Ruby Sparks (2012)

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Movies about writing always interest me, so maybe I’m biased in saying this is a wonderful, warm and greatly interesting romantic/drama/comedy, but I’ve said it anyway because it’s true. There’s a lovely dose of heart, charm and quirky comedy to satisfy audiences, even if romance isn’t usually your bag…like it isn’t mine.

Calvin (Paul Dano) wrote a hugely successful novel when he was younger but now he struggles to type anything, has no love-life and visits a therapist. An exercise gets him visualising his perfect female who he begins writing about, strangely one day, this girl Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) steps into his home and is real. Calvin now has an apparently perfect relationship but can his creation always be that way?

There’s such joy to be had during this film, I found myself smiling along frequently as I watched the odd yet sparkling pairing deal with their lives. The romance is never sickly sweet and it’s dealt with in a clever and wholly charming way, that’s of course helped by the genuine partnership between Paul and Zoe. From the moment the made up girl comes into the real world, the movie has fun playing with ideas of what this could to do him, her and the people around them.

Zoe Kazan writes such a fantastic screenplay that truly gets into the head space of a writer, that lonely frustrating world and their fixations on characters. So, knowing what we know about Calvin, seeing Ruby manifest makes for a weird yet creative idea that is handled very well. It’s not just comedy in seeing them have fun and watch him play God at times, in fact the darker side of how she’s even there gets used and is quite upsetting as we see the miserable side of the relationship.

A sequence at a typewriter and Ruby facing Calvin is one of the stronger moments, an exploration of power and utilises on the whole writing to life idea in an engaging if not touching manner that may threaten everything. On the weaker side, the pacing is sporadic at times and a brief detour to a hippy-esque commune home feels a bit detached but even the vaguely expected ending isn’t bad, in fact it’s left as we don’t know how things will go on from there so I liked that sweet ambiguity. Oh, and also major points just for the name Ruby Sparks which is a great name for a character.

Dano provides that neurotic sense of unease and lovable worry that we all come to know when watching writer types on screen now! He provides a devastating set of self-indulgence as he thinks about the relationship for him and not both of them, which is played well by the actor. Kazan plays the unknowing dream gal in a sunshine way, her big eyes and infectious smile ensuring she’s someone we love just as much as Calvin does. When Kazan then begins displaying other sadder and confused emotions, it’s mildly comedic but then brilliantly emotional. Chris Messina plays a good character too, the necessary middle man with a guide to help his brother but also play around with what can be done to Ruby.

This is a film I adore, a flirty and dream-like notion that is played cleverly and acted superbly. The line between happiness and heartbreak is never thinner but never better from the writing to the performances. Bliss sparks to life.

8/10

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Haywire (2012)

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This thriller/action movie had me annoyingly disengaged for the majority of the run time. There is a genuine admiration to be had for the stunt work and actual fighting style used by MMA fighter Gina Carano, but apart from that I feel this was nowhere near as exciting or special as it could have been.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a former Marine and after retrieving a hostage in Barcelona she gets an assignment to Dublin from director Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). There she meets up with MI6 agent Paul (Michael Fassbender) and after a shady night she realises she’s being wrapped up into a conspiracy.

It’s a film that feels like it has so much potential, from the talents of director Steven Soderbergh to the impressive acting list including Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton, there’s the action grittiness that usually works so well and a story about embroilment and pointing the finger but it only comes across as…average.

It would be hard not to compare this film to the Paul Greengrass splendour of the Bourne 2 and 3. This one appears like a female version of Jason Bourne but sadly is never quite as impacting or interesting. The action is alright but the attempts at the murky world of intelligence shrouding a person in blame and mystery doesn’t ignite in the same way as the JB trilogy.

Soderbergh does a neat job in utilising blends of fast paced shots with black and white moments, he gives each new location a suitable amount of breathing time and he ensures that the focus sticks with capable Mallory, but it never felt like he was breaking out of the action thriller formula and aside from him doing well in casting an actual subject for his lead and giving the movie some sleekness, this for me felt like a blah picture.

