The Light Between Oceans


Alicia Vikander may look content but Michael Fassbender sees trouble on the horizon.

Alicia Vikander may look content but Michael Fassbender sees trouble on the horizon.

(2016) Drama (DreamWorks/Touchstone) Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Florence Clery, Jack Thompson, Thomas Unger, Jane Menelaus, Garry McDonald, Anthony Hayes, Benedict Hardie, Emily Barclay, Bryan Brown, Stephen Ure, Peter McCauley, Leon Ford, Jonathan Wagstaff, Gerald Bryan, Elizabeth Hawthorne. Directed by Derek Cianfrance

 

Bad choices are part of human nature. We all make them but sometimes those choices are so monstrous, so heinous that even though we convince ourselves that we’re doing it for the right reasons, we cannot escape the fact that we’ve done something horribly wrong.

Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) is a veteran of World War I who witnessed many horrors in the trenches. He’s returned home to Australia to find some kind of peace but the press of people – even in the Australia of 1918 – is too much for him. He applies for and receives a position as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off the coast of Tasmania.

The opening was there because the loneliness of the post had unhinged Sherbourne’s predecessor but the harsh weather, dull routine and meticulous nature of the job appeal to Sherbourne and he isn’t bothered by the isolation. That changes when on a visit to town he meets the daughter of the local schoolmaster, Isabel Graysmark (Vikander). She’s lively, vivacious and is completely smitten by the taciturn, wounded Sherbourne. The two correspond and eventually, marry and she moves to the island with him.

As young couples will, the two try to get pregnant but this proves to be difficult. A series of miscarriages turns a happy marriage into a relationship with a terrible cloud hanging over it. Isabel is beset by depression and Tom doesn’t know what to do to help – until they spot a dinghy floating onto the beach. In it there is a dead man and a living baby.

Tom is anxious to report the incident and get the authorities involved but Isabel is desperate. She needs that baby and she figures she’s as good as anyone to raise it. She convinces Tom to keep the child and bury the body without telling a soul. As far as the mainland knew, Isabel was pregnant (she’d just had another miscarriage when the dinghy floated ashore). Nobody questioned that the baby was hers.

Four years later Lucy (Clery) (as the baby was named) Tom and Isabel are a happy family. They visit Lucy’s grandparents when Tom spies a woman putting flowers on a grave. This turns out to be Hannah Roennfeldt (Weisz), the wife of a German national who had rowed out in a dinghy along with their baby daughter and disappeared. After a search, it was presumed the dinghy sank and both her husband and daughter had drowned. Tom realizes that this woman, whose life has been utterly destroyed, is the true mother of Lucy and guilt begins to eat away at him. This leads him to do something that will bring his happiness to a standstill and change the lives of everyone involved forever.

Cianfrance has proven himself a master of creating moods and displaying emotion-wrought images. He has come up with another film that is emotionally charged and beautiful to look at. He has assembled a plum cast for this and it pays off; Fassbender and Vikander make a terrific couple and the chemistry between them is undeniable (shortly after filming completed the two announced they were a real-life couple as well). They also have some fine support from the mostly Australian cast (and Bryan Brown makes a sadly too-rare appearance as Hannah’s rich father) as well.

The story itself has a great deal of power to it as an examination of how guilt affects us and how good people can make horribly bad decisions but there are times the movie gets a bit too over-the-top sugary sweet. Some actions and decisions defy logic and realism. Granted this takes place in a very different era but even so, it seems that a few well-chosen words would have certainly made more of a difference and spared the Sherbourne family a good deal of agony.

Fassbender, Vikander and Weisz have all flirted with Oscar with both of the women having won statuettes of their own. The acting in the movie is sound. The cinematography is breathtaking. Those two elements alone make this one of the standouts of a very disappointing summer, quality-wise. Don’t expect to see a lot of love for this one come Oscar-time, but Cianfrance is likely headed in that general direction already.

REASONS TO GO: Fassbender and Vikander have plenty of chemistry and both deliver sterling performances. The cinematography is out of this world.
REASONS TO STAY: It does get treacly in places.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is a little bit of sexuality and plenty of adult thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Both Fassbender and Vikander have played androids in high-profile films; Fassbender in Prometheus and Vikander in Ex-Machina.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/27/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 59% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: To Keep the Light
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: For the Love of Spock

Gods of Egypt


Choke like an Egyptian.

