Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Ciné File Vol. 22

My break from film is well and truly over, with three trips to the cinema this week - to see Cake, Jupiter Ascending and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - and a test-drive of the new Sky Movies Monsters channel with the awful 2014 Godzilla.

It looks like I've rediscovered my film groove!

* * * *
Channel 4 // 2014 // DVD

"Beneath Bruce Garrett's under-confident, overweight exterior, the passionate heart of a salsa king lies dormant. Now, one woman is about to reignite his Latin fire."


Oh, I loved this. Cuban Fury is a classic British comedy with added salsa: what's not to like?! It's not overly original, but it's still brilliantly funny, sweet and heartfelt. Nick Frost is on form - as ever - as leading man and closet former salsa champion Bruce, and he's joined by a stellar cast: Chris O'Dowd (who clearly relishes playing the nemesis and office slime-ball, Drew), Rashida Jones, Olivia Colman, Rory Kinnear, Ian McShane... the list goes on! It jumps through every comedy hoop going and works wonderfully despite strictly adhering to a formula. Such a good, goofy and light-hearted film!

* *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"Claire becomes fascinated by the suicide of a woman in her chronic pain support group while grappling with her own, very raw personal tragedy."

Cake is, sadly, nothing special. The buzz around Jennifer Aniston's performance is genuinely welcome and deserved - she disappears into the character of Claire in a way she's never done on screen before. Aniston is utterly raw, depicting chronic pain with a sincerity and sensitivity that underscores serious research for the role, and although Claire may be a walking melting pot of self-pity, anger and grief Aniston lights up the screen and ensures all attention is on her at every available moment. It's a revelatory stand-out performance that feels honest and shows just how good Aniston can be when she breaks away from rom-coms and shakes off Rachel Green.

However, the fact that her name was banded around with the likes of Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon and Rosamund Pike during awards season, and there were whispers of a potential Oscar nomination for her in Cake (which luckily never materialised) is a little baffling and shows the sorry state of affairs for women in Hollywood. If this is one of the best performances of the year by a woman in a leading role then there couldn't be a clearer indication that there aren't enough decent roles for women, if the point wasn't already abundantly obvious. Yes, Aniston is good here, but she's not excellent at all, and dragging her into a conversation about awards is scraping the barrel slightly (and looks even worse when comparing the Best Actor race this year where it was hellishly difficult narrowing down the choices to merely 5 nominations).

Unfortunately, Aniston is one of the only good things about the film. Mexican actress Adriana Barraza is excellent as Aniston's long-suffering house-keeper and sort-of carer Silvana, and scenes with the two of them are touching and emotional. But around them the rest of the film just treads water. Patrick Tobin's script doesn't have the emotional heft required to make the revelations surrounding Claire's accident have a more significant impact, and apart from the two women at the centre it's an extraordinarily bland film with an unremarkable plot. Even scenes with the perky Anna Kendrick fall flat, which is a real shame.

Cake is a depressing and boring film which is only lifted by a brilliant character study from Jennifer Aniston. Without her, it really wouldn't be worth watching.

* * *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"In a bright and colorful future, a young destitute caretaker gets targeted by the ruthless son of a powerful family, who lives on a planet in need of a new heir, so she travels with a genetically engineered warrior to the planet in order to stop his tyrant reign."

As a slight disclaimer: I went to see Jupiter Ascending with extremely low expectations. Critics have panned this latest offering from the Wachowskis and the reviews have been embarrassingly bad. As such, I went to the cinema both expecting very little and taking the criticism with a pinch of salt - I think often when reviews are so scathing (as they are with this) the films in question aren't actually that bad: the critics may genuinely not have liked the film but they over-exaggerated their language in order to generate web traffic. Obviously there will films that fully deserve such scorn, but on the whole I'm a firm believer that nothing is actually that bad and deserving of such blatant snobbery and nastiness.

With this in mind, Jupiter Ascending really isn't that bad of a film. Don't get me wrong - it's not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not the worst film ever made, nor is it a total disaster on every level as I'd been led to believe. It is, however, a confusing mess of a film. The plot is all over the place and completely lacks coherency: it's only after contemplating what happened once the credits rolled that it all starts to sort of make sense. Sadly, it's not mind-bending in the same manner as Inception (completely brilliant once you've got your head round it) but instead it's just ludicrous. The whole concept of Mila Kunis living her life as a cleaner in Chicago only to be rescued by wolf-human hybrid Channing Tatum and told she's basically a genetic clone - and believed reincarnation - of a murdered Queen (mother of Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton) and thus set to inherit a large portion of the universe, is just bonkers! Throw in Sean Bean, fancy gravity boots, a scene of overt incest, and cheesy lines about bees, and watching Jupiter Ascending feels like a weird and not-so wonderful dream.

It's as ambitious as Cloud Atlas (which I've grown to like) but personally I don't think it's as successful. Visually it's lots of fun - there are plenty of exciting chase scenes, intricately detailed new worlds and beautiful costumes galore - but overall it really doesn't work. The main problem has to be the script. It's cringingly awkward and clunky, and it's clear that the actors can't be blamed for certain terrible scenes: they're obviously doing their best while shackled within the confines of truly awful dialogue. Douglas Booth in particular radiates shame and regret when relaying the majority of his lines, coming off as almost apologetic, and it's a good thing that Jupiter Ascending wasn't released until after the Oscars as Eddie Redmayne could have kissed goodbye to any hope of winning if the academy had this performance in their minds when voting for him. His wispy, Voldemort-esque villain is creepy for all the wrong reasons, but you can just tell that his odd posture and bizarre accent wasn't a creative decision on his part. I feel really sorry for the cast, but admire their dedication to the cause.

