Enough Said (2013) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Enough Said (2013) Directed by Nicole Holofcener. With Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, Tavi Gevinson and Tracey Fairaway.

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After moderate success with films such as Friends with Money and Please Give, Writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s study of middle-age and relationships continues with Enough Said, a peak into the life of Eva (Julie Louis-Dreyfus), a freelance masseuse who one night at a party meets Albert (Gandolfini), which has the whiff of potential romance about it.

Holofcener’s writes with maturity and is backed up by performances that compliment her style, most centrally Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose grounded portrait of a happy-go-lucky, middle-aged woman is both funny and endearing. Then there’s the impressive presence of James Gandolfini, still trying to escape the the shadow of Tony Soprano – arguably one of the greatest characters on TV, and an integral part of the revolution that has seen a migration of Hollywood actors, screenwriters and directors, drawn to the small screen. Here, Gandolfini is excellent again, playing a recently divorced man, comfortably adrift in his life, almost waiting for someone like Dreyfus’ character to enter his world.

Like its central character, the overall tone is easy-going and aims to warm the heart. The script has a subtext that moves to dispel divides between generations, and what is conventionally attractive – subtly saying that underneath the bullshit, we’re all dealing with issues.  Its saying that aesthetics are often misleading, an example of which being Dreyfus hanging out with her teen-daughters best friend –  a young, cute Scarlett Johnassony-blonde, who in most other films would be roundly portrayed as the ‘hot chick’. Here, she’s a proper human with actual feelings, problems and a soul.

Aside from it being smart enough to not bash you in the face with its messages, one of the things that stands out about Enough Said, is that all of the characters are mostly likeable, and slightly irritating, like (let’s be honest here) most human beings really are. In part, it’s an undercurrent of what the film is about – as well as how essentially, we all need each other, yet there are times when people dumbfound us with their little annoyances. These things are only amplified in relationships…especially the long-term ones. 4/5

 

 

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Everest (2015) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Everest (2015) Directed by Baltasar Kormákur. With Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Watson, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright and Michael Kelly. 

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Mountains make great movie stars. They just can’t fail, with their mysterious, dominating presence. Mountains are timeless and forever, but difficult to negotiate with and unpredictable, especially the Daddy-mountain of them all…the highest on Earth: Everest. Baltasar Kormákur’s film is based on the events that took place during a series of commercial expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest in 1996.

With an impressive ensemble cast, headed up by Jason Clarke (he keeps getting these big gigs), the film boasts some compelling cinematography by Salvatore Totino which does a fine job of describing the beauty and danger of the landscape.

In the past, I have found Jason Clarke to be a bland leading presence, but here, he’s the glue that holds Everest together (said out of context, there’s a claim!). Perhaps it’s partly because we’re on ‘based on a true story‘ ground, but I found myself caring a lot about what happened to him, and the people he’s trying to guide up and down the mountain. The moment the flick was switched and I became invested, was during a pre-climb telephone conversation with his wife (Keira Knightley – yeah, he wishes!). It’s something that’s often overlooked in these big, ambitious films, but sometimes, a minor moment of genuinely played drama can go a long way.

It’s curious how much acting talent shows up to do not very much in Everest. Both Robin Wright and Keira Knightley literally phone their performances in, while Emily Watson, John Hawkes and Jake Gyllenhaal are in nominal roles, considering the depths of their respective screen talents. There’s Josh Brolin and Sam Worthington too, indeed, the film does suffer from feeling a little crowded, at times, as director, Kormákur, seems to fight a losing battle over who or what he should place the most importance on.

In summary, there is a lot to admire about the breathtaking spectacle of Everest, between the seamless use of CGI and on-location cinematography. In terms of storytelling and character, it’s muddled and dawdles in the build up to the expedition, for the first 40-or-so-minutes. Once the trip begins in earnest, though, the film finds its purpose and evolves into an absorbing battle for survival, amid heartfelt feelings of tragedy and triumph. 3.5/5

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The Walk (2015) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

The Walk (2015) Directed by Robert Zemeckis. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Clément Sibony, and Ben Kingsley.

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Robert Zemeckis co-writes and directs this extraordinary true story of Philippe Petit’s (Gordon-Levitt) high-wire walk of fame between the ‘Twin Towers’ of the World Trade Center in 1974. It’s a story that, thanks to James Marsh’s superb 2008 documentary, Man On A Wire, will be familiar to some. This is that same tale, told with a distinctly Hollywood filter.