I do commend the way we see Carano kick ass and flip off walls, the brutal elements as she takes down a succession of men is cool to see but it nearly gets blinded by the stupid choice to have Mallory and Aaron just kiss, the awful deer in car moment and a drained sense of colour and blur to most of the movie. Even David Holmes’ music at most points sounds like it comes from a 60s/70s TV show and doesn’t feel right.

There’s a neat ending which feels very right and helps the film…but it’s at the ending. I don’t know, you just never feel tense or you don’t get nervous for the main character because she just gets seen as a strong fighter and nothing else. Everything is almost to easy for her, I feel from the other reviews I’ve seen of this feature that I’m firmly on my lonesome in having this viewpoint on the film but I didn’t really like it.

 

Gina Carano isn’t much of an actress but she more than makes up for it with her display of real hand to hand combat. There’s a cold tenacity in her eye, a furious touch to her look that helps Mallory feel driven. Michael Fassbender is brooding, handsome and dangerous as Paul. Ewan McGregor doesn’t get to do much outside of the typical director cliche mould, his motive transparent and Michael Douglas also fails to get much to do to pique the interest.

I admit there’s a cool level of muscle and style to this action number, but the pace, music and been there done that plot made me switch off multiple times.

4.5/10

 

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water (2015)

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In keeping with the goofy and pacy style of the TV show, this movie sequel appeals to lovers of the telly treat. Puns, gags and general well structured silliness caters people of all ages. It certainly isn’t as brilliant as the 2004 outing but there’s fun to be had in the madcap adventure of claiming back the Krabby Patty formula.

Diving into Bikini Bottom as a bearded pirate named Burger-Beard (Antonio Banderas) tells us and some birds the story of Spongebob Squarepants (Tom Kenny), we see the fry cook try and guard the bottled burger recipe from evil Plankton (Mr. Lawrence). But when the formula vanishes, Spongebob and Plankton have to team up to prevent their home becoming a sandy abyss and a trip into our world may reveal the whereabouts of the secretive scroll.

Animation wise, the film looks just as zany as the series and the first film. Detailed close ups of characters, for example blood shot eyes, heighten foolish tensions as normal and the usual drawings fit the quirky silly humour. Breaching into the live action realm, the real sponge and starfish idea is dropped and CGI replaces that better mould. Clearly the budget it stepped up and what with superhero films being commonplace, CGI is an inevitable step to parody the heroic squad on our world but it feels jarring to see these beloved characters as overloaded computer outputs.

Generally the last part of the film suffers, Mike Mitchell’s live action directing not doing any great favours for the film. It has its moments to be fair but in keeping with Squidward’s hero name, the real world is a sour note for the movie. It’s clear to see that all the flying around and insane chasing of the Earth and Bikini Bottom mash up is slotted in for that 3D tag the film has. It certainly is non-stop and barmy action to watch but something doesn’t sit right in it and the fact that it’s only a little part of the movie is a blessing.

It’s nice to see this film venture more into the hallucinogenic aura it can portray more often than not. Paul Tibbitt’s cartoon direction is fantastic. The sugary filled acid trip of Spongebob’s brain is nightmarishly cute and well story-boarded. A taco time travel booth does more than enough to make you realise what an odd sort of story this is and a talking space dolphin voiced by the awesome surprise of Matt Berry fits the role perfectly. It all looks and sounds rather dumb but in fact this is why I love Spongebob, because it’s always charming and smart, a fun quick ditty to marvel at.

The film is great for different ages, it can have that family vibe if you’re into that Nickelodeon arena. This 2015 plot has some morals and a sweet lining to soften the loud colorful images. Joining together and doing the right thing to save your home speaks volumes even over the madcap ideas, tee-am work is the big theme of the day and works well for this story.

The music doesn’t sit up as well as the ‘Now That We’re Men’ song but the ‘Team Work’ song is lovely enough and the time travel funk of N.E.R.D is outstandingly great to listen to. John Debney’s score fits well with the action taking place and livens up suitably for the barmier hero final act. To be honest this film is much weirder and weaker than the 2004 one but it was never going to be better.

