Category Archives: Film Reviews – T

This is 40 (2012)

“All of a sudden we’re a magnet of negativity. What did we do?”

Cast: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann and Maude Apatow.

this-is-40In a kind-of-sequel to Knocked Up, This is 40 follows married couple Pete and Debbie as they both hit their 40s.

Pete and Debbie have a very tedious, back and forth relationship. Hitting their forties has put a strain on their relationship and the rut they have found themselves in doesn’t help matters. With issues to do with money, sex and family life, it would seem these characters are going through what any couple of 15 years inevitably will – with a bit of added entertainment just for us.

I’ve always liked Paul Rudd, and Leslie Mann was great to watch in Knocked Up, so I thought we were in for a real treat with this film. However it’s safe to say the kids gave me more laughs than the grown-ups. With the chemistry they conceived in Knocked Up, Rudd and Mann try their hardest to get back to this point in This is 40, though I think the more time they spend on screen together, the weaker they look as a couple.

The issues confronted in the film are classic to any middle-aged comedy, and it would seem that it would instantly allow it to become very open and relatable to an audience. But it doesn’t. The fickle relationship woes and massive range of attitudes shared between the two is enough to drive anyone mad, and no one wants to relate to that. One minute they are happy, the next they are arguing, there is no consistency and it means the film falls flat in the drama department. I understand that this is because they are having a tough time in their marriage, but if just one main character could have held themselves to one value, the film could have been built up around this. But due to them both being so back and forth, there was no foundation to build from making the whole message fall through.

Unfortunately, due to this, I feel that pretty much everyone was un-sympathiseable in the film. The only one I actually felt I could relate to was Sadie, their eldest kid, and that was only because of her Lost addiction. The performances were all quite hollow and being a drama as well as a comedy, I expected a few heavier and serious scenes, though these were few and far between. It should also be noted that a film where Jason Segel has more witty lines than the main characters, even though he isn’t at the forefront of the film, shows that it has missed a trick right there. This is where the film falls flat in the comedy department.

With no leg to stand on, and sitting at over 2 hours, way too long for any film of this nature, you just have to sit back and bear it. Without any solid strings to its bow, the fragmented story is just too fickle to work for an audience. Jumping between the genres rather than interlacing them, sometimes it seems as though we’re watching 2 separate films. If one genre was more concentrated on maybe the film would have had better direction. I wouldn’t suggest you go out of your way to see this film. In comparison to Knocked Up, This is 40 just doesn’t really compare. Very disappointing.

Star rating: 3.5/10

Directed by Judd Apatow.

Running time 134 minutes.

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Trainspotting (1996)

“Living like this is a full-time business.”

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner and Jonny Lee Miller

Drugs, drugs and wait.. oh yeah, more drugs. That’s what this film is really about.

Renton (McGregor) is a heroin addict. When he’s not high, he’s out finding the money (often illegally) to satisfy his addiction. Deciding it’s time to clean up his act and try and escape this hopeless life, Renton fights the temptations of heroin which isn’t easy, especially when his best buds are living for the Edinburgh drug scene.

His gang are made up of three of the worst best friends you could have. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewan Bremner) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Ranging from a James Bond fanatic to a helpless idiot, to a crazy and deranged madman, this group of addicts is the most unappealing. The only great thing about this gang is how well they’re played by each actor.

Carlyle in particular was fantastic as Begbie, a lunatic that has it out for all addicts and picks fights just because he likes to inflict pain. Bremner managed to have me sympathising with Spud, too naive and stupid to get himself out of the mess he was in, it seemed like he was stuck in an unfortunate situation and too reliant and influenced by his criminal friends to get out. Miller was also fantastic as Sick Boy, a character that has a lot more behind him that I had initially thought.

But the best performance came from McGregor who was simply stunning as Renton. This performance is totally different from what I have previously seen him in (Star Wars, Moulin Rouge) but was still completely convincing and compelling to watch. Excellent stuff.

While some critics believed the film promoted drug use, I think it does the complete opposite. The portrayal of a drug addict’s life in Trainspotting is harsh, ugly and realistic. Even at times where it’s made to look quite comical, things always end up going from bad to worse for everyone involved; nobody in their right mind would look at this film and become a user due to the events that occur. It’s unforgiving and blunt and at times, very hard to watch.

