Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Edgar Ramirez, Dianne Ladd, Elisabeth Röhm, Bradley Cooper
As stated in its opening titles, Joy, is “based on true stories of daring women.” It explores the way a tenacious woman manages to survive and eventually thrive in a world determined to put her in her place. This semi-fictionalised account of the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop makes a point of never actually using the phrase “Miracle Mop,” or even the stating the surname Mangano. Rather than presenting a traditional biopic, director David O. Russell has opted for a comically exaggerated fable celebrating the American Dream and tenacious, can-do spirit.
Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) was a creative young girl from whom a lot was expected but for whom things haven’t quite panned out. Seventeen years after being named high school valedictorian she is stuck in a hole, providing for her chaotic family Continue reading
Director: Peter Segal
Hollywood has a history of mashing together popular franchises in the search of blockbuster success. We’ve had AVP: Alien vs. Predator and Freddy vs. Jason. Back in the 1940s you had Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The same mindset is at play in Peter Segal’s Grudge Match, which may as well have been called ‘Rocky vs. Raging Bull.’ Of course, technically it is not a mash up as it presents new and original characters. But in casting Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in the leads, the filmmakers have inherited the audience’s associations with the legendary pugilists they have previously portrayed. It’s an odd pairing because despite both being about boxing, the two films couldn’t be more different. Rocky is an uplifting sports movie about a likeable underdog who finally gets his shot. Raging Bull is an art-house film about a damaged man whose anger and violence destroys his life. There is a reason there are six Rocky movies and only one Raging Bull.
But this isn’t Balboa vs La Motta. It is Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp vs. Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen. Razor and The Kid enjoyed one of the great sporting rivalries in their prime. They met twice in the ring for one victory a piece, with each loss being the only defeat of that fighter’s career. But the third and deciding bout never happened because in the lead up to the anticipated fight Razor shocked the world by announcing his retirement. Thirty years go by before a down-and-out, motor-mouthed promoter manages to coax them back in the ring for the grudge match the world has been waiting to see.
Grudge Match clearly wants to trade off the legacies of Rocky and Raging Bull. So we first meet The Kid doing a rather pathetic nightclub show which is reminiscent of the final act of Raging Bull, and we have the obligatory scene in a meat locker where Razor shapes up to punch a beef carcass before being told not to. There is also a key plot point relating to Razor and the final fight which comes straight out of Rocky II. But as much as it tries to get you to think of those movies, you are also very aware that what you are watching isn’t them. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the training montage which feels eerily quiet without the brass of ‘Gonna Fly Now’ blaring over the soundtrack.
Rather than being a straight up sports movie Grudge Match is a comedy, and that doesn’t help it. The jokes aren’t good enough to make the film genuinely funny, but they are constant enough to be a distraction. Some of the jokes are also in surprisingly poor taste. While De Niro has settled into a career as a comic actor, and Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin are right at home, the comedy format doesn’t make the best use of Stallone. Sly is a better actor than many people give him credit for. He has a real ability to elicit sympathy for a character – it’s part of what made the Rocky franchise work – and in the more dramatic scenes of Grudge Match he acts rings around De Niro. But he struggles with comedy. His sense of timing and his delivery aren’t as strong as his co-stars and the material isn’t good enough to compensate for that.
All of the film’s plot complications feel unnecessarily forced and the final fight, despite being the thing the whole movie has built towards, doesn’t quite crescendo the way that it should. In the end this movie feels as tired as its two aging stars must have after going ten rounds. The most interesting part of the movie comes in the final credits where there is a short scene between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
Rating – ★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen
Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline. Between them they boast five Academy Awards and a further nine nominations. With Last Vegas the stars have aligned, enabling these four greats of the screen to come together and do the least ambitious work of their career. One can only assume that the lure of an easy pay cheque for a few weeks of not particularly demanding work with some old friends in Las Vegas was too good for them to turn down. However, just because they might have had fun making the film doesn’t mean that you are going to have fun watching it.
Billy, Paddy, Archie and Sam have been the best of friends since they were kids, but as they hit their twilight years, life has got a bit tougher. Paddy’s wife has passed, Archie has had a stroke, Sam has lost his spark. When Billy, the eternal bachelor, announces that he is engaged to a woman young enough to be his daughter, Archie and Sam decide that a bachelor party in Las Vegas is just what the group needs to put a bit of a spring back into their step. But such an event means bringing together Billy and Paddy, who have had a falling out.
Obviously trying to tap into the success of The Hangover (at least the first one) and Bridesmaids – two films which in their best moments were quite subversive – this tale of old men behaving badly sets the bar pretty low. Last Vegas is exactly what you imagine it is going to be and nothing more. You get bombarded with cheap laughs about bad hips, medication, poor hearing, obliviousness to popular culture and, of course, Viagra.
Douglas, De Niro and Freeman are all playing to type; Douglas as the sleaze, De Niro as the curmudgeon and Freeman as the irreverent old guy with a bit of perspective on life. It is only Kline who succeeds in creating a vibrant and engaging character, which is problematic as the lion’s share of screen time goes to the less interesting dramatic conflict between Douglas’s Billy and De Niro’s Paddy. Mary Steenburgen, as lounge singer who catches the eye of both Billy and Paddy, is quite charming and proves herself to have quite a voice.
