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Undefeated (Oscar Winner for Best Documentary 2012)

undefeated

“Lets see here, starting right guard shot no longer in school. Two players fightin’ right in front of the coach, starting center arrested. For most coaches that would be pretty much a careers worth of crap to deal with. I think that sums up the last two weeks for me.” The opening monologue of head coach Bill Courtney conveys the struggle he, and his team, suffer throughout the entire film as members of the Manassas Tigers high school football team in Memphis, Tennessee. This award winning documentary takes a completely humanistic approach to American Football with a focus on Southern American divides between the haves and the have-nots. Society is critiqued not through deceptive editing or creation of misleading situations but through simply watching this team and coach interact with the outside world on a daily basis. What unfolds is no doubt far beyond what the directors, Daniel Lindsay and T.J.Martin, could ever have hoped to achieve. Continue reading

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Flight

FlightAs you are presented in the opening scene with an older, hungover, yet still legendary Denzel Washington (Whip Whitaker),who has just slept with a visibly nude, attractive young lady named Katerina, you begin to realise that the title of this film, and the trailer for that matter, is not exactly representative of the entire plot that is about to unfold. Having said that, this is not a movie that is ever likely to find itself being featured on the in-flight entertainment of any airlines around the world, unless they have disturbingly witty owners who would find showing passengers a realistic air disaster to be an ironic barrel of laughs. Continue reading

Paranormal Activity 4

How is there a fourth one I hear you ask? Well as any horror series will tell you (Saw, Hostel, Halloween) as long as there is no definite ending then there’s no way the production company, Room 101 in this case, is going to turn down the possibility to steal more money from naive theatre goers (i.e. me). Whether it’s the right thing to do is another question. Yes there is jumpy moments and the usual suspenseful undertone we’ve come to expect from the Paranormal Activity franchise but there is nothing different here than any of the others. In fact, the scariest part of the movie was the reflection of modern-day capitalisation and the negative effects it is having on our culture. I mean a six-year-old kid watching cartoons on his laptop while having a bath! Society is doomed.

The plot picks up at the culminating events of Paranormal Activity 3 where demon-possessed Katie killed her siblings family, apart from her sister’s son, Hunter, who she can be seen leaving with at the end. A new family have just moved in to the house but we soon find out Katie lives just across the road with her own son Robbie. Hunter is nowhere to be seen until we realise  that he is here all along as he is the adopted son of the new family, renamed Wyatt. The “stars’ of this film are the teenage daughter Alex and her snoopy boyfriend Ben. Alex is the protagonist we follow hoping, or not, that her journey doesn’t come to a bitter end like every character previously in that role. The goal of these spirits is still confusing after four attempts at it. Katie needs to turn human vessels into dark spirits for Robbie to become one himself and needs Wyatt’s (Hunter’s) help to do so, or something along those lines,. The ending does give some hope in that it appeared to close the revolving door that is Paranormal Acterrible (see what I did there). Although having said that, if anyone could keep a series going it would be these writers. A court ordered cease and desist is the only way to be safe from this build up of waste encroaching further into our lives.

The special effects appeared worse than the previous ones as well and the film was generally just tedious and mundane. The novelty of an entire movie being made on hand-held and surveillance cameras  has definitely worn off and with the added spice of webcams for this one it merely appeared like an advert for Apple with the amount of laptops being brandished about. Maybe there WAS subtext and the film IS a cultural criticism of our reliance on technology…..or maybe it just is what it is, a cheap seasonal thrill with little creative effort put in. The fact that this falls into the horror genre and that it is coming up to Halloween is possibly the only reason I could safely give for going to see this film without feeling as morally bankrupt as the producers themselves.

My Rating: 1/10

(@rorytoal)

Savages

After reading reviews in The Irish Times and The Guardian, both slating Savages and all it stands for,  I had to question my own positive perception of the film and whether I was missing something completely different to these reputable naysayers.  Maybe it’s because I went to the cinema with lower expectations, or that I could be accused of watching through a stereotypical male gaze for enjoying the scenes of violence and sexual promiscuity,  but I found this movie delivered exactly what it says on the tin (That tin being Don Winslow’s 2010 novel of the same name, to which the script is based on).

The premise is straight forward in the category of drug related action features.  Small time marijuana dealers operating out of Laguna Beach, Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), come into conflict with big time drug dealers, the Mexican Baja Cartel, lead by Elena (Salma Hayak).  Elena wants Ben and Chon to sign a contract to work for her but easy-going environmentalist Ben just wants to get out of the business while hardened ex-mercenary Chon wants to continue selling what is regarded as the ‘best weed ever’ to the licenced medical marijuana shops in California, along with their less legal clients. This ends up in the Mexican Cartel taking what they want from Ben and Chon by kidnapping and ransoming their “friend” O  (Blake Lively). The rest of the film is spent focusing on the pair fighting for her back.

