Rating: The Bad – 25 Genre: Action, Fantasy Duration: 143 mins Director: Zack Snyder Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner
Zach Snyder’s groaningly familiar Superman reboot in which the kid from Krypton finds himself all grown up on Earth and battling his space daddy’s enemy, General Zod. Along the way he….argghhhhhhhh, seriously, why bother? One could simply label this “thing” as nauseating drivel but so obvious is such a comment that there’s a frustrating feeling of redundancy to such critique. Instead, maybe it’s time we realised that these movies are not well…movies. They are a peculiar product in the guise of a movie but not meant to be critiqued on those terms. Not at all! Artistically speaking, superhero movies have been a fatuous affair for a while now but since their recent explosion in popularity it has become ever clearer that they are no longer even aiming to tell stories. Rudimentary plots, water thin characterisation, stiff dialogue all point towards a concerted lack of interest and investment in the writing of these films. In the mind of the studio execs, they appear to be nothing more than modules for delivering cost effective CGI action to young boys. Kind of like a very long CGI cartoon with big name actors prancing around in front of a green screen. Man of Steel is perhaps the most comprehensive illustration of this. A hectic rush to get a cliched backstory out of the way and then a breathless lunge into a series of mindless CGI battles unfettered by plot and linked together by their mere contiguity. And on the other side of the battle, not one of the main characters comes out any different than they went in. The main players simply dust themselves off and wait for the next adventure which instead of being an “episode”, will be packaged as a “sequel”. There’s no attempt to tell a story here. Lip service is paid to its signature premise in a manner that amounts to the central character’s brief and oh so tiresome consideration of his responsibility as a hero. But once that’s out of the way, it’s time for a long winded antiseptic showdown to unfold – one that will no doubt involve a lot of throwing of one’s enemy across streets, into buildings, on top of cars, across streets, on top of cars, into buildings, across streets……….
Any marks this one gets, is for spelling “Man of Steel” correctly in the opening credits.
Corporate whistle-blower dramas are generally done quite well in Hollywood but this powerful adaptation of the Vanity Fair article is top of the heap. Russell Crowe is excellent as the former tobacco scientist Jeffrey Wigand who breaks his confidentiality agreement by doing an interview with 60 minutes. Al Pacino is just as good as the news show’s producer Lowell Bergman who initially recruits Wigand but inevitably becomes his devoted protector. Mann’s dialogue has always had the ability to strip away any superfluous emotion from his central characters to reveal their underlying obsession (usually with their profession). Though the characters in The Insider are just as driven, Mann’s screenplay and particularly his ability as a director to catch the actors’ more idiosyncratic glances or twitches (as if by accident) gives the characters in this film a real depth of emotion that combined with the superb acting (from all parties) imbues the proceedings with a pervasive sense of authenticity. What more could you want from a true story?
Rating: The Good – 65.7 Genre: Action, Thriller Duration: 128 mins Director: Ridley Scott Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Above average espionage thriller concerning a CIA agent (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his handler (Russell Crowe) who are attempting to flush out the elusive leader of a dangerous terrorist cell. The plot is intricate but tight for the majority of the first two acts and DiCaprio and Crowe are very good, particularly when together on screen. Mark Strong is also present as a foreign intelligence tsar and as usual he steals every scene he’s in. Scott’s direction is slightly more understated than usual which was the right call considering the strength of the script and actors he was working with. It does unravel somewhat towards the end as the plot is rushed to a close and some liberties with logic are taken. However, for the most part, Body of Lies is a slick piece of entertainment.
Rating: The Good – 74.8 Genre: Crime, Drama Duration: 133 mins Director: Paul Haggis Stars: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson
Remake of the foreign film Pour elle, The Next Three Days is a supreme thriller about a community college professor (Russell Crowe) who schools himself in the art of prison breaking in order to spring his wife (Elizabeth Banks) who has been sentenced to life for a murder he believes she didn’t commit. It sounds like an unlikely premise but Paul Haggis’ taut direction and Crowe’s natural magnetism make it tantalisingly believable. So much so in fact, that you’ll find yourself sliding closer and closer to the edge of your seat as this film plays out, willing the main protagonists to succeed. This film is perfectly weighted, with the tension slowly yet unerringly escalating from the beginning of the second act onward. By the time the third act is in full swing, this film will have you well and truly hooked. And that the entire unlikely premise is tied loosely to the theme of refusing to live in the real world when the rational can drive you crazy, adds a philosophical level to the project that, in its own way, is rather compelling.
