Clint Eastwood’s musical gets off to a vivacious and energetic start, mixing warmth and wit with surprising aplomb, but goes off the deep-end somewhere around the halfway mark. The film’s characters weave in and out of the action satisfactorily, Eastwood using a potentially hackneyed but oddly effective “fourth wall” smashing address to keep audiences engaged. It’s as if he read Walter Benjamin’s “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, moving to maintain some of the theatre’s “aura” through a means of faux-immediacy and soul, allowing his characters to bust the screen and intrude on a space they shouldn’t be aware of. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but the concept works, especially when combined with the enigmatic likes of Vincent Piazza’s roguish Tommy, the most memorable of the film’s assortment of young dreamers. The ease and grace of the opening doesn’t carry much further though, Eastwood’s stiff direction of the musical numbers and a selection of ham-fisted subplots slacking the pace and sobering the buzz. When the end credits roll, we get a sense of what might have been, Eastwood unleashing a fearsomely executed encore, replete with fantastic energy and pageantry. It’s a pity that the hour leading up to that point should dither so aimlessly, and fill itself so distractingly with diversions aborted before they conjure up sufficient nuance. A curiosity peppered with worthy highlights, but hardly a certifiable return to form for Clint.
Grade - C
Bad Words (Jason Bateman, Darko Entertainment, 2014)
“Arrested Development” and “Horrible Bosses” star Jason Bateman makes an impressively vulgar directorial debut with “Bad Words”, a comedy that attempts to pack a little dramatic weight beneath its crass exterior. The high concept premise has Bateman’s 40-year old wastrel crash a national spelling bee for reason’s unknown, Kathryn Hahn’s desperate journo and young competitor Rohan Chand (a genuine find, stepping up from his work in err…”Jack & Jill”) in tow. The chief selling point is the relentlessly R-rated tone juxtaposed against the youthful innocence of the competition, the script capitalising with a slew of spiky but smartly designed gags, spanning scatological, racial and sexual boundaries. It’s an easy formula, but “Bad Works” executes it with such commitment and rancour that I struggled to stop smiling. The final act works Bateman’s character in an ambitious yet not entirely successful manner, the denouement distractingly tidy and hollow in comparison to the convincing revulsion of the preceding beats. Still, it’s energetic and often very amusing. If further practice allows the director to attain an eye for deeper human detail, Bateman might yet have a great film in him.
Grade - B
The Fault in Our Stars (Josh Boone, 20th Century Fox, 2014)
Everything leading up to this YA fiction adaptation made me suspect I’d hate the finished article ; be it my limited exposure to the author, the predictable casting or the questionable marketing campaign (the tagline reads “One Sick Love Story”…cringe). However despite an unwavering artificiality and distracting narrative detour to Amsterdam (slowing the otherwise snappy pace to a halt), director Josh Boone and his talented young cast show an enviable aptitude for slam-dunking those “BIG” – none Anne Frank’s house related - emotional moments. After her bland work in “Divergent”, Shailene Woodley reminds us why she’s an interesting performer, honing a mature and appreciatively low-key turn as earnest cancer-addled teen Hazel Grace. There’s feeling in Woodley’s work here, bouncing believably and likably off Ansel Elgort, whose more flamboyant but equally charming bow as beau Gus all but abolishes the memory of his dismal contribution to the recent ill-fated “Carrie” rehash. It’s incredibly sensationalised (and even borderline manipulative in spots), but “The Fault in Our Stars” plays its hand so slickly that it becomes tough not to buy into its idealistic, melodramatic sweep. Unsurprisingly it’s on target to become the summer’s most profitable wide release. Drunk Willem Dafoe for the win.
Grade - B
Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2013