I can't honestly bring myself to happily recommend Jupiter Ascending - as far as sci-fi space epics go it's a bit of a disaster - but it's definitely not deserving of such vitriol in the press. It's vaguely enjoyable, so if you want to be transported to another world (quite literally) then this is the film for you. If anything, it's worth watching to finally see Sean Bean survive past the initial introduction of his character...

* * * *
Sky Movies // 2001 // DVD

"123 elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis."

From some reason, I'd never seen Black Hawk Down all the way though. I'm a big fan of war films, and when made well they can be tense, gut-wrenching and harrowing dramatic portrayals of significant episodes thought history. I'm usually a stickler for historical accuracy but I'm learning to let go slightly and not get so wrapped up in the details: as a result these sorts of films are a lot easier to become completely absorbed in. Black Hawk Down gripped me from the beginning and refused to let go - the relentless, unforgiving nightmare of a combat mission in Somalia in 1993 is expertly handled by director Ridley Scott and turned into a heart-pounding and convincing film.

The cat-and-mouse concept of the action is thrilling - if not terrifying - to watch unfold and in a similar vein to the likes of Saving Private Ryan certain scenes are almost overwhelming. Scott ensures that the audience never experiences the action from a distance but instead is in the centre of the chaos, making the plight of the troops seem even more realistic and devastating. It's worth noting that the entirety of the film is just the mission, charting it from the controlled and text-book beginning  and through the unravelling of the well-laid plans as the situation on the ground evolves. While the emotion and personalities of certain troops are highlighted, overall its sole focus is the mission, so if you're after more dialogue and feelings and less tense fighting then this isn't the film for you.

That being said, it still makes for truly astonishing (and interesting - Black Hawk Down was the debut or one of the first feature films for many - now famous - actors, so picking them out of the cast is fun) viewing.

* *
Sky Movies Monsters // 2014 // DVD

"The world's most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence."

I can't believe I forgot how terrible this film is and wasted 2 hours of my life watching it all over again. Once was more than enough last year - and I even deemed it to be the film that utterly failed to meet my expectations in 2014 - so why I bothered again is beyond me.

On paper, Godzilla ticks every box going and sounds ridiculously promising. The cast is truly outstanding, the special effects look good, and Godzilla is such a cinematic icon that it should be really difficult to screw up a movie about such a beloved monster. However, somehow director Gareth Edwards manages just that. It's a confusingly boring plot that can't decide if this version of the story should focus on science or the military, on Godzilla being a hero or a villain (Edwards does make this clear in the end but there's little groundwork to make it a plausible conclusion), and which character the audience is supposed to route for. Aaron Taylor-Johnson's soldier takes centre-stage for the majority of the film but as a result the rest of the cast is woefully underused, and given the calibre of the other actors (Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche...) it's a criminal decision on Edwards' part.

The trailers and marketing for the film are exceptional. I was beside myself with excitement for Godzilla for months prior to its release, and even the Sky Movies advertising over the last few weeks helped me forget why I was so unimpressed with this in the first place. Sadly, don't be fooled by the trailers or the posters - trust me, it's not half as exciting, terrifying, and jaw-dropping as expected, and the actual Godzilla (who looks so incredible in clips) only has literally a handful of minutes on screen. There are moments of brilliance - Bryan Cranston steals every scene he's in, and the special effects of the monsters are pretty impressive - but the whole film falls flat and is wholly forgettable: it's such a shame!

* * *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"As the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has only a single remaining vacancy - posing a rooming predicament for two fresh arrivals - Sonny pursues his expansionist dream of opening a second hotel."

More often than not, I find sequels to be worse than their predecessors (exceptions do occur, obviously, but they're far and few between) but in an interesting turn of events I much preferred The Second Best Marigold Hotel to the first... Picking up immediately where the original left off, the regular guests are still enjoying all the hotel has to offer, Judi Dench and Bill Nighy are still tentatively dancing round the prospect of a relationship, Celia Imrie's taking advantage of two suitors fawning all over her, and Dev Patel's hapless manager Sonny is simultaneously planning his wedding and looking to expand his hotel empire by looking for American investors. It's an unlikely premise for a franchise but director John Madden is on to a winner here, and by following the same pattern as the first film he's ensured that the target demographic will be well and truly satisfied with this offering.

Following the initial meeting with investors, the American company Sonny and Muriel (Maggie Smith) have set their hearts on say they'll send a secret inspector to scope out the hotel and provide an assessment. Cue the coincidental arrival of Richard Gere, the handsome American guest Sonny is convinced is the dreaded inspector despite his protestations to the contrary. Gere slots into the cast perfectly, and although he might be the shiny new toy this is undoubtedly Maggie Smith's film. She is absolutely superb, delivering poignant and tender scenes in amongst pithy one-liners and buckets of cynicism. Her heartfelt monologue towards the end of the film is just lovely and shows how well Smith - and the rest of the cast - can handle big, serious themes by subtly disguising them in a harmless comedy.

I defy anyone not to enjoy this film - it's silly, charming and ridiculously easy to love. The cast seem to genuinely like one another and it shows, and when paired with big Bollywood-style party scenes and no end of laughs it's a recipe for a feel-good success. There's certainly nothing 'second best' about this film.

So, what have you seen this week? A new release or old favourites? Do let me know in the comments below!

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