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Movie Review: Collateral Beauty


Collateral Beauty had amazing potential. On paper, this film seemed destined to rank alongside the likes of Seven Pounds. Both films star Will Smith and you get the impression that director David Frankel was aiming to deliver something similar in terms of content and tone. While Will Smith certainly echoes this sentiment, he's not alone, playing a hollow lead to an ensemble of Hollywood heavyweights, including: Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Naomie Harris and Helen Mirren. "Hollow", because he's playing a husk of a man ravaged by grief and because most of the talking is done by the supporting cast.

Frankel directed The Devil Wears Prada, which probably makes him more adept at dealing with sleek, high-flying office dramas. Collateral Beauty tells the story of a visionary advertising agency director who retreats within himself after a tragedy and starts writing letters to Love, Time and Death as a catharsis. This is only the beginning as the drama revolves around his partners and their feigned "concern" for him and the well-being of the company. Resorting to a ridiculous scheme in an attempt to seize a controlling interest of the company over Christmas, they are forced to confront their own projections.

Collateral Beauty just goes to show that if your script is fundamentally flawed, even the best of intentions and an all-star cast can't save your film from nosediving. While we're introduced to Will Smith's character, we never assimilate a full picture of what the man was like before the tragedy, leaving him something of a mystery. While his domino-building art and reclusive status certainly keep him interesting amid antisocial grunts and distant gazes, we never get a chance to latch onto the subject of all this "collateral beauty". Alienated from the lead, our only point of entry is through his conniving associates, whose ulterior motives make them cold and unlikeable.

Collateral Beauty

"Well, who did you expect... Oprah?"

The Christmas miracle theme help soften the line between reality and fantasy, however if anything Collateral Beauty needed to be more geared towards magic realism. Frankel never really gets the balance right, tending towards chocolate box sentimentalism and melodrama, when the film needed to go 21 Grams serious or August Rush elemental. Instead of picking a side, we navigate the grey area like a cheesy holiday movie ensemble piece, believing the best based on the esteem and quality of the actors.

It all seems rather misguided, turning what should have been a high concept dark comedy into an airy fairy tearjerker. Apart from a few heartstring plucks, almost every moment rings false... moving forth with pomp like the naked Emperor, contrived and preposterous. Stumbling onto and intercepting his letters, conveniently cottoning on to an over-the-top gameplay and never truly testing the thinly veiled scheme, we're forced to simply accept everything blindly. It's as if David Frankel has tried to stuff a Gary Marshall holiday movie into Seven Pounds Christmas stocking without you noticing.

It's difficult to come to terms with just how flawed a movie starring Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Naomie Harris could possibly be. Collateral Beauty's not aggressively bad, just fatally flawed, forcing us to lean on the charm of the dedicated ensemble and the heartwarming intentions of the filmmakers, as unintentionally funny and ludicrous as it gets. Collateral Beauty is a bit late for Christmas, but will undoubtedly flummox everyone who gets a whiff of the wealth of acting talent.

The bottom line: Ludicrous

 
Movie Review: Road to the Well


Road to the Well is a low-budget dark comedy thriller from the mind of writer-director, Jon Cvack, and stars Micah Parker, Laurence Fuller and Marshall R. Teague. The film journeys with Jack, a drifter who meets up with his old friend Frank, whose desk-bound job and down-on-his-luck relationship status leave him vulnerable. After Frank gets involved with a woman at the bar, he reaches out to Jack for help when he wakes up after a brutal attack only to find the woman's body in the trunk of his car. The cool, calm and collected Jack spearheads the mission to get rid of the body as the friends embark on a road trip with many twists and turns.

Road to the Well is reminiscent of mystery thrillers such as Don't Breathe, Mud and Funny Games. While it starts with a tip of the hat to television series The Office with an offbeat and awkward sense of humour, it quickly ushers in a sense of dread as our co-leads find themselves on the run. While the age-old question of "would you help your best friend bury a body?" comes into play, the filmmakers add an extra layer of tension to proceedings with an inside angle. Offering breadcrumbs along the way like the story of Hansel & Gretel than Jack & Jill, each character's motives become distressingly clear.

This film is at its best when Parker and Fuller, Jack and Frank respectively, come into contact with Marshall R. Teague as Dale. While a pivotal scene, it's a pity that they didn't make this dynamic the focal point of the film. Teague's performance is immense and his character's complexity makes him seem worthy of a spin-off. While Teague steals these scenes, Parker and Fuller are compelling and despicably charming as buddy movie co-leads. Then, Barak Hardley's laid-back and annoyed performance adds to the comedic slant. The shifting power plays and set up have some parallels with Don't Breathe and the tension becomes more palpable as morality themes are expounded upon and a critical stand-off ensues.

"We're all dying... some of us are just impatient."

The co-leads and their dirty secret, set against the urban sprawl leading to Northern California echoes aspects from Mud. While mostly shot at night, the uneasy atmosphere, natural setting and unpredictable air of misadventure give it some similarities as their history catches up with them. The psychotic undertones, lack of empathy and almost playful gamesmanship echo moments from Funny Games, as the filmmakers employ similar off-screen tactics when it comes to representing violence. These dark elements are reinforced by the Lynchland lighting and foreboding, relentless soundtrack.

Road to the Well is a cleverly composed film, making full use of its resources and opting for some thoughtful and lingering shots. Scenes involving a car lighter, the burial and round table discussion show great promise for Cvack's debut. While the balance between comedy and thriller genres is difficult to establish, he manages to keep us on the hook. It's compelling and sharp, but Road to the Well could have used a bit more polish. There could have been more extrapolation around Jack and his telltale motives, and the dark comedy would've worked better with a few awkward situations around the corpse in the boot.

All in all, it's a solid indie low budget comedy thriller with a promising concept and enough substance to keep you invested. The lead performances steady the character balancing act with a noteworthy turn from Teague. The offbeat comedy and dark thriller clash keep us curious, while the writing and delivery make it artful and thoroughly entertaining.

The bottom line: Compelling


 
Spling's Galileo Pick of the Week: Birdman


Spling's Pick of the Week - Birdman at V&A Waterfront

BIRDMAN @ V&A WATERFRONT (26 Jan)

Michael Keaton has always had that quirky, manic, unpredictable and crazy charm to him. Yet, he's never had the screen time, the art house clout or the self-referential smarts to turn in an award-winning Michael Keaton performance... until now.

While it features a terrific cast and equally impressive performances, the real attraction of Birdman is the seamless cinematography from Gravity's Emmanuel Lubezki. We're given a simulated one shot film, shifting from one scene to the next like a roving unhinged camera eye. The effect is slightly eerie as we move in a continuous state of reality through claustrophobic backstage drama, but we adapt to the stream of consciousness and start to appreciate the visual artistry. Read more...

This quirky, manic and unpredictable drama is showing under the stars at The Galileo Open Air Cinema.

BOOK TICKETS

 
Talking Movies with Spling - The Birth of a Nation, Patriots Day and The Meddler


Spling reviews The Birth of a Nation, Patriots Day and The Meddler as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
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