Film Review: End of Watch (2012)

END OF WATCH, the new feature by writer-director David Ayer, is an episodic adventure into the dark world of drugs and gangs in South Central Los Angeles. The story is told through the eyes of two young, but experienced, police officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña).

Taylor and Zavala patrol the streets in a black and white. Most of the crime they face is gang-related. They are on call for incidents raging from checking on whether elderly relatives are still alive, through to shoot-outs and other turf war violence. They are proud–almost swaggering–when they talk about how dangerous their job is compared with other LA cops.

Taylor is making a documentary for a filmmaking unit he is studying. He captures much of his and Zavala’s story on a handycam. Both cops also have a small camera clipped to the pocket of their uniform. In this way, we the audience, are given access to the officers when they are on patrol. Zavala and Taylor are tightly bonded brothers. They joke about their respective backgrounds: Taylor is single, white and book-smart; Zavala is Mexican, married and doesn’t like to over-think a situation, which is what he believes his partner is prone to do. They while away the long hours on patrol with in-jokes and more serious thoughts.

Ayer’s fly-on-the-wall approach to shooting the film doesn’t stand up to much analysis, not only do we see the ‘feeds’ from Taylor and Zavala’s lenses, but we are privy to footage from a camera wielded by a gang of street thugs and even an unnamed FBI agent who records the goings-on with a drug cartel in Mexico. For those who don’t enjoy the shaky-cam technique (we’re looking at you David Stratton) the director’s choice will make watching this movie, a challenge. I thought the cinematography worked well enough.

Gyllenhaal and Peña are very strong in their roles. Gyllenhaal reportedly did ride-alongs with various LAPD units for months. Peña went on forty of these with Gyllenhaal. So they got a clear idea of the type of men they were portraying. The success of this effort is on screen. Natalie Martinez plays Gabby, Mike Zavala’s wife of eight years. Anna Kendrick, this year’s “it” girl (PITCH PERFECT) , plays Taylor’s girlfriend Janet. In other movies, these roles would be insignificant. Although neither has much screen time, Ayer has made these parts more significant by giving Kendrick and Martinez a couple of nice moments to shine and also by having their characters be part of the conversational flow between the guys. These men talk to each other about their relationships. These women are important to their lives, not just a movie expedience.

The character development of Zavala and Taylor is the film’s ace-in-the-hole. The plot is functional at best. The string of events Taylor and Zavala experience is rather implausible. The movie has other strengths. Ayer is intent on showing the seamy side of Los Angeles. As we travel with our heroes through the neighbourhoods ruled by gangs, we feel the filth, decay and tension. Although the movie shares some of the same feel as COLOURS (1998), RAMPART (2011) and 2001’s TRAINING DAY (which Ayer also wrote), the LAPD shown in END OF WATCH is squeaky clean, not on the take and does not have a problem with race. Taylor and Zavala are hero cops and the department itself is engaged in a heroic struggle. As Taylor puts it in the opening of the movie: “We stand watch together. The thin blue line, protecting the prey from the predators, the good from the bad. We are the police.”

END OF WATCH is an entertaining, tense, violent two-hour movie with two great lead performances, a strong sense of place and a serviceable story. It runs for 1 hour and 49 minutes. I rated it (7/10).

This review appeared previously in AccessReel.com

Film Review: War Horse (2011)

USA | 146 minutes

Young Albert enlists to serve in WWI after his beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry. Albert’s hopeful journey takes him out of England and across Europe as the war rages on.

WAR HORSE is the second Steven Spielberg directed picture premiering in Australia on Boxing Day (December 26th to those of you not of the British Empire). Both are epic adventures aimed at a family audience, however the other film–THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN–feels like the horse to back if you want to pick a winner for the race to number one at the Box Office. (The horsey similes stop now, promise.)

Despite the official synopsis, WAR HORSE is about the journey of the horse, Joey, rather than that of his owner, Albert Narracott (Irvine). The tale begins in rural Devon, on the eve of the Great War.  Young Albert is a farmer’s son and he comes to own Joey through a series of miscalculations made by his proud father Ted Narracott (Mullan). Another bad decision by Ted leads to Joey’s being sold to the Cavalry. Albert is heartbroken and he determines that he will find a way to get his beloved horse back.

