Monday, September 30, 2013



  • Released Internationally on 20/09/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 02/10/13

Review (30/09/13)
3-word review: A missed opportunity.

This is by no means a successful, definitive, biopic. Those films are hard to find, and in recent years have often been passed over in lieu of films focusing on specific periods or incidents in famous people’s lives, without ambitiously claiming to be an all-encompassing account of the person’s time amongst the living. The King’s Speech was a wonderfully-executed example of these focused types, whereas The Iron Lady was a rather successful overview of Thatcher from her dawn to her twilight. 

Making a modern royal biopic must be quite tricky. A chunk of your intended audience probably have the subject of your film on some pedestal and will carefully scrutinise your every move and see if the film is worthy of its subject. Another chunk hate the idea of a monarchy and will gladly ignore the film or tear it to shreds. But it gets even trickier when your subject is one of the most photographed and public figures of the past decades, and everyone has an opinion about her.

As superficial as it sounds, however, a lot is riding on the resemblance of your main star to the person in question, aided as necessary by prosthetics and makeup. Which is a large part, of course, of why The Iron Lady worked. Naomi Watts, despite her very good acting and wonderfully 80s hairdo, does not look like Diana, and it takes a while for this to sink in and allow you to look past it. In fact some of the best shots in the film feature her from behind or from an angle, and I found myself making a double take to see whether it was archival footage or a carefully re-created scene. 

Unfortunately these designed re-enactments of iconic Diana photos and moments are the most enjoyable aspect of the film, since the love story itself feels like a standard soap-opera romance, which could be completely accurate, or mostly conjecture - we might never know. Naveen Andrews (Lost, Sinbad) is confident enough to pull off the role of the heart surgeon who stole Diana’s heart, and Watts manages to combine enough grace and fragility with occasional moments of daring to remind us what a complex person Diana must have been.

It’s interesting to dip back into the mid-90s, in an era of flip-phones, Concordes and cassette tapes, because back then the internet was brand new, and despite Diana’s constant media presence she was spared the endless, permanent internet plastering that some celebrities get today. Which might be why she managed to enjoy this modicum of privacy and have a last few years searching for happiness, albeit away from her sons for long stretches. “My boys need to see me happy”, she said, and at least she gave it a good try.

The cardiac love story plays out as we expect it to, and the film feels like it could end there, but of course it needs to go on a bit longer so that Dodi Fayed (Cas Avnar - Argo) can come into play, and lead things towards that fateful night in Paris. The chilling, famous scenes most of us will recognise provide a powerful coda to this sad tale, but ultimately they fail to lift this film to the incisive portrait it could have been.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Pain & Gain

  • Released Internationally on 24/04/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 04/09/13
Review (03/09/13)
3-word review: Entertaining Bay display.

The unmistakable Michael Bay

Whether Michael Bay’s films feature asteroids, giant robots or weapons of mass destruction, or even if they do away with all the sci-fi and gadgetry and just focus on present day crime, they are all easily identifiable as larger-than-life Bay spectacles. Not one to go for subtlety, Bay has often divided opinions with his over the top style. Everything must be drenched in sweaty, unforgiving sun, everything must be bursting with colour, and lots of action needs to happen in slow-motion and accompanied by wailing electric guitars. You also need at least one shot encircling the character from below, and one with a massive plane flying directly overhead, if possible. 

But while the end result is often a big hot mess (the Transformers films, especially the two sequels), or not worthy of the subject matter (Pearl Harbour), it does occasionally result in wide-eyed cheesy entertainment that is a joy to watch (The Rock, Armageddon). Those instances, however, where Bay does away with all the extras and stamps his style onto a crime film, are in my humble opinion the instances where his controversial talents are best displayed. Which is why this film works, just as the two Bad Boys films worked. When your subject matter resembles something out of an MTV reality show, what better way to present it than looking like a big budget music video?

“My name is Daniel Lugo, and I believe in fitness.”

Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, The Fighter), stars as the gym-obsessed ex-convict Daniel, who dreams of a life beyond his mundane personal trainer job and realises he can’t obtain that life through strictly legal means. He singles out a wealthy, seemingly helpless client of his (Tony Shalhoub - The Man Who Wasn’t There, Monk) and after getting fired up by a motivational speaker (Ken Jeong - The Hangover trilogy) he decides to go for broke and try to skim every last penny off the unsuspecting Jewish businessman. The trio he assembles for the job include his colleague and fellow fitness-fanatic Adrian (Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker) and built-like-a-bus Paul (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson - Fast & Furious 6). 

Fargo, on steroids

Between the three of them they have enough brawn to intimidate anyone, but not enough brain to pull their ridiculous scheme off. And thus ensues a regular winning formula in literature and cinema - the convoluted scheme which goes impressively wrong, partly due to misfortune, and partly due to sheer stupidity. Fargo remains one of the most nuanced and engrossing examples of this, with A Simple Plan trying to repeat the formula a couple of years later. This is nowhere as subtle or high-brow, but it is very entertaining nonetheless, although admittedly in a similar way to watching disastrous reality TV or other instances where you can shake your head and feel hugely superior to the protagonists. Wahlberg anchors the trio well, with his trademark puzzled expression perfectly suited for the enthusiastic but clueless gang leader he portrays. Dwayne Johnson is the most entertaining, however, managing to shift between highly-string cocaine fiend and his character’s recently discovered happy-clappy religious side. 

This is still a true story

By the time a private detective (the ever-bankable Ed Harris - A Beautiful Mind) is brought in to try and uncover the fraudulent scheme, and by the time our anti-heroes have spent all their money and are itching for a second hit, Bay does well to remind us, during one particularly insane scene, that “this is still a true story”. It takes some convincing, but we are shown the real-life protagonists during the end credits, and the events in the film did in fact happen in the mid-90s. Which is why the film is also a wonderfully cheesy collection of 90s styles and music, which cements the comparison with Bad Boys even further.

In the end

By the time the explosions have died down and everyone has come down from their steroid rage or cocaine high, there isn’t all too much substance to take home, apart from the very obvious moral lesson that crime doesn’t pay and that the elusive ‘American Dream’ needs to be attained through hard, honest work. But who cares? It’s an entertaining two hours, and despite being Michael Bay’s second least expensive film to date, I think it’s one of his best.