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Review – Whiplash (15) [2015]

Whiplash - title banner2

Star Rating: 5/5

Director:

  • Damien Chazelle – Guy And Madeleine On A Park Bench, La La Land

Cast:

  • Miles Teller – Project X, 21 & Over, Divergent, La La Land
  • JK Simmons – Spiderman I-III, Harsh Times, Up In The Air, Terminator GenisysLa La Land
  • Paul Reiser – Aliens, Purpose, Life After Beth, 6 Miranda Drive
  • Melissa Benoist – Glee, Danny Collins, Billy Boyd
  • Austin Stowell – Dolphin Tale I & II, Love And Honour, Behaving Badly, Higher Power

Music Composer:

  • Juston Hurwitz – Guy And Madeleine On A Park Bench, La La Land

When one sees artistic greatness, whether it is in drawings, music, film, theatre, sport or otherwise, it is natural to gawp and marvel. Great artists, irrespective of their medium, always have stood and always will stand head and shoulders above their competitors. But what does it take to be an artistic great? How does one become a great in their respective field? Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s absolutely brilliant film, may answer those questions.

Andrew (Miles Teller) looking and listening to his mentor, the conductor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) as Fetcher gives him some advice.

Andrew (Miles Teller) looking and listening to his mentor, the conductor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) as Fetcher gives him some advice.

Whiplash is a drama, centred completely round Andrew (Miles Teller), a nineteen year old jazz-drummer who goes to Shaffer Conservatory, the best music school in America. There, he comes under the tutorship of conductor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), who pushes him hard, first, to enable Andrew to enter into his band, wherein they play a piece called ‘Whiplash’; and, second, in his attempts to make Andrew an artistic great.

Whiplash is an entertaining and pulsating film, with some exceptional performances. In an interview, Miles Teller spoke about the energy coming off the screen throughout the movie. And he’s right, although he also modestly downplayed his own role in making Whiplash come alive because Teller is superb as Andrew.

Samuel Delaney in About Writing explains that for one to achieve artistic excellence one must (metaphorically) punish oneself, make sacrifices, and suffer. In Whiplash, viewers witness Andrew punish himself, make sacrifices, and suffer as he pushes himself to breaking point to have a chance at becoming a great drummer. Better still, though, viewers feel Andrew’s agony as well as the sweat and blood dripping off him. It may have helped Teller that Whiplash was shot over nineteen (uber-intense) days, with him working eighteen to twenty hours under the camera’s gaze. When Andrew is exhausted and feeling the pressure it is probably genuine. At the same time, the intensity of the filming schedule could have hindered Teller. So, it is to Teller’s credit that he is able to perform to such a high standard under exhausting circumstances. He deserves his BAFTA nomination in the Rising Star category as, in part, he provides the energy that radiates from the screen during Whiplash.

Andrew taking out Nicole (Melissa Benoist), and they discuss their respective ambitions in life

Andrew taking out Nicole (Melissa Benoist), and they discuss their respective ambitions in life

Yet, as good as Teller is, it is his character’s mentor who steals the limelight. JK Simmons is terrific as Terence Fletcher and it is no surprise that Simmons has been Oscar nominated for his performance as Fletcher. Fletcher is intelligent and passionate, yet he is also manipulative, nasty, vicious and utterly ruthless. When he walks into a room, one senses the fear he induces into his students. But is Fletcher a sadistic prick and a bully? Or is he a good mentor and an effective motivator? It would be easy to answer in the former. But Niccolo Machiavelli writes in The Prince that it is better for a leader to be feared than loved because fear forces people to go the extra mile when they wouldn’t otherwise. Additionally, one could believe that the motivational methods of Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Manager of Manchester United Football Club (MUFC), were not always too dissimilar to Fletcher’s, and the success Sir Alex achieved at MUFC between 1986-2013 was extraordinary. Therefore, one should bear in mind the writings of Machiavelli and the feats of Sir Alex before criticising Fletcher. There is logic behind his methods.

