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Thursday, April 17, 2014

One Chance

A movie produced by Simon Cowell! And it doesn't suck!

This review is also at Channel 24.

What it's about

Based on the true story of Paul Potts, a regular working class guy whose dreams of being an opera singer is given new life by popular talent show, Britain's Got Talent.

What we thought

One Chance has all the ingredients of a truly wretched viewing experience. Not only does it co-star MacKenzie Crook who, despite playing an integral part in the original UK version of the Office, has become a one-man omen of bad British movies – movies so bad they never seem to leave the British Isles – it is produced by Simon Cowell. Yes, that Simon Cowell. Everything pointed to this being little more than a cynical ploy to shill the Simon Cowell brand to unsuspecting movie goers who already had enough of his empire of manufactured pop on TV, thank you very much, but are now stuck having to swallow it on the big screen too. That the film is based on one of his show's greatest success stories does little to dampen how crass and just all round icky it seemed at the outset. Honestly, I'm just surprised we didn't get the Susan Boyle story first.

You know what really bugs me about One Chance though? Not only did it actually turn out to be a seriously lovely little film with a perfect balance of romance, drama and laugh-out-loud comedy, it also makes a seriously compelling argument that these talent shows actually offer far more than their glitzy, manipulative, sensationalist sheen may suggest. Damnit.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Got life if you want it...

This review is also up at Channel 24, where the blurb should read "timed" not "times", by the way.

What it's about

A documentary about the concert that took place on 12 December 2012 to raise funds for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

What we thought

I genuinely have no idea how or why this film is gracing our cinemas right now, as it certainly isn't timely and I can't see it making much of a splash against the Easter holiday movies that are currently on release. I'm kind of happy to see it though.

Its mixture of Hurricane Sandy footage, backstage glimpses into the 12-12-12 concert and the concert itself aren't exactly revelatory and they add up to a relatively sub-par music documentary that doesn't have the backstage drama of a Gimme Shelter, the satisfying concert feel of a Last Waltz or even the spiky, often funny social conscience of CSNY's Deja Vu. Still, though it's hardly essential viewing, I challenge any fan of great 1960s/ 1970s music not to enjoy themselves watching it.

While there's some obviously well-deserved focus on the victims of the hurricane and there's a definite thrill to see the various performers interact backstage, the real coup of this particular concert is just the sheer amount of classic musical talent on the stage. Admittedly, just about none of these legends are at the top of their game but even as many of them celebrate 50 years in the business, they still bring a vitality to their performances that often leaves people half their age in their dust.

Straight off the bat, we have representatives of the three major pillars of the British Invasion: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. While the Beatles and the Who are obviously much diminished by a lack of half their members, Paul McCartney once again shows exactly why he is pretty much the biggest touring act on the planet with an explosive Live and Let Die to close off the show and - despite Roger Daltrey's once might roar being a strangled, croaking shadow of itself - Pete and Roger are still able to bring some of that peerless Who live magic to the stage with Baba O'Reilly. As for the Stones, they effortlessly knock out a wonderfully rugged but tight take on Jumpin' Jack Flash that is hurt only by Jagger's relatively recent tendency to somehow simultaneously under- and over-sing everything.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Europa Report

Houston, we have a problem. Boy, do we.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Sometime in the not too distant future, an international crew of astronauts embark on a mission to find life on one of Jupiter's moons.

What we thought

Films that deal with space travel and the dangers thereof have been around for a long, long time and include such seriously notable works as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, Alien, Moon and Gravity. Europa Report isn't so much a forgettable footnote of this illustrious genre, as it is a particularly ugly stain. The only good thing about it, in fact, is that I seriously doubt that anyone will remember it even exited once it has come and gone from our cinemas in what is guaranteed to be a mercifully short amount of time.