From here, we follow Joey from owner to owner, through the four years of the Great War. There are vivid characters and great set pieces. The war and its effects are presented in a way that is mindful of the younger members of the audience, but it doesn’t feel sanitised. There is no blood evident, but the trenches of the Western Front are shown as frightening, filthy and claustrophobic.

The movie is based on a children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo which was later adapted into an award winning stage play. The screenplay is written by Richard Curtis (LOVE ACTUALLY) and Lee Hall (BILLY ELLIOT). Spielberg has taken this material and created a curiously non-Spielbergian movie. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of golden age films like GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). Its treatment of the story harks back to classic movies like LASSIE COME HOME (1943), NATIONAL VELVET (1944) and THE YEARLING (1946). It is a consciously old-fashioned entertainment unfolding over more than two hours.

Although I wasn’t bored at any point, the 146 minute length may be too much for some younger viewers. This and the subject matter made me wonder whether WAR HORSE might be most suitable for horsey kids or your more thoughtful, bookish child. Hard to say. Certainly Abraham, the horse that plays Joey, is a beautiful and charismatic lead and he alone will keep plenty of audience members glued to their seats.

Human performances are as solid as expected. Jeremy Irvine and Peter Mullan are good as son and father Narracott respectively, but Emily Watson shines as Rose Narracott, wife of the headstrong Ted. We see too little of the excellent Tom Hiddleston as Captain Nicholls the officer who buys Joey for the Cavalry. David Kross who played the boy in THE READER (2008) is a welcome addition to the cast as a young German soldier called Gunther.

My slight reservation about WAR HORSE is that the essentially “batton-passing” nature of the story where we have to follow a succession of human characters makes it a little more challenging to get emotionally involved in the film – especially if you aren’t fully bonded with the character of Joey.

WAR HORSE is an intelligently made, high budget, beautifully shot film. It has a top-notch international cast and beautifully detailed production design. This is a quality picture that will satisfy audiences who want to immerse themselves in an historical tale.

I rated WAR HORSE 7/10.

SIDENOTE: There is an excellent episode of ABC TV’s AUSTRALIAN STORY – “Under Her Spell” that documents the engrossing tale of Zellie Bullen the woman who trained Abraham for WAR HORSE.

NOTE: This review originally appeared in AccessReel.com

Film Review: Frank (2014)

How much you enjoy the movie FRANK will depend on how you feel about Indie movies, Indie music, ironic humour and stories about emotionally immature man-boys. Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a young Englishman with a dead-end job who lives with his parents. His mind is frequently stuck in a fervent internal monolog because his outer life is desperate and friendless. The music he writes and plays in his room is his only means of self-expression. The music scene is his connection to the world–the single living artery in a bloodless existence. Which is why he keeps an eye out for any new band passing through the small, unnamed seaside town where he lives.

When the unpronounceable band, Soronprfbs, appears, he is excited. They seem to have an impressively underground reputation. They are the very definition of an act whose music you never heard of. Their electronically infused art-rock is deeply self-indulgent, but what sets them apart from any similar outfit is their lead singer Frank. Over his street clothes, he wears a large, almost spherical, fibreglass head with cartoony features sculpted into it. Before his voice hits the mic, it is audible via a speaker built into the cranial shell. Frank sings and speaks to the world through the head. He wears the alienating contraption 24/7. No one has ever seen his real face.

Through a series of coincidences, Jon is asked to replace the band’s keyboardist. Immediately, he finds himself plunged into the dark emotional funk that permeates this tense collection of misfit players. None of them appear to have functioning people skills. They are a gang of self-involved dreamers led by a man who is possibly living his life as performance art. Jon has trouble bonding with these damaged folk. Whether this is his lack or theirs is difficult to say.

