Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writers: John J. McLaughlin (screenplay), Stephen Rebello (book)
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson
I’ve never been able to sit and watch a thriller without getting scared out of my brains or laughing at how ridiculous it is. Alfred Hitchcock films are different though. I still remember watching North by Northwest as a young teen and not really understanding who made it or what it was meant to be, but it was in black and white so I was interested. It turned out I have a love/hate relationship with thrillers. I also studied Rope at university as part of a film studies class and from that moment onwards I was both enthralled and petrified of Hitchcock. So when my friend suggested we go see a movie about Hitchcock and the making of Psycho I wasn’t completely sold on the idea, but friends will make you do amazing things, and it was a very hot day…
I was blown away. Utterly and completely. Hitchcock is an incredible film about an incredible man. Strange and sometimes scary, Alfred Hitchcock – portrayed perfectly by Anthony Hopkins – is a man who needs to be in charge and who needs to be engaged with a project. The thing that is terrifyingly brilliant about this film is how Hopkins brings Hitch so much to life that you feel like you are watching the man himself. It’s not just the mannerisms or speech, it’s his air and the delivery of every second of every scene. And with Helen Mirren by his side as Alma Reville, Hitch’s wife and script editor/writer, the world of Psycho is lived out on screen for the audience. The perversity of Hitch’s obsession of his lead ladies and his want of control over their lives is very evident but done in such a way that you are both repulsed by him and pity him at the same time, but above all you come out with an admiration for a broken but brilliant man who was and still is the master of suspense.
Special mention needs to go to Scarlett Johansson (Janet Leigh) and Michael Stuhlbarg (Lew Wasserman) who held the supporting actor roles with such integrity that the film would not have been as convincing without them.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writers: Will Beall, Paul Lieberman (book)
Stars: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
I have been seeing a trend in American pop culture of the justification of violence. It’s apparently okay to kill the bad guys as long as you only kill the bad guys. If you look at Dexter, Arrow, Justified, Burn Notice, among other TV shows and films, you see this trend of the “good guys” fighting against the “bad guys” using the bad guys techniques against them. I’m not sure I agree with that philosophy of justice. There is something wonderful about Law & Order and the process of justice and law that treats the bad guys as people. The idea that you are innocent until proven guilty has meant that a lot of innocent people have been able to prove their innocence even with the authorities trying to prove them guilty. But what do you do when someone has bought their freedom and their position so far up the ladder that they can get away with tearing a man apart by chaining him between two cars? That’s the kind of evil you are dealing with in Gangster Squad. With all witnesses scared to death to testify you can get away with murder, literally.
This film is violent, that was what was expected, I mean it is a gangster film, but it’s not just violent, it questions the morals and values we have about justice and law and order. Both the good guys and the bad guys are as bad as each other. They are killing people left, right, and centre and show no remorse. It is a necessary evil for the good guys because of what they are dealing with. But in the end it isn’t the violence that takes down Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and his gang, it is the testimony of a bold witness, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) who was Cohen & Sgt. Jerry Wooter’s (Ryan Gosling) lover. She was bold enough and protected enough to testify to take Cohen down. The justice system does still work; going against the law just amplifies the body count in the end.
Gangster Squad is an entertaining gangster film but it doesn’t do anything different to any other gangster film and so was slightly disappointing. It was dark and gloomy like other gangster films and even with it’s moments of light humour it didn’t move from the basic structure of a gangster film. To be honest I love the formula of gangster films, but I went in with the expectation that this would be different. I shouldn’t have been surprised that it wasn’t and it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it was just that it was unoriginal. Even with it being built upon a true story it was unadventurous. It’s a fun story and the acting is brilliant but it failed to inspire me.