The thriller is the one genre which Hollywood traditionally did very well, perhaps better than anyone else. From the gritty noir of the 1940’s, Hitchcock’s US projects of the 1950’s, the conspiracy thrillers of the 70’s, to suburban thrillers of the 80’s, Hollywood excelled in the genre. The magic ingredients were simple to discern:- airtight plots, solid scripts, and top directors and actors with the latter packing plenty of star quality (after all, a thriller more than movies from any other genre rests itself on the shoulders of one or two characters at most). However, since the outstanding Breakdown in 1997, we’ve seen a relative decline in the quality of the genre as the stars both in front of and behind the camera gravitated towards other genres and plots became lost in the endless rewrites commissioned by conveyor belts of producers. It’s ironic, but not really surprising therefore, that Hollywood has rediscovered that magic by looking across the ocean as The Next Three Days counts as a blistering return to form. Top director, talented movie stars, great plot, and solid script. Try to remember that next time guys!
First off, American Gangster is not even close to being in the same bracket as Goodfellas (as some over-zealous critics exclaimed on its release) but this movie is actually a good showing from a director that has blown hot and cold these last 30 years or so. Russell Crowe stars as a New Jersey narcotics officer, who after becoming a pariah to his peers for turning in a million dollars in drug money, is given the opportunity to set up his own squad of straight-shooting undercover operatives. The man he targets as the king-pin of the east coast drug rackets is a seemingly self-made African-American gangster Frank Lucas, who modelled his organisation on the mafia, so successfully in fact that he became the Italians’ biggest supplier. Denzel Washington plays Lucas and as usual brings all his charisma to the role while Crowe handles his role of the good cop with an assured touch and for the most part outshines Washington. The story zips in many directions (with the best sub-plot undoubtedly being that which involved Josh Brolin’s crooked New York cop) but Scott keeps it together despite the somewhat rushed ending. Steven Zallian’s script is extremely strong and gives the police investigation in particular an enjoyable level of realism. There are some great ideas incorporated into the story also that allow important junctures to be realised in both an original and swift manner (with the fur coat being the best example). American Gangster is a long film at 2 hours and there are threads that could’ve been dispensed with all together but, that said, it’s worth looking at the extended edition (what? Ridley Scott releasing an extended edition? never!) for Clarence Williams III’s decent turn as Bumpy Johnson.
Rating: The Good – 86.4 Genre: Adventure Duration: 138mins Director: Peter Weir Stars: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd
One of the most exhilarating movie going experiences, Weir’s adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s novels is a breathtaking adventure of tactical warfare set on the high seas of the early 1800′s. Russell Crowe is magnificent as Captain Aubrey, a well learned and seasoned battle commander who must balance his concern for his men, his duty to his country, and his respect for his closest friend with his mile-long competitive streak. Sailing off South America, his HMS Surprise becomes embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse with a heavily armed French frigate whose Captain initially proves more than a match for Aubrey.
Aubrey’s friendship with the ship’s surgeon (played wonderfully by Paul Bettany) is the backbone of the story and it adds sincere touches of poignancy to the two and a half hour long pursuit. Their relationship becomes a reference point for the rest of the dynamics on board either through their explicit conversations regarding the morale of the crew or more implicitly as Aubrey’s interactions with the rest of his men are contrasted with the openness of those moments he shares with his friend. Their nightly music sessions where they sit down to their string instruments much to the bemusement of the crew are serene in quality and Weir softly unfolds some stunning aerial and underwater photography against these beautiful sounds. Yes, this is much more than an action film. This is everything Terrence Malick brings to the table but with a tangible story to get our teeth into. That and some of the most stunning action ever filmed.
Director Peter Weir, perhaps the most consistently great director of the past 30 years, redefines this outmoded genre into something more explosive than even most sci-fi flicks offer. Favouring live action stunt work over CGI and being as bold with his direction as John McTiernen was in his prime, this is nothing short of an action showcase. There has simply never been a series of better conceived, shot, and acted battle sequences such as those which are on display here with the climactic battle being utterly mind-blowing. That said, as astonishing as the choreography of the battle scenes is, it’s the battle of wits which proves most compelling in Master and Commander, as Aubrey finally meets and must out-think an enemy as crafty as he is. It’s these compelling mind-games which set the scene for those battle sequences and make them all the more thrilling because the audience becomes invested in the plans and tactics of the cunning captain. Master and Commander is an extraordinary achievement and perfectly illustrates why an action film should always remain, first and foremost, a film. There’s a spirit to this film which is not only in keeping with the majestic series of books they are based on but with the spirit of cinema itself.
Rating: The Good – 65.1 Genre: Action, Drama Duration: 135mins Director: Taylor Hackford Stars: Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe, David Morse
Based on a Vanity Fair article about the rescue of a ransom victim from a South American cartel, Proof of Life stands out mainly because of its sense of authenticity regarding the military and strategic details of the dramatised rescue. Russell Crowe plays the former SAS hostage negotiator, David Morse the hostage, and Meg Ryan his wife. Besides the questionable love triangle that threatens to emerge and Ryan’s often annoying performance the film manages to entertain throughout and culminates in a well thought out and satisfying action sequence. David Caruso provides good support as Crowe’s partner.