You can’t help but feel the whole film is summed up in one particularly low moment which sees Robert De Niro, one of the absolute legends of the American cinema, sit uncomfortably while LMFAO singer and X-Factor Australia judge Redfoo thrusts his speedo clad crotch into his face. In the end the goodwill engendered by the quality cast only goes so far in disguising what is otherwise an entirely unremarkable piece of fluff.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Justin Zackham
Starring: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Ben Barnes, Robin Williams
There was a time when a film starring Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams would have raised a bit of interest. But with recent all-star comedies like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve consistently underwhelming and proving to be considerably less than the sum of their parts, it is understandable that The Big Wedding is approached with a great deal of scepticism. While Justin Zackham’s remake of the 2006 French Film Mon frère se marie (My Brother is Getting Married) is more of a traditional farce than yet another multiple-plotline, Love Actually imitation, the scepticism is unfortunately warranted.
Long divorced couple Don and Ellie Griffin are forced to pretend to be happily married once again when their adopted son Alejandro announces that his ultra-conservative Catholic biological mother is unexpectedly flying in from Columbia for his wedding, and confesses that he never informed her of their separation for fear of offending her beliefs. Add in a step mother who is now forced to move out of her home to maintain the illusion, a sister who is experiencing relationship troubles of her own, a brother who finds himself rather attracted to Alejandro’s biological sister and a slightly racist soon-to-be mother-in-law who is unsure about the “beige babies” the union will result in and you have all the ingredients for an eventful wedding celebration.
If the combination of the scenario, the age of some of the principal cast, and the similarity in title to My Big Fat Greek Wedding lead you to expect a gentle comedy for the whole family you could be in for a bit of a shock. From the very first scene the filmmakers seem determined to try and tap into the recent success of more ‘adult’ comedies and as such The Big Wedding is surprisingly crude, having been slapped with an MA15+ rating for strong coarse language and sexual references. The result is part screwball comedy, part American Pie-style sex-romp except that rather than being sixteen our protagonists are in their sixties.
Crudeness aside, the screenplay is reasonably witty. There are some good comic moments and while none of the cast members really shine like we know they can, they each have their moments and no one is bad. Ultimately however, where you want a good farce to build to an absurd crescendo, this one seems to get overwhelmed as the layers of ridiculousness are piled on. A film like this needs a straight character in amongst all the chaos to act as the audience’s surrogate and point of view. In this case it is likely supposed to be the betrothed couple, played by Ben Barnes and Amanda Seyfried, but they aren’t featured prominently enough to perform the function, likely due to their incredible blandness.
Incredibly predictable but entertaining enough, this comedy about seniors behaving badly is the latest in a growing tradition of Hollywood remakes of French comedies that just seem to lose something once they’re Americanised.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
At 5:30am Los Angeles time, Oscars host Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announced the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards. While there were a few categories which panned out exactly as expected, the nominations did throw up more than the usual number of surprises. Here are five of the biggest…
1) Only 9 in the Best Picture
There were a few notable omissions in the Best Picture category. Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, The Sessions and, to a lesser extent, Skyfall had all been talked about as Best Picture contenders but all were notably absent from the nominees announced. What makes that even more surprising is the Academy chose only to give out nine of a possible ten nominations. So it wasn’t even that these films were simply squeezed out by other worthy pictures, rather they were deemed not worthy of a nomination.
2) Amour gets some love
It is not often that a foreign language film gets Academy recognition outside of the Best Foreign Language Film category. So it was somewhat of a surprise to see Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner, Amour, pick up five nominations including Best Picture and Best Director. If nothing else it means that Amour will be the shortest of short priced favourites to win the Best Foreign Language Film category.
3) Big names missing in the Best Director field
It was the Best Director nominations which contained the biggest surprises, primarily as a result of who wasn’t there. Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow had all been talked about as serious contenders to take the award home, yet none of them managed to get a nomination. The most obvious beneficiaries of these ‘snubbings’ are the surprise – unexpected but not undeserved – nominations of Michael Haneke and Behn Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).
4) Silver Lining Support
The surprise nominations in both the Supporting Actor and Actress categories both came from Silver Linings Playbook. Robert De Niro had only received a handful of lead up nominations, none of them major, for his role as Pat Sr. His surprise nomination means that there wasn’t room for some more fancied possible nominees, particularly Django Unchained’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. Australian Jackie Weaver came from right out of left field to score a nomination in the Supporting Actress category having not received any lead up nominations, other than as part of an ensemble cast. The Golden Globes and SAG nominations had opted for Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy) or Maggie Smith (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) to round of their fields, but neither seem any more deserving than Weaver.
5) The Dark Knight does not rise
While I don’t think anyone was realistically expecting The Dark Knight Rises to earn a best picture nomination, most would have expected it to figure somewhere (maybe in visual effect?), but instead it became the highest profile film to be completely overlooked by the Academy this year.