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Movie Review: The Wolverine


The Wolverine is a standalone film, not because they've decided to pursue a Japanese thread to the popular comic book character, but because other films featuring Wolverine are too embarrassed to stand next to it. While peppered with iffy CGI and mixed reviews, Gavin Hood's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is actually a better film than the most recent effort from James Mangold.

Mangold and Jackman worked together on Kate & Leopold, so there's an understanding between the director and his lead actor. Unfortunately, this connection doesn't extend to the rest of the cast, whose collective deer-in-the-headlights performance is no match for the rugged mountain wolf man turned jet-setting superhero.

While Hugh Jackman rivals Henry Cavill in physique and physicality, there's a similar holding back feeling to Bruce Willis's performance as John McClane in the latest Die Hard installment, A Good Day to Die Hard. Whether it's too many times around the block or a bad hair day, we just expect more charm from these lovable heroes, whose never-say-die attitudes and quotable one-liners ooze cool under pressure.

The Wolverine also lacks a Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber) or Stryker (Danny Huston) supporting act to create spark and ignite our hero's quest. Insubstantial and out-of-place supporting characters in Yukio (Rila Fukushima) and Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) make Wolverine his own worst enemy as he battles on against an invisible enemy.

It's an odd mix of Tokyo action and drama that echoes films like: Blade Runner, Lost in Translation, The Grey, The Last Samurai and Highlander. The Westerner in the not-too-distant future Tokyo draws comparisons with Blade Runner. The honourable fish-out-of-water guest and foreign setting have parallels with Lost in Translation. The intermittent cutaways to Jean Grey offer a strained connection with The Grey. The allusions to Wolverine being a soldier and samurai reverberate The Last Samurai, while the immortal's past-present dilemma and swordplay make it seem like Wolverine was surgically transplanted into an abandoned script for a Highlander reboot.

While the filmmakers try to justify "A Wolverine in Tokyo" and camouflage a jarring Uma Thurman style Viper, the story's relevance, level of performance and overall lack of chemistry become more apparent. While the premise has considerable promise and a myriad of fascinating conflicts, it fails to capture our full attention as we plod along on the tangent that is Wolverine's quest.

The action sequences are fierce and Wolverine's handicap does inject some dopamine, but The Wolverine doesn't hold fast long enough to be the introspective actioner it set out to be. You can see it working as a graphic novel, but find yourself wishing the film was in fact a Highlander reboot or that Wolverine would just start getting Hulk primal to liven things up. While it does step up in the third act, it's stifled by the build-up.

The bottom line: Dull

 
Movie Review: The Place Beyond the Pines


The Place Beyond the Pines is a sprawling crime epic about family, fatherhood, fate and justice. Director, Derek Cianfrance, landed excellent co-lead performances from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine and this echoes in the haunting The Place Beyond the Pines. While not as melancholic and more ambitious, this generational crime thriller has the earmarks of an American classic.

At the centre of the The Place Beyond the Pines is the photograph of a young family, as a motorcycle stunt biker (Gosling), trying to rekindle a relationship with his 1-year-old son and ex-girlfriend, collides with an ambitious and determined rookie cop (Cooper) on a self-made mission.

Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper headline a solid cast. Gosling's Luke is a blend of his suave street smarts in Drive and his working class swagger in Blue Valentine. The tattooed metal head stunt biker is a real piece of work, one whose graduation into fatherhood inspires him to be the dad he never had. On the other side of the spectrum is Bradley Cooper's Avery, a by-the-book copper who's determined to make his way up the ranks of the legal system without treading on his father's coattails.

They're supported by Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta and Ben Mendelsohn. The casting of Mendes echoes her role opposite Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider, and she's convincing as the woman struggling to make a head versus heart decision. Rose Byrne's relatively short yet sharp appearance helps frame Avery's fragile family history. Then, Ray Liotta is perfectly cast as a jilted cop, while Ben Mendolsohn delivers a Gary Oldman calibre performance as an outside catalyst.

The film attempts a story cross fade that does feel somewhat disjointed, but this bold interruption is refreshing and serves as an incisive set up, reboot and second chapter. The Place Beyond the Pines does have a few shake ups, but these moments all seem to know their place in the gradual coming together of this 15 year crime saga.

Derek Cianfrance's bold film has tremendous range, casting light on intimate eye-to-eye family moments and touching on much broader humanistic themes from a bird's eye view. This is enhanced by the cinematography, by observing an unbiased and naturalistic beauty and swathing the film in sullen majesty. By reaching for the over-arching vision, Cianfrance manages to capture rich, powerful moments that make the somewhat disjointed journey all the more worthwhile.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a broad film, one that manages to reinvent itself and deftly shift its weight without flinching. The nearly two-and-a-half hour run time is warranted and gives the film an epic quality, allowing the generational story the time and space to seep into our minds. We're invested, fascinated and moved by the co-lead performances that have a similar weight and intensity to American History X. While it may not appeal to everyone, it's haunting splendor will linger on.