Trainspotting has a great ensemble cast, surprisingly good soundtrack and a less than glamourous but completely fantastic story – adapted from the novel by Irvine Welsh. While it wasn’t as well received oversees (possibly due to the dialect barrier, liberalist attitudes or plain close-mindedness) Trainspotting is one of Britain’s greatest films, perhaps the greatest film, of the 90s.

Star rating:  8/10

Directed by Danny Boyle.

Running time 94 minutes.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2011)

“Let’s start with forever.”

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner

I love it and I hate it. Simply because I read all the books before I saw any of the films, and I was a massive fan immediately, I feel my review may be a bit biased. So, I’ll do it purely from an objective angle and try and be less of a Twilight geek for the next 5 minutes.

Breaking Dawn opens as the final touches of Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward’s (Robert Pattinson) wedding is being put together. While Jacob (Taylor Lautner), shirtless and broody as always, receives an invitation from the happy couple and runs away in a strop all werewolf like. With the lucky girl that Bella is, Edward treats her to a honeymoon on Isle Esme, a private island just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Bella – having decided she wanted to remain human to experience her wedding night just like everyone else – soon finds herself in a dangerous and what she believed, impossible situation. She thinks she’s pregnant.

The remainder of the film is largely made up of baby bump, vampire vs werewolf, what’s going to happen to Bella? territory. Very typical of Twilight, though it seems the love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob has been toned down and replaced by a vamp-baby conundrum. At least the story actually moves forward and we get to get past all of this “I love her more” nonsense that we had to endure in Eclipse. Though it lingers on the pregnancy throughout, having nothing else to really clutch at.

The acting in the film is very average, though it seemed that Lautner was just that bit better than the rest, mainly because he actually conveyed emotion, even if it was just that of an angry kid. Stewart’s efforts at a withdrawn and anxious teen see her fall a little short in the acting department, and Pattinson doesn’t have that many lines, he just looks pretty and manages to drop his English accent and adopt an American one.

If you’re not already a fan of the franchise or on Team Edward or Team Jacob, the chances you will enjoy this film are slim. Because it’s pretty flimsy and involves a lot of close up glances, sideways smouldering looks and awkward exchanges, it doesn’t stand alone as a great film. There are also quite a lot of awkward visuals in the film. Ranging from a montage of flashing bright lights as werewolf Jacob runs through the woods, to flashbacks of previous films that don’t really add anything to the story. Then there’s a conversation between the pack of werewolves, which although much more visually improved, is just awkward and cringy – their mouths don’t move and their voices very suddenly become coarse and angry. It doesn’t fit with how we’ve seen them previously and interrupts the flow (if it can even be called that) of the film.

Breaking Dawn does get a bit more exciting towards the end of the film though; Bella goes into labour, the werewolves and vamps prepare for a fight and just as it reaches this point, the film stops, making way for the next instalment. Typical of a franchise, especially a teen franchise, but then this is how they’re going to cash in massively. Breaking Dawn raked up an estimated $138 million around the globe on its opening night alone, so there is no doubt that even if the film is crap (which it kinda is), those dedicated Twi-hards – including me – will always be there to watch it.

Star rating: 4/10

Directed by Bill Condon.

Running time 117 minutes.

The Tree of Life (2011)

“The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.”

Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain

The Tree of Life is the most beautiful film I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe the most beautiful film I’ve seen, period.

In what can only be described as an epic, director Terrence Malick has brought breathtaking visuals and awesome photography of the highest standards and layered it over a fairly simple plot.

Modern day Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) starts to question his relevance and reason for being, on the anniversary of his brothers death. Through his childhood memories The Tree of Life explores his adolescent years during the 1950s in Waco, Texas. With the sweet and sensitive grace of his mother completely contrasted against the brash, hard and unforgiving nature of his father, his pubescent years are very much a struggle for Jack who is simply torn in finding the right path to take.

