2014 / Director. Jason Reitman.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
As the Voyager spacecraft reaches the edge of our solar system Earth is little more than a spec of light. Our place in the Universe is reduced to an insignificant particle, which in turn makes our co-existence with each other all the more important. It's this Universal concept that wraps itself around the story presented in MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN. Emma Thompson's narration and referencing of Carl Sagan's book PALE BLUE DOT weaves its way amongst an assortment of characters, all of which navigate life amongst a new-age of technology and social networking. Director Jason Reitman may have bitten off more than he could chew with so much information and a heap of concepts all vying for the spotlight. The film is made up of an impressive ensemble including Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, JK Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer, Dean Morris and a whole lot more. Like the sort of intertwining films that Robert Altman became synonymous for MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN follows all of its characters as they endure personal struggles. The teenagers are held captive to their electronic devices while the adults struggle to comprehend the implications of the new modern teenage lifestyle. Themes of depression, anxiety, bullying, rape, suicide, adultery, materialism, fame and sexuality are all explored, however, the relatively short running time of 120 minutes doesn't allow the individual components to be fully explored and fleshed out. Just as we begin scratch beneath the surface of one character, we are then asked to scratch away at another. It is to the film's credit that I cared enough about each of them that I became frustrated that I couldn't learn more. Had Reitman been more tenacious and pushed for a 3 hour exploration then it could have been a very powerful film. It could have been his SHORT CUTS. WIth my frustrations aside, there is still a lot to love about it. All of the performances are excellent. To those people who spend their lives criticising Adam Sandler, I would suggest watching this one. He is superb and once again proves to be a formidable dramatic actor. All of the players carry their weight and deliver solid turns, however, Jennifer Garner's over protective (to the point of psychotic) mother character is pushed to limits of absurdity with her tracking and documenting her daughter's every move. I am sure there are people like her in this world but she's the one character who feels the most caricatured. There just isn't enough time to examine her psyche and rationale, which once again proves to be the film's downfall.... time. Perhaps less characters could have saved it. Or maybe it could have done without all of the Carl Sagan Universe reference, which ate up a good 5-10 minutes of screentime. It is clearly an imperfect film and one that is begging for an extended cut. I loved that Reitman was trying to do and as a father of two teenagers it scared the shit out of me. These new social issues need to be explored a lot more in cinema and full kudos to Reitman for addressing them at all.
2014 / Director. Peter Askin.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Of the seemingly countless Stephen King adaptations, there are only a few that he has personally written for the screen. A GOOD MARRIAGE is his latest and it is based on a short story he published in 2010. Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia play a loving and devoted couple whose marriage is the envy of everyone they know. With a brutal serial killer on the loose in their home-state the wife makes some unsettling discoveries in their house, which suggest that her husband might be the killer. She is also a heavily medicated woman, prone to hallucinations. And so is the basis of this unusual thriller that relies heavily on its two lead performances. Allen and LaPaglia are excellent and almost single-handedly carry the film. The story unravels like a play would on stage and director Peter Askin cleverly supports the basic storyline with an effective use of visual and sound design. The eerie ambience and perpetual suspense make much of the film an edge-of-seat experience, however, where most films of this sort would spiral into a dark and violent finale, A GOOD MARRIAGE does the opposite. The story begins with a suspenseful premise and winds its way to a dramatic and almost placid finale. Strangely this didn't bother me and I really appreciated the film's unconventional structure. Stephen Lang deserves a mention too. He plays a dying former detective who has his own suspicions and he lurks in the dark like a madman himself. He is not an actor I care much for but his performance in this film is very nicely done. A GOOD MARRIAGE sits nicely alongside some of King's more understated films such as DOLORES CLAIBORNE and APT PUPIL and will appeal to people who prefer his dramatic stuff over the grotesque. His screenplay is solid too. He has avoided the quirky characteristics that he so often injects into his stories and it is possibly his most mature script to date. It is no masterpiece but it works. A simple story. Great performances and controlled direction make it a strong film, albeit a modest one.