The bottom line: Immense

 
Movie Review: The Internship


The Internship is a comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Yet, it seems more like a feature length advert for Google. From the marketing for the film to the finished product, we're exposed to the Google brand, workplace and ethos again... and again... and again.

The story is set at Google HQ, where Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson's characters are enrolled in an internship programme. Starting as an interesting social commentary on traditional pursuits and the digital age, the film devolves into a formulaic and full-blown advert as each candidate immerses themselves in the Google culture and competes in a spectrum of Google-related tasks.

Vaughn and Wilson are having an absolute ball and this fun spirit drives a rather lack-lustre comedy script that crackles with the odd laugh. They deliver performances that play to their charms without straying too far from "the usual", while Rose Byrne fills in as the high school "hottie", Aasif Mandvi as the watchful "principal" and Max Minghella as the schoolyard "bully".

The Internship makes an interesting tour of the Google facilities and we get a chance to familiarise ourselves with the ethos, but you can't help but feel a documentary would have been a better match. It probably would have been more acceptable if The Internship had been much funnier as a comedy and the product placement had been toned down.

Having Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as our unofficial tour guide technophobes certainly spices things up a bit in a Role Models style comedy, but without the Google interest, it'd simply be a Never Been Kissed knock-off. It's mindless feel good entertainment at best and you could do a lot worse, but it has to go down as a misfire.

You can admire the producers, and Vince Vaughn, for trying to turn product placement financing into a structural film concept. However noble their intentions, The Internship loses its dramatic integrity in the process as we essentially pay for a somewhat entertaining advert.

The bottom line: Googly

 
Movie Review: World War Z


World War Z is based on the novel by Max Brooks, who also wrote the straight-faced parody, The Zombie Survival Guide. While the novel relayed a series of first-hand accounts from post zombie apocalypse survivors, the film strings them all together into the first-hand experiences of family man and United Nations investigator, Gerry Lane.

When a sprawling zombie pandemic threatens the survival of humanity, Gerry Lane (Pitt) is commissioned to locate the origin of the outbreak in a race against time. World War Z is an epic zombie action horror thriller that echoes I Am Legend, The Day After Tomorrow and Oblivion for balance, theme, tone and scale. We're thrown into the deep end as global news reports break closer and closer to home, until a family are swept up in a fight for survival.

Instead of being holed up in a "fort", the motto to "keep moving forward" keeps them one step ahead of the Z virus before Gerry's sense of duty sends him overseas to find answers. World War Z is like four zombie films rolled into one disaster movie, detonating standalone climaxes: urban traffic nightmare, fortress under siege, flight gone haywire and medical labyrinth.

The electric pacing, zombie shock factor and pulsating visual effects keep this body of work alive as Brad Pitt connects the audience with a reluctant, yet compelling everyman hero. You wouldn't usually pair Brad Pitt with a zombie movie, but this isn't just any zombie movie, as evidenced by the involvement of World War Z's acclaimed low-profile director, Marc Forster.

Forster has an impressive filmography as a director with The Kite Runner, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, Machine Gun Preacher and Quantum of Solace to his name. He was keelhauled by critics for his divisive and deconstructive Bond, but his body of work speaks volumes as a whole. World War Z shows he's capable of casting a net over a much broader project and he does so with great aplomb.

Pitt carries the film as the big name star, but not without a strong supporting cast of up-and-coming stars. Mireille Enos plays his wife, David Morse is an ex-CIA agent and to give World War Z a global village dynamic, Forster cast a number of talented international actors including: Israel's Daniella Kertesz, the UK's Elyes Gabel and South Africa's very own, Fana Mokoena, who plays Pitt's UN contact and friend, Thierry.

There's not too much time to stop and smell the zombies because this version of the living dead are faster, more altruistic and hunt in waves. This hellish vision of the apocalypse is best when represented as an imaginative swell of corpses as they billow forth like a crashing wave of army ants. This turns up the intensity, the threat and the viral scourge of the undead without relying on buckets of blood or gore.

The scariest part of World War Z is just how timely it feels. Max Brooks used the novel to "comment on government ineptitude and American isolationism, while also examining survivalism and uncertainty" (Wikipedia, 2013). Yet, the interpretation of World War Z (the film) also works on a number of social, political, religious and environmental levels.

While it's an entertaining thrill ride with a rich, underlying message and strong production values - World War Z struggles to kill itself off. The film takes a turn for the worse in the third act as we lose the global perspective, the serious tone and touchdown in traditional zombie movie territory. There's still tension, but it's clouded by unintentional laughs.

World War Z's dot dot dot conclusion seems about as convincing as a 10 minute intermission, underlining the possibility that it probably would have been better suited to being adapted into a sprawling first-person video game. While the add-on video game may already be in the pipeline, so is a sequel, thanks to the film's opening box office success.

The bottom line: Thrilling

 
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