We’re introduced to Gordon-Levitt, atop the Statue of Liberty with a backdrop of the iconic Twin Towers, proudly dominating the New York skyline, as they once did. Immediately, I found myself tuning-in to Gordon-Levitt’s enthusiastic French accent, which initially, distracted me from what he was saying. As time wears on, give or take the odd slip, it’s not too much of a problem, although the less ‘starry’ casting of a Frenchman might have bought a little more authenticity.

The good news is, Gordon-Levitt is a gifted physical actor, and he does a fine job of encapsulating Petit’s excitable passion to achieve a feat that 99.9% of the human race would have a heart-attack just thinking about. Although intensely focused, he’s in part portrayed here as the parlour trickster; a man with a taste for the flamboyant, but also a man with an arrogance and determination to get what he wants, whatever the obstacle.

I do suspect there’s a grittier, less Hollywoodised version to be made. Like the protagonist, the overall tone is light on its feet, striving to emulate the eccentric playfulness of Philippe Petit, with its frolicsome soundtrack woven around themes of trickery and jest.

It’s in The Walk that the power of CGI really comes home. There can’t be many moments in CGI before this, that have provoked such a sense of depth and scale. The immense size of the towers is stunningly recreated, which as well as being vertigo-inducing (even on the small screen) makes the final act a dual emotional hit. Of course, the towers remind of us of that day in 2001, but here, they’re also a symbol of freedom, which in tandem with the emotions of 9/11, is an uplifting reminder of the strength and bravery of the human spirit. 3.5/5

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Black Swan (2010) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Black Swan (2010) Directed by Darren Aranofsky. With Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis. 

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Darren Aranofsky’s Black Swan is a menacing psychological drama, boasting an Academy Award-winning performance from Natalie Portman playing Nina, a fragile ballet dancer, hoping to secure the lead role in a Broadway production of Tchaikovsky’s much revered Swan Lake.

Together with Portman and cinematographer Matthew Libatique, Aranofsky creates a strikingly intimate portrait of a young woman under extreme personal pressure, showcasing the bone-cracking brutality of a discipline that offers romance and escapism on its surface, but one that can consume those dedicated enough to desire the unattainable; perfection.

Portman’s character battles with sanity as she strives for to be the best, and the camera never leaves her alone. It’s as if we, the audience, are made to feel as though we’re hounding this woman too. Vincent Cassel, playing the director of the production, mounts on the pressure, intrusively encouraging Nina to dig deep within, even beyond herself to discover an aspect of her personality needed to portray the dual role of white and black swan. Her unstable mother (Barbara Hershey) makes things worse, suffocating Nina, while hoping to achieve her own lost dreams vicariously through her vulnerable daughter. Then there’s jealousy and temptation, two dangerous emotions that enter Nina’s world in varying degrees, through an alarmingly unhinged Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis.

There’s extreme beauty, eroticism and horror on show in Black Swan, all set around a musical production that sends chills down the spine, whenever the orchestra strikes up to play the iconic score. Aranofsky does a great job of keeping the audience off-balance, with some frankly shocking scenes amid a threatening atmosphere that always seems to be on the brink of teetering over the edge. It borrows the odd moment of inspiration from that other great ballet movie, Powell & Pressburger’s sublime 1948 classic, The Red Shoes, but make no mistake, it is every bit as stunningly powerful. 5/5

 

 

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Body Of Evidence (1993) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Body Of Evidence (1993) Directed by Uli Edel. With Madonna, Willem Dafoe, Joe Mantegna, Julianne Moore, Anne Archer and Frank Langella. 

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Released just one-year after the success of Basic Instinct, it’s hard to see Uli Edel’s Body of Evidence and anything other than an all-star, bargain basement rip-off. Fronted (fully) by Madonna, at perhaps the peak of her fame, the film aims to get its male-targeted audience hot under the collar, but rather than doing so, succeeds only in being an exercise in endurance. The IMDb synopsis says it best; “A woman is accused of killing a man to inherit his millions by having sex with him”.

Madonna just can’t seem to help herself. I have always admired her for taking risks, but this seems like a strange one, even for her. Of course, she isn’t celebrated as an actress, but what makes this worse, is that the director seems all too aware of it. Oddly, aside from the cringe-inducing sequences of “making love” (she seems to endlessly spout that sickly term), Madonna spends much of the film as a silent spectator. Yes, there’s sex, and lots of courtroom stuff, little of which requires Madonna to open her mouth and speak. When she does talk, it’s to say phrases like the one she aims at Willem Dafoe when she turns and says – “Have you ever seen animals make love”? Eurgh!