The actors are all superb. Brad Pitt plays an emotionally withdrawn, business oriented man striving for success. In the film depicted as taking the path of nature, he is hard on his children and tells them that to be successful in this world, sacrifices are to be made. You won’t get anywhere by being a pushover. Jessica Chastain would be this ‘pushover’ he is referring to. The wife of Pitt and mother to his 3 children, Chastain’s character is seen to adopt the much more loving and homely way of grace. Believing that life is nothing without love, she tries to influence her boys in making the decision to stay on the path of grace which can only leave you feeling like life is worth something.

However their 3 boys are very much torn between their parents. All 3 of the actors that portray the children are brilliant, Hunter McCraken, Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan. Hunter, who portrays a young Jack, is especially great. His efforts at keeping within his mother’s way of grace are difficult for him, especially with his father hammering home he’ll make it nowhere with this mentality. He battles constantly and starts to lose his way when his father leaves for business and he automatically becomes the man of the house.

Unfortunately for Sean Penn I felt he was dealt a rough card. His character is obviously going through a massive period of doubt and breakdown in his life, and the undeniable emotion that Penn was striving for wasn’t quite as well transcribed to film. Perhaps the editing could have been a bit nicer to his character, but I felt that he was dealt a bit of a bad hand which left his character looking a bit useless and detached on screen.

The bad things I can say about The Tree of Life are minimal. Its non-linear narrative can be confusing at times, often jumping from one time period to the next with no explanation as to why, and its theme of religion is fairly prominent, which isn’t to everyones liking. While you don’t have to be religious to understand the messages given or to even watch the film, I get the impression some people may find it too preachy. I certainly didn’t, but going to see this film in the wrong mindset leaves space for criticism, perhaps the main being the religious aspects of the film.

The major thing about the film that has been its main criticism is the artistic direction. For me, this is in no way a bad thing. Malick’s beautiful direction and unquestionable passion for this film has meant some have written it off as a pretentious effort at explaining the origins of the universe and religion. To me, this complaint is because they couldn’t reach out and find any other faults. The acting was superb, the visuals were stunning and they were simply left feeling confused about the story, so they turn their finger and point it at the cinematography. This isn’t why you didn’t like the film. You didn’t like it because your mind was closed and you’d made your decision within the first 5 minutes. (But that’s just my opinion)

The best thing to do before watching this film is to make sure you have no preconceptions or expectations, this is why I think I left feeling changed at the end. Don’t watch the film for the wrong reasons. Don’t watch it to escape from your own life for a couple of hours, because in the end the film will point back at you. Watch it to challenge yourself in asking questions about your own life.

Star rating:  8.5/10

Directed by Terrence Malick.

Running time 138 minutes.

Thelma and Louise (1991)

“I know it’s crazy, but I just feel like I got a knack for this s#*t.”

Cast: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis and Harvey Keitel

There aren’t many people who don’t know who Thelma and Louise are. For the few that don’t, they are the most iconic female outlaws in film due to their infamous road trip across Middle America in 1991.

Thelma and Louise

After two Arkansas girlfriends decide to take a spontaneous trip for the weekend, they manage to get themselves into serious trouble when one ends up killing a would-be rapist. On the run from the law, the two beeline for Mexico, where they believe they can live there as outlaws for the rest of their lives.

Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) is a passive, quirky housewife. Being married to Darryl (Christopher McDonald) who is controlling and abusive, she hasn’t really got much to show for herself, apart from a well kept house and straight record. Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) on the other hand is the total opposite. More of a wild child, she is only really tied down by her monotonous waitressing job. She’s a take no nonsense, straight talking type of girl, with concealed troubled past.

After a stressful day at work, Louise has an idea to get away with Thelma for the weekend on a fishing trip in the mountains. Thelma leaves some microwave meals with a note for Darryl, opting for punishment rather than permission, and Louise doesn’t even tell her boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Madsen) she’s going. Being a travelling musician, his continual lack of commitment to the relationship is just another reason behind the weekend getaway.

On the first night though, they run into trouble. Stopping off in a bar the girls enjoy a drink, but as Louise gets up to leave Thelma is nowhere in sight. She goes out to the car park where Thelma is being forcibly cornered by a man. Instinctively Louise shoots him, killing the would-be rapist. This quick and emotionless reaction from her hints toward a darker side that we are yet to discover.

