Tag Archives: drama

Review – It Comes At Night (15) [2017]

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Trey Edward Shults – Krisha

Cast:

  • Joel Edgerton – Animal KingdomWarrior, Zero Dark Thirty, Exodus: Gods And KingThe Gift, Red Sparrow
  • Riley Keough – Magic Mike, Mad Max, We Don’t Belong Here, Welcome The Stranger
  • Christopher Abbott – Martha Marcy May Marlene, A Most Violent Year, Criminal Activities, Tyrel
  • Carmen Ejogo – The Purge: Anarchy, Selma, Alien: Covenant, Roman Israel, Esq.
  • Kelvin Harrison Jr. – The Birth Of A Nation, Mudbound, Assassination Nation
  • Griffin Robert Faulkner

Music Composer:

  • Brian McOmber – A Teacher, Krisha, Collective: Unconscious, The Last Shift

There are some films that are titled in such a way as to give viewers the wrong impression of the movie. Silence of the Lambs was about a serial killer and had merely a passing mention to its title; Heavenly Creatures was not about idyllic angels placed on Earth, but two psychopathic, pretty girls; and Batman v Superman was merely a headache-inducing, money-spinning ruse of a title to kick start the Justice League franchise. Similarly, It Comes At Night is mistitled and, consequently, misdirects its audience in a negative way.

Paul (Joel Edgerton) questioning Will (Christopher Abbott), who he has tied up to a tree and gagged, after Will broke into his house.

It Comes At Night is a film, set in an eerie forest in America. Disease/plague is rampant and Paul (Joel Edgerton), the militant patriarch of his family of three, will do whatever it takes to make sure his family do not become infected; even going so far as not to let anyone open the front door without his permission, to ensure that the disease does not come in.

But one day, a stranger called Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into his house and begs for them to let him and his family enter. They have no other way of surviving the plague. Paul is suspicious, but lets them in. However, not long after Will and his family arrive, Paul’s son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) finds the front door open. Who did it? Who has potentially let the disease into the house?

  It Comes At Night is a bad choice of title considering it is a film about (incurable) disease, the fear it brings, and the behaviour (paranoia) it manifests in people as a result. Nonetheless, disease does not just come at night; it can come during the day too. This is the first problem with the movie.

The second is that the film’s title does not epitomise the movie it wants to be. From the sound of it, one would think It Comes At Night is a paranormal horror film. There are a couple of jump scares, but not enough for the movie to be marketed as a horror film. Very soon, it becomes apparent that the tone of the movie is wrong for a horror film and that alone is enough to disappoint viewers (especially horror fans).

The door before the front door that must remain locked at all times, and only Paul has the key to it. Paul reckons it is the only way to keep out the disease…

If anything, It Comes At Night is a psychological drama. Through Will and his family, the film raises the fascinating moral conundrum that people faced in the Medieval times when the Bubonic Plague was rife: should people show compassion and humanity to others who need help, despite the risk that this could further spread the disease and kill members of one’s own family; or should people close their doors to strangers until the plague ends, despite this meaning many will die who could have been saved?

The film puts up a decent fist of conveying the conundrum. But there three problems with its execution: one is that not a lot happens, which makes for a dull watch; two, the movie is completely devoid of context and we are none-the-wiser by the end of the film as to what has happened to the world and how Paul’s and Will’s respective families have ended up in respective predicaments; and, three, Will does not come across as a trustworthy individual, which has the distortive effect of making viewers sympathies lean heavily toward Paul (and his suspicions/paranoia) over the needs of Will and his family.

The actors themselves are blameless for the way audiences see Paul and Will. Indeed, Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott are really good in their respective roles as two (very different types of) fathers doing their best to save their families. Interestingly, Director Trey Shults believes that the father-son relationship is a crucial element to It Comes At Night as he did not have a good relationship with his father growing up. What this means for Travis and Will’s son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), is anyone’s guess; particularly Travis. Much is ambiguous about him and it would have been helpful if the film explored his personality in greater detail. But again Kelvin Harrison Jr. is blameless and does well with what he is given.