Tom Kenny’s vocals are as deliciously annoying but endearing as ever, his squeals and laughs making this sponge chef the nitwit hero he always is. Bill Fagerbakke is moronic but likable as the best sidekick on telly in Patrick Star. Mr. Lawrence softens up slightly as a more rounded Plankton and Rodger Bumpass does his groany shtick with Squidward Tentacles though sadly he doesn’t feature as much as I’d like him to. Antonio Banderas is fun and plays the typical pirate well but compared to the last live action treat of the Hoff he is no match for hilarity.

A film that will entice fans of the show and in all its colour and joyful splendour it’s watchable and enjoyable, just not as strong as it might have hoped to have been.

6.5/10

Machete Kills (2013)

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Just barnstorming, crazy action and B-movie silliness from top to bottom, I like this sequel, nowhere near as much as the 2010 film but something in the weird side of my brain let me enjoy this and though it gets long and dragged down by odd attempts at multi-connecting plots it’s a fun ride.

After his partner gets killed Machete (Danny Trejo) is called by the President of the US (Carlos Estevez) to track down a mad schizophrenic leader called Marcos Mendez (Demian Bichir) who has hot wired a missile to his person to go off and destroy Washington. On his mission he’s helped by handler Blanca (Amber Heard) and the return of She/Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) as he battles cartels, a vengeful man-eating brother keeper and time itself to get across the Mexican border.

Now, this film isn’t a step up at all, it only steps up the insane amounts of kills and explosions. The story itself, bashed together by Robert and Marcel Rodriguez is stupid. End of. It goes on far too long and you do feel it a couple of times and the way they keep feeding in other characters and have them going after the bounty on Machete and Mendez’s heads gets bonkers. Take it with a pinch of salt however and the story of shifting personalities, bodies and a plot to enter space becomes hugely entertaining.

It has some very funny moments, the comedy placed nicely along with the Grindhouse Mexplotaiton cinema blend. Props and costuming feature as comedic tools, i.e Madame Desdemona’s chest cannons and her pelvic pistol. The way it’s filmed stays in keeping with the small schlock-fest vibe and grainy frames heighten this way of movie making. The trailer beforehand and flashing instructions for 3D glasses make it feel like a tacky drive in movie and that somehow works to its benefit.

In opposition to this, I also believe, strongly that ‘Machete Kills’ is also ludicrously unintentionally funny. A lot of ideas feel out of place and even too much for this mega filled narrative. It also looks a lot cheaper than the first film did, blood splatters and CGI work being blindingly obvious. I know that’s most likely the point but ‘Machete’ didn’t feel so rushed or cheap, it looks like a cleverly constructed action art-house film in comparison.

The characters are all pretty genius though and the film revels in getting a former actor turned viral pothead sensation to play the leader of the free world! A chameleon character literally changes their appearance whenever seen, very silly but a sneaky way for extra cast I guess. The brothel girls are powerful yet scantily clad in their marching quest to kill men. A schizo leader gets odd back-story and plays panto in being over the top to oppose the silent grouchy Machete, ever brilliant as ruthless, handy with blades and against twitter. Genius again is this film for getting former actor turned talked about racist to play the big baddie of the film. All in all the colorful characters make the film more spectacular and cartoonish.

Danny Trejo is Machete, he plays the non-shifting presence of the titular character with enough grit and creased expressions to make you believe Machete exists. Sofia Vergara is a sheer delight of insanity as man-eater Desdemona, her screeches and angry calls to hunt down Machete are brilliantly done and the character calls for selling it as it’s so out there and sell it she does. Amber Heard is sex on legs as beauty pageant candidate and handler for Machete. The glamour puss look as she kicks ass and smiles her way through give her enough time to play Amber Heard with possible degree of nasty. Carlos or Charlie ‘Winning’ Sheen gets big screen time after his Adonis DNA trip and there’s expected funny lunacy to him playing the President. Mel Gibson is actually a perfect villain and he plays another bat-poo character that somehow is left with the ability to see the future. The snarls and cold eyed reserve he keeps when playing against the hero are great and he stands out, lifting the film after a large messy slump.

