28 February 2014

Select Oscar Predictions 2014

With the 86th Annual Academy Awards just around the corner (Sunday March 2nd) it seems like an appropriate time to weigh in with my picks, and more crucially spotlight who I think will win big on the night. I’ve seen the majority of this year’s contenders (including all the Best Picture nominees), but there are a few oversights that I’ll confess a little later. It’s obviously important to stress that politics and the balloting system are key components when predicting winners, but I also think it’s crucial to label the most deserving films/people (at least MY most deserving) as it has become increasingly regular form to see the Academy blighted by a slavish commitment to convention and tradition. BOLD denotes who I think WILL win, ITALICS denote who I think SHOULD win. If you’re gambling on Oscar night, neither of these speculative approaches should be taken as gospel, although I suppose my chips are firmly planted on the BOLD side of things.

Best picture is of course a more complicated beast than other categories, as it works on a specific preferential balloting system. Be mindful of this when looking at my prediction - and check out this great video courtesy of THE WRAP if you need some educating. 

Enjoy – and feel free to play along in the comments section below.

American Hustle - Wins on the night
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Nebraska - Should win on the night
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity - Should and will win on the night
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club - Should and will win on the night

BEST ACTRESS (note - I haven't seen August: Osage County)
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine - Should and will win on the night
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips - Wins on the night
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club - Should win on the night 

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle - Wins on the night
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska - Should win on the night 

David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, American Hustle - Wins on the night
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
(This category represents one where my "favourite" pick is split. I cannot decide if I liked the writing in "Nebraska" or "Her" better. If either won I'd be elated. Both are very worthy)
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
Billy Ray, Captain Philips
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena - Wins on the night
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave 
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street - Should win on the night 

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
 & Celestine
Frozen - Should and will win on the night
The Wind Rises

(I will abstain from voting here, as I have simply seen too few of the nominees. "The Hunt" is the favourite and the only work I've viewed, so I guess it can have my support)
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
The Great Beauty 
The Hunt 
The Missing Picture 
"Alone Not Alone," Alone Yet Not Alone
"Happy," Despicable Me 2
"Let It Go," Frozen
"The Moon Song," Her - Should win on the night 
"Ordinary Love," Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - Wins on the night
(It is deliciously ironic that "American Hustle", probably the most over-praised feature of this awards season, should fail to get a nomination in the one category it deserves to win. Touche Academy)
Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathew, Dallas Buyers Club - Should and Will win on the night
Stephen Prouty, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny, The Lone Ranger
John Williams, The Book Thief
Steven Price, Gravity - Should and Will Win on the night
William Butler and Owen Pallett, Her
Alexandre Desplat, Philomena
Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks

Judy Becker (Production Design) and Heather Loeffler (Set Decoration), American Hustle
Andy Nicholson (Production Design); Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard (Set Decoration), Gravity
Catherine Martin (Production Design) and Beverley Dunn (Set Decoration), The Great Gatsby - Should and Will Win on the night
K.K. Barrett (Production Design) and Gene Serdena (Set Decoration), Her
Adam Stockhausen (Production Design) and Alice Baker (Set Decoration), 12 Years a Slave
Philippe Le Sourd, The Grandmaster
Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity - Wins on the night
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis - Should Win on the night 
Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska
Roger A. Deakins, Prisoners

Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
William Chang Suk Ping, The Grandmaster
Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby - Should and Will win on the night
Michael O'Connor, The Invisible Woman
Patricia Norris, 12 Years a Slave
Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten, American Hustle
Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips
John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa, Dallas Buyers Club
Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger, Gravity - Should and Will win on the night
Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave

As you may have noticed I have absconded from including documentary in my predictions, not out of ignorance, but down to my own lack of expertise and familiarity with the current crop. 
Enjoy the broadcast and best of luck if you're a gambler on the night. 
An article by Daniel Kelly, 2014

23 February 2014

Box-Office Update: "LEGO" holds firm, "POMPEII" fails to erupt

Even on its third weekend of release “The LEGO Movie” was unbeatable at the box-office. The film (which now has a mighty $235 million in worldwide revenue) held at the top spot, adding a further $31.5 million to its domestic haul. Second and third places were home to soft debuts. The Kevin Costner starring actioner “3 Days to Kill” edged ahead with $12.3 million, leaving the colossally budgeted “Pompeii” to sink hopelessly with just $10 million. Both are disappointing bows, but whilst “3 Days to Kill” might break even, “Pompeii” marks a disastrous misfire for TriStar. Both films received negative reviews, so the next few weekends should be equally bleak for them.