The two families accusing one another, bitterly, of opening the door after Travis finds it open.

Additionally, Brian McOmber’s score growls and helps the audience feel the claustrophobia of the situation. Indeed, it deserves for something to build up to a climax and actually happen (and at night too).

All-in-all, It Comes At Night is a disappointing film. It has a fine cast, an interesting premise, and an important conundrum at its core. For if a disease akin to the Medieval Bubonic Plague returned, mankind may well behave like Paul and Will do in the film. Nevertheless, the sense lingers that something is amiss with It Comes At Night. It is boring, devoid of tension, and incorrectly marketed as a horror film. Ultimately, this all stems from its ill-chosen title.

PG’s Tips

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Review – Creed (15) [2016]

Creed - Title banner

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station

Cast:

  • Sylvester Stallone – Rocky I-VI, Judge Dread, Escape Plan, The Expendables I-IV
  • Michael B. Jordan – Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, That Awkward Moment, Fantastic Four
  • Tessa Thompson – Heroes, Periphery, Selma, Salt Water
  • Phylicia Rashad – Cosby, Just Wright, The Cleveland Show, Gods Behaving Badly
  • Graham McTavish – Secretariat, Colombiana, The Hobbit I, II & III, The Finest Hours
  • Tony Bellew

Music Composer:

  • Ludwig Göransson – Fruitvale Station, Community, We’re The Millers, New Girl

In recent weeks, there has been much controversy about the lack of diversity regarding the OSCAR nominations. Other than Alejandro Iñarritu (who is Mexican), not a single non-white person has been nominated for any of the major awards for the second year running. How was this possible when some fantastic work has been done by non-white people over the course of the last year? Creed is an excellent example of how wrong the OSCARs have got it this year.

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, right), giving his pupil, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, left), some advice on how to defeat a foe in the ring.

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, right), giving his pupil, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, left), some advice on how to defeat a foe in the ring.

Creed is the seventh film in the Rocky franchise and centres round Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan). Adonis is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who died in Rocky IV. After having a good education and holding down a solid job in the financial sector, Adonis wants a career change. He decides to take up professional boxing and follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps.

To reach those heights, Adonis needs a coach. So he turns to his father’s former rival-cum-friend, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), to train him. Despite being in his late-sixties and having quit boxing, Rocky agrees.

Creed is a very engaging film. It has nostalgic borrowings from previous Rocky films, but more importantly it is a thriller and a drama in its own right. Thus, it does not matter if one has watched the other Rocky films or not. One can greatly enjoy the movie due to the quality of the (often humorous) script, as well as the depth of the characters and the chemistry between them; principally, Rocky (Stallone), Adonis Creed (Jordan) and Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Adonis Creed out with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Adonis Creed out with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Stallone plays his joint-most iconic role (with Rambo) with tremendous nuance, charm and realism. He fully justifies his OSCAR nomination. This is not the egotistical Stallone/Rocky in his pomp, trying to take down all his foes to be the all-American hero. (Watch The Expendables franchise for that ludicrous nonsense.) No, time (and life) has taken its toll on Rocky and one feels this in every line he delivers (even when he is being funny). It remains to be seen if this performance is enough to win Stallone the OSCAR for Best Supporting Actor. But having won the Golden Globe for it, he stands a good chance.

Whether he wins it or not, at least Stallone has received OSCAR recognition for his efforts. The same cannot be said for Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and director Ryan Coogler. Jordan is terrific as the titular Creed and it is scandalous that he has not been nominated. His role is so demanding; yet, he handles it with aplomb, whether it is in the (gruelling) boxing ring, or in his relationships with his mentor or his love interest, Bianca. And in fairness to Bianca/Tessa Thompson, she holds her own against Creed/Jordan. She is not merely in the film for eye-candy or to advance Creed’s plot arc. Rather, Bianca exists in her own right, as a three-dimensional character and with a promising career to match, both of which make her very interesting to watch.