2015 / Director. Lee Toland Krieger.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE AGE OF ADALINE is stunning romantic science fiction film that leaps off the screen with a sweeping romanticism and a perversely engrossing story. Following a freak accident during the 1930s Adaline Bowman stopped ageing. The science behind her condition would not be understood for another 110 years and she was bound to a life of constant change, upheaval and heartache. With a strategy of relocating and assuming new identities every 10 years she is at constant odds with romance, friendship and settlement. It is a life of torment and she negotiates it with education and a constant consumption of information. A young man named Ellis meets her and immediately falls head over heels. Impervious to her rejections he pushes his way into her life and before long she finds herself in the predicament of love... the sort she has only ever felt once before. At risk of sounding melodramatic I was genuinely swept up by this cheeky, clever film. On its own the story could have easily been a hokey and contrived drama in the same insipid vein as most Nicholas Sparks films. Fortunately it is in an entirely different league thanks to a brazen pseudo science and an effective narration. By establishing that the cause of Adaline's condition will not be known until the late 2030's we are forced to accept her disorder without question. It's a smart plot device that excuses whatever liberties the filmmakers took upon themselves. They back their science up with a clever narration that is devoid of emotional attachment. It narrates Adaline's story from an observational perspective, as though she is a case study. This adds a huge level of curiosity to the story, which sparks our inquisitiveness well before it asks for our emotional investment. It's a manipulative structure that will elude most unsuspecting movie-goers while the more astute audiences will appreciate the unique and emotive tricks. The performances are all exceptional with Blake Lively delivering an outstanding turn as the lead character. She has a comprehensive grasp on the character and embodies decades of wisdom and knowledge. She is truly radiant. The support cast is excellent too with Harrison Ford giving a weighty and emotionally charged performance. Director Lee Toland Krieger has crafted a film that seems to be years beyond what his age should afford him. He was previously a protege of the legendary director and playwright Neil LaBute, which may explain his astute handling of the material. THE AGE OF ADALINE is a smart, compelling and romantic film that isn't confined to any one genre and will appeal to almost anyone with a starry-eyed curiosity. Wonderful.
2012 / Director. Peter Hedges.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The most wonderful thing about creative writing is that no idea is too stupid and if the story is told well anything is believable. THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN is a shining example. This is a wonderful film that has been told in a beautiful way. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton play a married couple who are unable to conceive. On the night they are told that they can never have children they sit down and write a list of all the qualities that their child would have possessed. They put the list into a box and bury it in their garden. It is a gesture to help them grieve the monumental loss they feel. During the middle of the night a rain storm arrives and with it comes a child. He is covered in mud and has leaves growing from his ankles - his name is Timothy. From this moment on the film tells their story as they begin life as a family. Together they deal with being outcasts and learn how to push through adversity. As the title suggests it is an odd story but it's a magical one. Director Peter Hedges (DAN IN REAL LIFE, PIECES OF APRIL) is no stranger to stories about outcasts and misfits (he also wrote WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE and ABOUT A BOY) and he has really tapped into the heart of this one. With a stunning North Carolina Autumn landscape and an ensemble of terrific actors the film leaps off the screen and tugs right at your heartstrings. Once again Walt Disney Pictures has produced another outstanding live-action family film that adds to a huge stable of brilliant films. Slowly but surely I am working my way through them but it's a long process with over 100 titles dating back to the 1930s. Many of them I will watch several times over..... including THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN.
2015 / Director. Miguel Arteta.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY didn't have to try very hard to win me over. I am sucker for this brand of family film and having known the original book so well, it was a no-brainer for me. Just as the book was, the movie is based on one simple premise. One family having a very bad day. The story takes place on Alexander's 12th birthday. He feels as though bad luck follows him wherever he goes and that no one understands. And so when the time comes to make a wish, he wishes that his family could spend a day in his shoes. And so be it. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong for the Cooper family as they are pummelled by one mishap after another. It is slapstick comedy at a basic level and it has been written beautifully. The lowbrow nature of the comedy will appeal to almost every kid watching and the parental humour will definitely resonate with adults. Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner play the loving parents and their onscreen chemistry is wonderful. They make for a believable couple and amongst all of the mayhem and frustrations surrounding them, they maintain a positive outlook that keeps the film from becoming too puerile. It was surprising to read that 20th Century Fox began the development of the film but sold it to Disney when they had lost confidence in the project. That's a real head-scratcher considering that Fox do this sort of movie so well (DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, RAMONA & BEEZUS)... but thankfully so does Disney. There are a few moments of vulgarity that push ALEXANDER beyond the G-friendly Disney that we come to expect and its nice to see them pushing past the mommy-brigade to appeal to older kids. The running time is nice and short and the movie never overstays its welcome. It's tight from start to finish and is a whole lot of fun.
