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Movie Review: Stand Up Guys

The first thing you'll notice about Stand Up Guys is the legendary cast starring Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, with Alan Arkin as a catalyst supporting act. Each of these actors can make a film soar almost single-handedly and have developed a following and filmography most actors would trade their childhoods for. While Stand Up Guys leans heavily on its big guns, it will go down as a misfire.

While Fisher Stevens won an Oscar for Best Documentary as producer on The Cove, Stand Up Guys is only his second feature film, after Just a Kiss. The recognisable actor-turned-director has a wealth of experience in front and behind the camera and the mere fact that these stars signed on, means they have confidence in his ability to turn a debut screenwriter's "The Hangover for old buggers" crime comedy caper into a hit.

Stand Up Guys picks up 25 years after a failed robbery as three criminals reunite. Val (Pacino) leaves prison to be greeted by old friend and partner-in-crime, Doc (Walken). There's so much to say, yet so little, as the two old stags hit up brothels, bars and diners for a night on the town. However, the reunion is bittersweet as Doc builds up the courage to fulfill a 25-year-old vendetta on behalf of a mobster.

On paper, Stand Up Guys had loads of promise, but it just doesn't click. While Christopher Walken and Al Pacino have charisma in their own right, they jar as co-leads. Perhaps the veteran actors were trying to give each other too much respect, space or limelight - dulling both old blades in the process. The bottom line is that it isn't a snug fit and they spend most of the film trying to drum up some much-needed chemistry.

After some embarrassing age inappropriate comedy and a bland "cameo" from Lucy Punch, things do improve when Alan Arkin enters the fray, taking the pressure off the duo for some three musketeer style banter and reliving the old days. Yet, the misadventure remains in second gear most of the film, not living up to the stag night endeavors of The Hangover and failing to capitalise on the inherent dramatic tension of its own crime drama premise.

For the most part we're busy rooting for our stars to get it together, suffering mild entertainment as part of the waiting game. Alan Arkin does serve as the spark to get the comedy back on track, but pulls a Little Miss Sunshine, spoiling what could have been a late comeback.

From there, the tacky comedy aftertaste returns as the filmmakers play their trump card in an attempt to ramp up the heart of the story. A non-committal ending and a blur of middling entertainment later and you start to miss the stars who led you to watch the film in the first place.

One thing that will remain with you after watching Stand Up Guys is the name Addison Timlin. The young actress delivers an outstanding performance as a waitress, turning what little screen time she has into something really special. It's not worth watching for Timlin's contribution alone, but she certainly sweetens the pot.

The bottom line: Insipid

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness lives up to the hype. J.J. Abrams, in many ways a Steven Spielberg 2.0, has managed to do the near-impossible by securing pivotal roles in two of the biggest franchises in Star Trek and now Star Wars, with Star Wars VII in the pipeline. The director and producer is a forerunner for the next Hollywood juggernaut with a collection of noteworthy blockbusters in Mission Impossible III, Super 8 and Star Trek with many more to come.

Star Trek reinvented the series sporting a bold, up-and-coming cast with an international flavour. The spectacular mix of buckle up action and deep space science fiction peril exceeded expectations after a long run of middling-to-good Star Trek sequels. It was time for a shake up and Abrams gave the eleventh film epic Trekkie credibility with a slick modern finish - all in all, it was just what Dr. Spock prescribed.

While there's been plenty of speculation on Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel is every bit as good as the first installation, if not better. The story picks up after the first Star Trek reboot as the crew of the Enterprise become aware of an unstoppable force of terror, which leads them on a mission to capture a one man army. The story cleverly leverages the war on terror with some inferences to key players.

At the core of Star Trek Into Darkness is a bromance between Kirk and Spock. Chris Pine returns as the hot-headed yet charming Kirk, whose never-say-die attitude and ballsy risk-taking make the adventure exhilarating as the crew learn to roll with it. This creates great tension, internal friction and buddy chemistry with his second-in-command, Spock, played by Zachary Quinto, whose cold, calculated Vulcan precision brings gravity to each do-or-die situation.

If Kirk and Spock's relationship is the heart of the story, Khan's scheming is the mind, with Benedict Cumberbatch delivering an excellent performance as the complex "superhuman" character with a personal vendetta that renders him an unknown entity. We're already convinced of the actor's intellectual capabilities with a fine performance as Sherlock Holmes in the new BBC television production and Cumberbatch's scene-stealing screen presence in Star Trek Into Darkness is every bit as palpable, comparable with Loki in The Avengers.

Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho and Anton Yelchin reprise their integral roles from Star Trek with the same level of enthusiasm, getting more screen time this time around, and welcoming rising starlet, Alice Eve, to the fray. Each character has been given more responsibility and importance in terms of plotting with their own personal quests playing out.

The action-adventure is beautifully balanced, interspersing a performance showcase for the up-and-coming ensemble amongst slick, beautiful and realistic production design and visuals. From epic warp speed duels to urban terrorism, the film's CGI holds strong and creates an electric and immersive atmosphere. Star Trek Into Darkness kicks off with a climax and then gradually builds again and again, surprising and entertaining for the more than 2 hour duration.

J.J. Abrams has crafted an epic sequel to Star Trek that builds on the foundation of the reboot. While the novelty of the reinvention gave the previous film great momentum, the writers have managed to go deeper with the characters by making this adventure more introspective. Instead of having a clear enemy like in Star Trek, the fog of war has blurred the lines of good and evil, to create a treacherous and unpredictable environment.