Jon and the band travel to Ireland (Wicklow) to record an album in a ramshackle facility that consists of a run-down caravan, office and Bavarian-style chalets. He has no clear idea of what he should do, so he begins taking video footage of rehearsals and tweeting about their progress. YouTube and Twitter become an outlet for his sense of bewilderment. It’s also an opportunity to present some good gags about social media. We are privy to Jon tweets and the replies from Soronprfbs fans, haters and trolls.

The process of recording is exhausting thanks to Frank’s perfectionism. As Jon floats through his new circumstances, you sense he is looking for transformation. He has never been cool or valued in any way. He is seeking a kind of epiphany. Frank with his enigmatic world-view, not to mention his frozen, continually surprised expression, seems like a potential guru or mentor. He’s a man with a big empty head, who won’t judge others.

The first half of FRANK is littered with the stereotypes of life on the road. The second–stronger–half offers some answers to the enigma of a lead singer hidden in plain sight. As we learn more of Frank, the deadpan comedy recedes and we are given greater insight into the fragile personalities of the band members. Michael Fassbender is excellent in the title role. He let it be known he wanted the part and he does great things with it, despite having his voice and eyes obscured. Scoot McNairy (currently in David Michod’s Australian film THE ROVER) also makes a strong impression as the manager Don. Maggie Gyllenhaal is Clara, the aggressive theremin player who thinks she is the only one who truly understands Frank. Domhnall Gleeson does a solid job with the problematic lead role. His is the most relatable character and provides us with our way into the insular world of Soronprfbs, but Jon is struggling with his own demons. He is half-conscious at best and therefore something of an unreliable narrator.

Director Lenny Abrahamson has made his biggest film to date with this UK-Irish co-production. The film’s co-writers, playwright Peter Straughn and journalist Jon Ronson wrote their screenplay based on Ronson’s own experiences playing in a band led by a man in a papier-mâché head. In the 1980’s, the late Chris Sievey created the persona of Frank Sidebottom, an aspiring pop singer from Timperly, Manchester. Sievey’s Frank was comedic, whereas the movie’s Frank is a serious musician who hails from Kansas. The design of the movie head is very similar to the one Sievey wore. Ronson and Straughn have given their Frank some of the qualities of outsider musicians like Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnston. In this way, their screenplay is something of a love letter to outsider music. Soronprfbs aren’t looking for mainstream success and Jon doesn’t understand why not.

FRANK is a slow starter and a little hard to crack into at first, however it has an entertainingly dry wit and is a poignant look at the sort of world that sensitive people build to protect themselves.

UK | 96 minutes | 6/10

This review first appeared in AccessReel.com in June 2014

Film Review: Passengers (2016)

It is the future. Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), a passenger on the spaceship Avalon, wakes up from his sleep pod. The ship is on a 120 year journey to a colonisation planet called Homestead 2. The Avalon is a state-of-the-art sleep ship with 5000 passengers in a state of suspended animation. Jim’s pod has malfunctioned and he has woken 90 years early. The pod is constructed to keep Jim asleep, but not to put him back under if he wakes up. As the ship’s computer explains to him, it is impossible for a sleep pod to malfunction. There are no protocols for this eventuality. All the ship’s technicians are also in a hyper-sleep state and locked away in high security quarters. Everyone but Jim and a robot bartender (Michael Sheen) is asleep for the next 90 years. He is stranded in what amounts to a resort hotel in space. He has food, a pool, exercise equipment, entertainment; everything except human companionship.

PASSENGERS has a great premise. Does Jim just die alone on a ship with 5000 souls who are untouchable and unreachable as far as he is concerned? They have all paid their money to become a colonist 90 years in the future. They are as good as dead to Jim, as he is to them.

Eventually, Jim is joined by another passenger, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) And here, you might find the story engaging and be all-in with the growing relationship of these two attractive space colonists of the future or you might not be happy with the way the story turns. If you saw the trailer to PASSENGERS and thought of it as a romance and a sci-fi adventure, then it isn’t that straight forward.

PASSENGERS is shot on great sets and has seamless special effects. Pratt and Lawrence are solid. The screenplay by Jon Spaihts needed more development because the story sets up a moral dilemma and then never sufficiently deals with it. For viewers not concerned with this aspect of storytelling, PASSENGERS is a slickly made movie with A-list stars, preposterous action and an overly sentimental conclusion.