However, whatever one may think of Fletcher and his methods, it is worth noting that audiences only see him through Andrew’s eyes. In an interview, Simmons said that there were some scenes of Fletcher filmed without Andrew present. These (apparently) would have given audiences another perspective on Fletcher’s personality, but the scenes were cut from the movie so as to preserve Whiplash as solely Andrew’s story. Simmons suggests that the lack of these scenes does not detract from the film and even enhances it. This probably means that the scenes would not have significantly altered our understanding of Fletcher, so instead of wondering what these scenes beheld we should commend Damien Chazelle for having the resolve to take them out of the final cut of the movie.

The price Andrew pays in his attempts to make it to being a drummer of noteworthy repute: sweat and blood.

The price Andrew pays in his attempts to make it to being a drummer of noteworthy repute: sweat and blood.

Nevertheless, it is not just for taking those scenes out that Chazelle should be commended. He should also be applauded for writing vivid dialogue and for giving the actors room to improvise in scenes to make the scenes more realistic. Similarly, Justin Hurwitz should be clapped for writing some wonderful music that builds on the tension that Andrew (and the audience) endures in Andrew’s attempts to reach the dizzying heights of artistic greatness.

All-in-all, Whiplash is a flawless and exhilarating film, with two phenomenal stand-out performers. On the surface, the movie is about the relationship between a pupil and his mentor, seen exclusively from the pupil’s angle. Yet, Whiplash has a deeper layer. It illustrates the level of dedication and self-torture one must go through to become a great in one’s artistic field and the type of mentor that may be required to attain artistic superiority over one’s rivals.

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Review – Les Misérables (12a) [2013]

Les Mis - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

At the beginning of 2012, audiences were treated to the silent film, The Artist. It was unexpectedly charming and something different in an age of formulaic, clichéd blockbusters. A year on, and audiences are treated to something different once again in the form of the marvellous Les Misérables.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), looking like a scraggy vagabond, as a convicted criminal about to be released on parole.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), looking like a scraggy vagabond, as a convicted criminal about to be released on parole.

The storyline is based upon the 1862 historical-fiction novel by Victor Hugo and the subsequent theatre production. It loosely centres round Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Javier (Russell Crowe). Jean Valjean is a convicted man, who breaks his parole and seemingly vanishes in his bid to start a new life. Javier, the Inspector, upon discovering what Jean Valjean has done, is determined to find Prisoner 24601 and bring him to justice.

The plot for Les Misérables is more detailed and layered than that, especially as it has a large cast all with roles to play before the story ends. Unlike the stage version, the film does a good job of keeping the narrative understandable and easy to follow, despite having to take out chunks from the book. This is no small achievement, considering that more or less the entire movie is sung. Credit should rightly go to Tom Hooper for this, as well as for successfully turning a theatrical play into an Oscar-nominated film. (It should be borne in mind that The Woman In Black was the last time a director attempted to translate a play into a movie, and the less said about that film the better!)

However, in spite of Hooper cutting out sections of the book, the film still seems too long and somehow bloated at 158 minutes. The Artist, it should be noted, is only 100 minutes and, consequently, does not feel over-stuffed. Part of the reason for why Les Misérables feels this way is due to the numerous sub-plots taking place throughout the story, many of which have only questionable importance to its outcome.

Inspector Javier (Russell Crowe), wearing almost the identical garb of the former (and now fallen) Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I, on the lookout for Jean Valjean.

Inspector Javier (Russell Crowe), wearing almost the identical garb of the former (and now fallen) Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I, on the lookout for Jean Valjean.

Yet, more significantly, does the story actually matter? When one watches Les Misérables in the theatre, one is more likely to be awed by the music and the mechanics of the stage, than taken in by the (slightly contrived) narrative. But the movie does not have an innovatively-devised podium. Additionally, it suffers from a cast that, while stellar in name, generally lack the powerful vocals of their stage counterparts.

Russell ‘wannabe-Napoleon Bonaparte’ Crowe and Hugh Jackman, the two leading men, are particularly guilty of this. It is not that their performances are bad, it is just painfully obvious that they are actors first and singers a distant second. One might argue that this is what Hooper desired as he claimed to want the vocals ‘raw’ and conversational, rather than melodramatic. (Then again, he could have been saying this as a defence of his cast, in hindsight, after realising that he should have used stage actors instead of Crowe and Jackman.)