From here on out, the film is all about the duo’s attempt at escaping the law and trying to reach Mexico. Along the way they have their fair share of mini adventures – some great, others disastrous – including a meeting with a sexy young man named JD (Brad Pitt). It’s easy to see how this role sprung Pitt into mainstream film, his intriguing character brings a new life to the screen which he conveys effortlessly.

The chemistry between Davis and Sarandon is fantastic, grouped with witty dialogue and a perfectly paced nature, director Ridley Scott made sure that this film was definitely not categorised as ‘just another road picture’.

Both lead actresses flawlessly transcribe the personal transformation that each character undergoes. Ironically evolving into a carefree spirit, we see a side to Thelma that allows Davis to shine on screen. She perfectly captures the once downtrodden but blossoming, electric attitude of Thelma with ease. Sarandon also does a fine job in portraying a troubled, hardened character, with an increasing sisterly love toward Thelma.

As well as entertaining an audience, some argue that the film acts as a feminist outcry against the social confinements that women face. Having females as lead characters allowed Thelma and Louise to emotionally connect with each other, in a way in that two male leads couldn’t. Because of this, most men find it hard to relate to the characters, or complain about the stereotypical males in the film.

There is one male character that redeems this view though, Hal (Harvey Keitel), the leading detective of the case. He is sympathetic towards the women as he slowly pieces together the events of their crime, realising it was just an unfortunate situation. Yet his efforts to convince the women to turn themselves in are quashed by a squad of policemen who are determined to catch the women at whatever cost. Whatever the views on the levels of feminism in the film though, it shouldn’t distract from the countless sub-genres of the film that add to the wealth of entertainment, that being action, drama, crime and quite simply, road trip.

The film is more about the journey, than it is the destination, and oh, what a ride they take! The cinematography throughout is beautiful, with the closing shot of the film being one of the most iconic of all time.

Both ladies were nominated for an Oscar for their performances in the 1991 film, yet lost out to Jodie Foster for her role in Silence of the Lambs.

Thelma and Louise is a definite must watch. I can’t recommend it enough.

Star rating:   8/10

Directed by Ridley Scott.

Running time 129 minutes.

Tangled (2010)

 

“Mama knows best!”

Cast: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi and Donna Murphy

Take a fairy tale, add super companies Walt Disney and Pixar, sprinkle with CGI effects and mix in talented singers, entertaining characters and catchy showstoppers; you’ll end up with Tangled.

The new Disney film released in theatres January 2011 takes a different approach to the classic fairy tale, Rapunzel. It’s the story that everyone knows, with a little Disney twist of course.

The film opens with the typical fantasy-like touches of a classic fairy tale; a drop of the sun’s rays falls to Earth, from which a flower grows possessing magical abilities. An old, crooked lady named Gothel is seen singing to the flower, which releases the magic it possesses and allows her to maintain a youthful complexion.

Meanwhile the King and Queen of the kingdom announce they are expecting a baby, with everyone rejoicing at the happy news. The Queen falls ill during pregnancy though, and concerned for his wife and baby’s health, the King sends out his men to find a cure, upon which they come across the flower. Possessing the power to heal the sick, a potion is created from the flower that the Queen drinks, she then gives birth to a healthy baby girl named Rapunzel.

Angered that the flower is no longer at her disposal, but realising Rapunzel has inherited the powers of the plant, Gothel sneaks into the castle and cuts a lock of Rapunzel’s hair, though it loses its magic immediately. Spontaneously, she steals Rapunzel and raises her as her own daughter in a secluded tower on the outskirts of the kingdom. By singing to Rapunzel, the magical powers are released through her hair and Gothel remains youthful and happy.

The film focuses on Rapunzel’s journey, after being isolated for 18 years to the realisation that she is the lost Princess.  With catchy songs, outstanding CGI (for a Disney movie), loveable characters and a very talented cast, including Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi and Donna Murphy, Tangled does not disappoint, satisfying all audiences.

This quirky impression is a refreshing look at the classic and original story of Rapunzel, with Disney doing what it does best.

Go watch it! You’ll come out smiling.

Star Rating:   7/10

Directed by Nathan Greno & Byron Howard

Running time 100 minutes