Tainting the original, this film gets too crowded in plot and character, the way it smartly parodied things before now get tiresome and are done to machete-ridden death. Though it’s fun, more violent and a joyride you know you shouldn’t take pleasure in but do.

5.5/10

The Skin I Live In (2011)

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Pedro Almodovar doesn’t bring his usual romantic blossoming for this story but he replaces that with a dramatically high level of passion, tension and horror without ever actually stepping a toe into the usual horror genre cliches. The way this film looks is just sumptuous and pristine close ups all add to this needed clinical vibe the story is aiming for. Apart from a few slow and not so skin scrawling moments this 2011 Spanish movie does a lot to keep the psychological thrills ticking away.

Without going too much into the actual guts of this plot I can say that the story revolves around the obsessive nature of surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) who has crafted a new skin resistant to burns, bites etc, he uses this material on a female subject who he has created in the image of a loved one but under this facade lies another story and another viewpoint and that can be uncovered six years previous to the present day.

To start with the images given to us are lovingly presented and this credit goes to cinematographer Jose Luis Alacine, every shot is precisely set up with an eye for enough detail but not too much in each frame to let our eyes wander all over the place. The room that Ledgard’s patient stays in is exceptionally shot in certain cases. The panning shot over torn up dresses quickly hoovered up is unnerving yet beautiful at the same time. The decoration of the room in terms of set design does the job of prisoner mentality well. The black scribbles on the wall, the stitched figures and balls laying about. It’s a designer room yet lurking with that fearsome dread that you know something is wrong. This obsession of imagery goes further when you look at the way his female patient is presented. She is shot in close ups on the medical table, on her bed, all the time looking stunning and pretty but there’s that metallic edge of threat and clinical whitewashing hanging over as she’s so often seen as the gaze of Ledgard, a surgical play thing to get right. It’s a bubbling thriller about looks, revenge and passion and it may never fully boil over into some huge stirring crescendo but that’s no big critique.

This film has a suitable score for the slowly unraveling dark mysteries of Ledgard and his patient. Alberto Iglesias utilises on a lot of sharp strings and these high fiddles played over the top of scenes go a long way to start pricking up the hairs on the back of your neck. The building up of music is done a lot also, such as the way the score kicks off slowly and then increases in volume and pace as the evil tiger tries finding Ledgard’s imprisoned patient. It’s a beautiful soundtrack, lush even, in the sounds it creates that stick nicely into the artistic thriller form Almodovar is going for.

The main subject matter of this film is in the creation of identity and reversal of another. The bending of who you are as a person is done so calmly and efficiently by Ledgard that there becomes a point that you switch in sympathies for character and start sort of rooting for his female subject. I’m trying my hardest not to spoil anything for anyone who doesn’t know the secret twist of the film, though as this isn’t my first viewing of the film it now seemed so much more obvious as to what was going to happen. Maybe that’s a downside maybe it’s a treat for the people who do know, I can’t tell, but either way the act committed by Ledgard sinks in and settles in the stomach like some bad greasy meal.

Antonio Banderas does a magnificent job of playing this charismatic, caring father and surgeon who has a knack for the details of the human body. He plays likable and worryingly unstable as if they’re both the same personality trait. It’s as you see him in the dank dingy tunnel that ironically you start seeing him a new light. The patient is played superbly by Elena Anaya and she plays on her large eyes to try and pull you in and eventually it works as you take her side. There’s a vulnerability to her situation but then you can sense her underlying strength and her own obsession to get out and away. Props too for the role of Tony the Tiger (not really), Zeca played by Roberto Alamo who in pretty much one scene crashes the stage, takes hold of the spotlight and almost runs away with it. The entrance itself is creepy in its own stripy way but then it just gets worse and worse as he does his thing.

‘The Skin I Live In’ is creepy and almost there as fully immersing itself under the audience’s skin. It’s thick with tension and seductive imagery, it’s highly bizarre and a dark trail to follow but it’s worth every step.

8.5/10