Also, the more one sees and hears the supporting cast, the more Crowe and Jackman are shown up; in particular, against Anne Hathaway. Hathaway, as Fantine, might look pale and terribly thin with her skin, bone and flesh emaciated a la Natalie Portman in Black Swan, but she most certainly can sing. In Rio I, Hathaway showed that she can sing well and nicely. But in Les Misérables she takes her talents to a new level, acquiring immense vigour in her voice, despite clearly lacking in nourishment.

No-one else looks starved like her, but Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks, as the rebel Marius and Éponine, respectively, have very good voices; Amanda Seyfried, as Cosette, illustrates that she’s a better singer than actor (and that she can exist without her incongruous pink lip-gloss, unlike in the medieval-themed Red Riding Hood); while Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, respectively, show us that they may not have noteworthy vocals, but that they can still make us laugh whilst in tune.

Jean Valjean, now all cleaned up and living a new life under a false name, holding a poorly street-woman, who just so happens to be Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

Jean Valjean, now all cleaned up and living a new life under a false name, holding a poorly street-woman, who just so happens to be Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

Yet, if one is truly bothered about the singing not being up to scratch with the stage performers, one can still admire the sceneries and the visuals. Cinema, as opposed to theatre, is not limited by the area of a stage (however impressive the mechanics of it may be), and Hooper uses this to his advantage to give viewers a true feel for the (miserable) neighbourhoods that our characters come from in a way that the theatre perhaps can’t convey as deeply.

All-in-all, Les Misérables is very impressive theatrical production-cum-film. The cast’s vocals may not be as strong as those actors on the stage, and the movie lacks some of the charms of the theatre. Nevertheless, like The Artist, Les Misérables is something different, and it should be celebrated that an operatic-style film can be delivered in such a superb and entertaining manner.

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Review – The Artist (PG) [2012]

Star Rating: 5/5

In recent years, Hollywood has been dominated by films with colossal amounts of special effects, outrageous action scenes, and sequels to entertain viewers. Quality acting (the very factor that enables actors to win the prestigious awards) has seemingly become secondary to the aforementioned features for movies. Refreshingly, the French drama, The Artist, in outstanding fashion, illustrates that audiences can still be wooed by a relic of the past: a silent movie.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) dancing together for a film. The two actors have great chemistry on set.

The Artist is set in Hollywood between the late 1920s and the early 1930s. It is about George Valentin (Jean Dujardin – OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, OSS 117: Lost In Rio, The Wolf of Wall Street), a man who has starred in many silent films throughout his acting career. Now though, George is being told by his boss, Al Zimmer (John Goodman – Pope Joan, Red State, 10 Cloverfield Lane), that the times are changing and that cinema audiences want dialogue and fresh faces. (‘Fresh meat’ as Zimmer calls it.)

The fresh faces include an upcoming young, pretty woman called Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo – A Knight’s Tale, Prey, The Scapegoat), who had been randomly photographed with George. Rapidly, she is replacing him. Between her and the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, George’s world is rapidly falling apart. He has to adapt to the times, something he’s loathe to do, or he faces the axe.

The Artist’s plot is straightforward and surprisingly easy to follow. Despite the lack of dialogue, one always understands the situation. The performances from the cast throughout the movie are brilliant. Jean Dujardin plays magnificently as the proud and stubborn actor, who is unwilling to be pragmatic. Bérénice Bejo is superb as the ambitious young actress. John Goodman plays well as the ruthless boss, who realises that public opinion has changed. Penelope Ann Miller (Kindergarten Cop, Blonde Ambition, Saving Lincoln) performs commendably as George’s trophy wife, who has no desire to be with a man whose best years are seemingly behind him. James Cromwell (The Green Mile, 24: Day 6, Still) does a fine job of being George’s loyal valet. And George’s dog, which is linked to him seemingly telepathically, adds a cute, sentimental aspect to the storyline.

Clifton (James Cromwell), looking concerned for his master, George.