2014 / Director. Michael R Roskam.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE DROP is a slow burner. It is a film draped with a cold, murky ambience that recalls the atmosphere of THE WIRE, with a hint of THE DEPARTED. Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini play two guys who run a drop bar for local mobsters. During busy hours of trade money is discreetly handed over the bar where it is casually dropped into a secret safe beneath the counter. The money is then covertly collected with the usual exchange of beer kegs. It is a smooth operation and, aside from facilitating the exchange, both men keep their noses clean. Their lives are turned inside out when they fall victim to an armed robbery and local gangsters charge them with recouping the stolen cash. THE DROP is a smart and brooding film that meanders at a slow pace and allows its characters time to absorb and react to information. Director Michael R Roskam doesn't feel compelled to push it along to keep the pacing tight and with such a freedom he has crafted a compelling thriller that's driven by outstanding performances. Tom Hardy is insanely good as the quiet and tormented partner who tries to walk a straight and narrow path. James Gandolfini plays the aging, desperate and borderline depressive one. His performance is brilliant as he gives an understated, yet commanding turn. The two compliment each other well and THE DROP is a fitting final performance from Gandolfini. Noomi Rapace plays a love interest whose own life conceals secrets that may or may not affect the trouble unfolding between the two men. The script is smart and the direction is controlled. I have no doubt that this is a film that will test a lot of people. It requires patience and audiences who prefer fast, action-relient mob movies might bore easily. Film goers who love performance pieces, on the other hand, will get a lot out of it.
2015 / Director. Simon West.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
WILD CARD snuck up without much fanfare and performed atrociously at the box office. The press release emphasised the fact that the film was a pet-project for Jason Statham, who had been trying to develop it for several years. At one point Brian dePalma was attached to direct before Simon West took over. Set in the seedy world behind the neon lights of Las Vegas, the film tells the story of Nick Wild, a gambling addict who works as a "handy man" to fund his addiction. His past is shrouded with mystery but it's not long before his skills suggest a government/black ops background. He takes any work that comes along and when he accepts a job from a young millionaire things finally start to turn in his favour. That is until an ex-lover comes to him, beaten & raped, and desperate for revenge. Suddenly Nick finds himself dragged into the murky criminal underworld where every turn is a violent one. WILD CARD is a strange beast. It is more or less a one-man show with a heap of big name players coming and going in small cameo roles. Stanley Tucci, Jason Alexander, Sofia Vergara, Hope Davis, Anne Heche and Cedric the Entertainer all come and go within the blink of an eye and Statham is left to carry the film single-handedly. The only other consistent character is the young self-made millionaire, played by Michael Angarano, who serves as an unexpected guiding light. Statham handles the film as though it were a walk in the park and it is clearly a vanity project... but he gets away with it because his screen presence is so strong and fans love what he does. He pulls no punches with every fight sequence being ultra-violent, highly stylised and carefully choreographed. Bones break in slow motion, skulls crack and blood flies as Nick counteracts every obstruction with blunt force. Simon West is the director behind CON-AIR, TOMBRAIDER and THE EXPENDABLES 2 (amongst others) and has an obvious talent with action. With WILD CARD he has toned down the SFX and driven the film in a modest and practical direction. He exploits the Vegas nightlife nicely and was able to throw some very big locations into the mix, giving the production a much bigger feel than its modest budget deserved. I got a kick out of it. It is a fallible film, without question, but it's also a fun one and I really dug it.
2014 / Director. Dan Gilroy.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Life got in the way and I wasn't able to see NIGHTCRAWLER during its cinema run and critics have been touting it as a "masterpiece" and labelling it "brilliant". I was beaten to the punch and missed the opportunity to use those big flashy statements. Well I guess they did my job for me because I agree with them. This is an immaculate and chilling dramatic-thriller that recalls the uneasiness of TAXI DRIVER and the frantic chaos of BRINGING OUT THE DEAD. With those two titles in mind it is clear that Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader have been heavy influences on writer/director Dan Gilroy. Set in Los Angeles the film follows a brilliant but unstable man who seizes the opportunity to become a freelance cameraman. With a brain for business he equips himself with a cheap camera and a police scanner and he races against professionals to capture live-action footage of accidents and crime scenes. He begins to sell his footage to a local news network and gradually builds his reputation as the go-to guy in town. Before long his dogged tenacity and perverse addiction to success sees him crossing ethical lines and manipulating crime scenes for the sake of a perfect shot. It's chilling stuff and Jake Gyllenhaal has reached deep to extract what is easily his best performance to date. His on-screen presence is both physically and mentally disturbing. Dan Gilroy has obviously carried this story with him for a long time because he executes it with perfection. Every frame is perfect. The chases and the crime scenes are electric and the story moves at a breakneck pace. The dark street-lit atmosphere gives the film a disconcerting edge and help to cement NIGHTCRAWLER as one of the year's best films. Had I seen it upon release then it would have featured in my top 10 list of 2014. Brilliant stuff.