For all this, Ryan Coogler must be credited. He has done a superb job in reinvigorating a tired franchise and his directing is outstanding. He captures the upper- and lower-class areas from where boxers come from with class, and has managed to turn a (bog-standard) boxing training montage into something serious and amusing at the same time. Nevertheless, it is how Coogler has handled the boxing fights that highlight his skill as a director. He adopts close-up, continuous shots with no cuts, enabling viewers to feel as if they are part of the fights. That the fights are raw and brutal amplify this sensation.

Adonis Creed in the ring, still standing, despite having taken a battering from his opponent.

Adonis Creed in the ring, still standing, despite having taken a battering from his opponent.

If Coogler can be criticised at all for Creed, it is that the film has some predictable and cliché scenes. Some of these scenes, the movie would have been (marginally) better off without because they are a mixture of rehashing of old Rocky territory and because other boxing films (such as The Fighter, Warrior and Southpaw to name three) have covered similar ground. Then again, if these are the only problems with Creed, they should be mostly overlooked.

All-in-all, Creed is a fantastic boxing thriller and drama. It has a great and funny script, some brutal boxing fights, and some OSCAR-worthy performances. Stallone is a joy to watch in this older, more-nuanced version of his familiar character. He is deserving of his OSCAR-nomination and it would not be a shock if he were to win the OSCAR next month. No, the real shock is that Stallone is the only person nominated from this film. For their parts, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Ryan Coogler should also have been nominated, if not at the head of the queue to win OSCARs themselves. One can only hope that it was not because of the colour of their skins that they did not make the shortlist.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Judge (15) [2014]

The Judge - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • David Dobkin – Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus, The Change-Up

Cast:

  • Robert Duvall – The Godfather I-II, Deep Impact, Jack Reacher, Racing Legacy
  • Robert Downey Jr – Chaplin, Zodiac, Iron Man I-III, The SoloistThe Avengers Assemble I & II, Captain America III
  • Vera Farmiga – Dust, Source Code, Safe House, The Conjuring I-II
  • Billy Bob Thornton – Armageddon, Monster’s Ball, Eagle Eye, London Fields
  • Leighton Meester – Gossip Girl, Date Night, The Roommate, By The Gym
  • Vincent D’Onofrio – Guy, Men In Black, Escape Plan, Jurassic World
  • Jeremy Strong – The Happening, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Selma
  • Ken Howard – Melrose Place, Michael Clayton, Rambo, The Wedding Ringer
  • Emma Tremblay – Elysium, The Giver, Santa’s Little Ferrets
  • Sarah Lancaster – Saved By The Bell: New Class, Everwood, Dr Vegas, The Good Doctor
  • David Krumholtz – Sausage Party

Music Composer:

All parent-child relationships are fraught with layers and complexities. Regardless of whether a parent and child have a good, bad or ambivalent relationship, the relationship is always coloured by past events and the personalities of the individuals involved. Despite The Judge being ostensibly about a judge in the docks, the film interestingly tells us more about a difficult father-son relationship than about being a judge.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr) reunites with his father, Judge Joseph (Robert Duvall), who virtually shuns him.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr) reunites with his father, Judge Joseph (Robert Duvall), who virtually shuns him.

The Judge begins with Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr), a defence barrister in Chicago, learning that his mother has died and that he must return to Calinville, a small town in Indiana, for the funeral. In Calinville, Hank reunites with his brothers, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), as well as his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Rubert Duvall), whom Hank has a problematic relationship with, and vice-versa.

However, one night, Judge Joseph comes home with the side of his car damaged with blood stains on it. Soon, the police come round and question him about a dead body. Then, they charge Judge Joseph with murder. That is when Hank steps in to defend his father.