But the brilliance of the acting is very different from other exceptional performances, such as Colin Firth’s in The King’s Speech or Christian Bale’s in The Fighter. Remarkably, using body language and emotion, the actors stunningly demonstrate that words are not necessarily needed to portray human relationships and circumstances. Director Michel Hazanavicius (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, OSS 117: Lost In Rio, The Players) does occasionally use bubbles of words to explain the context, which help, but they’re infrequent and hardly worth a mention.

If anything, it is not the words on the screen that aids the audience, but the music. The score greatly aids viewers to empathise with the characters. The 1920s-style music may not be like the enchanting scores of The Lord of the Rings or Inception, but it always captures the mood of the characters in The Artist. Whenever their temperament changes, so does the music to enhance the scene.

The magnitude of the acting and the music are more noteworthy considering that The Artist is a small budget film, which has close to no special effects and action. It is such a wonderful contrast to the (hideous) amount of computer generated images (CGI) and explosions used in most blockbusters today, such as Transformers III and Captain America. Consequently, The Artist feels cleaner and is more pleasant to watch. (Indeed, The Artist almost makes one want to beg Hollywood to fund more movies with fewer special effects and loud bangs.)

Doris (Penelope Ann Miller), George’s wife, disgusted with her husband for being photographed in the papers with a younger, more beautiful woman than herself.

Similarly, the movie has no breathtaking landscapes to charm viewers, like in The Way Back or True Grit. The Artist though captures its era magnificently, from the clothes the characters wear; to their hairstyles (Bérénice Bejo looks strikingly similar to Marion Cotillard in Midnight In Paris); to their cars; to their cameras; to the interior designs of their houses (which have some resemblance to the First-Class rooms and halls in the sunken Titanic). One could perhaps criticise the film for not depicting the Great Depression of the 1930s adequately. Yet, this was not the purpose of the film either, so one should not blame the director on this matter.

On the whole, The Artist is a work of art. It brings us back to pure cinema and makes viewers realise that when a film has acting of such phenomenal quality, then dialogue, special effects and action are not absolutely necessary to make an entertaining and dazzling film.

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Review – Shame (18) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Few would consider having an active sex-life to be a bad thing. But what if one were to suffer from a compulsive need for sex? Such a problem exists in society. Shame, despite its faults and gloominess, illustrates the torment that this syndrome can cause people.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) eying up a girl on the train like a predator.

The film centres round Brandon (Michael Fassbender – 300, X-Men: First Class, Prometheus), a high-flying manager or executive (in a job that is not defined), who cannot control his urge for sex. In his nice, relatively up-market flat in New York City, he hires prostitutes/escorts or watches pornography endlessly. At work, he watches pornography (to the extent of having his hard-drive removed because it’s filled with viruses) before going to the bathroom to masturbate. Every woman he sets eyes upon is a potential victim of his insatiable lust.

Yet, none of this appears to make Brandon any happier. Soon his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan – An Education, Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps, Suffragette) comes to stay at his apartment, bringing out the worst in his frustrations and temper.

Shame’s plot is simple, but morbid. The mental torture that Brandon suffers from is excruciating (despite having an addiction that many would consider to be pleasurable). Unlike with Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, played by Ben Barnes in the 2009 film, there is no enjoyment in sex for Brandon (or deal with the devil for that matter). Sex is just a constant, agonising thirst that can never be quenched. The threesome scene near the end reveals the degree of pain this addiction causes him. (Although, how Brandon maintains his stamina for so much sex is quite remarkable. One wonders if there are enough hours in the day for work, exercise and all of that sex.)

Sissy (Carey Mulligan) sitting in her brother’s apartment in need of attention. That’s when she notices her brother’s laptop…

Brandon’s drug-like compulsion for sex and pornography has also come to seemingly destroy any chance of him having a relationship too. When he tries one with Marianne (Nicole Beharie – American Violet, The Express, The Last Fall), a pretty, young work-mate, he finds himself incapable. This is because the idea of love in sex has become an anathema to him.

Yet, apart from Brandon’s uncontrollable lust, Shame’s storyline loses direction quickly. This makes the film’s 101 minutes seem (frustratingly) like it will go on indefinitely. The plot also fails to explain Brandon’s background, as well as badly under-developing his relationships with his messed-up, needy sister; with his amiable and attractive fellow employee; and with his married, but embarrassingly desperate boss, David (James Badge Dale – 24: Day 3, The Departed, The Grey).