Speaking of underperformers, “RoboCop” sank just one place to 4th on its sophomore weekend, but its $43 Million total inspires little hope of a full recovery. The remake has a long way to go before it gets close to recouping production costs. In 5th “The Monuments Men” continued to quietly post solid numbers, earning another $8.1 Million for a $58 Million total. That may seem unremarkable, but given the weak buzz surrounding the feature, things could have been much worse. After a sturdy Valentine’s opening, Rom-Com “About Last Night” endured a staggering 71% drop in 6th place, posting a further $7.4 Million, taking its total to $38 million. Last week’s badly received “Winter’s Tale” closed out the top 10 on its second week, slithering into 10th, with an $11 million haul worthy of its toxic reputation. 

Box-Office - 23/02/14

1. The LEGO Movie - $31.5 Million
2. 3 Days to Kill - $12.5 Million 
3. Pompeii - $10 Million 
4. RoboCop - $9.4 Million 
5. The Monuments Men - $8.1 Million 
6. About Last Night - $7.4 Million 
7. Ride Along - $4.6 Million 
8. Frozen - $4.4 Million 
9. Endless Love - $4.3 Million 
10. Winter's Tale - $2.1 Million

An article by Daniel Kelly, 2014

20 February 2014

Joe Johnston's "Not Safe for Work" looks unfit for viewing


Okay, so today the trailer for Joe Johnston's (last seen helming the initial "Captain America" in 2011) "Not Safe for Work" dropped. The thriller produced by horror mogul Jason Blum ("Paranormal Activity") has been the subject of unflattering buzz for a few months now; the majority focusing on the fact that despite the presence of a high-profile director, it's skipping theatres and going straight to Home Video in April.

It's fair to comment that Johnston's track-record in Hollywood has been spotty, although for every "Hidalgo" he's also managed to churn out a "Jumanji". I was pleasantly surprised by some of the creative decisions taken with "Captain America" -and heck -long-time blog readers will know I was much kinder to his "Wolfman" rehash than most.

But "Not Safe for Work" looks pretty diabolical. Blum's production ethos is based on a rigorous implementation of soft-budgeting, but the production detail in "NSFW" (as we shall henceforth call it) seems unfathomably cheap and amateurish. For instance, Blum stomped up the cash for 2011's micro-budgeted "Insideous", and for all its flaws that movie isn't without anesthetic merit. The cinematography in "NSFW" is without texture and garishly flat, not criticisms one could level at most of the Johnston's other work. Maybe he was gunning for a realist vibe, but if so, somebody should probably inform him that doesn't mean the onscreen space needs to be so barren and unadventurous.

The performances and dialogue look similarly uninspired, namely the cute relationship patter between lead Max Minghella (usually not a bad actor in his own right) and presumable love interest Eloise Mumford. There's nothing endearing about hearing a couple spout cliched witticisms at each other. The set-up looks like a sort of warped "Office Space" starring a psychotic Tom Hiddleston impersonator. Sounds awesome right? Na, the frights look obvious, the action unimaginative, the mise en scene miserly and the tone worryingly self-serious. Nothing about the movie's promotional material suggests it has much of a comedic or satirical prerogative, which makes its general po-faced ineptitude even worse.

I realise, I haven't seen this film. Curiosity dictates that at some point I probably will. But any money or time I donate toward "NSFW" will not be on the basis of this stagnant trailer, a piece of work that only underlines the film's assumed flaws. Over the last few years Blum has proved himself an adept marketing raconteur, which makes me wonder why he felt this was an appropriate way to sculpt this feature's first public bow. Unless of course, it really is as shit as we've been told. The trailer's below, and if you're inclined, "Not Safe for Work" can be viewed from the comfort of your couch this April.

An article by Daniel Kelly, 2014

17 February 2014

Box-Office Update: "LEGO" keeps on building, Farrell can't stop falling

“The LEGO Movie” dominated the box-office this weekend, taking a mighty $50 million. That easily allowed the feature to hold first-place after its strong debut last week, awarding it with a stellar $130 million two week total. It was Valentine’s Day last Friday, so it was unsurprising to see romantic comedy “About Last Night” arrive in 2nd, especially given that it also stars current audience favourite Kevin Hart. Reviews for the film were middling, but audiences appeared suitably impressed, leading to a $27 million opening. Other new arrivals were less fortunate. “RoboCop” managed only $21.5 million on its first weekend of release, pretty dismal considering the reported $130 million budget. The sci-fi remake curried more favour with franchise fans than some were expecting, but a soft 5-day haul of $26 million should trouble MGM. It’ll probably finish south of $70 million, bad news for its various backers.