The Judge is a stimulating film with much going for it. The dialogue is well written and the acting is brilliant across the board; especially, Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. Both are fantastic and the two men have a great, if challenging, rapport. Downey Jr may (inevitably) dominate the film with his trademark fast-talk and arrogance. But unlike his (pathetic) attempts at giving himself a weakness in Iron Man III, in The Judge he genuinely shows audiences vulnerability in his character; not least in his fractured relationship with his on-screen father. Reflexively, Duvall gives viewers an interesting take on the difference in being a good judge and a good father due to Judge Joseph’s relationship with Hank.

Hanks meets Samantha (Vera Farmiga) for the first time in two decades, to put some spark back into their long lost romance.

Hanks meets Samantha (Vera Farmiga) for the first time in two decades, to put some spark back into their long lost romance.

Downey Jr and Duvall aside, the rest of the cast all play their roles decently. However, there are too many extraneous characters that add little to the storyline, or rather the storylines because The Judge tries to be three films in one. That The Judge cannot determine what sort of film it wishes to be is the root of its problems.

Predominately, it is a family drama. This plot is the strongest of the plots and the one with the most detail. Arguably, if the movie had just stuck to being about the Palmer family (and its dynamics) it would have made for a fascinating (and succinct) hundred minutes. But instead, The Judge has elements of a legal thriller and a romantic comedy about it, which bloat the movie’s running time to 141 minutes.

The legal thriller storyline feels like a side issue throughout the film, which is odd considering the movie’s title. Relatively little time is given to this particular plot, but all the same it is an intriguing and worthwhile storyline; it gives one an insight into how difficult it must be for a judge to work out what is (and what is not) the truth of a case (which holds great significance currently in light of the conclusion of the Oscar Pistorius sentencing); and, moreover, some of the courtroom duels between Hank and Prosecutor Dwight Dickman (Billy Bob Thornton) are highly entertaining. Credit must also be given to Director David Dobkin for giving the central protagonist a worthy adversary and not a second-rate nitwit, like in other legal thrillers, such as The Lincoln Lawyer.

Judge Joseph, in the unfamiliar position of being on the receiving end of questions while in the dock.

Judge Joseph, in the unfamiliar position of being on the receiving end of questions while in the dock.

Nevertheless, if the legal thriller elements of the film feel like a sideshow, the romantic comedy sub-plots feel pointless and often inappropriately timed. Sarah Lancaster’s, Vera Farmiga’s and Leighton Meester’s characters add an (inane) contrivance that The Judge would have been better without, while some of the (otherwise brilliant) exchanges between Hank and Judge Joseph should have occurred at more suitable times and places. Inane contrivances and revelations at unsuitable times are clichés that romantic comedies regularly adopt to make their stories more interesting than they really are, and Dobkin knows this all too well from having directed 2011’s (the forgettable) The Change-Up. The Judge would have made for a far more realistic film, with a more consistent tone, if Dobkin had focussed the film on the family drama and added more to the legal thriller elements, and not felt the need to dabble again in the mire of a romantic comedy.

All-in-all, The Judge is a very good film. It has been well directed, written and acted; the handicap is that Dobkin could not make up his mind as to what genre of film he wanted to make. Otherwise, the movie would have been among the best of 2014. Despite that, The Judge gives audiences some terrific performances and scenes, as well as an appreciation for a complex and layered father-son relationship. Above-all, The Judge illustrates that one can be a don in their profession, but that does not necessarily make one a good mother/father, and that past experiences with one’s kids can have a great impact on one’s personal and professional career.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Help (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

John F. Kennedy (JFK), President of America (1960-63), proclaimed in 1963 that “moral courage is a more rare commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence.” He was referring to the civil rights movement in America, when African-Americans, particularly in the south (now known as the ‘Bible-belt’), were discriminated against and did not have the right to vote. The Help magnificently brings to light the inequality that African-Americans suffered in Mississippi in the early-1960s, and that there were some people with the moral courage to put an end to it.

Eugenie ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone) out for a meal with friends, looking fabulous.

