3 March 2013

This Week in Capsule Reviews - 03/03/2013

A new batch of quick and zingy reviews for your pleasure

Premium Rush (2012) - C-

Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon are squandered in this over-directed and uninvolving bike messenger actioner. The central plot concerning a corrupt cop trying to ascertain a high priority delivery from snarky athlete Gordon-Levitt has potential, but horrible characterization, an overuse of aggressive visual stimuli and a failure to force the narrative down any unsuspected pathways renders it all a bit mundane. The stunt-work and chase sequences are fun, but what surprises is how poor the screenplay courtesy of David Koepp actually ends up being (his CV including blockbuster gem "Jurassic Park" and underrated 2008 comedy "Ghost Town"). Tonal inconsistencies don't help much (at times "Premium Rush" confusingly favours slapstick) and one dimensional characters render the stakes low. An unexpected failure.

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) - C

It seems the villain of the piece's obsession with appearance transfused directly into the film-makers here. "Snow White and the Huntsman" looks tremendous and harbours state of the art CGI. However the writing is problematic (the dialogue is just embarrassing in spots), Kristen Stewart's title turn is comatose and the action beats feel perfunctory and only fitfully excting. Debuting director Rupert Sanders has a nice eye for gloss and conceives several cute visual motifs, but his storytelling skills and imaginative faculties are far more questionable. The tale clunks along, relying on flashbacks and voice-overs for context, ambling toward a finish that whilst impressive to look at, is unremarkable in execution. Chris Hemsworth is entertaining as the Huntsman tasked with protecting Snow White, although like everybody else he is given only shallow and cliched material to work with. It's not offensively bad and does boast some genuine aesthetic merit, but as a blockbuster it's decidedly mediocre. No sequels please.

The Bone Collector (1999) - D

What happens if you subtract a character driven narrative and visually arresting direction from Se7en? I'd imagine the answer is something like "The Bone Collector", a tired mystery which desperately attempts to emulate David Fincher's majestic procedural at every turn. As the cops in pursuit of a serial killer, Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie are handed an interesting dynamic, but there's no suspense or macabre imagination evident in the story. Visually it's polished but perfunctory, whilst the narrative plods toward a predictable and tamely staged conclusion. Unsurprising that it has now been forgotten, as nothing disappoints more than a thriller which fails to thrill.

The Vicious Kind (2009) - B

Adam Scott and Brittany Snow give powerhouse performances in this encouraging debut from director Lee Toland Krieger. As a sister trapped between two brothers Snow is tender and subtly heartbreaking, but it's a raw, malicious yet extremely vulnerable Scott who ultimately steals the show. Krieger shows some directorial flair, and whilst the dour, remote atmosphere gets a little overbearing at times, there are some engaging dramatic moments here. Krieger has since gone onto confirm his talent with last year's brilliant rom-com "Celeste and Jesse Forever". For a first stab at feature film-making, "The Vicious Kind" is a respectable effort elevated by fine acting.

Taxi Driver (1976) - A

Slow and frustrating at times, but ultimately a remarkably striking and memorable film, which chooses to do legitimately interesting things with the conceit of unreliable narration. As Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro is sensational, portraying an unstable man abandoned by society. Post-Vietnam blues permeate the seedy essence of the picture, and Scorsese's ambiguity concerning the violent rampage the lead characters undergoes is compelling, leaving the rich work open to multiple interpretations. Is Bickle an inherently positive figure within a sinful New York? Is he an impressionable time-bomb who gets lucky with his final actions? Or is he simply a disillusioned man raging hopelessly against a world that has all but forgotten him? Every answer is open to debate, which in a way sums up the importance and complexity of this movie in a nutshell. Scorsese's craftsmanship is also evidenced through several subversive shot selections and the gnarly climactic shoot-out. A young Jodie Foster also pops up and leaves her mark with a clever turn that subtly suggests childish nativity, whilst underlining how a cruel New York forces all its inhabitants to accept the grim, grounded, corrupted dredge of immoral day to day living. It's tough to concretely attest where the picture stands on the political landscape of the 70s, although its vapid senator caricature and Bickle's abandonment despite serving in war suggest the film-makers weren't fans. Tough to sit through, and not traditionally entertaining, but "Taxi Driver" is a film that rewards viewing.

Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013


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