There’s a sense that Edel, and Madonna, are trying to go one further than Paul Verhoeven and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct here, as her Madge-esty plays the ice-cool femme fatale, walking that tightrope of dangerous seduction. Sadly, the imitation game of aping Basic Instinct means they immediately wobble and fall off that tightrope, as Edel’s film begins like a note-for-note copy of Verhoeven’s trashy classic, attempting to hitch a ride on the same wave.

What further goes against the grain, is that aside from the always excellent Dafoe, the film has an impressive supporting cast, including Julianne Moore and Joe Mantegna. Despite this, as an erotic thriller/tense courtroom drama, it fails miserably on both counts. The sex is isn’t sexy and the drama is borrowed and sold off cheaply, leaving a shell of a film that exists as a footnote in the career of everyone involved. If Madonna wasn’t Madonna, we’d have never heard of her again after this. 2/5

 

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Man Up (2015) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Man Up (2015) Directed by Ben Palmer. With Lake Bell and Simon Pegg. 

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Under the direction of Ben Palmer (known best for The Inbetweeners), Man Up is a bright n’ breezy Brit-com starring Lake Bell and Simon Pegg, who find themselves on a blind(ish) date in London. Written by Tess Morris (her first major solo work), the film is positively crammed with fun dialogue, supported by attuned performances that fully grasp its essence and make it laugh-out-loud funny.

Although it’s regularly acid-tongued, it’s still cosily British, wearing its Richard Curtis influences proudly, and in doing so, makes itself accessible across the Atlantic. There’s clearly a huge effort made to ensure American attention…and why not!? Just like the lions share of US Rom-Coms show-off New York (I’d throw most of them TO the lions), Man Up isn’t afraid to be loved-up on London.

Lake Bell and Simon Pegg are nothing short of perfect, as well as being the perfect screen pairing. Physically, there’s little that’s overly showy about either of them, which is a huge step up for the audience’s ability to relate to their characters. It’s one of those films that as the sentiment escalates, you feel a sense that it has earned the right to throw cheese-balls, as you fight all of your natural instincts not to ‘tear up’, knowing full well that shedding any eye water to a film this strategically designed to prompt it, is full-blown ridiculous.

Of course, much of what happens could only do so in a movie, but isn’t that sometimes exactly what we’re looking for? In keeping with the ages of the leads, the obligatory crowd-pleasing soundtrack is faithful to the 1980’s, as are many of the jokey references. Ultimately, as is the case in more or less any ‘rom-com’, what gives Man Up its broad appeal, is the strength of the writing, bound together with two enjoyable central performances. 4/5

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Teen Wolf (1985) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Teen Wolf (1985) Directed by Rod Daniel. With Michael J. Fox, James Hampton and Jerry Levine. 

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Michael J. Fox is the Canadian Werewolf in America, which doesn’t quite have that ring to it, does it!? Ok, we’ll call it Teen Wolf. Yes, released the same year as the critically acclaimed and much loved Back to the Future, Michael J. also headlined this, a movie about a teenager, who’s really a werewolf…basically what it says in the poster.

Directed by Rod Daniel, the film aims to skit around the various areas of teen life, with the casting coup of Michael J Fox (red hot at the time thanks to TV’s Family Ties). We begin (and end) at a college basketball game, which introduces the characters in one scene; the bully, the ‘amusingly fat kid (yes, he’s nicknamed Chubby), the party animal, the arrogant Prom Queen, the loyal, but slightly dowdy girl(friend) and, of course, Marty McWolf.

Michael J. Fox is ever the energetic lead, darting around the screen, trying his best to keep the film afloat, despite a flimsy script that doesn’t make enough of his talents. At times, it seems to have ambitions as a loose, frat boy comedy, with wild house parties, preceded by those awkward moments in the liquor store, but actually, its real aim is to subvert those elements, with an overlying narrative about finding the confidence to be your true self, although its too clumsy and dated to score any points on this front, making the end result a bit of a mess.

Yes, there’s some nostalgia to be found from looking back, and Michael J.Fox is eminently watchable, even when he’s forced to carry the weight of the entire production (he didn’t show up for the sequel).  In short, Teen Wolf is squarely for the 8-12 age range…and those who were 8-12 when they saw it for the first time. 2.5/5

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