USA | 116 minutes (2.5/5)

This review originally appeared on AccessReel.com

Film Review: Why Him? (2016)

Ned and Barb Fleming, and their 15-year-old-son Scott visit their eldest child, 22-year-old Stephanie in California, where she goes to college. The family live in Grand Rapids, Michigan where Ned runs a printing business. The Flemings expect to spend some family time with their daughter for Christmas, but from the moment they land, plans change. Stephanie introduces them to her new boyfriend Laird. He is immature, swears continuously and is a Silicon Valley multi-millionaire. Laird insists the Flemings stay in his hi-tech mansion and immediately he puts Ned off-side.

Father and daughter usually have a close relationship, but the more Ned discovers about Laird, the more he feels his relationship with Stephanie has changed for the worst. Laird is on a mission to win over the family, especially Ned.

WHY HIM? is a comedy directed by John Hamburg and co-written by him and Ian Helfer. The basic premise is familiar enough: over-protective father can’t accept his adult daughter making her own decisions.

Hamburg and Helfer make the new boyfriend superficially attractive and rich, but then make him a middle-class parents’ nightmare. He has no filter for normal conversation, so does not observe any of the niceties of day-to-day politeness. This is explained with the half-baked idea that Laird had no substantial parental figures. So most of the things that Laird says are about sex and everything he utters contains profanities. This is the movie’s go-to gag. A barrage of awkward sex talk in front of Stephanie’s parents and a never-ending stream of swearing. I found this immensely tiresome. Laird is played by James Franco and the movie relies entirely on his charm and his skill at playing a guileless man-child. The audience I saw this with seemed on board however, they laughed steadily throughout, but I was only intermittently amused.

The other comic idea was actually a two-for-one. #1:Those Wacky Californians and Their Zany Cutting Edge Ideas (Gourmet food as a gas! Paperless house!). This fits neatly into #2:Those Zany Millennials and Their Wacky Cutting Edge Ideas. Here the film shows more invention coming up with the kind of daft hipster concepts that might appeal to a young tech millionaire (Defensive parkour!). This kind of thing is as a modern as the 1962 Jimmy Stewart movie MR HOBBS TAKES A VACATION (Beatniks!). Most off the weird innovations in the house (Computerised Japanese toilet!) are under the care of Laird’s Estate Manager Gustav played by the reliably energetic Keegan-Michael Key.

Other performers include Cedric the Entertainer, the disembodied voice of Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco, Griffin Gluck as Scott Fleming and Zoey Deutch as Stephanie. Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally play Mom and Dad Fleming and they are great at coming up with comic double-takes and stilted reactions to the weirdness unfolding around them, but I still felt a little cheated that they weren’t really given the opportunity to let rip. Both have shown us what they can do comedically on television, Cranston as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle and Mullally as Karen in Will and Grace, so it seemed an opportunity was going begging.

WHY HIM? is an adequate comedy that will suit undemanding audiences wanting to have some laughs over the holidays. It gets as far as it does on the talents of Franco, Cranston and Mullally.

USA | 116 minutes (5/10)

This review originally appeared on AccessReel.com

Film Review: Justice League (2017)

JUSTICE LEAGUE is the fifth movie of the D.C. Extended Universe (DCEU). It is preceded and informed by MAN OF STEEL (2013), BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2016), SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) and WONDER WOMAN (2017). The story begins in a world that is still coming to terms with the death of Superman. Massive black flags fly in tribute to the lost son of Krypton. There is a sense that Earth is now unguarded against alien threat and it has become a grief-stricken, doom-laden planet without hope. As a counter to the fear and as a defence against potential extraterrestrial dangers, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince /Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) work to bring together a team of heroes—a Justice League.

Top draft picks for the League are: the oceanic Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa); young and speedy Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) and former college football star, with a newly acquired and still evolving cybernetic body, Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Batman and Wonder Woman have some initial difficulties in locating these three and getting them to answer the call for the heroes’ journey but Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg eventually cross the threshold and the Justice League is formed.

