Film reviews: Blitz | Win Win | Fire in Babylon | Julia's Eyes | Third Star
Our film critic reviews the best and worst of this week's new releases...
Blitz (18) ***
Directed by: Elliot Lester
Starring: Jason Statham, Paddy Considine, Aiden Gillen
GIVEN Jason Statham's general on-screen awesomeness, it surely can't be long before someone comes up with a genuinely brilliant star vehicle for his bald-headed brand of brain-bashing brutality. A gloriously trashy South London riff on Dirty Harry, the opening minutes of this cop-vs-serial killer movie sets the tone by having Statham's non-PC detective vilified for taking a hockey stick to a bunch of knife-wielding, car-jacking hoodies. Thenceforce it's rule-book-flaunting fisticuffs all the way as Statham hunts for a mad-as-a-badger, media-courting cop killer (Aiden Gillen). Paired up with an exemplary, suit-wearing, gay detective (Paddy Considine), Statham milks his character's reactionary approach for all it's worth, adding a nice line in self-knowing humour – signature Statham line: "Do I look like the kind of guy who carries a pencil?" – to the preposterous story. A subplot involving an undercover colleague adds unnecessary flab, but ultimately Blitz knows exactly where its strength lies.
Win Win (15) ****
Directed by: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Shaffer
WITH the The Station Agent, The Visitor and his story-credit on Pixar's Up, writer/director Thomas McCarthy has established himself as filmmaker able to mine huge amounts of emotional truth from contrived-sounding set-ups. His latest film is no different. Revolving around a 40-something family man with a failing legal practice who gets more than he bargained for after making an unethical decision, Win Win may be the sort of film that relies on disparate people being thrown together to teach each other life lessons, but it's so beautifully written and acted it defies easy labelling. .
The crux of the film is the relationship between struggling New Jersey lawyer and high school wrestling coach Mike Flaherty (Paul Giammatti), and Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer), the teenage grandson of an elderly client for whom Mike – for non-altruistic reasons – has agreed to assume responsibility.
That Mike has no intention of fulfilling his care duties as specified by the court is the shameful secret he has to conceal when Kyle not only shows up on his doorstep, but becomes a de facto and loved member of his own family. Peppered with nicely observed, heartfelt moments that underscore the value of striving to be a good person, Win Win manages that rare feat of being good comfort viewing without feeling too comfortable itself.
Fire in Babylon (12a) ***
Directed by: Stevan Riley
THERE'S a great underdog story at the heart of this documentary charting the rise of West Indies cricket. Once considered a joke, the West Indies emerged in the 1970s as the most formidable cricketing nation in the world by trouncing Australia, Pakistan and England. Underlying their achievements, however, was a lot of political strife, with casual racism, the legacy of colonial exploitation, and a burning desire to be acknowledged as top-flight sportsmen fuelling the players' ambitions.
Mixing archival footage and new interviews with key cricketers such as Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, the film does a decent job of weaving together these socio-political and sporting elements into a narrative that's compelling enough even for those with no interest in the sport. It's fascinating, for instance, to see the double standard that quickly emerged as the team's injury-causing fast-bowlers began to dominate the game, with officials and commentators decrying as "not cricket" skills previously lauded when they were the sole preserve of Australian players. It also spotlight's how the team's emergence on the world stage quickly attained a political dimension, becoming intertwined with the fight against Apartheid in South Africa as well as the fight for equality Bob Marley's music was helping inspire.
Julia's Eyes (15) ***
Directed by: Guillem Morales
Starring: Beln Rueda, Llus Homar, Pablo Derqui
THE latest Spanish-language horror to be released under the "Guillermo del Toro presents" imprimatur, Julia's Eyes re-unites much of the talent responsible for his earlier production triumph The Orphanage for an over-cooked but good-looking and occasionally effective chiller about a visually impaired woman terrorised by malevolent forces. This is Julia (played by The Orphanage's Beln Rueda), an astronomer cursed with the same degenerative eye disease that has apparently led her twin sister Sara to suicide. Unconvinced that Sara would ever take her own life, Julia sets out to investigate her death while battling the encroaching blindness that her increased stress levels are starting to exacerbate. Here director Guillem Morales uses his protagonist's ailment to good effect, creating a pleasing sense of ambiguity about whether the person that Julia thinks killed her sister – and who may now be targeting her – is a figment of her imagination or not. But as the plot is stretched out and Morales piles on more shocks – all soundtracked to a comically clanging score – the tension soon dissipates and, sadly, the attempts to provide an emotional punch consequently end up looking silly and overwrought.
Third Star (15) **
Directed by: Hattie Dalton
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, JJ Feild, Hugh Bonneville, Nia Roberts
A LEAD role for Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch is the only selling point for this maudlin Brit film from first-time director Hattie Dalton. Cast as an acerbic, terminally ill 29-year-old whose three best friends have agreed to help him make one last trip to his favourite coastal spot, his wry, sly performance as the angry-about-dying James does much to counter the overly familiar set-up. Sadly, it doesn't do enough to prevent the film from falling into the mawkish traps set up for it by writer Vaughan Sivell's screenplay, which overdoses on the kind of live-for-the-moment platitudes that only ever seem to be expressed in films that never feel like essential viewing. Of the other actors, only JJ Feild – as the successful, cynical, straight-talking Miles– comes close to matching the subtlety of Cumberbatch's performance, but again, overly schematic writing ensures there are few surprises. Dalton, a Bafta-winning short filmmaker, ensures everything looks pleasant and polished enough, but there's very little here that stands out.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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