What we have here is a science fiction film that is ceaselessly dull, underdeveloped, poorly written and blandly directed and fails entirely to engage on any level whatsoever. It has none of the tension of Gravity or Alien, none of the ambition of 2001 and none of the strong characterization of Moon. It's an abject failure as both a smart science fiction film and as a gripping space thriller as it has next to nothing to to say, while steadfastly refusing to entertain or engage while doing so.

To say that it's boring doesn't come close to capturing to just how endlessly, wrist-slittingly dull it is. It clocks in at about eighty minutes, excluding credits, but it feels like it goes on for days. That it's glacially paced is only the beginning of its problems. Moon, for example, was similarly slow paced but that was a great, engrossing piece of work so clearly it's not just the pacing that sinks Europa Report.

Oldboy (2013)

No octopuses were harmed in the making of this movie...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

An amoral advertising executive is kidnapped and held in captivity for twenty years. When he is finally unceremoniously and unexpectedly released, he embarks on a trail of violence and vengeance to find out who kidnapped him and why.

What we thought

The original Oldboy, released way back in 2003, is a South Korean cult classic that took the psychological thriller in a bold and unprecedented demented new direction that made its American contemporaries look almost immediately tired and uninspired by comparison. Like the best cult movies, it isn't perfect and it alienated anyone who wasn't ready for anything quite so full on, but it was a smart, stylish and viscerally engrossing piece of work that may have been based on an already existing manga (Asian comic book) but always felt entirely fresh and original. It was also, quite easily, one of the decade's most demented movies.

Now, ten years later, comes the inevitable American, English-language remake. When it was first announced, it immediately evoked an incredibly strong negative reaction by ardent fans of the original who were hardly any happier when the cast and director were announced. It may be directed by the venerated – though often reviled – Spike Lee and it may feature a very impressive cast, but why remake the film in the first place? Especially because the original film's success was so tied into being the product of of the Asian, rather than American film industry.

And, it has to be said: the fans have been proven entirely right. Taken on its own terms, Spike Lee's Oldboy is a good, if quite flawed film but, despite changing one or two plot details along the way, there really is no need for it to exist. Lee may have claimed that his take on Oldboy was a reimagining of the manga, rather than a remake of the original film, but, as always, that's basically complete garbage.


Kicking off this week's movies with a biggie, we have what is easily my most Jewish movie review ever!

This review is also up at Channel 24.

 What it's about

A retelling of the Biblical story of Noah, the man chosen by God to save himself, his own family and two of each kinds of animal from a flood that is to submerge the entire world and wipe out the rest of humanity.

What we thought

Even as far as “religious” films go, Darren Aronofsky's cinematic adaptation of the story of Noah has drawn a quite staggering amount of controversy – most especially by the more conservative Christians and Muslims out there who abhor Aronofsky's very obvious refusal to adhere to a literal understanding of the story as it is presented in the Bible. Generally, this sort of controversy says little about the quality of the film in question, but that's actually not the case this time.

In my years writing for this site, I don't believe I have ever reviewed a film through the viewpoint of my being (if, ya know, you really want to label it) a practising, Modern Orthodox Jew but there is no way in hell that I can adequately and fairly write about this film without bringing my own personal beliefs and cultural identity into it. Apologies if you have a problem with that, but I promise, there will be no preaching involved.

For a start, when I saw the first trailer for the film, I was not exactly what you would call excited to see the finished product. This had significantly less to do with being somehow offended by it and pretty much everything to do with with it looking like another crappy Hollywood take on a biblical story. By nature, such things tend to be high on the preachiness and low on the intelligence – and obviously, things like nuance and quality of filmmaking don't even come into it. Noah looked expensive, with high production values but even with its disaster movie aesthetic, I was fully expecting another terrible load of quasi-religious hogwash.

And yet, and yet: the only thing that gave me hope was that Noah was directed and co-written by Darren Aronofsky who, even at his very worst, is an interesting filmmaker with something to say. The trailer made it look pretty worthless but with Aronofsky at the helm, there was always the possibility that the film may just be a whole lot better than the trailer implied.