“The Monuments Men” slipped to 4th, but only dropped about 31% for a total of $43.7 million after two weeks. Given the poor word of mouth the film has incurred, that’s actually pretty solid. 5th and 7th place were occupied by other new romances “Endless Love” and “A Winter’s Tale” both more or less stalling at the gate. With its smallish $20 million budget, “Endless Love” might overt ultimate disaster (it debuted with $13 million), but “Tale” managed a paltry $7.2 million, setting it up for inevitable failure. After “Dead Man Down”, “Fright Night” and “Total Recall” this marks the latest high-profile Colin Farrell vehicle to tank. Ouch. 

Box-Office - 16/02/17

1. The LEGO Movie - $50 Million 
2. About Last Night - $27 Million 
3. RoboCop - $21.5 million 
4. The Monuments Men - $15 Million 
5. Endless Love - $13.3 Million 
6. Ride Along - $8.7 Million 
7. A Winter's Tale - $7.3 Million 
8. Frozen -$5.8 Million 
9. Lone Survivor - $4 Million 
10. That Awkward Moment - $3.3 Million 

An Article by Daniel Kelly, 2014

Movie Review: The LEGO Movie


The LEGO Movie
2014, 100mins, U
Director (s): Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Writer (s): Dan Hageman, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Kevin Hageman 
Cast includes: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Charlie Day
UK Release Date: 14th February 2014 

If you've seen either “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” or “21 Jump Street” you know the film-makers Chris Miller and Phil Lord specialise in the dud concept; taking a seemingly unworkable idea and reforming it as subversive, joyous mainstream cinema. This talent will likely never be underlined more stringently than with “The LEGO Movie”, a pitch that should send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting cinephile. It makes what Paramount did with “Transformers” look subtle by comparison.  Yet, despite the crushing capitalist overtures such a title suggests, in the hands of Lord and Miller the endeavour is an absolute hoot, rounded out with appreciative anti-conformist sentiment. The film is gorgeously animated, but what really elevates “LEGO” is the third act and its superbly mounted stirrings of childhood whimsy and nostalgia, complete with some of the most confidently edited world-hopping you’re liable to encounter in a multiplex this year.

A happy resident of Bricksberg, Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an upbeat but hopeless construction worker, reverent to “the instructions” when it comes to selecting his music, culinary and general lifestyle choices. He’s content to follow the rulings of President Business (Will Ferrell) like a hapless puppy, leading to a life of uninspiring ritual. Business isn’t all he seems however, intent on freezing the world using an adhesive super weapon. Spearing the movement against Business are the “Master Builders”, a race of superior beings, marked out by their imaginative resourcefulness, led by wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman in very game form) and his sidekick Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks).  Together they are searching for both the Piece of Resistance and the chosen person pre-ordained to wield it, nicknamed “The Special”. Only upon discovery of these can Business be thwarted, which brings the unlikely figure of Emmet to Vitruvius’ attention.

It would be incorrect to say that “The LEGO Movie” never functions as an advertisement, but it’s definitely to a less egregious extent than initially expected. The film is incredibly vibrant and visually inventive; the world constructed using only LEGO; the toy utilised to compose all manner of environments and weird characters. In “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” Miller and Lord convinced as strong world-builders, using zany touches to register a hyper real but lived in fantasy universe. The challenge is even greater with “LEGO” but the duo rise to the occasion, inhabiting several realms with dynamic designs and staggering scope, all realised using detail magnifying 3D. Simply observing “The LEGO Movie” and its meticulously structured vistas is a joy, which naturally given their dependency on the titular product means the picture can’t entirely escape its commercial origins. The movie looks awesome; so in turn does the toy. You might even say that the enhanced artistry of “The LEGO Movie” feeds the desires of corporate strategy more prosperously than any cynical hack job ever could.

