and Supremacy, sure does know his away around an action film, However, in Captain Phillips, unlike in his other films, he gives his leading man depth, a personality, a real human being (Hanks), who carries the film throughout. Hanks gives the performance of his career, and at the age of 57, having appeared in some of the most successful films of all time, including Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, his performance here is a revelation. In Captain Phillips, Hanks plays a character almost similar to his character in Philadelphiia; death is imminent – or for Captain Phillips – is it? And in the last 10 minutes of this film, Phillips is very distressed, very emotional, very confused, and in shock, and Hanks’ performance in this scene is the mark of a true action genius. It is this part of the film that seals Hanks as one of the greatest actors of all time. Kudos are also for the actors playing the Somali pirates. They are not just the usual bad guy characters, each of them is completely drawn with their own personality, and not lumped as typical terrorists seen on the big screen nowadays. Actually, the actors who played the pirates auditioned to be in this film in Minneapolis, which has a large Somali community, by responding to a television advert. Abdirahman had been working as a limousine driver, and auditioned and got what is basically the second lead role in the film, behind Hanks. Shockingly, Tom Hanks has not been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. This is the biggest mistake the Academy has ever done.
To set the record straight, the real crew members of the Alabama have claimed that this film does not tell the true story. The Chief Engineer of the Alabama, according to CNN, said that Phillips’ recklessness put the ship in pirate-controlled waters. Another engineer claimed that Phillips ignored warnings and set a course through dangerous waters to save time and money. Whatever the facts are, Captain Phillips the movie is one exhilarating ride, with a truly stunning performance by Hanks. Captain Phillips is the film event of the year. Go see it.
15th Feb2014

Blue Jasmine – DVD

by timbaros

images-99Jasmine’s life is no longer what it used to be. Once married to a rich businessman in New York City who turns out to be a crook and a cheat, she moves to San Francisco to start a new life. This is the plot of Woody Allen’s charming new film Blue Jasmine.

Jasmine, in an Oscar-worthy performance by Cate Blanchett, lived in a sumptious apartment on Park Avenue, had lots of clothes and jewellery, and seemed to have the perfect life. Her husband, Harold “Hal” Francis (a perfectly cast and suave Alec Baldwin), was a successful businessman. But it was all smoke and mirrors. Not only was her husband having affairs behind her back, but he was also swindling investors (friends and family included – a la Bernie Madoff), including her sister and her husband. When he tells Jasmine that he is leaving her for a much younger woman, she decides to call the FBI to report him. By doing this, she realizes her life will change dramatically, and change it does. Jasmine has a nervous breakdown, everything that she and her husband owned are taken by the U.S. government, and she is left with just the clothes she has. Broke and nowhere to go, she heads to San Francisco to live with her half-sister, Ginger (an adorable and perky Sally Hawkins). Blue Jasmine juxtaposes her San Francisco life with her former New York life, the smallest memory or thought she has in San Francisco takes her mind back to certain New York memories. Yet, still mentally unstable and extremely emotional,  she is at a loss as to what to do with her life.  Thanks to her sister’s fiance Chili (recent Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale), she gets a job as a receptionist in a dentist office while at night she studies computers so that she can become an interior designer. In the meantime, she meets and falls in love with wealthy diplomat Dwight Westlake (Peter Sarsgaard), yet she is not quite ready to tell him about her previous life in New York, including the fact that her husband committed suicide in prison. Jasmine is not having it easy.

Blue Jasmine, written and directed by Woody Allen, is one of his best films in years. His last two films, the charming To Rome With Love and the beautiful Midnight in Paris, took him to Europe. With Blue Jasmine Allen is back on familiar territory (New York). Allen tends to bring out the best in acting from his actors, and Blue Jasmine is no exception. Blanchett has never been better, in Blue Jasmine she is obviously having a hard time of life, and when it appears she is on the way up, she just gets knocked back down again. Her character is a strong woman, but circumstance beyond her control have changed that. Baldwin, all so suave and slick, is one of those actors where you can always count on giving a great performance, and in Blue Jasmine he does again. Hawkins, always so bubbly in everything she is in, is fantastic as the sister who is happy with her lot in life (working as a clerk in a grocery store) and being attracted to men who are not very ambitious. Max Casalla as Ginger’s ex-husband is very good as he still blames Jasmine for her husband’s swindling of all of his money and the breakdown of his marriage. Blue Jasmine is a very charming movie, with great performances, great location scenery in San Francisco, and a timely story. Let’s hope Woody Allen continues to make movies for the next 50 years.