SELF/LESS REVIEW

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Pace less BUT for all the negative press, I still found this quite watchable.

A dying real estate mogul (Sir Ben Kingsley) transfers his consciousness into a healthy young body (Ryan Reynolds), but soon finds that neither the procedure nor the company that performed it are quite what they seem.

It may have been cliched, plot hole ridden and a little patchy in places BUT the action sequences were fast, fierce, racy and Reynolds was on fine form. AND for a good portion of the film, I was entertained.

The opening act was slow burning but intriguing. A slick and ruthless Kingsley delivering DeNiroesque gravitas to the role of the ailing billionaire. To be honest, I would have been happy to watch his normal life as the dying mogul. His lesson with a young rival was compelling stuff.

BUT the sloppily put together relationship with his estranged daughter? Not so much. It’s great to see Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery popping up in more movies. But not in such weak supporting roles. Dull, cliched and boring. A waste. And a pointless character by the closing credits.

We follow Kingsley wallowing in his highly extravagant and isolated apartment as he must come to terms with his own mortality. The one thing in all his years he hasn’t been able to conquer. Until now.

Cue the slick but incredibly smarmy scientist Dr Albright. Matthew Goode was brilliant as the mysterious mastermind. The concept of body swapping/mind swapping was quite interesting. Can you put on a price on life? Would you do it?

BUT we know he does. Or else there wouldn’t be a movie. Tragically that means there is one massive Kingsley-sized void when the deed is done. BUT have no fear. Reynolds is here. He played the role quite well. Good to see him doing it seriously. The guy can be hilarious but I’m fed up of the fast talking douche.

The premise was handled with the right balance. A slight hint of believability. Or enough to make you buy into it. It was a nice touch seeing Reynolds in the early stages of his ‘infancy’ as he must learn to walk again.

It did require a little patience. You get the sense of his struggle within two minutes not twenty. BUT it did make a change to see him having to adjust and look like he’s actually gone through an experiment. Unlike Face/Off. Quick laser zap here and voice alter there. Done. (I love Face/Off. Man, I want to watch that right now. Anyway . . . )

I loved the one liners, “It still has that new body smell”. Cheesy but it did the job. Of course, once Reynolds has adjusted; he does what any elderly billionaire would do with a shed load of cash and Ryan Reynolds’ body! Get smashed, drive fast cars, get jiggy with the ladies and play basketball.

It chugged along. BUT it did lull. Luckily, not everything is as it seems. Strange fits and random memories of someone else’s life start plaguing the mind of our playboy. And thankfully, the film finds it’s stride . . . in places.

Damian soon realises that the “vessel” may not be all it cracked up to be. It’s all rather predictable as he asks too many questions and threatens to reveal the organisation to the public after discovering he has taken someone away from their family.

Cue an action packed race (Hmm) as Damian must fight to save his life and whoever the hell he has in his mind and his family.

Natalie Martinez (Under The Dome) did what she could with the role as the confused wife. BUT she was too whiney and mopey. The scenes with her and Reynolds were way too cliched for you to really care. It didn’t help that she kept asking the same monotonous questions. After Damian clearly says repeatedly, “I have no idea”.

Empire’s Derek Luke didn’t do a bad job as Anton. I just wish his henchman wasn’t so bland and unintentionally comical. Once the body/mind swapping ploy is introduced, he keeps popping up as a new face in every scene. It should have been sinister but it just showed how easy he is to dispose of. Wiped out every time he clashes with Reynolds. Oh dear.

Oh yeah. I forgot to say. Lucky for Damian that he’s managed to take the body of a highly trained marine whose skills conveniently kick in every time danger is afoot. The action scenes were quick, furious and quite violent. Apart from the bad body double punch up in the kitchen, I was impressed.

It was the much needed catalyst to get this film going. And it picked the film up every time the corny story line or pace seemed to linger. The final 20 minutes were actually quite good.

It was certainly watchable as Damian has to make a choice. To save this family and the mind of the body he took or . . . NOT. There was a good portion in which I thought things would take a darker turn as he tries his utmost not to help. BUT the end result was tragically predictable.

Matthew Goode was a dastardly villain. BUT he took the back seat for too much of the film. Only reappearing for the finale. A waste of a good character. And for all his secrecy, he was picked apart quite easily.

Things did get unbelievably corny in parts and killed the little tension that the film could muster. There was one scene. Hardly spoilerific. BUT while in hiding, the adorable Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen asks the man possessing her daddy’s body to teach her to swim. Wow. What do you know? There’s a pool round the back. And they must have remembered to pack her little bathing suit while being shot at. Delightful.

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Victor Garber was fantastic as Kingsley’s closest friend and business partner. His likeable supporting character actually gets a little subplot. Well, minuscule. BUT it only manages to pierce more holes in the flimsy plot as a “revelatory twist” ended up asking more questions than answering them.

