Saturday, 29 October 2016

Movie Review: Deepwater Horizon (2016)

A disaster film based on real events, Deepwater Horizon is the story of the workers on board the vessel involved in one of the world's worst environmental disasters. The film tries to create characters worth caring about, but instead surrenders to excellent pyrotechnics.

It's 2010, and electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) leaves his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) at home for another 21 day stint on board the Deepwater Horizon oil rig about 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. Deepwater Horizon is owned and operated by Transocean, and contracted to global energy giant BP. Also on the vessel is crusty rig manager "Mr. Jimmy" Harrell (Kurt Russell), Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), a member of the bridge navigation crew, and a clutch of BP executives including Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich).

Williams and Mr. Jimmy know that the vessel is underfunded, with many basic systems inoperable, including phone lines and some computers. The crew is under pressure from BP to accelerate their schedule, and shortcuts are taken despite worrisome pressure test results. A blowout followed by multiple mammoth explosions cripple the vessel and set it on fire, causing multiple fatalities and injuries, and forcing the survivors to try and abandon ship to save their lives.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion resulted in an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days, one of the world's all-time worst environmental disasters. But this film's intention is to remember the men victimized by the explosion and fire, and to pay tribute to the eleven workers (about 10 percent of the workforce) who lost their lives in the horror.

The first half of Deepwater Horizon sets the context, and the trouble with the film is apparent early on. Director Peter Berg has the opportunity to humanize the men (and with one exception, they are men) who will face disaster, but he comes up empty. Williams and Mr. Jimmy are sketched in as principled heroes-in-waiting, otherwise the first 60 minutes are a blur of gruff men and impressive equipment going about their work, and little that matters is revealed about any of them. Just before everything blows up the BP executives as exemplified by Vidrine are installed as the perfunctory cartoon villains of the piece, and then the special effects folks take over.

The second half is all jerky camera work, jarringly loud explosions, impressive fires and stroboscopic lights. There are acts of heroism amidst the chaotic horror, but the superb recreation of a floating hell casts a shadow on everything else. The special effects team does a masterful job of avoiding the cheesiness of CGI, and Deepwater Horizon does look and sound superb. But as a drama about people, it fundamentally lacks substance.

Wahlberg and Russell dutiful fulfill their roles as the men who connected the dots leading to tragedy, and then responded as best as they could to save lives. Malkovich makes for an effective corporate scoundrel. Kate Hudson is reasonably refreshing in a role away from awful romantic comedies. But the film ultimately sinks under the weight of good intentions consumed by raging fires.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Movies Of Penélope Cruz

All movies starring Penélope Cruz and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Blow (2001)

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Volver (2006)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

To Rome With Love (2012)

The Counselor (2013)

Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Movie Review: The Interview (2014)

A mindless raunchy bromedy, The Interview carries its limited premise well past the funny stage and into exceedingly tedious territory.

Entertainment television show host David Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) land an interview with North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). Before they can travel to Pyongyang, CIA agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) recruits them to assassinate the dictator by pressing poison into his palm.

Once they arrive in North Korea, nothing goes according to plan. First they lose the poison, then Aaron tangles with a tiger. David spends time with Kim and they strike up an unlikely friendship, causing David to question the mission. Aaron falls in love with Sook-yin Park (Diana Bang), the dictator's chief propagandist. When Kim reveals his true colours, David and Aaron have to make their move and their troubles multiply.

The Interview caused an international incident, with the humourless North Koreans giving the project much more publicity than it ever deserved by issuing all sorts of threats ahead of the film's release and perpetuating the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment's servers.

Left alone, the lame film would have likely died a quick death. Co-directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, The Interview suffers from a lazy script that relies almost solely on frat boy humour intended to appeal to impressionable 12 to 16 year old boys. Every other joke surrenders to a mention of body parts, excretions or pornography, with Franco delivering the majority of his lines with an over-the-top wide-eyed maniacal zealotry. When merely mentioning the anatomy is not enough, The Interview resorts to on-camera hacking of body pieces in the name of fun.

Rogen mostly stands back and allows his co-star to careen out of control. Lizzy Caplan as agent Lacey, Randall Park as Kim Jong-un and Diana Bang as propaganda officer Sook deliver by far the more controlled and watchable performances. The two good moments in the entire movie involve the out-of-place tiger and a Soviet-era tank.

The Interview may have made for a useful 15 minute sketch. Stretched to a seemingly endless 112 minutes, the film is disqualified for aiming low and hitting nothing.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Movie Review: The Call (2013)

A high concept thriller with some horror elements, The Call carries echoes of the 1990s in its basic simplicity, but delivers better than expected entertainment.

In Los Angeles, Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator. She receives a frantic call for help from a girl threatened by a home invasion in progress. Despite Jordan's best efforts the girl is murdered, sending Jordan into a depression. Months later, Jordan receives a cell phone call from Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), another young girl who has just been abducted by an unknown assailant and stuffed into the trunk of a car, now speeding down the freeway.

