Very belatedly here are my speedy reviews of the films I’ve watched at home in February. They are a mixed bag both as genre and as quality.
The Right Stuff: the chronicles of America’s race to the stars: from the daredevil test pilots to the first astronauts. Based on Tom Wolfe’s book on the history of the U.S. Space program, it starts with the breaking of the sound barrier by Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) and then moves on to the selection and training of the seven astronauts for the Mercury missions. Thrown in the mix there are the rivalries between the pilots/astronauts, the technical difficulties faced by the rocket engineers and the need to beat the Russians. Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn and Fred Ward are convincing in their role but Shepard steal the scene every time as the taciturn, gifted pilot Yeager. This film can be slow at times but it gives the viewer the opportunity to know better the numerous characters and their motives and aspirations. Nostalgic–7.5/10
The Bang Bang Club: four photographers always find themselves where the bullets are flying, during the chaotic struggle for power in South Africa in the early 1990s. This film is based on real-life experiences of Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe), Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch), Joao Silva (Neels Van Jaardsveld) and Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach), when they were working as freelancers for a local newspaper. The point of view is quite captivating since the audience sees what’s going on in South Africa only through the lenses of these men. The conflicts that take center stage are the internal ones between the good of documenting the violence versus doing something about it. Interestingly, it’s when two of them win the Pulitzer Prize that their moral fibre is called into question. Steven Silver’s sure hand on the helm and the cast’s solid performances, Kitsch in particular, make it worth of your time. Compelling —7/10
Cinderella: This live-action version of the Disney animated feature has lavish costumes and stunning set design but follows to the letter the edulcorated version. The wicked stepmother and stepsisters are… well, wicked in Disney fashion! The fairy godmother is an oddball. The animals are not as endearing as or as scary (I’m looking at you Lucifer) as their animated version. The Prince is just a cardboard character. Cinderella is, of course, charming, kind, loving and with a sunny disposition towards life. She is really convincing because of Lily James, who find her perfect foil in Cate Blanchett’s stepmother (stunningly dressed in 1940s style). So it’s a nice and sweet film if you are in the mood for fairy tales. I’m still waiting for someone to have the guts to do the original story, foot maiming and all. Mellow —5.5/10
The Raid: If you need a dose of intense martial arts fights with a side of family drama (brother vs brother!), corrupt cops and a evil kingpin, this film is for you. Our hero, Rama, is a young policeman that joins the SWAT team in Jakarta. Their mission of the day is the “removal” of a dangerous crime lord, unfortunately things go from bad to worse very quickly and the cops are the ones fighting for survival. Rama finds himself in a John McClane situation but with his mad fighting skills and some help he’ll make it. I found interesting the setting in a run-down high rise building, it enhanced the claustrophibic mood and the “trapped-like-rats-in-a-maze” feeling. There are some impressive stunts and very well choreographed fights that keep the adrenaline rush going. The plot may be quite simple but the tight pace keeps you engaged. Raw —6.5/10
No Reservations: this rom-com is harmless fluff with a very predictable plot and nothing particularly new. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a talented chef, she’s focused, determined and a bit of a control freak. Her life is changed by her sister’s death, leaving her to take care of her young niece. To add more drama, the owner of the restaurant hires a new sous-chef (Eckart) who is chaotic, charismatic and charming. I’ll let you fill in the blanks on what happens next. The film mildly redeeming qualities are thegood on-screen chemistry of the two leads and Abigail Breslin being endearing, however it retreads old ground without adding anything interesting. Nothing to write home about —5/10