If the storyline (even with the explicit sex scenes) doesn’t hold the audience’s attention, Michael Fassbender’s performance certainly will. Fassbender delivers an excellent display that is as intense as it is brave and consistent. His green eyes stare at women like a hawk-bird to its prey. They also hint at an anger and pain, a deep shame, buried within Brandon that he refuses to recognise or counter. Does he do this because his syndrome is apparently humiliating and a taboo subject in society?

Fassbender might be the stand-out performer of the movie, but none of the supporting cast play badly. Carey Mulligan again gives a solid account of herself. She has a very different character here to the ones she played in Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps and Never Let Me Go. Nonetheless, she demonstrates that she can play a whiny, emotionally-deficient, unstable girl, craving affection, with equal plausibility. Similarly, despite their short and limited roles, neither Nicole Beharie nor James Badge Dale damage their reputations with their performances in Shame.

Brandon out with Marianne (Nicole Beharie), seemingly enjoying her company. But has he told her about his compulsive disorder?

The impressiveness of the acting is enhanced when considering that director Steve McQueen (Hunger, 12 Years A Slave) takes long-held shots for much of the film. Many of the scenes have no breaks or changes in camera angles. This style of filming demands immense concentration from the actors. That they make their acts look natural is credible and significant.

McQueen’s other noticeable technique in Shame is to use silence and little music to ram home to viewers Brandon’s loneliness and internal agony. When McQueen does adopt music, it is generally the main soundtrack which is comprised of long-held notes by stringy instruments and a subtle fast-beat. The main theme tune may lack Requiem For A Dream’s soundtrack’s feel of a crisis that is spiralling out of control, but it helps to compound Brandon’s lack of self-worth and his sense of self-hatred.

Over-all, Shame passably explores a problem that is not discussed much or recognised in present-day society. (After-all, one might think, how could having sex regularly be the cause of a major psychological disorder? It should be the other way round, right?) Shame has its deficiencies, it might appear directionless, and it might make for depressing viewing. Nevertheless, Michael Fassbender’s brilliant and courageous performance forces one to empathise with Brandon’s suffering and self-harm, as well as obliges one to appreciate what the syndrome can do to people in general.

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Review – The Iron Lady (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Dementia is a cruel infliction that eats away at what an individual once was. (Lady) Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister 1979-90, was a formidable and highly intelligent woman in her day. Yet, rather than focus on her prime, The Iron Lady highlights the crippling effects that the illness has had on Lady Thatcher in her more recent years.

‘Young Margaret’ (Alexandra Roach) standing for election in Dartford (in 1951). She was then the only female Conservative candidate across the country.

The film is about Lady Thatcher (when young played by Alexandra Roach – Private Peaceful; when middle-aged and old played by Meryl Streep – Sophie’s Choice, The Devil Wears Prada, Suffragette), elderly and suffering from delusions and dementia, glimpsing back, at random, at the happy and distressing moments of her life, before she attends the ceremony of the unveiling of her portrait at the Prime Minister’s house.

The movie’s plot is simple, but is not necessarily easy to follow. This is because whenever Lady Thatcher looks back into the past, she does not do so in chronologically and there is nothing to inform viewers of the year they’re watching. Even for those who are historically fine-tuned, this can be confusing. Factually, The Iron Lady is generally accurate; yet, there are several brushes of artistic license in the movie, such as the timing of Denis Thatcher’s (when young played by Harry Lloyd – Jane Eyre, A Game of Thrones, Junk; when old played by Jim Broadbent – Gangs of New York, Harry Potter VI & VII(ii), Cloud Atlas) proposal.

Thatcher, as Prime Minister, in a cabinet meeting, telling a colleague that it is not his time to speak.