Now did anyone else this but after seeing all the posters that maybe Kingsley would reappear in some other capacity? I thought that every time Reynolds would look in the mirror, he would see Kingsley. Or better yet have Kingsley talk to him. BUT NO! Missed a trick there. Gutted.

Watchable enough. Helped by a charismatic lead in Reynolds. Good action set pieces. BUT too many cliches and a questionable two hour running length spoil something that could have been so much more.

2.5/5

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THE 20 BEST FILMS OF 2014 * PART ONE

 

SO HERE WE ARE . . .

The best (or better) ones of this mediocre year. My criteria mainly focused on the ones that surprised, intrigued and entertained me. And boy, it was tough. Many have been watchable. Okay at best. What was harder was condensing my 20 WORST films. BUT there were diamonds in the rough sea of bilge that polluted the movie screens this year.

I have had to endure endless entries of mindless drivel regurgitating the same old plot, clichéd characters (even in their 3D wrapped foils) and excruciating acting or dreadful dialogue and to be honest, it’s killed my enthusiasm a little bit.

Now some entries you may question and unfortunately release dates are always different. My argument is films I’ve seen this year. Some may have been released at the end of 2013 but I didn’t see them until early January BUT that sums up my argument if they’re in here.

I won’t go on too much about each film. That’s what the other posts are for but a quick two cents if you like. Some I hope you will nod in approval. Others you may scroll back and forth hoping that this is a joke. BUT my criteria is based on surprise, entertainment and engagement. So God knows what lies in store.

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1. The Dallas Buyers Club

What? Let’s not forget this wasn’t released in the UK until February. A film that certainly surprised me. I went in not knowing what to expect and was rewarded with a different story and engaging characters that were done to justice by two actors that had seemed to be pushed into the movie wilderness. McConaughey was launched back into the limelight and rightly so, beating Ejiofor to the Oscar. I still couldn’t believe Jared Leto’s supporting role. More to him than just a singer from an emo-rock-pop band.

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2. Gone Girl

I went in expecting the worst and was rewarded with a brilliantly acted and well written piece of drama. I may have called the twist but the unravelling changed everything and made this an unexpected treat. A film with enough going on to justify it’s three hour length. Peter Jackson, I’m looking at you. The cast were superb. But the main scene stealer was Rosamund Pike. Remarkable. *Cough* Oscar *Cough*. Can Fincher do no wrong? (No, Alien 3 is awesome!)

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3. 12 Years A Slave

A visceral and haunting film that delves into the human condition of one man’s plight into slavery. Steve McQueen certainly delivered one of his most ambitious, if slightly overhyped, projects to date. A harrowing story expertly acted by a fantastic cast. Ejiofor was unlucky not to win but he has certainly proved he can handle the leading role. This was all helped by an Oscar-winning supporting turn from newcomer Lupita Nyong’o and a sinister one from Michael Fassbender.

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4. August: Osage County

An underrated drama. A perfect showcase in acting. Meryl Streep proving yet again why she keeps getting those Oscar nods. A simple story revolving a family feud. But with a family of well written characters with a huge ensemble of talented characters made this one to watch for me. Its abrupt ending may have lost marks but it didn’t ruin great performances. Shame none of the contenders won this time round.

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5. The Book Thief

Now I will admit that I haven’t read the book but if the film is anything to go by, then I really want to read it. An endearing, if slow burning war drama that is shown through the eyes of a little girl who finds solace in stealing books. A great performance by Sophie Nelisse. It’s always a gamble with kid actors, especially when they are the main characters. But a great performance that is aided by a fantastic supporting cast consisting of Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson made this an engaging and highly watchable affair with an inevitable but emotional ending.

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6. The Imitation Game

Fantastic. A suspenseful and intriguing look into the troubled genius that was Alan Turing as he helps crack the Enigma code during the Second World War. Benedict Cucumber Batch was outstanding. *Cough* Oscar *Cough*. A powerhouse performance. It helped being assisted by a stellar British supporting cast consisting of the likes of Charles “Game of Thrones” Dance, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and that chauffeur guy from Downton Abbey. Compelling, enthralling and sombre viewing by the closing moments.

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7. The Guardians of The Galaxy

Another Marvel movie is unleashed. But what a film. James Gunn manages to make an enjoyable romp of a space opera with the same old predictable guff of intergalactic rogues turned superheroes spiel. However, I actually cared about these rogues and cannot wait for another inevitable sequel. This is all helped with a great script, fantastic cast and an awesome soundtrack. So good I saw it twice.