Much of what makes the film special stems from more traditional family oriented materials though, namely the sincerity of its messages and liveliness of characterisation. The list of talents involved with bringing the project to life is extensive, so it’s probably just best to skate over the highlights. Pratt, Banks and Freeman all deserve props for likably goofy vocal turns, although the scene-stealers emerge from the wings (That’s a Bat-Pun). Will Arnett has fun impersonating Christian Bale’s po-faced Dark Knight, whilst as the aptly named Good-Cop/Bad-Cop Liam Neeson does Manic and hugely funny work. Will Ferrell is Will Ferrell (although he shines during the finale), which isn’t a bad thing given that his brand of irreverent comedy is such a dapper fit with the tone Lord and Miller emit. “The LEGO Movie” attempts quite a lot during its runtime, committing to anti-establishment outlook, whilst tastefully retaining a sense of acceptance for the wider world. The film strives to celebrate both individuality and teamwork, a tough note to eloquently hit, but one which it ultimately straddles with endearing emotion. The final throws of the film, set over two very different screen locales, are charming and resonant in equal measure. Certainly it’s exciting to watch two relatively green film-makers handle the split perspectives with such editorial and space-savvy dexterity.

“The LEGO Movie” has a depth and underlying maturity one would associate most tangibly with upper-tier Pixar; its more jovial elements also calling favourable comparison to the same crop of pictures. “The LEGO Movie” is stocked with universally appropriate comedy, some of it visual, most of it acerbic but nearly all of it highly amusing. Lord and Miller are students of the strange, and that plays refreshingly in their comedic aspirations, a cocktail of bizarre and even occasionally dark gags. It’s an aesthetic that should appeal to any audience member with an operational funny-bone, and what’s more sequences are layered with clever jokes, meaning that rewatches aren’t just advisable, but almost necessary. With so many comedies struggling to provide a modicum of laughter these days, it’s welcome to find one that has enough to support multiple viewings.

The final act is a revelation, not just technically, but in its ability to blend convicted human consciousness with the plastic characters. It’s a slice of cinema that transports not just physically but also on a more profound level, recalling the undiluted passions and urges that dictate the thinking of a child. It’s a pure and unabashedly lovely note on which to crescendo such a memorable adventure, bolstered by diverting bursts of upmarket frolicking. “The LEGO Movie” definitely can’t claim to be utterly devoid of monetarily driven hooey, but it gets as close to jettisoning Western philosophy as any flick boasting such a title ever could.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014

12 February 2014

Movie Review: The Monuments Men


The Monuments Men 
2014, 118mins, 12
Director: George Clooney
Writer (s): George Clooney, Grant Heslov 
Cast includes: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville 
UK Release Date: 14th February 2014 

As a history lesson “The Monuments Men” is adequate, yet in most other regards it falls strangely short. It’s a picture with pedigree and an interesting conceit, but the film-making is marred by an unending parade of sloppiness. The narrative and characterization are choppily positioned, leaving the talented cast with little room to chew out the wartime theatrics. Individual scenes work well, but the glue holding them together has wilted irreparably, “The Monuments Men” wobbling its way to a tired, feckless third act that jettisons excitement in favour of diatribes and indulgent bantering. From director George Clooney, we should all expect much better.

With the War drawing to a close, the US Military turns to Frank Stokes (George Clooney) and his band of “Monuments Men”, an aged squadron tasked with rescuing art stolen by the Nazis. Dividing themselves up and making for different sectors of Europe, the men begin to hunt out humanity’s greatest achievements, hoping to retrieve the cultural bullion before Hitler places them in his proposed Fuhrer Museum. With battle waging around them, The Monuments Men are never far from threat, but their appreciation of art amidst the atrocities fuels their thirst for historical preservation.

“The Monuments Men” was delayed due to an elongated post-production process. I anticipate this was less about ironing out kinks and more geared toward rejigging the property completely, this version in theatres coming replete with overbearing voiceovers and scant editorial rhythm. It’s been lavishly produced, but it doesn't take the movie long to falter, Clooney ill-advisedly skipping over necessary character introductions, instead barrelling the movie headfirst into the strung-out European escapades. This lack of humanity doesn't hurt “The Monuments Men” too critically during its numerous, flights of relaxed comedy, but when it comes to weightier wartime issues or sequences dependant on interiority, the piece is utterly hopeless. Clooney levels any semblance of individuality, crudely pasting erratic monologues into proceedings in a bid to occasionally create the false perception of import or audience involvement. It doesn't sit comfortably. The haphazard construction of the narrative is potentially forgivable, but the dearth of realized title characters proves an insurmountable red-flag. At no point do you care about any particular person involved with the mission, robbing the enterprise of general engagement.