The Help is based on the book with the same title, written by Kathryn Stockett. It is not a true story. The film revolves round the aspiring young author, Eugenie ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone – Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Friends With Benefits, Birdman). At a time when the civil rights movement is picking speed in America, Skeeter has become uneasy by the way her friends treat their African-American maids, and so decides to write a book about it. She decides to write her book from the angle of the help in order to highlight Caucasian maltreatment to them in the home.

Skeeter approaches Abileen (Viola Davis – Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Eat, Pray, Love, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), the maid of her friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard – The Village, Spiderman 3, 50/50), for her opinion and experiences. Abileen is a middle-aged woman who has spent her entire life raising Caucasian children, almost from birth, only to see them turn into their parents. Despite being initially reluctant to speak out, due to the fear of violent reprisals, Abileen lets Skeeter interview her. Soon, Minny (Octavia Spencer – The Soloist, Herpes Boy, Girls! Girls! Girls!), another African-American maid, tells her stories too. Then, many more do the same to give Skeeter an all-round picture of what life is like for African-American maids in Caucasian homes.

The Help may be a very slow and far-from-intense film; yet, it is powerful and emotive. The movie may not be factual, but it is based on much truth and reflects the period accurately. In the same way that the works of Charles Dickens and Theodore Dostoyevsky are seen to be more representative of their respective eras than historical narratives, so too can The Help be seen in the same vein. Despite a few minor historical inaccuracies, such as segregation, one could probably learn more about the innate levels of Caucasian racism towards African-Americans in the Bible-belt in the 1960s from this film, and the variety of ways it manifested itself, than from most factual history books.

Abileen (Viola Davis) eavesgropping on a conversation wherein she hears a torrent of racism towards African-Americans.

But for a film about racism, The Help is surprisingly honest. It shows all sides to be human, meaning that all the characters, whether Caucasian or African-American, have decent and defective qualities. This should be applauded since it would have been easier for the director, Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People), to have made one side inherently ‘good’, the other side inherently ‘bad’, and one or two instances of crossovers as a cheap façade. That Taylor doesn’t do this makes The Help plausible.

The realism of the film, however, would not be possible without the actors putting in exceptional performances. Indeed, the entire cast, and their accents, are flawless. The pretty Emma Stone demonstrates that she can play intelligent roles with vigour, enabling her to grow more beautiful and appealing in the process. Viola Davis performs so well, viewers can empathise with Abileen’s predicament and cry because of her awful experiences.

Octavia Spencer may not make audiences weep like Davis does; nevertheless, she too plays marvellously as the feisty, loud-mouth and funny Minny. Furthermore, one can even appreciate the performances of the horrible, racist women, portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard, Ahna O’Reilly (Herpes Boy, House Under Siege, Girls! Girls! Girls!), Allison Janney (The West Wing, Pretty Ugly People, A Thousand Words), and the other ladies, or the silly, naive Celia, played by Jessica Chastain (Jolene, The Debt, Take Shelter), as they are all performed with brilliant consistency.

A first day at work for Minny (Octavia Spencer) at the house of the over-excited Celia (Jessica Chastain).

Like the quality of the acting, The Help has been put together superbly. At 146 minutes, the film might feel drawn out, but the choreography has been stitched together smoothly and the cinematography is apt for the locations of the movie. What’s more, the music has been chosen well to enhance the scenes, particularly the heart-rending ones.

All-in-all, The Help might drag, but it is an excellent, touching film. The acting is remarkable and the movie epitomises well the attitudes of people, whether Caucasian or African-American, living in the deep-south of America in the early-1960s. In 1963, JFK proclaimed that the struggle for civil rights “will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetimes on this planet. But let us begin.” The Help, therefore, enables us to measure how far we have come in almost fifty years because of people like JFK and Skeeter who had the moral courage to start changing people’s attitudes towards African-Americans.