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8. 22 Jump Street

My name is Jeff! Yes, conforming to the masses but if when a blockbuster is this funny, who cares? Hill and Tatum are back pretty much doing the same thing which worked the first time round to better and bigger results. I laughed from start to finish. The very purpose of a comedy for me. It’s big, dumb and stupid but so funny. Invest.

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9. The Inbetweeners 2

Speaking of dumb and stupid. The boys are back but this time they’re going down under. If you’re a fan then expect the same old dirty smut that still manages to have you heaving and laughing all the way. They may be reaching their thirties but the cast were still very much on form, making this installment surpass the first movie but falls first of the iconic TV series. Get on it, my movie fwends. Fwend, aww.

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10. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Bryan came back! And brought with him another relentless X-Men sequel that restored my faith in the franchise. A little plot device allowed the director to do a little spring cleaning. A fusion of the old with the new made something completely different and very entertaining. Even the introduction of more new faces helped rather than hindered this time round. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, I’m looking at you. There were numerous things I wanted to see more of as the film drew to a close. But all little teasers for a resurgence that I for one cannot wait to see. Plus McStewart vs. McBender in an act-off. Who can do deliver the best Magneto/Xavier? You decide.

*THROWBACK REVIEW* BELLE

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Pride and Racial Prejudice or Frownton Abbey. A stellar British cast uplifts a syrupy biopic that you’d expect to see on ITV. 12 Years A Slave, this ain’t. It’s certainly watchable and zips along but it doesn’t really make full use of the cast or the subject matter and inevitably leads to the same old predictable schmaltzy finale.

So what’s it all about? Inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy captain is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and wife (Emily Watson).

Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the colour of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. However, she soon falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son (Sam Reid – The Riot Club) bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

Well, at least gets the ball rolling . . . sort of, kinda.

The beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Touch) takes the fold and delivers a strong performance. One to watch for the future. Matthew Goode (Stoker/The Good Wife) applies enough charisma to make a memorable impression as Captain Sir John Lindsay, who plucks an orphaned Belle from poverty and much worse. A shame that he is only in the film for five minutes before departing on a long voyage.

To be honest, anyone could have played him. Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) seems to be typecast of late as the uptight old prune of an aunt but if she delivers the goods, does it matter? To me, just a bit.

Even Tom Felton is playing a Victorian Draco Malfoy, complete with “mudblood” attitude in tow. Don’t get me wrong, he plays the slick toothed snob to perfection. As does James Norton (or Tommy from the highly acclaimed BBC TV series Happy Valley) as Felton’s smug brother and partner in crime.

They are both the weasel-y twins (What?) as they try and weave their way into Belle’s fortune. Miranda Richardson (Blackadder) is also brilliant as their conniving matriarch. Emily Watson plays her part well, even if her character is completely unnecessary.

Merely, a commentator sitting on the side lines. Commentary that is self-explanatory as, to be honest, there is not a lot going on. The beautiful Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold) is making an impression. She plays the dibby cousin Elizabeth well. You do feel for her character as she appears to be used as pawn in a game of rich chess or left lingering in the shadow of the “exotic beauty”.

I appreciate the concept and direction the film took. This is a completely different story to 12 Years A Slave that deals with the issue of race within the aristocracy. The fact that Belle was awarded the stature and position of any rich member of power and is unable to use it, says it all.

However, it all feels a little petty in comparison to the visceral gritty torture that Solomon endured. He was beaten, whipped and hung. Belle was made to eat in a separate room to the rest of the family and was perceived merely as an exhibition piece, an exotic jewel, nothing more.

Tom Wilkinson is fantastic as Lord Mansfield whose position is compromised in between fulfilling the law. The law that does not treat any person of colour with respect or even see them as people.

He works well with Mbatha-Raw which allows for some heartfelt moments. After the initial introduction and set up in an easy going half hour, the film seems to be happy to tend with the mundane gossip of petty rich Victorian folk while the inevitable romance blossoms between Belle and John Davinier (Reid). The awkward exchanges, the subtle glances and turning aways. Check, check. All there.

It all feels like by the end it is merely ticking the boxes for all the clichés of a period drama. Any chance of making statements are crushed by an inevitable corny love story. The finale is merely a revelatory court case with the verdict relying on Mansfield’s overriding decision.

A decision that is so obvious and unbelievably predictable that all the grandiose speeches mean nothing. I expected so much more.

It’s well-acted, easy going but doesn’t seem to be sure on whether to be a hard-hitting drama or a slow burning love story.

If you’re a period drama fan, then you’ll love this but it brings nothing new to the genre. Weaker episodes of Downton Abbey have done a better job (There’s never been a weak episode of Downton? That’s scandalous!)

If you’re already going in making comparisons and expecting 12 Years A Slave, then . . . watch 12 Years A Slave. Such a shame. Not bad but not great.

2.5/5