The bottom line: Exhilarating

Movie Review: Side Effects

America's over-medicated. Whether it's the cold hard truth or a bitter pill in Hollywood, the trend has led Steven Soderbergh to take another jab in Side Effects. This, not long after the versatile Ocean's Eleven director and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns collaborated on Contagion, another thriller that takes a cutting look at the pharmaceutical industry.

In Side Effects, a woman's life spirals out of control after her psychiatrist puts her onto a new drug with dire side effects. What starts as a tense drug company drama turns into an uneasy psychological thriller. Soderbergh's social commentary on American culture sets up a smart drama about ethics and the bounds of responsibility for doctors and their patients, but this movie makes way for an old-fashioned thriller in the vein of Hitchcock. It's difficult to say much more about Side Effects without ruining some of the enjoyment in actually experiencing the twists-and-turns.

Side Effects has a complex set of characters, who attract and repel simultaneously. We want to identify, we want to connect - but they go hot to cold in an instant keeping us at an arm's length. Soderbergh's cinematography closes in on the actors much like a crime drama TV series, giving them an opportunity to deliver full, nuanced performances, but there's very little warmth or intimacy at play.

While Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones are draw cards and have worked with Soderbergh in Magic Mike and Traffic, the film really belongs to Rooney Mara and Jude Law. Law and Mara bring an unknown quantity to the picture. They share a strange yet fascinating chemistry, which adds to the chilling atmosphere of the clinical environment and subversive pharmaceutical industry.

Mara's been described as "still waters run deep" and it's easy to see in her Oscar-nominated role as Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher's take on The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. She's an enigmatic actress, whose commitment is unquestionable, inhabiting her characters to the point of actually getting the piercings. She revels in the chance to play a complex female lead, something of a rarity in Hollywood these days, and does so with great dexterity.

Jude Law is her co-lead, another actor who doesn't pay much attention to celebrity. He's all about the craft and attaining a purity of form, which is difficult when it comes to the business side of acting. In Side Effects, Law turns in another solid performance, although he does seem a little cold and miscast, in contrast to Contagion. There's nowhere to hide, playing the part with his normal voice and next to no mask.  Law has a distance to this character and you can't help but wonder how the film would have turned out with someone like Ewan McGregor.

Despite this clinical interest in the characters, the drama is gripping - keeping the audience off-balance and entertained with fine performances and some sly plot developments. We're drawn in by the slant on pharmaceutical America and kept on the edge by see-sawing characters, who seem to slip through our fingers like mercury every time we think we've got a handle.

Side Effects is not Soderbergh's best film, but certainly slots in alongside the likes of Limitless as a slick crime thriller, backed by solid performances and smart writing. While we may not be emotionally immersed, this dark, contemporary Hitchcockian thrill ride keeps us entertained as one twist overlays another.

The bottom line: Chilling

Movie Review: The Hangover Part III

The Hangover Part III is a somewhat entertaining mash-up of The Hangover and Due Date. We've come to expect a certain level of debauchery and funny in a series that started like a casino on fire and The Hangover Part III disappoints... that's right, disappoints.

First there was The Hangover, a what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas concept comedy that bristled with excitement and laughter. Then there was The Hangover II, a carbon copy of The Hangover that found itself in Bangkok, and asked you to just roll with it... and a monkey.

The problem with The Hangover Part III is that it's trying to be The Hangover without using the same formula dished out in The Hangover Part II. "How many times can the same thing happen to the same guys?" is a problem most sequels have to deal with and The Hangover Part III sidesteps collective "amnesia" formula in favour of a sequel that's almost entirely about The Hangover's mascot, Zach Galifianakis.

While Galifianakis is the lynchpin to this comedy series, his coming-of-age "manning up" forms the basis for Part III. It's as if the wolf pack can only be disbanded if all the bachelors have finally been paired off. After his father dies, the pack stage an intervention for 42-year-old whose life has failed to launch. When a men's retreat goes off the rails, the group are put under pressure to make up for a mistake from their first misadventure.

What ensues is within The Hangover world, but cut adrift from the series as the wolf pack begin a man hunt for a one old friend to save another. The Hangover Part III is not as funny as you'd expect and includes a trip down to no-donkeys-were-harmed-in-the-making-of-this-film Tijuana with some references to the previous films. This Mexican connection, Zach Galifianakis and director Todd Phillips trigger the same border control mayhem in the buddy movie Due Date, which was just funnier.

We've got the same players in Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha and Ken Jeong, who do their best to revive this limp Hangover sequel, but it's a case of being neither here nor there as the vapid plotting seems to swing them from one type of thriller to another. There's a stale seen-it-all-before feeling to the The Hangover Part III that makes it feel like the b-movie to The Hangover it is.

What was needed is a complete overhaul, but they've opted to go for a generic bag of money thriller with a side order of comedy, mostly thanks to over-the-top shenanigans from Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong. It's somewhat disappointing, cruising in on the coat tails of its predecessors. They've traded the smart situational comedic tone of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in for a darker, more tenacious Very Bad Things flavour.

So it's not a great film, but it does enough to hold your attention, spicing things up with some ridiculously funny Zach Galifianakis moments and intermittent appearances from the likes of Heather Graham, Melissa McCarthy and John Goodman. We're so busy tracking their next hair-brained scheme, and waiting for it to shift up a gear, that it's over before you know it.

Once you've seen the movie trailer, there are very few highlights to report and without live-wire cast chemistry or a provocative sense of curiousity, there's very little to spur it on. Todd Phillips has underplayed his hand on a safe bet and while the film is punctuated by the odd laugh, it just fades out without much to take away. All you'll have left is a bland recollection of funnier and more frenetic times in The Hangover and The Hangover Part II.

The bottom line: Disappointing

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