PG’s Tips

Review – Midnight In Paris (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

<<guest review by KJF>>

Woody Allen’s popularity at the Box Office has waned of late; some of his recent films didn’t even get a UK distribution. The glory days of Annie Hall and Manhattan seem a long time ago. This, however, is set to change with his delightful romantic fantasy, Midnight In Paris. Owen Wilson (The Royal Tennenbaums, The Wedding Crashers, Little Fockers) plays Gil, a screenwriter who has given up the day-job to write The Big Novel. He’s spending time in Paris with his high-maintenance fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams – Mean Girls, The Notebook, State of Play), and her parents, all the while looking for inspiration. Wandering the streets late at night, Gil finds himself transported back to the Parisian world of the 1920s .

Gil (Owen Wilson), Inez (Rachel McAdams) and friends getting a drawn-out talk by Paul (Michael Sheen) in ‘modern day’ Paris.

Allen’s film is a loving homage to Paris. The opening scenes are wordless shots of the city’s famous sites, accompanied by a jazz soundtrack. It also has gentle digs at the tourist culture it has spawned, particularly the behaviour of Americans in Paris: the brash types who just want to shop, eat and don’t bother attempting to learn the language, or know-alls who like to preen around celebrated cultural artefacts and spout off all they know. The latter is wonderfully encapsulated in Michael Sheen’s (The Deal, The Queen, Frost/Nixon) performance as the pompous academic, Paul.

When Gil finds himself in the 1920s, almost everyone he encounters is a famous face from the time. In fact, Allen unleashes a whole parade of illustrious writers and artists from the period, along with a series of knowing in-jokes as they interact with Gil. There’s, for instance, a brooding Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll – Law & Order:LA),  a youthful F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston – ArchipelagoThor, The Avengers Assemble). Gil even gets the majestic Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates – Misery, Titanic, Alice) to read a draft of his novel. This is overall a wonderful set-up, and Wilson travels through it with engagingly wide-eyed delight. It does occasionally feel a bit schematic as we are introduced from one artistic type to the next, without finding out that much about them. The 1920s scenes, though, are joyously shot whether we’re led through the wonderfully nourish streets or experiencing the lovingly realised parties, full of dancing and Cole Porter songs.

Gil also comes across the beautiful Adriana. She’s played by Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, Inception, Contagion) playing another variant on the ‘dream woman’ as seen in Inception. Naturally he falls in love with her, and finds himself conflicted between the ironically ‘old world’ of 2010 and the beautiful ‘golden age’ of the 1920s.

Adriana (Marion Cotillard), one of the wonders of Paris in the 1920s.

As if just to dazzle us with famous names of the past wasn’t enough, Allen drops into a film a living famous name, in the shape of Carla Bruni, wife of the current French President, Nicholas Sarkozy. She cameos as a rather restrained museum guide. A little casting quirk, which is delightful to spot, but doesn’t add much to the story.

Are Gil’s time-travel exploits just occurring in his head as he seeks to find himself a direction in life? Is the theme of the film that we are all seeking our own personal ‘golden ages’? We are left to ponder these questions. Yet, the journey Allen conjures up is so infectiously entertaining that in the end they don’t really matter.

KJF

Review – Warrior (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

The trailer for Warrior gives the movie the air of another-The Fighter. The comparison is quite natural; both films appear, ostensibly, to be about fighters in a ring. But for many reasons Warrior cannot be equated with the excellent The Fighter.

Tess (Jennifer Morrison) with her husband, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), discussing the idea of him fighting again.

Warrior is about two estranged and very different brothers, Brendan (Joel Edgerton – Animal Kingdom, Wish You Were Here, Zero Dark Thirty) and Tommy (Tom Hardy – Bronson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, This Means War), who compete in a mixed martial arts competition. Brendan is a former fighter, but now married to the pretty Tess (Jennifer Morrison – Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Star Trek, Knife Fight), and a high-school teacher by trade. He and his wife are struggling with debts, and the bank is threatening to evict them from their home. Such is their plight, Brendan hires a personal trainer, Frank (Frank Grillo – Minority Report, Mother’s Day, End of Watch), and returns to the ring to make some money.