Choke like an Egyptian.

(2016) Swords and Sandals Fantasy (Summit) Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Koster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Courtney Eaton, Elodie Yung, Bryan Brown, Rachel Blake, Emma Booth, Chadwick Boseman, Rufus Sewell, Alexander England, Goran D. Kleut, Yaya Deng, Geoffrey Rush, Abbey Lee, Kenneth Ransom, Bruce Spence, Robyn Nevin. Directed by Alex Proyas

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What power, dare I say, is more absolute than that of a god? And if that’s the case, does that not make gods the most corrupt of all creatures?

Ancient Egypt had it’s share of Gods and at one time, they not only walked among men but they ruled as well. Osiris (Brown) who rules the Valley of the Nile is getting ready to pass the crown on to his son, Horus (Koster-Waldau). Attending the festivities are Bek (Thwaites), a thief and a bit of a con artist and his girlfriend Zaya (Eaton), a beautiful young lady with an eye for beautiful things.

Also attending is Set (Butler), the brother of Osiris who rules the desert. Having a kingdom of scorpions and sand to rule hasn’t exactly put him in the best of moods and being a treacherous sort, he takes the opportunity to seize power from his brother, murdering him in the process. He also fights Horus and defeats him, plucking out his eyes in the process.

This sets up a despotic rule in which Set enslaves most of the population of Egypt to build obelisks, towers and temples – to Set including one tower that rises higher than any in tribute to Ra (Rush), the sun god more powerful than any other and the father to Set and the late Osiris. Oh, and did I mention that the gods bleed molten gold? Not so much an important plot point as an interesting factoid, that.

In any case, with the architect Urshu (Sewell) designing these monuments to human misery and enslaving Zaya as his personal assistant, Zaya convinces Bek that the only way to alleviate the suffering is to get Horus back in the game and she happens to know where his eyes – well, one of them anyway – is being kept. Bek being the master thief that he is retrieves it but at a terrible cost.

Now with an emotional stake in the game, Bek delivers the eye to Horus in a temple way out in the middle of the desert. At first Horus is none to keen on involving himself in the affairs of humans but he does have a strong streak of vengeance. With the aid of Hathor (Yung), the goddess of love who happens to be Horus’ lover and Thoth (Boseman), the arrogant god of intelligence, Horus and Bek must divine a way to defeat the evil Set and set things right in Egypt but Set has some allies and monsters to throw against the small band of rebels.

This CGI-laden effects fest is directed by Proyas, who has in the past done some memorable work (The Crow, Dark City). He has shown himself to have an imaginative visual sense and that comes out in spades here. What he didn’t have was an adequate budget or a satisfactory script.

The CGI here is for the most part lame and there is nothing that can kill a movie more easily than bad CGI. It mostly looks shoddy and unrealistic, from the elephants hauling stone to the building sites that look like they came from a videogame twenty years ago, to vistas of cities that look like they came from websites ten years ago. I don’t know if the sheer amount of computer images overwhelmed the effects houses that the filmmakers contracted, or if they gave them unrealistic deadlines – or if they simply contracted cheaper effects houses that didn’t have the capabilities to pull off the work (most likely explanation). Whatever the cause, I was constantly pulled out of the movie because the effects were noticeably bad.

The script also has a lot of lapses of logic and is riddled with cliches. If you’re going to do an epic like this, the least you can do is at least try not to cobble together a story that steals elements from other movies, including some that aren’t very good. At times, it seemed like the story existed to show off the visual effects – and we all know how those turned out. And what’s the deal with making the gods slightly taller than the humans (by two to three feet)? It’s distracting and unnecessary. Horus looks like Plastic Man upon occasion; all he needed was the goggles.

At least Butler and Koster-Waldau acquit themselves as well as can be expected; both are dynamic actors who can at least command the attention of the audience. Rush provides some needed gravitas, although quite frankly one gets the sense that he also found the script ridiculous and made an effort to get this over with as quickly as possible. I imagine he won’t be including his work here on any audition tapes.