The cast are so good they float through the feature unscathed, bringing vital dollops of charm. It’s shameful to see the likes of Bill Murray, John Goodman and Bob Balaban wasted on frivolous supporting roles, but such is their ability they at least gift the piece a welcome lightness of touch. The bond between them is assumed rather than earned, which regularly proves troublesome, but that doesn't mean there aren't some belly laughs to digest. Damon (split from the main contingent for the majority of the story) and Clooney are enjoyable presences, although neither seems to be trying too hard. As a secretive European accomplice Cate Blanchett is dreadful, a shame following her knockout performance in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine”. Blanchett feels like deadwood on the screen here, she’s meant to convey resentment and doubt, but what comes across is surface-level constipation. Based on a late interaction between the two, I assume some sort of subdued heat is meant to mount between her and Damon, but if that’s the case it completely fails to ignite.

The third act highlights the movie’s deficiencies to an embarrassing extent, tossing the Men across Europe with no urgency or dramatic edge. It’s like some sort of twisted Fine Arts lecture, more of a tiring appreciation course than a dynamic example of screenwriting. It’s thoroughly unexciting, but what’s more constitutes terrible cinematic form, forgoing scope, tension and even spectacle to instead bask in a whole heap of nothingness. The defining set-piece appears to be one in which Damon is stranded on a landmine, the big pay-off being some light patter and amateur engineering. Yeesh.

Tonally there are issues, the aforementioned slapstick mine gag probably shouldn't precede the eerie discovery of Holocaust gold, but then that’s the road this stuttering production often chooses to walk. Nothing feels precisely fitted, scenes seemingly stitched together at random, leaving unfulfilled gaps littered everywhere. The educational component of “The Monuments Men” is enlightening, and it encourages a genuinely rich discussion concerning the vitality of art; but as a narrative feature it’s a bungled effort. I enjoyed some of Clooney’s sparse flickers of inspiration, but the entirety of what he’s created amounts to a confused and often dull ride. “The Monuments Men” has Oscar potential written all over it, until you actually see the damn thing. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014

10 February 2014

Movie Review: RoboCop (2014)


2014, 118mins, 12
Director: Jose Padilha 
Writer (s): Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner (1987 screenplay) 
Cast includes: Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Samuel L. Jackson 
UK Release Date: 7th February 2014

It hasn't even been two years since Hollywood attempted to remake Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall”, morphing a cherished science-fiction property into an onerous, over-produced bore. The film stirred little interest at the box-office (it was one of 2012’s more catastrophic flops), leaving us to ponder why we’re now faced with a reincarnation of “RoboCop”. The original 1987 property was a smart, frantic and mature genre piece, loaded with gore and corporate commentary, a film beloved due to its seamless blend of intelligence and high-stakes action. Updating Verhoeven has proven a tough ask, and for many, “RoboCop” is his best work. It’s nice to remark that on the back of all this scepticism (I haven’t even referenced the movie’s underwhelming promotional campaign) “RoboCop” circa 2014 isn’t awful; in fact it’s pretty good. It’s not as innovative, demented or toothy as Verhoeven’s masterpiece, but director Jose Padilha has done a solid job of cranking out an event movie that transcends expectation. This shiny update isn’t revelatory, but effort has been made, and beneath the digitals some ideas still froth.

In an attempt to avenge his partner following a shakedown gone south, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) becomes the victim of gangsters he’s investigating, critically wounded following a tactically arranged explosion. With little hope of surviving, Murphy comes to the attention of OmniCorp, a company with a vested interest in disabled cops. OmniCorp specialise in the creation of combat machines, used effectively to police other countries, but unable to defend American soil due to preventative legislation. The people want an equivalent that can think and feel like a human, leaving CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) to try and place a person inside a computer’s consciousness. After procuring the support of Murphy’s grieving wife (Abbie Cornish), Sellars recruits Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to begin blending man and machine, hopefully leading to a new age of law enforcement.