The timing is fortunate because it turns out that an ancient and all-powerful foe Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) has returned to dominate and enslave the planet with his multitude of deadly, winged minions, the Parademons. Steppenwolf is on a quest to bring together three mysterious cubes known as the Mother Boxes; when joined they become the Unity which Steppenwolf will use to conquer Earth.
From here, the good guys have a number of obstacles to overcome in their mission to defeat Steppenwolf’s plan. The movie does a good job tying-up a major strand in the DCEU story. However, the good versus evil part of the tale is strictly by-the-numbers for the modern superhero movie. Steppenwolf, in his desire to conquer, is very similar to Apocalypse in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, or Dark Elf Malekith in THOR: THE DARK WORLD, or many of other the power-hungry super-villains. In their original conception on the comic page, all these antagonists doubtless have stories of specific detail, but on screen, most of the bad guys seem similar.

The new League members are not shown in great depth, but Fisher, Miller and Momoa bring sufficient presence to make a solid impact in their roles. Seeing the five characters connect as a team, provides the movie with a number of highlights. Time is given to family moments with Cyborg’s father Silas (Joe Morton) and The Flash ‘s father Henry (Billy Crudup). Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) makes a welcome return. There are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances from Amber Heard as Mera, J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon and Robin Wright as Antiope. The excellent Jeremy Irons is back as Alfred and is underused, but then this movie is packed tight with characters.

The physical action set pieces are good enough, but there is an over-reliance on visual effects. The computer-generated images are numerous and unremarkable. Sometimes the frame is busy and the visuals are confusing. A number of exteriors have the feel of being green-screened sound-stages.

Overall, JUSTICE LEAGUE is entertaining. The main story is average in its execution, but the new team have a number of amusing and heartfelt moments. This isn’t the blockbuster some were hoping for. WONDER WOMAN is a better movie, but JUSTICE LEAGUE is at least more coherent than the remaining three films of the current DCEU.

USA | 120 minutes (6.5/10)

This review first appeared at AccessReel.com

Film Review: Bad Moms 2 (2017)

BAD MOMS was a smash hit comedy of 2016. It cost US $20 million to make and took an impressive US $183 million at the box office. With numbers like those, a follow-up was always on the cards, however the fact the original debuted in July 2016 and the sequel was released at the end of October 2017, suggests a swiftly made production. On a first watch, it appears the screenplay was the area that could have done with some more time and attention. (The movie is known as BAD MOMS 2 in Australia and A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS in others.)

The set up is the contrived idea that unexpectedly, the Bad Moms are visited by their own moms this Christmas, 2017. Apparently none of the moms were expecting a “visit from grandma”. This is supposed to indicate the essential dysfunction between the Bad Moms and their moms. The believability of the mother-daughter match-up is good with Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Isis (Susan Sarandon) and even more so with Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Sandy (Cheryl Hines). The idea of Mila Kunis being the offspring of Ruth (Christine Baranski) and Hank (Peter Gallagher) requires some suspension of disbelief.

The centre of the story is that the Bad Moms feel overloaded by the responsibility to organise, shop, buy, cook and gift-wrap the perfect Christmas. Then mix in the difficulties of their mother-daughter relationships and stand back for the laughs. Christine Baranski’s Ruth is a perfectionist. Cheryl Hines’ character wants to be too close to her daughter. The Sarandon character seems barely to be in the life of Carla and her son. All three of these family set-ups is tested and the results are some pretty funny scenes, some averagely amusing ones and some acceptably heart-felt hits of emotion.

The original BAD MOMS was a tight-piece of work from co-writers and co-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. It was a crude, smart and consistently hilarious movie with top comedic talent in unexpectedly funny situations. There are some mis-steps in the sequel leading to some flat moments. Even within the over-the-top world created by Moore and Lucas, some of their story decisions are poor on this outing. The Amy and Ruth Christmas struggle, which is given the most screen time, is not that believable. What sells it is Kunis and Baranski’s acting talents. They are funny and eventually touching in their connection and you care about what happens to these two. More often than not, the performance skills of this very talented cast is what makes this watchable even when what is happening is not on-point. Having said this, all the scenes with Carla and her potential stripper boyfriend Ty Swindle (Justin Hartley) are great.