Tommy enters the competition for different reasons. Tommy has returned home from army duty in Iraq, and needs to be cleaned up from his pill-taking, alcoholic lifestyle. Using his now-sober father, Paddy (Nick Nolte – The Thin Red Line, Hotel Rwanda, The Gangster Squad), who was a boxer in his day, as his trainer, Tommy gets in shape for the competition.

Whilst simple, Warrior’s plot is (painfully) slow. The film is 140 minutes long, and it could feel a lot longer for those who become bored with the movie’s sluggish pace. Also, the last hour becomes predictable and cliché. Some thought that The Fighter became ‘too Hollywood’ by the end. There might be some truth in that; nevertheless that movie is based on a true story, so it cannot, to an extent, be helped. This is not the case for Warrior, meaning it has no excuse for becoming cliché.

Brendan making his comeback in the ring.

Moreover, there are inconsistencies in the storyline, which become ridiculous during the fighting scenes. The background of the main characters, despite being hinted at often, is also (irritatingly) not explained. By the end of the movie, one is no closer to understanding why the brothers became estranged from each other, and their father.

Warrior’s storyline may have its flaws, but the dialogue is very well written and feels realistic. This is aided by the main actors delivering strong and convincing performances. As Brendan, Joel Edgerton does a fine and consistent job, playing a level-headed and resilient man, despite his understandable stresses. No-one would realise that Edgerton is Australian either from this performance, as his soft Pittsburgh accent remains intact throughout the film.

Similarly, no-one would know that Tom Hardy is English from Warrior. As Tommy, Hardy admirably plays a troubled, insecure and aloof individual, who gets through his days by drinking and taking drugs. Tommy may not be a kind character, but the way he walks with his head down, and the dark circles under his eyes are indicative of his internal difficulties.

It is a shame for Hardy (and Edgerton for that matter) that their characters’ backgrounds are not dealt with, because that would have, perhaps, enhanced their respective characters from two-and-a-half to three dimensions. Furthermore, for Hardy, playing a drug addict draws (unfair) parallels with Christian Bale’s Oscar-winning performance in The Fighter. In this proxy fight before they go head-to-head in The Dark Knight Rises, as Bane and Batman, respectively, it is the latter who comes out on top. This is because Hardy has a less-challenging role as the lazy, slurring stoner, whilst Bale played the demanding crazy, brimming-with-energy crack addict.

The leading actors give worthwhile performances in Warrior, and the same can be said for the supporting cast, particularly Nick Nolte and Jennifer Morrison, even if they vary slightly in quality. Nolte, playing a reforming alcoholic who has found Jesus, plays very well when on screen. When he shows emotion, one does genuinely empathise with Paddy’s predicament (even if he has brought most of his problems upon himself). Surprisingly, one does not feel similarly vis-à-vis Morrison’s character, Tess. This is partly because Tess has not been given much personality, and because Morrison doesn’t make one feel the desperate nature of Tess’s situation.

The younger brother, Tommy (Tom Hardy), at the tournament. His muscular frame suggests that he’s ready to take on anyone.

Lastly, director Gavin O’Connor (Tumbleweeds, Miracle, Pride & Glory) has put Warrior together quite well. The scenes flow smoothly one after the other, but the choice of music is perplexing. For much of the first half of the film, there is little music (which is fine); yet, the second half is filled with a bizarre mix of standard boxing music and a Beethoven symphony. Beethoven and martial arts are a curious mix.

All-in-all, Warrior is an agonisingly slow film and pitiably cliché. It has acting of great quality, but by not elucidating upon the characters properly O’Connor misses the chance for his movie to be potentially nominated for awards. The Fighter had no such deficiencies. One nil to Batman.