More than anything, the storyline’s approach undermines Lady Thatcher. It undermines her as a person, her ideology (the idea that the individual should not depend upon the state and that he/she should determine his/her destiny), and all that she did for the country and for women across the world. First, at 105 minutes, The Iron Lady is too short, since more time was needed for director Phyllida Lloyd (Mama Mia!, Macbeth) to have adequately visualised Thatcher’s life before and after she became a politician. Second, for a woman who sacrificed so much for politics, the film stresses astoundingly little on Thatcher’s rise to the premiership, as well as her time in ten Downing Street and her fall from office. That much of her time in office in the movie is dominated by her hardline policies towards cutting public spending; beating back rioters; and the wars against Argentina, over the Falkland Islands, and the IRA (terrorism), has a familiar chime, as if Ms. Lloyd was trying to (not-so-subtly) force her own views of the current Coalition government upon viewers. Third, to have Lady Thatcher remembering her life via flashbacks, among delusions of her late husband was callous and insensitive; especially, as the former Prime Minister is still alive. If anything, it makes even those who despise Lady Thatcher pity her. (Whoever would have thought that the die-hards on the Left would feel sympathy for Thatcher?)

Irrespective of the plot, there is an exceptional performance from Meryl Streep, which makes The Iron Lady worth watching in and of itself. Throughout the movie, Streep seemingly morphs into Lady Thatcher to the extent that one is likely to forget that they’re not watching the real person.

Thatcher in her heyday (right), and Meryl Streep (left) as the brilliant look-alike.

It is a shame for Streep that the supporting cast cannot match her display. Alexandra Roach, as ‘young Margaret’, is distinctly average, as are the two actors who play Denis Thatcher, Harry Lloyd and Jim Broadbent. The rest of the cast, particularly Anthony Head (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Inbetweeners Movie, Ghost Rider II: Spirit of Vengeance) and Richard Grant (Twelfth Night, Corpse Bride, Zambezia), impersonating Thatcher’s ministers Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine, respectively, play poorly with the little time they have on screen. Head and Grant do not capture their characters’ personalities accurately. Both actors appear as cowardly critics (with eyes brimming with hawkish ambition) of their leader’s policies at times of supposed crises, and Grant also fails to give Heseltine the ego that drove him to resign as Defence Minister in 1986 and challenge for party leadership in 1990.

All-in-all, Margaret Thatcher was a formidable individual in her day. She was, and still is, a highly polarising figure for many a reason. Therefore, one would expect a biographic film to be about her achievements and shortcomings as a leader, and perhaps a bit about her legacy too. Yet, The Iron Lady shows relatively little of these, preferring instead to let us watch and pity an elderly lady no longer in complete control of her mind. Despite a phenomenal performance from Streep, the film would be an insult to any human being, let alone one of the calibre of Lady Thatcher.

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Review – Rio 3D (U) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

In recent times, there have been some exceptional animated films; the pick of the bunch being Toy Story 3. Kung-Fu Panda and Coraline have their merits for humour and horror, respectively; however, they lack the je ne sais quoi of Toy Story 3. For similar reasons, Rio falls short, despite being enjoyable and cute.

Blu and Linda showing that they are the best of friends

Rio is about a blue McCaw called Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network, Zombieland, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), a shy and dorky bird that can’t fly. At a young age, Blu is taken from his home in the Amazon and finds himself randomly in Minnesota. There, he is looked after by a young girl Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann – The Cable Guy, 17 Again, Knocked Up). Fifteen years later, Tulio (voiced by Rodrigo Santoro – 300, Che I & II, I Love You Philip Morris), a scientist, finds Linda and tells her that Blu is the last of his species. There is only one other blue McCaw and she is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Thus, the only way to save the species is by taking Blu to Rio.

Once in Rio, Blu is put into a cage with the beautiful, but feisty Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway – The Devil Wears Prada, Love And Other Drugs, One Day). Yet, dark forces in the underworld of Rio desire these birds for profit. Not long after Blu and Jewel are caged up, they are stolen by smugglers; much to the consternations of Linda and Tulio. Blu and Jewel are determined to get out of captivity: the latter to fly freely through the Amazon; the former to find Linda. It will not be easy and being chained together makes matters harder for them.