I will give credit where credit is due; as much bashing of the visuals as I’ve done, some of the visuals have some imagination to them which I can only assume come from Proyas as he has a history of such things. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of that to overcome the fact that this movie looks bad and tells its story badly. Only the charisma of the antagonists really saves this movie from being completely unwatchable which hopefully will translate to better movies for the both of them.

REASONS TO GO: Butler and Koster-Waldau make fine antagonists. Some imaginative visuals.
REASONS TO STAY: El Crappo CGI. Incoherent script lacks imagination.
FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of sexuality and plenty of fantasy violence and action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Proyas himself is Egyptian, born of Greek parents in the city of Alexandria.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/8/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 13% positive reviews. Metacritic: 23/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Immortals
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Boom Bust Boom

Kill Me Three Times


Nothing like a man who enjoys his work.

Nothing like a man who enjoys his work.

(2014) Action Comedy (Magnet) Simon Pegg, Alice Braga, Sullivan Stapleton, Teresa Palmer, Luke Hemsworth, Bryan Brown, Steve Le Marquand, Callan Mulvey, Greg Miles, Brodie Masini, Tony Spencer, Arthur Vaka, Roland van Zwol, Isaac Griffiths, Daniel Berenger, Andrew Bongiovanni, Antonio Barimen, Anna Philip, Rebecca Caldwell, Veronica Wayle. Directed by Kriv Stenders

This whole mess we call life comes with unpleasant situations and even less pleasant people. All of us without exception have to put up with both at some point in our lives. However, there can come a time when you just can’t put up with even one more minute of one or the other.

Told from three different points of view and going back and revisiting events that have already transpired so that the audience supposedly gets a different perspective as to why people are behaving the way they do, the movie is set in a Western Australian resort town. There, Jack (Mulvey) owns a kind of generic hotel and bar on the ocean along with his wife Alice (Braga). He’s an abusive rotter and she has taken refuge in an affair with hunky Dylan (Hemsworth).

Jack gets wind of the affair and hires Charlie Wolfe (Pegg), a private detective and occasional assassin, to take out his wife. When Charlie scopes out the situation, he realizes that he isn’t the only one whose services have been retained. Jack’s sister Lucy (Palmer) has goaded her feckless husband Nathan (Stapleton), the local dentist, to take the job on and, in a complicated plot point, use Alice’s body to fake Lucy’s death so that they can collect on an insurance settlement that will allow Nathan to pay off his substantial gambling debts which a corrupt cop (Brown) has been hired to collect.

Naturally things go off the rails and bullets fly, not always hitting the target they’re intended to. Charlie watches all of this transpire with a bemused grin until we realize that he is far more involved in this than we were originally led to believe.

The comedy here is very broad and exceedingly dark, with people getting killed left and right and not always in nice ways – not that there is a nice way to get killed. There is a good deal of violence involved, some of it fairly brutal so those who tend towards squeamishness should be well-warned.

Pegg is one of those comic actors who is incredibly likable, even when he’s playing an absolute soulless SOB. Even though Charlie is a nasty piece of work, you can’t help but enjoy Pegg’s performance. Definitely this is his movie and like Shaun of the Dead he carries it flawlessly. Unfortunately for Pegg, it’s a pretty light load.

That’s because the movie, despite all its twists and turns and double crosses (and triple crosses) doesn’t really do anything new or different. Most of the turns aren’t terribly clever and the characters are all so irredeemably rotten that you don’t really care what happens to most of them. Palmer is gorgeous as the shrewish wife and Stapleton, who played a very different character in 300: Rise of an Empire, is actually reasonably gifted as a comic actor.

For most the only way to check this out will be on VOD which is how I saw it and for most, that will be just fine. I can’t imagine the big screen will add all that much to the film, although I will say that the cinematography is bright and beautiful, although not breathtaking. The way I essentially view the movie overall can be summed up by a scene in which Pegg’s Charlie Wolfe watches from a distance a car tumble over the side of a cliff, then chuckles smugly to himself. No words I can write will adequately describe the movie as well as that image. If you are planning on a VOD evening, there are many, many choice that are far better uses of your time and fees. This is essentially only for Simon Pegg’s fan club.