So if you’re a fan of the first movie, prepare for the Yuletide onslaught of the Bad Moms and their own learning-to-be-better moms. It’s a level down from the last offering, but if you know that and you knock back a little Christmas egg-nog first, then chances are you’ll (yule) be entertained.

USA | 104 minutes (6/10)

This review originally appeared in AccessReel.com

Film Review: Three Summers (2017)

Three Summers_02

The Westival is an annual music festival that attracts great players and enthusiastic folk-loving audiences to a small town in Western Australia. The story begins when Keevey (Rebecca Breeds), a Western Australian fiddler and singer in her father’s Irish band, crosses paths with Roland (Robert Sheehan) an actual Irishman with no interest whatsoever in the folk music of his homeland. He instructs extremely small audiences on that classic electronic instrument, the theremin. Both Keevey and Roland find the other a rather trying person, but in the way of the movies, each also sees something attractive in the other person. And so, begins their comedic and problematic romance, stretching over three Summers.

The film returns to the Westival in all three Summers and so we see how some people have changed and others have remained exactly-the-same. The head of the Aboriginal Dance troupe played by Kelton Pell and the leader of the Morris Dancers, played by Michael Caton don’t see eye-to-eye and have regular run-ins. There is also a quartet of empty-nesters who do the Westival annually; an-all woman rock band called Feminasty; even a group of asylum seekers with a song about their lives and current situation. On stage and in the audience, there are people with stories to tell and live through. Overseeing all of this is radio host Queenie (Magda Szubanski). She is passionate about music and the festival and does her best to publicise all aspects of the event, even when it means broadcasting arguments between rival musicians.

Writer director Ben Elton is well-known as an English stand-up comedian who came to prominence in the 1980s with his energetic act, laced with political content. He also co-wrote BLACKADDER and THE YOUNG ONES, two of the funniest British sitcoms of the era which were highly influential on all the TV comedy that followed. He has since gone on to write plays, musical plays, more television and novels. He is much awarded and quite the cultural icon. His connection to the wide brown land is through marriage. He has managed to live in Australia and raise a family here and to maintain his UK profile and career. Which is how this famous English talent comes to make a feature film in Australia that has characters, actors, themes and a soundtrack reflecting our island home.

Breeds and Sheehan are lovely to watch as the romantic leads. Magda Szubanski is a necessary binding force to a disparate and diverse cast; Pell and Caton have fun in their sparring roles; John Waters is always excellent at seeming like a man with an agenda beyond the friendly exterior he projects. There is an extensive list of players who have quick hits of scenes and amusing moments woven into the fabric of the Westival; fans of Deborah Mailman, Peter Rowsthorn, Christiaan Van Vuuren and Nick Boshier should keep an eye out for their appearances.

THREE SUMMERS is a film about people and situations that Western Australians will recognise immediately. Other audiences, not from the here, will still have the music, comedy, performances and romance to enjoy.

Australia | 102 minutes (6/10)

This review first appeared at AccessReel.com

Film Review: Breathe (2017)

Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield as Diana and Robin Cavendish

Robin is married to Diana. The Cavendishes are English and live in Kenya. It is 1958 and his business is coffee. The couple live a good life and have made solid friendships. Then tragedy strikes and Robin (Andrew Garfield) contracts a severe, debilitating disease. He is 28. Diana (Claire Foy) is 25. He lives, but his condition is so devastating that he sinks into depression. Diana wonders how their life together is going to work, especially as she is expecting their first child.

BREATHE takes the story of a life-changing disease and documents how it affected an English family for the next three decades. In these years, the 1960s to the 1990s, the world changed greatly in its medical thinking. Robin’s initial disease left him severely physically disabled and as the movie shows, for others with his condition, this meant a life of virtual imprisonment in hospitals, hooked-up to machines. This thinking was dominant in the medical profession, led by a desire to be efficient in the treatment of these patients, however for many, like Robin, this meant an existence that was utterly devoid of the things that make life worth living.