“RoboCop” is a different film in 2014 than it was in 1987; that much is definite.  Padilha excitedly addresses a more globally “connected” world at the start, depicting marines leading waves of robots through foreign cities, creating eerie unease as the machines undress citizens digitally in the pursuit of weapons. These images are some of the film’s sharpest, there’s a disgusting familiarity in watching foreigners treated like certifiable terror threats, whilst the American media smiles and waves, depicting the invasion as a nation’s salvation. It’s an encouraging statement of intent, and one that “RoboCop” returns to sporadically, using Samuel L. Jackson’s fiery pro-robot TV personality to dissect corporate politics and bias media viewpoints (hello, Fox News), unearthing nuggets of engaging satire amidst waves of context and exposition. Jackson is entertaining, but what’s truly uplifting is that Padilha is trying to preserve the perceptive identity of this franchise. “RoboCop” ’14 isn’t as sharp or radical (it’s nearly 30-years later, how could it be?), but it honours the cerebral tone of Verhoeven’s vision admirably.

The retelling of Murphy’s story is more perfunctory, even though Padilha brings the family dynamic front and centre. It’s funny that despite an enhanced focus, and decent work from Cornish, Murphy’s heartbreak and detachment were more effectively communicated in a single scene from the first picture, than the entirety of this one. We get several direct chances to observe the character fighting his inner, mechanised demons in a bid to bond with his wife and child, and whilst they’re handled competently and swiftly, they lack the melancholic pathos of the moment in Verhoeven’s film where the hero enters his old abode, forced to combat the past through memory. Maybe it’s Kinnaman’s performance that lets the side down, the TV actor doesn’t have Peter Weller’s screen presence, and when he has to embody anything other than stoic calm, he struggles.  Much of his work feels forced, and there’s a coldness from the offset which makes it hard to care. That’s not a criticism a sensible viewer would level at the ’87 incarnation.

On the other hand the supporting cast are a joy, particularly the OmniCorp staff. Keaton essays the CEO like a hipper Bill Gates, combining enthusiasm with ruthless manipulation wonderfully. Until the finale, it’s very hard to decide whether you should or shouldn’t like him, always the mark of a strong, natural antagonistic turn. Elsewhere Jackie Earle Haley, Jennifer Ehle and Jay Baruchel are used in accordance with their distinctive strengths, adding to the backroom dynamic’s three-dimensionality. The standout has to be Oldman though, who displays genuine unease as Norton. The script applies only surface level insight into the risks of unethical practise, But Oldman’s turn bolsters this element considerably; convincing and likable as a man battling between professional gratification and moral obligation. The energy of every other participant jumps a notch when Oldman enters the fracas, Kinnaman only really feels emotionally open in his company.

The world-building is effective (although Detroit never seems as bountiful as the sparse international sequences), the production design sleek and even thoughtful. The new RoboCop attire is pretty neat to behold (fanboys will no doubt disagree), bringing the hero to a generation more enamoured with style than any before them. Technically the action sequences are well constructed and edited, although not one stands out beyond the closing credits. The attitude and viscera that characterised Verhoeven’s version is absent; what we now have is something a little more polished, but also lacking in imagination. The ending is particularly rote, an unsatisfactory CGI scuffle followed by a standoff on a helipad. It fits the demands of the narrative fine, and might even have passed muster without the shadow of its predecessor looming, but in comparison to the edgy violence of ’87, the fire-fights and chases which define this extension seem formulaic.

Don’t be surprised to see legions of movie buffs and Verhoeven devotees’ line up to slam Padilha’s work; for them this retread was persona non grata from the moment it was commissioned. This picture is the inferior version of the tale, but that’s not to say it’s worthless. “RoboCop” actively attempts to convey some fresh perspective and add new satirical undertones, which are at points quite striking. There’s also the matter of a strong supporting cast to consider, who alongside Padilha’s glossy production design imbue the film with something approaching a soul. I wouldn't begin to argue that “RoboCop” is a perfect slice of cinema, but in a world where the “Total Recall” rehash still lingers on the population’s memory, it’s a relative success. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014

Box-Office Update; "Lego" provides franchise building-blocks

It was a great weekend for Warner, as “The Lego Movie” opened in first place, topping already hefty studio expectation. With a 90%+ Rotten Tomatoes score, the movie has been a firm hit with critics, but audiences rallied around the wacky family comedy this weekend to gift “Lego” a $69.1 million start. With word of mouth seemingly so strong, the picture should be a box-office fixture for weeks to come. We’ll have a better idea of its ultimate potential after the sophomore drop-off, but at this point I wouldn’t bet on a huge dip. It looks set to build (geddit?) momentum over February, and already has a sequel in the bag.

George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” also exceeded early buzz, despite uneven reviews. The film managed a respectable $22.7 million for 2nd place, clearly providing an appealing counter-programing option to “Lego”. With the Oscar nominees starting to drift out of the charts (until the ceremony in March instills renewed interest), “The Monuments Men” should be able to clear $50-60 million without much fuss. Box-Office champ of the past three weeks “Ride Along” was in 3rd (crossing $100 million), whilst “Frozen” held in fourth, remarkably catching another $6.9 million on its 12th week of release. With a $912 million total and a few territories left to open in, the Disney hit could potentially trouble the billion dollar club. We’ll see. In 5th “That Awkward Moment” held better than I expected, although its current $16 million two-week haul is unlikely to have executives fist-pumping too aggressively. 

“Lone Survivor” was in 6th with a $112 million total, whilst new release “Vampire Academy” continued the current non-“Hunger Games” tradition of being based on teen literature, incurring derision and making no money. Its $4.1 million debut marks the beginning of a very swift end. The rest of the top ten are below

Box-Office 9/02/14

1. The Lego Movie - $69.1 million
2. The Monuments Men - $22.7 million
3. Ride Along - $9.4 Million
4. Frozen - $6.9 million
5. That Awkward Moment – 5.5 million
6. Lone Survivor - $5.3 million
7. Vampire Academy - $4.1 million
8. The Nut Job - $3.8 million
9. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - $3.6 million 
10. Labor Day - $3.1 million

An article by Daniel Kelly, 2014

4 February 2014

Movie Review: That Awkward Moment



That Awkward Moment 
2014, 94mins, 15
Director: Tom Gormican 
Writer: Tom Gormican 
Cast includes: Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas 
UK Release Date: 31st January 2014

Tom Gormican’s “That Awkward Moment” is a comedy of legitimate pre-release calibre. The script featured on the Blacklist in 2010 (when it was entitled “Are We Officially Dating?”) and the credits are filled out by some of the most appealing young stars clambering up the Hollywood ladder. Early trailers had a pleasant, zippy sensibility, and as the months rolled by, I was convinced the picture might represent one of the few oases of quality that irregularly litter late winter. If I’d embraced “That Awkward Moment” as a twisted psychological thriller with time-travelling elements (think “Psycho” meets “Looper”), then those early expectations might have been satisfied; after all, Gormican’s movie functions pretty effectively as the chronicle of three hapless sociopaths extracted from the 1950s (their grasp of humour and gender politics underline that decade as a point of origin). Whilst I would never presume to instruct an artist on his true intentions, I strongly suspect this wasn’t Gormican’s primary vision, and he is in actual fact trying to peddle off “That Awkward Moment” as another entry in the industry’s expanding bromantic repertoire. If that is the case, I will be praying for his soul.

When Mikey’s (Michael B. Jordan) wife leaves him, he and his buddies Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) decide to make a pact; to stay single for the foreseeable future. For womanising Jason it’s easy, he’s spent his life humping and dumping; dodging the “so”, that moment in every relationship where one party challenges the other about long-term commitment. Immature Daniel is initially onside, although he unwittingly begins to fall for friend Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) and Mikey is secretly committed to repairing his failed marriage. Eventually even Jason finds the lure of love beckoning, as sassy hook-up Ellie (Imogen Poots) begins to represent a dateable alternative. The boys parade around under a veneer of singleton ecstasy – but deep down -they begin to suspect casual sex isn't enough.

It’s unsurprising that this is Gormican’s directorial debut (although he does possess a producing credit on “Movie 43”, huzzah!), the New York presented feels totally unlived in, and the relationships which fuel his drama are alarmingly inert. The three poster boys are expected to support nothing other than questionable male patter, but the romantic angles are diabolically constructed, devoid of charm or sustained cause for being. There are various reasons for this (Jordan’s struggling marriage is simply underserviced whilst Efron and Poots display zero chemistry), but they all lead to the same dull, depressing aura of audience ambivalence. At no point does Gormican succeed in eliciting anything resembling a credible emotional beat, “That Awkward Moment” driven by one dimensional narrative necessities, enduring genre clichés and uneven bursts of grotty comedy. If it doesn’t sound like a winning formula, it’s because it isn’t.