PG’s Tips

Review – Black Swan (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

Obsession is a dangerous mindset to fall into. It has the power to consume its victim, and drive him or her to madness. Black Swan may look like it is about ballerinas and Ballet in general, but it is not: it is about obsession, and the psychological effects and the physical strains it can cause someone. Yet, if the film meant to tackle these complex issues acutely, it goes preposterously too far to be taken seriously.

The movie is viewed through the eyes of Nina (Natalie Portman – Star Wars I IIIBrothers, Your Highness), an innocent, pretty but mentally unstable ballerina, who lives with her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey – Falling Down, Hannah and her Sisters). Nina has seemingly devoted her whole life to becoming Odette, the White Swan, in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. But the company she works for has made a slight altercation to the performance: the girl who plays Odette will also have to play her evil twin-sister, Odile, the Black Swan. Whilst Nina fits the role of the White Swan perfectly, she has to learn how to become manipulative and provocative in order to play the Black Swan.

Thomas urging Nina to ‘feel’ and ‘respond’ to his touch as the latter needs to learn how to become the Black Swan.

Nina is determined to play both roles flawlessly. But her obsession with perfection exposes her already fragile mind, as well as her various insecurities. It is not long before reality and Nina’s perceptions of reality (hallucinations?) start to thread together to look like one and the same. Paranoia goes hand in hand with this too. A younger and, perhaps, even more beautiful girl, called Lily (Mila Kunis – Family Guy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Friends with Benefits), joins the company making Nina believe that she is going to be replaced as the lead performer. Consequently, Nina works ever harder, pushing herself to the brink (and beyond), in order to please and convince her demanding boss, Thomas (Vincent Cassels – La Haine, Derailed, Trance), that she is right for the dual role. Regardless of the personal cost.

The acting in Black Swan, across the board, is exceptional. Natalie Portman is without a doubt the star of the show. Portman captures the mental anguish that Nina goes through with remarkable consistency and concentration. One is never sure what mental state Nina is in, or what is real and what is not real with her. Portman is solely responsible for this and rightly deserves the credit.

This is not to say that Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey or Vincent Cassels do themselves an injustice; far from it. But Portman’s performance as Nina is Oscar-winning material. It has also finally enabled her to remove the shackles from her piteous performance as Padmé in Star Wars I, II and III. Yes, Portman’s performances in Closer and Brothers showed us that she had the potential to be a great actor, but in Black Swan she reveals that she has more than just mere potential with stunning effect.

Lily, played by Mila Kunis, looking beautiful despite having done some intense ballet practice.

It is not just the acting that is superb throughout the movie. The director, Darren Aranofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) has done the choreography and the music brilliantly too. As a result, just like in Pi and Requiem, the disturbing nature of Black Swan has the maximum effect upon the audience. (Think of the masturbation or the lesbian-sex scenes to mention but two.)

The travesty for Black Swan is that it is neither as intense nor as shocking as it should have been. It is certainly not in the same league as Requiem. Whilst Requiem is harrowingly realistic, Black Swan becomes a little farcical towards the end. This is a pity for cast and director alike. It is unlikely that Aranofsky, judging by his previous works, intended to turn this movie into a pantomime.

These are by no means the only flaws in Black Swan either. Although the film hints at how dedicated one must be to become a top ballerina, it fails to detail the positive aspects of the industry. Instead, the movie focuses upon many of the negative stereotypes, such as eating disorders and overbearing parents. (Apparently, much of these are out of date in the West.)

Black Swan is by no means an objective portrayal of the Ballet world. The film also lacks the jaw-dropping, stomach-churning ability of Requiem. Then again, Black Swan is still a very entertaining psychological thriller and is quite distressing. Moreover, the acting is of the highest quality. Few actors will better Natalie Portman’s performance over the coming year, and she rightly deserves the nominations and awards she is receiving. It is just a shame for her and Aranofsky that audiences have laughed more at the absurdity of Nina’s descent, than taken note of the possible consequences of obsession.

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