Jordan has to pull herself together, face her demons and try to help Casey avoid a horrible fate. The cell phone is a disposable unit lacking a locator signal, so Jordan prompts Casey to attract attention in various ways, including kicking out the car's taillight. Gradually emergency responders, including Jordan's police officer boyfriend Paul Phillips (Morris Chestnut), start zeroing in on the moving car, but the kidnapper Michael Foster (Michael Eklund) is a deeply disturbed and dangerous man, with abominable plans in store for Casey.

An independent production directed by Brad Anderson, The Call carves out refreshingly original territory in the tired woman-in-distress thriller genre. The heroine is a 911 dispatcher, and the command centre is "the Hive"where all the calls come in and operators deal with brutal levels of stress on a daily basis. The film humanizes what is often a dispassionate, peripheral voice in all other cop movies, and Jordan Turner gives heart and emotion to the people exposed in real time to society's worst crises.

The first two thirds of the film stick close to the trauma of Jordan dealing with the crushing blow of the opening murder, and then crawling over the shards of her self doubt to try and help Casey survive long enough for a rescue to be mounted. The bond between 911 operator and kidnap victim is at the core of the film, and Anderson does an excellent job creating palpable edge-of-panic on both sides of the phone. Jordan is Casey's only hope to live, and Casey is Jordan's only chance at redemption, and the two women establish an unspoken but potent pact of mutual dependence.

From there the film dances with the dark edges of outright horror, as the perpetrator Michael Foster is coloured in and emerges as quite the monster, with a deranged mind and a twisted past. But Anderson eventually surrenders to the pull of more routine fare, Jordan leaves the Hive to get personally involved, The film abandons its creative premise in favour of a familiar climax, complete with typical plot holes and all the cliches that emerge when a vulnerable woman clashes with a manic killer clash.

Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin make for an effective screen pairing, both unleashing satisfying doses of consternation, fury and resiliency without crossing the line into ridiculous heroics. Neither of their characters is provided with too much depth, but together they carry the torch for women willing to fight back as best as they know how.

The Call may evoke an earlier generation of thrillers, but carries enough honesty to stay on the line.

All Ace Black Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Movie Review: Affair With A Stranger (1953)

A romantic drama with some touches of humour, Affair With A Stranger is an uneven film, with adequate performances and decent construction but some strange choices and mainly predictable twists and turns.

In Philadelphia, stage star Janet Boothe (Monica Lewis) throws herself all over celebrated playwright Bill Blakeley (Victor Mature), and then she spreads rumours that his marriage to Carolyn (Jean Simmons), who is back home in New York, is in big trouble. As the gossip spreads that they may be divorcing, the story of Bill and Carolyn's romance is recalled by their friends.

Several years prior, Bill was a struggling writer with a gambling addiction and grand dreams of making it big. He meets model Carolyn in Times Square on New Year's Eve, and romance gradually blossoms. They eventually get married and she supports him even as his hopes for success appear to fade and he fritters away any small amounts of cash. One of his plays finally makes it to the stage, but it bombs. When Carolyn gets pregnant Bill is forced into a humiliating job as a waiter, but the couple's fortunes are about to change, with both triumph and tragedy around the corner.

Directed by Roy Rowland, Affair With A Stranger tries hard to be interesting. Bill and Carolyn occasionally threaten to become an engaging couple, the motley crew of friends, neighbours and acquaintances who recall the story in flashback create an animated backdrop, and the struggle for success in the theatre milieu offers possibilities.

But any sense of intriguing drama is let down by a ho-hum narrative. Most of the story's potential is wasted on a romance that labours to offer anything that is new or unique, leaving the film floundering in search of a purpose and feeling quite a bit longer than the brief 87 minutes. The central relationship features a fundamental disconnect never reconciled by the Richard Flournoy script: Bill is a largely wretched character, and what compels Janet to stick with him is not convincing. He is a liar from their first meeting, a gambling addict and living a life based more on hope than conviction. She holds their couplehood together as he remains a stranger, and it's questionable whether he is worth the effort.

Victor Mature and Jean Simmons deliver reasonable performances given what they have to work with, but they are sometimes betrayed by mismatched moments that fall between the cracks of clunky romantic comedy and ineffective societal drama. A prime example is a scene involving Bill helplessly munching on fried chicken on his first visit to Carolyn's apartment. Rowland seems to go for inelegant laughs while portraying a desperately starving man callously targeting a woman as his literal meal ticket. Elsewhere, the ups and downs of their relationship offer little that is imaginative: she worries, he squanders, they stumble, rinse and repeat.

The spirited supporting cast includes Jane Darwell as a restaurant owner, while a taxi driver (Wally Vernon), a newspaper kiosk merchant (George Cleveland), a big-time theatre producer and his wife (Nicholas Joy and Olive Carey) also take turns recounting parts of Bill and Carolyn's romance in flashback. The result is episodic, but keeps the film reasonably nimble.

Affair With A Stranger hints at a better film that is unfortunately intercepted by an absence of composed crispness.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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