I thought guys did more than objectify women, defecate and imbibe coffee or beer, but then perhaps Tom Gormican comes from a different world? I wouldn’t particularly care to visit his. The film physically exists in an array of repetitive spaces (interchangeable work/living environments and a single, incredibly garishly lit nightspot) giving “That Awkward Moment” an insufficient scope for depicting full lives, robbing it of the fizz its script openly begs for. There’s no stamp of authorship in the feature’s appearance, which only causes the script’s deficiencies to thud harder. The sexual politics range from misguidedly gross to pathetically unfunny, a repeated gag about somebody’s potential profession (“Hooker Signs”) acting as a tragically apt summation of the property’s entire comic agenda. It treats women poorly, but what’s more displays the ladies reacting favourably to said contempt. The early actions of Poots’ otherwise steely Ellie and the unjustifiably forgiving behaviour of Davis’ Chelsea are sad to behold.

What of the film’s leading knights? I have soft-spots for Efron, Jordan and Teller (the latter two having done commendable work over the past 12 months) but not one commits fully here. I’m willing to let Jordan off on the basis that the entire enterprise treats him like an extraneous afterthought, but both Teller and Efron have explaining to do. Teller occasionally fires off an improvised line that elicits a soft snigger, but otherwise he’s just playing a Crayola incarnation of his character from “The Spectacular Now”. It’s a performance that sporadically evidences energy, but it is unapologetically without nuance.  Efron on the other hand is painfully boring, a shame as Gormican hangs most of the film on his shoulders. It doesn't help that his character is a selfish shit, but the actor’s performance is stilted and superficial. Even if he had been playing the antagonist (the only position this toxic man-child deserves to inhabit), his contribution would remain banal.

“That Awkward Moment” isn't sweet, amusing or insightful, but what’s more encourages the viewership to feel dirty.  Gormican’s perception of contemporary romance is broad and worrisome, but his understanding of dramatic screenwriting and articulate mirth is probably rusted beyond repair. The film’s stars deserve to recover, but it might be better if this writer/director called it quits, or at least channelled his pangs into the niche misogynistic time travelling serial-killer subgenre. He name checks “Jerry Maguire” at one point, but what’s actually presented is closer to “Dude, Where’s my Rohypnol?”.  

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014

2 February 2014

Box-Office Update: That Awkward Moment when "Frozen" beats you after 11 weeks

Universal’s “Ride Along” held the number one spot for the third week in a row, with an estimated $12.3 million. The pairing of Kevin Hart and Ice Cube has proved attractive to audiences, despite generally negative notices from critics. It has now accumulated just shy of $93 million – a major first quarter hit. Universal had another strong holdover in the form of “Lone Survivor” in 5th place, four weeks into its run. This week the Mark Wahlberg led Navy SEAL thriller crossed into triple figures for a total of $105 million. Very respectable given that it’s been in circulation for less than a month.

New release “That Awkward Moment” managed a slight $9 million, although given its $8 million budget and the generally poor reviews that total isn’t as devastating as it might otherwise seem. Still, it’s the latest in a string of uninspired financial performers for star Zac Efron; the actor hasn’t had a bona fide live action hit for several years (although 2012’s “The Lucky One” wasn’t a total fiasco). It debuted at three. Expect the drop-off to be steep; a total take of less than $30 million is probable. Just edging it was Disney’s “Frozen”, rereleased this weekend in a sing-a-long version. It nabbed $9.3 million, taking its total to $360 million. It will probably (finally) commence a slide next weekend with the release of “The Lego Movie”, but after two months of incredible endurance, Disney will be ecstatic with its continued allure. 

The only other notable new release was Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day”, opening after a telling delay and lukewarm buzz. The film was moved from a prime December slot, to this less lucrative late winter window a few months ago. Its weak $5 million debut is thusly no surprise. Elsewhere last week’s dismally reviewed “I, Frankenstein” continued to uphold its ignoble reputation with a 60% drop, taking its total to $14 million. Ouch. The rest are listed below. 

Box-Office - 3/02/14

1. Ride Along - $12.3 million 
2. Frozen - $9.3 million
3. That Awkward Moment - $9 million 
4. The Nut Job - $7.6 million
5. Lone Survivor - $7.1 million 
6. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - $5.4 million 
7. Labor Day - $5 million
8. American Hustle - $4.3 million 
9. The Wolf of Wall Street - $3.6 million
10. I, Frankenstein - $3.5 million

An article by Daniel Kelly, 2014