REASONS TO GO: Pegg is always worth the effort.
REASONS TO STAY: Derivative and not very funny. A lot like a TV movie, only less clever. May be too violent for some..
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, a fair share of foul language and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stapleton and Mulvey both appeared in the Swords and Sandals epic 300: Rise of an Empire.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 9% positive reviews. Metacritic: 30/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hot Fuzz
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Love Birds (2011)


If it looks like a duck...

If it looks like a duck…

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Freestyle) Rhys Darby, Sally Hawkins, Emily Barclay, Craig Hall, Bryan Brown, Dave Fane, Faye Smith, Wesley Dowdell, Alvin Maharaj, Mia Pistorius, Sonia Gray, Hannah Matthews, John Callen, Alan Harris, Michaela Rooney, Beck Taylor, Tane Cullen, Eryn Watson, Matthew Metcalfe, Bronwyn Bradley, Stacey Leilua, Sara Wiseman. Directed by Paul Murphy

The Bee Gees once wondered “How can you mend a broken heart?” There is no single way to do it. Some say that time heals all wounds. Others recommend getting right back in the saddle again. Still others say that you need a hobby to take your mind off of things.

Doug (Darby) needs to find his own answer. His girlfriend Susan (Smith) – who is a spectacular beauty for what it’s worth – has dumped him on his rear end, leaving his world upside down and inside out. He is moping around his house when he hears a thump on his roof and upon further investigation discovers a wounded duck who is incapable of flying. Doug, being a good-hearted soul, takes the bird in but it soon becomes more trouble than it’s worth – keeping him awake nights, refusing to let him bathe alone, and pooping, pooping, everywhere.

Most of us would be making ourselves a nice Duck a l’orange right about then but as I said Doug is a good-hearted soul so he consults with Holly (Hawkins), the local vet. Her assistant Brenda (Barclay) immediately realizes that her boss should be with this guy but Holly, a single mum, is cool towards him so Brenda takes matters into her own hands.

The two eventually fall in love despite the hostility of Holly’s son Taylor (Taylor) towards his mom’s new beau but the more time Holly and Doug spend together, the better things get. Then Susan decides that she wants Doug back.

This is fairly pedestrian rom-com stuff with predictable plot points but what elevates it slightly above the rest is the charming and affable Darby, a fairly big name in New Zealand as a standup comic and occasional comic actor. His  chemistry with Hawkins as Holly is actually quite natural and charming. The cast is also buoyed by Watkins as Doug’s best friend who’s an absolute rotter and his buddies Gurneesh (Maharaj), Kanga (Fane) and Brent (Dowdell) who provide much of the physical comedy.

Another big plus is the addition of Queen to the soundtrack. Doug has become a huge Queen fan so we hear their music pretty much throughout the movie and it is utilized quite well, actually. Quite frankly, I have to say you can’t go wrong with Queen on your soundtrack (Da Queen will bear me out on that one).

You’ll see the plot points coming a mile off and you’ll know how the movie ends even before you stream it onto your computer (a DVD edition has yet to be released in the States) but you have to admire a movie that tries this hard to be charming and still manages to pull it off.

WHY RENT THIS: Darby is very likable. Laid back and gently humorous.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks big laughs. Doesn’t add anything to the genre.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a smattering of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Former international cricket stars Alan Border and Ian Smith make cameo appearances.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Danny Deckchair

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: 10,000 B.C.

Australia


Australia

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman get romantic under a big Australian sky.

(20th Century Fox) Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandon Walters, David Wenham, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown, David Gulpilil. Directed by Baz Luhrmann

The land down under is equal parts mystery and intrigue to American audiences. Beautiful beyond description, her history is more or less ignored here in the States. Most of us know little about the land and the history of Australia beyond what we’ve seen in the Crocodile Dundee movies.

Lady Ashley (Kidman), an English noblewoman, has taken the long journey to Australia to discover the truth to the rumors about her husband, who it has been said is philandering. He is in Oz to run a cattle ranch called Faraway Downs. He is in direct competition with a cattle baron named King Carney (Brown) for a government contract with the English Army. It is 1939, after all, and World War II has just begun and the English Army will need beef and plenty of it.

