Saturday 3 August 2013

60 Second Film Reviews #6

Quick movie reviews, without the waffle. 60 Second Film Reviews is a regular feature where I compile together brief reviews of recent films I've watched at home or at the movies - and generally couldn't be arsed didn't find time to write a proper review for. 

This month, we have Zero Dark Thirty, Broken City and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

One of the heavy-weights during this years' Oscar season, Zero Dark Thirty is an often brutal and harsh telling of 'the greatest man hunt in history' - that is, the hunt for Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Director Katherine Bigelow doesn't hold back on depicting the gritty realism and shadowy terrorist underworld of the Middle East - in fact, Zero Dark Thirty is so committed to depicting said realism, it trades in heart and depth of character. 

Jessica Chastain gives a empathic performance as dedicated CIA operative Maya Lambert but her character is flawed by not being afforded any personal depth. Through being committed to finding bin Laden, Lambert is fairly one-dimensional, her obsession to find him being the only thing we really learn about her. We follow her character for a full ten years but don't learn very much about her motivations, family or relationships. 

The film is less about her personality and more about putting one face to the efforts of many different people; Chastain therefore does well to carry the film and give the audience someone to care about. 

Where Zero Dark Thirty really comes into its own is the final thirty minutes where it all comes to ahead and the tension reaches fever pitch. Regardless of your stand-point on the War of Terrorism, the hunt for Osama or the controversial torture methods the film depicts, Zero Dark Thirty is one of those influential cinematic texts that is important to watch and learn from. 

I give Zero Dark Thirty: 8/10

Broken City (2013)

Broken City is a noir-infused crime drama that is set against the backdrop of New York City; it stars Mark Wahlberg as private-eye Billy Taggart, Russell Crowe as the deceitful Mayor Hostetler and Catherine Zeta-Jones as his wife, Cathleen.

The main premise of the film is reflected in the title; New York as a 'broken city', rife with corruption, injustice and double-crosses. Crowe is the less than squeaky clean mayor who gets the job done and Wahlberg is the ex-detective with a murky past. It's textbook stuff that doesn't throw any curveballs; Broken City sticks to a formula that makes the narrative fairly predictable but easy to follow. There is another narrative strand that follows Taggart's love-life with Natalie Martinez's girlfriend character that is essentially nothing other than filler. The film was on much sturdier ground once it returned to the central plot concerning the Mayor, his wife and her secret 'affair'. Except, there is a lot more to it than just that.

The reviews on this one have been unfavourable but I enjoyed it. I liked Russell Crowe and thought he gave a good performance as the shady but effective Mayor Hostetler. He's the kind of character you love to hate because he always has an exit route or an ace up his sleeve. I thought Mark Wahlberg did an okay job whilst Zeta-Jones' femme fatale was slighty underwritten. After a good performance in Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects, I felt she could have had more of a role to play here as the Mayor's embittered wife.

I found Broken City to be a solid, run-of-the-mill police-procedural type film that contains performances from Crowe and Zeta-Jones good enough to make this one worth a watch. It won't test your deductive skills too much but the attractive and impressive cast does an solid job of acting beyond the well-trodden narrative.

I give Broken City: 6/10

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

Take Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi, add a snazzy Las Vegas setting and a dash of illusions and hijinks and have you got a recipe for comedy magic? Eh, not quite. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone squanders the majority of its comedic talent with a flat script, an unlikeable lead character and surprising lack of laugh-out-loud moments.

The set-up is fairly simple; Carrey plays a Derren Brown-esque street illusionist who takes the world by storm and upsets the order; Carell and Buscemi play traditional, Las Vegas magicians Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton complete with flashy outfits and elaborate sets. Olivia Wilde also joins the cast as the duo's assistant Jane.

Burt is made to reinvigorate his act or face bankruptcy - the thing is, Carell plays a character so woefully unlikeable that it is hard to care about whether he succeeds or not. It is much easier to get on-board with his character once he drops the jerky playboy persona, learns some humility and befriends Alan Arkin's father-figure character.

The film would have benefited a lot better from giving Carell/Carrey more screen-time together. They barely get to share the screen at all but when they do, it does raise a chuckle. On the whole, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a disappointing and wasted opportunity given the talent on-board. Whilst Carrey and Arkin are funny, there are few other redeeming qualities to counteract. The magic should be there but there is a distinct lack of pizazz. However, there is a cool cameo from Community's Gillian Jacobs though so points for that.

I give The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: 4/10

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