2014 / Director. Kevin Macdonald.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I love a good submarine thriller. There have been plenty of them over the years, most of which are glossy Hollywood flicks. The bench mark for the genre, of course, is Wolfgang Petersen's DAS BOOT and almost every sub movie since has derived from it in one way or another. Yet few of them have matched the claustrophobic and gritty atmosphere of it... until now... well, almost. Kevin Macdonald's new film BLACK SEA is the closest I've seen a movie get and it presents a dank, rusty and foreboding ambience. The film plays out like a maritime version of THREE KINGS as a group of retrenched mariners set out on a subaquatic treasure hunt in search of a sunken German u-boat, which is rumoured to be loaded with gold at the bottom of the Black Sea. In order to reach it they must evade Russian surface fleets and avoid all radio contact. To add further risk they need to do so in an old, decrepit sub that has long been out of commission. The crew is lead by a Scottish captain played by Jude Law who has been made redundant following 15 years of service. His crew is compressed of twelve men, 6 of which are Russian. Communication between the cultures is minimal and only a basic level of understanding keeps the relations volatile. The film immediately struck me as hard-edged and aberrant of the genre's standards. The story's set up is shot with a low-key indie sensibility with thick Scottish accents that barely scape through without the need for subtitles. Straight away BLACK SEA feels like a hard-edged and audacious film. Unfortunately the moment the story submerges into the ocean it falls back on typical cliches and stereotypes. Every character is contrived and most of the plot-points are deliberate set-ups to facilitate the next. I honestly didn't mind that the film relied on conventions but I was disheartened that it played it safe. All of the performances are good. Jude Law commands the screen with a solid, albeit comfortable turn and Ben Mendelsohn is excellent as the borderline psychotic Aussie. Kevin Macdonald has captured the mood well and delivers a technically excellent film. It's a shame that he didn't place as much emphasis on the story, which prevents BLACK SEA from reaching the excellence of his previous films. As it is, BLACK SEA amounts to as much as a decent Hollywood thriller without the gloss.
2015 / Director. Erik Poppe.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
A THOUSAND TIMES GOOD NIGHT is an affecting character study that grabs you by the collar and pulls you in. It tells the story of a female photojournalist whose passion and dedication to documenting war zones has turned into an obsession. With a family at home in Ireland, who suffer from her absence and fear for her safety, she finds herself at a crossroad. When she pushes her luck capturing the methodology of female suicide-bombers in Afghanistan she is badly injured in an unplanned explosion and sent home to recover. There she is faced with a husband who is done with her reckless behaviour and two daughters who are emotionally withdrawn. It was directed by Erik Poppe who was, himself, a renowned photojournalist. He brings personal experience to the film and injects a deeply seeded realism that, perhaps, few other filmmakers could. According to press releases many of the Middle Eastern and African stories depicted are autobiographical and this knowledge really does give the narrative the humanity and perspective that pushes it to an unexpected level of distinction. Juliette Binoche is amongst the greatest actors in the world as far as I am concerned and I am not sure she's ever been better than she is in this film. Her performance is mesmerising. Her character is put through a gamut of emotional challenges and she possesses an ability to adapt to any situation and evoke emotions from the deepest regions of her being. One particular scene has the camera turned on her and she becomes completely lost in the moment. Lost in a sense that she is exposed and unable to comprehend the feeling. Her emotional investment in the character is worthy of whatever accolades come her way. Her support cast is excellent also with Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau playing her counter-balancing and ever suffering husband. He delivers a weighty performance that is understated yet pivotal. Perhaps the biggest revelation is 15 year old Lauryn Canny who plays the eldest daughter. She is sensational as she takes her character (as well as the viewer) on an emotional roller coaster of fear, uncertainty, confusion and heartbreak. She is delightful on screen and I really hope to see more of her over the next few years. An unusual and surprising addition to the cast is U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. I have no idea why he would be in a film such as this, and it appears that he had no financial interests in it, but thankfully he gives an effortless and natural performance as a close family friend. The cinematography and production design is beautiful with contrasting motifs between the western world and the third world. The war zone portions of the film are shot well and the intensity of the conflicts feels close. Through the character's camera we see the atrocities in the faces of her subjects. Every frame of these scenes feels like perpetual snapshots and the fascinating consequence of a filmmaker capturing a photographer is that the we are presented with varying degrees of dissociation. At times the story is deliberately emotive yet at other times it forces a divide between what we're seeing and how we're receiving the information. There is a moment when Binoche's character comments that the world is more obsessed with seeing Paris Hilton step out of a car without underwear than they are concerned about genocides and war. It is by no means a preachy film, nor is it pushing an agenda... but it certainly serves as a stark reminder that there are voices screaming to be heard and that the wider world needs to respond. It's a powerful film. Most excellent.