There is nothing especially original about Rio’s plot. It moves at the right pace so as to keep its viewers interested, but it gets a bit naff towards the end. Nevertheless, there are many sweet and funny moments in the film; especially, the singing and rapping by Pedro (Will.i.am. – Madagascar 2, Knight And Day, Freedom Writers) and Nico (Jamie Foxx – Collateral, Law Abiding Citizen, Miami Vice). Anne Hathaway also has a surprisingly powerful voice. But, on the whole, Rio is not as funny as the hilarious Kung-Fu Panda (and perhaps Kung-Fu Panda 2, which is released later this year).

Blu and Jewel being shown the way by another bird who is willing to help them.  Alas, the director and script-writer, Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age I, II, III), has ensured that Rio is not a satire. This could have given the film a sophisticated edge. Additionally, the characters are very two-dimensional: Blu somehow looks and acts just as geeky as Jesse Eisenberg did in The Social Network; whilst Jewel acts throughout like a spoilt princess with no claim to royalty.

On another note, the graphics are fine for what the movie is; although, the 3D effects add little to the film. Indeed, Rio is not Avatar in the sense that, like Legend Of The Guardians and Alice In Wonderland, it was not made to be, primarily, a 3D movie.

All in all, Rio is a movie for children. It is cute and will put smiles on the faces of those who watch it. However, if one thinks that it’s going to be the next Toy Story 3 then disappointment will follow.

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Review – Unknown (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

After viewing the trailer for Unknown, one gets the impression that they’ve seen this type of action film before. One knows the movie won’t be great, but will probably be worth the watch. On this premise, Unknown does not let the audience down.

The car crash that leaves Dr. Martin Harris, played by Liam Neeson, in a coma for four days.

The film revolves around Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson – Schindler’s List, Star Wars I, The Dark Knight Rises), a researcher/lecturer who is in Berlin for a conference, with his wife, Liz (January Jones – Madmen, American Pie: The Wedding, Anger Management). Martin realises, once he’s at the hotel he’s due to stay at, that he has left a suitcase at the airport. On his way back to the airport, an accident occurs. A fridge-freezer falls out of the van in front of the cab. The cab driver, Gina (Diane Kruger – Troy, National Treasure I & II, Inglorious Basterds), swerves out of the way; but loses control of the vehicle. The car smashes into a boundary on a bridge and crashes into the lake.

When Martin wakes up, he’s in hospital after spending four days in a coma. No-one has come to look for him, including his wife. Martin releases himself early from hospital so as to find Liz. However, when he finds her, she maintains that she’s never seen him; plus she is with another man who also claims to be Dr. Martin Harris (Aiden Quinn – Wild Child, Legends of the Fall, Frankenstein). Without ID ‘the real’ Dr. Martin Harris has no way of proving his identity. To compound matters for the ‘real Martin’, he soon discovers that people are after him and he has no clue why.

The plot for Unknown is entertaining and fast paced, despite having many loose-ends. It also has car chases so far-fetched that those in The Fast And The Furious series may not look so ridiculous anymore. The twist is not unpredictable either, but this does not ruin the film.

The ‘real Dr. Martin Harris’ being taken away by security after his wife, Liz, claims that she doesn’t recognise him.

The quality of the acting is about as good as the storyline. Liam Neeson plays decently enough as usual; although this is far from his most challenging role. As January Jones and Aiden Quinn don’t appear much on screen, it’s hardly fair to judge them. The same can be said for Bruno Gantz (who plays Adolf Hitler in Downfall; The Reader) and Frank Llangela (Superman Returns, Frost/Nixon, Wall Street 2).

The only other actor with a notable role in Unknown is Diane Kruger. Despite looking pretty (and skinny) throughout the movie, her Bosnian accent is hardly plausible. It is interesting that the director, Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, House of Wax, Goal II: Living The Dream), chose to play her as a Bosnian when filming in her native country. Then again, one does suppose that actors are paid to act. If that is the case then Kruger’s performance is not much better than her Bosnian accent. It is also hard to imagine one behaving in the way Gina does; especially once she grasps the reality of Martin’s situation.

All in all, Unknown is a distinctly average movie that is fun and entertaining. It is a light film devoid of complexity and quality; yet, filled with action and a solid performance from Liam Neeson.

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