Diana is determined to be Robin’s carer. She works hard to create the circumstances that will improve his days and they have the support of a network of friends. The challenges are daunting, but every hurdle successfully cleared means that others can benefit from the knowledge and experience the Cavendishes gain.

BREATHE is a drama and a romance. At times, it has rather chocolate-boxy visuals but the reality of a broken human body is not completely glossed over. The relationship of Diana and Robin is shown as supportive and happy in the main, but also as ordinary and chafing at other times. Once again, reality is not completely glossed over. Diana and Robin are amazing people, but in the end remain recognizable as suffering and struggling human beings.

Andy Serkis, the actor you know from his motion-captured triumphs (Caesar in the Planet of the Apesmovies and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies) has done an excellent job in his directorial debut. Actors who direct almost always know how to get the best from their fellow thesps and here Garfield and Foy create an engaging and believable Robin and Diana.

Some of the timeline and actual medical history presented seems quite loose, but the inspiration is what BREATHE is built for, rather than a documentary-style tale. I didn’t necessarily accept all the events as wholly accurate, however I was entertained and ultimately moved by the portrayal of these lives.

UK |  118 minutes (8/10)

This review originally appeared in AccessReel.com

 

Film Review: Argo (2012)

The Iranian Hostage Crisis dominated news in the western world in 1979. The militants who occupied the US Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage committed an act that was particularly newsworthy because it was unprecedented. The concept of embassies works only because everyone agrees to treat them as off-limits in a conflict.

The students and activists who took over the US Embassy in the name of the Iranian revolution were angry at the US for supporting the rule of the former leader of Iran, the Shah. The Shah was in the United States for medical reasons and Iran wanted him back to stand trial. The crisis continued for 444 days. There was a botched attempt at a military rescue and in the end the matter was settled through diplomatic negotiation. Six members of the US Embassy staff escaped capture and hid in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. Eventually, an unusual plan was devised to get them out of Iran. It was decided that Tony Mendez, a CIA operative, would enter the country posing as a Hollywood movie producer scouting locations for a (fictitious) science fantasy film called “Argo”. Later he was to exit the country through the airport with the six embassy staff posing as members of the movie’s crew.

This true story was declassified from CIA files in the late 1990s and is well-known among espionage and political geeks. Actor-director Ben Affleck has used these facts as the basis of his third outing as a feature film director. Another famous hyphenate, actor-director George Clooney, produced ARGO and Affleck’s film shares the kind of solidity and non-flashiness of the movies that Clooney has developed.

A lot of care has been lavished on period details. The sense that hair, wardrobe and props are spot-on is reinforced by the clever side-by-side shot comparisons that run through the end credits. We are allowed to see pictures of the actual participants alongside pictures of the actors who play them. The storming of the US Embassy gates is compared with the recreated footage. The filmmakers are obviously and justly proud of the work that has gone into this.

There are some who have criticised Affleck and writer Chris Terrios’ interpretation of the events of the hostage crisis. There are plenty of moments that one can describe as “Hollywoodised” if one wants to play the part of Captain Suckfun. Suffice to say, history buffs will not be best pleased by the dramatisation of the final moments in the airport. The last quarter of the film, which covers the journey through the airport in Tehran, is very tense indeed. At the screening I attended, the people I spoke with, all agreed that knuckles were whitened and stomachs churned by the dramatic intensity of this end section.The audience is gripped by the fear that somehow airport customs, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will see through the ruse of the phoney movie crew.

The movie is all plot with almost no charcaterisation to speak of. This would be a negative for many films, but here it barely matters. It isn’t necessary for us to have a deeper understanding of the participants. Having said this, I think Affleck erred in casting himself as CIA man Mendez. His performance is under done and I would lay the blame on self-direction.

ARGO begins with an elegant summation of the events that lead to the crisis and proceeds to engage the audience for the next two hours. This is well-made, middlebrow entertainment for adults who want a little more than gunplay and explosions on a Saturday night.

USA | 120 minutes | (3/5)

This review was originally published in Accessreel.com