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay), Lee Child (book)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins
Tom Cruise may be a little crazy in the real world but on screen he does shine. However, he does have a habit of picking strange scripts to work from *cough cough Rock of Ages cough cough*. Jack Reacher is basically a visual narrative when it comes down to it. There is some basic delivery of lines to set up the important information that every story needs, but the narrative is told through the lens, not through speech. It isn’t a fast paced action thriller as you would expect after Cruises’ Mission Impossibles. The use of close ups and geographic settings plays a large part in the story-telling. It is like the director wants to make sure we catch every little thing that will be important. It’s almost like Christopher McQuarrie watched Sherlock (BBC) and tried to do what Moffatt and Gatiss did but took out the cleverness of the mystery. The problem with Jack Reacher is that you basically know what will happen if you’ve watched the trailer. There aren’t many surprises or unseen twists and although there are some one liners that rival the cheesiness of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, it falls short of being a good action thriller, let alone a great one. There are questions I had during the film that were still unanswered at the end of the film which drove me a little crazy but five minutes after leaving the theatre I had forgotten why I had thought it was so important. The more I think about the film the less I like it. I enjoyed the experience in the cinema but it just a fun film to fill the time and nothing more.
Director: Ang Lee
Writers: David Magee (screenplay), Yann Martel (novel)
Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Adil Hussain
It is a difficult task to turn a novel into a film, especially one that is burdened by a heavy philosophical investigations. As most critics would attest to Ang Lee’s genius in creating absolutely stunning films I will simply say in that regard that he has once again gone above and beyond the high expectations I set for brilliant directors. What is even more brilliant about this film is how it allows philosophical ideas about faith and religion to be discussed in strategic and carefully plotted ways so as to both bring the subject to light as well as telling an incredible narrative. Ang Lee and David Magee have, together, hit the perfect balance of narrative and philosophy in Life of Pi. The gorgeous cinematic scenes along with a heartwarming story of survival and the discovery of faith is all combined together to make a film that is enjoyable and surprising. The story of a boy and a tiger on a small boat in the middle of the ocean is always bound to be exciting. What could go wrong with a hungry tiger on a raft with a boy to help keep him alive? And who is going to believe your story if you really do survive?
The passion of this film stems from Suraj Sharma’s performance. He has a heartwarming and grounded nature that makes the adventure feel all the more real. It is a fun ride and there are surprising moments in amongst the narrative and the power of the story comes from knowing where it ends before it even starts. It is a beautiful cinematic experience that can be enjoyed by all the family and will rock you back on forth on the waves of emotion as Pi discovers the unique characteristic of humanity.
Director: Jason Moore
Writers: Kay Cannon (screenplay), Mickey Rapkin (book)
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow and Rebel Wilson
There is something genuinely magnificent about a carefully crafted one-liner in my humble opinion. It should surprise you, make you burst out laughing, and be delivered with as much dryness as possible. Pitch Perfect has just the right amount of one-liners to make this film a great comedy. Yes the stereotypes are strong and the humour can be blatantly obvious at points, but this makes it all the better in my mind. The comedy in Pitch Perfect is both funny and makes fun of itself in clever ways. It doesn’t ruin the narrative flow but in fact enhances it.
Pitch Perfect is the tale of Beca (Anna Kendrick), an alternative chick, DJ-wannabe, who is misunderstood by her father and is mostly friendless. That is until she is forced to join the all-girl acapella group. Forced to try out by the very forward Chloe (Brittany Snow), she comes into the group which is already going through a period of transition. The group is being controlled by the high-strung Aubrey (Anna Camp) who is on a mission to win nationals but she is a traditionalist and a perfectionist which does not suit Beca’s alternative and creative ways. Beca tries to both change the groups style, as well as trying to stay of Aubrey’s good side. It plays out as you would expect, the whole film does as well, with bits of surprises along the way, but it works. The thing about films like this is that if they stick, more or less, to the formula, then they will be entertaining. It is the way the more or less is challenged that either makes or breaks a film like this. It is the difference between a A-grade film and an B-grade film. Pitch Perfect hits the harmonies of formula and classy comedy in the right key. It is definitely the minor characters of Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), and Benji (Ben Platt) that make this film fantastic. Never underestimate the power of a great supporting cast, they will and do steal the scenes and make the film better.