Elena’s right hand man, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), adds the dark, sinister element as seen from the moment he appears on screen. He is always one step ahead of the pair, along with Chon’s mercenary buddies who hang around to lend a hand . The action is one thing that cannot be dismissed in this film; exploding vehicles, kidnappings and day-light assassinations all add to the violent undertone of the business these characters are in.  Let’s not forget the pièce de résistance of this entire production…..John Travolta. Now if your like me your image of the man has probably been tampered with by the troublesome off-screen accusations and my fear was that no matter how good the film was it would be ruined by his presence. How wrong I was. I enjoyed every minute Travolta was on screen and his character seemed to be suited perfectly for his present allegations. He plays Dennis, a corrupt DEA agent who has a finger in every pie (No puns intended).  He feeds information to both the Mexican Cartel and Ben and Chon in return for financial gain and ends up having a final say on who comes out the winners of this competition between strength and will-power.

What isn’t so straight forward is Ben and Chon’s connection to O. All three appear to be in a relationship with both men sharing O in a physical way. She claims to love them both equally but has a stronger emotional bond with Ben. The sad fact for O is that Ben and Chon rely more on each other than her. The script has been accused of being a feeble attempt at post-modernism due to O being named after the protagonist in the novel The story of O (1954 ), about a female sex-slave who submits to a number of men and is merely a sexual object,  and Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a female character who is controlled emotionally and sexually by two different men (her father and Hamlet) and is chastised by men in general. The film raises the question, through O and Elena, of whether women can have their cake and eat it too, can they have a family and a career? The answer according to Mr.Winslow and Mr. Stone is no, so in this respect I see why certain critics demolished the movie in its entirety.

Both the acting and directing has also been rebuked by many critics for this not-so-masterpiece, however, casts don’t come much bigger and more diverse than this. John Travolta  and Salma Hayek contrast with the younger generation of budding actors  in Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. They are all brought into one creative concoction by Oscar winning director Oliver Stone. I’m not of the same apocalyptic view of that this is the end of all things great in the career of these stars but admittedly this is not award winning stuff.  Furthermore, the ending leaves a sour taste in the mouth as it is a classic Hollywood cop-out but if you want a fun watch with your friends then you can’t really go wrong…..unless you read too much into it that is.

My Rating: 5/10

(Follow: @rorytoal)

Looper

 I haven’t been a great fan of the time-travelling concept in films due to the confusion that ensues in trying to understand what’s going on , Donnie Darko for example, but I have to admit this is a brilliant film. Directed by newcomer Rian Johnson, who came to prominence after his critically acclaimed 2005 film Brick, the movie delivers far beyond any expectations I had of such a novice. It really has it all. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, arguably the most popular and in-demand actor at present, teams up with the legend that is Bruce Willis in what is a non-stop action feature. Greed, romance and longing for an escape lead to one violent concoction in this supernatural sci-fi drama.

The plot centres around a time-travelling loop where time-travel is present in the future but the future is the present so that future is thirty years further into the future…..still with me?  Let me start over.  It is the year 2044 and time travel will have been invented thirty years into the future, 2074, but banned immediately. Underground gangs will use this to their advantage in killing people and disposing of their bodies. They can’t get rid of evidence in the future because everyone is fitted with identification devices so the only way is to send the bodies alive in to the past and have a looper, specially chosen assassin, take care of it, thus wiping clean all evidence of that person’s existence.

Sooner or later a looper will be required to kill the future version of themselves so the criminal gang knows their secret is safe. They are paid well for this, living comfortably on death-row for the next three decades until their self-inflicted death in 2074.  Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a young looper in the present who works for Abe (Jeff Daniels), a relatively sane mob boss who acts like a father figure to Joe. His life soon spirals out of control due to an ever-growing drug habit and a violent incident involving his best friend. On one mission, Joe of the future or Old Joe (Bruce Willis) appears in front of Joe untied and uncovered. He escapes and both men are left running from Abe and his men who plan to close Joe’s loop.

Furthermore, telekinetic powers exist  in every one in ten people but only in the useless ability to hover a coin above ones hand. This all changes with the birth of ‘The Rainman’ who has devastating telekinetic powers which he uses to rule the ‘five cities’ in the future. He is a dark lord of a man perceived to have been brought to bring destruction and doom upon everyone. He can only be stopped in the past when he’s a child of Sara (Emily Bunt). Old Joe is determined to prevent ‘The Rainman’ from ever maturing into his future self as he had a devastating effect on his own life.

Bruce Willis is reminiscent of his finest Die Hard days, without the hair of course,  in which his ruthless actions speak great volumes leading you to hang on every word of his relatively infrequent dialogue. Joseph Gordon-Levitt equally delivers the high quality performance we’ve come to expect in which he acts between a stone-cold killer and a lost young man, playing the  timid hard-ass role to perfection.  The suspense created from the battle between past and future , results hindering on an apocalyptic ending or not, make this an uncontrollably fixating watch and I will go as far as saying this is one of the best films of the year. Yes the plot is illogical and admittedly you do find yourself spending the first twenty minutes trying to wrap your head around all of the intricacies but once understood it becomes a truly enjoyable watch.

My Rating : 9/10