When she arrives, she finds that her husband is freshly murdered and that she is now in charge of a cattle ranch that is larger than some European countries. When she dismisses Fletcher (Wenham) for cruelty to the aboriginal staff, particularly a young boy named Nullah (Walters) she finds herself in a terrible position.

The prim and terribly English Lady Ashley is an afternoon tea, croquet on the front lawn sort of gal, totally ill-equipped to deal with the rough and tumble Australian cattle industry. Although most of the English in Darwin are urging her to sell the ranch to Carney, she realizes if she can get the 1500 head of cattle to Darwin she might still save the ranch. Without any experienced hands to drive the cattle, she enlists Drover (Jackman), a roguish sort who is at first skeptical of their chances but despite the best efforts of Fletcher (who now works for Carney) to torpedo them, they get the cattle to market and win the contract.

Ashley and Drover are also falling for one another despite all the odds against them. She prevails upon him to manage the ranch which he does reluctantly, leaving from time to time to earn money driving cattle. In the meantime, Nullah has also won her affections but he spends much of his time dodging the authorities who want to remove him to a missionary home, a common practice in Australia until 1973. His grandfather, King David (Gulpilil) who is also the man accused wrongfully of murdering Lady Ashley’s late husband, wants him to explore the aboriginal side of his culture and he’s torn between the two worlds.

But as in most epic love stories, the real world intervenes. The Japanese are preparing to invade Australia and Darwin will be the target of a massive bombing raid. Can Lady Ashley survive the Japanese bombs and keep her unique family together?

Director Baz Luhrmann, a proud Aussie, is both meticulous and avant garde in his filming. While he has done critically acclaimed movies like Moulin Rouge and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (neither of which I’m terribly fond of by the way), he has gone in a completely different direction here. He stated that he wanted to make the Australian Gone with the Wind and there are certainly elements of that here. One can’t fault him for his ambition.

The problem with ambition is that sometimes it leads to a lack of focus. Luhrmann has quite the stew here, with elements from all sorts of genres; westerns, war movies, romances, historical epics, social dramas and comedies. As nice as all of those things are, sometimes too many tastes can ruin a stew. It takes a deft hand to blend all that together and from time to time, Luhrmann shows he has that hand. There are other times when the mix can be overwhelming.

He does make a great use of the Australian countryside; you get a real taste of the vastness of the land there. It’s also refreshing to get a glimpse into a place in history that is rarely seen by American moviegoers. In all honesty I can’t say I’m all that familiar with Australian history and while this is a fictional piece, some of the elements here are historically accurate.

Given that the romance plays a central part of the film, the leads have to have chemistry. Fortunately, both Kidman and Jackman are appealing and do have the kind of romantic chemistry needed to make the movie work overall. Wenham and Brown make fine villains, and Gulpilil, who savvy moviegoers might remember from 1971’s Walkabout is a fine actor who is seen all too rarely these days.

The juvenile actor Walters is fair enough but he is used far too much here. He is meant to be the bridge between the aboriginal and white worlds but he narrates the movie and shows up in nearly every scene. A little less kid goes a long way.

While I’ve never been a big Baz Luhrmann fan I did quite enjoy this one. It’s got many of the qualities that I love about big, grand big-screen movies. This is the kind of movie that you can sit down happily, munch your popcorn and drink your soda and be transported to another place. If that isn’t the reason they invented movies, I don’t know what else for.

WHY RENT THIS: Depicts a period and place in history that Americans aren’t that familiar with. Leads, particularly Jackman, are appealing. Use of Australian scenery is compelling.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Walters is overused and sometimes derails the movie. The film is too much of a mish-mash; part Western, part war movie, part epic, part social commentary.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of sex, a little bit of language, a whole lot of violence and child endangerment.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stock footage from the 1970 war film Tora! Tora! Tora! was used for the scenes depicting the Japanese attack on Darwin.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD has no special features although a special edition is expected eventually; the Blu-Ray does have a feature that compares the events in the movie to actual Australian history, utilizing archival footage.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby