Director – Steven Soderbergh
Cast – Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas
Steven Soderbergh is known for his “one for you, one for me” approach to film making. He’ll do the pop-oriented Ocean movies, but then turn around and do a movie like The Girlfriend Experience or Solaris, which can’t possibly be expected to be blockbusters. I like that approach. It gives him an opportunity to use some top-grade talent and production values in movies that might not otherwise have gotten them.
This one was definitely a “one for me” movie, at least in terms of box office returns, and partly in style. I wonder if the studio thought it would be one for them… It is a flat-out action movie that doesn’t stop for breath, and it has an all-star cast full of upcoming and established stars. So why wasn’t this a blockbuster? Why did it just appear for two seconds on our radar, and then disappear?
Well it’s a bit of a mess. The story is told in a series of flashbacks within flashbacks, and it just confuses the hell out of us. The minimal dialogue doesn’t help either. Perhaps the intent with the flashbacks was to add something to keep us interested, in a movie that is distinctly single-minded. Not a bad idea, I suppose. But what we want to see from this movie is a) Gina Carano kicking ass, and b) all the other awesome actors getting their asses kicked. That would satisfy us, especially coupled with a smart script (which this is, no doubt) and a stylish director such as Soderbergh. But the convoluted flashbacks often leave us wondering who is who and where we are.
Soderbergh is a cold director, or seems to be from the movies I have seen, and a lot of his artsy choices here don’t really mesh with the material. This is a stylish B-movie at heart, and it shouldn’t really be spiced up too much. It loses its edge, and more importantly it loses its focus. This a cup of strong black coffee, but it’s been served to us in a tea-cup. Something is off.
Thankfully the casting director was on her toes for this one, though! Fassbender, McGregor, Tatum, Banderas, Douglas, Paxton. Already I want to see this movie. They are all great, with Ewan McGregor being a stand out as Carano’s slimy boss. I love this guy. I love that he will take on smaller roles, and deliver strong performances in everything he’s in. Perhaps the smaller roles are because he is not as much of a box office draw as he once was, but I’ll see this guy in almost anything.
Haywire is a bit of a missed opportunity. It’s skeleton is a perfectly stylish B-movie, but confusing plot elements and Soderbergh’s impersonal direction threaten to topple the whole house of cards. If there’s anything we need in an action movie its clarity, and we just don’t have it here. We end up with a movie that feels too pulp to be artsy, yet too artsy to be pulp.
Having said that, I am curious to see what this movie would feel like on a second viewing. If we have a grasp on the plot would we be able to appreciate it more? I would argue so. The cast is enjoyable, and Carano certainly impress us with her fight scenes (which are excellently choreographed). I might end up giving this movie a second shot, but I doubt most people would want to. I can give a cautious recommendation as a curiosity, but not much else.
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Cloud Atlas Review
Director – Lana and Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer
Cast – Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon
Written and directed by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, it is an adaptation on the 2004 novel of the same name. It consists of six intertwined stories, ranging from the 1800’s to a post apocalyptic future. There are physical links between the stories… letters written in one time period are read by a character in another, a character in one story is worshiped as a deity in another, that sort of thing. The lead actors also all appear in several stories as characters with different ethnicities and even genders.
But the real link between the stories is thematic. The point of the movie is that people’s actions have consequences, and choices we make “reverberate through time”, etc. It’s not a new theme. It could easily be quite corny too, but success is all in the execution. Cloud Atlas avoids being cheesy, (more or less), and I would even describe it as inspiring. It easily avoids being boring, too, which seems odd as it’s almost three hours long.
It is definitely what I would call a “lie down movie”, though; one of those long films you can go to in a near-empty theatre, lie down on the seats, and let the movie wash over you. (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was another one.) The movie intrigues us, draws us in, and gets to the point in due time. It drags a bit in the middle, to be sure, but not for long. It’s six stories are all interesting in one way or another. They weave together well, despite the occasional jarring transition, and the actors all commit to their roles one hundred percent. If you don’t like any of the stories, there’s a new one coming along in a couple of minutes!
I would like to touch on the ridiculous accusations of racism that have surrounded the movie. Many white members of the cast appear in a couple of stories as ethnicities other than their own. This is done with prosthetics and makeup, and has drawn comparisons to black-face. Some people are asking why actors of the ethnicity portrayed were not hired to play those parts, and normally they would have a point. But in a movie like this, where actors of all colours play different parts, the accusation fall flat. You can not say putting Hugh Grant in vaguely Oriental makeup is racist when the next scene features Halle Berry as a white British woman. Context is key here, and there is no racism here. No chance.
Cloud Atlas is huge, audacious, and effective. It’s six stories complement each other wonderfully, and the actors are obviously into the spirit of the thing. It sounds so flippant to say it, but Cloud Atlas is inspiring. It might confuse some and alienate others, but it is much more approachable than some are saying. Highly recommended.
‘Cloud Atlas’ on other websites:
IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia
Review # 166
Director – Sam Mendes
Cast – Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, Bérénice Lim Marlohe
We start off with a Bond who is believed dead, but who is really taking some quality time on some un-named Caribbean island. He is a wreck of a man, at least compared to what he once was. Trouble at MI6 leads him back, where he finds his skills have grown very rusty indeed. When undergoing re-assessment Bond finds he can’t hit a target the way he used to; he strides forward angrily, firing round after round. Not one hits a vital area.
But duty calls, and perhaps out of misplaced trust in him, M decides to throw 007 back into the field despite his dismal aptitude scores. He is after terrorist mastermind Silva, a man who has already blown up MI6’s headquarters, and seems to have a strange amount of knowledge of the inner working of Britain’s top spy program. But when it comes down to the final count, we see it’s not skill so much as will that makes the difference here.
Never before has a Bond movie had such a cast. We have the regulars, Dench, Craig, etc. But add onto that Fiennes in a great “English gentleman” role, Bardem as a great villain who sets the perfect tone, Finney as a reliable old caretaker (rumoured to have been planned as a winking role for Sean Connery), even Whishaw as a young and sly Q. This is a cast that screams prestige, and throw in Sam Mendes as director and we really have something to raise the eyebrow. The movie is well paced, has great action, and even throws a nod to the Bonds of the past. This is the old man’s 50th anniversary, you know.
In retrospect, Bond has come along way from his beginnings in many ways, yet in many other ways he has not. Women can now be field agents, though they may prefer a desk job when all is said and done. 007 still sleeps with every skirt he comes across, and he still has to (inevitably) watch the villain blow them away. He doesn’t have as many cool toys as you may expect, though one particular car makes a crowd pleasing re-appearance. But the most fundamental way that Bond has changed in the last decade or so is to have an added sense of world-weariness. He kills, puns, and fornicates his way across the world, but you get the sense he doesn’t enjoy it as much any more. People argue that Fleming’s books always had a bit of this, but the movies have generally had a more light-hearted approach. That is gone now. Bond is hewing closer and closer to Bourne.
This isn’t a particularly ground breaking comment, to be sure. But you have to wonder how long this trend will continue. Skyfall has a wonderfully low-key third act, that works very well despite a slight loss of urgency. When a terrorist is seeking M and Bond, they sneak off to a semi-abandoned mansion in Scotland. They take the fight to a remote area, to gain the upper hand and to cause less damage. (This is a wonderfully unexpected turn of events. Since when has Bond cared about collateral damage?) This is not the Bond we expect, and it works, but for how long can it? The reason it works so well is that it flies against convention, but I find myself hoping that what we have here is a strange side route, to be relished for its uniqueness; then we can jump back onto the main road for some “kiss kiss bang bang”, as they say. Indeed, we get a sense of that direction from the final scene. Moneypenny is at her desk, M is in his (!) office, Bond is being handed a dossier marked “Top Secret”, and we even have the coat rack back. Has the Bond train been diverted to its more fun and swashbuckling main line? I must admit, I hope so.
Skyfall is a bit of a departure from the usual Bond tone, but not too much so. It has the perfect tone for what it’s trying to do, and manages to wring a decent bit of fun out of the whole thing. Craig is settling wonderfully into his role, and the rest of the cast is superb. The final scene leaves us waiting with bated breath for the next one, and in the end, what more can we ask for. Skyfall is one of the better Bonds, made all the more interesting by its (comparatively) low-key third act. Bring on Bond 24!
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